Monday, October 24, 2016

A report from the 35th IGC:

the Panel-Session "What’s the point of Geoethics"

30th August 2016, Cape Town (South Africa)

by Martin Bohle
Martin Bohle

Corresponding Citizen Scientist / IAPG

Disclaimer: My views and not of my employer.

The purpose of the panel-session organized by IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics was to distil insights. The panel meeting followed four thematic sessions on geoethics. These sessions presented a wide spectrum of contributions, which were ranging from conceptual work, through consideration about training and awareness, to reports on experiences. 
At the panel meeting, key-speakers were asked to present how their views had evolved, focussing on: Lights and shadows of geoethics (Silvia Peppoloni), Teaching geoethics - A Great Challenge (David Mogk), Professionalism - How to practice geosciences in an ethical way (Ruth Allington), (Geo)ethical dilemmas in geosciences - What to do (Heather Houlton replacing Christopher Keane), and Geoethics for society - Is it possible? (Nic Bilham).

Silvia Peppoloni
(IAPG Secretary General)
The statement "Geoethics is at the heart of all geoscience, it's not a specialist domain", as offered by Nic Bilham, synthesized best the contributions to the IAPG sessions on geoethics at the 35th IGC. Against that background, geoethics is understood now to contribute to a "new" way of thinking geosciences. Geoethics means considering the multi-dimensional space of individual behaviour, of social responsibility, and viewing Earth as a home (for many). It seems likely that various points of equilibria can be found when reflecting about philosophical, geo-scientific, and economic/social concerns so that sound individual and professional behaviour can prosper. Such behaviour is building on professional responsibility, know-how, and intellectual honesty. It came clear, when also listening to contributions about regulated geosciences - a wide, robust but heterogeneous setting -  that possibly it is suitable to extend the bulk of these professional codes and regulations by softer means, i.e. "recognized shared practices".

David Mogk
(Montana University and
IAPG Corresponding Citizen Scientist)
Prospering of such soft means would help geo/professional-ethical thinking to evolve. It would provide a space for the diversity of individual, professional, social, economic, and environmental situations that make our world. On the contrary, the traditional (Western European) approach "to codify in a systematic manner" seems to be less practical, at least not at a global scale, to cope with both, people living (still) in extreme poverty or living in abundancy. Addressing geosciences in that manner we should be able, i) to cope with its professional particularity, namely that geosciences feel more than many other science the differences between developed and developing countries in economic, social and cultural terms, and ii) to face the wide diversity of its subjects and application cases, e.g. from (geo)heritages to engineering geology; a diversity which possibly comes close to diversity that is found in the social sphere.

Ruth Allington
(IUGS-TGGGP and 35th IGC Theme Champion)
Against that background, communication, outreach, advocating or lobbying on issues of geoethical concerns will have to be balanced in a case-depending manner, however being served by a stream of coordinated education activities inside and beyond the classroom; i.e. "all hands on deck teaching geoethics". The common foundations of these activities would englobe both, to consider the specific nature of geoscience such as uncertainties, non-linear system dynamics, and incomplete set of observations, and to be aware that 'public trusts' is gained and 'geoscience research' respects its limits (ex. drilling Lake Vostok, geo-engineering, future practices of mining).

Heather Houlton
Thus and as part of our "family values", towards where "promoting geoethics" is heading? During the last years notions where agreed through an intensive "listening" practice avoiding ideological hardening. This sustained participatory process should lead to a dynamic of collation of practitioner's essentials of "shared behaviours", "individual awareness" and "requirements for stewardship for our professions" that avoids to constrain "scientific freedom" and "self-regulated recognition of professionals". 

Nic Bilham
(GSL and IAPG Corresponding Citizen Scientist)
Concluding, only little more activity seems to be needed regarding "codification of notions", but more activity on outreach and application deems urgent. Evidently, geoethics is well-anchored in the professional sphere; and this anchoring will be strengthened jointly with work on ethics of professional work, inclusivity of work force, and integrity of the individual. However, that anchor in the professional sphere is not what makes "promoting geoethics" peculiar and beneficial. To that end other activities likely come to the top of our agendas, activities which are done locally and are networked globally, that shall bring "geosciences into peoples' life" giving justice to their needs to include the geo-resources using on our planet for their benefits.

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics