Earth Matters : The Earth Sciences, Philosophy, and the Claims of Community / Edition 1

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Overview

As we enter the 21st century, the Earth sciences are becoming the central disciplines that define the natural limits of resources and ecosystems. A true understanding of this shift requires a combination of philosophic reflection and scientific information and perspectives. Despite this, little has been written about the changing roles of the Earth sciences in society, nor on what philosophy can contribute toward the goal of living more gently on the planet. In this volume, Robert Frodeman has collected the thoughts of some of the most forward-looking scholars from the Earth sciences, philosophy, and public policy on this topic.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780130119964
  • Publisher: Pearson Education
  • Publication date: 12/16/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 7.05 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Victor R. Baker is Regents Professor and Head of the Department of Hydrology and Water Resources at the University of Arizona. He was also the 1998 President of the Geological Society of America. Baker has authored over 200 scientific research papers and several books concerned with paleohydrology, geomorphology, planetary geology, the history and philosophy of Earth science, and the role of the Earth sciences in public policy.

Kristin Shrader-Frechette is De Crane Chair, Professor of Philosophy, and Concurrent Professor of Biology at the University of Notre Dame. Since the 1970s she has seen the problem of risk, as it arises with the development and utilization of modern technologies (especially nuclear technologies) as a central but largely neglected issue for philosophy. In several books-including Risk and Rationality: Philosophical Foundations for Populist Reforms (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), and Burying Uncertainty: Risk and the Case Against Geological Disposal of Nuclear Waste (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2993) - she has systematically sought to remedy this oversight.

Bruce V. Foltz is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Senior Honors Program at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg Florida. He also teaches in the Environmental Studies program at Eckerd, and has been a visiting faculty member at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Born and raised in Kansas, where his family had a farm on the Ninnescah River, Foltz received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Penn State University. He is author of Inhabiting the Earth: Heidegger,Environmental Ethics, and the Metaphysics of Nature (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1995), as well as a number of articles on environmental philosophy. Foltz is also president, and co-founder, of the International Association for Environmental Philosophy.

Richard S. Williams, Jr., is a senior research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Woods Hole, MA. He holds a BS and MS in geology from the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in geology from Penn State University. He has worked for the Atlantic Richfield Company, Raytheon, and HRB-Singer, and is also Vice Chairman of the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. One of his many research areas is the relationship between volcanic activity and glacial fluctuations in Iceland.

Christine Turner is a senior research scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Denver, Colorado. During her two decades of service for the USGS Turner has held several management positions, and has also chaired a national committee on the future of the USGS. She is best known for her reinterpretation of the formation of a class of uranium deposits, in which she overturned previous models. Her current research focuses on two topics: the reconstruction of Mesozoic era landscapes in the American West in order to describe the ecosystem inhabited by Jurassic dinosaurs, and the development of ways to better integrate the sciences and the humanities for the resolution of community land use and resource controversies.

Brian Polkinghorn earned an MS from George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, and an MA and Ph.D. from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, where he specialized in environmental conflict resolution. Polkinghorn has also been a National Environmental Management Program Fellow with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he analyzed the use of alternative dispute-resolution processes in regulatory and enforcement matters. Polkinghorn teaches in the Department of Dispute Resolution, Nova Southeastern University. His recent work includes assisting in the restoration of damaged coral reefs, resolving industrial siting disputes in Israel and the West Bank, and mediating disputes concerning utility reconstruction in Mostar and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Daniel Sarewitz is senior research scholar at Columbia University's Center for Science, Policy, and Outcomes, and author of Frontiers of Illusion: Science, Technology, and the Politics of Progress (Temple University Press, 1996). He received his Ph.D. in the Geological Sciences from Cornell University in 1985. At the same time, Sarewitz reports that he noticed a widening chasm between the technical knowledge that he was acquiring, and his personal experience in the surrounding world. In 1989 Sarewitz left science to work for the U.S. Congress - an institution that he describes as being in many ways the antithesis of academe. Congress made clear to him what science had sought to obfuscate or even deny: that reality operates on many levels simultaneously, that these multitudinous realities are often conflicting and incommensurable, and that there is no possible long-term equilibrium state in which such tensions are resolvable. For four years, Sarewitz worked for Congressman George E. Brown, Jr., Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Albert Borgmann has been professor of philosophy at the University of Montana for more than 30 years. Stimulated by his persistent attempt to live and think in a land of high mountains and big sky, there has emerged what may be called a small Borgmann school in contemporary thought. Borgmann's work includes Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), and most recently Holding On to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium (Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 1999). The idea with which Borgmann is most often associated is the distinction between what he calls "things and devices. "An archetypal thing, for Borgmann, is a wood heating stove, the function of which is clearly transparent and which easily becomes a center for human life. By contrast, the thermostatically controlled central heating system is a device that hides its inner workings and never stands out as significant in human interactions-unless, of course, it breaks down. In the world of things, humans orient themselves by realities other than themselves; in the world of devices, it is human wants and interests that come to the forefront as orienting principles, producing the consumer society.

Max Oelschlaeger is the Frances B. McAllister Endowed Chair in Community, Culture, and Environment at Northern Arizona University (NAU). His work at NAU focuses upon his creation of a Public Humanities Program that seeks to restore a place for the humanities within community life. His recent books include the Pulitzer Prize-nominated The Idea of Wilderness (Yale University Press, 1991) and Postmodern Environmental Ethics (State University of New York Press, 1995).

Robert Frodeman teaches environmental philosophy and public policy at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. Possessing degrees in history, philosophy, and the Earth sciences, his work focuses upon the places where philosophic abstractions and everyday life intersect. He is currently completing a book on the philosophy of the Earth sciences, and is director of the Southwest Earth Studies Program, a National Science Foundation funded educational experiment in philosophy and the Earth sciences held each summer in the mountains of southwest Colorado.

W. Scott McLean is a lecturer in two programs at the University of California, Davis (UCD) Comparative Literature and Nature and Culture. He began his college career in fisheries biology, but changed to German languages and literature with a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara. For the past decade he has been central to the development of UCD's Nature and Culture program. A published poet, McLean was editor of Gary Snyder's collection of interviews and talks, The Real Work (New Directions, 1989).

Eldridge M. Moores is Professor of Geology at the University of California, Davis. His interests include ophiolites, the development of mountains, environmental geology, and Earth history. His field experience includes all seven continents. He teaches primarily in the Geology Department but has team-taught the beginning course in the Nature and Culture program with McLean and/or David Robertson. Moores is author or co-author of more than 100 scientific publications, including two textbooks, and was the 1996 President of the Geological Society of America.

David A. Robertson is Professor of English at the University of California, Davis. He teaches in the Program in Nature and Culture and in the Graduate Group in Ecology. He is a photographer and the author of Real Matter (University of Utah Press, 1997). His main interest in research and teaching is promoting conversations between scientists and people in the humanities.

Carl Mitcham. A member of the faculty at the Colorado School of Mines, Carl Mitcham's scholarly research has been in the philosophy of science and technology as well as in the interdisciplinary field of science, technology, and society studies. His fundamental concern has been the attempt to understand, from what he calls a historico-philosophical perspective, the structures of the contemporary technoscientific lifeworld. Among his most representative publications are Philosophy and Technology: Readings in the Philosophical Problems of Technology, co-edited with Robert Mackey (Free Press, 1972; paperback 1983), and Thinking Through Technology: The Path Between Engineering and Philosophy (University of Chicago Press, 1994). His current work focuses on the ethics of science and technology.

Karim Benammar brings a multicultural perspective to his work: Born in Algeria, raised in The Netherlands, he studied philosophy at the University of Sussex, England, Pennsylvania State University (Ph.D., 1994), and Kyoto University, Japan. Benammar is currently associate professor in the faculty of Cross-Cultural Studies at Kobe University, Japan. He has published articles on community, the relevance of myths, and the notions of excess and abundance in ecology.

Alphonso Lingis is Professor of Philosophy at Penn State University. A leading scholar within the Continental tradition of contemporary philosophy, Lingis's work is distinguished by the juxtaposition of academic philosophy with extreme events of life. Years spent living and writing in third world countries has resulted in a unique style of thought where contrasts of wealth and poverty, personal and cultural dislocations, and intense, transitory relationships between people living radically different lives illuminate and are illuminated by classic texts in the history of philosophy. Lingis's books include Excesses: Eros and Culture (SUNY Press, 1983) and The Imperative (Indiana University Press, 1998).

Peter Warshall is currently editor of the Whole Earth magazine. His work focuses on conservation and conservation-based development. His background includes work in Ethiopia for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and with the Tohono O'odham and Apache people of Arizona. He has also served as a consultant to a number of corporations and municipal governments. His training includes advanced degrees in biological anthropology and in cultural anthropology, which help him to combine natural history, natural resource management, and environmental impact analysis toward the resolution of conflicts and the building of consensus between divergent interest groups.

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Read an Excerpt

PREFACE:

Preface

SHIFTING PLATES: THE NEW EARTH SCIENCES

1.

Changes are afoot within the discipline of geology. One sign of this shift is the controversy over what the field should be called. Do we stay with the traditional term, geology? Or embrace a new name, such as geoscience, Earth science, or Earth systems science? I prefer the first term: despite its implication of referring exclusively to the solid Earth, geology contains hidden resonances. In ancient Greek, Ge or Gaia meant earth in the sense of the soil, but also Mother Earth, the sheltering source of life, as well as one's country or homeland. Geology may then be taken as the search for a logos of Gaia - an account of Mother Earth, the planet that we call home.

The point I wish to make, however, is not one of nomenclature, but to alert readers to what is at stake in this debate over names. For the Earth sciences (to use the most common term) today find themselves at the center of a number of societal changes - concerning the relation between science and community, the limits of science for solving the problems we face, and the creation of new, interdisciplinary models for problem solving.

Earth Matters provides a forum for addressing these questions. The essays of this volume - all published for the first time - represent a wide spectrum of opinion on what the Earth sciences are and should become, and more generally, what our relation to the Earth is and should be. Written by scientists, humanists, and practitioners of public policy, Earth Matters provides support for a wide rangeof views concerning the role of the Earth sciences in society.

The questions raised by these essays include: How has the role of the Earth scientist - and the scientist in general - changed in recent years? What new demands or obligations has society placed on science? Can science and technology resolve the environmental difficulties we face, or must we recognize the limits of scientific and technical solutions to our problems, and develop new approaches that combine the insights of the social sciences and the humanities with those of the sciences? Is our relation to the Earth exclusively defined in terms of utilitarian concerns, or is our response to the Earth as much a matter of aesthetics and theology as it is of economics? If the latter is the case, what consequences will this have for the future of the Earth sciences? Finally, how are we to understand the relation between scientific research and the needs of communities, whether on the local, regional, national, or international scale?

2.

The idea of promoting this conversation about the Earth sciences and the needs of community has a particular background that it is perhaps useful to mention. First educated in history and philosophy, after a few years of teaching philosophy at the college level I became dismayed at the sterility of much academic philosophical discussion. Motivated by the desire to bring philosophy down to Earth, I returned to graduate school to pursue a master's degree in geology.

In the course of this return to the status of a student, I became aware of serious philosophical discussions among Earth scientists themselves. These discussions fell into three broad categories. First, Earth scientists voiced concerns with the nature of the scientific method as it applied to their work. Although many geologists were successfully reducing geology to geophysics and geochemistry, others found that their work did not easily fit within the standard model for the scientific method. These geologists played a role closer to that of Sherlock Holmes, dependent on the interpretation of clues, rather than being able to test their hypotheses in the laboratory. The historical nature of geology, as well as the inability to duplicate in the lab the spatial or temporal scales of the field, meant that geologists relied on skills that were often closer to those of the detective, the physician, or the literary critic, than to the chemist.

Second, many of the Earth scientists I spoke to were concerned with the relation of science to community concerns. Some were confident that scientific information and perspectives, once grasped by the public, would necessarily lead to sound public policy. Others, however, worried that this assumption misconceived the nature of both the scientific and the political realms. On this reading, emphasizing the political relevance of scientific research was liable to raise false hopes among the public. The danger here was that science would be asked to answer what were essentially political questions, that is, questions about societal values that must be adjudicated through the political process.

Third, I was struck by what can be called the philosophical nature of much of scientific research. Many of the scientists I came in contact with were motivated by the pure love of learning - the sense of wonder and the experience of beauty that comes from understanding the nature of things. In this way, many Earth scientists seemed closer to the traditional ideal of the natural philosopher than to the caricature of the passionless, objective scientist that I grew up with. This insight turned upside-down the meaning of terms like practical, for I realized that the philosophical and political aspects of the Earth sciences are as important to the public as are the economic benefits of the Earth sciences. The discovery of a new species of dinosaur has no economic implications, but our fascination with such marvels points to the importance of the philosophical aspects of science.

The more I came to know professional geologists, the more I recognized that we shared common philosophical concerns and interests. I began to attend and present papers at geological conferences such as the annual meetings of the Geological Society of America, and I was hired as a consultant to the United States Geological Survey on matters of sciences, ethics, and public policy. The present collection has grown out of this dialogue between the Earth sciences and philosophy.

3.

Long ignored by the humanities, and traditionally seen by society as simply the supplier of raw materials for the industrial machine, the Earth sciences today are moving to the center of public consciousness and conversation. The reasons for this are clear. Resource scarcity, global climate change, the loss of biodiversity, pollution, and the expansion of a Western consumerist lifestyle around the globe means that the limits of resources and ecosystems have become crucial to societal debates. In brief, after a long period of ignoring it, we have discovered that the Earth matters.

To this point, geology has played a marginal role within the humanities. With very few exceptions, the philosophy of science has ignored the discipline. One finds no philosophy of geology as one does a philosophy of physics and of biology. The two main schools of contemporary philosophy, Analytic and Continental, have ignored geology. Both have assumed (few thought to argue the point) that an examination of geology was unnecessary for understanding the nature of science.

Philosophy's neglect of geology is exemplified by the lack of attention given to the concept of geologic time. The discovery of "deep" or geologic time parallels in importance the widely acknowledged Copernican Revolution in our conception of space. And in fact, the awareness of history and temporality play a quite prominent role within contemporary Continental philosophy. Nevertheless, philosophers have ignored the decisive role played by the Huttonian Revolution in reshaping our sense of time and history. In general, geology has been viewed as a derivative science with no distinctive method of its own, reducible to the principles of chemistry and physics. Geology suffered from a host of problems that undercut its claims to knowledge: the incompleteness of geologic data; the lack of experimental control that is possible in the laboratory-based sciences; and the great spans of time required for geologic processes to occur, making direct observation difficult or impossible.

These factors left the field a less-than-ideal candidate for philosophic consideration. In fact, the philosophy of science has traditionally viewed physics as the paradigmatic science. Physics was the first science to establish itself on a firm footing, exemplifying the true nature of science as certain, precise, and predictive knowledge of the world. Since the seventeenth century, all other sciences (and the humanities as well) have been judged in terms of how well they live up to these standards.

Yet, there is another way of looking at the Earth sciences: seeing them as offering a model of human rationality more in keeping with the realities we face in our personal and public lives. The Earth sciences do have a distinctive method of reasoning: one that is deliberative rather than simply calculative, interpretive rather than purely factual, and historical rather than experimental - again, like our own personal and public lives. The reasoning process typical of the Earth sciences thus offers us a middle way between the often unrealistic standards of the lab sciences-based as they are on the essentially falsifying nature of the controlled experiment - without slipping into the no-nothingness, fundamentalism, and blind deference to authority that is the antithesis of rationality. Geology is a preeminent example of a synthetic science, combining a variety of logical techniques in the solution of its problems. The geologist exemplifies what the French anthropologist Levi-Strauss called the bricoleur, the thinker whose intellectual toolbox contains a variety of tools that he or she selects as is appropriate to the job at hand. The Earth sciences, then, can be viewed as a bridge discipline between the laboratory sciences and the modes of reasoning characteristic of the humanities.

4.

Geology today is caught in a kind of cultural tectonics, as the relations between the Earth sciences and the rest of society are being transformed. Geoscientists are being asked to take on new roles and responsibilities that often extend beyond their specific disciplinary expertise. In fact, many of these roles involve issues that are fundamentally political or philosophical in nature.

Take, for instance, the case of the disposal of the nation's nuclear waste. At Yucca Mountain, Nevada, Earth scientists are being asked to certify the safe storage of tens of thousands of tons of highly radioactive material for 10,000 years - a length of time greater than the recorded history of human culture. With such questions, the lines dividing science from epistemology, ethics, politics, and metaphysics blur. How confident can anyone be about what might occur over the next 10,000 years? And, what is the nature of our responsibility to generations unborn? Other Earth science issues - global climate change, the loss of biodiversity, resource shortages, pollution, and natural hazards - are no less challenging to our traditional understanding of the role of the sciences in society.

But rather than being an exception, the situation of the Earth sciences today is exemplary for the future of the sciences, and I believe for the humanities as well. For the Earth sciences simply make clear what is becoming apparent everywhere: The nature of knowledge is changing, as is the place of knowledge in society. In today's culture, information disseminates: knowledge can no longer be treated as existing in discrete packets. Instead, for both logical and political reasons, every discipline must show how its insights fit with the concerns of society. The Earth sciences, then, provide us with an image of the challenges that all disciplines will face in the twenty-first century.

In response to these new conditions, there are signs that a consensus is emerging within the geoscience community This consensus recognizes that the challenge of global change calls not only for advances in scientific research and methodology, but also for an enlarged sense of stewardship, ethics, and cross-disciplinary integration among the disciplines. In other words, the geoscience community has found that it must now rethink fundamental questions concerning its role within, and responsibilities to, society.

It is certainly true that changes in technology-for example, faster computers, and the rise of integrated observation systems - have altered the possibilities for research within the Earth sciences and for all other disciplines. But the fundamental fact ushering in the new era is this: For the first time in the history of the planet, humans are a major geologic force. We now affect climate and biodiversity in unprecedented ways at the local, regional, national, and global levels. Furthermore, these changes result from our use of energy and mineral resources at levels that are unlikely to be sustainable over the long term. Accordingly, the geosciences will face greater challenges and will have a larger role to play than ever before, in both the future of human well-being and in the health of the planet.

5.

The transformation of the discipline of geology is being driven by at least two forces. First, the reformation of geology became inevitable once we entered an age of ecological and geological scarcity. The concept of scarcity invoked here must not be thought of pointing toward a pure fact of nature. Environmentalists have too often looked to the Earth sciences for the identification of positive and inescapable limits that will force Western societies to radically alter their lifestyle. Such a concept of scarcity or limit is easily dismantled-time and again proven wrong by history, as expected shortages of energy, metals, or food are overcome. Humans are simply too resourceful, too capable of modifying their behavior or inventing new technologies, to easily fall into this trap.

Geologic scarcity is real. But the geologic scarcity that we will experience will be as much a cultural as a natural phenomenon. Geologic scarcity will be defined by the interplay of physical limits (always uncertain, and subject to change through new discoveries and technological advance) and a complex range of cultural limits, involving factors such as technology, economics, ethics (questions of justice), aesthetics (quality of life issues), and theology (a sense of the sacred). Consider the example of petroleum. Rather than simply running out of oil, we will eventually change our patterns of energy consumption because of our unwillingness to accept the consequences of its continued use: traffic jams, polluted air, communities given over to cars, compromised relations to foreign nations, and damage to beautiful and fragile places (e.g., the Arctic, or the California coast). These limitations will then prompt both technological advances that will allow us to meet our energy needs in new ways, and lifestyle changes that allow us to live more lightly on the Earth.

The second reason for suggesting that we are witnessing the birth of a new kind of geology turns on what could be called - if a touch of hyperbole is allowed - the death of the natural. Technology today has become transformative. Reaching deep within the structure of reality, we create fibers and materials that are truly manmade colors never before seen by the eye, and forms of life that have never before existed. We are on the verge of manipulating the genetic stock of our species. Through all these efforts we are wiping away the very distinction between the artificial and the natural. The fossil in the rock shop - is it real, or a replica? The photograph of the sunset were its colors changed on the computer, or possibly in the processing? Even ecosystems can now be restored so that the visitor (and, in some cases, the expert) cannot tell that the area was ever disturbed.

It must be emphasized that our hesitancy to this manipulation of reality is more than just practical in nature. The possibility that a bacterium engineered for one purpose can come to play another, less benign role in our lives is real enough. But there is also a growing sense that the natural has a status and a claim upon our attention all its own. We want natural or near-natural landscapes, areas wholly or largely untouched by human manipulation, because such landscapes preserve a distinction that we rely upon-a sense of limit, or of the sacred.

Thus, in all the excitement and celebration accompanying the tremendous expansion of human prowess through technology, I detect a note of dismay. This dismay is directed at the loss of the natural - a way that things not only are, but in some sense should be. If I am correct, this urge for things beyond human manipulation finds its greatest expression in the contemporary apotheosis of nature and wilderness. Earth science facts and perspectives, then, also function as a type of geotheology, as we search the rocks and fossils for something that transcends our overly built world.

But these are merely two of the most salient factors that suggest that the Earth sciences are destined to become much more culturally prominent in the twenty-first century. If this is correct, this represents a tremendous opportunity to the Earth science community - if it is able to adapt to the changing nature of the demands society will place upon it. In the twenty-first century, the Earth sciences need to become a discipline that says no as well as yes to society: not only enabling our plans for industrial and technological development, but also describing the limits to our activities, as they manifest themselves through geologic hazards, resource scarcity, and ecosystem stress.

Such a role is, of course, very different from the traditional, nineteenth- and twentieth-century concept of the scientist to which we have grown accustomed. On this view, the scientist can and must remain objective, completely divorced from cultural or political commitments. The scientist's work was finished when the science was competently completed by standards internal to the scientific process. Under conditions of geologic scarcity, however, the Earth scientist must become a political or public scientist, guided by community needs at the same time that he or she provides counsel and advice.

Conversely, the recognition that geology has a social, political, and philosophical role to play also opens new prospects for disciplines such as history, philosophy, and literary studies. Students and scholars in the humanities will find that they too have a place at the table in contemporary societal debates - if they learn to bring their work down to Earth, making it accessible to nonspecialists. Such a marriage of scientific, political, and philosophical perspectives within the Earth sciences holds the promise of healing the split between the two cultures of science and the humanities.

6.

One of the inherent features of philosophical reflection is that it is always crossing boundaries. Therefore, while the essays collected here are organized around the three themes of the logic of the Earth sciences, the Earth sciences and society, and the philosophical implications of the Earth sciences, each of the essays address all of these themes to one degree or another. All of these essays honor science, while calling for a wider knowledge or wisdom; an understanding of human abilities and limits, and a consideration of the nature of goodness, truth, and beauty. Such reflection is an ongoing process that science both builds on and can awaken - but which ultimately goes beyond science.

This collective conversation about Earth matters aims to promote this discussion as a scholarly end in itself. But each of us, no matter what our disciplinary specialty, is in the first instance a citizen and reflective human being. In a world in which the information and perspectives of the Earth sciences play an increasingly important role, both the academic community and the general public will be well served by a dialogue on the changing role of the Earth sciences in society.

More particularly, this collection may serve as a textbook or supplementary text in various courses in the sciences and the humanities, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students in a general education course in the Earth or environmental sciences want to explore the meaning of what they are learning. And, professors are increasingly appreciative of the need to deepen public understanding of their disciplines by including material that reflects on the societal importance of the sciences. In the fields of environmental studies and environmental philosophy, this collection may also serve as a primary or supplementary text. Such courses must include reflection not just on the environment, but also on the sciences that mediate that environment to us.

My thanks to the following individuals, without whom this project would not have come to fruition: Daniel Kaveney, Geoscience Editor at Prentice Hall; Carl Mitcham, Department of Liberal Arts and International Studies, Colorado School of Mines; Christine Turner, US Geological Survey; Ian MacGregor and Michael Mayhew, National Science Foundation; Erle Kauffman, Indiana University; Hartmut Spetzler, University of Colorado; and Kathryn Mutz and the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado, whose El Paso Fellowship, funded by the El Paso Energy Foundation, provided me with the release time needed to complete this project.

Robert Frodeman
Grand Canyon Semester
Flagstaff, AZ

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Table of Contents

Preface
Pt. I Rock Logic: The Nature of the Earth Sciences 1
1 Conversing with the Earth: The Geological Approach to Understanding 2
2 Reading the Riddle of Nuclear Waste: Idealized Geological Models and Positivist Epistemology 11
3 Inhabitation and Orientation: Science Beyond Disenchantment 25
4 The Modern Earth Narrative: Natural and Human History of the Earth 35
5 Messages in Stone: Field Geology in the American West 51
Pt. II The Earth Sciences in Life of the Community 63
6 A Multi Disciplinary Approach to Managing and Resolving Environmental Conflicts 64
7 Science and Environmental Policy: An Excess of Objectivity 79
8 The Transparency and Contigency of the Earth 99
9 Natural Aliens Reconsidered: Causes, Consequences, and Cures 107
10 A Sense of the Whole: Toward an Understanding of Acid Mine Drainage in the West 119
11 Nature and Culture 141
Pt. III Philosophic Approaches to the Earth 151
12 Earth Religons, Earth Sciences, Earth Philosophies 152
13 Sacred Earth 165
14 Ecological Emotions 175
15 Four Ways to Look at Earth 189
Index 205
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Preface

PREFACE:

Preface

SHIFTING PLATES: THE NEW EARTH SCIENCES

1.

Changes are afoot within the discipline of geology. One sign of this shift is the controversy over what the field should be called. Do we stay with the traditional term, geology? Or embrace a new name, such as geoscience, Earth science, or Earth systems science? I prefer the first term: despite its implication of referring exclusively to the solid Earth, geology contains hidden resonances. In ancient Greek, Ge or Gaia meant earth in the sense of the soil, but also Mother Earth, the sheltering source of life, as well as one's country or homeland. Geology may then be taken as the search for a logos of Gaia - an account of Mother Earth, the planet that we call home.

The point I wish to make, however, is not one of nomenclature, but to alert readers to what is at stake in this debate over names. For the Earth sciences (to use the most common term) today find themselves at the center of a number of societal changes - concerning the relation between science and community, the limits of science for solving the problems we face, and the creation of new, interdisciplinary models for problem solving.

Earth Matters provides a forum for addressing these questions. The essays of this volume - all published for the first time - represent a wide spectrum of opinion on what the Earth sciences are and should become, and more generally, what our relation to the Earth is and should be. Written by scientists, humanists, and practitioners of public policy, Earth Matters provides support for a widerangeof views concerning the role of the Earth sciences in society.

The questions raised by these essays include: How has the role of the Earth scientist - and the scientist in general - changed in recent years? What new demands or obligations has society placed on science? Can science and technology resolve the environmental difficulties we face, or must we recognize the limits of scientific and technical solutions to our problems, and develop new approaches that combine the insights of the social sciences and the humanities with those of the sciences? Is our relation to the Earth exclusively defined in terms of utilitarian concerns, or is our response to the Earth as much a matter of aesthetics and theology as it is of economics? If the latter is the case, what consequences will this have for the future of the Earth sciences? Finally, how are we to understand the relation between scientific research and the needs of communities, whether on the local, regional, national, or international scale?

2.

The idea of promoting this conversation about the Earth sciences and the needs of community has a particular background that it is perhaps useful to mention. First educated in history and philosophy, after a few years of teaching philosophy at the college level I became dismayed at the sterility of much academic philosophical discussion. Motivated by the desire to bring philosophy down to Earth, I returned to graduate school to pursue a master's degree in geology.

In the course of this return to the status of a student, I became aware of serious philosophical discussions among Earth scientists themselves. These discussions fell into three broad categories. First, Earth scientists voiced concerns with the nature of the scientific method as it applied to their work. Although many geologists were successfully reducing geology to geophysics and geochemistry, others found that their work did not easily fit within the standard model for the scientific method. These geologists played a role closer to that of Sherlock Holmes, dependent on the interpretation of clues, rather than being able to test their hypotheses in the laboratory. The historical nature of geology, as well as the inability to duplicate in the lab the spatial or temporal scales of the field, meant that geologists relied on skills that were often closer to those of the detective, the physician, or the literary critic, than to the chemist.

Second, many of the Earth scientists I spoke to were concerned with the relation of science to community concerns. Some were confident that scientific information and perspectives, once grasped by the public, would necessarily lead to sound public policy. Others, however, worried that this assumption misconceived the nature of both the scientific and the political realms. On this reading, emphasizing the political relevance of scientific research was liable to raise false hopes among the public. The danger here was that science would be asked to answer what were essentially political questions, that is, questions about societal values that must be adjudicated through the political process.

Third, I was struck by what can be called the philosophical nature of much of scientific research. Many of the scientists I came in contact with were motivated by the pure love of learning - the sense of wonder and the experience of beauty that comes from understanding the nature of things. In this way, many Earth scientists seemed closer to the traditional ideal of the natural philosopher than to the caricature of the passionless, objective scientist that I grew up with. This insight turned upside-down the meaning of terms like practical, for I realized that the philosophical and political aspects of the Earth sciences are as important to the public as are the economic benefits of the Earth sciences. The discovery of a new species of dinosaur has no economic implications, but our fascination with such marvels points to the importance of the philosophical aspects of science.

The more I came to know professional geologists, the more I recognized that we shared common philosophical concerns and interests. I began to attend and present papers at geological conferences such as the annual meetings of the Geological Society of America, and I was hired as a consultant to the United States Geological Survey on matters of sciences, ethics, and public policy. The present collection has grown out of this dialogue between the Earth sciences and philosophy.

3.

Long ignored by the humanities, and traditionally seen by society as simply the supplier of raw materials for the industrial machine, the Earth sciences today are moving to the center of public consciousness and conversation. The reasons for this are clear. Resource scarcity, global climate change, the loss of biodiversity, pollution, and the expansion of a Western consumerist lifestyle around the globe means that the limits of resources and ecosystems have become crucial to societal debates. In brief, after a long period of ignoring it, we have discovered that the Earth matters.

To this point, geology has played a marginal role within the humanities. With very few exceptions, the philosophy of science has ignored the discipline. One finds no philosophy of geology as one does a philosophy of physics and of biology. The two main schools of contemporary philosophy, Analytic and Continental, have ignored geology. Both have assumed (few thought to argue the point) that an examination of geology was unnecessary for understanding the nature of science.

Philosophy's neglect of geology is exemplified by the lack of attention given to the concept of geologic time. The discovery of "deep" or geologic time parallels in importance the widely acknowledged Copernican Revolution in our conception of space. And in fact, the awareness of history and temporality play a quite prominent role within contemporary Continental philosophy. Nevertheless, philosophers have ignored the decisive role played by the Huttonian Revolution in reshaping our sense of time and history. In general, geology has been viewed as a derivative science with no distinctive method of its own, reducible to the principles of chemistry and physics. Geology suffered from a host of problems that undercut its claims to knowledge: the incompleteness of geologic data; the lack of experimental control that is possible in the laboratory-based sciences; and the great spans of time required for geologic processes to occur, making direct observation difficult or impossible.

These factors left the field a less-than-ideal candidate for philosophic consideration. In fact, the philosophy of science has traditionally viewed physics as the paradigmatic science. Physics was the first science to establish itself on a firm footing, exemplifying the true nature of science as certain, precise, and predictive knowledge of the world. Since the seventeenth century, all other sciences (and the humanities as well) have been judged in terms of how well they live up to these standards.

Yet, there is another way of looking at the Earth sciences: seeing them as offering a model of human rationality more in keeping with the realities we face in our personal and public lives. The Earth sciences do have a distinctive method of reasoning: one that is deliberative rather than simply calculative, interpretive rather than purely factual, and historical rather than experimental - again, like our own personal and public lives. The reasoning process typical of the Earth sciences thus offers us a middle way between the often unrealistic standards of the lab sciences-based as they are on the essentially falsifying nature of the controlled experiment - without slipping into the no-nothingness, fundamentalism, and blind deference to authority that is the antithesis of rationality. Geology is a preeminent example of a synthetic science, combining a variety of logical techniques in the solution of its problems. The geologist exemplifies what the French anthropologist Levi-Strauss called the bricoleur, the thinker whose intellectual toolbox contains a variety of tools that he or she selects as is appropriate to the job at hand. The Earth sciences, then, can be viewed as a bridge discipline between the laboratory sciences and the modes of reasoning characteristic of the humanities.

4.

Geology today is caught in a kind of cultural tectonics, as the relations between the Earth sciences and the rest of society are being transformed. Geoscientists are being asked to take on new roles and responsibilities that often extend beyond their specific disciplinary expertise. In fact, many of these roles involve issues that are fundamentally political or philosophical in nature.

Take, for instance, the case of the disposal of the nation's nuclear waste. At Yucca Mountain, Nevada, Earth scientists are being asked to certify the safe storage of tens of thousands of tons of highly radioactive material for 10,000 years - a length of time greater than the recorded history of human culture. With such questions, the lines dividing science from epistemology, ethics, politics, and metaphysics blur. How confident can anyone be about what might occur over the next 10,000 years? And, what is the nature of our responsibility to generations unborn? Other Earth science issues - global climate change, the loss of biodiversity, resource shortages, pollution, and natural hazards - are no less challenging to our traditional understanding of the role of the sciences in society.

But rather than being an exception, the situation of the Earth sciences today is exemplary for the future of the sciences, and I believe for the humanities as well. For the Earth sciences simply make clear what is becoming apparent everywhere: The nature of knowledge is changing, as is the place of knowledge in society. In today's culture, information disseminates: knowledge can no longer be treated as existing in discrete packets. Instead, for both logical and political reasons, every discipline must show how its insights fit with the concerns of society. The Earth sciences, then, provide us with an image of the challenges that all disciplines will face in the twenty-first century.

In response to these new conditions, there are signs that a consensus is emerging within the geoscience community This consensus recognizes that the challenge of global change calls not only for advances in scientific research and methodology, but also for an enlarged sense of stewardship, ethics, and cross-disciplinary integration among the disciplines. In other words, the geoscience community has found that it must now rethink fundamental questions concerning its role within, and responsibilities to, society.

It is certainly true that changes in technology-for example, faster computers, and the rise of integrated observation systems - have altered the possibilities for research within the Earth sciences and for all other disciplines. But the fundamental fact ushering in the new era is this: For the first time in the history of the planet, humans are a major geologic force. We now affect climate and biodiversity in unprecedented ways at the local, regional, national, and global levels. Furthermore, these changes result from our use of energy and mineral resources at levels that are unlikely to be sustainable over the long term. Accordingly, the geosciences will face greater challenges and will have a larger role to play than ever before, in both the future of human well-being and in the health of the planet.

5.

The transformation of the discipline of geology is being driven by at least two forces. First, the reformation of geology became inevitable once we entered an age of ecological and geological scarcity. The concept of scarcity invoked here must not be thought of pointing toward a pure fact of nature. Environmentalists have too often looked to the Earth sciences for the identification of positive and inescapable limits that will force Western societies to radically alter their lifestyle. Such a concept of scarcity or limit is easily dismantled-time and again proven wrong by history, as expected shortages of energy, metals, or food are overcome. Humans are simply too resourceful, too capable of modifying their behavior or inventing new technologies, to easily fall into this trap.

Geologic scarcity is real. But the geologic scarcity that we will experience will be as much a cultural as a natural phenomenon. Geologic scarcity will be defined by the interplay of physical limits (always uncertain, and subject to change through new discoveries and technological advance) and a complex range of cultural limits, involving factors such as technology, economics, ethics (questions of justice), aesthetics (quality of life issues), and theology (a sense of the sacred). Consider the example of petroleum. Rather than simply running out of oil, we will eventually change our patterns of energy consumption because of our unwillingness to accept the consequences of its continued use: traffic jams, polluted air, communities given over to cars, compromised relations to foreign nations, and damage to beautiful and fragile places (e.g., the Arctic, or the California coast). These limitations will then prompt both technological advances that will allow us to meet our energy needs in new ways, and lifestyle changes that allow us to live more lightly on the Earth.

The second reason for suggesting that we are witnessing the birth of a new kind of geology turns on what could be called - if a touch of hyperbole is allowed - the death of the natural. Technology today has become transformative. Reaching deep within the structure of reality, we create fibers and materials that are truly manmade colors never before seen by the eye, and forms of life that have never before existed. We are on the verge of manipulating the genetic stock of our species. Through all these efforts we are wiping away the very distinction between the artificial and the natural. The fossil in the rock shop - is it real, or a replica? The photograph of the sunset were its colors changed on the computer, or possibly in the processing? Even ecosystems can now be restored so that the visitor (and, in some cases, the expert) cannot tell that the area was ever disturbed.

It must be emphasized that our hesitancy to this manipulation of reality is more than just practical in nature. The possibility that a bacterium engineered for one purpose can come to play another, less benign role in our lives is real enough. But there is also a growing sense that the natural has a status and a claim upon our attention all its own. We want natural or near-natural landscapes, areas wholly or largely untouched by human manipulation, because such landscapes preserve a distinction that we rely upon-a sense of limit, or of the sacred.

Thus, in all the excitement and celebration accompanying the tremendous expansion of human prowess through technology, I detect a note of dismay. This dismay is directed at the loss of the natural - a way that things not only are, but in some sense should be. If I am correct, this urge for things beyond human manipulation finds its greatest expression in the contemporary apotheosis of nature and wilderness. Earth science facts and perspectives, then, also function as a type of geotheology, as we search the rocks and fossils for something that transcends our overly built world.

But these are merely two of the most salient factors that suggest that the Earth sciences are destined to become much more culturally prominent in the twenty-first century. If this is correct, this represents a tremendous opportunity to the Earth science community - if it is able to adapt to the changing nature of the demands society will place upon it. In the twenty-first century, the Earth sciences need to become a discipline that says no as well as yes to society: not only enabling our plans for industrial and technological development, but also describing the limits to our activities, as they manifest themselves through geologic hazards, resource scarcity, and ecosystem stress.

Such a role is, of course, very different from the traditional, nineteenth- and twentieth-century concept of the scientist to which we have grown accustomed. On this view, the scientist can and must remain objective, completely divorced from cultural or political commitments. The scientist's work was finished when the science was competently completed by standards internal to the scientific process. Under conditions of geologic scarcity, however, the Earth scientist must become a political or public scientist, guided by community needs at the same time that he or she provides counsel and advice.

Conversely, the recognition that geology has a social, political, and philosophical role to play also opens new prospects for disciplines such as history, philosophy, and literary studies. Students and scholars in the humanities will find that they too have a place at the table in contemporary societal debates - if they learn to bring their work down to Earth, making it accessible to nonspecialists. Such a marriage of scientific, political, and philosophical perspectives within the Earth sciences holds the promise of healing the split between the two cultures of science and the humanities.

6.

One of the inherent features of philosophical reflection is that it is always crossing boundaries. Therefore, while the essays collected here are organized around the three themes of the logic of the Earth sciences, the Earth sciences and society, and the philosophical implications of the Earth sciences, each of the essays address all of these themes to one degree or another. All of these essays honor science, while calling for a wider knowledge or wisdom; an understanding of human abilities and limits, and a consideration of the nature of goodness, truth, and beauty. Such reflection is an ongoing process that science both builds on and can awaken - but which ultimately goes beyond science.

This collective conversation about Earth matters aims to promote this discussion as a scholarly end in itself. But each of us, no matter what our disciplinary specialty, is in the first instance a citizen and reflective human being. In a world in which the information and perspectives of the Earth sciences play an increasingly important role, both the academic community and the general public will be well served by a dialogue on the changing role of the Earth sciences in society.

More particularly, this collection may serve as a textbook or supplementary text in various courses in the sciences and the humanities, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students in a general education course in the Earth or environmental sciences want to explore the meaning of what they are learning. And, professors are increasingly appreciative of the need to deepen public understanding of their disciplines by including material that reflects on the societal importance of the sciences. In the fields of environmental studies and environmental philosophy, this collection may also serve as a primary or supplementary text. Such courses must include reflection not just on the environment, but also on the sciences that mediate that environment to us.

My thanks to the following individuals, without whom this project would not have come to fruition: Daniel Kaveney, Geoscience Editor at Prentice Hall; Carl Mitcham, Department of Liberal Arts and International Studies, Colorado School of Mines; Christine Turner, US Geological Survey; Ian MacGregor and Michael Mayhew, National Science Foundation; Erle Kauffman, Indiana University; Hartmut Spetzler, University of Colorado; and Kathryn Mutz and the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado, whose El Paso Fellowship, funded by the El Paso Energy Foundation, provided me with the release time needed to complete this project.

Robert Frodeman
Grand Canyon Semester
Flagstaff, AZ

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