Monday 19th November 2018

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Posts tagged ‘Resources for Future Generations’

When science doesn’t suffice

June 20th, 2018

Geologists need public engagement and new approaches to achieve it: Iain Stewart

by Greg Klein

 

There’s nothing like jumping into a river at the head of a waterfall—especially the Zambezi above the hundred-plus-metre drop of Victoria Falls while an airborne crew films the stunt for television—to grab people’s attention. That’s the sort of thing Iain Stewart has done, but as a means to an end. A geologist with a gift for communication, he evidently has a mission to express a sense of wonder in the science and its importance to people’s lives. But what about all those other geos lacking the resources of network TV or the advantages of charisma? Stewart discussed that in a June 18 public event at the first-ever Resources for Future Generations conference in Vancouver.

A professor of geoscience communication and director of the Sustainable Earth Institute at Plymouth University, Stewart’s best known for several BBC documentary series that bring geology to a broad mainstream audience. He told the overflow Vancouver gathering that his shows often portray geoscientists as guardians: “If you’re worried about the planet’s future, trust me,” is how he described the message. “I’m a geoscientist. I understand the planet, I understand its rhythms, its sensitivities, its thresholds…. The stewardship of the planet is in good hands.”

Geologists need public engagement and new approaches to achieve it, says Iain Stewart

“Where gaps exist among the facts of geology the space between is often
filled with things geo-poetical”: The John McPhee quote appears under
a still shot of Stewart exploring Mexico’s Cueva de los Cristales.

That contrasts with another professional duty: “If you want stuff for modern society, and people out there show no sign of not wanting it, then you need a geologist to go out and find this stuff.” Rock scientists function somewhere along the spectrum “between earth steward and earth exploiter,” in positions that “probably shift through our careers and through our life… The future of society depends on us being able to straddle those two worlds effectively, and it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Some of the job’s more obvious applications include providing energy, finding mineral resources and understanding natural disasters. But geology also has indirect roles in addressing problems like poverty and hunger, Stewart pointed out. “I think geoscience is critical to many of these issues but we don’t really show that, partly because we haven’t been trained to, but partly because we don’t really communicate what we do to a wider public.”

Maybe the root cause lies in a trait that sets scientists apart from others. While most people are generally interested in other people, he said, scientists’ interest in things and ideas marks them as “immensely unusual…. We know this, we know we’re not normal, we’re mentally unusual—in a good way.”

But that presents difficulties in expressing the relevance of their work to other people’s lives. Nor are many people overly rational and willing to make decisions based on objective info. One approach, therefore, would be to connect with others on a personal level by expressing passion for the subject, Stewart said. Another approach would emphasize the relevance of a particular topic to an individual, community or society at large.

If geoscience is going to contribute to many of these huge issues that the planet faces, we have to get more effective at communicating and I think that science itself isn’t going to be enough. We need better stories and, more than that, we need better storytellers.

It’s a matter of “geo-poetry,” he said, an approach that doesn’t just relate facts but places the facts within stories that draw people in. “If geoscience is going to contribute to many of these huge issues that the planet faces, we have to get more effective at communicating and I think that science itself isn’t going to be enough. We need better stories and, more than that, we need better storytellers.”

A formidable challenge indeed. But with enough practice, geoscientists just might get the public intrigued by their stories, maybe even imagining they can hear the dramatic music that BBC dubbed over Stewart’s Victoria Falls plunge.

Asked by ResourceClips.com whether public communication should be introduced into the geology curriculum, Stewart said, “I think it has to be—at the Master’s level, absolutely…. If we keep producing people who are really good technically but not able to communicate, then they kind of have one arm pinned behind their back.”

As for public engagement, the more controversial the topic, the better, he added. Widely held concerns about fracking, for example, can lead to more informative discourse on energy issues. He described controversy as “a gateway to what we want to talk about.”

But he acknowledged that academics operate on a different level than geoscientists employed by mining and exploration companies. “I’ve not had to do that,” he said. “I’ve done workshops to help companies tell their stories. But I’ve not actually had to do it myself and face the wrath of a company director asking me why I wiped 5% off the share price for what I said.”

Geologists need public engagement and new approaches to achieve it, says Iain Stewart

In an entirely different approach to public engagement, this fueled-by-mining car made an appearance
at the Resources for Future Generations trade show. The Mining Association of British Columbia
uses the Chevy Volt to raise awareness of the industry’s contributions to clean energy.

Read more about Resources for Future Generations.

Sustaining dialogue

June 15th, 2018

Resources for Future Generations brings diverse viewpoints to vital issues

by Greg Klein

Resources for Future Generations brings diverse viewpoints to vital issues

Geo-boffins take part in a pre-conference field trip to the southern British Columbia porphyry belt.
(Photo: Jeanne Liu/UBC Mineral Deposit Research Unit)

 

Evidently the organizers want to find common ground between disparate, even polarized, viewpoints. And Vancouver, as a world capital of mining, a burgeoning high-tech centre for clean energy and a hotbed of environmental activism, might be the ideal venue for such an endeavour. It’s here that Resources for Future Generations will assemble an international and divergent group to discuss three essentials to our survival on this planet: energy, minerals and water.

The event takes place at the Vancouver Convention Centre between June 16 and 21 where, to offer just a few examples, representatives of Rio Tinto, the David Suzuki Foundation, Clean Energy Canada, the Tahltan Nation and Resource Works will meet and mingle, where the likes of Ross Beaty and Tzeporah Berman will share perspectives and where the public—the real stakeholders in all this—might gain a better understanding of resource-related issues.

Resources for Future Generations brings diverse viewpoints to vital issues

While describing the event John Thompson keeps using the word “diversity.” The chairperson of the RFG steering committee and Cornell University’s professor in environmental balance for human sustainability says the word applies to the three themes of energy, minerals and water. “Then we’ve got people with this diversity of disciplines, and this diversity of backgrounds and countries, so we can certainly say this will be a diverse conference.”

That applies to viewpoints, too. “We’re absolutely encouraging people to put their issues on the table and listen to each other’s views,” he emphasizes. “We want good dialogue and we want people to express their views as long as they do so in an appropriate manner, and I have no doubt they will.”

Education, debate and awareness will be encouraged through panel discussions, keynote talks, public lectures, interactive events, field trips, short courses and more. From different sectors, disciplines, causes and communities will come executives, professionals, activists and representatives. A series of free public events ensures the broadest possible participation. About half the attendees will come from outside Canada.

This will be RFG’s debut, but Thompson hopes success will make it a regular occurrence. The idea began with the International Union of Geological Sciences, one of UNESCO’s scientific organizations, and was developed further through discussion with other groups. Presenting the event are the Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, the Geological Association of Canada and the Mineralogical Association of Canada. Additional support comes from over 85 sponsors, technical partners and others.

Thompson hopes to realize an ambitious list of goals. Among them, “We certainly want to get resource sectors talking to each other,” he says. “We have a bad habit of doing our thing when we have a lot to learn from each other.

“We’re also trying to give people a better understanding of the relationship between the Earth, all the resources we take for granted and how we can use them more effectively going into the future.”

We do have ‘future generations’ in the title and our goal is to engage young people. We have about 350 students coming to the conference. They’re from almost all parts of the world, they’re the future. They need to be involved in the issues regardless of which side of the fence they’re on.—John Thompson

He notes the importance of “increasing people’s understanding of other people’s needs and views, and promoting interaction between industry, sectors and society at large. A lot of people have concerns that aren’t often discussed at a higher level.”

With a global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, there’s a lot at stake.

“We do have ‘future generations’ in the title and our goal is to engage young people. We have about 350 students coming to the conference. They’re from almost all parts of the world, they’re the future. They need to be involved in the issues regardless of which side of the fence they’re on. We need to get people thinking and solving problems with a view to the future for everybody. If we succeed in that and get more young people engaged, I think that’ll be a great outcome.”

He hopes that outcome will extend well beyond those who attend. “The general public often has a limited understanding of the nature of resources, where they come from, how we extract them and how hard we work to do things appropriately. If we increase the understanding and awareness of where things come from and the challenges, but also the amazing progress people are making in solving those challenges, that would be a great outcome as well.”

Resources for Future Generations 2018 takes place from June 16 to 21 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Click here for more info and registration. See the lineup of free public events here.

Attention Vancouver: Resources for Future Generations presents (mostly) free public events

June 12th, 2018

by Greg Klein | June 12, 2018

A first-time international conference held in Vancouver from June 16 to 21, Resources for Future Generations hopes to attract a diverse audience. The purpose, after all, is to encourage discussion and awareness of resources, focusing on energy, minerals and water—topics of importance to some 7.6 billion stakeholders.

Attention Vancouver: Resources for Future Generations presents (mostly) free public events

That number might exceed Vancouver Convention Centre capacity but RFG intends to draw in as many people as possible. Except for the movie night, public events are free, although most of them require pre-registration.

Here’s a quick summary, with more info and registration available here.

Sunday, June 17, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Sustainability Sunday
A free, family-friendly event featuring displays and interactive exhibits presented by organizations dedicated to understanding the Earth, working with indigenous people, creating new recycling programs and protecting biodiversity. No need to pre-register.

Monday, June 18, 5:30 to 7 p.m.: Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Communicating Geohazards to the Public
BBC series presenter Iain Stewart uses his experience of popularizing geoscience on TV to discuss how geologists can better connect with the public and impart knowledge that’s crucial to a number of urgent issues. Free, pre-registration required.

Tuesday, June 19, 6:30 to 9 p.m.: A screening of KONELĪNE: our land beautiful
A documentary explores the relationships with the land of northwestern B.C. and the Tahltan community, drillers, geologists, hunters and powerline workers. A discussion follows with filmmaker Nettie Wild and Tahltan Central Government president Chad Day. Pre-registration required, $10 admission.

Wednesday, June 20, 5:30 to 7 p.m.: Water: Can We End the Global Water Crisis?
Little known to the public, the planet’s changing water cycle threatens to create a world of freshwater “haves” and “have-nots.” Jay Famiglietti shares his experiences, positive and negative, with science communication and water diplomacy. Free, pre-registration required.

Click here for more info on all public events and to register.