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« Today does sensible | Main | Diary date: rock talk edition »
Monday
May052014

Geosciences' green strategy

Two tweets by Professor Iain Stewart (of Climate Wars fame) caught my attention over the weekend.

The first concerned the Geological Association conference I mentioned in the previous post:

What are the strategies for getting the UK public to engage with shale gas?

The second concerned an article in the Canadian press:

Is UK oil and gas industry failing to attract young people in same way as Canada seems to be?

Prof Stewart is a bright guy and I'm sure he has begun to realise that the climate change narrative that he so ably promoted in Climate Wars creates an interesting tension for geologists. On the one hand, oil and gas are pollutants that are going to fry the planet and lead to disaster. On the other they are the raison d'etre of many university earth sciences departments; shale gas could in theory create a whole new demand for their services too.

So it can hardly be a surprise to Prof Stewart if prospective students are put off earth sciences by their association with such awful substances as methane and crude oil, just as chemistry departments have withered away because of the barrage of negative PR from environmentalists.

But never mind, John Ludden, the head of the British Geological Survey has an idea:

some universities are starting use a green strategy for recruiting into earth and environment programmes.

You have to wonder if a "green strategy" for student recruitment is sustainable (to coin a term). Are students really going to fork out tuition fees for the prospect of a badly paid job in the eco-consultancy market? Does the economy need any more eco-consultants anyway? (And given the pressing question of whether the economy needs any eco-consultants at all, this may well be a "no"). It's certainly hard to imagine their generating any wealth, let alone how the economy of Aberdeen will fare once all they have replaced all those geologists and oilmen who currently pump money out of the ground.

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Reader Comments (84)

The generalizations about geological sciences and earth sciences in Mr Stewart's comments misses the large differences in what is studied. Geology itself splits into various disciplines for more specialization often after the first year. So that for a 4 year degree, you may only have a few first and second year overlap courses amongst those who end up specializing in economic geology (mining or petroleum) as opposed to those who may stress environmental or groundwater geology. The latter types spend very little course time with details of the history of the earth and hence are rather more unschooled in what the rest of us geologists know of the wide environmental and climate histories the earth has gone through.

I think you'll find very few economic or historical geologists who are unfamiliar with the high past CO2 contents etc, etc. and they are AGW sceptics. If you wish to subvert that gained knowledge to embrace AGW then you have to willingly let your political and social beliefs and desires, to override the facts.
There's still great cyclical employment in geology dependant upon economic cycles. So the reluctance of anyone to enter the field is more likely still historically linked to questions about job security and where you may end up working (remote uncomfortable places most likely) not to some new angst that Mr Stewart imagines.

May 5, 2014 at 4:39 PM | Unregistered Commentermikegeo

'It's certainly hard to imagine their generating any wealth, let alone how the economy of Aberdeen will fare once all they have replaced all those geologists and oilmen who currently pump money out of the ground.'

I saw an episode of 'Beechgrove Garden' (ok, ok!) recently, where Chris Beardmore was landscaping a garden for a couple in Aberdeen, as part of a new estate which - if I heard aright - was to consist of 75,000 new houses. This seemed an incredible number to me - I tried to find out more, and failed to find anything about it. Is this boom oil industry-related, or what?

May 5, 2014 at 4:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

@ radical rodent

...Dodgy Geezer, you correct me by quoting temperatures; isn’t climate something more than an aggregate of temperatures?

Perhaps it is. All I was thinking was that if I went to a place and saw that the ground remained solid ice all year, I would be inclined to call it a cold climate, whereas if I saw that farmers were harvesting vines, melons and oranges regularly, I would think of it as having a warm climate....

BTW, why should you call me a rat? I am just an inquisitive mouse..

Sorry. I thought you sounded bigger. And very intelligent. Unless, of course, we are talking Douglas Adams....

May 5, 2014 at 4:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Okay, DG, I see your logic, though it is over a greater time period and temperature range than we are talking about, now.

Careful, though, the silencing of those who are getting too close to the truth is long practiced – have you never wondered why Mr Adams died so young?

May 5, 2014 at 5:11 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Mike Jackson,

Perhaps, like me, think that we remember RR saying something like, "my husband" in one of his/her comments. I could of course be mistaken.

May 5, 2014 at 5:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Porter

Bloke in Central Illinois:

> solar is subsidized every step of the way, from
> production to land acquisition to installation
> to the need for backup fossil fuel generation
> capacity

Are you saying fossil fuels receive no subsidy? Estimates range up to $50bn anually for FF subsidies in the US. And are you saying that FF generation needs no backup? Don't all grid systems historically have far more generation capacity than peak demand? What is that for if not for backup?

May 5, 2014 at 6:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

hilarious logic to even insinuate fossil fuels would be subsidised.
Without fossil fuels our society would be middle ages like and NOT be capable of billions of GDP

most of the fossil fuel "subsidies" mentione everywhere, are just handouts. They could have been in dollars, cheques, or its near fungible accompaniement: fossil fuels. But they are handouts TOWARDS people, not towards the mineral oils and gases.

Chandras seems to have switched his UptonSinclair glasses now for a Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels pair, lol
She sounds soooo BBC/Graun doesn't she

May 5, 2014 at 6:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

In the US, at least, the fossil fuel "subsidies" that Greens moan about are ordinary tax deductions that apply to businesses or all sorts. Things like deducting depreciation on capital assets. Applicable whether you own an oil rig or an oven for baking organic, GMO-free artisan bread.

May 5, 2014 at 6:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke in Central Illinois

Sorry, David, you are mistaken. I invariably refer to my spouse as “my other half”, hopefully keeping it gender-neutral.

Ptw, there are many out there who think that a reduction in taxes is a subsidy; under that logic, not getting robbed as you walk around town could be considered an income… Could you be taxed on it?

May 5, 2014 at 6:49 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Dang! Just realised – I might have given some future chancellor an idea! With the reported falling crime rate, then it could be claimed that everyone’s “income” is rising; at present this “income” is undeclared, so we are not only not paying our full tax, but obviously engaging in non-disclosure, and could be liable for hefty fines!

May 5, 2014 at 6:56 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Sorry RR. My memory is not what it once was. Your gender is not important, only your comments, which are invariably well worth reading, especially the last two.

May 5, 2014 at 7:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Porter

May 5, 2014 at 9:37 AM | Paul Woland

I had to laugh when you mentioned 'the best available science on climate change' and then went on to rely a report by NatCen to back up another statement you made.

You could not have chosen a more thoroughly disreputable organisation. It's name is designed to fool you into thinking it is a government organisation (perhaps National Census); it uses a .ac domain, not because it would be able to get one under current rules but because it obtained it many years ago. It has charitable status and launders some £29M of government money every year by producing statistics to order. Read any of their reports and you will see so many statistics quoted that judicious choice by any politician can 'prove' anything.

As subsequent posters have pointed out, it does this by asking imprecise questions. It further ensures the 'right' answers are achieved by using personal interviews to acquire the data. It claims its results are unbiased through random selection of participants but, of course, the people who decide to participate select themselves. Initially, they attempt to bribe the participant to take part with a free gift - a book of stamps, for example.

I don't believe a thing I read in any of their reports.

May 5, 2014 at 8:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

"...have you never wondered why Mr Adams died so young?"
May 5, 2014 at 5:11 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

He's not dead, RR. He just slipped out for a quick meal somewhere.

May 5, 2014 at 9:09 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Correction para 2 , The conference is I understand proposed by the Geological Society of London, not the Geologists Association. Both are venerable bodies, publishing journals containing formal papers. Both in fact operate out of the same address Burlington House Piccadilly, but are separate entities. Membership of the GA is open to keen amateurs, the GeolSoc only to formally qualified geologists.

May 5, 2014 at 9:24 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

MH: ah, yes… I think I know the restaurant he may be at.

Thank you, David; while I do try and make my comments rich with scientific insight; sadly, my lack of deep scientific knowledge means that I usually have to revert to humour.

Anyway, to drag the conversation, kicking and screaming, to the original topic, I have to confess that I cannot think what is “green” about rocks. Geology IS; how can it have a “green strategy”?

May 5, 2014 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Iain Stewart did do Climate Wars but at the end of that trilogy he seemed to imply he didn't believe it at all. Like David Attenborough, he accepted the BBC's shilling and got series after series (plus, like Cox, a Professorship). Attenborough got series after series also and remained a 'national treasure'! Professor (genuine) David Bellamy told the truth and is slipping into obscurity. I can understand those who go along with the scam especially if they are young.
Sorry this is about Iain Stewart, though I still like him, but not the others.
Stewart did a programme on fracking and one on sink holes both excellent and no mention of climate.
I hope that one day he will apologize for Climate Wars.

May 5, 2014 at 9:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterMargaret Smith

Ah Professor Stewart. The guy who drove around in a van with Michael Mann's hockey stick painted onto the side of it. I expect in the years to come he'll find that extremely embarrassing if he doesn't already. Though I'd put up with a lot of embarrassment for the kind of pay cheque you get from the BBC for fronting a series like that.

May 5, 2014 at 9:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

I got once a "questionnaire" from the NHS. They only wanted an hour of my time, lol.

There was no accompanying check so I did the decent thing (chuck-in-the-bin)
sent it 2 times (which meant: 2 times chuckinthebin)

I can imagine though , a Guardianista vinegar pisser, wrongly-fcuked, spending the whole of her bank holiday with it.
as for their statistical "results" : chuckinthebin.

May 5, 2014 at 10:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

Some may remember the show Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? was a popular television game show which ran from 1952 to 1959 hosted by David Attenborough.

More will remember 'Twenty Questions' on BBC radio up to 1976. According to Wiki, the panel comprised Richard Dimbleby, Jack Train, Anona Wynn and June Whitfield. A later presenter, Gilbert Harding, was ousted in 1960 by producer Ian Messiter when, after having drunk a triple gin-and-tonic he had originally offered to Messiter, he proceeded to completely ruin the night's game – he insulted two panelists, failed to recognise a correct identification after seven questions (after revealing the answer upon the 20th question, he yelled at the panel and audience), and ended the show three minutes early by saying "I'm fed up with this idiotic game ... I'm going home".[5] He was replaced by Kenneth Horne until 1967, followed by David Franklin from 1970 to 1972.'

The point being that everything that doesn't grow, must be dug up. And when you start analysing everything around us in our homes cars and gadgets, and the buildings pipes cables and appliances we use, most of it must be dug up. And finally when no longer of any use, buried back again. Always was, always will be.

May 5, 2014 at 10:10 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Mike Jackson, thanks for reminding me that I also live in a Temperate Zone, but mine happens to be in New Zealand. Like you, my memories of the past 70-odd years bring to mind events such as running bare-footed on a frosty front lawn and being fascinated by the patterns I left in the grass, a few years later cycling painfully in my Scout uniform shorts and cotton shirt through a Summer hail-storm on my way to an Anzac service that our Scout troop had committed to attend, later still a crowd of us teenagers dragging a net in the surf of a West coast beach for flounder and cooking them over a driftwood fire as the sun set. Over the years, I have many memories of lovely days and stormy days and all of those long-ago seasons seem pretty much like every season now, and as this Autumn marches on and the air cools I have just had to relinquish shorts, tee shirt and sandalls in favour of jeans, sweat shirt and sneakers, just as I have always done.
I know I was rained off outdoor jobs from time to time during the past and I know that we had droughts as well as floods, but If the climate has changed, it hasn't changed in any way that impinges on my awareness of it.

May 5, 2014 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander Kendall

John Ludden probably should rename himself Ned Ludd.

May 6, 2014 at 12:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterOwen Morgan

Historically geology attracted fit A Level graduates with a Levels in geology, maths, physics or chemistry. Many geologists were keen rugby players, boxers, rowers and climbers , often from grammar schools or public schools. The decline in coal mining means that fewer A level pupils are keen to follow a career in the subject. Up to mid 1985 and the collapse in oil prices , the oil industry was a large employer. Many geologists used to work in mining, large civil projects overseas and oil which made them applied scientists/engineers, in that they had to solve problems.

Historically many graduate geologists worked in developing countries, now they want their own graduates to be trained . The decline in those taking maths and science A Levels in comprehensives and the lack of those with a good sports background , mean there are less fit numerate geologists who love field work. What is happening is massive increase in environmental science with undergraduates having poor science a levels - sociology,environmental science , geography, biology etc, etc. if one compares the A levels of someone entering a Russell group University in Geology 30 years ago and an environmental science degree , there is a large decline in basic maths, physics and chemistry ability..

Many of the environmental science graduates are not particularly keen on fieldwork, especially walking across British moors in winter! Many environmental scientists are not good at solving problems and often have poor maths, chemistry and physics skills which means they are unable to derive equations from first principles.

Geologists such as Bob Carter and Ian Plimer tend to have experience in mining and very numerical geology.

May 6, 2014 at 1:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

[Snip - O/T and trollish]

May 6, 2014 at 4:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

[Snip - response to snipped comment]

May 6, 2014 at 7:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

[Snip - response to snipped comment]

May 6, 2014 at 9:18 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

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May 6, 2014 at 9:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

I followed the Canadian link. It's just media space filler. Their source is Hays Canada, a recruitment agency. Searching their vacanciues under "Oil and Gas" I get 16. Boom? None are for junior people. This is the sort of thing:

Our Client has been operating in pipeline/industrial construction for 40+ years across Western Canada, and has continued to enjoy growth within oil sands developments and large industrial complexes. They currently have an exciting opportunity for an experienced Senior Project Coordinator to join the industrial division to effectively implement pipeline projects across Western Canada, and be the face of the organisation with clients.
We get this stuff here as well - papers moaning about universities not providing this or that skill. The acid test would be to look for rising salaries, but you don't find that. Usually it goes along with wailing about Media Studies (a degree that actually had rather good employment prospects when I last checked)

May 6, 2014 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Mott

Seems shortsighted.

Luckily China and India are not carbonphobic and will innovate. Of course there will be howls when we resort to buying their expertise when the domestic resources are turned into activists rather than scientists and engineers.

May 6, 2014 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterClovis Man

[Snip - response to snipped comment]

May 6, 2014 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Personally I think the problem here has nothing to do with kids not being interested. I've heard from several people in industry now that geology degrees tend not to produce graduates with the type of skills/knowledge required by industry. The move away from pure geology degrees (with significant core science content) and the introduction of softer geoscience/earth science degrees where students can avoid the harder parts of the course by choosing softer modules in subjects such as geography, has meant that the quality, and perhaps confidence, of students has been badly dented. Environmental courses tend to complement this trend thus compounding the problem.

It is all about getting larger class sizes because geology departments don't typically get large student intakes.

May 6, 2014 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered Commentercd

Maybe part of the answer is to go back to when the students were incidental to the purpose of the university which was primarily research and "learning" in its broadest sense.
You wouldn't dumb down the course to attract students because you wouldn't care if there weren't any students; the professors and Fellows would carry on doing their research and anyone with enough interest in the course and subject on offer would turn up to be taught it.
I reckon you'd get a lot more dedicated students than the universities currently get by force feeding pap to semi-educated eighteen-year-olds.

May 6, 2014 at 1:22 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

(Well done to the mods for keepingf the discussion sane..and for leaving a little bit of a trail , so we can see it's not censorship like on the alarmist blogs/Guardian etc.)

May 6, 2014 at 1:43 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Surely the question is : "How can we stop this conference forming part of a brainwashing exercise in green-loony dogma ?"
.. so we have to keep tabs on them, make sure that they are not successul in suppressing views.
..And perhaps look to pushing other conferences and methods of informing the public of the full truthful picture.

May 6, 2014 at 1:46 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

cd.
Good points, mostly correct.

May 6, 2014 at 5:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

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