“The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.” Paul Valery
Forty years ago civil engineers were concerned with issues surrounding pollution to air, water and the environment, traffic congestion, nuclear power, energy, global warming and oil shortages. Today those issues still exist while additional issues of water shortages, deforestation, ocean acidification, infrastructure collapses and sustainable design strategies (to name a few) confront the industry daily.
Rear Admiral Bill Rowley offered an excellent presentation at the Air University. In 1995 he wrote:
When I was growing up in the 1950’s we all knew what the 1990’s would be like. It would be a time of great prosperity. We would live in big homes in the suburbs. There would be many labor-saving conveniences for the homemaker, and robots would do the hard chores. We would commute to work in our own helicopters. The short workweek would mean lots of leisure time that families (mom, dad and the two kids) would enjoy as “quality time” together. Space travel would be common with people living on other planets. Everyone would be happy living a fulfilling life in a peaceful world. Things sure did not turn out that way. In some cases we could not have predicted the full effects of new technology. Robots are not running around the house, but instead, we have computer chips in our toasters. Our dreams in some cases would have become nightmares. Can you imagine five hundred thousand people commuting to work in Washington in their own helicopters? We were very naive about the ways of economics and human nature. The future is not what it used to be!
How does this relate to civil engineering? In the past years the civil engineering industry charged forward planning, designing, upgrading and building. The money existed for future projects. Civil engineers thought of bigger buildings, more complex bridges and interchanges, smart highways, fast rail, upgrades to existing water treatment plants, smart grids to run our power. There was/is a market in need and excitement about the advances in technology and materials to redesign our world. We have the desire, need and the ability to create. With so many talented engineers unemployed and so many young engineers unable to find their first jobs are we missing out on the next great civil engineer of this century? When will we see the funds to get on track?
Right now, the future is not what it used to be! What do you think?