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18863 Views 5 Replies Latest reply: Jan 8, 2012 10:04 AM by ucancallmerandy RSS
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Dec 29, 2011 10:27 AM

Engineers: Why Aren’t You Doing Work For Good?

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Martens



Designing software is easy, but engineering to make a difference--being a Citizen Engineer--is the true challenge.


I am an engineer.


Like all engineers, I got a ton of science-based education during my studies. Like all engineers, I am used to taking science and figuring out how to apply it. Like all engineers, when something gets under my skin, I can’t help trying to visually prototype ways to solve it. And the science of climate change is starting to scare me as the numbers keep coming back even worse than scientists’ worst-case models. Right now, we have one-third more CO2 in the atmosphere than we have had in the last 400,000 years.


At a world population of 7 billion, which is projected to reach between 9 and 12 billion by 2050, we are straining the natural systems that maintain clean water, clean air, fertile soil, biological diversity, and the planet’s temperature. With the degradation of these natural systems, life on earth will be inhospitable for human beings by the year 2100. That’s only 88 years from now.


How old are your kids and grandkids?


It turns out that the way of life that we all helped create is not sustainable for the future, and we need to fix it. Are you an engineer? If so, our society needs you to apply yourself to the global warming problem for the remainder of your life.


That is the role of a Citizen Engineer.


Citizen Engineer is not my term. Dave Douglas and Greg Papadopoulos coined the term in their great book of the same title. In it, they discuss the role of the open source software movement and the importance of sharing intellectual property in order to rapidly spread social impact innovations throughout the world. My geology professor, Bernard Amadei, drove home the importance of citizen engineering when he started Engineers Without Borders in 2002. His premise? That engineers need to make public welfare paramount in our engineering efforts.


As my friend Christopher Avery likes to say, “The keys to responsibility come in three steps: Intention, awareness, and confrontation.” We need to become engineers that set our intention by answering: “Why am I working on this? What is the meaning and principle behind my work? How can I make it even more meaningful?”


As Citizen Engineers, let’s own the problem of climate change and take responsibility for it together.



Continue reading this amazing entry at

  • Novice 3 posts since
    Jan 5, 2012
    Currently Being Moderated
    Jan 5, 2012 8:17 PM (in response to squadMCU)
    Engineers: Why Aren’t You Doing Work For Good?

    I believe that Jesus will return before our planet becomes inhabitable. Give it a thought. Everyone believes in something. If it is so then why not believing the truth.

    • Novice 1 posts since
      Jan 6, 2012
      Currently Being Moderated
      Jan 6, 2012 10:32 AM (in response to Xpert)
      Engineers: Why Aren’t You Doing Work For Good?

      I assume that you are Christian and not just a gambling man with an inside track on the resurection. A gambling man could just throw out environmental regulations, and responsibility, and instead profit profit profit until Jesus returns and cleans up his mess. That's a good gamble. However, If you are a Christian, then your book claims that you were selected as the steward of this planet. Why be a bad steward and await JCs clean up program ? Wouldn't you want the lord to return and pat you on the back and say "Gee whiz, you did a knock out job with the planet I left you.". Don't use your religion to avoid responsibility. It is very disconcerting.

      • MetMan Journeyman 93 posts since
        Oct 24, 2011
        Currently Being Moderated
        Jan 6, 2012 10:49 AM (in response to ghendrick)
        Engineers: Why Aren’t You Doing Work For Good?

        I'm glad that Xpert has hope for the future, I also look forward to Jesus coming back...  But I think that it is important for us to be responsible and to take the best care of this planet that we can.


        I like the original poster's question, it is easy for us to focus on the small picture, the day to day problems that we're solving, and to lose sight of the big picture.  It's so important to be intentional in having a positive impact on this earth we live on and the people we live here with.

  • Novice 1 posts since
    Jan 7, 2012
    Currently Being Moderated
    Jan 7, 2012 4:34 PM (in response to squadMCU)
    Engineers: Why Aren’t You Doing Work For Good?

    As I was studying engineering in college, we were given the definition of an engineer as someone who applies science for the benefit of all mankind.  It is for mankind that a true engineer decides on this career, or rather, way of life.

  • Novice 1 posts since
    Jan 8, 2012
    Currently Being Moderated
    Jan 8, 2012 10:04 AM (in response to squadMCU)
    Engineers: Why Aren’t You Doing Work For Good?

    When fresh out of school, most of us are more concerned with making money and getting established. Then comes family and first mortgage, etc. We find ourselves working to live and making a living. Not that this is a bad thing, it is a responsible thing. I believe most engineering activity meets improves the human condition, either by increasing productivity and availability of products, providing products that meet human needs in general or more specific, like transportation, education, entertainment, etc. If you can make a living at it, that is a noble thing.


    After a 30 year career, half as an engineer and half in operations at major corporations, I found myself out of work, my company having been sold to a Taiwanese company. Fortunately, I was in a position to not have to find work right away and also in a position where I could choose something I wanted to do, rather than something that paid well. My wife and I discussed various businesses to start up, all geared at energy conservation or low emission technologies. This was right when the bottom fell out of the economy. Considering my portfolio was hit pretty hard and bank money was tight, I decided to find a start up that met some of our goals. I am now with a start up LED company focused on innovative lighting products that can significantly reduce energy usage. Our products are also well suited for horticulture, delivering photons to plants very efficiently and reducing water consumption by 90%. And, as a added bonus, plants can be grown organically, since they are grown in a protected environment. I find this very rewarding and for once in my life, really enjoy getting up to go to work.


    Yes, we should all question what we are doing as engineers, but just because we are not working directly on major issues affecting our planet is no reason to feel guilty or feel like our careers do not fulfill the mission of "Citizen Engineer". There are many vectors affecting the human condition and many vectors of engineering influence on that condition. It is much broader than the environment. We should be grateful that we were gifted with a brain that is geared towards solving problems and as long as we are solving problems we are all "citizen engineers".

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