Communicating Environmental Geoscience - Home




There is a gulf between environmental geoscientists and those who could be using science in planning and decision-making. There are numerous examples in recent years where scientific work has clearly indicated a direction in planning and policy, yet this has been ignored. This ranges from the global scale, where some countries resist scientific advice on natural hazards or climate change; to the local, where people live in places that are highly vulnerable to landslide, earthquakes, floods, or other geological  hazards. Policy makers frequently ignore or are unaware of the natural variation in earth systems when making decisions, and commonly lack the long-term perspective that palaeoenvironmental research can offer. A Working Group was set up to address this problem.

Tasks of the working group

The main task of the group has been to  educate, trainand assist scientists in:

  • Learning how to communicate effectively with non-scientists
  • Tool development - developing tools to aid scientists in communication
  • Communicating the concepts of risk, probability and natural variation in earth systems.
  • Building contacts and relationships with media, politicians and decision makers
  • Coordinating existing efforts to improve communication
Working group composition
Due to numerous demands on his time, Dr. David Liverman stepped down as Chair of the Working Group in March 2011.  Dr. Norm Catto replaced Dr. Liverman, with the goal of serving as Acting Chair until the IGC Brisbane Conference Meeting in 2012.  Thus the management committee is now:
• Norm Catto (Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada)
• Ken Lawrie (CIRO, Geoscience Australia)
• Monica Jaramillo (BC Hydro, Vancouver, Canada)
• Iain Stewart, University of Plymouth, UK
• Dave Liverman (Geological Survey of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada)
The working group currently consists of an informal listing of approximately 100 geoscientists, based on expressed interest through e-mail and two electronic means of communication. An electronic mailing list is being maintained and the Working Group page on the IUGS-GE website has an annotated list of links to websites of interest; extracts from proposal to IUGS – GEM; abstracts from a Nottingham workshop and links to presentations from this on Slideshare; and instructions for subscribing to the CEG-GEM listserv list.
The Group surveyed environmental geoscientists on their experiences and attitudes towards communication, and published the results in Episodes.

Workshops and presentations took place at the British Geological Survey in Nottingham jointly organized with the Geohazards Working Group of the Engineering Group of the Geological Society (London), the European Geosciences Union Annual Meetings(Vienna), the 33rd International Geological congress (Oslo 2008), and the Commission's Annual Meetings.

The Geological Society published a book of papers on "Communicating Environmental Geoscience" in November 2008, edited by working group members.

The major closing event was a Gac-Mac session:  Communicating Geoscience

Why don’t people listen to us?  Why do they continue to make mistakes, flying in the face of common geoscience knowledge? How can we increase geological literacy?

Policy decisions are often taken without effective input from geoscientists.  Rather than leaving this as an insolvable problem, a better approach is to consider strategies, setbacks, and successes in getting geosciences messages to policy and decision makers, as well as to general audiences. This session will look at some of the challenges and possible answers to these common, occasionally frustrating questions.  Potential topics include: effective explanation of geoscience issues to politicians and public; communication of geoscience concepts to other professionals; strategies and tactics for interaction with governments and institutions; discussing geological hazards; issues in working with various news media; communication of “bad news”; and what the would-be geosciences communicator needs to know to be effective. 

If we believe that we do have important things to talk about, and we’re interested in getting people to listen and incorporate our advice, communication will be a requirement.  This session explored the issues and possibilities.
Geological Association of Canada-Mineralogical Association of Canada, 27-29 May, 2012, St. John’s NL, Canada.