Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Geosciences and Geoethics
in times of Covid-19 pandemic

An interview to Silvia Peppoloni (IAPG Secretary General)

At the last online EGU 2020, Silvia Peppoloni was invited to be panellist of the Union Symposium 1 "Best practices for scientific integrity and scientific freedom in an age of pandemics - and beyond". This symposium was co-sponsored by AGI, AGU, AOGS, GSA, GSL, and JpGU.

We interviewed Silvia Peppoloni after the EGU 2020 symposium to get a brief reflection about the role of geosciences and implications for geoethics in these times of Covid-19 pandemic.

Silvia Peppoloni
Question A:
Which was the focus of your presentation at the last EGU 2020 in the Union Symposium 1?

I focused my presentation on what the geoscience community can learn from the Covid-19 pandemic. Many studies attempting correlations between virus incidence and pollution are preliminary and need careful studies. What seems clear, however, is that the growing impact of human activities on bio-geological systems, if not properly controlled in accordance with the transitory ecological balances, produces an increased risk to have pandemics. Even geoscientists have been saying this for several years, but to date other logics and values have governed our interaction with natural systems. Covid-19 is the effect of this non-functional, unhealthy, dangerous interaction for humanity.

Question B:
Which lessons we may learn, as geoscience community and society as a whole, from the Covid-19 pandemic?

The pandemic is teaching, or rather confirming, some reflections that have already emerged for some years in the field of geoethics, which deals with the ethical aspects of managing the interaction between human beings and the Earth system. These reflections are useful precisely to address the effects of global warming and synthesized as follows:

1) At the base of the chain of actions that the society must put in place to solve its problems, there is always the individual. Individual behaviours are fundamental to face global crises too, because the irresponsible behaviour of even a single individual can generate a systemic planetary crisis over time.

2) Personal, inter-personal responsibilities and those towards the community of which each of us is an integral part are fundamental for living in health and safety in a globalized, highly interconnected society.

3) Everyone's responsibility towards the Earth system implies respect for social-ecological systems. Otherwise, the exposure and therefore the risk of all the human communities to phenomena that can jeopardize the current structure of globalized society increases, leading to a systemic collapse.

4) Global anthropic supply chains, which transfer huge flows of energy and matter on the planet, must be redesigned to increase resilience in case of shock and to reduce their ecological impact. This process will be complex and take time to take into account the complexity of social and economic structures. The world cannot change in a short time, but it will change. And it is certain that complexity can only be addressed with multidisciplinary approaches.

5) We must create more transparent, authoritative and independent international governance mechanisms in the health and environmental field, which encourage the transfer of knowledge and experience between nations and provide decision-making support to governments. These bodies would aim to facilitate the integration of decisions by each country that impact a globalized human system, rather than initiatives that refer only to local contexts.

6) The modification of the economic, social and political paradigms, required to give a concrete and effective response to global anthropogenic problems, also needs a cultural change in society. This means that investments in school systems must increase, as well as in research systems.

7) Merit and competence are values that must be placed at the centre of a new social compact among citizens. Most people demand reliable and authoritative answers from those who know the problems from a scientific point of view, even if with uncertainty and gaps. Addressing global warming and its local and planetary effects requires expertise, study, professional updating, honest cooperation, fair confrontation, openness to dialogue, and political decisions that are scientifically grounded and carefully weighed through the expert advice of scientists and technicians.

Question C:
Which is the role of geoscientists in the society and their relationships with policy?

Geoscientists are social and political actors. The profound meaning of their activity lies in improving the knowledge we have of the planet for the benefit of humanity. That knowledge shapes the idea we have about the world and its social and ecological relationships. They just have to be careful not to give in to the enticement of considering themselves custodians of certainties. The role of geoscientists in social architecture must be clear: to produce knowledge, communicate what they know about the planet and what are the limits of that knowledge, and develop scenarios that help decision-makers. Geoscientists can provide possible options, but decision-makers have to make the decisions, also taking into account other factors (for example, social and economic factors). Each social and political actor has their role and responsibilities, of which must be fully aware.


Other articles published in the IAPG Blog:

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics

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