I grew up, mostly, in Lincoln, Nebraska in the house of my grandfather, Olin Ferguson. He was the retired dean of engineering of the University of Nebraska, where he worked from 1911 to 1947. One uncle was a civil engineer. The other had worked as a chemical engineer in spite of not registering in school as an engineer, so as not to be in his Dad's college.
So, I grew up to be an electrical engineer, as my grandfather had been, though it was a different field for me than for him.
“Dad-O” went to great pains to teach me that an engineer was responsible to work for the public good, no matter who paid his salary, and that professional organizations including those who handled licensure, were responsible for producing and applying statements of professional ethics.
Many people in engineering think in pictures, and so do I. So, as a ham radio operator, I had run into, bought and used, oscilloscopes. Thus, I found the idea of designing oscilloscopes to be a very attractive job, and came to Tektronix in Beaverton, OR to do that.
I dropped in on the scene as Tektronix was dabbling in digital oscilloscopes. Having taken courses in digital signal processing, I wanted a piece of that. I warmed up on an analog scope project (2465), then transferred to a project that made a “hybrid” analog/digital oscilloscope(2230). This demonstrated that a digital picture of a waveform might be as good or better than an analog one. (Market said so.)
The next project (TDS series) took some ideas about how new display technology could finish making digital oscilloscopes the standard. With those patented ideas, we had great success again.
I raised a family and enjoyed working on the projects at Tektronix quite a lot. Then I had about a decade of experience with being a part of the Tek spinoff environment at the end. In 2008, I retired and looked around.
Bill McKibben made Portland one of the very first stops on his “Do the Math” tour, explaining that there was a carbon budget, and what that meant about climate change.
I found that while my engineering career had felt good, and important, I had failed to catch that Exxon and friends had pulled the wool over our eyes, and it was time to get working on climate. That still feels like a moral failure.
Portland is a hotbed of climate activists, and I quickly found myself among them. 350pdx.org had started, floundered, and was going to try again. Sierra Club was up and running, so, I found myself fighting coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington. This was gratifying work that universally succeeded in stopping the projects, but after a great deal of time and effort.
I was part of the newly formed Climate Action Coalition because some of us felt that the non-coal side of things was getting ignored. Almost as if in response, we discovered the plans to put a massive Propane Export Terminal into the Portland Terminal. So, we fought that tooth and nail. Apparently, very convincingly in the end, as it was voted out.
Shell then was trying to drill the Arctic Ocean for oil. They happened to need to get a ship serviced in Portland, and that became a big confrontation between activists and Shell. While the actions did not have the immediate blockage of Shell's activities, it produced massive publicity. Much of the credit for that goes to Greenpeace's choice of producing a blockade of people hanging from the Cathedral Bridge over the Willamette River to stop Shell – and only Shell – from passing down the river.
We may never know for sure, but we felt that the troubles we gave Shell that summer caused Shell to terminate their efforts in the Arctic the next summer. People that heard the activists' point of view realized that there was no room in the carbon budget for expensive oil from under the Arctic.
The simple math of a pre-simplified carbon budget, and the math of global warming and it's side effects attracts me. If those concepts are used well, they explain what the right answer is on fossil fuels – and pretty much, the answer has been the same since “Do the Math” – “Keep it in the ground”.
In Oregon we are at another chapter in that story. The question is; “Can we effectively manage a state-wide carbon budget, and thereby help the rest of the country do the same?”
I expect engineers to quickly see that the carbon budget states the basic requirements for success, and the management process provides the mechanism for running the project. Thus, the correctly configured law – in the hands of people who understand what to do with it – can produce success. So, I want to help bring engineers, who are highly respected in society, into the process of making this come together and work.