Stories need to be honest and credible, not rose-tinted. When an engineer on an environmental mission says “I’m far from being a tree-hugger” and admits climate change news can be a turn-off, I know I’ll be telling a genuine tale.
Bringing home the message
Kevin McCullough, CEO of Calon Energy, is passionate about the environment. He’s also a big believer in teamwork. Combining both, he offered two employees from Calon and one from Siemens the chance to go to Antarctica.
Ciara Doyle is a Siemens plant engineer at Severn Power, one of three gas-fired plants Calon owns in the UK. She was lucky enough to win the competition and honest enough to admit she wasn’t a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist.
“I was far from being a tree-hugger. You see so much in the news about climate change that you can almost switch off, not knowing what to believe,” she says. “My main desire was to visit a place that few in the world get to experience and to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures.”
The trip proved inspirational. Not only because of what she saw – an ice landscape that most only see through satellite images – but because of the people she met.
The expedition was led by explorer Robert Swan, the first person to walk to both poles. It was part of his 2041mission, so named because 2041 is when a 50-year treaty protecting Antarctica from exploitation could come to an end.
“Rob is a very compelling character and totally inspiring. He’s devoted his life to protecting the world’s last great wilderness,” says Ciara. “But equally inspiring were the other people I met on the trip, people who had given up their jobs to do amazing projects because of their passion for the environment.”
One was a man who trains women living in remote villages in India to use solar technology. “Men tend to go to the cities when they acquire these skills. His focus is on reaching the women who stay behind.” She also recalls conversations with a teacher of children in the Himalayas whose homes are at constant threat of being washed away by flash floods. “It was humbling to realise that those children were more alert to the environment than I was.”
Ciara and her Calon colleagues wondered how, as power plant workers, they would be received. “In fact everybody was incredibly welcoming. What you come to realise is that we can all be doing something, whatever our background. It’s a discussion we had with Rob. The answer isn’t to chuck in your job and protest, but to look at what you can do for the environment from inside industry.”
Her role as a plant engineer has since been expanded to focus much more on energy efficiency and the use of resources at Severn Power. The trip also led Ciara to reflect on the role scientists and engineers have in combatting climate change. “I fell into engineering by accident. I want more people, especially more girls, to know what a great career it is.” She’s going into local schools to highlight opportunities and to make the link with the environment. “I want young people to know what engineers can do and capture their imagination.”
She believes it’s very easy “to get caught up in your own bubble” and not be aware of the wider world around you. “We were incredibly lucky enough to go on an expedition that showed us the bigger picture, and we came back really wanting to make a difference. But we don’t want to just show our colleagues a lot of holiday snaps or shove messages down people’s throats. We want to keep the experience going through actions rather than words.”
Image courtesy of Ciara Doyle, pictured with Robert Swan