To put the notions 'Geoethics' and 'Anthropocene' into a mutual context, this essay applies the notions 'engineering' and 'anthropogenic global change', and reflects on the 'noosphere' - the ensemble of people-people interactions and their 'shared mental concepts'. It is within the 'noosphere' that people conceive 'how to shape the world?'
|The natural organisation of the river system|
To simplify; humankind is an engineering species. Biological evolution of people came in pair with tool-making capacity. Prehistoric and historical evolution of humankind meant to modify environments to appropriate resources [1, 2, 3, 4]. During the last century the number of people on Earth, the patterns of their consumption of resources, and the engineering of their environments together accumulate in a process of anthropogenic global change [5, 6, 7] leading to the Anthropocene. Now, re-engineering of production systems, consumption patterns and related intersections of human activities with the biotic and abiotic environment deemed to be a necessary endeavor [11 / 8], and is a central feature of the anthropogenic global change process.
It is obvious that people are altering Earth ; it is debated 'since when' and 'to what degree'? Humankind's activity has left traces in the geological record since the onset of agriculture in Neolithic ages [10, 11]. The industrial revolution has printed a signal into the geological records at a planetary scale [12, 13]. Since some decades, humankind's economic activity intersects the geosphere in a more general manner, either directly or mediated by the biosphere. The respective geological records scale are forming  at a planetary. So far, this kind of 'terraforming' was a collateral of the human economic activities to appropriate resources [15, 16, 17].
Anthropogenic global change is a historical process. It is linking how people interact with features of the planetary geo-biosphere, which are undertaken to sustain a population of now several billion people. This feature advocates renaming the present times Anthropocene, the time when humankind's activities modulate state and development path of planet Earth. Thus, it is the paradigm of present times that the production and consumption pattern of humankind causes fluxes of matter that modify earth-system dynamics. Going beyond any scientific meaning, the notion Anthropocene conveys a double message [5, 18]. First, that the development paths of humankind's history and natural earth-systems intersect. Second, that to understand global processes, it requires synthesizing social sciences, humanities and natural sciences [10, 16, 17, 20].
|Low tide at Conwy esturay|
To recall the obvious; when making choices people are driven by both, their world-views and preferences and their insights into societal, technical or natural processes. Within that context, the attitude of people towards risk, uncertainties, perception of facts and theories is different. People's choices vary with the context [23, 24], e.g. whether the own person, the kin, or the own group is concerned, or whether an action is immediate, has happened, or will happen in the future. The manner how the debate on climate change is evolving shows that this debate is about world-views . Specialists, decision makers, and people ponder what are hypotheses, theories or facts. It is discussed how to handle uncertainty or hazards or whether to consider benefits for other people, in the past or for future generations . Going beyond concerns like 'whether it is functioning', people intuitively tend to opt for what they consider as 'right' or 'worth' in the context of their individual world-view. When people are debating opportunities, change or risks then much of the debate is about 'virtue' and what course of action is 'worthwhile' [2, 26]; e.g. when appraising impacts and benefits during planning, construction and operation.
|The great tree|
Now that people have to handle anthropogenic global change, they have to choose how to re-engineer on a planetary scale the production systems, consumption patterns, and their natural, technical or cultural environments. Although such re-engineering would fit into the human culture, engineering global systems differ from previous engineering endeavors. The scale and complexity of the endeavor are different, because anthropogenic global change - e.g. climate change - prescribes global commons for all people, whether the change is collateral or purposeful.
Our species has acquired the power to engineer planet Earth. Anthropogenic global change is about engineering the intersections of human economic activities and the geosphere in function of people's world-views and preferences. As any engineering work, therefore, anthropogenic global change is subject to the human value-systems, which underpin people's world-views and preferences. In that context 'geoethics' extends the application case of human value-systems.
The overarching societal matters of anthropogenic global change are value-loaded, e.g. how to appropriate and distribute natural resources for what cost, accepted side-effects, and with what risk of further collateral effects. These ethical issues seem familiar regarding their general nature. However, their complexity has no precedence, simply because of the number of people with different world-views and preferences who will be subject to consequences of the choices made. In that particular context 'geoethics' means to extend the range of applied ethics to new subjects.
|Sunset on the bog|
If anthropogenic global change gets addressed as an engineering challenge, then the ethics of risk-taking, managing uncertainties or revising options will be needed in a context of applied geoscience . Ethical dilemmas such as conflicting values, uneven distribution of risks, impacts, losses, and benefits, or collateral impacts like exposure to unexpected side-effects. Debates will be vigorous, e.g. whether a side-effect was to be expected or was intentional. The related range of scientific, technical and economic matters include their particular ethical issues namely whether scientific and engineering choices are professional ‘sound'. In that particular context 'geoethics' is about professional ethics.
So far people did not intend to modify planetary fluxes of matter and energy, although they were aware of the effect of their cumulative activities on the biosphere. People ignored the intersection of human economic activity with the geosphere. Nowadays having lost innocence, anthropogenic global change is an intentional act [30, 31]. In that particular context 'geoethics' is about taking responsibility.
This essay prepares my keynote ”Geoethik: Richtschnur für's Anthropozän” at the meeting 'nANO meets water VII'. The meeting is organized by the Fraunhofer UMSICHT Institute (Oberhausen, Germany) at 18th February 2016; see: http://nano-water.de/flyer/nano-meets-water-VII.pdf. The essay extends some reflections from my paper: Martin Bohle “Handling of Human Geosphere Intersections”, Geosciences 2015, (accepted).
Geoethics (Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoethics) is the branch of ethics which relates to the interaction of human activity with our physical world in general, and with the practice of the Earth sciences in particular. It may also have relevance to planetary sciences. There are two international geoethics organizations, the International Association for Promoting Geoethics (IAPG) and the International Association for Geoethics (IAGETH).
Geoethics (IAPG, http://www.geoethics.org) consists of the research and reflection on those values upon which to base appropriate behaviors and practices where human activities intersect the Geosphere. It deals with the ethical, social and cultural implications of geological research and practice, providing a point of intersection for Geosciences, Sociology, and Philosophy. Geoethics represents an opportunity for Geoscientists to become more conscious of their social role and responsibilities in conducting their activity, and Geoethics is a tool to influence the awareness of society regarding problems related to geo-resources and geo-environment.
Geoethics (IAGETH; http://tierra.rediris.es/IAGETH/Statutes_IAGETH.pdf) is an interdisciplinary field between Geosciences and Ethics which involves Earth and Planetary Sciences as well as applied ethics. It deals with the way of human thinking and acting in relation to the significance of the Earth as a system and as a model. Not only geoeducational, scientific, technological, methodological and socialcultural aspects are included (e.g. sustainability, development, geodiversity and geoheritage, prudent consumption of mineral resources, appropriate measures for predictability and mitigation of natural hazards, geosciences communication, museology, etc.), but also the necessity of considering appropriate protocols, scientific integrity issues and a code of good practice, regarding the study of the abiotic world. Studies on planetary geology (sensu lato) and astrobiology also require a geoethical approach.
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