Engineering & Environment
Engineers have great responsibilities towards the environment especially the environmental engineers.
Environmental engineers are concerned with local and worldwide environmental issues. They study and attempt to minimize the effects of acid rain, global warming, automobile emissions, and ozone depletion. They also are involved in the protection of wildlife.
Many environmental engineers work as consultants, helping their clients to comply with regulations and to clean up hazardous sites.
Environmental Matters Involving Human Health: How Clean Is Clean?
If we can assume that the engineering profession has already committed itself to a concern for the environment insofar as it is related to human health, how can we ascertain the proper implementation of that commitment? Since this question usually involves environmental pollution, one way to formulate this question is to ask how we can determine an acceptable level of pollution. The question is often asked, "How clean is clean?"
One way of responding to this question is to adopt an approach that is oblivious to costs and keeps the environment as free as possible of pollution. We have seen that the Clean Air Act places safety ahead of the balancing of costs and benefits when dealing with hazardous pollutants. It permitted the EPA to consider economic and technological feasibility in deciding when the goals were to be met, but not in adjusting the goals themselves. The Clean Water Act requires polluters to do the best they possibly can to stop polluting, without reference to cost. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requires that standards regulating hazardous waste be based solely on the protection of public health and the environment. The Endangered Species Act is essentially oblivious to cost considerations. Finally, in the famous decision regarding Tellico dam, the Supreme Court forced the dismantling of a dam costing $100 million in order to prevention the extinction of an economically worthless species of perch.3
There are several problems with this cost-oblivious approach to environmental pollution, even where human health is concerned. First, it tends to produce disrespect for the law. Manufacturers know that the law is unrealistic and that its practical significance is determined by the regulators. There is a strong incentive, therefore, to engage in as much deception and hard negotiation as possible, knowing that it may pay off in rich dividends.
Second, in spite of the rigor of the law, the enforcement of the law may be too lax. The disparity between the law and the way it is enforced may be too great. This is because enforcement involves consent decrees with industry. These decrees often allow pollution that is far greater than what the law allows. Thus the net result may be more pollution than an even less stringent law would have allowed.
Third, this approach takes no account of the cost of eliminating the pollution, or the fact that in some cases the threat to human health is unknown or is in dispute. Some pollutants pose far more danger to human health than others, and there are other values which should perhaps be considered as well, such as jobs and the standard of living.
Engineering Responsibilities to the Non-Human Environment
Contemporary technologically advanced civilization has made massive changes in the environment. Western society has tended to conceive of nature as passive, as the fit object of human manipulation and control. This view of nature as passive is amply reflected in our language about the natural world. Land is to be "developed." "Raw" land is to be "improved." Natural resources are to be "exploited" and "consumed." Trees are to be "harvested." The rivers are to be "harnessed" to produce electrical power. The wilderness must be "managed." Nature, like the rest of the non-human world, is to be subservient to human purposes.
The environmental movement, so influential during the last twenty-five years, is a reaction against this attitude toward nature, but there is still a question as to whether the concern for non-human nature should be a part of professional engineering ethics rather than an engineer's personal ethics. What are some of the arguments for and against including a concern for non-human nature in the professional codes of engineers?
Those who believe that professional engineering obligations to the environment should not be extended beyond a concern for factors that endanger human health could make the following arguments.
First, the judgments that would have to be made in this area fall outside the area of professional engineering expertise and as such might be considered a violation of professional responsibility. Suppose an engineer is asked to participate in the design of a condominium which will be built on a wetland area. The engineer objects because she believes that the wetland area is especially important for the ecology of the area. This judgment is not a professional engineering judgment, but rather one more appropriately made by a biologist.
The same problem exists in many other areas related to the environment. An engineer may object to a dam that will destroy a wild river or flood hundreds of acres of farmland. Or he may object to designing a sawmill that is to be built in the midst of an ancient forest. In all of these cases the judgments involve considerations outside the engineer's professional expertise. An engineer may well object to these projects, but he or she should not object as an engineer. To do so is to invite public disrespect for the engineering profession.
Such objections might even be considered violations of engineering codes. The NSPE code contains the following statement:
Engineers may express publicly a professional opinion on technical subjects only when that opinion is founded upon adequate knowledge of the facts and competence in the subject matter. (II,3,b)
Many objections to environmental matters are not based on professional engineering competence. Suppose the NSPE code also contained another provision such as this:
Engineers must not participate in projects that are unnecessarily destructive to the environment, even if they do not endanger human life or health.
The judgments necessary to comply with such a provision would often not be professional engineering judgments, so that implementing such a provision might well involve violating section II,3,b.
Second, an extension of professional responsibility for the environment into areas not clearly related to public health or safety might cause considerable problems for engineering societies. Along with other members of society, engineers disagree over environmental issues, especially where human health is not directly involved. Forcing members of professional societies to take policy stands on such issues will introduce a new source of divisiveness into professional societies.
Another aspect of this same objection is that such issues will be especially troublesome for engineering managers who are members of the societies. Management cannot be expected to be sympathetic to policies that will inevitably result in greater expense for industry. The effect of introducing these issues into the societies may serve to weaken industry support for the societies themselves.
In the end, engineering as a whole is concerned in solving different kinds of problems, so it is obvious that engineers must give some time of thinking about the environment and finding solutions for problems encountered with the environment.
Done by: Saif el deen Murad Ahmed