In this episode, I talk with Dr. Paul Chinowsky about the critical significance of climate change resiliency in the industry and the intriguing transition from research to consulting. We also delve into the differences between tackling climate change resiliency in academia versus the industry, and shed light on the essential skills required to effectively address this pressing issue.
***The video version of this episode can be viewed here.***
Here Are Some of the Questions I Ask Paul:
- When did you realize that your passion for addressing climate change would become your long-term career path?
- Having moved from academia to industry, can you share the main differences you’ve noticed in how each sector deals with climate change?
- How does your background in engineering and architecture prepare you for the specific challenges of climate change analysis?
- What essential skills do upcoming engineers need to address climate change resiliency issues effectively?
- How do civil engineers contribute to the environment compared to their counterparts in environmental science?
- How do you stay current and adjust your skills as new scientific developments emerge, and what methods do you use to stay informed?
- How do you handle controversies in climate change discussions, considering diverse perspectives and using your expertise to form arguments?
- What are your predictions for the future intersection of civil engineering and climate change in the next decade?
- What’s your final advice for aspiring individuals looking to build a career in the ever-evolving and challenging field of climate change?
Here Are Some Key Points Discussed in This Episode About Building a Sustainable Future with Climate Change Resiliency in Civil Engineering:
- Working on Alaska’s coast, the impact of climate change hit home as entire villages faced erosion. This raised a key question about the vulnerability of coastal infrastructure. The excitement came from the convergence of diverse backgrounds to tackle climate change’s multifaceted challenges. The crux of the profession lies in addressing new problems and making a real impact.
- In academia, it’s about theoretical questions like water supply. Consulting is hands-on, solving real-world problems like preventing floods and prioritizing investments. The shift includes addressing practical issues like energy needs for vulnerable populations. The key is the difference between theory and hands-on problem-solving, depending on personal interests.
- Paul’s background is a unique blend of architecture, engineering, and computing, providing a holistic understanding of how science affects the built environment. This rare combination, not as prevalent two decades ago, has empowered Paul to effectively address diverse global challenges.
- In this generational shift, new industry entrants need more than just engineering skills. They should understand climate science, particularly data analysis, and collaborate effectively with diverse groups. Engineers now play a frontline role in driving change, requiring proficiency in communication and environmental science, and reshaping expectations for the next generation.
- Addressing water runoff and climate change, the focus has shifted to fundamental design considerations. Understanding and explaining the environmental impact is crucial for prompt and credible client responses, even without being an expert.
- As the team lead, your role is to be the central communicator, translating complex science into practical impacts on road design and budgets. Embrace the challenge and find satisfaction in being the intermediary between different aspects of the project.
- Staying informed is vital in this field, with a daily commitment to reading new policies, advocacy, and science updates. Spending 45 minutes each morning keeps you ahead, preventing credibility pitfalls when clients discuss recent information. The key is to read widely, understand all sides of the arguments, and stay updated on policies for a well-rounded perspective.
- Strip away politics, focus on facts, and be honest about uncertainties. Keep it practical and relatable — like discussing the cost difference per mile, per year for adapting versus waiting when talking about road impacts. This approach keeps people engaged without overwhelming them with abstract numbers.
- The challenge ahead is rebuilding our national infrastructure, posing an ethical and pragmatic dilemma for engineers. The key decision is whether to stick to past data or design for the evolving environment. The conversation over the next decade will focus on redefining priorities and shifting away from traditional infrastructure models, like investing in high-speed rail rather than rebuilding the interstate highway system.
- For those entering this rapidly evolving field, start by expanding your knowledge using online resources like the National Climate Assessment and IPCC. No need for formal classes — the internet has it all. Secondly, shift your communication approach. Rather than assuming you know everything, respect diverse perspectives in the room and learn to communicate effectively. These two steps will set you on the right path in this dynamic field.
More Details in This Episode…
About Dr. Paul Chinowsky
Dr. Paul S. Chinowsky has been working in the field of climate change adaptation since 2006, and his climate impact analysis work has been applied in over 50 countries. He works with public and private clients on the potential impacts of climate change and the risks to short-term and long-term operations. Resilient Analytics developed the first widely used climate impact model, the Infrastructure Planning Support System (IPSS), which addresses both direct impacts, such as extreme temperatures and precipitation, as well as indirect impacts, including drought, sea level rise, and floods. This work has expanded to include impacts on public health, environmental systems, and the adaptive capacity of populations. Dr. Chinowsky works with clients to determine specific physical and population risks from climate impacts, including costs to government budgets, healthcare systems, and long-term operations. He is currently working on projects for groups including the Environmental Protection Agency, United Nations, and the World Bank as well as Fortune 500 customers.
Dr. Chinowsky has been an author of both the IPCC and National Climate Assessment reports in the area of infrastructure. Dr. Chinowsky’s work has been featured in global media outlets including the New York Times, NPR, CNN, the BBC, and other international outlets. He has published results in both engineering and economic journals to disseminate the evolutionary approach to climate adaptation.
Before founding Resilient Analytics, Dr. Chinowsky was a faculty member at the University of Colorado Boulder and Georgia Tech in civil engineering. Dr. Chinowsky received his bachelor’s and master’s in architecture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1987 and 1988, respectively. He received his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Stanford University in 1991.
About the Host: K. James Taylor, Jr., P.E.
K. James Taylor, Jr., P.E., is a licensed professional engineer and an associate vice president at Verdantas, an emerging environmental, engineering, and technical consulting company with a green, sustainable, and people-first approach in the foreground. James has over 17 years of experience in civil engineering in the land development and municipal fields. Land development services include the design of subdivisions and site plans for compliance with local codes and ordinances, civil/site engineering, stormwater management, road design, and utility design. James has served as a project manager since 2018. In 2021, James was recognized with the Outstanding Project Manager Award at Duffield Associates (now Verdantas) for outstanding performance as a project manager and his consistent display of leadership traits valued by the company, including scheduling, management, proactive communication, collaboration, responsiveness, and client-focused service.
James was selected as the 2021 Young Engineer of the Year by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Delaware Section and served as the President of the Delaware Engineering Society and the New Professionals Director on the NSPE Board of Directors from 2021-2023.
Books Mentioned in This Episode:
This Episode Is Brought to You By:
Improving Lives Since 1913. Stanley Consultants has been helping clients solve essential and complex energy and infrastructure challenges for over 110 years, completing more than 50,000 engagements in 120 countries and all 50 states and U.S. territories. Values-based and purpose-driven, Stanley is an employee-owned company of engineers, scientists, technologists, innovators, and client-service experts who are recognized for their commitment and passion to making a difference. For more information on Stanley Consultants, please visit http://www.stanleyconsultants.com.
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To your success,
K. James Taylor, Jr., P.E.
Host of The Civil Engineering Podcast