Disaster Resilience is all about managing floods and fires and everything nature can throw at us. Well, this would be wrong. According to Paul Gleeson, you can’t consider disaster resilience without also considering climate change. If you want to consider and manage Australia’s disaster resilience, you need to look deeper, towards climate change, which is creating a larger occurrence of disasters upon the world.
when I think about disaster resilience…. I think about (it) through the lens of climate change.
Paul would say his reason for being an engineer has evolved over time. If he casts his mind back to right at the beginning, he recalls his childhood fascination with trying to understand how things worked. And he says he was one of those kids that liked to pull things apart, put them back together and see if they still worked.
He also had a fascination for science and the realisation that engineering is largely the application of science.
I think it’s a fantastic time to be an engineer to be honest, because, if you can’t get excited about tackling a problem that big….
Paul is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia and a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He holds a Certificate in Design Led Innovation from Stanford University.
He is also a member of The University of Queensland’s Master of Sustainable Energy Advisory Board and continues to work closely in partnership with both The University of Queensland and QUT to lead change for students and business.
Our guest is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia and a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He holds a Certificate in Design Led Innovation from Stanford University.
He is also a member of The University of Queensland’s Master of Sustainable Energy Advisory Board and continues to work closely in partnership with both The University of Queensland and QUT to lead change for students and business
Joining us today on Engineering Heroes to help celebrate World Engineering Day is Paul Gleeson
Mel: Paul would say his reason for being an engineer has evolved over time. If he casts his mind back to right at the beginning, he recalls his childhood fascination with trying to understand how things worked. And he says he was one of those kids that liked to pull things apart, put them back together and see if they still worked.
He also had a fascination for science and the realisation that engineering is largely the application of science.
Paul: [00:00:00] I had this real fascination with, with systems in particular and how systems work and that really, I guess influenced the sectors I wanted to work in.
[00:00:08] And I’ve spent most of my career in the energy sector and electricity sector in particular. And it’s fair to say that’s a very complex system. And so for me, the ability to work on something like that, that’s something that’s very dynamic and pretty challenging is really a big part of the pull.
[00:00:24]And I think the why today has evolved even more from that into how do the systems that engineers work on interplay with probably the most important system of all, you know, the planet and the climate, the rest of it. So, for me, it’s the chance to do something complex and meaningful.
[00:00:39] Mel: [00:00:39] I’m just trying to draw The dots between how your fascination moved you to engineering.
[00:00:44] Paul: [00:00:44] Yes. The fascination with science and I don’t just mean physics, but you know, even, you know, bio and the rest of it. You know, how do all these things come together? I guess that’s how I went looking and found engineering.
[00:00:55]Dom: [00:00:55] So Paul, how did you end up in disaster resilience?
[00:00:58]Paul: [00:00:58] There’s certainly a link between the whole, how things work and then you start as a grad and you’re just work on a component, and then as you get a bit more skilled, they let you work on, you know, the component fits into the machine and eventually, how does the machine play in a bigger system?
[00:01:09] So energy sector being a big part of that. And then the system becoming, for example, you know, the interplay between the climate being, a very complex system, and then a very complex system like the economy or electricity network, et cetera, and then figuring out one affects the other.
[00:01:25] You need to decarbonize this one, if you don’t want to throw the other system, which is a climate, completely out of whack. And that the link there for me, is this conversation around disaster resilience. Well that’s becoming a bigger and bigger thing because clearly the climate’s getting more challenging.
[00:01:40] These events are going to get more frequent They are already getting more frequent, more intense. So it ended up the way engineers have to think really needs to shift with that.
[00:01:50] Dom: [00:01:50] So, what is the engineer’s role in disaster resilience?
[00:01:54] Paul: [00:01:54] So for me, that’s the big piece and that’s the bit that I guess I have the most passion about. And the bit that keeps me really excited about being an engineer is, engineers have a massive role to play in that. And so. Again, when I think about disaster resilience, a lot of it now I think about through the lens of climate change.
[00:02:11] And so what is it that engineers can do on the two sides of that coin? So what are the things that you can do to reduce the impact of climate change, in other words, how can we, for example, achieve a 1.5 degree world or two degree world rather than what the unabated future might be. So engineers have a huge part in it, and that’s really that decarbonizing economies and heavy industry transport, everything.
[00:02:36] And then the secondary part, which is you accept that climate change is happening to some extent. So we are going to have more natural disasters to deal with. So how can engineers design infrastructure and assets to be more resilient? To cope with those because we are going to be dealing with them.
[00:02:51] There will be more Bush fires. There will be higher temperatures in those Bush fires. We’ll have some sea level rises to deal with, we’ll have more cyclones. So all those things, the engineer needs to be designing for those today and helping people plan and make decisions for those today.
[00:03:07]here [00:03:07] Mel: [00:03:07] when I initially grabbed disaster resilience, I think, Oh, okay, you’re going to, how are we going to fight fires?
[00:03:13] Or how are we going to respond to the drought or those sorts of things. But you’re very much talking about change. Yeah. Like bigger.
[00:03:24] Paul: [00:03:24] so that’s, that’s my thing. So I think others will come out.. This is how we design for flood mitigation, because that’s a known part of engineering. And I think there’s heaps on that. So for me, I really keep trying to take it back to . firstly, just acknowledging that the frequency intensity of all those categories of natural disasters is going to increase.
[00:03:42] So I just really want to be a voice that keeps telling engineers to be part of that. It’s not alarmist to talk like that. You, in fact, you’re doing a disservice if you’re not bringing that to your client and you’re, you know, you’ve, you’ve got to, you’ve got to bring it to the floor and say, Hey, we need to actually model some more challenging scenarios here.
[00:04:00] You know, this is coming. So, so I do definitely bring it to that, but I figured that there’s an abundance of people who will talk about the detail of specific natural disaster. So, you know, increased or not, not even increased, just, just dealing with the current natural disasters as they stand.
[00:04:17] Like, can we be better at getting communities powered back up, more quickly after a cyclone or a bushfire, that sort of stuff. Um,
[00:04:25] super important. Plenty of it, but
[00:04:27] Mel: [00:04:27] yeah, you’ve taken it to the next step. So there’s the dealing with those on a case by case basis, but then there’s that whole bigger holistic view of, actually what’s causing this increased abundance of fires and floods and all that. And that comes back down to climate change where, you know, it’s not even a question of if, it’s a question of.
[00:04:50] It’s not even a question. I possibly
[00:04:52] Dom: [00:04:52] No, it just is, it is what it is. Yeah. I think.
[00:04:54] Mel: [00:04:54] meant a statement of fact.
[00:04:56] Paul: [00:04:56] That’s what I, that’s certainly my push. And I’ve been quite overt about that over time to try and get that ,shift in language. Not having to be too sensitive to the words, even with the way we had to probably in the previous decade in Australia. So to be able to say, like, I keep saying we’re a science-based profession, let’s look at the science and let’s work with what we’ve got there, you know, and just sort of stay clear of, you don’t need to go anywhere near politics.
[00:05:21] Never a good idea.
[00:05:25] Mel: [00:05:25] Yeah, it helps with the push.
[00:05:26] Dom: [00:05:26] Yeah, that’s the one thing that we’ve spoken to a few people over the years with the podcast. And it seems as though a lot of the times it comes back to, if you can get the political backing, it sort of helps, otherwise you feel like you’re screaming into the air, it’s you, you kinda need someone to give everyone that push because unfortunately the insurance companies are leading the drive in a large proportion of this because it comes
[00:05:49] Paul: [00:05:49] and now, and their finance
[00:05:51] isn’t in their finance. And, and so that, to me, as you say, it’s probably suboptimal that that’s, what’s driving change, but, but, but in the absence of policy, that works right. It works. So from my point of view, I’m happy to just make use of that. If that’s the leverage that that is there, then that’s what we’ve got.
[00:06:10] Dom: [00:06:10] You almost feel
[00:06:10] like you almost feel like saying to those, to those financial institutions? Well, if you had listened to us like 10 years ago, things would have been a lot cheaper for you now, but this is what we have to work with. So.
[00:06:23] Paul: [00:06:23] I think they’re positive, but the positive thing to put on that, and this is more back on the de-carbonization side of things. So the finance sector is relatively simple in the way it views the world. So it’s just looking at it and saying, the world has to decarbonize in response to this problem.
[00:06:38] So capital will have to move from where it was to one of those zero emission technologies. What are the business models that will withstand a transition to zero emissions and that’s where the capital moves to. So, it is relatively simple in that regard. And so therefore that is a force for change, you know, in, in itself.
[00:06:55]Dom: [00:06:55] Do you find the engineers want to design for that sort of situation today, but they also then meet a lot of challenges in regards to environmental and legislative requirements that sort of, uh, is not helping, or is it a case of it is moving in that direction where, there is a lot more of a, a push to think about these considerations.
[00:07:19] Paul: [00:07:19] Look, it’s, it’s definitely moving. You know, one of the things that I Have written about and talked about is that I think it’s really important that engineers realize it’s not alarmist to talk about these things, even though it’s become a bit of a politicized topic. It is still an entirely science-based topic and we are a science-based profession.
[00:07:36] So let’s look at what CSIRO says. Look at what other global science bodies say and let’s work to those sets of scenarios and design to those. And I think that’s moving pretty fast now. And I think, look, the engineers that I work with every day, are certainly, you know, there’s a lot of purpose to be had from trying to solve these problems.
[00:07:55] So I think it’s a fantastic time to be an engineer, to be honest, because, if you can’t get excited about tackling a problem that big, then that’s, something’s missing.
[00:08:04] Dom: [00:08:04] That’s very true. Yeah. It’s like we’ve created our own extreme problem to solve. So in just developing systems over many, many decades, we’ve put ourselves in a position where we need to come up with new and exciting innovations to have to fix all the, the exciting innovations that we had from previous generations.
[00:08:26] Paul: [00:08:26] well, indeed. And, and of course, you know, all of those things were done with the best of intentions, you know, I don’t think any of us knew that CO2 would be the issue that it is today. For example, when a lot of those technologies were developed and now we’re just going to work with it and really we bring that focus.
[00:08:39] Like I said, I think engineers have a massive role to play in this space because at its core, so much of it is a technical problem. And that’s where, I think the other topic that I’m passionate about, which is about trying to lift the voice of the engineering profession up from being the pure technical of pure designer up to being more of a technical advisor. This is really a space to do it because if you look at any business, really, and that any business that’s asset intensive and has, you know, distributed complex asset base, how it’s going to tackle climate risk is, it’s 90% of technical question there’s financial outcomes but technical issues are at the core.
[00:09:17] So again, Why does it matter? Why are we talking about it for engineers? That’s, that’s why, and that’s not the case for many of the other challenges facing the world, but for this one, it is.
[00:09:26]Mel: [00:09:26] I’d like to focus in a little bit to what you were saying there towards the end. What is your role in contributing as an engineer to this space of disaster resilience?
[00:09:37]Paul: [00:09:37] So look for me, it’s fair to say, most of my focus, my personal focus is more on the transition risk side of climate change. As in, how do you help decarbonize industries and businesses? But I am starting to get now pulled more into the physical risk, which is, how can you look at an asset base and overlay different scenarios, including these natural disasters that we’re talking about and then make better decisions about those assets. Like, I touched in the article there’s many, many examples, but if you look at things like, um, sea level rises, you can look at it and say, okay, the modeling shows that it’ll be X centimeters higher in two decades and you go, okay, well, that’s fine. We don’t need to worry about that for this particular asset today. But there are others that in a shorter period of time, when you overlay a few other things like a storm surge from a cyclone, and a King tide, if that coincides with that, and you’ve got that additional five centimeters of sea level, then you’ve actually got a decision to make now in terms of the lifecycle asset, that it’ll take us five years to build a new facilities somewhere else, or do whatever we’re going to do to make this one more secure. That work is happening now, it’s starting to happen now. And what’s pulling that is a number of things. There’s something called the task force for climate related financial disclosures, which came out of the financial stability board, which is part of the
[00:11:00] Mel: [00:11:00] for that one?
[00:11:03] Paul: [00:11:03] There’s a lot of acronyms there. So, uh, but so that, but the TCFD, um, which is the task force for climate related financial disclosures is something that’s been mandated in some parts of the world, it’s been recommended by the ASX. And so in Australia, the ASX 200, 200 biggest listed companies, Many of them are on that journey now of saying, okay, we actually have to disclose our climate related risks to investors.
[00:11:31] And so that means you actually have to start modeling scenarios today. So there’s the transition risk, do our assets … how do they withstand a transition to net zero? But the big one is for engineers, particularly is around the physical risk. We’re going to see more natural disasters.
[00:11:48] So, what does that do to the, or the operations of this business, but more likely to the assets that we have spread around the place. And so whether that’s, could be an electrcity company with poles and wires everywhere through a bushfire regions, you know, you’ve got to look at that under not the historic data, but actually the data looking forward, then what’s the climate going to be doing over the next decade and the next decade, not the previous a hundred years. And I think that’s one thing for engineers is to think about that is, we do need to do a lot more scenario analysis. We need to look at things in some cases from first principles again. You know, there’s a lot of talk about historic intervals and how useful they are, or aren’t, you know, if you say that’s a one in 50 year event or that’s one and a hundred year event based on historic data for either flood levels or whatever, it might be.
[00:12:35] It probably not as meaningful,
[00:12:36] Mel: [00:12:36] Well, it could even change. Yeah. But, but, um, I think Dom’s even said before. Something that was considered a one in 200 events or something you might not even plan for because of the new data now is probably come down to a one in a hundred event or one in 50 year event. Like it, even that old historic data is changing.
[00:12:54] And so how is that impacting what you’ve got to be planning for and, uh, accounting for? And, it’s the seems disaster resilience equals a hundred percent acceptance of climate change. Like that’s not even a question on the table anymore. Is that what you’re seeing and saying?
[00:13:11] Paul: [00:13:11] Yeah. Well certainly for me it is . I think the conversation’s shifted. Yeah. Australia has probably, taken a little bit longer to get there than some places. If you talk to engineers out of the UK and Europe, that the conversation of acceptance was, was done a little while ago.
[00:13:27]But I still think get here it’s moved pretty fast. And it’s been driven by a number of factors. And I think insurance is a big one. You know, the insurance companies globally are extremely focused on this issue because it’s fundamental for them. And so that. That that’s a sort of, I guess you’d say , signal that gets someone to say, we need to actually look at our assets and make sure that, we’ve run these scenarios, that we’re confident that the assets can withstand these different things.
[00:13:54] Because I think the thing with climate change that allowed some people to sort of push it out into a that’s a future problem was the fact that we often talked about, is it one degree rise? Is it two degrees now? Worst case it’s four degrees. We talk about that in an unabated situation, but even that some people might say, Oh, well, know, put in some more air conditioners.
[00:14:18] Uh, but actually
[00:14:20] Dom: [00:14:20] good grade.
[00:14:21] Paul: [00:14:21] it, but actually what matters is not that average rise. It’s what are the new maximums? Yeah. And I think that’s what we’ve experienced. You look at some of the temperatures that have been saying in the Southern States of Australia in the last couple of summers… What’s noteworthy is not the average it’s actually no, yes.
[00:14:41] On average, this happens across the globe, goes up by 1.5 degrees. But in some locations, the maximum might go up several degrees and it might stay up for consecutive number of days, which it never did in the past. And the assets we’ve designed can’t really cope with that. And conversely you know, what we’re seeing in Texas at the moment, it’s the other end of that. seeing some low temperatures that have never been achieved before in places like Texas, and then you suddenly see engineering systems which is not designed to cope with that.
[00:15:13]And again, if I talk to the niche that I know about technically, which is electricity sector, yeah. there are design conditions that are applied. Someone looks at a gas turbine and decides whether or not you need to have de-icing on the fuel supply lines. That’s based on how often do we get a minimum temperature below X and then you go, yeah, well never, or it’s a one in a hundred year event, don’t bother putting de-icing on there. And then suddenly you have something like that happen and you see the result.
[00:15:42]So back to your original question, uh, yes. I, I think that, uh, we’ll certainly I am proceeding on the basis that it’s absolutely happening and I see the profession broadly doing that as well.
[00:15:53] And, we need to be bringing that into the work that we do every day.
[00:15:57] Mel: [00:15:57] I do find it a little bit depressing that there’s something that you said that it was the financial drivers. That made it suddenly hit home, so to speak. Or the financial hits, the insurance that now, Hey, now we take it seriously when it’s being spoken about for decades. So, um, yeah, that, that was a very interesting point that I just wanted to pull out there.
[00:16:21] But we’re actually, this is a special series for world engineering day. So what does today, what does world engineering day actually mean to you?
[00:16:31]Paul: [00:16:31] It’s really important to actually celebrate the profession and the role that engineers play in society, you know, globally. It’s a profession that’s not particularly high profile in general terms. And I, and so I really like the idea of raising it up, even just for a day and acknowledging that. I think for engineers as well, you know, often, so task-based and head down, just delivering, what’s gotta be done, to be able to sit back on an occasion like that and say, How does this thing I’m doing fit into the big picture? you know, look at the impact it’s making, look at the stuff, the legacy that, either I, or the firm that I work for has done.
[00:17:06] And, for me, yeah, that’s what World Engineering Day is about.
[00:17:09] Dom: [00:17:09] It is, it is really good too, to sort of take a day to acknowledge engineers because you’re right. We’re really bad at self promotion. We’re sort of the unsung heroes in the background who do all this work, but never really put our hands up for the glory. So, it is nice to think that there’s a day out there so that people can remember yeah.
[00:17:30] All those. Well, I suppose they remembering things. I don’t even know that we do, but, um, at least that, you know, hopefully it will bring engineering to the forefront of people’s minds, to get more people into the profession.
[00:17:44]Paul: [00:17:44] Oh, absolutely. And like I said, I think some of the challenges that lie ahead for humanity, if I get a bit large, large about it, so many of them are going to rely on engineers and that profession it needs to be valued. It needs to keep pulling people in because we need good minds to be going into that space. And like I was saying before in terms of this thing about trying to raise the voice of engineers… if you look, look at the firm that I’m in Aurecon, and, you know, we’ve really gone hard on growing and advisory practice as much as growing our engineering practice, because we really see that there’s so much value to be added by getting engineers into those conversations earlier, particularly into decision-making. So yes, obviously you need engineers once you’ve made a decision and you need to deploy a solution, someone needs to design it and make sure it gets built that that doesn’t go away. But actually to have them more involved in the shaping and in the decision making itself is, is really key.
[00:18:40] And like I said, in areas that we’ve been talking about, it’s extremely important.
[00:18:44] Mel: [00:18:44] Yeah, it’s it always comes back to that. Having engineers at that table. And wherever that table may be. Um, so it’s, it’s important to have them in this kind of world engineering day is all about putting that spotlight on so people can get invited to that table.
[00:18:59]Thank you so much for joining us today Paul, it’s been wonderful chatting to you.
[00:19:02] Dom: [00:19:02] Yeah, it was great speaking with you. Thanks for that.
And thank you for listening to Engineering Heroes as we present the new dawn of engineering challenges for Engineers Australia. You can view shownotes, or more about our podcast by visiting our website. www.engineeringheroes.com.au
Be sure to mark the 4 of March in your diary and celebrate world engineering day by doing something special or extraordinary.
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