To do no harm, think critically, be humble

stop adaniLast week I signed the Australian engineers declaration on climate and biodiversity crises. This week I was asked to speak at a Stop Adani rally to pressure one of Australia’s big engineering firms, GHD, to rule out working with Adani on the coal mine.

Here’s my letter to GHD:

Dear GHD,

I’ve looked at your media responses relating to requests to stop contributing to the Adani coal mine project and I find them inadequate. We need all the resources a company like yours can muster working toward solving our climate crises not undermining efforts. Please find my speech to the protest outside your offices today. I hope it provides some food for thought.  Please consider signing the Australian engineers declaration at and polling your employees for their thoughts on how an ethical, modern engineering company should behave in the face of an urgent society-wide need to radically change our energy systems.


The first true professions were considered doctors, lawyers and priests – and its interesting that these three professions have a form of oath or promise to be true and good.

200 years ago engineers were sneered at by the doctors and lawyers for not being “true professionals”. Their work was too practical, they got their hands dirty to make stuff happen. They were considered jumped up craftsmen.

But engineers have achieved so much. Our profession has been synonomous with progress throughout the industrial revolution. Our work has invented and improved the technologies that use our bounty of fossil fuels:

  • The steam engine
  • Railways
  • Cars
  • The light globe
  • Electric motors
  • Power stations and
  • Aeroplanes

We are waking up to the fact that energy has given us so much and we can’t live without it. BUT fossil fuels need to stay in the ground.

We no longer have sneering about the worth of engineers.

And our profession holds strong values about the reliability and safety of our work, but we don’t have an equivalent to Hippocratic Oath of

First, Do No Harm

We are at an important moment in history to make good on that omission.

We can join the Australian engineering declaration on climate and biodiversity crises. It recognises that engineering has a responsibility to actively support our transition to a low carbon future.

This is our moment to make a promise to our planet and our fellow citizens to be true and good.

As a profession we have enormous expert power, the power to understand how systems work in detail, the power to build stuff and make it work. Yesterday, the Guardian pointed out that firms like GHD are nothing without the expertise of their employees.

Engineers are smart people and we’re good at solving problems

We can build and develop the technologies that meet the needs of todays society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries

  • But to do so, we need to think critically about our impact. We need to see beyond our immediate job and our immediate client. We need to challenge ourselves to understand the broader impacts of our design decisions and commit to decisions that only push us in the direction of better.
  • And we need to be humble. Engineering expertise is not the only expertise needed to solve planetary challenges. Respecting and learning from the knowledge of others is an essential skill and can help us avoid the tech hubris that engineers have been accused of in the past. We have not been perfect and as a profession we have caused more than our fair share of problems.

Changing the way we do our jobs is not a simple proposition, it challenges our deepest habits, it requires changes to our workplace systems and it involves all our colleagues around us.

I think it’s a bit like the disruption of renovating your own home. A reno is not something you head into lightly. You need to plan it carefully. And the middle part is always messy – where you are moving away from the old ways but haven’t finished building the new. But it will be worth it and we need to commit to these sorts of deep changes in our workplaces.

We can’t talk about tackling climate change without understanding that deep changes are needed in all parts of the energy system value chain. GHD need to be part of that change.

They say management is doing things right

but leadership is doing the right thing

To my fellow engineers I say, lets make our promise that our work will do no harm – this is our moment to step up and lead.

About Heather

I am an energy and climate change specialist with a background in industrial energy efficiency and climate change policy.
This entry was posted in Climate change policy, energy transition, Talks and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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