Idea of restoring 'natural systems' misses mark as response to climate change challenges

February 19, 2010

TEMPE, Ariz. - The adage says that to discover the right solutions to a problem you first have to ask the right questions.

As Arizona State University engineering professor Brad Allenby sees it, our search for technological solutions to large-scale environmental problems sometimes gets off on the wrong track largely because we're posing the wrong questions.

Particularly in the debates about how to respond to atmospheric greenhouse gas buildup, climate change and humankind's impact on the global environment, Allenby says, "We are often framing the discussion from narrow and overly simplistic perspectives, but what we are dealing with are systems that are highly complex. As a result, the policy solutions we come up with don't match the challenges we are trying to respond to."

Allenby will offer his recommendations for reframing the approach to such challenges in his Feb. 19 presentation, "Technological Change and Earth Systems: A Critique of Geoengineering," at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Allenby is a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, a part of ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

He's founding director of the Center for Earth Systems Engineering and Management, and chair of the Consortium on Emerging Technologies, Military Operations, and National Security.

He's also a professor of ethics and engineering in ASU's Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics.

Geoengineering focuses on designs for large-scale environmental engineering to influence or counteract such things as climate or atmospheric changes.

One misstep in such endeavors is that we are searching for solutions that will restore natural systems. But Allenby contends "the planet no longer has purely natural systems. What we have is an integrated natural-human environment, one shaped over centuries by a combination of natural factors and technological evolution."

The questions in which we must frame discussion of potential geoengineering solutions should be grounded in awareness of this reality, he says.

"Responding to something like climate change is not just a scientific and technical matter," he says. "Whatever attempted solutions we chose, or reject, will have significant cultural and ethical implications."
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TEMPE, Ariz. - Engineering frequently expands technological boundaries, but Brad Allenby says engineering education is often less pioneering.

"The way we are teaching engineering now is not sufficiently responsive to the rapid technological change we're seeing in the world around us," says the Arizona State University professor.

Today's engineering students need not only a broader palette of technical knowledge but a finely tuned cultural literacy and competency as communicators, he explains.

He'll expand on those ideas in the presentation "Educating Sustainable Engineers: From Batch Processing to Personalized Education" on Feb. 19 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Allenby is a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, a part of ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

He's also a professor of ethics and engineering in ASU's Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, and founding director of the Center for Earth Systems Engineering and Management, and chair of the Consortium on Emerging Technologies, Military Operations, and National Security.

A sustainable engineering education in the 21st century requires educators and students to break out of the box of convention more radically than ever before.

Every engineer - no matter their specialty - needs to know the fundamentals of emerging fields such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, information and communication technology, and cognitive science.

Beyond more extensive technical proficiencies, they also must understand the evolving global context to which modern engineering must respond, Allenby says.

This means developing business savvy, along with keen awareness of the social and environmental implications of emerging technologies.

"We're talking about the engineer not just as a techie, but as a leader, a competent designer and manager of complex systems, who can adapt to rapid societal and technological change," Allenby says.

In his presentation, Allenby will critique current engineering education methods and propose ways to create new learning environments to provide the type of education he outlines.
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Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering: http://engineering.asu.edu/

The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University serve more than 4,000 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students, providing skills and knowledge for shaping careers marked by innovation and societal impact. Ranked nationally in the top 10 percent among engineering schools rated by US News & World Report magazine, the school engages in use-inspired research in a multidisciplinary setting for the benefit of individuals, society and the environment. The school's 200-plus faculty members teach and pursue research in areas of electrical, chemical, mechanical, aerospace, civil, environmental and sustainable engineering, as well as bioengineering, energy engineering, computer science and engineering, informatics, decision systems, and construction management. The schools of engineering also work in partnership with the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and faculty work collaboratively with the Biodesign Institute at ASU, the School of Sustainability and the Global Institute of Sustainability. SOURCE:
Brad Allenby, braden.allenby@asu.edu
Professor
School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment
(480) 727-8594

MEDIA CONTACT:
Joe Kullman, joe.kullman@asu.edu
(480) 965-8122 direct line
(480) 773-1364 mobile


Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona USA
http://engineering.asu.edu/

Arizona State University

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