Recently I have been reading up on the latest insights into human evolution. Wow. Forget what you learned in school – our understanding has significantly changed. In the past we envisioned a mostly linear process in which a better, more “fit” new species appeared and flourished, outcompeting its ancestor and relegating it to the boneyard of anthropology. Too bad, so sad. Eventually that species too was replaced when it spawned the next, better version. This continued over the eons until the process produced us, Homo sapiens – the pinnacle of perfection.
The new thinking is based upon additional artifacts but especially upon rapidly improving DNA and protein analyses of ancient remains. It turns out that the history of human evolution is less like a tree that runs from trunk to branch to twig and more like a braided stream. Hominins evolved in Africa but from time to time, different groups wandered out and spread as far as Europe in the west and southeast Asia in the east. Both in and out of Africa there were multiple varieties of Hominini alive at the same time, sometimes in proximity to each other. Based on more recent artifacts where high-tech analyses are possible, they sometimes interbred. Thus later species carry the DNA of diverse ancestors, just as a channel in a braided stream carries waters that traveled a variety of different paths upstream. As an example, most people alive today carry a significant amount of Neanderthal DNA and of those, many also carry DNA from the mysterious Denisovans. Both of those species are long gone yet some of their evolutionary contributions live on. Tibetans’ ability to thrive at high altitudes is inherited from Denisovans. If you care to read up on this topic, here is a good place to start: https://razib.substack.com/p/yo-mamas-mamas-mamas-mama-etc
Evolving Energy Geoscience
So why am I writing about this here?
First of all, Hominini evolved during the Pleistocene when repeated climate cycles drove major shifts in the environment. Then-living groups had to adapt, for example, by relocating to follow their traditional food sources and lifeways or else invent new ways to live in the same place utilizing different resources. Those unable to adapt did not survive.
In the world of energy geosciences, the environment around us is changing rapidly. Many geoscientists have continued to use their deep expertise to find and extract petroleum resources, embracing new technologies and applying them to both new and established play types. There is no question that petroleum will be essential for many years to come. Other petroleum geoscientists have built on their core expertise to find roles in non-petroleum energy resources. There is no question that these energies will be essential as well. As skilled professionals we are collectively adapting to our changing environment.
Given the changes in energy geosciences as a profession, what should AAPG do? In our survey of November 2022, the great majority (74 percent) of respondents agreed with the following statement: “AAPG must broaden and adapt to a changing energy landscape to remain relevant.” We as an association can reinvent ourselves to explicitly welcome and support traditional plus emerging applications of our skills. Our community overwhelmingly wants us to adapt, not hunker down as the world changes around us and risk extinction.
Another possible analogy to Hominin evolution is the idea of the braided stream. Some might feel that since the “P” in AAPG stands for petroleum and that is what the founders in 1917 were primarily thinking about, it would be bad or wrong or traitorous to support further broadening. There is just one true channel for AAPG, a linear flow from 1917 through today. Yet, just as the DNA of multiple past Hominin groups has contributed to Homo sapiens, so do the knowledge and achievements of our past carry on in the petroleum, non-petroleum, environmental, CCUS, minerals and other channels our members pursue today. Those channels sometimes converge and other times diverge, but overall it is one river moving downstream. It is no dishonor to our petroleum-focused past when we welcome members applying their geoscience skills across the full range of energy-related opportunities.
A third analogy might be the new insights on how ancient organizational structures changed. Until roughly 10,000 years ago, people lived in small bands of hunter-gatherers that migrated with the seasons. Then the novel idea of planting now so that you could harvest later utterly transformed the structure of society – permanent settlements, specialization of skills in new technologies and a growing population. DNA evidence tells us that within a few thousand years, the farmers had replaced the hunter-gatherers in most of Eurasia.
AAPG was founded when the main communication technology was the postal service and the primary method of sharing knowledge was the printing press. Over the years the Association has of course made many structural modifications and additions, but not an overall change in the framework. As a result, our current structure is complex with both new elements packed on and relict elements still on the books even with minimal member activity or interest. It is staff-intensive to maintain, volunteer-intensive to operate, and somewhat opaque to new members seeking a meaningful volunteer niche,
Perhaps now, with all the changes in the profession and in society around us, it is time for a fresh look at our structure. We can keep what we value in a more simple, streamlined manner. Beyond the technical, we have an opportunity to adapt to the general changes in society – how we communicate, how we interact – to appeal to both current and prospective future members. People have many choices on how to spend their time, energy and resources, so let’s make AAPG a positive, desirable option. Let’s be the farmers, not the hunter-gatherers.
In the days ahead we will be gathering input to evolve AAPG in a changing world. The views of all members of the community are important. As one avenue we have set up a new email inbox: [email protected]. Please do share your thoughts and positive suggestions, I look forward to hearing from you.
Until next month,