Dr. Clough speaks on ethics in engineering

On March 24, Tech students and faculty had the distinguished honor of having Dr. Wayne Clough, the former President of Tech and namesake of the CULC, speak about climate change’s impact on habitats and mankind. Dr. Clough was chosen to speak by a new selection committee established by the school of Environmental Engineering.

This new speaker series brings a distinguished leader to Tech every fall and spring to share his or her thoughts with Tech students and faculty. After asking 1200 students and Tech alumni and 100 faculty and staff members, the committee came to an unanimous vote for the selected speaker: Dr. Clough.

During the lecture, Dr. Clough emphasized how engineers, not just Washington bureaucrats, need to focus on solving the major problem of climate change. Citing the rising sea level as evidence of climate change’s major repercussions, Dr. Clough illustrated climate change’s vast effects.

He then raised a valid point: With the government not even spending money on our highways, why would the government spend money on a future event that some still doubt? He believes engineers have a moral responsibility to address this mounting problem.

“The most important thing for an engineer to keep in mind when designing is public safety and welfare; we engineers have a code of ethic,” Clough said.

Recently, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China met and decided to mitigate the effects of climate change, which Dr. Clough believes to be historic since the two countries are tackling a serious issue.

Every four years, the U.S. performs a climate assessment where different U.S. agencies, such as NASA and the Smithsonian Institution, must answer questions specific to climate change. Certain agencies took serious action after these assessments, such as NASA which sent out a satellite named Tempo which monitors U.S. pollution.

Dr. Clough also spoke on the Earth’s temperature that has been increasing since 1880. The latest measurement was in 2013, which showed that the temperature has increased by 0.16 degrees Celsius. At this rate, the sea level would rise by 10 feet by year 2200. We would need a boat to see the Smithsonian by 2200.

Dr. Clough then poses an intriguing question: “How do we fix this sea level rise rate of about 0.13 inches per year?”

With the growing population, carbon dioxide continues to be an issue according to Dr. Clough. In 2150, there will be 3 billion more people and another 2 billion more by the end of the century. Dr. Clough feels we cannot add that many more people. Although some carbon has resulted from natural causes, he feels we still have a responsibility to help combat the man-made sources of carbon dioxide.

His solution to this is mitigating the severity of the problem. He cites the New York’s $25 billion spending budget on floodwalls post-Hurricane Sandy as a strong example of mitigation. This is a good step to take according to Dr. Clough, but he suggests combining the money put into protecting the citizens on the coast with mitigation.

According to Dr. Clough, if humans do not slow down the level of carbon dioxide released into the air, mankind will enter the Anthropocene age, a proposed time period that will occur when human activities prominently impact Earth. During the Anthropocene age, there will be a black layer of carbon left by humans along with an excess of plastic located in the ocean. In fact, even the sand is predicted to be mostly plastic.

Connecting climate change back to Tech, Dr. Clough spoke about Tech’s prestige in mitigation. Tech has a Carbon-Neutral Energy Solution Lab and leads the carbon-free environment campus effort domestically.

“Doing nothing is simply not an option, and I took an oath as a civil engineer that public welfare is the most important thing,” Clough said.

When Dr. Clough first came to Tech as an administrator, students complained about the lack of recycling on campus and demanded change. Now, Tech is one of the best campuses in the world when it comes to recycling. Dr. Clough gave a shout out to everyone on campus and proclaimed that he is proud.