GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 243-4
Presentation Time: 2:20 PM


CAHOON, Emily, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Alaska Anchorage, 3211 providence Dr., Anchorage, AK 99508

Environmental racism is the disproportionate burden of environmental hazards on black, indigenous, and people of color. An example is in Flint, Michigan, where unelected public officials made an unethical decision, resulting in hazardous concentrations of lead to be leached into drinking water of a predominantly black community. While Flint has been on the news, there are dozens of other similar situations that are not widely-circulated. Many of these relate to geologic hazards, earth resources, and/ or environmental regulation – all of which require geoscientist involvement.

The largest employment sectors for geologists entering the workforce are environmental fields, oil and gas, and mining. Engineers and geologists working in these industries often seek licensure, and professional ethics are part of this process. While engineering students are exposed to ethics early in their training, ethics are rarely part of geology curriculum. Environmental racism and ethics should be addressed during formal education, and these topics organically blend into any course that considers the intersection of society and earth.

During the last academic year, a module on environmental racism was added to the introductory environmental geology course at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The content aligns with existing learning objectives, and mindfully placed after groundwater and soil in the broader context of contamination. Discussions of case studies from hazardous sites and regulatory agencies is also extremely valuable – offering specific examples and 'real-world' context. Early qualitative feedback suggests students had not been exposed to these topics previously, and the content increased student engagement and active learning.

This work aims to create a shareable teaching module that could be integrated into a variety of courses and develop a course that's entirely focused on environmental racism and ethics in geosciences. This course would be taught through case studies and examine how subsurface geology/ resources, physical properties of rocks, and geochemistry all influence how an area becomes contaminated. Course objectives aim to merge anti-racism with geoscience education by highlighting how systemic racism can influence the surrounding environment.