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From the Editor: ‘Smart’ Solutions In Every Issue

Robert Schickel on August 12, 2019 - in Articles, Column

When I started working as a civil engineer, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was in its infancy. The EPA began its work in December 1970, but the procedures and policies didn’t really affect our work for a few years. After they were in place, however, it changed the way we did business.

The new EPA policies established requirements of additional justification for the need of any project. They also created the need for new expertise. At first, they seemed a burden, but soon it became clear that new projects could and should be designed and constructed taking into account the impacts on people and the environment. These were the first steps of building a sustainable environment. Through the decades since then, those standards and procedures have been revised, updated and made more-stringent as we have become more aware of the adverse effects a project can have.

Why Isn’t Every Week Earth Week?

During this year’s “Earth Week” in April, I listened to a presentation about the history, current state and future of the Indiana Dunes National Park on the south shore of Lake Michigan. Representatives from the National Park Service, local community organizations, and nearby industrial and utility companies participated in a panel discussion after viewing a new documentary on the lakeshore, “Shifting Sands—On the Path to Sustainability” (www.shiftingsandsmovie.com). The documentary focuses on the early days of the dunes as a natural recreational area and how the effects of rapid industrialization due to World War II nearly caused the demise of all wildlife in the area.

The film is definitely worth watching, but the panel discussion following brought out some interesting insights. When asked about the recent deregulation initiatives proposed by the current federal administration, the steel and utility companies present didn’t hesitate to answer that they will not change their plans to reduce emissions and effluent, nor postpone their plans to eliminate coal-fired power plants. Although the administration continues to ignore the effects on our environment, at least these companies and the public in this area will not. Perhaps it is still possible that industry and nature can continue to coexist in harmony as the public demands.

Climate change has similarly changed our outlook on the environment. Although most Americans accept that climate change is real and a scientific fact, our current administration has directed the EPA to roll back initiatives put in place to reduce carbon pollution. In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation had put in place carbon-pollution and fuel-economy standards intended to cut emissions that now are being undermined. Fortunately, many states and industries are working together and doing what’s possible to slow down the warming trend by adhering to the original plans.

Everyone Working Together

The current state of the “quality of life” on our planet has created new terms used in many folks’ everyday language. Most people know the meaning of sustainability, smart cities and climate change. More importantly, most people are willing to work toward creating a lasting environment. For their part, engineers have been discussing the revision of design standards for future projects. Water quality, severity of storms, energy-efficient construction methods, minimal disruption of the environment, and social justice and other standards must be revisited to ensure a sustainable future.

Here at Informed Infrastructure, we recently published a 5th Anniversary Special Edition on “Smart Engineering” that contained several articles and educational opportunities which focused on engineering work to improve living conditions and perhaps even help “save the world.” Those concerns still remain of course, so each issue of the magazine will contain additional columns, articles and news stories that focus on “smart engineering.” For example, this issue contains an article on a zero-emissions bus fleet in Los Angeles, a cover feature on improved water management and a PDH learning course on better-developed “digital cities.”

It’s clear there are various ideas about how to address climate change. However, the time to do something is here, and engineers and scientists should be the leaders. We must influence policies and procedures with hard data and solutions so the public understands the need for changes in how we live our lives. Then we can choose the people to lead our industry, states and nation in the right direction.

Robert Schickel

About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel, P.E., has 40 years of experience in planning, design, plan preparation, and construction management of civil and transportation projects. He currently works for DB Sterlin Consultants Inc. as a consultant to Peoples Gas; e-mail: rschickel@dbsterlin.com.

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