Engineers for Social Responsibiltiy

Continuing my apparent theme of print media reviews, and getting closer to home...

My Friend Wendy is featured in a new booklet from Scientists for Global Responsibility, now available to download, entitled Critical Paths: 12 inspiring cases of ethical careers in science and technology, edited by Stuart Parkinson and Vanessa Spedding.

Wendy is an electrical engineer by training and a member of my Monthly Meeting by convincement. As a side note, a few years ago, she led our Meeting's "energy audit" and helped us lower our energy consumption and in turn saved us a great deal of money through the California energy crises. Her path to professional success has been full of interesting turns, as you will read in her article. She is one of 12 scientists and engineers who have written about how they faced ethical challenges in their work and were able to make changes to their work and workplaces in order to maintain their integrity. This is an excerpt from her article:

"Unfortunately, my assignments for federal law enforcement agencies increased and included work for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The INS needed to expand the number of temporary holding cells for suspected illegal immigrants. In the sweltering 125° F heat, there was concern about people passing out in cells with inadequate ventilation and air conditioning (A/C). I was a project manager for redesigning and constructing cells from existing storage rooms. The official design guidelines were for 20 square feet per person for a 10-hour temporary holding cell. I was directed to ignore these guidelines and have the ventilation and A/C system designed for only 7 square feet per person allowing for temporary holds up to 24 hours. I informed my supervisor that I had ethical problems with the project as I considered these requirements inhumane. He was sympathetic but did not believe we had authority to change INS directives. I applied for a position working exclusively on energy projects and was denied twice. I realised I needed to find other employment. ...

"I now work as a utilities engineer for the California Public Utilities Commission which regulates privately-owned electricity, natural gas, telecommunications and water utilities. I have been working in natural gas regulation because of its importance for both heating and electricity production. As a native Californian who experienced unheated winters as a child, I have a strong desire to ensure the public has affordable energy. Even though I believe it would be best economically and environmentally to extensively re-regulate the energy industry, I do not believe this will happen anytime soon. Hence, I continue to become more knowledgeable about the current natural gas market as required by my work.

"My role also focuses on technical issues regarding natural gas infrastructure, supply and demand, and the forecasted impacts of California’s renewable portfolio and energy efficiency goals. The shift to natural gas continues, partly because it emits less carbon dioxide than coal and hence contributes less to climate change. However, I have concerns about this trend as gas is often preferred over the more climate-friendly renewable energy sources, and furthermore North American natural gas production has peaked and is now declining. I also have deep concerns about the potential exploitation of people and resources in countries from which natural gas may be exported."

From the SGR press release:
"How can ethically-minded science and engineering graduates stick to their principles once they're thrown into the employment market? Practical help is provided in a new booklet published today by Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR). The booklet contains twelve inspiring case histories of scientists and engineers who have prioritised ethical concerns during their career.

The twelve cases cover a diverse range of career paths. They span the disciplines from engineering and the physical sciences, through the life sciences and medicine, to the social sciences. They explore ethical issues relating to military and corporate involvement, environmental protection, social justice and animal welfare. And while most are based in the UK, many have worked, studied or lived abroad. Some of the twelve have found it quite straightforward to pursue an 'ethical career', but others have struggled against powerful vested interests.

The booklet is the latest publication from SGR's very popular programme, Ethical careers in science, design and technology. The booklet was edited by Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of SGR, and Vanessa Spedding, a freelance science writer.

Dr Parkinson said: "More students and graduates are becoming interested in ethical career options - but in the science and technology sectors there is limited information to guide them. In this booklet we give a voice to a selection of role models with genuinely uplifting tales to tell of challenge and sometimes, transformation. Not only is it a good read, it will also help inspire others with the determination and confidence to put their principles into practice and take control of their own careers."

Contact: Dr Stuart Parkinson, tel: 07 941 953 640; email:

SGR is an independent UK organisation of approximately 850 members across the natural and social sciences, engineering, IT, architecture and design. Its main aim is to promote ethical science, design and technology - based on the principles of openness, accountability, peace,
social justice, and environmental sustainability. For more information see http://www.sgr.org.uk

SGR's ethical careers series includes eight other publications - a 32-page introductory booklet, together with the following 8-page briefings:
* Scientists or soldiers? Career choice, ethics and the military
* Corporations and career choice in science and technology
* Unscrambling a space career from military forces
* Your career and sustainable development
* Career choice and climate change
* Cleaner technologies: a positive choice
* Career choice, ethics and animal experimentation.
To download copies of all these documents, or for more information on this work, visit http://www.sgr.org.uk/ethics.html

I think there are enough Quaker scientists aiming for ethical careers who are also reading a few blogs that this might interest a few of you. And for the rest of us, it's a good reminder that there are engineers and scientists who are working on these issues.

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