Opinion piece from Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK
The Industrial Revolution was enabled by some of the greatest feats of engineering innovation. The introduction of new machinery, methods of production and power sources led to large-scale productivity and a rocketing standard of living.
Industrialisation brought transformative benefits that have enabled us to get the life that we know today, but at great cost to the planet and, unless we act fast, the future generations that will inhabit it.
Engineers could not have foreseen the lasting damage industrialisation would bring, but they are in no doubt that they have a critical role to play in tackling climate change and reaching our net zero 2050 global target.
The engineering community is already working to pay back the planet with solutions to address a host of problems, such as how to generate affordable and sustainable energy, predict and prepare for extreme weather events and ready our cities for the future.
But we need to focus on the next and future generations - allowing them the space to be creative and equipping them with the technical skills to bring innovative solutions to life. And they are up for the challenge, they are optimistic about what can be achieved in the future, and passionate about improving the world they live in.
According to research by EngineeringUK, 70% of young people believe that engineers are important for improving and protecting the environment (based on data from the forthcoming Engineering Brand Monitor). At a Summit to celebrate Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, we heard from 70 students who shared their fears for the planet, expressed their frustration at current inaction and called for more urgency in addressing climate change.
These passionate young people looked beyond what they - and we - can do at an individual level to discuss how engineering, science and innovation can help achieve net zero.
I was impressed by the level of thought that had gone into their ideas. Some converged with technologies currently being explored, such as ocean fertilisation to improve carbon capture by marine plants. Others were more unexpected but gave me pause for thought on whether there might be a fruitful innovation there, such as the idea of self-sufficient agri-biomes for farmed animals to capture methane as an energy source.
They clearly saw the role of science and engineering in addressing the challenge. It is vital that we convey to all young people the range of creative, problem solving and exciting engineering roles that they could have in the future, and through them contribute to achieving net zero and a greener world. They need to see their opportunity to help solve local issues, as well as our biggest global challenges, and have a seat at the table to prioritise the issues they care about most.
With so many young people looking to teachers and careers advisors for guidance, we owe it to them (and to the environment) to share accurate, inspiring information about engineering careers and their place at the heart of the race to net zero – as well as the range of paths that lead into engineering. We must also make 21st century engineering real to students, giving them the chance to participate in inspiring enrichment activities and to hear from relatable role models.
We need young people, from all backgrounds, to have the chance to be inspired to join the workforce rescuing the world from climate change. With schools and employers working together we can drive that inspiration and help the students of today realise their ambition of protecting the planet for future generations.
Dr Hilary Leevers
Chief Executive, EngineeringUK
To find out more about harnessing young people’s interest in the environment and examples of engineering professionals working to achieve net zero, visit www.teweek.org.uk