Monday, March 1, 2021

Geology, Climate Change and New Policy for our Territories benefit

by José Martín Cabello Lechuga*

Economic Geologist, Science communicator, Past President, Sociedad Geológica de Chile (Geological Society of Chile)

José Martín Cabello Lechuga

Learning the interaction between environmental change and the evolution of life over hundreds of millions of years gives valuable insight into changes humans are causing by using fossil fuels impacting the environment.  Just as we are beginning to understand more fully the impact we are having on our territory, resources are becoming scarcer, and the population is larger. As we seek to live more sustainably and equitably, geologists are developing a more comprehensive view of the use of water and mineral resources, derived waste and by-products, and our complex interactions with soil, land, sea, air and life, which together form the Earth's system. Geology studies the structure of this planet and processes that have formed it throughout its extended history, and continue to do so.
Our planet has a good base of geological research, fundamental to understand Earth's processes and future environmental challenges. Adequate investment in research will drive economic development and play a leading role in contesting environmental challenges. 
Our future is one where resources are limited, and the impacts of extracting and using them more intensely are risky. An increasing population rightly expects greater prosperity and more equitable access to natural resources, exerting additional pressure, particularly on the water-energy-food pool. The safe and sustainable supply of water and energy is made difficult by climate change. The increase in consumption will have implications for domestic supply as well as for energy and water producing industries, as well as mining and construction.

Protecting and valuing our environment

Our policy needs a holistic view of ecosystems. The relevance of geology and geosphere to environmental protection and the provision of systemic echo services are too often overlooked. They are not considered to shape our landscape, interact with the atmosphere and hydrosphere, and sustain living systems. The Earth's rich geological heritage and ecosystem diversity is valuable in terms of education, tourism and quality of life. It is vital that geologically important sites are adequately protected. The protection functions performed by the geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere are of great environmental value, and are beginning to be properly understood. The ability of natural systems to withstand change depends in part on the pollutant loads they can absorb.
Geological hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and tsunamis, can have devastating effects on populations, infrastructure and landscapes of the territory. Understanding and effectively communicating the risks, impacts and mitigation of these hazards is essential to reduce human suffering and material losses.

Past Climate Changes: Geological Evidence

The geological record contains abundant demonstration that the climate has changed in the past. That evidence is very relevant to understand how it may change in the future.  Over the past 200 million years, the fossil and sedimentary record shows that our planet has suffered many climatic fluctuations, from warmer than the current climate to much colder, on many different time scales. In addition to the cyclic variation caused by variation in the Earth's orbit and solar activity, there have been cases of rapid climate change associated with atmospheric carbon increases, as happened 55 million years ago (Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum). Evidence of past climate change is preserved in a wide range of geological environments, including marine and lake sediments, ice sheets, fossil corals, stalagmites and fossil tree rings.
Field observation, laboratory techniques and mathematical models show how and why the climate has changed in the past. This knowledge of the past allows us to estimate likely changes in the future. Life on Earth has survived major changes in climate in the past, but these have caused mass extinctions and redistribution of species. The impact of relatively small increases in global temperatures can be enormous in human society.
The causes of past cases of rapid climate change are the subject of research, but the trigger for such events is likely to be of geological origin, for example, a period of intense volcanic activity. By contrast, rapid increases in atmospheric CO2 in recent decades cannot be attributed to any of these geological causes.
Human activity has had dramatic impacts on earth's landscape, subsoil and systems, driving significant atmospheric, chemical, physical and biological changes. The development of society has been responsible for a significant remodeling of the territory through a variety of processes, including agriculture, construction, river channeling, deforestation, urban growth and industrialization. In addition to the use of fossil fuels, the Industrial Revolution brought considerable levels of pollution from mining, smelting and waste disposal.

Climate Change, Geology and New Policy

The application of Geology in political definitions on Climate Change is essential considering the hope of progress towards lasting well-being for our territories. Greater scientific contribution is needed to contribute to strategic environmental assessment and more widespread territorial planning. Thinking of a New Policy and Governance, it is essential to expand its future effectiveness by gathering in them all the knowledge developed by professionals dedicated to Geosciences. This way we can have managed territories with a clear sense of sustainable development for the benefit of all.


Other articles published in the IAPG Blog:

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics

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