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.
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.