Image Credit: Sierra Club

Image Credit: Sierra Club

New York is protecting its air and water by banning fracking. This continues our tradition of having other states and countries bear the environmental costs of our energy use. Whether or not this is ultimately good or bad for the environment writ large very much remains to be seen. I hope that it is.

The only truly clean energy is the energy you don’t use. If we’re not allowing fracking to happen in New York, we need to think about what to do instead. In the short term, it’s very likely that we’ll continue to use a lot of natural gas within the state, and a lot of that gas will come from hydraulically fractured wells in other states (mostly Pennsylvania). According to the US Energy Information Administration, most homes and businesses in New York are heated with natural gas and it provides 45% of our electricity. New York gets twice as much energy from natural gas as from any other source (gasoline is #2) and 98% of that natural gas comes from out of state. As Pennsylvania’s production has grown 17-fold since 2007 and it is now the second biggest producer (after Texas), the lion’s share of the gas New York uses almost certainly comes from wells in Pennsylvania. It raises interesting and important ethical questions to ban the production of something, but not the use.

Noting these realities doesn’t make me pro- or anti-fracking, but raises questions that deserve to be discussed. The discussion should reflect at least basic understandings of the science and mathematics of the energy system. Fundamental to that is recognizing that renewables are generally less bad for the environment than fossil fuels, but they have very real negative environmental impacts as well. Presently, we cannot make much in the way of renewable energy infrastructure without using fossil fuels and nuclear power to do so. We also can’t do it without copper and rare earths and both of those have substantial environmental impacts associated with their extraction.

Renewables also are generally lower in energy density than fossil fuels and nuclear, meaning that they require huge amounts of space to produce energy on the scale we are accustomed to and that has substantial environmental impacts. For example, Cornell University now has the largest solar array in Upstate New York. It covers 11 acres and provides about one percent of Cornell’s energy demand. So, we would need 1100 acres to meet the current needs of that one single (granted, fairly large) institution. New York has ten power plants with production capacities exceeding 1,000 megawatts. In the space of any one of those power plants, there is room enough for a few 1.5 megawatt windmills. Of course, once renewable sources are online, the wind and the sun, not dirtier fuels fuel them.

Fossil fuels have both made modern society possible and imperil modern society. We’ve reached a point where we almost certainly need to leave the vast majority of the remaining supplies of these wonderful and terrible fuels in the ground. We need to remake our energy infrastructure and how we use that infrastructure. We also need to face the reality that we have to use the infrastructure we have to make the infrastructure we need. If we were to rely only on renewables to make renewables, it would take many, many decades.

I do grant my hardiest congratulations to my many friends in the environmental community who helped make this ban happen. I hope they will continue onto the next step of figuring out how we can power our society in ways that are genuinely sustainable and not simply burdening other states and countries with the environmental costs of our actions. I suspect the most effective way forward in the short term is to continue and accelerate the general decrease in energy demand of the last several years.

Don Duggan-Haas, PhD, Director of Teacher Programs at the Paleontological Research Institution.

With financial support from the National Science Foundation, Duggan-Haas along with PRI colleagues Robert Ross and Warren Allmon, co-authored of The Science Beneath the Surface: A Very Short Guide to the Marcellus Shale. The opinions expressed here represent Duggan-Haas’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of GSA, PRI or the National Science Foundation.

An abridged version of this blog first appeared in the Buffalo News on 15 January, 2015.  This version published with permission.

Garden Park Fossil Area, near Cañon City, CO

Garden Park Fossil Area, near Cañon City, CO

Greetings, my name is Ben Merrill, former GeoCorps™ America (GeoCorps) participant, and it is my pleasure to be writing this contribution to the Geological Society of America Guest Blog. I am here to fill you in on why you, as a geoscience student, should be applying for the GeoCorps Program right now. Luckily for you, positions starting this summer were just posted on December 1st. First, let me fill you in on why I am an expert on this subject. During the summer of 2012, I was a GeoCorps participant working as a Paleontologist for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – Royal Gorge Field Office in Cañon City, Colorado. This was one of the most formative times of my life for several reasons. I was granted the opportunity to spend the summer in beautiful Colorado, a part of the USA that I never had the chance to visit prior to that summer. I was also able to gain valuable on-the-job experience by learning the expectations and daily routine of a professional geologist working for the BLM. This experience has not only made it easier for me to find quality jobs post-graduation, but has also made me a more well-rounded and professional individual. Here are a few specific examples of why you should begin your GeoCorps America Program application today.

Get the experience you need to excel as a professional geoscientist

 

Collecting photo point data in the Garden Park Fossil Area

Collecting photo point data in the Garden Park Fossil Area

As a GeoCorps America participant, you won’t be the office lackey who spends the day answering phones and picking up coffee for the office (yes, many “internships” are just that). GeoCorps participants are assigned at least one major project to work on during their assignment. These projects are important to the federal offices that seek out GeoCorps participants. In fact, these are the same projects that professional geologists would be working on themselves if they didn’t have the help of a GeoCorps participant. Therefore, not only are you gaining valuable experience that you’ll need to find jobs later, but the work is truly fulfilling. The project that you’re working on is valued as a professional product that will be used by the federal agency you work for.

Collecting photo point data in the Garden Park Fossil Area

Collecting photo point data in the Garden Park Fossil Area

During my four months at the Royal Gorge Field Office, I worked on building and implementing an Inventory and Monitoring Program for vulnerable paleontological sites in the historic Garden Park Fossil Area. I also worked on cleaning up and adding data to the Royal Gorge Field Office’s database of paleontological sites throughout the area that this field office is responsible for (all Colorado public lands east of the Rockies). As a result of these projects, I gained valuable experience using GIS, GPS, and writing professional reports, among many other skills.

Meet amazing people and make the professional contacts you need

Garden Park Fossil Area

Garden Park Fossil Area

Making professional contacts is an extremely important aspect of succeeding as a professional geoscientist. Many will tell you throughout life that “it’s all about who you know.” From the great folks managing the GeoCorps America Program to the people you’ll be working with if accepted, you will be able to make professional contacts who will help you succeed long after your assignment ends. If you’re lucky like I was (and something tells me this isn’t uncommon in the GeoCorps Program), these people will also become good friends. I know that, for me, it would be almost impossible to find quality jobs if I didn’t have the professional contacts and references I made through my GeoCorps experience.

Spend the summer in an amazing new place

Backcountry lake (caught some nice rainbow trout here) in the Sangre de Cristo mountains

Backcountry lake (caught some nice rainbow trout here) in the Sangre de Cristo mountains

When I first stumbled upon the list of available GeoCorps positions in December of 2011, part of the allure was the opportunity to work in a place that I’d never been before. I applied to positions in Montana, Idaho, and Colorado. Luckily for me, I was accepted to the one I wanted the most. During my summer in Cañon City, I worked as a BLM Paleontologist during the week and explored the various mountain ranges of Colorado on the weekends. Not a bad way to spend a summer, eh? I spent my weekends in the San Juans, the Front Range, the Sangre de Cristos, and Great Sand Dunes National Park to name a few notable adventures. I also went whitewater rafting on the famous Royal Gorge canyon run. I would never have had these opportunities if not for my GeoCorps project with the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office.

IMG_1873

The GeoCorps™ America Program is one of the best opportunities out there for geoscience students right now. The experiences afforded by a position with GeoCorps are life changing on both a personal and professional level, and are priceless in today’s competitive job market. It can seem difficult to find quality, practical experiences in the geoscience field. Trust me, I was there. Luckily, a visit to the GeoCorps program positions page will bring up over 125 amazing opportunities for summer 2015. These positions were just posted at the beginning of the month, so head over there right now and start filling out your application today!

Seoul, Korea was the last city and the last leg of my GSA Distinguished International Lecture Tour.  We started in Songdo International City, a new development along the shoreline at Incheon.

Central Park in Songdo International City is a popular place for residents to visit.

Central Park in Songdo International City is a popular place for residents to visit.

There I spoke to high school students at Chadwick International School, and then at the new Songdo Global University, where University of Utah has its newly emerging Asia campus.

The new Songdo Global University incorporates programs from several institutions including the University of Utah – Asia Campus.

The new Songdo Global University incorporates programs from several institutions including the University of Utah – Asia Campus.

From Incheon, we moved to the most prominent university of South Korea–Seoul National University (SNU). Like many other cities of Asia, the tentacles of Seoul are vast.

Seoul is the capital city of South Korea with a metropolitan area of > 25 million people.

Seoul is the capital city of South Korea with a metropolitan area of > 25 million people.

Our host Prof. Yong Il Lee (SNU) used military precision timing to get us in and out of the city to see the highlights that we thought would be impossible to cover.  Those sights included a night tour of city lights and bridges, the secret garden of Changdeokung Palace, the Bukchon Hanok village, and Seoul Tower (all the way to the top!).  Our visit in Seoul was less than a week, and like most places on my tour, it would have been fun to stay longer.

The Seoul Tower (here shown lit at night) is the highest point in Seoul.

The Seoul Tower (here shown lit at night) is the highest point in Seoul.

My husband and I enjoyed the view of the city from Seoul Tower.

My husband and I enjoyed the view of the city from Seoul Tower.

The Bukchon Hanok village has narrow streets and traditional architecture (foreground).  The Seoul Tower is on the right horizon.

The Bukchon Hanok village has narrow streets and traditional architecture (foreground). The Seoul Tower is on the right horizon.

The South Gate (Namdaemun) of Seoul has been restored and is considered the country’s No. 1 National Treasure.

The South Gate (Namdaemun) of Seoul has been restored and is considered the country’s No. 1 National Treasure.

With commitments for the 2014 GSA Annual Meeting, I flew from Seoul to Vancouver without a break.  It is with a bit of nostalgia that I say this is the end of what has been a wonderful experience.  I logged enough miles to reach gold medallion status with Delta airlines, another first for me.  I enjoyed being an ambassador for both GSA and the University of Utah.  I am thankful for the many fond memories of delightful students, colleagues, and scenes and flavors of international lands and cultures.

– Margie

by Karen Paczkowski – GSA Science Policy Fellow

Geoscientists from around the country came to Capitol Hill on September 17-18, for the 7th Annual Geoscience Congressional Visits Day (GeoCVD). This two day event, organized by GSA and other geoscience societies, is designed to increase the visibility of geoscience and engagement of geoscientists in public policy. The event is centered around small-group meetings with Representatives, Senators, Congressional Committees, and their core staff members on Capitol Hill, with this year’s event totaling over 100 congressional office meetings. The event also includes an extensive training session to make each of these meetings impactful.

Geoscientists meet with Rep. Chet Edwards (R-TX, third from right) during the 2008 Geosciences Congressional Visits Day.

Geoscientists meet with Rep. Chet Edwards (R-TX, third from right) during the 2008 Geosciences Congressional Visits Day.

During the training participants learn the basics of public policy, the outlook for federal funding of geoscience research and education, and gain first hand advice from a panel of congressional staff on how to conduct effective congressional meetings. Scientists learn to formulate their message to legislators, invoking their own research as an example of the importance of federal investment in the geosciences. The training is designed to make participants comfortable with the policy process and able to engage policy makers about their science. Erin Lecky, a current STEPPE intern with GSA, can attest, “It is such a critical time for geoscientists to become engaged in the policy process, but few of us know where to begin. I am so pleased that I got to participate in GeoCVD. This program not only helped me overcome my nervousness, but even made it enjoyable to begin relationships with my congresspeople.”

Tanya Del Valle, a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, participates in the 2009 Geosciences Congressional Visits Day.

Tanya Del Valle, a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, participates in the 2009 Geosciences Congressional Visits Day.

GeoCVD participants are all invited to the US Geological Survey (USGS) Coalition Reception on Capitol Hill, which recognizes policy makers who are champions for the geosciences. This year, Senators Murkowski (R-AK), Wyden (D-OR), Udall (D-CO), and Heller (R-NV) were honored for their support of USGS programs through their bipartisan work as the lead sponsors of the Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013. As Kasey White, the Director for Geoscience Policy at GSA and the Treasurer for the USGS Coalition stated, “Their bipartisan work on the Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013 has helped increase awareness of the important role the USGS plays in assessing domestic and global mineral resources. The Senators clearly understand that we all benefit every day from USGS science. The agency’s research and information contribute to economic growth, improve public health and safety, and enhance our ability to smartly manage our biological, hydrological and geological resources.

Kasey White presents the 2013 USGS Coalition Leadership Award to Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) for his support of hazard and other USGS research.

Kasey White presents the 2013 USGS Coalition Leadership Award to Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) for his support of hazard and other USGS research.

As these and other geoscience issues increasingly appear in the public and policy spheres, geoscientists need to take an active role in informing the policy process. Congressional visits are a great opportunity for geoscientists to come together and present a unified voice about the importance of federal investment in geoscience research and education, as well as build lasting relationships with their representatives as scientific resources for geoscience relevant policy. GSA Past President John Geissman, also a participant in this year’s GeoCVD, stressed this by saying, “My experience at the 2014 Geosciences CVD was most rewarding and informative, and I very much appreciate the efforts of all of the organizers.  Yes, although the word on the Hill regarding federal support for science and technology is certainly not rosy for the near future, it is clearly important for the geoscience community to continue to interact with, and provide support on numerous issues for our nation’s decision makers.”

GSA Executive Director Jack Hess and UCAR scientist Betsy Weatherhead discuss science funding with Senator Bennet.

GSA Executive Director Jack Hess and UCAR scientist Betsy Weatherhead discuss science funding with Senator Bennet during the 2012 Geosciences Congressional Visits Day.

A consistent presence of scientists on Capitol Hill sends a powerful reminder to policy makers of the need not only to verbally support geoscience programs but to financially invest in them as well. By participating in the GeoCVD geoscientists put a face on and personal story behind scientific investment and advocate for the need of continued, robust support for geoscience research and education. The GeoCVD is held annually and is open to all geoscientists. For further information about GeoCVD and on how to participate check out GSA’s CVD website.

by Nick Eyles and Andrew D. Miall – Department of Earth Sciences, University of Toronto

Disclaimer: This post is a guest reflection piece and is not intended to represent the Society’s official position on climate change.

In 2010, we published what is now a best-selling (and award-winning) book Canada Rocks-The Geologic Journey aimed at telling the dramatic story for a public audience of how Canada (and North America) has evolved over the last 4 billion years. It was a milestone in our professional and personal lives as we went on many field trips to fill in gaps in our own understanding and in the process stepped well beyond our own areas of expertise. We learned much about this fantastic country and its geology.

What is patently obvious from reviewing Canada’s ancient history is that scientists still do not have an adequate understanding of Earth’s complex systems on which to base sound economic and environmental policy. From the upper reaches of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans onwards to the deep interior of the planet our knowledge of complex earth systems is still rather rudimentary. Huge areas of our planet are inaccessible and are little known scientifically. There is still also much to learn from reading the rock record of how our planet functioned in the past.

In so many areas, we simply don’t know enough of how our planet functions.

And yet……

Scarcely a day goes past without some group declaring the next global environmental crisis; we seemingly stagger from one widely proclaimed crisis to another each one (so we are told) with the potential to severely curtail or extinguish civilization as we know it. It’s an all too familiar story often told by scientists who cross over into advocacy and often with the scarcely-hidden sub-text that they are the only ones with the messianic foresight to see the problem and create a solution. Much of our science is what we would call ‘crisis-driven’ where funding, politics and the media are all intertwined and inseparable generating a corrupting and highly corrosive influence on the scientific method and its students. If it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t lead is the new yardstick with which to measure the overall significance of research.

Charles Darwin ushered in a new era of thinking where change was expected and necessary. Our species as are all others, is the product of ongoing environmental change and adaption to varying conditions; the constancy of change. In the last 15 years or so however, we have seemingly reverted to a pre-Darwinian mode of a fixed ‘immutable Earth’ where any change beyond some sort of ‘norm’ is seen in some quarters as unnatural, threatening and due to our activities, usually with the proviso of needing ‘to act now to save the planet.’ Honest scientific discourse and debate is often rendered impossible in the face of the ‘new catastrophism.’

Trained as geologists in the knowledge of Earth’s immensely long and complex history we appreciate that environmental change is normal. For example, rivers and coastlines are not static. Those coasts, in particular, that consist of sandy strand-plains and barrier-lagoon systems are continually evolving as sand is moved by the waves and tides. Cyclonic storms (hurricanes), a normal component of the weather in many parts of the world, are particularly likely to cause severe erosion. When recent events such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy cause catastrophic damage, and spring storms cause massive flooding in Calgary or down the Mississippi valley, and droughts and wildfires affect large areas of the American SW these events are blamed on a supposed increase in the severity of extreme weather events brought about by climate change. In fact, they just reflect the working of statistical probability and long term climate cyclicity. Such events have happened in the past as part of ongoing changes in climate but affected fewer people. That the costs of weather and climate-related damage today are far greater is not because of an increased frequency of severe weather but the result of humans insisting on congregating and living in places that, while attractive, such as floodplains, mountain sides and beautiful coastlines, are especially vulnerable to natural disasters. Promises of a more ‘stable future’ if we can only prevent climate change are hopelessly misguided and raise unnatural expectations by being willfully ignorant of the natural workings of the planet. Climate change is the major issue for which more geological input dealing with the history of past climates would contribute to a deeper understanding of the nature of change and what we might expect in the future. The past climate record suggests in fact that for much of the Earth’s surface future cooling is the norm. Without natural climate change Canada would be buried under ice 3 km thick; that is it normal state for most of the last 2.5 million years with 100,000 years-long ice ages alternating with brief, short-lived interglacials such as the present which is close to its end.

It is self-evident to us that the public debate concerning environmental change largely lacks an understanding of natural variability. Since the last Ice Age ended, some 12,000 years ago, Earth has been through several periods lasting hundreds of years and possibly longer when it was either warmer or colder than at present. Several earth scientists have suggested that a study of natural variability over recent geologic time should be completed in order to provide a baseline against which anthropogenic change may be evaluated, but this important history has not been introduced fully into the public debate, and is a long way off. It has to be said that the natural variability of the last few thousand years or hundreds of years or tens of years has formed almost no part in the ongoing discussion of climate change which in some circles assumes that any change since 1940 is largely man-made. This opinion is uninformed by geologic science.

The way forward it strikes us is for more scientific honesty and less politics, less grandstanding. ‘We don’t know’ is an honourable credo for scientists. In this regard, we need more science to be directed to the environment, particularly toward better planning of the world’s communities to make them more resilient in the face of change. And it is an increasingly urban face that our planet presents. The many large supercities of the rapidly-approaching future world will be absolutely massive consumers of resources and producers of wastes; they will be the biggest determinants of our global environmental footprint; and it is surely there that much of our effort should be spent. Today, the rate of change of some parts of the world, especially in regard to urbanization and the ‘rush to the city’ is taxing our abilities simply to map and assess the environmental repercussions of transforming a natural environment to a built landscape. There is no simple technological fix either. Satellite and other monitoring data for example still has to be collected, interpreted, ground truthed, and acted on; steps available only to wealthier countries. In large areas of the planet the lack of human and financial resources, equality and personal freedoms and political choices trump any global environmental concerns and hobble international co-operation. To these people our obsession with saving the environment must ring hollow. The onus here is on the wealthiest nations with the largest scientific academies to put forward credible notions of how our planet is changing and to discuss the possible origins in an intellectual environment where data gaps are fully acknowledged free of catastrophic overtones.

Volcanologists don’t usually think much about legislative affairs, but in the past year as GSA’s Science Policy Fellow, I’ve found out that science and government – particularly in this country – are intertwined in ways that geoscientists don’t think about much. Now that Congress is in recess and the capital has quieted down for the summer, I’ve had a chance to reflect on how I understood science policy coming into this job, and leaving it.

Working on policy in DC gives you a new perspective – in a lot of different ways!

Working on policy in DC gives you a new perspective – in a lot of different ways!

I grew up in the Washington DC area, and when you’re in such close proximity to the nation’s capital it’s hard not to be at least a little aware of what goes on there. But for me, like most people, what happened behind the scenes on Capitol Hill was always a murky concept. I knew the basics that everyone learns in civics or government classes, but beyond that my exposure was mainly filtered through the news (not always the most objective medium). As a student in college and grad school, I was pretty determined that I was going to be a researcher, but I also became involved heavily in science communication through my blog and activities with various professional societies. That’s what led me to apply for a policy position when I was finishing up my PhD, and I think it’s been a major factor in how much I’ve enjoyed working for GSA’s policy office.

As an “in-house” policy fellow, my experience differs a bit from the Congressional fellows (like the one sponsored by GSA). Instead of working as a staffer on the Hill, where I might have covered anything science-related for my office, I instead get to focus on legislative issues that directly concern GSA members: funding for basic research, energy and natural resource assessments, climate change policy and greenhouse gas regulation, and natural hazard mitigation and response.

 

A staffer’s-eye view of a briefing on carbon capture and sequestration in the Senate Natural Resources Committee room

A staffer’s-eye view of a briefing on carbon capture and sequestration in the Senate Natural Resources Committee room.

 

I attend and report on hearings and briefings on Capitol Hill, but I also help GSA work with coalitions that support the agencies that fund geoscience research, as well as arrange congressional visits for GSA members to share their science with policymakers. Keeping track of legislation and how it progresses through Congress (or not) is a great challenge, since it means I have to know background on not only the legislative process but the history of whatever agency, funding source or topic is relevant to the bills I’m following. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about a wide range of things that I might never have encountered in research – everything from what constitutes a critical mineral to how federal disaster declarations are handled on reservations.

Attending a “Constituent Coffee” at Senator Merkley’s (D-OR) office with Dr. Jeff Rubin, chair of GSA’s Geology and Public Policy Committee.

Attending a “Constituent Coffee” at Senator Merkley’s (D-OR) office with Dr. Jeff Rubin, chair of GSA’s Geology and Public Policy Committee.

 

 

Senator Merkley discusses emergency management with Dr. Rubin.

Senator Merkley discusses emergency management with Dr. Rubin.

 

One of the most important things I’m learning – and one that’s crucial to any science policy job – is how to “translate” between the language and culture of policy and those of geoscience. Scientists and legislators may have similar goals but very different approaches to achieving them, and miscommunication between us can be a detriment to getting policy enacted. I find it really satisfying to figure out how to frame a topic so it’s relevant and impactful for both sides of the divide, and it’s definitely something I can carry on to a research career. (Broader impacts statements, anyone?)

There have been other important lessons I’ve learned from my time in DC:

 

  • You can’t necessarily pigeonhole people on issues by party. My favorite example is the current chair of the House Science Committee. He makes no pretense about, for example, being extremely skeptical about anthropogenic climate change – nearly every science-related hearing begins with him and the ranking Democratic Member squaring off on the topic – but he is also an astronomy buff and has called multiple hearings about the future of space exploration. (He’s also got a space-themed tie collection.) The same can be said of almost every Member; there are specific things they are for and against, often depending on their district’s industry but sometimes it’s based on personal conviction, and you can’t necessarily predict which is which based on party lines.
  • Legislators are human. The fact that you usually only see them on TV or in newspapers doesn’t impart any kind of superhuman powers or infallibility; they’re mostly normal people who are really good at fundraising and convincing others they’re worthy of a vote. They have preferences and biases and senses of humor just like anyone else, even if they do get to use special elevators and wear fancy pins. They mess up as often as the rest of us, and they’re just as capable of doing great things.
  • Anyone can watch the process of government going on. Legislation gets written and debated in hearings, and they are almost all open to the public and broadcast online. (It’s a bit harder to go see the chambers in session, but that’s usually on CSPAN anyway.) Hearings can be alternately enlightening, aggravating, shocking, informative, boring, interesting, contentious and amicable, but they are almost always worth attending. After all, these are your elected representatives in action, and engaging in politics doesn’t end with voting!
  • Capitol Hill is essentially run by people in their twenties. Senior staff and members tend to be older, but many of the staffers in congressional offices are very young, sometimes right out of college. They work hard and cover lots of issues, so they tend to have a broad but shallow knowledge of things like science topics. However, I’ve never met a staffer who wasn’t at least polite, attentive and gracious. If you ever go on a congressional visit, these are probably the people you will speak with!
  • Some things move fast, some things move slow, and networking is how you keep up with them. Nowadays it can take years for a simple reauthorization bill to get through Congress. But when changes happen in a bill’s status, they can happen pretty quickly. There are lots of news outlets that follow science legislation and post up-to-the-hour updates on what’s going on, but where do they get their scoops? Networking. Know someone working in the relevant office and you’ve got the gossip on what’s happening next. The same goes for having an influence on legislation: when we take people on visits, we make the point that the personal meeting is often going to have more of an impact than an email or a letter. If someone in a Congressional office remembers that you’re willing to be a resource, they may turn to you when the next bill needs professional input.

 

Politics can be every bit as messy as your faculty (or committee, or club, or association, or whatever) meeting. We may see political gridlock in DC and wonder why Congress can’t seem to get anything done, but it’s often for the very same reasons that we dread our own planning meetings or faculty retreats: people have different opinions, different values, and different approaches to dealing with challenges. Legislators and their staff are only human, and they can’t be experts in everything. That isn’t to say Congress hasn’t created a lot of their own problems, but having perspective on the mechanics of the policy world has helped me understand how they got there.

Ultimately, I’ve come out of this experience firmly believing that all geoscientists – especially anyone who depends on federal funding for their research – should make an effort to be at least a little aware of how the political process operates, and how we can participate in it. We’re in a period where funding for basic research, particularly in the geosciences, is not only decreasing but sometimes actively under attack, and we have to be ready to think about why geoscience research is important and how we can justify spending money on it. And it’s not hard to take the next step: go on a congressional visit, become a resource for testimony at a hearing, or even just write a letter to your representatives letting them know what you want them to do.

As I trade my suits for hiking boots and t-shirts, I like to hope that I’ll still have time to practice what I preach. Rejoining the world of geoscience research will mean I have to put in a special effort to keep up with the latest appropriations bills or congressional testimony. But now that I know how all that relates to my next grant proposal, you can be sure I’ll be writing letters and going on visits as often as I can!

Jessica Ball, outgoing GSA Science Policy Fellow

6/6/14

Before leaving Changping (the north outskirts of Beijing) we were able to visit the Ming Tombs arriving early to beat the crowds and long lines of traffic.  I got a tour of impressive facilities at China University of Geosciences closer to the central city of Beijing.  Nearby we visited the Summer Palace vacation home for the Ming and Ching emperors.  At the Old Summer Palace Yuanmingyuan it was sad to see how it had been looted and destroyed in the 1860s.

All of the China geoscience universities feature this prominent statue at the entry gates.  Here we get a tour of the campus with host Prof. Hongyu Wang.

All of the China geoscience universities feature this prominent statue at the entry gates. Here we get a tour of the campus with host Prof. Hongyu Wang.

In a country of 1.35 billion, in a city of 21 million, a familiar face says hi to me at the hotel breakfast bar.  It is colleague Dr. Lisa Pratt from Indiana who has been doing field work in China.  Ok, we were both staying at the hotel on the China University of Geosciences campus, but still what are the chances of that??!

China University of Geosciences has these brand new university buses for student field trips.  I think they get to ride in style!

China University of Geosciences has these brand new university buses for student field trips. I think they get to ride in style!

I also gave a talk at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences (CAGS), under the government’s Ministry of Land and Resources branch.  This academy conducts frontier, fundamental and strategic studies that are key to geoscience and resources.

At the Chinese Academy of Geosciences, we learned about SinoProbe, a major earth science effort funded by the Chinese government to conduct deep exploration to understand structure, and evolution of lithosphere of China’s continental lithosphere using multiple techniques.  The principal investigator is Prof. Dong Shuwen (right of me, with some of his staff).

At the Chinese Academy of Geosciences, we learned about SinoProbe, a major earth science effort funded by the Chinese government to conduct deep exploration to understand structure, and evolution of China’s continental lithosphere using multiple techniques. The principal investigator is Prof. Dong Shuwen (right of me, with some of his staff).

Nearby, we were able to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, with great views from nearby temple gardens.  We also enjoyed visiting “798”, an up and coming arts district on the northeast side of Beijing. Of course we couldn’t leave Beijing without having Peking Duck.

Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest public square (looking south from the Forbidden City).

Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest public square (looking south from the Forbidden City).

The Gate of Heavenly Peace, by the south entry to the Forbidden City, the largest palace complex in the world.

The Gate of Heavenly Peace, by the south entry to the Forbidden City, the largest palace complex in the world.

From Jingshan park, you can see the overview of the Forbidden City with China’s best preserved ancient buildings.

From Jingshan park, you can see the overview of the Forbidden City with China’s best preserved ancient buildings.

This draws the second trip of the GSA lecture tour to a close.  There were so many great experiences and people in Asia, and I am still trying to absorb all that has happened.  I loved the Japanese culture and even though I am a 3rd generation American, I had always wanted to visit China.  One student tells me, in China I am referred to as a “banana” – yellow on the outside but white on the inside.  Hmmm…. the trip has added many colors, cultures, and landscapes to my perspective.   Most of all, it has been great to share and exchange ideas and enthusiasm for geoscience around the world.

On a warm June evening we saw the famed “bird nest” stadium constructed for Beijing’s 2008 summer Olympics.

On a warm June evening we saw the famed “bird nest” stadium constructed for Beijing’s 2008 summer Olympics.

In the bustle of Beijing, there are still some serene moments looking at the Summer Palace grounds.

In the bustle of Beijing, there are still some serene moments looking at the Summer Palace grounds.

– Margie

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