There is no denying there are massive changes happening around the world today, seemingly as a reaction to the emergence of the COVID/Wuhan virus.
However, while the virus might be a catalyst of change, other factors are in play too. Many leaders around the world seem to share in the sentiment expressed by the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, who recently wrote, “The changes we have already seen in response to COVID-19 prove that a reset of our economic and social foundations is possible,” in the interest of promoting the WEF’s proposed “Great Reset” of the global economy. Schwab’s statement seems to have been foreshadowed by the famous quote by Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff to President Clinton, with his 2008 statement that “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”
AAPG and its members are seeing enormous changes too. The use of hydrocarbons has faced numerous cycles of support and detraction almost since the beginning. Within a single human generation, we have seen a hydrocarbon-dependent world fear the “crisis” of “running out of oil” – inspired by the “peak supply” writings of M. King Hubbert, to today’s fears of “peak demand” as world governments try to mandate reduced use of hydrocarbons to fight the “crisis” of global warming. This same generation has seen carbon-based energy blamed for an air pollution “crisis” that was going to bring about a new ice age in the 1970s, to being blamed for air pollution that is going to “burn us all up” today.
Of course, don’t tell the plants that some people have determined CO₂ is a pollutant, as without it, all plants would die.
What is a person with critical thinking skills supposed to do? Do we just give in to emotion-based decision-making? How does the “Great Reset” affect us? Is the AAPG petroleum geologist a hero who finds energy for a needy world, or a villain who is complicit in polluting a fragile climate?
AAPG’s ‘Great Reset’
AAPG had its own “crisis” prior to the virus explosion. Our cyclical industry job/membership losses combined with major demographic changes had already caused our leadership to make budgetary changes. Throw in the virus effect, which killed in-person meeting attendance and destroyed revenue sources, and AAPG had to consider its own “Great Reset” to survive. It’s why the current progress toward a merger with the Society of Petroleum Engineers makes so much sense.
Yet even with the merger, the struggle to return to in-person meetings remains. Online interactions continue to dominate, despite the relationship shortcomings. While convenient and less costly, a computer video conversation cannot match the intangibles of face-to-face conversation. But will the “Great Reset” make this the norm anyway?
A Personal ‘Great Reset’
Many individual members are also dealing with their own “crisis.” The disrupting reality of recent job loss combined with a discouraging prospect of new employment in the petroleum industry is far too common for our fellow geoscientists. And let’s be frank – some geologists are even questioning their desire to stay in the hydrocarbon production business, wondering if those jobs are more villainous than heroic, let alone whether a new job is even available. It’s hard to stand against today’s dominant global narrative that hydrocarbon use is bad for the planet and its people … unless, of course, you are an educated follower of Alex Epstein or Scott Tinker. Will individuals who have loved working in the hydrocarbon business now execute their own “Great Reset” and leave the industry entirely?
A ’Great Reset’ of Science Itself
What about the basic practice of good science?
AAPG’s Division of Professional Affairs has a specific focus on professionalism and high-quality scientific work. Only in the rarest of cases would a professional scientist argue that the “science is settled.” In fact, most honest scientists welcome challenging debates, as the goal is more robust scientific theories. Quelching new ideas or challenges is the practice of entrenched, financially dominant bureaucrats and not the practice of truth-seeking researchers. Across the full spectrum of scientific research – from the hard sciences like medical, climate and even math, to the softer sciences in education or psychology – we are seeing more closed-mindedness.
Is a “Great Reset” in scientific research discouraging new ideas and challenges to protest the status quo? Should the DPA protect the dominant geologic paradigms or encourage thoughtful scientific innovations?
Challenging the accepted dominant scientific ideas can have a cost to one’s career. For example, imagine an untenured university geoscientist professor doing research on climate change, funded by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. If this professor publishes data-supported conclusions that reductions to anthropogenic CO₂ emissions are irrelevant to global climate change, will future funding be stopped? Or will tenure be impossible?
Petroleum industry geologists face a wide range of ethical challenges, in some part due to whether they are employed by a government-owned company, a large multinational public company, a domestic public company or a private company. Issues like reserve reductions or challenging established public pronouncements on carbon capture/offset investments could be detrimental to one’s career. It’s easy to think you will always act ethically, until you face a decision that might cost you your job.
What role should the DPA play in these ethical challenges? Is a “Great Reset” underway within the geoscience community that requires our engagement, or is this all much ado about nothing? Let’s have that discussion!