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The current manufacturing system is exhausting fresh resources and generating insurmountable amounts of waste on a resource-constrained planet. Hence, climate engineers have a pivotal role, acting as catalysts to craft a sustainable shift including regenerative materials systems. Their education needs to address these new priorities.

Our current ‘take, make, dump’ approach is unsustainable. The paradigm must shift towards circular production systems that balance environmental preservation, economic growth and societal impact. Key to this will be engineers’ understanding of concepts such as ecological modernisation, green growth, industrial symbiosis – spearheading efforts to ensure sustainable growth. Despite the existence of corporate initiatives that balance profit generation while addressing societal and ecological needs, resource deficits persist, underlining the finite nature of our planet’s resources.

A part of the solution could lie in regenerative systems. In these systems, underutilised materials and energy are recovered and reused from input, waste and output streams, reducing environmental impact from waste disposal practices while enhancing its economic value. Thanks to this approach, engineered products can be reintegrated into technical processes rather than ending up in landfill sites, thereby addressing the increasing demand for fresh resources, minimising pollution, and tackling energy crisis.

However, this change demands engineers who can think holistically and act responsibly. These professionals must be frugal in their thinking, utilising scalable, low-cost clean-energy technologies to maximise impact while bearing responsibility for societal outcomes. To facilitate this, our industrial systems need to emulate natural systems by maximising the economic use of waste materials and end-of-life products.

Engineers must be trained in strategies related to climate change, sustainable development, energy demand, and life cycle assessment. Their education needs to encompass more than traditional engineering topics. They require exposure to climate modelling, environmental strategies, climate economics, behavioural sciences, and an understanding of its societal implications. Only an interdisciplinary understanding can allow them to grasp the intricacies of Earth’s systems and guide initiatives for creating a positive impact.

Let’s consider the example of the fashion industry, one of the most polluting sector in today’s world. Fashion industry follows a linear approach that leads to unsustainable practices, product quality compromises, and waste generation. Here, engineers can disrupt this cycle, promoting sustainability through circular models. But to do so, they need tools to foster innovative circularity and a strong sense of responsibility. Engineering education must focus on unlocking this potential and ensuring a thorough understanding of the environmental impacts and risks of their solutions.

This highlights the role of climate engineers as catalysts for a sustainable future. Climate engineers have to assess the social, economic, and environmental implications of their work, not least because the unintended consequences could outweigh the benefits. This impact extends to politics and policies that shape future manufacturing and consumption strategies.

We could also cite the cases of environmental contamination from “forever chemicals” or potentially harmful substances like aspartame in edibles as instances where engineered initiatives have far-reaching societal impacts. Further, the energy swift proliferation of solar panels at present may lead to future challenges concerning end-of-life recycling, resulting in substantial waste accumulation. Engineers evaluating potential implications during the initial implementation phase can aid in preparing strategies for mitigating negative societal impacts.

The complexity, dynamism, and diversity of Earth’s climate far surpass that of the life forms and materials that inhabit its terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Human activities, with their diverse impacts, have significantly shaped these unique characteristics of our planet. As such, it becomes critical to reimagine and modify the technological systems we have developed to coexist harmoniously with the myriad of other species on Earth. Our human impact needs to evolve into sustainable and equitable practices, and climate engineers are instrumental in this shift. It is time we empower them to shape a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient future.

Source: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/voices/shaping-tomorrow-climate-engineers-as-catalysts-for-a-sustainable-future/?val=3728