Engineering community supports climate scientists

2 min read

Members of the engineering community have come out in support for the climate scientists that were cleared of accusations of doctoring results and silencing critics to maintain their case for man-made global warming.

After a six-month inquiry, senior civil servant Sir Muir Russell said that scientists at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) did not subvert the peer review process to censor criticism. The allegation was first made last year when leaked emails between CRU researchers were released on the internet before the Copenhagen Climate Change summit.  

Climate change sceptics interpreted the emails as evidence of CRU researchers manipulating and concealing data to back up their view that climate change is man-made. Following Russell’s clearance of any wrongdoing by the researchers, engineers have called on the public quibbling over climate change to end.

‘I can only speak for myself, but I regard the case for man-made global warming to be substantially proven,’ said Prof Bob Critoph, from the department of engineering at Warwick University.

‘Those putting forward the case are academics who, on the whole, do not have an axe to grind. A small minority, maybe five per cent, of climate scientists might have reservations, but if the case for man-made warming is indeed true, the risks involved in ignoring it are dire and the costs of acting on the warnings are comparatively small.

‘The big difference between disregarding the mainstream view in this case and say, for example, the link between smoking and lung cancer would be that the latter involves personal choice that affects only the person choosing to smoke and the former affects whole nations.’

Prof Jon Gibbins of the Power Plant Engineering and Carbon Capture Institute for Materials and Processes at Edinburgh University, said that the debate should not be over whether climate change is visible today but over whether humanity will be prepared for all possible eventualities that could result from our current rate of emitting CO2.

‘How safe people feel about things is a matter of your aversion to risk,’ he added. 

Gibbins said that the engineering community sympathises with the difficulties that climate researchers face when trying to explain the significance of the complex data they collect.

‘I think engineers understand that the scientific community and climate change community are doing their best to understand a problem that has no definite answers,’ he said.

George Chen, a professor of electrochemical technologies at Nottingham University, said that when it comes to climate change, engineers and scientists are on the same side.

‘They are joining forces to identify the causes in much greater details now and to develop technologies to solve this challenging problem,’ he said. ‘My own view is that problems resulting from climate change are solvable through scientific understanding and technological innovations, plus, more importantly, supports and corporations from the general public, governments and industries.’

While the science and engineering community are brethren of sorts, David A Nethercot, head of the department of civil and environmental engineering at Imperial College London, admitted that engineers are slightly more sceptical in the way they analyse data because their business insists on leaving room for error.

‘I think with scientific data there is always an element of how you choose to present it and what inferences you decide to draw from it,’ he said. ‘In engineering, I’m not saying we’re all crooks and charlatans, but we’re probably a little more sceptical asking whether the corroboration was up to scrutiny.’

Nethercot said it all comes down to the fact that engineers deal with much more tangible issues.

‘I think the fundamental difference is that scientists are interested in explaining the world in evermore increasing detail,’ he added. ‘Engineers are concerned with finding solutions to real problems based on the best available evidence and materials available to them and that’s perhaps a slightly different viewpoint on things.’