Sunday 31 October, 1.45pm until 3.15pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Keynote Controversies
Are we are living in a world where utopian thinking is at best idle day-dreaming and at worst downright dangerous? Popular visions of large-scale engineering seem to be overshadowed by the negative aspects of the man-made world, from climate change to unsustainable growth to the unforeseen side effects of cutting-edge technology. Do we have to let go of the vision that engineering and technology can promise us continued improvement in quality of life? Is it really just wishful thinking to argue for a more ambitious role for human ingenuity, and the transformative power of innovation? Are we limited to only doom-and-gloom nightmares of nature taking revenge on humanity’s arrogance, to a perceived need for belt-tightening austerity and a tomorrow of ‘make do and mend’.
In this context, the idea that we might seek actively to determine - to engineer - our future might seem more 19th than 21st century. Instead, much debate today is limited to fighting back the fire, focused on securing any kind of future against the threats of unsustainable economic growth, depleting natural resources and demographic shifts. It is often remarked, in the developed world at least, that this is a generation that now no longer assumes things will be better for its successors. Countries like India and China, however, seem to have a more positive attitude to how today’s young engineers and scientists might shape tomorrow’s world, with ambitious road and rail projects that promise to reshape vast landscapes. Even in the UK, some, like James Dyson in his recent Ingenious Britain report, argue that aspirational visions of the future are absolutely necessary.
But what does this mean in practice? What plans if any are being hatched by the coming generation of British engineers? Can we make a compelling case for engineering the future? Or we have gone as far as we can - if not too far – so that the priority now is more about changing human expectations and behaviour than reshaping the world?
Listen to the session audio:
executive vice president within Shell's Projects and Technology organisation; fellow, Institution of Chemical Engineers
editor, NovoArgumente; author, Die Steinzeit steckt uns in den Knochen: gesundheit als erbe der evolution
|Professor Bill Durodié|
head of department and chair of international relations, University of Bath
|Dr Scott Steedman|
director of products and services, BRE Global; editor-in-chief, Ingenia; fellow, Royal Academy of Engineering; writer and presenter, How did they build that?
|Professor Andrew Stirling|
co-director, ESRC-funded STEPS Centre, University of Sussex; co-author, Dynamic Sustainabilities: technology, environment, social justice
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
In a world rife with conspiracy theories, there's little scope for human agency.Frank Furedi, The Australian, 9 October 2010
It is not just that the West is saturated, but rather that it feels exhausted. “Small Is Beautiful” is what we tell ourselves when we need to justify running out of steam.Bill Durodie, Independent Blogs, 30 September 2010
China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots” I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments.Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 25 September 2010
Why we shouldn't buy into geoengineering fantasies.David Jamison, Slate, 23 September 2010
Businessmen, scientists and right-wing thinktanks are joining forces to promote 'geo-engineering' ideas to cool the planet's climateClive Hamilton, Guardian, 14 September 2010
Should it ultimately fail, a well that has already caused the biggest offshore spill in US history is likely to continue gushing for another 60 days. One false move or clumsy touch could wreck the operation, and put the future of Britain's biggest oil group at risk.Ed Crooks, Financial Times, 6 June 2010
Technological schemes to combat global warming are viewed as wacky or impractical. But they belong in the mainstream debate on climate changeOliver Morton, Prospect, 17 December 2009