Incorporating Geoethics in Introductory Earth System Science Courses

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
James Schmitt, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, United States
The integrative nature of Earth System Science courses provides extensive opportunities to introduce students to geoethical inquiry focused on globally significant societal issues. Geoscience education has traditionally lagged in its efforts to increase student awareness of the significance of geologic knowledge to understanding and responsibly confronting causes and possible solutions for emergent, newly emerging, and future problems of anthropogenic cause and consequence. Developing an understanding of the human impact on the earth system requires early (lower division) and for geoscience majors, repeated (upper division) curricular emphasis on the interactions of the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere, and pedosphere across space and through time. Capturing the interest of university students in globally relevant earth system issues and their ethical dimensions while first learning about the earth system is an important initial step in bringing geoethical deliberation and awareness to the next generation of geoscientists. Development of a new introductory Earth System Science course replacing a traditional introductory Physical Geology course at Montana State University has involved abandonment of concept-based content organization in favor of a place-based approach incorporating examination of the complex interactions of earth system components and emergent issues and dilemmas deriving from the unique component interactions that characterize each locale. Thirteen different place-based week-long modules (using web- and classroom-based instruction) were developed to ensure cumulative broad coverage across the earth geographically and earth system components conceptually. Each place-based instructional module contains content of societal relevance requiring synthesis, critical evaluation, and reflection by students. Examples include making linkages between deforestation driven by economics and increased seismicity in Haiti, agriculture and development of marine dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, glacier melting and alpine ecotone migration due to global warming in Glacier National Park, USA, and destruction of Caribbean mangrove forests and its negative effects on coral reef biodiversity.