From a newfound trust in scientific expertise to an appetite for working together, Engineers Australia National President Chris Champion and CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans ask whether the tragedy of COVID-19 could lead to positive change.
For more than a century, Engineers Australia has stood with engineers through the challenges of world wars, recessions, the Great Depression and, more recently, the impacts of the global financial crisis and the savage bushfire season of 2019-20.
As the peak body and voice of the profession, we are working to support our members, our profession and our community as we face COVID-19.
For example, we have helped authorities identify companies that can produce medical, protective and testing equipment, as well as people with the expertise to recommission ventilators or re-tool production lines.
Like many other organisations, we’ve also swiftly moved to a digital-first approach to support our members. We remain open for business and contactable, even though we’re working remotely.
The health, economic and geopolitical impacts of COVID-19 are dramatic and traumatic. They will unfold over months and years.
No one would wish for a pandemic. However, crises make us act differently, stop to think and re-assess our priorities.
The question we’re exploring today is whether we might see some positive legacy from the tragedy of COVID-19.
As engineers, we hope the community and politicians’ newfound trust in scientific expertise — in evidence — continues. What’s more, we hope it can be applied with an even greater sense of urgency to the existential threat that is climate change.
From graphics demonstrating the impact of physical distancing on infection rates and graphs showing the need to “flatten the curve”, to discussion on community transmission rates, more members of the public are bringing science into their conversations.
We take heart from this rational analysis while hoping that others will emerge, blinking, from their vortex of conspiracy theories and panic-bought toilet paper in years to come.
There are seldom easy answers in society, but public discourse frequently pretends otherwise. This past April, modelling put before government was released, providing a rare insight into the data behind the decisions.
We can only hope for greater transparency in the future, along with acknowledgement of the complexity and trade-offs that will inevitably be required.
The war against COVID-19 is not solely waged by the medical profession. It’s by engineers, data modellers, epidemiologists, behavioural scientists, app developers, contact tracers and researchers.
It’s truckies, teachers, cleaners, supermarket shelf stackers and the people who pick our produce. It’s unions and employers. It’s both sides of politics. It’s the people who stay home in tracksuit pants — and the people who dress up in their finest to make taking the bins out into performance art for the enjoyment of all on social media!
We hope society can maintain at least some of that willingness to work together, that knowledge we’re all interdependent and that willingness to care for the vulnerable in future — when we return to the liberties and luxuries of “normal” life.