Since moving home I’ve managed to kill what little time I haven’t spent unpacking my way out of rooms re-playing Bastion, while the other-half fights through The Last of Us. Both these games share a certain “end of the world” theme; and I’ve found myself thinking back to a phrase I’ve often touted out when introducing people to what Civil Engineers do: “We design and build civilisation”.
But playing these games begins to beg the question, could we rebuild it?
At what point do Civil Engineers become important again? Let’s not forget that in this current incarnation of civilisation Civil Engineers didn’t appear until 1770’s.
It’s 2016 and in a battle for ratings against Britain-Has-Strictly-Factored-Dancing-Talent, Big Brother XV has brought about a chain of events that has left the world in ruin. The populous has been decimated and our cities, towns, and even quaint Countryfile villages have been leveled. Having survived, using the MacGyver-esq ingenuity I picked up from playing too many post-apocalyptic video games (take that MAVAV), I step outside to build a brand new world.
If I’m truly the last human left alive then (biologically) rebuilding civilisation is a bit of a moot point. So, at this point in the thought experiment, let’s introduce a rag-tag crew (à la Walking Dead) of other Civil Engineers I’ve known and worked with (identities protected; you know who you are).
I’ll save you some time, we’re going to die.
Maslow cannot be denied, and as Pratchett notes in Strata: “Even sub-orbital machines were the apex of a pyramid, huge and old, resting on things like subsistence agriculture. It was no good trying to fly before you could eat.” The fact is, that for a tribal existence the skills of a Civil Engineer just aren’t needed. People need food, water and shelter to survive; in our world Civil Engineers are responsible for two of these three, but for small groups you’d be better with an experienced camper.
Therefore, despite my advertising assertions, having a Civil Engineer in your survival party won’t do you much good; although arguably the ‘problem solving’ nature of engineers should at least make them more helpful than a T4 presenter. It might not be immediately apparent, but this is just a restatement of the phrase “An engineer can do for a penny what any fool can do for a pound”. The decimation of a population, however, means that effective infrastructure just isn’t a concern.
So, at what point do Civil Engineers become important again? Let’s not forget that in this current incarnation of civilisation Civil Engineers didn’t appear until 1770’s. This is fairly telling, as it coincides with the Industrial Revolution. Considering that education will be difficult to maintain, the furthest we could legitimately ‘leap-frog’ the rebuilding of our civilistion is to the Neolithic Revolution. This makes the first Civil Engineering works some 11’000 years away.
Of course, this is a little facetious. Before this there were Military Engineers, Master Builders and the Masons. Don’t forget, the Roman’s had roads and viaducts, infact many of the Egyptian structures are still amongst the largest ever constructed. But even these were 7000-8000 years from the ground-zero that these world’s end stories present, and are a far cry from the Eurocodes…