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From the editor's desk: Today’s seed, tomorrow’s shade

Technews Industry Guide: Sustainable Manufacturing 2022 News


Brett van den Bosch, Editor

One could say that the story of climate change, as a narrative, started on 22 June 1988, when James Hansen, the administrator of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, delivered his testimony to the US Congress that presented forensic evidence that the Earth’s climate was warming, and that humans were primarily to blame: “The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.”

What followed has been a litany of failures to actually do anything about it – some sinister, some naïve and some ignorant – but failures nonetheless. The chapter that’s freshest in our memories is the 2015 climate conference in Paris, which gave birth to the so-called Paris Agreement. At long last, almost 30 years after Hansen’s testimony, the international community had committed to limit global warming to well below 2°C (preferably 1,5°C) compared to pre-industrial levels.

Solving – or in the initial stages at least – mitigating the climate crisis will require a concerted effort by (primarily) engineers and politicians. The thing is, engineers are all about solving problems while politicians’ talents lie in creating them and distracting from them.

What this really is, is a human problem. We created it and now we must fix it. Escape is not an option, contrary to Elon Musk’s ambitions of doing precisely that by terraforming Mars. There’s a wonderfully succinct proverb, passed down to us from ancient Greece, that a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. What Musk is promulgating more closely resembles a scorched earth strategy than the acts of a great society.

Further to the humanitarian aspect, in a recently published article on The Conversation website (which you can reach using the short URL www.instrumentation.co.za/*sus22-netzero), three leading academics deliver a brutally self-critical assessment of the role that climate scientists and journalists have played by wishing for too much while applying scientific scepticism too little. In it, James Dyke, senior lecturer in global systems at the University of Exeter, poignantly sums this up by saying, “Over the years, doubt has developed into dread. This gnawing sense that we have made a terrible mistake. There are now times when I freely admit to a sense of panic. How did we get this so wrong? What are our children supposed to think about how we have acted?”

Regardless of how we got to this point, the simple truth is that industrial manufacturing does more harm to our planet than any other area of human endeavour. Today’s captains of industry did not create the environmental problems we face, but they inherited this poisoned chalice and so it falls upon them to rinse it clean. An unenviable task, to be sure, especially when they have their hands full navigating such turbulent waters simply managing a business in these difficult times. But if not them, then who?

For my part, the best I can contribute is a simple but sincere appeal: Stand steadfast and resolute as you go about remedying the mistakes of the past. In all things, practice the principle ‘first, do no harm.’ Think beyond the ticking of ESG checkboxes and instil a sense of social conscience in yourself and in those around you. Do not kick the ball down the road and expect Industry 5.0 to be there to pick it up.


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