2002 Denver Annual Meeting (October 27-30, 2002)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 3:50 PM


REITAN, Eric H., Department of Philosophy, Oklahoma State Univ, Stillwater, OK 74078 and REITAN, Paul H., Department of Geology, Univ at Buffalo, PO Box 603050, Buffalo, NY 14260-3050, reitan@okstate.edu

Earth resources sustain human societies and are essential to life and an acceptable quality of life. Earth sciences help us know what we have, how it works, where it is, and what threats exist to its quality and/or quantity. This knowledge must be communicated effectively for societies to formulate policies that will enable them to use resources prudently. Geologists and soil scientists may not have been as effective in communicating their knowledge and its importance as have other Earth scientists, e.g. atmospheric scientists and biologists. We are obliged to do our best to inform our societies about imminent, emerging, and potential disruptions that the lack of resources implies. Ignorance is dangerous.

Earth sciences knowledge and its effective communication are essential to successfully sustainable societies, but not sufficient. Our future, while imperiled by ignorance, is at least as threatened by the resource-consuming growth paradigm of the world's dominant societies. This paradigm views increasing material prosperity as the main constituent of success and thus the chief measure of social progress. Thus, curtailing growth is not an option. So long as society remains in the grip of this paradigm, it will discount scientific warnings that there are limits to resources and their increasing rates of use, and therefore to growth. It will blind itself to these warnings by clinging to the faith that human ingenuity can overcome any obstacle to sustained growth. Meanwhile, inequitable resource depletion, overuse, and contamination will threaten global stability as deprived people are driven to mass migrations or other extreme measures to claim necessary resources for themselves.

If the work of Earth scientists includes not only discovering new knowledge, but ensuring that the significance of that knowledge is fully appreciated by society and its decision-makers, then the work of Earth scientists cannot be separated from the task of critiquing the growth paradigm that interferes with society's ability to appreciate and make use of what Earth scientists know. This task involves understanding and supporting the work of those - such as natural and social scientists, philosophers, and theologians - who strive to develop and defend alternatives to the growth paradigm.