As readers of this column over the last year, plus anyone who watched Steven Goolsby’s video, “Reimaging AAPG for a New Century” on YouTube have learned, AAPG’s membership numbers have been shrinking. As it turns out, AAPG is not at all unique – nearly all geoscience-oriented professional societies are shrinking as well. There are a number of reasons common to all of us, but at AAPG we can specifically add the general public’s negative perceptions of fossil fuels.
(Click here to watch Steven Goolsby's video.)
Too many people see the spectrum of energy resources in black-and-white terms – a choice between rainbows and kitty cats versus the devil’s handiwork. Rational conversation about pros and cons of different energy sources and how to optimize the path forward seems to get drowned out in favor of the sensational. Numerate assessment of option feasibility can be lacking, leading for example to the demand for no new oil (or else we will throw tomato soup on your paintings).
This black-and-white public perception leads to negative societal pressures that slow the pipeline of geoscience students coming into the profession. This is especially foolhardy because they are the next generation of scientists and technologists who will have the skills to innovate and help supply the world’s energy as the energy system itself evolves. Public policy is also impacted, inasmuch as our lawmakers, few of whom are trained scientists or engineers, hear the loudest voices and may be swayed. It’s all regrettable but nevertheless, here we are. So what can we do about it?
At this point I want to quote William L. Watkinson who published a book of sermons in 1907. In it, he downplayed the value of verbal attacks on undesirable behaviors and championed the importance of performing good works. He wrote, “Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.” Translating this to today’s energy conversation, we can take positive steps to help create a more fact-based understanding of critical energy issues in the general public and among our lawmakers. Many tools and avenues to do this already exist - we just need to take advantage of them.
First, we can all hone our skills to effectively communicate geoscience to the general public and other stakeholders using a variety of media: written, videos, TikTok, Instagram and more. Whatever we have to say is lost if people don’t understand or connect with our meaning, or if we are using outlets that miss our intended audience. Thanks to the generosity of the AAPG Foundation, our members can take a highly recommended online course for free that normally costs $400 entitled, “Practical Geocommunication 3.0.”
AAPG members access Practical Geocommunication 3.0 here:
This removes the price and, once registered, you can start the training, thanks to the AAPG Foundation!
Next, we can supplement our own grasp of the issues and facts by accessing the myriad policy and advocacy materials available to us. The American Geoscience Institute has an extensive online library of fact sheets and is currently updating its document “Geoscience for America’s Critical Needs,” scheduled to be ready in early 2024.
Other geoscience- and industry-related organization websites with large policy resource libraries include the American Petroleum Institute, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the EnerGeo Alliance, the National Petroleum Council, the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union. In addition to their collections of fact sheets and position papers, some also have training and ongoing initiatives to educate the public and advise our lawmakers on geoscience-related issues critical to society.
So now you are armed with the full facts and your communication skills are razor-sharp. What next? Each of us has a wide range of choices, from active participation to behind-the-scenes support. Here are a few ideas that come to mind:
- Join one of the ongoing public education initiatives as mentioned in the last paragraph.
- Write letters to the editor and/or op-ed pieces for newspapers.
- Post thoughtful, factual material on social media.
- Create high-quality presentations for the general public and offer to give them at schools, club meetings, the public library, etc.
- Organize a Movie Night in your area to publicly screen one of the “Switch” movies (www.switchon.org).
- Advocate for your local radio station to carry “EarthDate” (www.Earthdate.org).
- Volunteer in national, provincial or state parks to provide geology-related interpretation for visitors.
- Help organize special geoscience advocacy projects such as a recent invitation-only symposium directed primarily to senior technical leaders and policymakers from the U.S. federal government.
- Contact your lawmakers directly to supply factual information and voice your opinions on geoscience-related matters.
- If you are available, apply for the William L. Fisher Congressional Geoscience Fellowship to engage directly with U.S. lawmakers. Find information at www.americangeosciences.org/fellowships/fisherfellow/.
- Donate money to support non-profit organizations whose missions include a strong component of public geoscience policy outreach.
- What else?
I am sure most of us fret about the low level of energy literacy in the general public, which has numerous impacts on us, our profession and our profession’s future via the next generation of trained geoscientists. Let’s find positive, effective ways to each do what we can to inform the conversation, for our own good and for the good of society.
I wanted to touch upon one related topic before closing. In the first paragraph I said that “nearly all” geoscience associations are shrinking. One that is apparently bucking the trend and has robust membership health is the Association for Women Geoscientists. When asked their secret, they offered that new members are very pleased that they can easily find meaningful volunteer roles, and that there is minimal “red tape.” This resonates with my own deeply held desire that in our journey to reimagine AAPG, we can streamline and remove complexity to create a more simple and transparent organization. We need to keep the elements that today’s members want and let go of relict structures with little or no member interest, making it easier for new members to locate activities and volunteer roles for which they have passion.
Finally, a number of you have already written emails to the Reimagine AAPG mailbox, [email protected], with your suggestions and opinions. I read them all and truly appreciate the time each person took to comment. There are some great ideas that we can carry forward through the process. Thank you to all and keep them coming!
Until next month,