Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A call to action for (the day after) Earth Day

I'm just over eight months into my PhD and my new life in America, and lately I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the choices I've made in the last few years to get here. I also think about the choices I make here, every day. I think about the choices we, as earth scientists, make in our day-to-day lives.

Flamingos at Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

Geologists (and other earth scientists) are a fortunate group. We get to spend time outside doing research in amazing and remote places. I know I'm not the only one who has seen amazing and inspiring places and met wonderful people through science.


In 2009 I had the chance to do field work on the Bolivian Altiplano. Amazing geology, amazing landscape, but a hard place to live. We encountered suspicion from the locals who were afraid we were going to profit from some hidden resources and leave them impoverished. Most were welcoming once we (through our driver/translator) explained that we were just scientists. But still, they asked us for help. They needed help finding water. In one village, we were given one room of a family's mud-brick house to cook in. I cooked off of our gas stove on a dirt floor, the only source of light coming from a tiny oil lamp they loaned us. The water we used for cooking was hand-drawn from a well.  On the day we left, electricity was being installed in a few of the homes, so that they would have better light.

Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

More than the incredible places I saw, it was the life of the locals that has stayed with me.  Wherever I end up when this degree is done, I will not be satisfied if I am not finding some way to help others. This could be through public outreach, through volunteering, or through teaching. I'm figuring that out as I go, but I feel a responsibility to make a positive contribution to the world that I live in.

The edge of the Altiplano, Bolivia

So how does this tie back to Earth Day, and to all earth scientists?  As earth scientists I believe we should be leading the way in making sustainable choices on a day-to-day basis. These choices do not have to be big ones (not everyone can afford the upfront cost of a hybrid). But there are lots of simple things we can do.


In a building full of earth scientists I've seen people throw soda cans and cardboard in the garbage because it is closer and more convenient than the recycling bin on the other side of the room. I've seen soda cans in the garbage bin right beside the recycling bin.

Arbol di Piedra, Bolivia

The call to action, my challenge to you, is this:  think about the small choices you make every day. Show, through your daily choices, that you want to preserve the earth.

Don't use bottled water when there is potable tap water available.

Get yourself a refillable water bottle and use it. Keep one at home and one at work.

Coffee mugs? Keep one on your desk and take it with you when you go down to the coffee shop during the day (you might even get a discount on your java).

Think about packaging when you're doing your shopping, especially groceries. If you can choose a product with less packaging, do it.

When you leave a room, think about whether you need to leave the lights on or not.

Make sure that every choice you make (not just the ones I've suggested here) favors sustainability. Not because the world will collapse if you don't, but because it's just the responsible thing to do.

Sunset at Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

I could end this post with any number of cliches, but instead I`ll finish with this "poster" that began circulating the Internet a while back. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to shut down the petroleum industry. I don't think we can live without it. But we don't have to be stupid about it.


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