CEE New Millennium Colloquium
March 20-21, 2000
Wong Auditorium, Tang Center, MIT Building E51
Engineering Education in the New Millennium:
Towards Sustainable Technology, Infrastructure and Environment
The paper centers around the theme that past 25 years has not seen any noticeable progress in many parts of the world towards integrated and sustainable urban and rural environment and is becoming a major concern because of increasing pollution of all kinds brought about partly by the lopsided concern to plight of migration of rural people in search of opportunities for work to better themselves resulting in over crowded, unsanitary slums and air pollution through uncontrolled traffic fumes and un-coordinated or non existing waste disposal systems. Business communities, universities, governments and other responsible leaders must make concerted efforts to view urban and rural environment through holistic or integrated approach. Educators at schools, colleges, universities and other institutions must rethink of the current approaches to education ,research and practice in this context in the future. Are we educating engineers to serve in cities and neglect the rural environment? How do we make rural design and construction of infrastructure work more attractive and emphasize its importance in engineering education?. Are we emphasizing too much mathematical contents and neglect common sense and compassion needed to eliminate poverty of world's one billion rural poor via engineering education? How do we inculcate ethics and morality of saving lives of millions of children dying through better sanitation and water supply?. Incremental approach in devising solutions to existing systems is preferable and practical rather than complete overhaul of systems where necessary. Sustainable agriculture in organic farming is recommended as a long term future goal. Government policies must be shaped through education of people of the benefits to long term health and protecting the environment toward sustainable development. Environmental issues must be resolved in a manner facilitating the progress towards sustainable development rather than hindering civilization and sustained quality of life for the present and future generations .Existing technology is sufficient to bring about improving urban environment of many cities of developing and developed world. What is lacking at the moment is the holistic education, financial resources for urban infrastructure (Physical, environmental and institutional)and political resolve to improve the plight of the urban and rural poor in many developing countries. Urban environmental issues must not be tackled without due consideration for the development of rural communities. Wealth creation as a moral culture must be encouraged with due consideration for environmental and community obligations. Do we have to incorporate at least 3 to 6 months of experience in poor countries of Asia ,Africa and Latin America as integral part of degree programme in engineering?
A fresh look at the education of engineers is suggested in this paper considering the problems of urban and rural communities. The above topic which is very important not only from the point of view of people in the rural areas trying to survive in villages depending on polluted river or contaminated ground water for drinking and other uses but also urban poor trying to earn a living in not only made to breath polluted city air but also have to live in unsanitary huts in urban slums. This is also a considerable significance to millions living in major cities of many developing countries having to travel to work through heavy traffic and air pollution from vehicle exhaust fumes. Urban dwellers also expects their household waste are collected on time, water coming out of the tap is good for drinking and other purposes .Failure of the system can cause chaos to their survival and environmental and water engineers have to make sure that city water and drainage systems run smoothly. This typical scenario applied to millions in major cities. Lack of coordinated approach in the last several decades cannot continue into the next century. A fresh approach is needed if the planet is to be saved from the consumer oriented to a balanced world which has consideration for the diligent use of diminishing non-renewable natural resources but also possibilities for the continued use of renewable natural resources such as hydropower solar, wave and wind energy as well as protection of bio-diversity.
My past experience while working as a Project Engineer on the construction of concrete dam more than 25 years ago has a considerable bearing on the paper I set out to present because if we are to see any meaningful action towards sustainable development in the next 25 years then I am afraid we will face difficulties achieving that golden objective unless we consciously change through rethinking. Finding solutions through single disciplines without consideration for the multi-disciplinary aspects through the integration of necessary engineering ,scientific(natural and social),medical, legal and cultural and humanistic view points is leading us to unsustainable life and planet earth. Complex systems require wider view rather than single disciplines to find useful, practical and acceptable solutions.
I realized then while building a large concrete dam was in progress ,forest destruction was also going on unabated elsewhere for the lucrative export of timber.I soon realized that if this practice of forest destruction continues there won't be much forest left for reservoir catchments. Failure to manage the watershed for the longevity of the reservoir was not in the best interest of the water resources development for any useful purpose. This incident has led me to broaden my knowledge in both technical and non-technical aspects of environmentally sound water resources development. It resulted in a paper on the integrated river basin development for the third world conference on water resources in 1977 and meeting with the director of United Nations Environment Programme for Asia and Pacific in his office in 1977. Last year it was reported that according to world wide fund for nature that the forest resources is diminishing at a alarming rate and its implication for the survival of the human and bio-diversity.
We can now see that 25 years is a short period in terms of any effective action to be implemented to change the attitude of the people unless the weakness of the attitude is addressed through multi-disciplinary or holistic approach to education not only at the universities but also through schools ,colleges and governments and industries. This will see future engineers, scientists and medical profession better able to appreciate their role and see from disciplines other than their own in improving the environment through better cross cultural communications. The concept of environment has to become an accepted language in the future breaking down various cultural and disciplinary boundaries. we have seen that an island state city like Singapore has become a garden city state over a period of 25 years through co-ordinated approach to controlling air pollution,by controlling traffic in the central business district, water pollution control of its meager water resources, judicious use of watershed for recreational purposes including a zoo and incineration of some of the waste being produced.
New towns must be planned and implemented around the world towards sustainable urban environment. Megacities of the developing world will test skill of the future municipal leaders. Management of waste ,reuse and safe disposal,providing drinking water and sewerage system infrasturcture are going to need considerable financial resources which must be found through private sector initiatives and public private partnership.The users of these systems must be prepared to pay for the improvement to the environment on a long term basis.
Sustainable development includes not only tackling the issues of environment but also looking at the ways and means of current consumption pattern of the advanced countries and reducing rate of depletion of non-renewable resources.Thinking the alternatives and debating the issues is very useful not only for the balanced and informed decision making for the level of environmental services the present generation willing to pay but also in the interest of the future generation. In fact some of the infrastructures built by the previous generations are still being used by the present generation with only maintenance and minor improvements. Global climatic change is going to result in raising sea level in the future.It is also predicted that in another 200 years sea global warming will bring catastrophic rise in sea level and many low-lying counties disappear altogether. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions to reduce global warming must be give due priority. Concerted effort must be made to help those affected by this long term impact such as to be faced by island communities of low-lying part of the world .Urban environmental improvement must be integrated with the need to develop regional and rural areas in developing countries , creating employment opportunities and better infrastructure and facilities. Developing city and urban areas at the expense of development of rural communities are not in the best interest of sustainable development. Population during the last 50 years has increased from 2.5 billion to 6 billion at the end of the century and if the trend is not checked may reach 12 billion in another 50 years time. Most of the increase is going to be from many developing countries resulting in considerable use of already scarce resources. Resources of the world are already heavily used up as seen by the reported concern expressed recently by the United Nations Environment programme Executive Director that future conflict may be over water. It goes to show that sustainable development will only be a pipe dream unless concerted effort is made to reduce leakage of water through pipes, efficient use of water, sharing of water within wider communities ,long distance water transfer ,protection of water catchments and conservation of water resources are not practiced in the future.
Also the need for more energy ,drinking and food production will result in constructing more large and small dams. Engineering community must not only articulate the need for the dams to the wider public but also win the confidence of the public of their expertise in broader knowledge of resettlement of people affected as the result of building large and small dams. Failing which organisations not appreciating the benefit to the wider community of these dams for sustainable water and energy may contribute to the delaying or cancellation of the water projects which involve building of dams. Environmental impact assessments and monitoring of the physical, ecological and public health aspects environments after building the dams are important not to mention the dam safety as well as community development towards sustainable environment. Controlling pollution of water catchments ,rivers and ground water has implication for treatment of water for drinking purposes as well as for other domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes .Efforts must be made to reuse the waste water through localized treatment for non consumptive uses such as growing organic vegetables, gardening and washing of cars. This practice is good for not only individual plots in urban areas but also for isolated communities.
Environmental problems of many developed countries differ from that of many developed countries in terms of regeneration of urban areas and inner cities and improvements to sophisticated water quality and quantity monitoring system, generation and treatment industrial waste and nuclear and hazardous wastes. Resource recovery and efficient process operation must be implemented. Human resources are much undervalued ,priority must be given in this neglected aspects since the development of skill and updating knowledge and use of information technology are vital life long activities .Many developing countries are with considerable rural masses hence appropriate technologies should be simple and have human face meaning user friendly and not become disused monuments. Cultural considerations and making the communities in both urban and rural areas to participate in shaping their environment as well as making them take credit for the project implemented and its continued maintenance is vital to the major goal of sustainable environmental improvements. Businesses and industries are the the pillars of the wealth creation , the schools and universities must co-ordinate the activities in close liaison with industries in the future as well as shaping and complying with the government policies and laws. Pollution control activities must be integrated and co-ordinated through environment protection agency with various divisions such as for water(surface and ground),land(solids and hazardous),air and marine. Health and safety activity must be co-ordinated with environment activities. Importance of health and safety must not be ignored in pursuit of greater profit to the shareholders of businesses. Stakeholder quality of life must be the prime consideration instead of shareholder financial gain if the longer term survival and prosperity of any industry is at the heart of decision making.
At present urban environment management is taught through different disciplines with concentration on scientific aspects, planning ,policy and management aspects depending on the strength of the departments in the universities. This practice must give way to comprehensive approach incorporating not only scientific, engineering and technological aspects but also planning,policy,law,multi-cultural,economical,social,financial,management and sustainable development. Business administration is a very useful additional skill enabling optimum use of resources and efficient administration or management of organization. This will not only breakdown barriers created in the past but also those involved in environment improvements will have common background.
Many developing countries face water pollution threatening the health of the population. Proper sanitation and drinking water is fundamental to reduce the death of millions children before they reach the age of five and the increasing poverty must be reduced with elimination as long term goal. Despite of many development efforts and water decade of 1980 to 1990, real improvement is yet to be noticed. Poverty is another form of environmental pollution which robs the health and dignity of people and the ethics of over consumption in the western world on the one hand and the underfed starving millions in the third world must be an eye opener for any organization genuinely interested in improving the environment for all people on this planet. Logic of spending millions on the space exploration on the one hand and lopsided attitude to the dying millions before reaching the age of 5 years this on our planet earth defy common sense. Concerted effort must be made to provide access to internet and other communication facilities to rural people to link them to outside world and possibilities for creating internet wealth in the rural areas. Environmental pollution does not recognize national boundaries. Chenorbel nuclear disaster and indonesian wild fire are some examples. Disaster reduction and emergency relieve preparedness in the event of major outbreak of disaster should be part of the insurance for such national calamities. Changing climatic pattern in the world due to el- nino phenomenon must be taken into account in the future preparedness for flood and natural hazards. Precautionary principle must be applied where hard scientific evidence take a long time to form any useful conclusions. It must be clear that the environmental issues are becoming more and more complex and an order must be found by analysis and synthesis using necessary mathematical and computer simulation tools to consider the cost effective and sustainable solutions so that it can find acceptance within governments and industries. Private enterprise can embrace sustainable environmental solutions as it will be in the long term interest of the industries and communities. Enterprise culture must be nurtured from young and the industries have a major responsibilities for thinking in terms of maximizing benefits to the stakeholders rather than shareholder'profit at the expense of the environment. It is the fundamental cannon of any industry that fair profit is necessary for the continued survival and expansion ,but the spending on environment improvement will in the long run benefit the industries as well as communities at large. Them and us attitude must give way to team effort not only at work place but also at industrial and universities. Duplication of research and lack of co-ordination at universities may result in unnecessary wastage of resources. Teaching in the universities must not be ignored in pursuit of research awards. Unexplored deep sea may hold the food resources for the future and if the sea is used as dumping destination for various wastes, such food resources may be destroyed. Recreational activities around the coastal area of the world is under threat from disposal of waste and it must be monitored and controlled .Artificial beaches must be created where possible and protected for the use of the community.
Heavy metal pollution is a major threat to not only drinking water purposes
but also reuse of sludge for agricultural purposes. Use of pesticides, herbicides
and other agrochemical are a threat to long term human health .Organic farming
must become as part of the sustainable future. It takes time and must be
approached with care and concern for the health benefit as well as affordability
of the wider public. Re-engineering of industries with respect to process
efficiency, treatment and reuse of waste water, and control of treatment
of liquid and gaseous emission must be closely monitored. Decentralized
wastewater treatment for isolated communities must be considered as an alternative.
Interactions of air pollution ,soil pollution and solid and hazardous waste
disposal must studied for their fate and minimize the effect on drinking
water sources. Frontier scientists are shaping their attitude towards integration
of knowledge through multidisciplinary approach and this trend will be necessary
for sustainable development. Santafe institute in New Mexico is at the forefront
of leading research in understanding the complex adaptive system using multidisciplinary
approach .This approach will lead to better and informed decision making
towards sustainable development of urban environment as well as conflict
resolution .Application of innovative technologies from research done in
the universities must be turned into possible wealth in the future. Edward
O Wilson ,the eminent sociobiologist is calling for the unity of all knowledge
in his latest book-consilience published last year. But as an engineer I
put forward such a thinking to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
100th anniversary international conference on future direction in science
and technology contribution in 1987.It is about time scientists shed their
ivory tower attitude and look to others such as engineers to solve their
ever elusive theory of everything to describe the nature of universe .It
appears that scientists have been looking inward through reductionism principle,
but complex problems making them to look not only inward but outward to
find better solutions to environmental problems. Non-governmental organizations
must approach environmental issues more objectively and work closely with
others trying to improve the environment towards sustainable development.
Integrated approach to transport infrastructure is essential for urban and
regional development. Private sector must participate forming partnership
to get such infrastructure financed and implemented. Urban planners must
be well qualified in not only social sciences but also engineering, natural
sciences, history, culture, architecture and sustainable development .Urban
management decisions must be made through team effort of various disciplines.
Scientist at the forefront are always not in agreement and have opposing
views on anything say genetic engineering, origin and current state of universe
and global warming. Therefore common sense and precautionary principle must
be applied where necessary. Some of the ideas for the frontier research
have not come from science itself but from diverse and lateral thinking.
Engineering community has been contributing to the civilization in a silent
way but there is no Nobel prize awards as for scientists and economists
except national honours. It will spur the engineering professionals to greater
height and recognition if equivalent prize is set up in the future. world
academy of engineering must be set up to encourage engineering and honour
great engineering minds. One tends to think if financial rewards are continued
to be sliced away by lawyers, accountants, doctors dentists and MBA graduates
with no engineering background, how on earth we can encourage engineering
as a career without sufficient recognition. Business and industry depend
on innovation and product development and engineers be given broader education
and develop leadership potential to create wealth. Urban environment of
the future must be seen as a whole and more than the sum of a number of
small parts which includes businesses and industries, which create wealth.
Universities should form partnership with industries and the research must
be fundamental as well as application oriented resulting in product development
for wealth creation in a globalized competitive environment. Industrial
experience must be brought to bear on the university curriculum for the
education of engineers, technologists, scientists and planners, and technological
policy specialists. Education is a life long process and the proper guidance
of a child at the age of 4 or 5 is going to shape the child's future. Chaos
theory states that any slight change in initial state can result in unpredictable
consequences because of unknown influences make the system more and more
unstable. Public understanding of engineering must be initiated. At the
moment only the public understanding of science is being practiced by scientists.
It is not enough to be technically competent in a world where marketing
and information technology are dominating through various means of communications,
which take the large share of any product, say cars, and may distort a true
picture unless engineers themselves are good in promoting useful engineering
projects thereby considerably enhancing their livelihood .Communication
skills must be developed by engineers. I have come to realize the importance
of communication more than 25 years ago and made use of the every opportunity
presented to meet the chairmen of corporations, consulting firms, ministers,
ambassadors, top United Nations officials, prime minister and president
of a country as well as appearing in prime time TV news not to mention some
of the finest minds .It was a discovery of the world of non-engineering
but a decisive role they play in shaping the future .Engineers must aspire
to such positions in the future and take a stake in shaping of nations.
Japanese industries are full of outstanding examples as to what the engineers
are capable of given the right education ,research and reward. Urban environment
towards sustainable development in the end boils down to shaping of education
at all levels, schools, colleges, universities, industries and governments
towards the new realities about to unfold in the future which is going to
be an challenging and interesting .Preparation must start now and original
and unconventional thinking must be encouraged for innovative solutions.
Distance learning and innovative degree programs through video conferencing
and internet must increase in the future. Hope these thoughts help to shape
engineering education and practice in the new millennium .
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