Monday, February 6, 2017

Geoethics and Nigeria’s developmental challenges

(published in Punch, on 26 January 2017)

by Greg Odogwu
Greg Odogwu

Member / IAPG-Nigeria

Picture credit:

Even if one tries to discard everything that the New Age Movement brought to contemporary civilisation, the one thing that still hits home with certainty is the perception that the Earth has a life of its own. In those days when the world was still giddy with excitement at the novel idea of the spirit-cum-psycho consciousness, a certain chemist, James Lovelock, scientifically organised the awareness in a proposition known as the Gaia Theory.

As a matter of fact, even those that are not given to religious proclivities would still acknowledge that it seems the Earth is paying humanity back for years of rape and disregard through rapid industrialisation without sustainability considerations. Climate change and global warming are with us as a sore nemesis; to survive would entail retracing our footsteps to where we lost basic geoethical senses in our pursuit for refined things.

And, while we delay, more havoc is being done right before us. Ironically, it is a developing country like ours that suffers it the most. Artisanal mining kills women and children through lead poisoning. Oil spillage in the Niger Delta destroys not only the farms, waters and livelihood of our poor compatriots, but ensures that the youths in the region totally lose hope in the future. Rapacious coal mining is a new threat in far-flung rural communities.

Surely, it seems everybody is ready to go up in flames with the ecosystem that God has given us for our nourishment. This is why the advent of Geoethics as a scientific discipline has become so auspicious.

Geoethics is an emerging subject. It consists of research and reflection on the values which underpin appropriate behaviours and practices, wherever human activities interact with the Earth system. It deals with the ethical, social and cultural implications of geoscience knowledge, education, research and practice, providing a point of intersection for Geosciences, Sociology, Philosophy and Economy.

At the heart of Geoethics is Geosciences, because it is actually a geoscientific creation. However, in order to vividly understand what Geosciences is all about, I will like to describe it as the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands, describes it on its website. "The Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth's core to its surface, including man's spatial and material utilisation of the Earth – always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. Research Focus. Future Energy and Resources. Healthy Urban Living. Water, Climate and Ecosystems."

Geoethics represents an opportunity for geoscientists to become more conscious of their social roles and responsibilities in conducting their activity. It is a tool to influence the awareness of society regarding problems related to geo-resources and geo-environment.

Geosciences have major impacts on the functioning and knowledge-base of modern societies. Geoscientists have specific knowledge and skills, which are required to investigate, manage and intervene in various components of the Earth system to support human life and well-being, to defend people against geo-hazards and to ensure natural resources are managed and used sustainably. This entails ethical obligations. Therefore, geoscientists must embrace ethical values in order best to serve the public good.

Geoethics therefore promotes a way of thinking and practising geosciences, within the wider context of the roles of geoscientists interacting with colleagues, society and the planet.

The International Association for Promoting Geoethics was born in 2012, during the 34th International Geological Congress in Brisbane, Australia, from an idea conceived on April 2012 during the European Geosciences Union – General Assembly in Vienna. The IAPG is an international, scientific, multidisciplinary platform, created to widen the discussion on ethical issues related to the Geosciences. It is becoming an important space in which many geoscientists can share experiences, ideas, reflections and information on geoethical issues.

The IAPG was born to try to answer to the questions: How can we articulate the ethical criterion for geoscientists? How can the freedom of research and actions be combined with the principles of sustainability? Where should the line be drawn between preservation and economic development of the geosphere, especially in low-income countries? How can the relationships between geoscientists, media, politicians and citizens be made more profitable, particularly in the defence against natural hazards? What communication and educational strategies should be adopted to transfer the value of the geosciences to society?

The mission of the IAPG is to promote Geoethics values and principles through international cooperation, encouraging the involvement and debate of geoscientists, especially those belonging to less developed countries, and assuring a good coordination among these nations. It intends to foster the dissemination of Geoethics through a dedicated website, the publication of scientific papers, the organisation of meetings and sessions/symposia on Geoethics within national and international geoscientific events.

During the 35th International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, (August 27 – September 4, 2016), a seminal document, known as, the "Cape Town Statement on Geoethics", was prepared. It reads in part:

"It is essential to enrich the roles and responsibilities of geoscientists towards communities and the environments in which they dwell, as well as paying attention to each scientist’s individual conscience and relationships with colleagues. Human communities will face great environmental challenges in the future. Geoscientists have know-how that is essential to orientate societies towards more sustainable practices in our conscious interactions with the Earth system. Applying a wider knowledge-base than natural sciences, geoscientists need to take multidisciplinary approaches to economic and environmental problems, embracing geo-ethical and social perspectives. Geoscientists are primarily at the service of society. This is the deeper purpose of their activity.
In the coming years, especially when addressing matters like energy supply, use of geo-resources, land management, pollution abatement, mitigation of geo-risks, and climate change adaptation and mitigation, ethical and social issues will be central in scientific discussion and in public debate. In addition, handling large quantities of data, science and risk communication, education strategies, issues of research integrity, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, gender balance and inclusion of those living with disabilities will be major topics for geoscientists.
Raising the geoethical awareness and competences of the members of the geoscience community is essential, also to increase trust and credibility among the public. This can best be achieved in the near future by two means: by promoting more effectively existing guidance such as codes of ethics/conduct and research integrity statements; and by introducing geoethics into geoscience curricula, to make geoethics a basic feature of the training and professional activity of geoscientists."

Thankfully, the IAPG has a Nigerian office which has already shown remarkable presence.

My view is that there is no time to waste for Nigeria to partake in the "Geoethical Revolution" by domesticating its tenets and operations. The Nigerian branch of the IAPG has to quickly design people-oriented programmes aimed at grassroots participation in the promotion of risk assessment and prevention of potential hazards from resources exploitation. This is so that people at the grassroots could be able to identify geoethical breaches, and have a channel for reporting the same. The government would then have the capacity to respond to such threats.

Both the public and the private sectors need to understand Geoethics processes in order to safeguard our natural resources and prevent undue exploitation. They need to also locate Geoethics in the existing global sustainable agenda. But more importantly, it is the duty of all of us to ensure that we are able to cover the aspects of food security, environmental stewardship and gender issues in promoting Geoethics. These, I believe, touch the crux of our present challenges.

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics