There’s one thing that the Queen and IChemE have in common – they (we) are both neutral on Scottish Independence.
However, there are lots of individuals in the chemical and process industries that have chosen to support one or other of the two campaigns – Better Together or Yes Scotland.
One of the latest opinion polls by YouGov from 6 September shows just how tight the vote will be on 18 September: The ‘Yes to Independence’ group has a slight edge at 51 per cent, with 49 per cent stating ‘No’. According to YouGov, it’s a ‘statistical dead heat’ with just days to go.
I recently came across the Ipsos MORI 2014 Public Attitudes to Science study which focuses on public perceptions in the UK to science and engineering.
The survey did not test scientific knowledge but instead examined the social connections between people and science. This approach is useful as it offers an insight into how a person will respond to a specific issue, for example fracking.
A Golden Age is a concept that implies a period of great advancement and outstanding achievement for a civilisation or topic. This concept can be applied to chemical engineering.
Although chemical engineering is a relatively new profession, it could be said that it has already gone through two such periods of change and has now entered a third Golden Age of practice, thought and impact. With many great opportunities and challenges that accompany it.
One of the biggest frustrations that many scientists and engineers face, both in academia and industry, is short-termism. For issues like sustainability it’s problematic.
Investors and politicians can be nervous about taking the long-term view. Business likes quick wins; figures it can report quarterly and give annual performance targets.
By contrast, the journey to sustainability is often gradual, steady and long-term. For many of us it is a continual process of improvement – a step-by-step process of finding ways to use less energy, reduce waste and generally improve.
Sometimes, you find yourself in situations you have never planned or anticipated. That happened to me in 2010 as my wife and I were just flying out of Houston on 21st April 2010.
We heard a brief news story that an oil rig had caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico. This was Deepwater Horizon, the Macondo well, which eventually became the largest blowout and offshore oil spill in history – little did I know that this incident was going to fill my life for the next 85 days and beyond.
It helps to have thick skin if you’re involved in the energy sector. Although demonised may be too strong a word, large chunks of the energy sector does seem to be dogged by negativity, fear and distrust.
Shale gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ invokes worries about earth tremors and contaminated water supplies. Nuclear energy attracts concerns over cost and safety. Renewable energy infrastructure like tall wind turbines are on the receiving end of vociferous community lobby groups. Energy production is inextricably linked to climate change. All these issues are regular frequenters in the media’s column inches.
Smoking, passive-smoking and tobacco-related products like ‘chewing tobacco’ still kill around six million people a year. Despite all the education, controls and stigmatisation of smokers over many decades, the casualty rate is expected to rise even further to eight million by 2030.
But humanity is likely to face an even bigger killer in the future – obesity.
Worldwide obesity has doubled since 1980. Current estimates suggest 3.4 million adults die every year as a result of being overweight.
If you are familiar with political life in the UK, you’ll know that when the House of Commons is sitting, you are allowed access to the central lobby and can request to see your local Member of Parliament (MP).
They may not always be there, but it can be quite an effective way to lobby UK politicians and is one of the benefits of living in a democracy.
With some exceptions, many countries, including the UK, have just been through the worst recession ever. Even now, nations have still to return to 2008 economic output levels.
If you managed to survive the last six years, you’re likely to be leaner and more efficient, but still cautious. As economists say – confidence is the magical word to drive investment, jobs and expansion.
Patrons, envoys, role models, ambassadors, champions. Call them what you want, but symbolic leaders are valuable in all walks of life. Should professions be any different? And have you ever considered who are the champions for the chemical engineering profession?
A few years ago tce magazine wrote a fantastic series of articles about chemical engineers who changed the world. Starting with pioneers like Johann Glauber in the 1600s, tce gradually worked their way through people like George E Davis, Fritz Haber & Carl Bosch, Victor Mills, Trevor Kletz and Yoshio Nishi.
It’s generally well-known that relationships and how we work with our partners and stakeholders is important in the modern business world. Indeed, many organisations in the chemical and process industries have large PR machines and lobbies to represent their interests.
Of course, at IChemE, we do the same, but in a much smaller way. And as president of the Institution of Chemical Engineers it is my pleasure and privilege to represent the profession and meet a great range of people nearly every day.
As a professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London I am often asked about the future. What we know for sure is that there is going to be major change with climate change, dwindling fossil fuels and an extra two billion people on the planet all playing their part in the various scenarios and possibilities.
There are other factors too, but it’s always interesting to look into the crystal ball through the eyes of some of the various stakeholders in the chemical and process industries.
I had an interesting message from IChemE member and MediaEnvoy Keith Plumb overnight.
It covers a sensitive and sometimes controversial issue – the growth of human population – but he also points out the power of individuals to make a difference.
Using Keith’s words he says: “The elephant in the room with respect to climate change is the growth of the human population. I used to think that chemical engineers could do little until I read an article about a man in India who developed a simple machine for making sanitary towels.”