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Your View | Restricting movement

motorwaynotorway at night

The articles on climate change in March’s New Civil Engineer highlight key issues but fail to make the important point that transportation is a major source of carbon emissions.

The problem is that most of the energy used to fuel and construct vehicles comes from fossil fuels. If global temperature rise targets are to be met this must be addressed.

motorwaynotorway at night

motorway 2by3

Motorway at night

To tackle this, it would be necessary to cut down the movement of stuff across the world and reduce the need for people to travel. This would require international agreement. I hesitate to suggest a solution but one way forward might be to increase carbon taxes so that they cover the full environmental cost of transportation, making it, for example, cheaper to source steel locally rather than from China, or, at a local level, to buy food from a farmers’ market rather than a superstore.

While traffic reduction would have a number of obvious benefits, a downside would be less work for civil engineers employed on transport infrastructure. One would hope that this would be offset by employment on flood protection, sustainable power generation and other work needed to mitigate the effects of climate change.

  • David Naylor (M) davidjohnnaylor@sky.com

Infrastructure Encourages travel

Your agonising over carbon dioxide emissions prompts thoughts about some of the easy steps that we ignore: offices, as well as homes, are habitually overheated; young people who are concerned about “saving the planet” still don’t switch off the lights; motorway drivers flout the speed limit, at the cost of increased fuel consumption; and vast quantities of food is wasted. 

Then there are the contrary developments: multiplying delivery vehicles dealing with internet purchases; Crossrail and potentially Crossrail 2 encouraging yet more travel; materials shipped backwards and forward across the country, or across the world, because transport is cheap. There are many areas in which we could decrease our emissions.

  • Mike Keatinge Highbank, Marston Road, Sherborne Dorset DT9 4BL

Is Drax as low carbon as it claims to be?

SCL Drax Eco Store Completion 082

SCL Drax Eco Store Completion 082

Drax: How green is your power?

In the article on Drax power station the implication is that burning wood chips is better for the environment than burning coal. 

On a pragmatic level this claim is dubious and my understanding is that the model on which this claim was based is now discredited. Indeed, I understand that a newer model shows using wood chips is environmentally significantly worse than using coal.

That said, the situation in respect of spare UK generating capacity is dire and getting worse. The postponing of a final decision on Hinkley Point C has become an annual joke, the existing nuclear stations are well past their use by date and just under 50% of the remaining coal-based generating capacity is due to close this year. Diesel generators seem to be being used as a quick fix stop gap but, apart from the high generating cost, these are even worse for the environment.  

We therefore need new long term capacity, (both base and standby that can be called on at short notice), to come on stream. Hand-wringing over environmental effects will not address the problem. 

Reliance on imports, be it coal, gas, wood or electricity, is also strategically a dubious approach. 

The failure of successive governments to address the issue and the Conservative mantra that public ownership is bad and private enterprise and market forces is the only way for what is an issue of strategic national importance, (and electricity supply is not the only area suffering from this), are now coming home to roost.

  • Jeremy Abell  jeremy_abell@yahoo.com

Flood resilience is an uphill battle

It’s clear to all well informed people that the Environment Agency has done, and is doing, an outstanding job year-on-year in protecting thousands of properties from flood damage. And it is similarly clear that the Agency continues to spend money wisely within the well-intentioned constraints of government.

Innovative solutions to flooding have been employed over the years in many places, to effectively reduce the impact of heavy rains. These solutions involve flood water storage, restricting river flows, reducing runoff from high ground, raising flood defences, and a heavy annual programme of repair to existing defences. However the Agency’s work cannot cover every situation.

Government and local authorities have their part to play. In recent years we have had repeated occasions where the inundation is intense and static. Where this occurs in urban areas, properties have been flooded by water which has not yet reached the river. This has happened recently in West and North Yorkshire, and on Tyneside. In this instance improving flood defences does not help.

The properties most affected are those which lack good flood resilience. The property owners unhappily can be forced out of their homes for lengthy periods. The cost of disruption and repair to insurers can be enormous. Yet in general, insurers require that the properties be reinstated exactly as they were. So that, when the next flood situation occurs, the property is similarly affected.

Why not arrange to spend this money to improve the flood resilience of the properties? There are many examples of where this has been done to good effect. The costs of disruption are minimal. Let the government take action on insurers such that when repairs are done, the flood resilience is improved. The advice is there on the Agency’s website. It is not rocket science. It is common sense.

Then the local authorities. Over recent years councils have repeatedly allowed house and business building on flood plains without requiring any special measures whatsoever. Recently new builds alongside the River Aire in Kirskstall near Leeds were flooded to a depth of 500mm. The repairs and disruption to business will be costly. These new builds are on the flood plain.

Had the Council required that the base level be lifted above the flood plain, and built to be flood resilient, the damage would have been minimal. The advice is on the Agency website. It is not rocket science. It is common sense.

I ask you, don’t just blame the Environment Agency. The Environment Agency is doing an outstanding job.

  • Anthony Abbott (M) abott@talktalk.net

No shame in looking things up

Oh dear! The Luddites have risen up and heaped their fury, and their “little machines”, on my head (New Civil Engineer, February). Unbowed, and not having an infallible memory as they all apparently have, I shall continue to look things up when I am not sure. There is no shame in looking things up; who remembers the Engineer’s bible ‘Reynolds RC Designer’s Handbook’ in which we all had to look things up before our ‘little machines’ were invented.

Limited information

Back in the days when a slide rule was good enough for most calculations and seven figure log tables were available for real precision, one of my university lecturers declared that, when he saw a constant in a formula, he wanted to be sure he knew where that constant came from.

I was reminded of this by the letters in your March edition.

It is a good rule that whatever information you are obtaining – whether it is from books, the computer or the internet – could have limits on its suitability for the task you have in hand. Engineers should retain a questioning mind and not take anything for granted.

  • John Oliver (M Retd) j.oliver.ice@hotmail.com

Keeping our integrity

The headline “Over 5,000 Civil Engineers will be needed” (New Civil Engineer, March) made me interested to learn how the ICE goes about planning how many persons it will grant chartered status to over this period. As it takes around five to seven years from graduation to chartered status we cannot turn on a tap to provide a particular number in a short time. Or is it, as I suspect, simply loose use of title for our profession. Unlike doctors, dentists and architects our title and status is not protected. I would expect our magazine to enhance our position and always use the full title of Chartered Civil Engineer (as I have always done when asked my occupation) and not blur the relationship with operatives.

A lesson learned

The article on demolition of the M1/M6 junction by explosives (New Civil Engineer, March) brought back memories. In the early 1980s working for the water authority I had to walk the route of the then proposed A14 to check where the surface water would go so I could advise on necessary drainage work / storage ponds (early days of SUDS). I parked under that very junction on what was then a “quiet” country road and set off on foot across fields.

Returning an hour or so later I saw flashing blue lights by my car and was greeted by name by a policeman. When I explained what I was there for and after he checked my ID he spoke into his radio, “please cancel the bomb disposal squad, car owner located, all ok”. Unbeknown to me there had been a coded warning from a terrorist organisation saying they were going to leave car bombs under major motorway junctions. The situation wasn’t helped by me having an Irish surname at the time! Lesson learnt, when parking on site visits after that I always left a card with my office contact details on the dashboard.

The value of heeding advice

For decades the ICE has been advising on an impending energy shortfall and yet this country still does not appear to have an energy policy and a strategic programme to ensure the ability to provide adequate supply to cover the nation’s needs other than some whimsical fantasy that the wind and the waves will provide sufficient.

As for transportation, we are still waiting for a strategic transportation policy from central government 60-plus years on from the first motorway and about the same period of time since the Beeching axe fell on the railways. Perhaps if the government had heeded the advice of the ICE or any other engineering institutions we would have had a solution to the air travel problem that now apparently besets the south east.

  • Lance Fogg (M) lance@arena-associates.co.uk

 

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