Apegga1c.gif (2007 bytes) The PEGG
March, 1999
Page 3 President's Notebook

Toward a Better Environment

By Dan Motyka, P.Eng.

We all have a responsibility toward our environment, no matter how widely we define that term. It’s true whether we are referring to our political, social and economic environment, or more specifically to the "physical" or "natural" environment. As engineers, geologists and geophysicists, some special responsibilities and expectations rest upon our Motykact.gif (2144 bytes)shoulders as a result of our expertise and training, and by virtue of the obligations we assume as professionals.

It’s a rare day that passes without news reports of some environmental "disaster" or "crisis". Often the subtext implies that somehow science and technology have failed. Be it industrial emissions, soil contamination or waterway pollution, we see an accusing finger pointed toward our professions as if we somehow are the culprits. A public which in so many ways has benefited from the application of technology views itself as a victim ready to utter the refrain from the old Laurel and Hardy movies about "a fine mess you’ve got us into!"

Who amongst us will forget the tragic shooting death of Patrick Kent, P.Eng., a highly skilled and very professional engineer, who lost his life while taking every reasonable action to mitigate against any negative environmental impacts of the project under his direction. Every day, professionals, like Patrick, use their special skills to protect the public and the environment against the impacts of necessary resource development or infrastructure projects but without the recognition they deserve. Environmental activists, on the other hand, are quick to gain the attention of the media and the public whenever a cause is taken up regardless of its validity. Our professions must stand proudly for what we do and seize every opportunity to show how people like Patrick, and thousands more like him, work diligently every day to protect our environment for future generations.

Seeking Solutions

Ironically, no sooner has the blame been laid at the feet of science and applied technology, than the very accusers turn to engineers and other scientists for remedies. Whether the public believes we are the cause of environmental degradation (an assertion I would challenge), they obviously are turning to us for solutions. Fortunately, in many cases, we are able to provide them. Hundreds and even thousands of our members are involved in seeking environmental solutions. That’s true whether these professionals specifically are employed in the "environmental industry" or whether they are performing other duties which call upon them to fulfil the first rule under our current Code of Ethics, namely that: "Professional engineers, geologists and geophysicists shall have proper regard in all their work for the safety and welfare of all persons and for the physical environment affected by their work." (my emphasis).

In addition, APEGGA took a leadership role among its sister associations with the 1994 publication of the Environmental Practice Guideline which spells out in greater detail our obligations on environmental stewardship.

Notions which a few decades ago were considered advanced thinking, today are accepted as common currency. For instance, the publication a dozen years ago of the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development brought to the forefront the concept of sustained development.

Climate Change

To an agenda that already contained such issues as acid rain and ozone depletion, the notion of climate change has been added. Important in that regard has the been the National Climate Change Secretariat which, with governments and other stakeholders, is developing a national implementation strategy on climate change. Together they are examining the options available to Canada for implementing the Kyoto Protocol and its impacts, costs and benefits. We are fortunate that a member of APEGGA Council, Bonnie Stokowy, P.Eng., is playing a prominent role in that process. Bonnie has provided Council with some excellent updates on the background and developments relating to the Kyoto process. Bonnie is not alone; a dozen or more members of our Association serve on some of the "tables" or stakeholder committees set up to review specific aspects of the strategy on climate change.

(I’m also informed that The PEGG is preparing a series of articles on the national climate change strategy — so keep posted.)

Making a Contribution

Members of APEGGA are not waiting for the National Climate Change Secretariat to complete its task before getting on with the job. It would be possible to list dozens of ways in which APEGGA members already contribute at home and abroad to various environmental endeavours, be it toward remediation, sustainability or prevention. From desalination projects in Rajasthan, India, to providing people in Nicaragua and elsewhere with an inexpensive means for filtering their water, our members are involved as part of the solution.Whether it’s designing composting systems to finding ways for reducing and eliminating gas flaring at plants or wellsites in Canada, our members are part of the solution. I’m happy to say that as part of my regular work, I’ve been involved with the development and marketing of what I believe are also environmentally friendly solutions.

As professionals — and if I may speak as an engineer — we have been trained not to overdesign and that we should not apply resources beyond what is needed. While this is a laudable objective and one that might appear to be in line with the notion of sustainable development, it also may lead to misunderstandings. Engineer P. Jeffrey Seaton, in an article he wrote a few years ago, put it quite succinctly. "Engineers are trained to believe the minimum required becomes the maximum supplied while environmentalists believe that the maximum attainable becomes the minimum that is acceptable."

I believe that when it comes to the environment, there is room not only for dialogue but also potential for a meeting of minds and of objectives. As engineers and geoscientists we may have had difficulty explaining what we do — and therefore perhaps have been misunderstood. We also may have fallen short in explaining why we do what we do. If we can overcome that hurdle, I believe we will have gone far toward convincing a sometimes skeptical public that we not only are committed to the environment but that indeed we are part of the solution, not the problem. 


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