In August, we asked online readers two questions: Whom do you plan to vote for in the U.S. presidential election and are geoscience issues (e.g., energy policy) a major factor in your decision? The results are now in from this first-ever Geotimes online poll*.
Science a deciding factor: 60%
*This online poll is not scientific and reflects the opinions of only those Internet users who have chosen to participate (total: 350).
As the November
elections bear down upon us like the leading edge of winter winds, we devote
this issue of Geotimes to earth science issues in the political news.
The political spotlight is not framed by earth scientists, but rather by politicians
and the media. Nonetheless, this year's elections promise to focus on a cross-section
of significant earth science matters, as you will discover in the following
What are some of the themes that rumble through our pre-election topics? First, economics drive political positions. Examples of this include the debate over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Environmental stewardship is often a key counterpoint in these otherwise economic arguments.
Indeed, the availability, cost and environmental impact of energy sources fuel political debate everywhere, from local Senate races to the presidential election. We have surely begun the transition from a fossil-fuel-based economy to a more complex mix of resources, but uncertain timing and sources still generate more political heat than light. Given earth scientists' appreciation for longer time frames, they should have more to contribute to these discussions.
Earth scientists can similarly contribute to the topic of climate change, where the debate is growing and changing. As we become increasingly aware of our changing climate, political action, which has stalled on the national level, is going local. Note for example, the lawsuit filed by several states that confronts carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The move to take earth science politics local is also reflected in the teaching of evolution and the handling of roadless areas on federal lands.
Then there is the bittersweet piece by John Shroder that updates his past stories on steps geoscientists are taking to rebuild Afghanistan and its resource and research capacity during and following military action. Resource exploitation is a tried and true path to wealth and infrastructure creation, but how many people would be willing to perform field work under guard and under attack?
Earth scientists seem not to be a dramatic crowd, on balance, but it appears that, as illustrated by the articles in this issue, they have been offered a leading role in an evolving global drama. That role is to develop the information and understanding that guides people's growing use of Earth. Suppose earth scientists were to update their centuries-old assignment, to "explore, discover, describe and understand Earth," to reflect what we have learned in the meantime. The new assignment would then be something like to "sustain human life and Earth systems." Would that new focus affect science, public perceptions and scientific contributions to the evolving drama? I think it would, big time! Think about it: Earth sciences have become much more than just science.
Politics is the real-time, "rubber meets the road" decision-making about caring for people and Earth. It is neither as pure, nor as orderly, logical nor beautiful as science, but it is how science goes to work. If scientists were to recast their assignment, perhaps they would evolve into a breed of researchers who were as comfortable on Capitol Hill as on the outcrop.
Believe your compass and inform your candidate.
Samuel S. Adams