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On science, engineering, consultants and climate change

One of the strands of my research is to study the impact of climate change on plant and tree health. But this problem goes much wider. There are a lot of commodities that are heavily at risk due to climate change. Whether an individual, a government agency, a start-up or a large company, we must adapt to the changes. If possible, we might also take action to slow down or even reverse climate change. 

But how do we know what, where and when to act? Or even whether it is right to act at all? I argue that we need specialised interdisciplinary teams to provide advice, working closely with those affected – companies, governmental organisations, communities and individuals.

Many companies are either creating an in-house team to focus on sustainability or hiring consultants such as modelling, engineering or environmental consultants to provide assistance. Those with statistical, mathematical and computing skills are becoming significantly more and more sought-after, and it’s easy to see why and how they benefit organisations. 

For example, getting a handle on the company’s carbon footprint is important to fighting climate change. It provides insight into the biggest climate risks to the business and helps identify the most effective greenhouse gas reduction opportunities. One of the biggest benefits (and reasons) for large companies is to opt for hiring engineering and science consultants with skills in statistics, mathematical or computing modelling, such as a finite-element analysis often provided by external FEA consultants. Calculating your company’s carbon footprint is an important first step toward carbon neutrality. It provides insight into where emissions most likely occur and helps to develop a sustainable reduction strategy.

Identifying potential vulnerabilities and increasing resilience is also very important, and some cities are even taking steps to build resilience to climate change. Investing in urban trees is one way to do this, but we need to do it carefully. 

Not only major cities but large companies are putting a stronger focus on this as well, and again they need engineering and environment consultants. These actions include open space planning, building requirements, and district energy. They also include building retrofits, energy efficiency upgrades, and water conservation measures. Hiring a consultancy firm will allow them to help calculate vulnerability by evaluating the likelihood of a hazardous event.

Some firms may outsource pollution-intensive production processes to reduce their direct emissions. This strategy may be driven by the firm’s desire to attract more investors or customers. Not something I advise, but there might be scope for moving industry around to minimise the environmental impact, and again consulting scientists and engineers is the essential factor – as is involving economists and social scientists!

Using advanced simulation tools, designers and engineers can reduce the use of finite energy sources to fight climate change. These tools can also be used to optimise processes and improve product designs. 

As scientists and engineers, we increasingly rely on computers in all the analysis steps. Computer-aided engineering (CAE) is an essential part of contemporary vehicle development processes. CAE can optimise processes, select designs, and validate products. It can also be used to validate designs before hardware is available and to simulate different designs to select the best one for production or implementation. 

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