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The role of engineers in economic development

There is a great reliance on technology to solve environmental problems around the world today with an almost universal reluctance by governments and those who advise them to make the social and political changes that would be necessary to reduce growth in production and consumption; yet the sorts of technological changes that would be necessary to keep up with and counteract the growing environmental damage caused by increases in production and consumption would have to be fairly dramatic.

The technological fixes of the past will not do. And the question remains: can such a dramatic and radical design of our technological system occur without causing major social changes, and will it occur without a rethinking of political priorities? Technology is not independent of society either in its shaping or its effects. In the data of human experience, our tools need to interact with every component of our existence: physically, environmentally, educationally, psychologically, socio-economically, politically and spiritually in order to be fully relevant to human needs.

Sustainable economic development is the challenge of meeting human needs for natural resources, induce trials products, energy, food transportation, shelter and effective waste management while conserving and protecting environmental for future human and capital development when they are fully harnessed to create jobs and generate income for the government for the purpose of economic development and transformation of society to the glory of God.

To enable engineers fully be part of the economic development, there should be broadening and strengthening the education of engineers and finding innovative ways to achieve needed economic development in all areas while conserving and preserving natural resources.

Who is an engineer?

According to Oxford advanced learners English dictionary, an Engineer is a person whose job involves designing and building engines, machines, roads, bridges, etc or a person who is trained to repair and control engines. An engineer can be Electrical, Mechanical, Civil, Materials, Electronic, Petroleum, Software, Chemical, etc. Engineers are also found in military barracks because they design and build military structures and equipments, so they can be soldiers as well. We also have Genetic Engineers.

What is economic development?

Economics can be defined in many ways; following are some of the definitions. Economics is the human Science which studies the relationship between scarce resources and their various uses which compete for these resources.Economics is the study of how people choose to allocate limited resources to satisfy their unlimited wants. Economics is the study of how society decide what to produce, how to produce and whom to produce. Purpose of studying economics by engineers is to learn how not to be deceived by economists.

Economic development is the development of economic wealth of countries or regions for the well-being of their inhabitants.The economic development process supposes that the legal and institutional adjustments are made to give incentives for innovation and for investments so as to develop an efficient production and distribution for goods and services. Economic development is a sustainable increase in living standards that implies increased per capita income, better education and health as well as environmental protection.

Development is economics on a social level that has evolved into a professional industry of highly specialized practitioners normally working in public private partnership that are sanctioned and many times at least partially funded by local, regional and state/ provincial tax dollars. These economic development corporations function as individual entities and in some cases as departments of local governments. Their role is to seek out new economic opportunity and retain their existing business wealth. There is intensive competition between communities, states and nations for new economic projects.

The creation and retention struggle is further intensified by the use of many variations of economic incentives to the potential business. These incentives vary greatly and can be highly controversial. The measurement of success within this industry is normal job creation, economic growth and increased or retained tax base.

How engineers can ensure a sustainable
economic development

Sustainable economic development can only occur as a result of the creation of a world wide caring community. A Community of people who are working together for common ends and to meet the basic needs of all our people. The concept of sustainable economic development is central to the achievement of these key goals. It can be taught of in terms of policies and programs designed to meet their own needs.

The achievement of sustainable economic development requires a new and different approach to policy making and its implementation. The Government is looking for greater integration and co-ordination of policy making and its implementation across the public sector and across social economic and environmental policy portfolios. It is also looking for an approach characterized by greater partnership between central government, local government, economic entities, private industry and other community groups.

Engineers must lead this new industrial economic revolution.There is some excellent leadership by professional organizations such as the institute of electrical and electronic engineers(IEEE), world engineering partnership for sustainable development (WEPSD), world federation of engineering organization (WFED), Nigeria society of engineers (NSE), American society of civil engineers (ASCE), and world business council for sustainable development (WBCSD), among others to make sustainable economic development high priority in engineering and business both in practice and in the education of future engineers.

They are promoting codes of practice education, mentoring programs, and policy changes that will encourage the engineering profession to lead this economic revelation. The engineering courses being studied in higher institution of learning should also include borrowed courses that bother on acquiring business knowledge and skills at the first and at the second year level in order for the engineers to be able to relate their engineering practice to the business reality on ground in order to contribute fully to the economic development of their respective nations. That’s one way the engineers can be fully integrated into the running of the countries of their origin.

Designing a sustainable future requires a paradigm shift towards a systematic perspective which encompasses the complex interdependence of individual, social, cultural, spiritual, economic and political activities and the biosphere.The engineers of the future must be much more interdisciplinary – the lines between the traditional engineering disciples must be much more fluid. Engineers will have to join forces with biologist, chemist, meteorologist, economics, planners, political scientists, ethicists, religionists and community leaders in unprecedented ways to lead the society on a sustainable economic path.

Since it is likely that we will double the amount of housing and building construction in the twenty-first century (and buildings utilize a tremendous amount of materials and energy) it is imperative that civil engineers team up with architects, planners and other engineers to revolutionize construction. I believe that there is a special role for civil/environmental engineers in the future. Rather than being engineers that primarily design technologies to control or remediate pollution, I believe the environmental engineers will be interdisciplinary, system specialists who will bring together, coordinate and manage the entire specialist to solve complex environmental problems and promote sustainable development.

Moreover, all engineers must play a much stronger role in the public policy process to provide the right incentives for industry and others to move on sustainable path so that engineers can be encouraged and supported to design sustainable technology for the purpose of economic development that benefits society in a holistic way now and in future. As Don Roberts advocates, we must become better informed of the interdependence of environmental, economic, health and social issues, inform others and become leaders, otherwise the agenda will be set by others who neither know the benefits nor the limit of technology in a sustainable modern society.

Educating engineers for a sustainable economic development

Such a shift in the thinking, values, and actions of all individuals and institution worldwide calls for a long term societal effort to make environmental and sustainable concerns a control theme in all education, particularly for engineers, economists and business people.

If we are to achieve a sustainable future, institutions of higher learning must provide the awareness, knowledge, skills, and values that equip individuals to pursue life goals in a manner that sustains human and non-human well-being. This is critical since higher education prepares most of the professionals, who develop, manage, teach and influence society’s institutions. The organization of seminars and workshops by professional engineering organizations like IEEE and NSE will go a long way in educating their engineer members on their role in contributing effectively to national economic development. Several prominent engineering schools such as Georgia Technology are making important strides by making sustainable technology a core mission and MIT with its program in Environmental Education and Research (PEER).

Despite these effort and those of a number of Colleges and Universities which have active environmental studies programs and train graduate professionals, education and research about the interdependence of and a sustainable relationship between human and the rest of the environment is not a priority in higher education.


Sustainable economic development relies on technological change to achieve its aim but will governments take the tough steps that are required to force radical technological innovation rather than the technological fixes that have been evident to date? Such measures would require a long-term economic cost while industry will readjust.

It would appear that so long as sustainable development is restricted to minimal low-cost adjustment that do not require value changes, institutional changes or any sort of radical cultural adjustment, the environment will continue to be degraded unless sustainable change occurs, the present generation may not be able to pass on an equivalent stock of environment goods to the next generation.

First, the rates of loss of animal and plant species, arable land, water quality, tropical forest and cultural heritage are especially serious. Second, perhaps more widely recognized is the fact that we will not pass on to future generation, the ozone-layer or global climate system that the current generation inherited. A third factor that contributes overwhelmingly to the anxieties about the first two is the prospective impact of continuing population growth and the environmental consequences if rising standards of material income around the world produce the same sorts of consumption patterns that are characteristic of the current industrialized countries.

Even if people put their faith in the ability of human ingenuity in the form of technology to be able to preserve their life styles and ensure an ever increasing level of consumption for technological systems rather than continue to apply technological fixes that are seldom satisfactory in the long term, technological optimum does not escape the need for fundamental social change and a shift in priorities. That was the mistake many in the Appropriate Technology movement made. It takes more than the existence of appropriate or clean technologies to ensure full sustainable economic development. Engineers have a leading role in planning, designing, building and ensuring a sustainable future.

Engineers provide the bridge between science and society. In this role, engineers must actively promote and participate in multidisciplinary teams with other professionals, such as: ecologists, economists, medical doctors, and sociologists, to effectively address the issues and challenges of sustainable economic development because engineers working on a global scale will help promote public recognition of the engineers and understanding of the needs and opportunities in today’s fast developing world in order to ensure the engineers’ role in a sustainable economic development in it.

Eng.Tochukwu Francis Okoye is a corresponding assistant to Prof. Herbert Eze

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