Monday, March 18, 2019

IAPG events at the
EGU 2019 General Assembly

7-12 April 2019
Vienna (Austria)

12 April 2019, 08:30-12:00, Room L7

Session EOS5.2: 
Geoethics: ethical, social and cultural implications of geoscience knowledge, education, communication, research and practice
12 Orals and 27 Posters.

Oral presentations:
First part: Geoethics: foundations, cultures and social justice
Second part: Applying geoethical thinking in novel settings: marine and mining

Convenership: Silvia Peppoloni (Italy), Nic Bilham (UK), Martin Bohle (Belgium), Giuseppe Di Capua (Italy), Eduardo Marone (Brazil)

- Oral presentations: 08:30-12:00; Room L7
- Poster presentations: 08:00-19:30, attendance 13:30-15:00; Hall X1

This session is co-sponsored by IAPG, AGI - American Geosciences Institute, and EFG - European Federation of Geologists.

​List of orals and posters with links to abstracts:

9 April 2019, 08:30-10:15, Room 2.31

Short Course SC1.30:
Foundations of Geoethics for Earth, Marine and Atmospheric Sciences

Convenership: Eduardo Marone

Speakers: Silvia Peppoloni, Vitor Correia, Eduardo Marone, Jan Boon, Giuseppe Di Capua, Nic Bilham.

Course Content
1. From Ethics to Geoethics: definition, values, tools 
2. Responsible conduct of research and professionalism
3. Tools for Confronting (geo)ethical dilemmas
4. Geoethics for society: sustainable development and responsible mining
5. Geoethics in natural hazards

6. Geoethics in geoscience communication

This short course is co-sponsored by IAPG and IOI-TC-LAC - International Ocean Institute Training Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean.

​Read more on the short course:

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Exploring Geoethics

This book explores the potential of geoethics, as designed within the operational criteria of addressing the deeds and values of the human agent as part of the Earth system. It addresses three key questions: i) what should be considered 'geoethics' in an operational sense, ii) what is peripheral to it, and iii) is there a case therefore to establish a denomination, such as geo-humanities or geosophy, to capture a broader scope of thinking about geoscience and its interactions with society and the natural world, for the benefit of the geo-professionals and others.

The book begins by framing, contextualising and describing contemporary geoethics, then goes on to cover several examples of geoethical thinking and explores the societal intersections of geosciences in the planetary 'human niche'. The concluding chapter discusses the challenges facing the emerging field of geoethics and how it may evolve in the future. 

Bringing together a set of experts across multiple interdisciplinary fields this collection will appeal to scholars, researchers, practitioners and students within geosciences and social sciences, political sciences as well as the humanities. It will interest those who are curious about how ethical reflections relate to professional duties, scholarly interests, activities in professional geoscience associations, or responsible citizenship in times of anthropogenic global change.

This book:
- Addresses current debates around geoethics
- Approaches geoethics from an interdisciplinary angle
- Discusses the practical application of geoethics


Setting the Scene (Pages 1-24)
Martin Bohle, Giuseppe Di Capua

Contemporary Geoethics Within the Geosciences (pages 25-70)
Silvia Peppoloni, Nic Bilham, Giuseppe Di Capua

Exploring Societal Intersections of Geoethical Thinking (pages 71-136)
Martin Bohle, Rika Preiser

Humanistic Geosciences and the Planetary Human Niche (pages 137-164)
Martin Bohle, Eduardo Marone

Reframing Geoethics? (pages 165-174)
Martin Bohle, Giuseppe Di Capua, Nic Bilham

Read more about the book "Exploring Geoethics":

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Geoethics Medal 2019



The Geoethics Medal rewards scientists who have distinguished themselves in applying/favouring/assuring ethical approaches in the geoscience research and practice.


Nominations should be submitted by 31 July 2019, by providing the following material about the candidate:

1) A CV (about 1 page) and a list of up to 10 selected publications that show the focus on ethical/social/cultural implications in the geoscience work.

2) A concise statement of achievements for merits in the geoethical field.

3) A brief encomium of the candidate and his/her work (1 page).

Proposals have to be submitted through an email to:, with the subject "Nomination for the IAPG Geoethics Medal 2019".

Nominations will be evaluated by an international committee.

IAPG officers (Members of the Executive Council, Coordinators of National Sections, Corresponding Citizen Scientists - IAPG Board of Experts, Members of Task Groups, Members of the Board of the Young Scientists Club) cannot be nominated for the Geoethics Medal.

Website of the Geoethics Medal:

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics:

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A recent public earthquake prediction in Greece: geoethical issues

Gerassimos A. Papadopoulos*
(IAPG-Greece coordinator; Member of the Seismic Hazard Evaluation Committee, Greece)

* Gerassimos A. Papadopoulos served as the Committee Chairman (2006-2008) and still serves as Committee Member since 2017. He also served  (1994-2000) as Vice-Chairman of the European Advisory Evaluation Committee for Earthquake Prediction (Council of Europe), and as Member of the International Commission on Earthquake Forecasting established by the Italian Administration (2009-2011) in the aftermath of the 6th April 2019 L’Aquila earthquake.

Picture above:
The target area of radius of 225 km around Patras city according to the EQ prediction submitted to the Greek Permanent Scientific Committee for the Assessment of Earthquake Hazard and Risk. The star indicates the epicenter of the 25th October 2018 M6.8 earthquake. 

Gerassimos A. Papadopoulos
Earthquake prediction is a quite challenging topic. The socially sensitive nature of this topic calls for the establishment of Code of Ethics regarding the management of prediction results at the scientific, administrative and operational levels as well as the communication of predictions to the public. The seismological community put forward Codes of Ethics which are strongly recommended to be followed by scientists dealing with earthquake (EQ) prediction research, e.g. Allen et al. (1984), Council of Europe (1991). In the next lines extracts from Allen et al. (1984) are used.

Greece, a country of very high seismicity, since the beginning of 1980’s repeatedly experienced scientific, operational and geoethical issues due to public claims for successful predictions by the so-called VAN research team (University of Athens), based on supposed precursory seismic electric signals (SESs). To meet these challenges the Greek Government established (1992) a Permanent Scientific Committee for the Assessment of Earthquake Hazard and Risk (hereafter “the Committee”). In the last 20 years VAN does not submit predictions at the Committee for evaluation. Instead, it selects to upload relevant reports at the arXiv depository of Cornell University (USA), which accepts scientific reports which do not get prior review. Hence, VAN violates the rule of ethics saying that “scientists who wish to put forward predictions should submit them to the relevant organization”.  Since arXiv is openly accessible, VAN violates another basic rule of ethics: “scientists should seek to have predictions confidentially reviewed by their scientific colleagues and should ensure that such support is forthcoming before making them more widely known”. The arXiv editors violate also the Code of Ethics which says: “Scientific editors who are considering the publication of papers containing EQ predictions should take special precautions to ensure that adequate support from within seismological community has been obtained for these predictions”. The present short commentary is a personal view on the geothical issues raised regarding a recent case of a publicly announced EQ prediction in Greece.

On 24.01.2019, Prof. A. Tselentis, Director of the Institute of Geodynamics, National Observatory of Athens (IGNOA), who claims collaboration with VAN, sent to the Committee an e-mail containing an arXiv VAN report (Sarlis et al., 20.01.2019) saying that SESs were recorded a few days prior to the M6.8 EQ of 25.10.2018 in Zakynthos Island (Greece) (see the picture above). The report adds that new SESs recorded in Patras, NW Peloponnese, by the beginning of January 2019, combined with now casting EQ statistics, indicates an impending EQ of M≥6.0 in an area of radius 225 km around Patras (see the picture above) with the EQ potential score reaching at 80%. However, this is only an indirect approach of the probability for the EQ occurrence. The report adds: “The lead time of single SES is ≤11 days while for SES activities it varies from a few weeks up to 5.5 months … To estimate the occurrence time of the impending EQ, we currently analyze in natural time the subsequent seismic activity”. In an evaluation report that I submitted to the Committee the probability for the occurrence by chance of such an EQ in the target area and time frame was found ~67%.

The IGNOA Director sent also two diagrams (31.01.2019), without further explanation, on a seismicity acceleration model in the target area of 225 km indicating “time of failure” either 2019.053 or 2019.070, which I favorably determined as 23.02.2019 and 11.03.2019, respectively, counting from 01.01.2019. An alternative determination could be based on decimal time, i.e. 19.01.2019 and 25.01.2019, which implies that the message was sent after the “time of failure” had already overdue.

As soon as the first e-mail message was received, the Committee Chair requested further information from the VAN team through confidential letters. However, VAN replied by just summarizing results in their arXiv report. In parallel, the Committee Chair sent a confidential letter to the Greek Civil Protection saying that for this EQ prediction there was no specific countermeasures to recommend beyond the usual ones. This confidential information reached regional authorities and fire brigade units in Western Greece. Unfortunately, the information did not remain confidential, on the contrary it got exaggeration through rumors spread in the area. Although no specific elements of the prediction were announced publicly, this is an important lesson learned: it is hard to keep confidential operational information which is circulated in written way among administrative services at various levels. On 05.02.2019 the convened Committee reviewed the situation and confirmed that because the prediction was not of operational use, countermeasures beyond the usual ones could not be recommended.

The next days, the IGNOA Director announced the prediction details through a series of TV and radio interviews saying that the EQ should be expected in a time interval of ~2 months (without specification on starting time), in a mapped circular area around Patras (from the map that appeared in the media I roughly estimated radius of ~110 km) and with magnitude of 6.0±0.5. Such a statement is significantly different from the one sent to the Committee. However, no scientific documentation was given on how those conclusions were achieved. Anyway, the public announcement of the prediction is another clear violation of the Codes of Ethics: “The news media are generally not the appropriate means by which to announce a prediction”. Moreover, the IGNOA Director failed to send his prediction to the IGNOA Scientific Council or at least to independent reviewers for evaluation before sending them to the Committee and spreading through mass media. This practice is another clear violation of the Code of Ethics: “Scientists should seek to have predictions confidentially reviewed…” (see above). At 9.30 am of 08.02.2019 the author of this commentary appeared at the Public Broadcasting System of the country and requested (a) for the Scientific Council of IGNOA to look after the predictions, and (b) for the Committee to reconvene for the evaluation of the new prediction version announced via mass media. The IGNOA Scientific Council never communicated with the Committee. The Committee reconvened on 12.02.2019 and reconfirmed that the prediction elements being available were not operationally usable beyond the usual countermeasures. The puzzle of the various prediction elements available to the Committee up to that date can be synthesized as follows: “SESs and EQ statistics indicate that an EQ of M≥5.5 is anticipated to occur in an area of radius 225 km around Patras in a time frame of 5.5 months counting from 03.01.2019. Now casting statistics indicates earthquake potential score of 80%”.

That the civil protection authorities failed to keep confidential that a prediction was submitted, combined with the public prediction announcement of the IGNOA Director, caused rumors and extensive social unrest in the entire Western Greece and the Ionian islands. Dr. G. Chouliaras, researcher at the NOA and collaborator of IGNOA as well as Committee member, is already under investigation by the Public Prosecutor since he uploaded in his personal Facebook account confidential letters of the Committee. Until writing these lines no EQ≥5.0 occurred in the target area and time frame. Regardless an EQ will occur or not, the chronicle of this EQ prediction is a clear case of multiple violation of the Code of Ethics adopted for EQ predictions by the international seismological community.


Allen, C. et al., 1984. Code of practice for earthquake prediction. IUGG Chronique, 165, Febr. 1984, 26-29.

Council of Europe, 1991. European code of ethics concerning earthquake prediction. In: Internat. Conf. on “Earthquake Prediction: State-of-the-Art, Strasbourg, 15-18 Oct. 1991”, Conclusions, 11-15.
Sarlis, N. et al., 2019. Geoelectric field and seismicity changes preceding the 2018 Mw6.8 earthquake and the subsequent activity in Greece. arXiv:1901.06658v1 [physics.geo-ph], 20 Jan. 2019, 8pp.

Other articles published in the IAPG Blog:

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

IAPG Annual Report 2018
for the IUGS

The report includes the overall objectives of the IAPG, relates IAPG goals to overall IUGS scientific objectives, explains how the IAPG has been actively involved with IUGS related activities, illustrates the IAPG structure and organization, its interaction with other international organizations and projects, its chief products, and finally lists the IAPG chief accomplishments 2018 and plans 2019.

IAPG is an affiliated organization of the IUGS - International Union of Geological Sciences.

Download the IAPG Annual Report 2018 (pdf):

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Why do we need more geoethics in research?

Francesc Bellaubi
(PhD Natural Sciences, IAPG member)

Picture credit: Photo by Antonina Baygusheva

Francesc Bellaubi
Ethics is becoming more and more a hot topic in the discussion about natural resources management and climate change. At the same time, there is an increasing awareness about the complexity, irreversibility and uncertainty in the Earth-Man relation and how feed-back loops impact on the geosphere and, in turn generate geological risks on human activities. In fact, Impact-Risk is a kind of action-reaction loop although the detail of how this exactly works is at the core of Complex Human and Nature Systems (CHANS).

The approach to puzzle out these issues strongly relies on technology and science. Complex models and ineffective cost solutions do not seem to be enough to solve the problems. We live in troubled days under a technocratic and scientism fallacy believing science and technology can or at least may solve many, if not all, of the problems created by the Anthropocene. However, more and more voices point to "the environmental crisis is fundamentally a crisis of values" (Nasr, 1997).

I believe science and technology, and so the research that make them possible, need to be core grounded in ethics in order to feed a value-based approach to current and future challenges. This is not about realizing the magnitude of the problem we are facing in terms of keeping geosphere stability for human evolution (Galleni & Scalfari, 2005). However, breaking the existing technopoly (Postdam, 1993) inertia and understanding the problem from a values point of view is key if we want to survive in and with dignity in this world.

Research in general and specifically in geosciences when related to natural resources management and governance has not been doing so well in helping to do so. Frequently, research methods are very "extractive". We use surveys and sometimes we rely on historical data, however, rarely does research go back to people to cross check and share results in a truly participatory way. Furthermore, raw data are only occasionally available to the citizens and "analysis, result discussions and conclusion" are cryptic in order to preserve the elite mind. We should make a strong effort to make research more transparent and available to people so results can be discussed and challenged, even when this means we need to move away from our "comfort zone" and realize we are not as smart as we thought we are. In addition, researchers have a moral duty; we cannot only inform and reflect about environmental impacts and risks because those affect moral agents.

We are all pushed to think and to blindly "believe" in science and technology as this sustains the current technopoly paradigm of development but when global issues affect us all it could be an interesting approach to see how our daily relations with other beings (Earth included) stand on ethical behavior. Thus, scientific knowledge doesn't dictate behavior but science needs to be "unsecularized" from the dogma and, rather, to approach Ethics. Knowledge is not only set in our physical brain and mind structures but transcends into the spiritual perceptions that shape our daily behavior. Behavior doesn't sit on rational-bounded knowledge but on moral values, beliefs and natural instincts that determine the why of our actions. It is an ethical duty of geosciences to look at Ethics. "It is also to be hoped that it will contribute to highlighting profound dimensions and forgotten languages of the human element that the predominantly scientific-technical civilization tends to repress and hide" (Velasco, 2007).

Geosciences research needs to be reactive. It is not enough to apply scientific methods, draw hypotheses, analyze data and report results (scientific methodologies are not value-neutral). There is no added value doing so if the end does not improve people’s lives and safeguard the Earth. Research cannot be passive when looking at socio-environmental problems that involve integrity, recognition and redistribution issues in natural resources management. Research needs to be brave and stand up, and needs to be politically and ethically engaged, but mainly committed. Should sound scientific reports be dropped on a table without the ethical need to accompany the decision-making process? And what is the role of advising and counseling from a pedagogical and social learning point of view?

Academia is not and cannot be an "untouched" sanctuary but an open learning forum where issues are debatable and debated and where we should challenge others to challenge us. In these days where the big word "Democracy" is in everybody's mind and mouth, I think making academia more democratic and research more ethical is a good starter in the view of the pressing challenges the Earth and Man are facing together.


Galleni L. and Scalfari F. (2005). Teilhard de Chardin’s Engagement with the Relationship between Science and Theology in Light of Discussions about Environmental Ethics. Ecotheology, 10(2), pp. 196-214.

Nasr S.H. (1997). Man and nature. Chicago: ABC International Group, Inc.

Postman N. (1993). Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books.

Velasco J.M. (2007). Introducción a la fenomenología de la religión (Estructuras y Procesos, Religión). 7th edn. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, S.A.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"Principles of Water Ethics"

(by Bruce Jennings, Paul Heltne & Kathryn Kintzele)

The significance of water for life and health is fundamental and can scarcely be overstated, and hence the pertinence of ethics to water utilization and management is clear in a general sense. It is important for everyone involved in water resource management and in public health to have a well-reasoned understanding of the moral values and obligations that correspond to that significance. In the domain of ethics, questions of scientific knowledge come together with aspects of cultural meaning and perception; questions of conservation, sanitation, and health promotion come together with questions of justice, equity, and human rights; questions of sustainability and biodiversity come together with questions of democratic governance, law, and policy.


Documents and online resources on topics of interest for geoethics:

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics:

Friday, February 8, 2019

An article just published in Sustainability

"Ethics to Intersect Civic Participation and
Formal Guidance"

(by Martin Bohle, Cornelia E. Nauen, and Eduardo Marone)

Sound governance arrangement in socio-ecological systems (human niche) combines different means of sense-making. The sustainability of human niche-building depends on the governability of the social-ecological systems (SES) forming the niche. Experiences from small-scale marine fisheries and seabed mining illustrate how ethical frameworks, civic participation and formalised guidance combine in the context of a “blue economy”. Three lines of inquiries contextualise these experiences driving research questions, such as “what is the function of ethics for governability?” First, complex-adaptive SES are featured to emphasise the sense-making feedback loop in SES. Actors are part of this feedback loop and can use different means of sense-making to guide their actions. Second, the “Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries” and geoethical thinking are featured to highlight the relevance of actor-centric concepts. Third, Kohlberg’s model of “stages of moral adequacy” and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are used to show how to strengthen actor-centric virtue-ethics. Combining these lines of inquiry leads to the conclusion that ethical frameworks, civic participation and formalised guidance, when put in a mutual context, support governability and multi-actor/level policy-making. Further research could explore how creativity can strengthen civic participation, a feature only sketched here.

Free Download:

Other articles on geoethics in the IAPG website (free download):

Books on geoethics (chapters for free download):

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Silvia Peppoloni!

Congratulations to Silvia Peppoloni (IAPG Secretary General) for her new role within the International geoscience community!

Silvia is in charge as a new Councillor of the IUGS - International Union of Geological Sciences for 2018-2022. 

If you want to know more about Silvia, look at her profile published in Episodes (the journal of the IUGS):

Some sentences from the Silvia's profile:
"Ever since I was a child, the grandeur of geological phenomena has fascinated me. For hours I used to listen astonished to my grandfather telling me stories about the Vesuvius Volcano: he was from Naples and had personally experienced the destruction of the last eruption in 1944. I remember perfectly the fear and wonder I was feeling while he talked me, the sense of impotence and precariousness that, in my imagination, the population must have felt; that perception of living in a “dancing land”, as my grandfather defined Italy. Perceiving that the Earth is a “living” planet and the strength of its processes is that generates similar responses in every living being: that’s where my love for geology comes from......."
(download Silvia's profile at:

Silvia's profile can be downloaded also at:

IUGS - International Union of Geological Sciences:


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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

IAPG-Peru has a new coordinator

IAPG-Peru logo
Carlos Toledo Gutierrez (photo above) is the new coordinator of IAPG-Peru from 1 January 2019. "Have a good work!" Carlos.

Carlos Toledo Gutierrez is Geological Engineer, Magister in History, graduated with a master's degree in Engineering and Philosophy. Bachelor of Education, specialty history and geography and environmental education. Currently PhD studies in Philosophy. He is University professor and academic coordinator at the Antonio Ruiz de Montoya Jesuitas University and at the National University of San Marcos, and professor at the EAP Geological Engineering. He is also external mining consultant of EGEMASS - The Mining Society.

Sandra Paula Villacorta Chambi
Carlos takes over from Sandra Paula Villacorta Chambi in chairing the IAPG-Peru section.

IAPG wishes to thank Sandra Paula for the excellent job she has done in the last years, that brought IAPG-Peru to become the most important reality in actively promoting geoethics in South America.

IAPG has 30 national sections:


IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics:

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Geoethics at the HEGC-1

Katmandu (Nepal), 12-13 May 2019

HEGC-1 - First Himalayan Engineering Geological Congress

IAPG Special Session:
Geoethics in Engineering Geology: doing the right thing while managing the geological environment

Ranjan Kumar Dahal
Ranjan Kumar Dahal (IAPG-Nepal co-coordinator).

Description of the IAPG Special Session:
IAEG defines “Engineering Geology” as “the science devoted to the investigation, study and solution of the engineering and environmental problems which may arise as the result of the interaction between geology and the works and activities of man as well as to the prediction and of the development of measures for prevention or remediation of geological hazards”. This definition implies evident ethical and social implications in geo-engineering research and practice. In fact, the interaction man-Earth system produces surely modifications in natural dynamics and equilibria, so managing the natural/geological environment requires great responsibilities by scientists, practitioners and industry in order to minimize the impact on ecosystems, to use geo-resources prudently, to protect the geoheritage and geodiversity, to respect local populations and their cultures. In addition, engineering geology is a fundamental discipline to help society to face natural hazards, to reduce geo-risks and to improve the societal resilience, through accurate scientific studies and effective geoengineering design. Geo-education campaigns and communication to population should be considered as fundamental collateral activities and a real social duty of every scientific activity. This session will collect abstracts discussing ethical and social aspects in engineering geology, from theoretical to practical issues, including case-studies.



IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics:

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Failing at a triple-point,
the ‘Anthropocene proposal’?

Martin Bohle
(IAPG Board of Experts, Belgium)

Martin Bohle

The ‘Anthropocene proposal’ is about amending the Geological Time Scale namely, to introduce a new epoch, the ‘Anthropocene’. This essay [*] starts at a triple-point: global anthropogenic change happens, scientific methodological rigour applies, and “the Anthropocene for the first time gave birth to a universal ‘Anthropos’” (Hamilton, 2017, p.118). Additionally, it is assumed that ‘Anthropocene proposal’ is rejected (Rull, 2018) because it does not match the methodological rigour of the Geological Time Scale; what would unlock an ethical dilemma that then has to be tackled.

To set off; the vigour of the debates about ‘Anthropocene proposal’ indicates a profound matter. Its essence, whether we witness emerging “a kind of hybrid Earth, of nature injected with human will, however responsibly or irresponsibly that will may have been exercised” (Hamilton & Grinevald, 2015, p.68). Hence, the debates about the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ are about the ‘human condition’ how contemporary people live, collectively. What are the nuts and bolts?

Societal context

During its prehistoric and historical times already, humankind modified natural environments to appropriate resources for living and wellbeing (Zalasiewicz et al., 2018). Contemporary societies abundantly apply geosciences for their economic activities that bind through global supply chains the entire globe into one system (Bohle, 2017). Crafts-person, technicians, architects, and engineers implicitly apply geoscience knowledge when altering natural environments or creating artefacts, e.g. extraction of minerals, the laying the foundations for buildings, or managing floodplains. Large-scale infrastructures like shore defences, hydropower plants or urban dwellings visibly interact with the geosphere and without profound geoscience knowledge could not have been built. Finally, global production systems or consumption patterns couple human activity with the geosphere at a planetary scale through cycles of matter, energy and information.

Since some decades, humankind's activity intersects the geosphere in a much ampler manner than ever before, either directly or intermediated through the biosphere (Barnosky et al., 2012). During the last century, the number of people on Earth and mostly the patterns of affluent consumption of resources culminated in a global, societal endeavour of anthropogenic change. When considering this outcome from a philosophical point of view, then the resulting global anthropogenic change is intended. It is driven by the ‘Anthropos’ applying hegemonic value system(s); for the good, the bad and the ugly (Dalby, 2015); or the inescapable (Dryzek, 2016).

Hence, anthropogenic change is about how people who, given their value systems, cultural choices and lifestyles, govern the appropriation of biotic and abiotic resources from the natural environments. The technological means, the scientific understanding and the economic resources confine which ‘endeavours of anthropogenic change’ are possible. Within the corpus of scientific understanding, geosciences are instrumental in how effective and efficient the change is. Subsequently, geoscientists are co-architects of the current times of global anthropogenic change. Recognising this ‘engagement’ and assuming the related responsibility is necessary (Jonas, 1984). Subsequently, it is not innocent how geoscientists use their expertise, including what to do with the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ that is made by some of their peers.

When considering global anthropogenic change in its societal context, then geosciences concerns any human being because s/he interacts with the Earth system. This ‘any human being’ needs insights or orientations to understand the functioning of the geosphere. The ‘Anthropocene proposal’ would summarise such insights and, subsequently, orientations about planetary boundaries would inform about the ‘do and do not’ that any responsible person should find helpful to have (Steffen et al., 2015). Hence, the importance that geoscientists, including the geologists, handle the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ in an ethically sound manner.

Ethical context

Science and research are a service to society (Bernal, 1939) and responsible science is a public good (Murphy et al. 2015). Hence, any undertaking of science and research is value laden (Douglas, 2009). Like many other science communities, the geosciences communities recently have strengthened their professional ethical frameworks (Di Capua et al., 2017).

During the last decade, the field of geoethics gained visibility within geosciences as an agent-centric virtue-ethics, as the ‘Cape Town Statement on Geoethics’ outlines: “It is essential to enrich the roles and responsibilities of geoscientists towards communities and the environments in which they dwell, … 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.” (Di Capua et al., 2017). To render these ideas operational a ‘Geoethical Promise’ has been formulated (Matteucci et al., 2014).

The ‘Anthropocene Proposal’ seen through the ‘Geoethical Promise’

The ‘geoethical promise’ (Matteucci et al., 2014) offers geologists, and beyond (Bohle and Ellis, 2017), a framework to analyse the ethical implications of options in a professional context. In this sense, the nine statements of ‘Geoethical Promise’ also inform how to appreciate the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ (see table): 


Statements made in the
"Geoethical Promise"
...when applied to the "Anthropocene proposal"

       I.           … I will practice geosciences being fully aware of the societal implications, and I will do my best for the protection of the Earth system for the benefit of humankind.
…then these statements can be interpreted as calling to make people aware of the ongoing global anthropogenic global change giving this awareness top priority. Naming the present times ‘Anthropocene’ would rise awareness to favour sustainable development.

     II.            … I understand my responsibilities towards society, future generations and the Earth for sustainable development.

    III.            … I will put the interest of society foremost in my work.


    IV.            … I will never misuse my geoscience knowledge, resisting constraint or coercion.
...then these statements call to be non-compromising vis-a-vis third party requests regarding the application of geoscience knowledge and methodology.


     V.            … I will always be ready to provide my professional assistance when needed, and I will be impartial in making my expertise available to decision makers.

   VI.            … I will continue lifelong development of my geoscientific knowledge.


   VII.            … I will always maintain intellectual honesty in my work, being aware of the limits of my competencies and skills.
…then this statement calls for truthfulness in applying geoscience knowledge and methodology

 VIII.            … I will act to foster progress in the geosciences, the sharing of geoscientific knowledge, and the dissemination of the geoethical approach.

    IX.            … I will always be fully respectful of Earth processes in my work as a geoscientist.

  • The statements I, II and III of the ‘geoethical promise’ emphasize the societal responsibility of the geoscientists. Global anthropogenic change happens and threatens future living conditions of people. Therefore, people including individual and collective human agents with power to decide should be made aware of this threat. Naming the present geological times ‘Anthropocene’ would be an explicit message telling them about the size and nature of the ongoing change that they drive. 
  • Furthering the analysis; the statements VI, VIII and IX of ‘geoethical promise’ do not offer any insight on how to appreciate the ‘Anthropocene proposal’. 
  • In turn, the statements IV, V and VII imply, from various angles, are a reflection about scientific methods that applies to the ‘Anthropocene proposal’. To put it simply, these statements call for methodological rigour that does not compromise to (societal) pressures. Therefore, given these three statements the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ should not be looked upon favourably if it does not fit to the scientific methodology how to design the Geological Time Scale. 
Thus, the ‘geoethical promise’ does not give guidance regarding whether to accept or to reject the ‘Anthropocene proposal’, although it offers an approach how to take a decision. 

The debates within geoscience communities about the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ are about methods how to determine in a rigorous manner the Geological Time Scale. In case that the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ will be rejected an ethical dilemma will arise. In this circumstance two considerations are pitched against each other. On one side, the rigour of the scientific method, which is an important cultural value that needed centuries to establish. On the other side, the requirement to use scientific findings to improve how the human societies functions, which is the final cultural value ‘why to do science’.

This geoethical dilemma needs to be handled. Non-action is not a valid option. Given the societal responsibility that the geoscientists have they must assume to inform the society about the nature of present times. What to do, if the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ is methodically flawed when seen from the perspective of the Geological Time Scale?

A Remedy for the Anthropocene?

What to do? The eleventh thesis about Feuerbach [Marx, 1845]: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world …; the point is to change it,” offers an inspiration.

The Geological Time Scale (International Chronostratigraphic Chart) is an interpretation of the stratigraphic record. It describes the past, the geological history. Properly naming the current times of global anthropogenic change is a matter of the present, of contemporary history. To acknowledge this categorical difference, that is, considering the past and the present in a different manner, the Geological Time Scale would benefit from an end-date.

Amending the Geological Time Scale by an end-date, set by those who have the competence and authority to do it, would circumvent the ethical dilemma pitching values against each other. Instead, such a proposal would give geoscientists the opportunity to size the responsibility that imperatively (Jonas, 1984) follows from their scientific insights into the ongoing global anthropogenic change. Subsequently and elegantly, the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ could be made with all scientific rigour that it needs because of its societal relevance, although without compromising the methodological rigour that underpins the settings in Geological Time Scale.

To be practical, an end-date, for example, could be the peak of the Plutonium fallout (from the nuclear essays in the atmosphere). Some had proposed this features as a marker of the onset of the Anthropocene (Zalasiewicz et al., 2017) now it may serve as marker of the end of the geological past, including the end of the Holocene. The resulting messages, from the geoscience community, would be unequivocal.

[*] This post builds on a working paper that is available at the author’s profile on ResearchGate (doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.10735.28325). The working paper has been prepared in view of a contribution to a special issue of the journal Quaternary (see: Rull, V. (2018). What If the ‘Anthropocene’ Is Not Formalized as a New Geological Series/Epoch? Quaternary, 1(3), 24. doi:10.3390/quat1030024).  
This post, published at the IAPG blog and the author’s blog, is made to invite comments to nourish the author’s reflections for the final draft of the contribution to Quaternary that will be prepared in January 2019.


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