Are we there yet?

Consider this a part 2 of my previous column “How people think differently about the same color”…

The last project I was involved in I had to read a rather interesting chapter from the book “Surviving the century” by Herbert Girardet (and a boatload of contributing authors). One of the subjects it goes into rather concisely is the world’s energy supply problem. I’m pretty sure that most of the people who will read this are already familiar with the issue, but to summarize it anyway: fossil fuels, which will be possibly depleted as soon as 2050, currently still account for over 90% of global energy supply. [1] Not only does the book make the case for why an outright shift to mass adoption of renewable energy is needed, but more importantly it paints a rather disheartening picture of why it currently isn’t happening. Simply put, most parties that currently maintain the bulk of financial and political power really have nothing to gain and everything to lose if our oil-dependent economy changes too fast to one that relies solely on renewables. In a sense it is the same disagreement as my previous story about door stickers, only on a much larger and more problematic scale. How should (aspiring) engineers deal with a reality full of people that aren’t necessarily waiting for them to save the world from certain doom?

I’ve come under the impression that creation of new, better and more sustainable technologies is only half of our work as technology students, engineers and scientists. To an ever-increasing extent we are required to be able to present our ideas and findings in an attractive way to a wide audience. In a sense we’re not just engineers, but we’ve become salesmen as well. Come to think of it: the notion that I’m trying to sell sustainability seems a little bit filthy to me, even though there is a good chance I will probably spend the majority of my further professional career doing just that. How can we truly prevent playing into greenwashing if we keep using “sustainability” as if it’s a cheap marketing term ourselves?  Here’s a thought that might be worth selling: stop making sustainability such a big deal. It isn’t a special concept that is used as a unique selling point; heck, it shouldn’t even be noteworthy. It should be natural, dare I say second-nature, to us humans.

I genuinely believe that sustainability – as a goal for mankind in general – will only be reached once we stop talking about it (or it will indicate our ultimate failure, but at least we’ll have a definitive answer to the issue).


  1. Girardet, H., (2007). 'Renewable energy is the future'. In: (ed.), Surviving the century; Facing climate chaos & other global challenges. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Earthscan. pp.37-55.

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