In this blog, I want to highlight some ways in which engineering and politics are aligned, and show that sometimes political struggle is integral in facilitating our broader goals as engineers. I believe the next generation of leaders in engineering need to be engaged with politics now more than ever before, which is difficult given that many young people are disenfranchised and inactive where politics is concerned.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ll have notices that politics in Britain (and in Sheffield) was very much alive and kicking during the latter half of last year. UCU strikes, strikes for climate and the General Election were hot topics.
Political experience can be engineering experience
Two years ago, one of my lecturers defined engineering to a cohort of first year engineering undergraduate students stating ‘engineering is about people’ – and I don’t disagree. Engineering, in my view, is as much about networking, teamwork and communication as it can be about cogs, pipes and wiring. At the end of the day what winning political campaigns boils down to is persuasion, mobilisation, organisation and communicating a strong vision on a large scale. Doing these things can allow you to hone useful ‘people-based’ skills that are involved in engineering too, whether it's on the voting public’s doorsteps, behind a podium, or at party conference.
Engineers can’t tackle engineering challenges without good policies to facilitate them
The reality is that there are many challenges in engineering which are dependent on the political and economic climate determined by strategy coming from institutions at the top. All kinds of driving forces that are ultimately contingent on politics and democratic engagement such as business regulation, taxation, direct non-market incentives and public sector investment can be positive or negative for the engineering community in achieving specific engineering goals.
This is particularly applicable to the issue of the climate crisis and our need to transition away from reliance on fossil fuels. According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we have less than 12 years before the impact of our historic burning of fossil fuels cannot be undone and we cause irreversible damage to our climate – for which future generations may never forgive. To prevent this we need unprecedented changes in all aspects of society including at least a 50% reduction in global CO2 emissions, the brunt of which needs to be undertaken by countries like the UK in the global north.
Engineers are ultimately the men and women who will have to build the renewable technology, new transport infrastructure, carbon capture facilities etc that we desperately need to make the necessary transition. But we just can’t do that without the right policies to expedite their introduction. Moreover, engineers will likely need to find methods of protecting people from the effects of climate change like sea-level rise; an increase in the severity of natural disasters such as hurricanes and
Thank you for reading. If you'd like to find out more about my involvement with SELA or even my environmentalist work then feel free to add me on Twitter or LinkedIn.