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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Standing under the arch
December 17, 2009 - 3:10pm
“The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch.” - Michael Armstrong (former Chairman of AT&T)

I don't know whether Armstrong's literally correct on that one or not. In fact, I don't really care. It's one of those stories that, if it's not true, it should be. And it's not like some ancient Roman is going to rise up and tell Armstrong he's wrong.

I've been thinking about engineering a fair amount the last few days. In a broad sense, I think about engineering issues at least a little bit almost every day, but recently it's been more intense than usual.

One of the reasons is that the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (UK) has just put out a report suggesting that the climate change tipping point has already passed -- that the battle has been lost and what we need to do now is to figure out how best to live in the aftermath. I don't know whether they're right or not, and I'm not a mechanical engineer. Still, it's interesting reading, and definitely thought-provoking.

A second reason has to do with an annual contest being run by Metropolis magazine: One Design Fix for the Future. As the title implies, what gets submitted are ideas -- single, simple, reproducible better ways to do something. The winner will be selected based on its potential to improve sustainability, in whatever realm or dimension applies. It's not a financially huge contest (the top prize is $10K), but the bragging rights involved are considerable. I very much hope that a bunch of Greenback engineering students will submit an entry. It would be great if they won, but even entering and losing could be a great learning experience.

As I've intimated before, I think a major part of the reason the climate change issue doesn't have the traction it needs in the USA has to do with the fact that we're not framing it the right way. Framing climate change as an engineering problem (think of "good ol' American ingenuity" -- who could come out in public against that?) might just be a better way to go.

Of course, in this engineering problem, it's not just the individual engineer who's standing directly below the arch.


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