Saturday, 25 April 2015

Earth-centricity and Story-telling

This essay is discussing narratives as a means for people to associate themselves  with the intersection of people's activities with the geosphere.


As the anthropologists discovered, the human species is a storyteller by evolution. 

Nowadays, engineering and science are part of human story-telling, although their subjects seldom are treated as part of mainstream stories; with the exception of dramatic or outstanding events that reach the headlines. Still, the exception to the exception is the daily weather forecast, which is the geoscience narrative par excellence, possibly with a history reaching back deep into prehistoric times. 

Credits: imaggeo - Irene Marzolff "Dung Cakes"
Engineering and science shape the intersections of humans and their environments including intersections with the “geosphere”. Some of these intersections are more obvious, such as motorways, irrigation systems, hydro-power plants or shore defences. Others are less obvious, such as slope stabilisation, pumping of groundwater, sewage water treatment or beach nourishment. And further intersections, such as anthropogenic climate change, ocean acidification or habitat fragmentation, only are recognized through science-based insights into earth-systems.

Narratives, thus stories should be a means for citizens to exchange about their intersections with the “geosphere”.

Traditional and Modern Context of Story-telling

Credits: imaggeo Saskia Keestra "Irrigation canal"
Most traditional earth-centric narratives of rural communities of earlier times have been lost or got modified radically in the global industrialisation process. These stories encapsulated advice and justification for a behaviour that shall sustain stable intersections with the “geosphere”; mainly focussing on how to shape the use of natural resources such as plants, animals, soil, farm land, water or ecosystems such as forest. These stories were means to sustain the intersection of people’s activity and the geosphere. To stay effective these stories related to the “sacrum”, thus to matters that are explained with faith-based reasoning, upon values and beliefs referring to the supernatural, which generally are common and shared in the community. In Greek mythology, for example, gods and people were affected by observed geo-forces. 

When natural phenomena were not explicable with the use of available knowledge and technologies shared social constructions of believes prevailed. Many events, which today are understood as ordinary and understood by scientific approaches, in the past had been considered extraordinary and narrated as such. Faith and referring to the marvellous were used to explain phenomena, to rule the exploitation of limited and common resources, finally to preserve the ecosystem/environment in which the community was settled. Some traditional rural, alpine or other isolated cultures maintained these approaches into modern times. 

Credits: imaggeo Liping Pang  "Deer Park, 
Queenstown, New Zealand"
This kind of thinking, although it is based on faith and belief, is encoding accumulated experience. It had the function to coerce the believer into a behaviour that is favourable for sustained existence. To encode proven practices into rituals that are relating to the “sacrum” takes time and effort, as cognitive science of religion describes. When established the rituals are stable in a given environment in spite of being ‘costly’ to the people. However the rituals can be broken beyond repair if the faith-bases, value and beliefs are disrupted, for example by scientific explanation of phenomena. Thus traditional earth-centric behaviour erodes if its sacrum-based foundations are questioned. 

Science and technology, industrialisation and global urbanisation require a different kind of earth-centric story-telling as traditional earth-centric stories. Now, at the fringe of the Anthropocene, people can base their earth-centricity on substantial knowledge base, mature scientific insight combined with lessons inherited from the past. Likewise modern “earth-centricity” can be built, within a historical context and a robust ethic vision, on humanities and the insight in the decisions and choices of the past that led to the modern world and people's power to intersect with the “geosphere”

Credits: imaggeo Antonio Jordanm "Fieldtrip"
Thus, taking a comprehensive account of natural science and research, humanities and history, anthropology, philosophy and politics shall give the possibility to tell a story, first, of the unplanned making of the Anthropocene and, second, how to shape a mature Anthropocene . The richness of such a narrative allows to counter dooms-days scenarios, which finally would hamper action, and which therefore are deeply non-ethical.

Applying these insights regarding traditional and modern story-telling, narratives seems particular needed for urban people, thus for more than half of the global population. Urban people rarely can notice how the “geosphere” intersects with their daily dealings. The built-up urban environment hides phenomena - putting weather and disasters a bit aside - that inform how much the local “geosphere” had been engineered to make that environment matching people's needs and preferences.

Narratives are a form of communication, by that expertise in sciences and humanities can meet insights in practices and values of practitioners of common trades or laypersons. Art, history and quotidian environment provide many opportunities for earth-sciences story-telling; they range from geomorphology to art including reference to the ‘sacrum’ - short list of examples:
  • The obvious: The Colorado River is a story about people intersecting with the geosphere. It has cut the Grand Canyon (USA) but does not flow into the sea because its waters are withdrawn for irrigation.
    Credit: imaggeo Ioannis Daglis
    "Colorado Horseshoe Bend"
  • The ordinary: The motorway stretching east from Brussels cuts through a strip of heather-covered sandy hills. These aeolian depositions originated from dry-laying basin of the North Sea during ice-age.
  • The pleasant: The Lago Banyoles in Spain has no outlet and is fed by bottom-springs of slaty water. This geologically young lake may end as salt lake hosting flamingos feeding on brine shrimp.
  • On art: Nature and scenery are two subjects presented by artists since ancient times. Paintings capturing landscapes of past times narrate about transformations. Paintings or mosaics show the extent of natural events, like eruptions or floods, modified landscapes.
  • On history: Human activities has marked landscapes with mining-sites, irrigation channels, abandoned networks of local trains and names that narrates of the waters or settlements on sandy soils.
  • More on history: At the time of the eruption of the Vesuvius, artists painted in many of the richest patrician houses reproductions of the volcano before the tragic event. These paintings have been discovered by archaeologists during excavations, and they helped to reconstruct the shape of the volcano, the neighbouring landscape along the coast between Ercolano and Pompei, and the engineering works of the Romans such as aqueducts and roads.
  • On the 'sacrum'; Crater Lake is situated in a caldera in south-central Oregon. It has neither inflow nor outlet, and is known for water clarity and thus its deep blue colour (reflecting the sky and backscattering blue light from the water). The lake is deep, it was formed around 7.700 years ago by collapse of a volcano. To settle water balance of the lake evaporation is compensated by rain and snowfall, and thus the renewal of the lakes water-body is slow taking 250 years. It is a unique lake that previously was a sacred site for the native Klamath tribe. Their legends tell of battling gods, of sky and underworld. The volcano was destroyed in the battle, creating Crater Lake. Still nowadays, the Klamath people regard Crater Lake as a spiritual site.


Credit: imaggeo Ragnar Sigurdson
"Cooking Bread with Geothermal Heat"
People are engineers, even the artist; and engineers are artist. All people build and shape their environments to their taste and needs, applying their understanding of opportunities and constraints. In doing so, they intersect with the “geosphere” to a stronger or lesser degree, contentiously, consciously, naively or blindly. Perceptions, insights and values of people shape how they handle that intersection. Thus, implicitly a kind of geoethics is part of their culture.

Above this, people like stories. Media flood public with stories, bringing events and people into context, and make value-loaded judgements on behaviour of people and appreciation of events. Narratives – story-telling or narration as synonyms - acknowledge that people develop insights mainly by sharing stories. Communication leads people to shape their abstract mental concepts, to compare them with observations, to confront them with critical thoughts or creative ideas, to assess the cultural and social background, to make value statements and to express ethical views finally. Story-telling is a skilful human practice to describe perception of values in different contexts, to spread or to challenge their application. People are enforcing common views including values by sharing stories in their groups of peers.

Cedits: imaggeo Danielle Penna Alpin reservoirt
People's narratives about their intersections with the geosphere have evolved throughout history. Erstwhile widespread narratives about supernatural agents ruling this intersection, which were known many people, have been replaced by scientific descriptions, which are known by some people; and sharing of earth-centric narratives among people ceased. However, as illustrated by the examples presented above, many opportunities exist nowadays for narratives on intersections of people's activities and the geosphere. These narratives have a rich content with many features but science-elements only. Thus modern earth-centric narratives can be told about people and their intersections with the geosphere. These narratives can be positive in content, may overcome doomsday-cry, and do not need faith in the supernatural for being means to enforce constructive behaviour favourable for sustained existence.

Credit: imaggeo Geology for Global Development
"Guatemala City"
To get public awareness for narratives on intersections of people's activities and the geosphere, they have to be spun to reaches conversations of citizens, and therefore they have to be anchored in daily events. Thus, these narratives have to be both earth-centric and society-centric. Opportunities for society-earth-centric narratives are multiple, because earth-science know-how is relevant for both economy and value setting in contemporary societies. Earth-science know-how bears on both the production of goods, living conditions and individual well-being and on insights into the functioning of Earth's systems, the impact of humankind's activities on biogeochemical systems on Earth, and the evolution of live-bearing planets. When interwoven with arts, linguistic and cultural histories, this double bearing can offer a rich matrix for earth-society-centric narratives of people's intersections with the geosphere.


Credits: imaggeo Cyri Mayaud "Planina polje flooded"
Summarizing, why 'modern earth-science narratives are needed'? Namely, to influence practices on how people's activities intersect the “geosphere”. How to narrate? By weaving diverse concerns into common threads that draw on a wide range of perspectives: be it beauty or particularity of ordinary or special phenomena, evaluating hazards for or from mundane environments, or connecting the scholarly investigation with concerns of citizens at large. To increase general interest in earth-science narratives attention of various social groups have to be gained, which have access to a high density of information. To reach these groups, digestible rich messages are needed. Earth-science topics have to be woven into culturally rich narrations of multiple forms that offer a wide range of perspectives how people's activities intersect the “geosphere”, so that people can connect to them and thus associate themselves with geoethics, in the end.

Ukko El'Hob

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

What is Geoethics ?

The text below is derived from descriptions found at and;
written following a FB-debate around the "Wikipedia stumb" for Geoethics.

Geoethics consists of the research and reflection. Its subject are those values that guide appropriate behaviors and practices where human activities intersect the Geosphere. As such, Geoethics is an interdisciplinary field between Geosciences and Ethics. It involves Earth and Planetary Sciences including planetary geology and astrobiology, as well as applied ethics.

Geoethics deals with the way of human thinking and acting in relation to the significance of the Earth system and its modeling. As such Geoethics deals with the ethical, social and cultural implications of earth-science research and practice, providing a point of intersection of Geosciences, Sociology, and Philosophy.

Credits: Imaggeo - Daniele Penna [*]
Regarding the study of the abiotic world Geoethics covers the necessity to consider suitable protocols, scientific integrity and a code of good practice. To that end, Geoethics includes geo-educational, scientific, technological, methodological and social-cultural aspects. Geoethics refers to such subjects as sustainability, development, geo-diversity and geo-heritage, frugal consumption of resources, appropriate handling predictability, risks and mitigation of natural hazards, geoscience communication, and museology

Geoethics represents an opportunity for Geoscientists to become more conscious of their social role and responsibilities in conducting their activities and to influence the awareness of society regarding problems related to geo-resources and geo-environment.

Reservoir in the Italian Alps; by Daniele Penna, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy,, Italy; Taken on 17 August 2009Submitted on 02 March 2015

Mountain natural streams and reservoirs have a relevant hydrological and ecological importance since they represent reliable sources of freshwater supply to lowland regions and high-quality habitats for fish and cold-water communities. Moreover, streams in mountain environments are of significant importance for users in several socio-economic sectors, such as agriculture, tourism and hydropower. Given the vulnerability of mountain streams and catchments to the impact of climate changes and the increasing concern about water supply in mountain regions, there is the urgent need for scientists to face integrated, multidisciplinary catchment-scale studies addressing implications of climate change on water resources management and flow regimes.