It’s unusual for an article in the EXPLORER to create an online firestorm. But as you can see, if you’ve paged through this issue to the Readers’ Forum, or followed the back and forth on Twitter or reviewed the comments submitted on the EXPLORER webpage, that’s what occurred in response to an article by veteran correspondent Ken Milam entitled, “Are There Benefits to Climate Change?” in last month’s issue.
And while Oscar Wilde, the 19th-century poet, once observed that “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about,” we’re not practicing tabloid journalism nor trying to be deliberately provocative.
So, why did we publish the article?
It’s important to note that there is a major distinction between the EXPLORER and the Association’s two peer-reviewed scientific journals: the AAPG Bulletin and Environmental Geosciences. These technical journals, led by scientists elected by AAPG Members, are intended to communicate and support scientific inquiry and advances.
EXPLORER was created more than 30 years ago to be a news magazine that featured articles of interest and use to AAPG members, as well as a showcase of Association news and highlights. AAPG hires professional journalists to manage and edit EXPLORER, and its approach is journalistic with a focus on reporting.
We do occasionally invite and publish commentary from members and others in EXPLORER. But most commonly its stories are written by correspondents about an event or issue that we believe is worthy of coverage and of interest to our readers, which brings us to the article in question.
Milam was assigned to report on an invited presentation by Greg Wrightstone, a past president of AAPG’s Eastern Section, based on a recently self-published book on climate change, at the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference in July. Here was an AAPG Member and past section officer speaking about climate change – an issue of interest to many of our members, who had been invited by a group of his geoscience and engineering peers to present at a topical breakfast – not a technical session – at a major conference.
Based on those journalistic aspects we decided to publish the story.
Recognizing that Wrightstone’s views on climate change diverge from the mainstream, we wanted to provide additional perspective. So, the cover photo of last month’s EXPLORER and accompanying profile introduced us to Paola Tello Guerrero, a petrophysicist and environmental activist from Bucaramanga, Colombia, now living in the United Kingdom. We highlighted her activism on climate change as she talks to kids about Antarctica and stewardship of the planet.
Wrightstone and Guerrero represent two distinct perspectives on the issue of climate change, and there are many more. They also have different approaches to how they engage the issue. Each person’s perspective is framed by our worldview, personal history and other experiential or ideological factors. That doesn’t mean all perspectives are equally valid or accurate. Some are better supported by data and our scientific understanding than others. Some are undeniably true, while others are demonstrably false. And between those two extremes is where most of life, including most scientific inquiry, occurs. It’s messy, but it is reality.
It’s been more than a decade since AAPG has had a significant discussion about climate change, and that one was wrenching.
The responses of our readers to the publishing of this article has brought us back to the topic, and as I’ve read the responses, both supportive and critical, they reveal things about us:
- There is tension between our mission as geoscientists seeking to advance our science and our role as petroleum professionals, in the business of finding and economically producing hydrocarbons. As a professional association AAPG encompasses both the science and business of petroleum geology.
- There is tension as society, reliant upon us to meet the ever increasing demand for energy in both the developed and developing world, frequently demonizes the community of petroleum professionals who work diligently to ensure that very supply.
- There is tension about how the planet – how we as a species – adapt to a changing climate, without bankrupting global economies or pushing developing countries into deeper energy poverty. Debating the causes of the changes we observe in the data is simpler than the difficult, complex conversations and even tougher task of forging public consensus on how humanity can adapt, survive and thrive amidst change.
Addressing these tensions is the work ahead. Much will be accomplished outside our sphere of influence, but we have a scientific and professional duty to contribute to the discussion.
AAPG President Denise Cox has described for us a vision of sustainable petroleum development. As part of that effort, we’ll be revisiting AAPG’s statement on climate in light of current science. But our goal is about much more than climate change. Our goal is to involve AAPG in a global conversation of how what we do as petroleum geoscientists benefits the planet, and the people on it.
That is an essential conversation to have, first among ourselves and then with the broader community. We’re not always going to get it right, but it is a task that we cannot turn away from.