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MAILBOX: A Question of Leadership

The following is a letter to the Editor.


The following is a letter to the Editor.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a series of reports outlining how global warming will impact society. This has led to much discussion regarding the need for both mitigation and adaptation measures. Converting discussion to action, however, requires leadership, a role which I believe the engineering profession is ethically bound to fill.

The engineering profession is responding to the need for adaptation measures with initiatives such as Engineers Canada’s PIEVC (Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee) and ICLEI Canada’s BARC (Building Adaptive and Resilient Communities).

From a practising engineer’s perspective, designing projects that exceed current regulations is difficult and often meets with resistance from clients due to economic concerns.

The disconnect between current design standards and those required to address climate change is further magnified in the area of mitigation. In order to meet greenhouse gas emission targets being set by some governments and municipalities, designs must significantly exceed current standards, often bringing the engineer in conflict with the existing economic-based decision making process.

Designing to existing standards and meeting current economic measures may meet legal obligations but does it meet our profession’s ethical standard? The PEO takes the position that “Through the Code of Ethics, professional engineers have a clearly defined duty to society, which is to regard the duty to public welfare as paramount, above their duties to clients or employers” Given the impacts of climate change on society, are we not ethically required to ensure our designs address both mitigation and adaptation requirements regardless of the position of our clients and employers?

Rather than waiting for our institutions and regulatory bodies to update their design standards, the engineering profession should lead the way and design solutions to the higher standards we know to be necessary.

George Sweetman, P.Eng. is a practising civil consulting engineer who lives in Hamilton, Ontario. He also teaches a first year engineering course at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.