‘Optimism and Change: Sexuality, Climate and Engineering’ by John Browne, Lord Browne of Madingley hosted by the Michael Larsen, the Master of the Worshipful Company of World Traders

The Tacitus lecture this year was a wonderfully optimistic overview of the challenges and opportunities faced by the world today.

And how engineers will continue to be the key to solving many of the problems faced by humanity for decades to come.

Lord Browne began by outlining just how far the world has come in the last 50 years

  • Globally life expectancy has increased by 25 years
  • Adult literacy has gone from 36% to 86%
  • Over 30 new vaccines have been developed and made

These are a wonderful manifestation of progress for humanity and it is too easy to lose sight of this when thinking about the challenges for the next 50 years. But his message was clear, we need to remain optimistic and we need to advocate for engineers – it is the people who ‘do’ that count, rather than the people who seek to share opinions and rhetoric.

However, to add context to this, Lord Browne explained he is not unaware of the challenges we face as a society and he does not underestimate the complexities. But he is clear we need balance – we must proceed with engineering innovation in different fields but we need to maintain public trust whilst we do so – balance is key.

Lord Browne’s second key message was on Climate Change.

He outlined just how costs have fallen in recent years for many green energy technologies. Whilst he recognises the pace of change is too slow, he believes we are on course to make a difference. One option he described to accelerate the protection of the earth’s resources is for the Global North to financially incentivise the preservation of the world’s natural resources such as the forests and the mangroves. This is not charity, it is investment for the long term.

Lord Browne’s third and final key message was on inclusion.

‘Discrimination is the enemy of progress.’

Lord Browne spoke of inclusion of all types: sexuality, gender, ethnicity, disability, religion and all protected characteristics. He talked of his own sadness of not experiencing inclusion when it became known that he is gay.

Even if we just consider this from a commercial standpoint, he explained the loss of economic output from exclusion is unacceptable.

We will only embrace humanity’s full genius when we offer opportunity to all.

A powerful and optimistic message to end on – very much a rallying call for embracing difference and championing engineers in the solution of the global challenges we face today. Let us all be optimistic enough to know we can make that difference in what we do too.