2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)
Paper No. 61-7
Presentation Time: 3:00 PM
GEOETHICS: SENSING THE TENSION BETWEEN THE WAY THE WORLD IS AND THE WAY IT SHOULD BE – IN OUR CLASSROOM
LUTZ, Tim, Department of Geology and Astronomy, West Chester University, 720 S Church St, West Chester, PA 19383, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethics has to do with the tension between the way the world is and the way it should be. For nearly three centuries humans have developed advanced systems to create ever-increasing economic and social progress. But the interface of these systems with other earth systems have brought many basic resources (e.g., biocapacity, soil, fresh water) into overshoot, threatening the basis for progress and even existence. This double-bind situation is at the heart of humanity’s highest level ethical question: how do we heed the tension between our historical practices and our desire to live sustainably? Geoscience educators also need to acknowledge and respond to the tension between historical practice and sustainability. As geoscientists we must recognize that bringing the planet to the brink required vast knowledge of earth, and that well-educated academics and highly skilled professionals provided it. Yet the priorities of many geoscience programs today are not oriented by ethical tension but by the pursuit of increasing numbers of majors, improved teaching of higher order geoscientific skills, and success in making graduates competitive in the workforce.
I explore a new perspective, geoethics, which aims at the idea that balancing human action with the capacity of planetary systems is a primary “good.” I examine the contributions of Gregory Bateson and other scientists toward understanding self-renewing systems in cybernetic terms. Bateson suggested that “What we believe ourselves to be should be compatible with what we believe of the world around us.” In other words, the path to a sustainable geoethics begins by re-internalizing lessons that humans alone in the biotic community seem to have forgotten. What are the “rules” by which complex systems sustain themselves? What do self-sustaining systems “value?” I explain how I’ve begun to ground three of my courses, including two 300-level courses for geoscience majors, in a framework that acknowledges ethical tension and embodies cybernetic thinking. An important realization is that geoethics in the classroom is more about developing a pedagogy and a persona than increasing content.