Initial Publication Date: November 3, 2014

Themes and Strategies for Integrating GeoEthics Across the Curriculum

This web page is based on a document produced by Dexter Perkins, Sue Kieffer, Jim Schmitt, Dave Mogk, and Marian Buzon at the 2014 Teaching GeoEthics workshop. It provides guidance about fundamental themes of GeoEthics, pedagogic practices, and topics that could be developed into instructional units that can be applied in existing courses in the geosciences curriculum.

GeoEthics Themes

  • Geoethics provides a reference and guidelines for behavior in addressing concrete problems of human life by trying to find socio-economic solutions compatible with a respect for the environment and the protection of Nature and land.
  • Geoethics reflects the social role played by geoscientists and their responsibilities highlighting the ethical, cultural and economic repercussions that their behavioral choices may have on society.
  • Geoethics encourages a critical analysis of the use and management of geo-resources.
  • Geoethics deals with problems related to the risk management and the mitigation of geohazards.
  • Geoethics fosters the proper and correct dissemination of the results of scientific studies and other information on risks.
  • Geoethics aims to improve the relationships between the scientific community, the mass media and the public.
  • Geoethics promotes the development of the geoparks and geo-tourism, in order to create social awareness about the value of the geological heritage and geodiversity.
  • Geoethics highlights the value and usefulness of the geological and geophysical knowledge in daily life by promoting disciplines like geo-medicine and forensic geosciences.
  • Geoethics aims to organize effective teaching tools to develop awareness, values and responsibility, especially amongst the young people.

Pedagogic Methods

GeoEthics can be explored using a variety of pedagogic methods. Some example strategies include the following:

Direct instruction

Expanding student perspectives

Put students to the test

  • Short in-class ethical problems
  • Case studies (see examples)
  • Analysis of current events and topical issues
  • GeoEthics forums

Potential Topics for Exploration (and the Courses Where These Could be Implemented)

  • Asbestos; what is the mineralogy of asbestos, what is the evidence of human health impacts of different types of asbestos minerals; how has this played out in policy (e.g. EPA definition of asbestos); case study needs to be developed: Libby Montana; use real samples. Asbestos had lots of helpful properties that we valued at one time. (Mineralogy; Medical Geology; Environmental Geology)
  • History of Pinatubo with application to Mt. St. Helens and the Cascade Volcanoes; the Science: eruptive histories of Mt. Lassen, Mt. St. Helens; USGS Reports; Cascade Volcano Observatory information; Case study needs to be developed. Key issues are professional relationships amongst geologists and communication with government and the public. (Igneous Petrology; Hazards course)
  • Bre-X Gold Mine Scandal -- Key issues are falsification of data; corporate behavior; consequences to public and employees (Economic Geology; Petrology; Ore Deposits; any lab course)
  • Clark's Fork Cleanup -- Anaconda original source of problem; mining operation sold several times; problem remains today; largest Superfund site in 48 states. Key issues: who is responsible for cleanup, stewardship, etc. What have we learned and how will we avoid repeating history? And, what is the magnitude of externalities and public subsidies for mining operations? (Economic Geology; Environmental Geology; Geochemistry)
  • Glen Canyon Dam. Built for water storage and electricity. Floyd Dominy, Cadillac Desert; Encounters with the Arch-Druid - Key issues: construction controversy; David Brower's ethical dilemma; present day challenge including dam removal -- relate to Elwah Dam removal (Environmental Geology; Hydrology; Geomorphology)
  • Salton Sea, Aral Sea, etc. - movie: Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea (e.g. - Key issues: the effects of water diversions; irrigation runoff; air pollution; toxic micro-climate (Hydrology; Sedimentology; Geomorphology; Environmental Geology)
  • Love Canal - classic question of who was/is liable; also relate to creation of Superfund and ethical issues about who pays for cleanup (Geochemistry; Environmental Geology)
  • Hurricane Sandy and the East coast of the U.S -- What to do in light of climate change? Geoengineering of coastline? Land use planning. (Env. Geology; Meteorology; Geomorphology; Hazards course)
  • Oso (and other) Landslides; Key issues are communication, public policy and the role that geologists play (Geomorphology; Sedimentology; Seismology)
  • Energy Sources -- Where do you want your energy to come from? (Intro geology; economic geology; Environmental Geology; Sed-Strat)
  • Resource Extraction and Use - Cell phones (steal from Adam Simon?) (Intro Geology; Economic Geology; Environmental Geology)
  • Megafires and Climate change and megafires; for example, see this module on Exploring the Past to Better Understand the Future: Human Impacts on Fire - Past, Present, and Future, by Dave McWethy and Cathy Whitlock, Montana State University, Bozeman.
  • Other topics could include: Pollution and poverty; environmental racism; field geology; earthquakes; tsunami; data integrity; New Madrid earthquake zone/risk