I was troubled by the article in The Chronicle Herald week ago Friday that noted the engineer’s role in innovation and iconic advances in society but was silent on our role in the built environment, that is everywhere. Then went on to express concern that “…the breadth of expertise and the engineering profession’s impact on the world around is largely unseen.” (Ref. 1)
This in a report in the newspaper on a talk by Gerald McDonald, Chief Executive Officer, Engineers Canada.
I don’t think our role is unseen. It’s staring us in the face in the built environment that would not exist if not for engineers designing, constructing and maintaining it. We just got to see what we’re looking at.
I suggest addressing this concern by taking a cue from Jane Goodall’s focus on kids who will arrest climate change when they grow up – Jane talked about this in Halifax last Saturday. (Ref. 2) Jane is not focusing on politicians and prominent people to fix climate change. In her spirit, we must focus on the humble engineer toiling away in the built environment, getting his hands dirty and mud on his boots providing habitat for the man in the street. Ye shall know him by his iron ring.
(For those of you who forgot, Jane Goodall is an English primatologist who studied the social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees, starting when she was 26, and changed the way we think about humans. She travels the world today, at 89 years of age, writing, speaking and spreading hope through action to make the world a better place)
There’s no question that advances like the following are important – shepherded by engineers:
- Helicopter safety
- Harnessing renewable energy
- Launch of the first Atlantic Canadian-built satellite into space
- The Canadarm
- The pace maker
- Halifax Central Library
- Confederation Bridge
Shepard’s focus on the engineer’s role in the big stuff is good – engineers are even in space as I write – but, so too is the engineer’s role in the design, construction and maintenance of the built environment that is comprised of the following, and more:
- Buildings – residential and commercial. There are more hi-rise and low rise buildings in the world than any other structure. Think about that.
- Water treatment and supply systems to and from the buildings
- Sewage collection and treatment systems
- Storm collection and drainage systems
- Foundation support systems like spread footings and piles
- Foundation subsoils
- Parking lots and airport runways
- Towers, like hydroelectric towers
- Chimneys, particularly the tall ones
- Highways and roads between the buildings and beyond
- Highway embankments, cuts and fill slopes
- Hydraulic structures like canals (eg. Shubie canal)
- Electric power supply systems
- Bridges – small like over highways, large like suspension bridges over water, very large like the Confederation Bridge
- Hydroelectric dams like Mactaquac in New Brunswich
- Marine structures like docks and wharves, breakwaters, and coastal protection
- Ships – designed, constructed and maintained by engineers
- Planes – same role as for ships
These structures come into being and are maintained by engineers working in the civil, foundation, geotechnical, environmental, mechanical and electrical fields. What we have in common in our different disciplines is a creative desire for problem solving.
I felt good as that loooong list above came into being. We engineers are everywhere producing and maintaining the built environment and helping alter the natural environment, carefully. Gerald McDonald knows this and could easily inspire a complementary piece in the The Chronicle Herald.
- McDonald, Gerald, Tap Engineers For New Ideas, The Chronicle Herald, Friday, May 19, 2023
- Jane Goodall’s talk in Halifax, May 27, 2023
(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, May 31, 2023. firstname.lastname@example.org)