Reflection on Earth Day
From the Editor: Fang Lin
Fellow HGS members:
On April 22, 2020, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, an annual event held in more than 193 countries to highlight the importance of environmental protection. According to Wikipedia, Earth Day was originally proposed by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, and gradually became an international event in the 1970’s and 90’s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_Day). As an earth scientist, I pondered what Earth Day means to me recently and would like to share my thoughts with you.
Initially I felt a little uneasy to discuss the topic as someone working in the oil industry. Why? Because it is not uncommon for find the view in the general public that oil industry is one of the polluters of the Earth. I still remember the look on a few acquaintances’ faces when I told them that I was going to work in the oil industry years ago – it was as if I was going to betray a noble cause and joining something despicable. But, is that really who we are and what we do as earth scientists in the industry?
First of all, let me say that I agree with many environmental protection initiatives. No matter what our professions are, we are all citizens of the planet Earth. We breath the same air, drink the same water and eat the same food as everyone around us. The Earth is our home too. We need to and want to protect it for ourselves and for generations to come. In fact, many earth scientists are avid nature-lovers, who pursued geologist or geophysicist career because we love Mother Earth so much. In short, we have no intent to mess up the Earth.
Second, can we live without the energy industry nowadays? I hope your answer is the same as mine, that is no. I still remember those days in the 1980’s when my family were watching TV shows in the evenings, suddenly the electricity went out and we had to go to bed with a candlelight in hand. It was not fun. Even as of today, many of us are staying at home due to the COVID-19 situation, our consumption of gasoline and aviation fuel has been reduced dramatically. However, there are still cars and trucks on the road transporting goods to families, hospitals and to provide essential services. If my first example of energy consumption is dispensable, the second one is certainly not. My point is that many people are having and can have a better life with the supply of natural resources.
So the question really is not whether we should continue to explore and exploit natural resources or not, but how. How can we continue to provide energy supply and other natural resources to fuel social stability and economic growth, meanwhile, to maintain and sustain the environment that we live in? How can we extract natural resources more safely and efficiently with a minimum environmental footprint? These are the challenges faced by the Earth Scientists in the 21st century. Although there are no simple answers to them, I believe that we can find the solutions collectively through more accurate knowledge, advanced technology and raised environmental consciousness. We, the Earth Scientists, can be and should be part of the solution.
Last but not least, as we continue to live through the current pandemic, I want to take the opportunity to thank our medical staff, police officers, grocery store workers and many other people who are on essential service work posts. Thank you for keeping us safe and healthy! I also want to encourage our members to continue helping each other out as much as possible. Stay safe and well!