AAPG and the Environmental Geosciences: Belonging versus Fitting In

Brené Brown, the well-known social science researcher from the University of Houston, has a new special on Netflix where she speaks to the differences between “belonging” versus “fitting in.” I heard AAPG and Division of Environmental Geosciences in that talk, both the good and the bad. According to Brown, we advance when we are part of something greater and connect to others, but not at the cost of losing who we are or what we value as individuals. One only has to consider many institutions with rigid and tired identities who struggle with membership as their group ages to see how this is true.

When individuals try to “fit in” within a group, they tend to mold themselves into some preconceived notion of how they are to act or be. They seek to win others’ approval so much that they lose their core, and with that is the potential loss of true connections, creativity and energy to bring forth new ways for a group. I think of the “fitting in” pressure as similar to tribalism. It is hard to change a tribe mentality. A new generation that has matured while deeply listening to the likes of Katy Perry “roar” as she points out their “firework” while being “wide awake,” understands what Brown is saying (Don’t know those songs? Yeah, we know … ).

What is “belonging”?

While we participate in groups and hope to connect and be part of something greater than our individual selves, we know who we are. We do not have to hide our imperfect selves to fit in; we can be who we are. The gifts we bring – sometimes different or new to the group – are welcomed. We have the courage to stand alone if required while respecting others’ opinions. We step up as servant leaders, wrote current Energy Minerals Division President Wayne Camp in his column in the Nov. 2018 EXPLORER. “Servant leadership,” as described in the 1970s-‘80s essays and books of Robert Greenleaf, is a powerful way to belong to organizations.

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Brené Brown, the well-known social science researcher from the University of Houston, has a new special on Netflix where she speaks to the differences between “belonging” versus “fitting in.” I heard AAPG and Division of Environmental Geosciences in that talk, both the good and the bad. According to Brown, we advance when we are part of something greater and connect to others, but not at the cost of losing who we are or what we value as individuals. One only has to consider many institutions with rigid and tired identities who struggle with membership as their group ages to see how this is true.

When individuals try to “fit in” within a group, they tend to mold themselves into some preconceived notion of how they are to act or be. They seek to win others’ approval so much that they lose their core, and with that is the potential loss of true connections, creativity and energy to bring forth new ways for a group. I think of the “fitting in” pressure as similar to tribalism. It is hard to change a tribe mentality. A new generation that has matured while deeply listening to the likes of Katy Perry “roar” as she points out their “firework” while being “wide awake,” understands what Brown is saying (Don’t know those songs? Yeah, we know … ).

What is “belonging”?

While we participate in groups and hope to connect and be part of something greater than our individual selves, we know who we are. We do not have to hide our imperfect selves to fit in; we can be who we are. The gifts we bring – sometimes different or new to the group – are welcomed. We have the courage to stand alone if required while respecting others’ opinions. We step up as servant leaders, wrote current Energy Minerals Division President Wayne Camp in his column in the Nov. 2018 EXPLORER. “Servant leadership,” as described in the 1970s-‘80s essays and books of Robert Greenleaf, is a powerful way to belong to organizations.

Don’t Try to Fit In With ‘the Oil Industry’

Whenever someone speaks to me about “the oil industry” and its beliefs or actions about the environment, climate change, social issues, etc., I tend to have an out-of-body experience. There is no one “oil industry” when it comes to the actions or beliefs of companies, groups or individuals. Everything from roustabouts to office assistants to CEOs to lobbyists to geoscientists and more are “the oil industry.”

Do not try to fit in with “the oil industry,” as it is a diverse collection going in many directions.

This brings me to AAPG and who we are. Yes – we we are a sub-set of the oil industry. Our constitution, especially articles I through IV, define our name, purposes, membership and code of ethics.

Who are you as a member? “The members of this Association shall consist of persons concerned with the professional applications of the geological science” (Art. III, sec. 1). Our purposes and ethics, commonly written about in EXPLORER columns, additionally define us and bring out our professional responsibilities. Let’s remember that we are fundamentally about the geological sciences – question us when we veer from that!

In my lifetime and membership of 40 years, the AAPG has consisted mostly of white males – a fine group of individuals. Generally, but not always, these AAPG men are a lot more conservative than I and differ from my concepts of the industry and the environment. I never left this group to which I did not “fit in” because I definitely “belong” to AAPG. I love and am technically competent in a wide array of petroleum-related specialties, and when I read the AAPG constitution articles I through IV, I know I belong here.

And that is where I bring in DEG and its beginnings of 1992.

In 1992 the House of Delegates approved DEG’s creation under the leadership of Bruno Hanson. Past DEG President Bill Harrison described Bruno’s impact and vision that the petroleum industry would continually demonstrate both environmental stewardship and leadership. This leadership on environmental issues and concerns allowed our division to develop from a committee-level status (see the June 2002 EXPLORER). Quoting past DEG President Rebecca Dodge’s column in the June 2009 EXPLORER, the HoD “indicated support for the concept that basic environmental issues be addressed from a geological point of view, thereby transferring the profession’s understanding of geological, geochemical, geophysical and hydrogeological principles and methodologies to the solutions of environmental problems.”

An Organization in Which to Belong

I joined DEG when it began, as I too believed that more needed to be done from the geoscience end of the oil industry to support continually improving environmental practices. By this time, I was more comfortable with belonging and worried less about fitting in. You will not find a more diverse group of individuals, with regard to our positions on petroleum and the environment, as in the DEG – climate-change subjects being a chief example. But, we belong when it comes to the shared goals and objectives of DEG. We are not going to fit in to each others’ wide array of opinions, and we do not have to. Our goals and objectives are as follow:

  • Educate the membership of AAPG and the general public about important issues that affect petroleum energy minerals exploration and production.
  • Communicate to the general public and government agencies the Association’s commitment to protect the environment while developing the world’s natural resources in a responsible manner.
  • Support and encourage research into the effects of petroleum/energy minerals exploration and production on the environment, and make available to concerned agencies, companies and individuals the results of these studies and recommendations.
  • Apply the expertise developed in the petroleum/energy minerals industries and hydrogeology to resolve environmental problems.
  • Promote environmental stewardship within the petroleum/energy minerals industries.
  • Establish a liaison between and among AAPG and other professional societies for the purposes of constructive dialogue and defining mutually obtainable goals.
  • Provide relevant educational opportunities and services for professional development of the AAPG membership through seminars and conferences in environmental geosciences, hydrogeology and related fields.

Ad Hoc Climate Change Committee

I see AAPG moving from a “fitting in” membership to one of belonging. It is not an easy transition.

What does that look like, in case you want to practice? Learn about servant leadership. And I again take you to climate change. Up until now, the Division of Professional Affairs has put out past policies on climate change (something that I never understood and unfortunately reinforced that I did not “fit in” to DPA and its various policies). Under the leadership of incoming EMD President Edith Wilson and the blessing of the AAPG Executive Committee, an ad hoc climate change committee was formed in 2018. I agreed to be part of this committee because support of opinion diversity belongs in AAPG (although I did not think there was a chance in hell that a new statement would make it out of the EC). I hope that the committee’s work will be published in the EXPLORER in the near future. I hope you want this, too—we belong when we celebrate geoscientists who form committees and put forth draft statements that update scientific concepts. We grow together; we do not always agree together. We do not have to. Do not buy into the “fear” factor of change.

It has been an honor to serve as your DEG president this year. As you renew or join AAPG and DEG by June 30, do not fit in. Belong!

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