The geosciences play a vital role – often a foundational role – in modern society, both in the developed and developing world. No matter where you live or work, your life is affected by the complex interplay of physical, chemical and biological processes active on land, in water and in the atmosphere.
In its report entitled, “Geosciences Supporting a Thriving Society in a Changing World,” issued by the American Geosciences Institute last month ahead of the U.S. election, they highlight nine critical issues facing society where the geosciences play a pivotal role:
- Strategies to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate
- Supplying clean water for a growing population
- Sustainable energy supplies
- Natural hazards resiliency
- Soil management to deliver food security
- Mineral resources for societal needs
- Ocean and coast management
- Waste management
- An education system and workforce in geosciences that increases diversity, equity and inclusion
These are not the only issues facing modern society where the geosciences can help, but this list is a very good place to start and encompasses many of the biggest problems facing society today.
AGI is a federation of more than 50 geoscience and professional organizations. The issues highlighted in this report were developed by a 13-member committee selected from among AGI’s member societies and led by Douglas Rambo, representing the National Association of State Boards of Geology.
Catherine “Cat” Campbell, a petroleum geologist in Denver, represented AAPG on the committee. Thank you for your service, Cat!
The committee’s efforts were supported by the AGI staff and interns under the guidance of Dr. Christopher Keane, AGI’s director for geoscience profession and higher education.
This report is the latest in a series of quadrennial documents that AGI and its member societies prepare for use in talking to the science staff of the U.S. presidential campaigns, as well as other elected officials, and the public. While its focus is the United States, its message applies worldwide.
Over the course of 30 pages, the report summarizes the history of U.S. federal legislation on the topic as well as the amount of federal investment in each of the critical nine issues. For each issue it then outlines a series of themes that should be addressed and an explanation for each at a high level. It is intentionally designed to provide policymakers a survey of the issues in a format that can be read quickly, rather than an exhaustive treatise that covers the topics in detail.
Solving Society’s Problems
Regular readers of this column know how frequently I talk about the role of geoscience and society. It is my belief that we as geoscientists have a responsibility to communicate this message to our elected and civic leaders, our family and friends. If we don’t do it, who will?
The value of this year’s report goes beyond its use as a communications tool for policymakers, however. It reminds us of the vast areas where geoscience and geoscientists can contribute to solving important societal problems. And that is important, particularly for AAPG members, students as well as experienced professionals, looking to navigate the natural cyclicity in the petroleum industry.
I am under no illusion that we will see a lot of petroleum geoscientists cross-train as agronomists or waste management professionals – though some might. But this report can spur lateral thinking: what do I know that I could apply to these problems; who do I know that could help?
The report highlights the potential of carbon capture, utilization, and storage. This nascent technology fits a petroleum geoscientist’s skill sets very well. It has the potential to enhance oil recovery from older fields as well as the potential for long-term storage. Cost remains a significant hurdle, as does oil price when you consider EOR opportunities, but government and industry R&D investments and demonstration projects are working to prove up this technology.
It also advocates the “continued responsible development of all energy sources.” That includes oil and natural gas, of course, but also coal, geothermal, nuclear, wind and solar. AAPG and its Energy Minerals Division are active in many of these. I know several AAPG members who made significant fortunes in wind energy using their entrepreneurial skills and experience managing land rights.
The final section of the report discusses the need for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive geoscience workforce. There is a large opportunity for all of us to address these issues within our own spheres of influence. We also need to maintain the investments in both basic and applied research and explore new models to attract, develop and retain a geoscience workforce that broadly reflects the society it seeks to serve.
Working on interesting, complex problems is one of the things that attracted me to geology. I thought I was going to end up in hydrogeology – it was the early to mid-1990s – but found my path into energy. I’ve never looked back. But I’ve also never lost sight of how broad the geosciences are and how valuable and cross-functional the skills of a geologist really are.