Initial Publication Date: November 3, 2014

GeoEthics and the Earth System

David Mogk, Montana State University

It is the mission of geoscientists to understand the operation of the Earth system. Numerous topics related to stewardship of the planet and sustainability present rich examples of ethical dilemmas that confront the grand challenges of humanity living on Earth. This is a compilation of topics suggested by the 2014 Teaching GeoEthics workshop participants that could be further developed as instructional modules for instruction in the geosciences. We welcome additional resources on this topic; please Contribute a Resource on this online form.
Jump down to: The Bookshelf

Sustaining Existence: A Geoethical Dilemma--John Geissman, EOS Editors' Vox, April 20, 2016; We know that we must solve problems; in doing so, can we avoid creating others? Would communicating science be more effective if geoethics were included in the discussion?


GeoEthics can be naturally integrated to many topics commonly covered in geoscience courses. The references provided below offer potential ideas for discussing GeoEthics as it relates to each topic.

Environmental Ethics


  • Are We Now Living in the Anthropocence? -- Zalasiewicz et al, 2008, GSA Today v 18 #2. (Discussion of humans' influence on the Earth system)
  • Human activities are jeopardizing Earth's natural systems, health of future generations--New report calls for action to ensure future health, environmental sustainability, showing that solutions are within reach (accessed via Science Digest July 15, 2015).
    • Reference: Sarah Whitmee, Andy Haines, Chris Beyrer, Frederick Boltz, Anthony G Capon, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Alex Ezeh, Howard Frumkin, Peng Gong, Peter Head, Richard Horton, Georgina M Mace, Robert Marten, Samuel S Myers, Sania Nishtar, Steven A Osofsky, Subhrendu K Pattanayak, Montira J Pongsiri, Cristina Romanelli, Agnes Soucat, Jeanette Vega, Derek Yach. Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: report of The Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission on planetary health. The Lancet, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60901-1


Climate Change





Deep Sea Mining

The Bookshelf

Here is a recommended reading list of books that could be incorporated into your coursework to address topics of environmental ethics. Additional reading is available on the page of selected resources for getting started. Read on!

  • Abbey, E. (1990). The Monkey Wrench Gang . Salt Lake City, UT: Dream Garden Press.
  • Abbey, E. (1990). Desert Solitaire . Salt Lake City, UT: Dream Garden Press.
  • Alley, R. (2002). The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 240 p.
  • Archer, D. (2008). The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth's Climate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 192 p.
  • Ashworth, W. (2006). Ogallala Blue: Water and life on the High Plains. W.W. Norton & Co.
  • Carson, R. (1962). Silent Spring. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Easton, T. (2010). Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Environmental Issues. McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 416 p.
  • Glennon, R. (2002). Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America's Fresh Waters. Island Press.
  • Harr, J. (1996). A Civil Action. Vintage, 502 p.
  • Leopold, A., 1968. From A Sand County Almanac (1949). Oxford.
  • McHarg, I., Design with Nature, 1995 by John Wiley & Sons, 208 pp.
  • McPhee, J. (1990). The Control of Nature. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 288 p.
  • Meadows, D., J. Randers, and D. Meadows (2004).Limits of Growth: The 30-Year Update . Chelsea Green Publishing, 368 p.
  • O'Brien, M., (2000). Making Better Environmental Decisions: An Alternative to Risk Assessment: MIT Press, 352pp
  • Oreskes, N. (2010). Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Bloomsbury Press, 368 p.
  • Reiser, M. (1993). Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. Penguin, 608 p.
  • Robbins, P. (2007). Lawn people: how grasses, weeds, and chemicals make us who we are. Temple University Press.
  • Steingraber, S., 1997, Living Downstream: Addison-Wesley Publishing, 357pp
  • Streever, B. (2001). Saving Louisiana? : The battle for coastal wetlands. University Press of Mississippi.
  • Ward, D.R. (2002). Water Wars: Drought, Flood, Folly, and the Politics of Thirst. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
  • Williams, Terry Tempest (1991). Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, Pantheon Books, 304 pp. (read particularly the essay: Clan of the One-Breasted Women).