Although it is often regarded as the simplest discipline, civil engineering has saved more lives than all of the world’s physicians — both past and present — combined. After all, this discipline gave rise to the processes that separate, treat and monitor our water to prevent the spread of harmful bacterial diseases (i.e., dysentery, typhoid fever, hepatitis, etc.).
Now, given the ever-present impacts of climate change and the steep increase of global environmental crises, the field of civil engineering could be onto its next big life-saving feat — this time, with its sights set on planet Earth as a whole.
Since the eruption of the clean energy revolution in the mid-2000s, scientists and civil engineers have worked side-by-side in an effort to both reduce the harmful effects of pollution.
While there are several noteworthy advances in engineering that have greatly contributed to the wellbeing of our environment, one of the most popular is renewable energy. Acting in conjunction with former President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Department of Energy has been responsible for harnessing the natural energy of the Earth — including solar, wind, geothermal, bioenergy, and water — to power homes and businesses alike.
Additionally, developments in alternative transportation have aided the collective effort to reduce CO2 emissions. Alternative transportation can range from electric cars to promoting walking, riding bikes, or carpooling to the public via regulation.
Recently, a select group of scientists have brought forth what is considered to be one of the most drastic solutions to climate change in the history of engineering: manipulating the global climate via drones.
The proposal came from the mind of David Mitchell, an atmospheric physicist at the Desert Research Institute. In 2009, Mitchell and a colleague published a paper “suggesting that seeding cirrus clouds with tiny particles of bismuth tri-iodide, an inorganic compound that may break down into the necessary sub-micrometer size, might substantially offset climate change.”
While the cost to employ such a strategy is relatively small — approximately $6 million, according to Mitchell’s calculations — this proposal has been deemed both controversial and potentially detrimental to the environment, depending on who is in charge of the mission.
Regardless of the feasibility of such geoengineering tactics, the constant research and development that occur between the scientific and civil engineering communities may be a beacon of hope in this time of increasingly dismal climate projections.