Promoting Earth Science Literacy for Public Decision Making
The Geological Society of America (GSA) recognizes the critical need for citizens and policy makers to understand important aspects of the Earth system as they face issues related to natural resources, energy, natural hazards, and human impacts on the environment. GSA supports the active involvement of geoscientists and geoscience educators in helping to improve the knowledge and understanding of the geosciences among members of the general public in order to support informed decision making by Earth’s citizens and communities. GSA and GSA members should contribute to education and outreach about fundamental concepts of Earth science, issues related to long-term human sustainability on Earth (such as the use and availability of water, minerals, and energy resources), and socially prominent topics (such as climate change and natural hazards preparedness).
For most people, formal education in the geosciences is often minimal. Once an individual has his or her last experience in formal Earth science education, perhaps in middle school, updating their knowledge with new information becomes difficult. People may not understand the relevance of the geosciences to their lives, either in the short or long term. Most citizens are not aware that they access and use geoscience information when they attend to news about the weather and natural hazards or use computer-based visualization tools that display Earth data sets.
The U.S. National Research Council has recommended, and the National Science Foundation has mandated, that scientists effectively disseminate the outcomes of their research. This obligation comes not only from the fiscal responsibility of the scientists to the public who paid for the research, but also from the public’s need for information and knowledge with which to make informed decisions. Communications must go beyond the scholarly dissemination of scientific research results and place the scientific insights into the context of locally relevant and societally important issues that individuals and communities need to address.
A healthy democracy, or any representative or direct-election form of government, relies upon an informed and educated citizenry to guide the country. This need becomes greater or intensifies as populations increase, resources become more scarce, the social and economic impacts from natural hazards increase, and human impacts on the environment increase. However, making informed choices about energy and natural resources, preparing for natural hazards, and mitigating and adapting to climate change requires an understanding of geoscience processes and timescales. An informed and educated citizenry can guide decision makers as they develop regulations through the legislative and rulemaking process and put in place infrastructures that can protect citizens and communities, safeguard the environment, ensure access to energy, and preserve natural resources.
Geoscientists are encouraged to
- Consider their work in the context of its relevance for addressing societal problems, and, if appropriate, identify key elements of their work for public and educational outlets;
- Seek to improve the perceived relevance of the geosciences by the public and the public’s understanding of Earth and the environment across all aspects of geosciences, but with particular attention to natural resources, energy, natural hazards, and impact on the environment by individuals and communities; and
- Use various avenues to achieve these ends, including formal and informal education, communication with the public through mainstream media, web pages, blogs and wikis, social media, and other types of professional outreach, including interviews, museum displays, and workshops with teachers, schools, and governmental, organizational, and social programs.
Employers of geoscientists and geoscience educators are encouraged to
- Support geoscience education and outreach by providing employees with the tools and training for public engagement and fostering partnerships with professional outreach organizations; and
- Provide formal recognition of their employees’ efforts to increase public understanding of Earth and the environment by rewarding these activities with favorable salary and promotion decisions and with company/organization staff awards.
Educators of future geoscientists are encouraged to
- Weave opportunities for actual or simulated public engagement into the formal curriculum for future geoscientists; and
- Provide knowledge, skills, mentoring, contacts, and internships for undergraduate and graduate students relevant to careers in which they will use their geoscience expertise to address societal issues.
Adopted April 2013, Revised May 2018