Themes and Strategies -- Introductory Courses
Intro-level GeoEthics Themes
- Geoethics adopts principles of sound science and employs ethics of scientific research (telling the truth, understanding scientific uncertainty, etc.).
- 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.
Some general things that instructors should consider:
- Plan to cover ethical content implicitly (without formally framing the content as "ethics") and/or explicitly.
- Implicit teaching is embedded throughout and is less likely to trigger students answering ethical questions based on what they think the teacher (or society) prefers.
- Explicit teaching fosters metacognition and can lead to a greater self-awareness of how ethical decisions are constructed.
- Allow for open-ended discussion. Teaching ethics allows students to ask questions, and often the questions have no right or wrong answers.
Getting Started: Background knowledge & interest survey
Engage students in topics they care about and learn where sticking points may lie by surveying their background knowledge and interests. Ask questions such as:
- Why are you taking this class?
- What is your science background?
- What topics would you like to see emphasized in this class?
- Would you be interested in learning about relations between the geosciences and societal issues? Why or why not?
Topics for Exploration
Geoethics can be incorporated in many introductory geoscience courses. Ethical content can easily be incorporated with the following topics:
- Natural Hazards (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, coastal hazards, flooding, severe weather, sinkholes, landslides)
- Natural Resources (metals, nonmetallic mineral and rock resources, carbon-based energy sources and their extraction, alternative energy sources, biomass & water)
- Climate Change (greenhouse dynamics, changes to atmospheric chemistry and Earth's albedo)
- Human-Induced Hazards (dam failure, human-induced subsidence, land subsidence, pipeline failure)
- Medical Geology (airborne, waterborne and biogenic hazards) (e.g. Geology and Human Health, from On the Cutting Edge)
- Academic & Professional Integrity
Questions for DiscussionEngaging in discussion and asking ethical questions requires students to think critically. Stimulate this critical thinking with Geoethics forums, or ask guiding questions, such as:
- Is it OK to...? (e.g., dam a river? pollute a river?build a levee? open a new open-pit mine? transport freshwater long distances?)
- What will happen if...?(e. g., sea level rises a river? drought continues to affect the Southwest U.S.? the Ogallala Aquifer is exhausted? Yellowstone erupts?)
- Who will be affected if... and how? (e. g., if we don't mine copper in the U. S.? we exhaust our domestic supply of oil? a large earthquake happens on the New Madrid fault zone?)
- Can/should someone own ...? (e. g., a river? a mountain range? a beach? a lake? a rock?)
- What are reasons why we should or should not ...? (e. g. use iron-fertilization of the ocean to address climate change?, offer professional opinions to the public?)
AssessmentStudent outcomes, which can be developed into a rubric, can be applied to class activities, assignments, case studies, etc. An example rubric could include the following pieces:
[By the end of this activity/project/course,] students can:
- Identify the ethical issues
- Apply a logical analytical process to how knowledge is organized and used.
- Apply a critical thought process to ethical issues.
- Analyze the ethical dilemma using appropriate principles.
- Explain the major ideas, values, and social implication of ethical issues.
- Discuss/debate the ethical issues in an appropriate manner.
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Environmental Ethics
- This site provides a good overview of the basics of environmental ethics
- International Association for Promoting Geoethics
- International Association for Environmental Philosophy
- International Society for Environmental Ethics
- EthicsWeb Canada: Environmental Ethic
- The Center for Environmental Philosphy
- Environmental Ethics as compiled by Prof. Ron Epstein
- InTeGrate - explore modules on climate change, mineral resources, hurricane hazards, etc. in the context of grand challenges and societal issues.
- Geology in the City: Ethical Issues
- Living with Sinkholes: Fragile Foundation
- Does a River Have Rights?
- Setting the Context, Goals, Obligations, and Commitments for a Course
- Presenting Science to the Public