Enter the Engineers

Climate change: engineers not scientists

The full version of this blog is available at the post Enter the Engineers.


Scientists study the world as it is, engineers create the world that has never been.

Theodore von Karman

Listen to the Scientists

We often hear the phrase “Listen to the scientists”. What is meant by this is that we should read the analyses and reports that they publish in order to understand climate change. We need to avoid wishful thinking; we need to face up to the facts.

Although it is important to understand the science behind climate change, the initiative now has passed from those who are describing the situation (the scientists) to those who can do something about it. In other words we now need to listen to the engineers, project managers and investors. They are the ones who must decide what can be done given the limited resources and the short amount of time available to us.

Listen to the Engineers

One of the most important reports to do with climate change is the IPCC 1.5 °C report. The report’s ‘Summary for Policymakers’ (which consists of 26 pages of dense text) states,

the key findings of the Special Report, <are> based on the assessment of the available scientific, technical and socio-economic literature relevant to global warming of 1.5°C . . . .

This “Summary” has a total of 19 authors. Six of these have the word ‘Science’ in the descriptions of their qualifications; none of them have the words ‘Engineering’ or ‘Technology’.

Unfortunately, most members of the public tend not to differentiate between scientists and engineers.

In political discourse, public policy debates, and the mass media, engineering is often a synonym for science. This confusion might seem an innocuous shorthand for headline writers, but it can leave politicians, policymakers, and the general public unable to make informed decisions about the technical challenges facing the world today.

Science is about understanding the origins, nature, and behavior of the universe and all it contains; engineering is about solving problems by rearranging the stuff of the world to make new things. Conflating these separate objectives leads to uninformed opinions, which in turn can delay or misdirect management, effort, and resources.

Henry Petroski

If we are to respond to the climate crisis our focus has to switch from science to engineering.