Climate Change and AAPG: Keeping Our Cool

I became a geology professor at Centenary College of Louisiana, a small liberal arts college in Shreveport, La., after leaving Mobil Oil in the early 1990s. My industry career previously had me focused on sedimentary rock science applications to both exploration and production. One of my new teaching duties was introductory environmental geology, where I stressed two different subjects: water and energy. I always started the semester with the personal observation that environmental science was a different beast to me. While, generally, geologists did not fight over rocks and minerals (although I recall two doctoral students ready to kill over dolomite), discussions about the environment were sometimes different. People with scientific backgrounds could often be caught up in greater social arguments and beliefs that took them away from the scientific method and the inquisitive and dispassionate nature of a good scientist. I always strived to present not only different scientific opinions but the social implications that were the underlying reasons for more heated arguments. I learned as much as any student did in developing this awareness.

Avoiding the Trap of Polemics

I accepted the nomination to again run for office at the Division of Environmental Geosciences, this time as president, after going through an unfortunate episode where I challenged the truthfulness of an environmental geologist concerning oilfield cleanup reports to a state regulatory agency. That is where I deeply learned the challenge of: 1) not condemning an entire company or group based solely on the actions of a sub-set of people, and 2) trying to accomplish something useful and avoiding the attack on others in unprofessional anger or actions. I also witnessed how easily a group can get caught up in ideas they believe are morally superior to others’ and how this can evolve into the old saying of “the end justifies the means.” Sometimes without even being aware, we can move away from scientific and professional conduct because we so believe that our cause is just.

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I became a geology professor at Centenary College of Louisiana, a small liberal arts college in Shreveport, La., after leaving Mobil Oil in the early 1990s. My industry career previously had me focused on sedimentary rock science applications to both exploration and production. One of my new teaching duties was introductory environmental geology, where I stressed two different subjects: water and energy. I always started the semester with the personal observation that environmental science was a different beast to me. While, generally, geologists did not fight over rocks and minerals (although I recall two doctoral students ready to kill over dolomite), discussions about the environment were sometimes different. People with scientific backgrounds could often be caught up in greater social arguments and beliefs that took them away from the scientific method and the inquisitive and dispassionate nature of a good scientist. I always strived to present not only different scientific opinions but the social implications that were the underlying reasons for more heated arguments. I learned as much as any student did in developing this awareness.

Avoiding the Trap of Polemics

I accepted the nomination to again run for office at the Division of Environmental Geosciences, this time as president, after going through an unfortunate episode where I challenged the truthfulness of an environmental geologist concerning oilfield cleanup reports to a state regulatory agency. That is where I deeply learned the challenge of: 1) not condemning an entire company or group based solely on the actions of a sub-set of people, and 2) trying to accomplish something useful and avoiding the attack on others in unprofessional anger or actions. I also witnessed how easily a group can get caught up in ideas they believe are morally superior to others’ and how this can evolve into the old saying of “the end justifies the means.” Sometimes without even being aware, we can move away from scientific and professional conduct because we so believe that our cause is just.

If you have been reading President Denise Cox’s monthly columns in the EXPLORER or have heard her presentations at sectional meetings this Fall, you know that the AAPG Executive Committee has created an ad hoc committee to review and update the AAPG climate change statement. It is being coordinated by Dr. Edith Wilson, the current president-elect of the EMD. I certainly was not the leader here – in fact, I had earlier expressed to Denise Cox that I had no interest in that subject matter as DEG president. I did not believe AAPG was qualified to give a scientific opinion on the last 150 years of climate records and its implications! My bias comes from my past decisions to not look to the petroleum industry in general or AAPG specifically to form my opinions about anthropogenic climate change. And given the many subjects of the petroleum industry and the environment that DEG could address in promoting its journal or its professional meeting sessions, why would I want that nasty rhetoric oozing out everywhere in today’s climate change discussions? I am a chicken, aren’t I?

But here we are, AAPG, at the beginning of re-visiting our climate change statement. I am neither the contact person nor spokesperson for this committee, and my opinions here are my independent thoughts, preparatory actions and observations as a member of two petroleum-related organizations (AAPG and the Society of Petroleum Engineers):

  • I realize and accept that DEG officers, past and present, have widely differing views concerning anthropogenic climate change. We are no different from the larger DEG and AAPG (and SPE) membership. We strive to model professional behavior to each other, and we remember that a person with a differing opinion is just that. There is no reason to demonize each other.
  • I am immersing myself in a wide range of writings on climate change, including Gregory Wrightstone’s book (see the September EXPLORER); “Climategate” emails of 1999; defendant oil companies’ and plaintiffs’ Spring 2018 submitted climate change “tutorials” as ordered in a case of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California; IPCC report AR5 (2013); and the recent IPCC report SR15 (2018).
  • I am attending every talk possible on climate change and sustainability, including AAPG affiliated sectional meetings, the annual SPE meeting and its webinars, and the upcoming Geological Society of America annual meeting.
  • I hope to witness a climate change statement that speaks to established science and the limits of knowledge at this moment in understanding future climate change and the role of humans.

In the past, I was mostly familiar with the NASA and NOAA work and views. Yes, I think humans are impacting the climate. No, you are not my enemy if you think differently. Although my head is (again) spinning from such a difficult subject matter, I enjoy the readings. The greatest disappointment, though, was at climate change talks at one sectional meeting. Two speakers made negative non-science-related comments about specific politicians and academic and government scientists. That is not who we are as scientists. I would not leave a professional petroleum-related organization over a climate-change statement alone, but I would quickly leave any scientific organization that routinely displayed unprofessional conduct at its meetings, whether from a speaker to an audience or an audience to a speaker. I applaud AAPG for its outstanding Code of Ethics and its meetings’ Code of Conduct. These documents are the foundation of how we conduct ourselves as professional geoscientists.

There are many groups trying to encourage civil dialogue and decrease polarization – that is a worthwhile goal that we can all learn from as we discuss the future of energy from scientific and technical viewpoints. We are human and taking on hard subject matters will bring up some tough emotions that we must move through rather than fall into dysfunctional patterns. It will not be those with harsh extreme views on either side that create positive change for the future. It will be those that stay the course for positive change and action, using the best science and technology to meet humanity’s energy needs with a continually-decreasing environmental footprint.

Environmental Stewardship

DEG takes its role very seriously as it represents AAPG. This year, thanks to the work of past DEG President Stephen Testa, we added this phrase to our purpose statements under DEG Bylaws: “Promote environmental stewardship within the petroleum/energy minerals industries.” Well, yes! Our other statements certainly supported this, but this phrase really says it all. Are you a member of DEG? If you are like me for many of my 25 years as a DEG member, I paid my dues (now $25) to support DEG but did not do much else. Friend, thank you for that small amount of money – it pays in part for AAPG staff members to help us, and it covers to different degrees the DEG president’s travel (some of us have workplace-related money to help, but others do not).

If you are not a DEG member, consider supporting us. And to all DEG members, there are so many ways to help if you choose, whether taking up a subject and advocating it within DEG, serving as an officer, nominating worthy individuals for awards, and giving presentations at our AAPG-affiliated meetings. No matter what, though, stay on the high road as you travel in your professional career and help AAPG to lead the way.

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Comments (5)

Climate Science
I applaud AAPG's efforts in setting up an ad-hoc Committee to discuss climate matters. Having attended a number of climate summits, including Paris, Bonn and recently Katowice, Poland I am aware that there is a wide spectrum of views amongst scientists involved. The pronouncements of politicians on the initial day of the COP meetings are often derided by scientists and many countries will find it impossible to adhere to the targets demanded. Maybe it is ironic that the last two meetings have been in Germany and Poland, two countries where emissions are still rising due to increased use of bituminous and lignite coals respectiviely Anthony Grindrod London UK
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1/1/2019 6:14:19 AM
A time for thoughtful analysis
I applaud Dr. Barrett’s comments about “AAPG: Keeping Our Cool.” For those wanting to follow her lead in immersing in “… a wide range of writings on climate change,” I suggest reading a paper supervised by a then climate change skeptic (Richard Muller) and funded by a Koch foundation. This paper, which describes a study based on analysis of historical land surface temperature from 1753 to 2011, concluded “… all of the long-term (century scale) trend in temperature can be explained by a simple response to greenhouse gas changes….” Rohde, R., R.A. Muller, R. Jacobsen, E. Muller, S. Perlmutter, A. Rosenfeld, J. Wurtele, D. Groom, and C. Wickham, 2013, A new estimate of the average earth surface land temperature spanning 1753 to 2011, Geoinformatics & Geostatistics: An Overview 2013, SciTechnol, v 1:1, pp 7 http://static.berkeleyearth.org/papers/Results-Paper-Berkeley-Earth.pdf Regarding the argument that “…ice core data show that the increases in CO2 trail the increases in temperature (https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/da¬ta-access/paleoclimatology-data/datasets/ice-core )” ignores the fact that only in the last century have billions of organisms (Homo sapiens) been emitting vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. To ignore the ability of organisms to alter the atmosphere is to ignore what cyanobacteria did 2500 MA, causing the earliest known mass extinction.
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12/20/2018 10:47:02 PM
Silver Lining
Mary's perspective is, as ever, balanced and thoughtful. I personally value the wisdom, candor and integrity of the article. Thanks for sharing these ideas and observations with the AAPG membership. And thanks for reminding us of our responsibilities to ourselves and our fellow members.
12/17/2018 3:47:36 PM
Climate Change Statement
As scientists, our first responsibility is to make sure that the science being presented is properly done. As geologists, we have a long-term perspective on the earth’s history. Climate change is an ongoing process in the earth’s history and did not start with the industrial age. As such, the current warming trend needs to be determined to be different from previous climatic changes to be able to say that it is caused by the start of the industrial age and the burning of fossil fuels. It is important to remember that the climate work being done by the climate scientists is not experimental science but mathematical modeling. Modeling requires careful statistical analysis to be useful. One of the critical parameters is sample size. Climate modeling is currently being done with a data base that is 160 years in length. This is not a large enough sample size to be a statistically representative sample of even the last warming and cooling climate cycle of 120,000 years. Current climate modeling is being done with a statistically insignificant data set and is not a valid analysis of cause and effect in climate change. For a more detailed discussion of the problem, see my paper “Models and Science” published in the November, 2018 issue of the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists Publication, The Outcrop. Monty Hoffman
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12/12/2018 1:17:16 PM
Science and emotion are intimately interlinked and potentially toxic when mixed... back to beneficial pragmatism
I would like to congratulate Mary Barrett our, DEG President, on her column. She points out an issue we all may have seen when a colleague became passionately, wedded to a prospect or play... that normally rational person became a religious zealot, opening personal attacks on anyone who offered an alternative, regardless of the ensuing dry holes. When we leave data behind, and sink to personal attacks because of differences in interpretation, we have lost the essence of science, as well as the professionalism AAPG so rightly prides itself upon. I wish the energy/climate data were easier to sort out; much of the data collection and/or representation the energy dilemma/climate change issue appears to have a conclusion in mind from the outset. The "most likely" sea-level rise by 2100 varies by an order of magnitude. The "real" cost and "hidden costs" of each sector of renewables also vary by up to an order of magnitude per the renewable sector authors, and so on. Clearly, open, respectful dialogue is desperately needed. While all that respectful dialogue is happening, there are beneficial, pragmatic steps to be taken. First on my list are the 1.5-2 billion fellow humans living in abject energy poverty, of whom 70% are women and children. They have little or no electricity and as many as 4 million people die annually of respiratory disease from indoor cooking using dung and other biomass... we and our industry make the lights come on and burners blaze... what should we be doing to help? And, I'm betting most of us can get on the band wagon of research for cleaner/cheaper energy, improving water resource management, resource conservation and reuse, energy resilience through diversification of supply source and replacing obsolete buildings with new buildings on higher ground... these steps make sense no matter what happens with climate and all of them make our world better and more able to deal with inevitable change, of whatever sort, in the process!
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12/5/2018 5:24:14 PM

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