We Can Make Progress by Having a Collective Vision to Share

Gregory R. Wessel, Vashon, WA (

I have been a meat-and-two-veg geologist for about 40 years, and during that time I have worked in mineral exploration (metals and industrial minerals), oil exploration, and most recently as an engineering geologist dealing with geologic hazards.  I have done geologic mapping and structural geology across the western United States and in Bolivia, and I have worked on other projects in Russia, Poland and Ukraine at a time when people were more optimistic about working across the former Iron Curtain.  I have been lucky enough to see some amazing geology and incredible natural beauty, as well as to have met and worked with people who live in very different circumstances from my own. 

All of us recognize the kinship that geoscientists share.  It doesn’t matter where you are from, what language you speak or what color you are, if you’re a geoscientist you’re a member of the geo tribe.  For that reason, it’s easy for us to work together, but we’re not always connected enough to take advantage of that affinity. 

Geoscientists share another commonality: most of the problems facing mankind, at least those that are not manmade, are geologic problems.  Whether it be water supplies, access to mineral resources or arable land, energy production generation, or climate change, we know more about these things than anyone.  It only makes sense for us to work together to enlighten and guide mankind, which is something many of us already do very well.  As well as natural scientists, many of us are also natural teachers.

My hope is that through the Geoscience and Society Summit we will be able to find better ways to communicate and cooperate across the borders that exist in society, both with ourselves and with others.  I hope that we can find better ways to share our understanding of the nature and significance of the challenges we face so that we can effect real change. 

The walls that separate society are significant, but some of those that I have seen that are the toughest to overcome and that often go unnoticed separate people into two groups: those wanting to maintain individual liberty at the expense of the public good and those wanting to promote the public good by sacrificing some amount of individual liberty.  The battle between individual (or national) liberty and the public (or international) good may be the most difficult battle to fight given how deeply entrenched it is in modern capitalism and our tribal nature.  For me, individual liberty means nothing if in order to have it someone else has to pay.  For me, it’s a moral question.

For my innovation, I’d like to propose that in addition to looking for ways to work together more effectively, we at the same time envision the world we’d like our grandchildren to inherit, and that we look for ways to encourage public acceptance of that vision.  The vision itself should be relatively easy to craft given our shared interests.  The challenge will be in convincing others to share it, but if we can structure our work around the goal that is our collective vision, it should be easy to overcome some of the walls that divide us.