“Buy a shotgun”: Keith Clarke warns industry to heed science on climate change

Using apocalyptic language, former Atkins boss Keith Clarke today called on the global infrastructure industry to learn from Extinction Rebellion protestors and immediately make CO2 reduction a foundational design parameter.

Urging executives to follow protesters’ example in taking climate science seriously, he told a construction technology conference in Singapore that people should forget about their pensions if global temperatures rose beyond 2°C in the next 20 years, and instead should "buy a shotgun" because there will be "mass migrations, upheaval and extinction".

Embracing digitalisation was a challenge, but it would not change "fundamental business drivers" the way climate science should, he said in his keynote address to Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure conference.

"Technology is going to come to your site. The question is, does science come to your boardroom," said Clarke, an architect whose 40 years in construction include eight as chief executive of WS Atkins. He now chairs the climate advocacy group, Forum for the Future.

"Science has come to the young people: they’re on strike every month," he added.

Technology is going to come to your site. The question is, does science come to your boardroom– Keith Clarke

Clarke referred to a report published in October last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned of damaging impacts to human wellbeing and security if global warming exceeded 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052.

It also warned that warming of 1.0°C has already happened, and that limiting it to 1.5°C by 2030 would require "rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems".

The transitions needed were unprecedented in scale, the report said.

Calling a 2°C rise "unconscionable", Clarke challenged the business-as-usual mindset that prevented the necessary action now.

"If you’re thinking we can go to a four degree world – and I’m really shorthanding the science here – if you think we can get to a four degree world my strong advice as a non-financial advisor is forget the pension, it’s not worth saving. Buy a shotgun, because there’s going to be mass migration, there’s going to be mass upheaval, there’s going to be mass extinction. This is science, and it is now."

Clarke said infrastructure had a major role to play in reducing global emissions because $30 trillion worth of assets are set to be built around the world between now and 2030. He said it was equivalent to six times the existing infrastructure and buildings in Europe now.

However, he said carbon reduction had to become a "fundamentally different design parameter", and warned that the changes needed must happen "at a rate we’ve never achieved but in war".

"There are no pathways to getting there without all aspects of the economy doing their bit," he said.

Image: Keith Clarke addressing Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure conference, 24 October 2019 (Rod Sweet/GCR)

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  1. We are still being ignorant and arrogant about climate change. Until it happens to us fully and when we face the true fact staring us in the eyes when there is no return. What will we do then.

  2. Very astute thinking. Everybody needs to climb on board this particular bandwagon. Government policy, changes in legislation and innovative design is the key to changing the whole philosophy around hydrocarbon consumption.

  3. I was there. Very compelling presentation. Time to act

  4. It is not helpful to advocate. Buying a shotgun. To respond to the climate change agenda with a potentially violent stance does harm to the argument. It also frustrates the many dedicated property and construction folk who shoot seriously and who contribute to environmental enhancements all over the UK and overseas.
    I doubt if Mr. Clark would now pass the test to possess a shotgun.

  5. Impressive speech that really made me think. Listen and start acting – you cannot ignore the facts presented. Engineering plays a key role in our attempts to reverse the rise in temperature.

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