Kayak4earth Pty Ltd
Steve Posselt is a 67-year-old civil engineer, adventurer, author and grandfather. He has been a climate activist for well over a decade, using extremely long kayak journeys to promote awareness and education.
Currently Chair of the Sustainable Engineering Society, Steve is working with Engineers Australia to come to grips with the urgency for climate change action. As a civil engineer specialising in water, he uses his skills in everything he does, especially in his understanding of the environment and the role of engineers.
How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
More than 40 years.
Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
I wanted to know as much as I could about how things worked, especially water.
How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
Engineers are the custodians of risk for almost all infrastructure. It is we who decide whether a dam is built to a flood of 1/1,000 years, 1/10,000 years or maximum probable. We decide the statistics used to design a bridge with regards to ship collision. We have an ethical responsibility to explain what a 1/5 chance of collapse of society as we know it means and according to the IPCC, this is where we are at with climate change.
What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
I paddled my kayak from Brisbane to Adelaide in 2007, and this trip challenged many things I had believed about water. For instance, we have turned most of our rivers into drains and we need to rethink our engineering and the Toowoomba and Grantham floods were caused by us. Engineers have many equations at their disposal to show why this is so and we need to educate the community.
As a civil engineer, about 35 years ago I drifted into what is more of a mechanical engineering field, but is interdisciplinary. There were many challenging projects but I became one of the best penstock/slide gate engineers in the world. Being the only penstock engineer in Australia around the millennium, it was great position to be in and I remember thinking that to be the best you just keep narrowing the field until you are the only one with as much knowledge in that area.
What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
Sustainability in all its forms such as climate change, species extinction, chemicals etc, are all problems that can be solved by engineers, but government policy has hamstrung the profession. Engineers must be asked to solve a problem, not be told to build something by a politician. Most politicians do not have the necessary skills and training to impartially evaluate an issue such as a city running out of water.
What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
Most of the world we live in is the result of engineers’ work and without engineers, it would not be there. With the unprecedented challenges facing the world, it is an exciting time to be part of the necessary changes that must be made. As in the past, the changes will not happen without engineers.
Who is your engineering hero?
Looking at a famous engineer I would have to say Sir John Monash, who would no doubt be bitterly disappointed by the way his name has been stolen in support of coal.
At a personal level, I was working in Libya in 1978 under an English engineer, Trevor Westoll, who taught me skills to complement my university training. Things like how to set out a square or rectangular field of a certain size without the use of instruments. He taught me how to relate the vast knowledge that we had been given in six years at university to how the real world worked.