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Sunday, 2 March 2014

See-through Engineering and Fracking

Fracking has been back in the news recently, with the Prime Minister announcing that further financial inducements will be offered to local communities to accept Fracking in their localities. We have indeed reached a sorry state when elected politicians no longer respect the wishes of the electorate and resort to bribery to push ahead with what the majority do not want. Expect more of this as the rush to grab the remnants of the earth’s fossil fuels gathers pace. Be in no doubt the governments of the world have no interest in transitioning our economies towards sustainability. Business as usual is the order of the day, and this includes use of military force to ensure strategic national and commercial interests are protected.

In my blog last week I discussed See-through Science – the concept of public engagement upstream, which means not thinking in terms of the public suffering from a deficit, of their need to be educated. It also means, very importantly, exposing the values, assumptions, biases, etc. of scientists. These values, taken for granted assumptions, etc. – which manifest themselves in delusional statements such as: I have no axe to grind, I am unbiased, I am independent, what matters is rigorous evidence based analysis … – being that which the risks can be managed types, do not want to acknowledge.

I also mentioned in my blog that we could also consider See-through Engineering, and the case of Fracking well illustrates this point.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), riding on the back of the publicity created by the Prime Minister's announcement, published an article on its web site that reported the results of an ICM survey that they had commissioned. Guess what, it shows that only 30% of the public have a good understand of Fracking. Recall what I said last week about deficit model thinking. Apparently, according to the IMechE, more needs to be done by the government and industry to inform the public about the technologies, about the controls that will be used, etc. Why? Is it because, once people are aware of these facts they will realise that they have been suffering from, what in my book Encounter with a Wise Man I call, a lack of right-mindedness, and will then embrace Fracking wholeheartedly.

The article also mentions that financial incentives will not be enough to convince the public to accept Fracking. Why do the public have to be convinced? We live in a democracy and if the public do not want something, then that is the reason why we should not do it, and this provides the incentive to start doing what many people know we must do – begin the transition away from fossil fuel addiction and the industrial era society.

Also mentioned in the IMechE article is the need for rigorous evidence based discussion and engineering thinking. If the article is a representation of this desirable mode of thinking, then we do not want it. And on the matter of evidence based discussion, this brings me back to the report on Fracking jointly produced by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2012. I did say, in a blog from 2013, that I would examine this report from a professional perspective, both as a writer and an engineer. I am doing this at the moment and soon I will publish my conclusions. So far though, it is fitting well with all those points that I mentioned in my blog about See-through Science. The case for more robust governance of scientists, engineers and technologists is growing, especially concerning the matter of scientific and engineering bodies claiming to be independent when they are in fact nothing more lobby groups with rather elegant titles.

And just to clarify, I make no claims about being unbiased, of not having an agenda, etc. What these are, should be clear from my previous blogs and my other writings – the future should not be more of the past, which is what you will get if you listen to most in the world of science, engineering and technology. And the military aggression on the part of Russia against the Ukraine that is dominating world events at the moment is a timely reminder of how European culture, with its delusions about its grand and glorious past, has behaved and continues to do so. It is all part of the same destructive mind-set and it is time for people to set themselves free from this.

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