We will soon see the peak in oil production, as widely predicted by reliable and independent sources. After this, expectations range from economic meltdown to a rapid and orderly transition to nuclear and renewable sources.
Unfortunately for us in developed western countries, a number of things will almost inevitably conspire to deter finding engineering solutions to the problem.
These include demographics; an ingenuity/innovation gap; the transition of control in companies from engineers to accountants; engineering contract optimism on cost and time; and the planning regime.
These factors have already led to the loss of the UK’s manufacturing base (also occurring in the US). Now they are threatening our infrastructure.
Our propensity to educate for industrial and environmental decline for many years has led to a situation where there is an inadequate science and engineering base to maintain and extend the infrastructure built up during the 20th century. This is made more critical by the retirement of the post-war generation who built our electrical infrastructure and nuclear generation capacity.
We are almost at the point of not being able to support the quality of life created for us by previous generations.
In particular, we are in a critical position with regard to the energy gap. Short political timeframes and the planning regime have meant the deferment of decisions on the mix of energy we need, leaving us at the mercy of foreign energy sources and reliant on ageing nuclear power stations.
We must make professionals, especially teachers, aware of the need to encourage able students to take up science and engineering, emphasising that their own security and comfort depend on it. This is the essence of education for sustainable development in the UK, Europe and the US, and is central to the US sustainable energy strategy.
Engineers can lead the revolution. Have we the will?
These are personal opinions and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisations with which I am associated.
Northwest Engineering Institutions Sustainability Joint Venture