G. Pascal Zachary says, in his article for IEEE Spectrum Magazine, Why Engineers Must Try to Save the World, that engineers need to work to save the world.
It may be selling engineering short to call the desire to save the world “messianic”. The end of the article focuses on geoengineering approaches to climate change. The article discusses debate within the UN about whether we should not study geoengineering approaches to climate change or we should proceed in case the planet is “broken beyond conventional means of repair”. It’s questionable to call a complex system like our planet “broken” or fixed”. There certainly are no conventional means of repairing a planet.
The climate of the earth is changing because of natural processes (i.e. moving deeper into a glacial minimum period) and because of human activities. Critics of geo-engineering want an approach based on carbon emission reduction and increasing natural CO2 absorption. I support those measures, but I suspect they will be insufficient. Even if we stopped all carbon emissions, we would still face rising sea levels due to the natural receding of the glaciers. The goal should not be a planet just as it would be if humans were not present but a planet that serves human needs. Engineers need to be a part of that. The fact that climate change is happening faster because of human activities only increases the urgency to develop geo-engineering techniques.
This research will be hard to promote because the loudest voices in the environmental debate either want a) to preserve a climate free from anthropogenic effects for the sake of nature itself or b) to deny blissfully that the climate is changing and human activities can shape how it changes.
The problem of sound engineering approaches being tough to sell crops up in other issues. Engineers should work on promoting engineering-style solutions to the world’s big problems.