The 2008 joint meeting of the GCAGS-GCSEPM/GSA/SSSA-ASA-CSSA held in October in Houston was a truly historic event of major importance in increasing awareness and support in the United States for the International Year of Planet Earth (IYPE).
Under a banner of “Celebrating the International Year of Planet Earth,” nearly 10,000 geoscientists, soil and crop specialists and other experts in related disciplines from academia, industry and government – including many students – attended hundreds of scientific sessions (including 10 plenary sessions focused on major IYPE science and outreach themes), visited hundreds of exhibitors and participated in field trips and many convivial social events.
Among the other activities was the launching of a hot air balloon promoting the IYPE in Green Discovery Park in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. Another memorable event was the 5K Fun Run/Walk along the Buffalo Bayou Trail involving 500 participants, each of whom received a commemorative T-shirt celebrating Planet Earth.
This meeting was the most ambitious, widely attended attempt to date to bring to the attention of the U.S. geoscience community the significance of the IYPE to the future of our planet and society – and remind them of their important, even paramount, role in its success.
By all accounts that came to my attention everyone in attendance became much more aware of and energized by the potential of the IYPE to make the world and society safer, healthier and more prosperous and experienced a realization that each of them can and should play an important role in achieving that goal.
Several years of planning and coordination among the sponsoring organizations and scores of individuals were involved in making it all possible.
Although there is a long of those people who worked to make this meeting a great success, I would be remiss if I did not single out for special recognition AAPG member Ralph Baird, chairman of the IYPE Development Committee; Jack Hess, executive director of GSA; Wesley Hill, GSA coordinator of international affairs; AAPG member Linda Sternbach, president of the Houston Geological Society, and Ellen Bergfeld, chief executive officer of SSSA/ASA/CSSA. They most certainly merit our special gratitude for their efforts in our behalf.
For those who could not participate in the meeting, a bit of background might be in order. The IYPE is a joint initiative of the International Union of Geological Sciences and UNESCO.
Its inception dates back to the 31st International Geological Congress, held in 2000 in Rio de Janeiro, where the concept for an International Year of Planet Earth emerged. After much preparatory work and dedicated promotional effort, the concept for an IYPE became a reality in December 2005, when the UN General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as an official UN International Year.
However, in reality, IYPE is a triennium (2007-09), with the central year of 2008 being the UN International Year.
Since January 2007 there have been many IYPE launch events and related activities held in numerous nations and regions around the globe. At present, there are 74 countries and regions with operational national committees for the IYPE involved in promoting its mission, goals and objectives. Please visit the IYPE Web site frequently at www.yearofplanetearth.org for continuously updated information and details.
AAPG, AGI and AIPG, are the three U.S.-based geoscience organizations among the IYPE’s 12 founding partners. Other U.S.-based IYPE international partners are NASA, AGU, GSA and SEG.
GSA has made the IYPE a focus of its annual meeting since 2007, but the recent Houston joint meeting of GCAGS/GSA/SSA et al. is the most significant and largest IYPE event held to date in the United States.
Next, 2009 will be the close-out year around the world of the IYPE triennium. Throughout 2009 more important meetings and other events and activities will be held under the banner of the IYPE in many countries.
I strongly urge everyone in the U.S. geoscience community to stay engaged and actively involved in the IYPE throughout the coming year. Thought is now being focused on the legacy of IYPE and perhaps the possibility of a continuing initiative/organization to build on the great global network that the IYPE has built linking – the 400,000 geoscientists around the globe.
Please stay informed and continue to be a part of it. Realize your potential to make our world safer, healthier and more prosperous through organized application of our combined knowledge of the geosciences and their vast still under-utilized potential in formulating rational enlightened pubic policy and contributing to the solution of important societal problems.
I believe that this is one of the most significant challenges we face – but I also am fully confident that we in the U.S. geoscience community will successfully meet and overcome that challenge and make the IYPE subtitle “earth sciences for society” not just a slogan but a fully functional reality.