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Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Geology for Global Development: 4th Annual Conference

Sustainable mining, solar energy, seismic risk; the 4th Geology for Global Development Conference held at the Geological Society in London had it all.  Geology for Global Development is a charity set up to with the aim of relieving poverty through the power of geology. The charity is chasing the UN’s sustainable developing goals by inspiring a generation of young geologists to use their training as a tool for positive global change.

Figure 1. The UN's sustainable Development goals (source:  http://www.unfoundation.org/features/globalgoals/the-global-goals.html
The charity is closely linked to several universities meaning the one-day event was awash with bright ideas from young geologists from every corner of the UK. Add to the mix experts in policy and communication including BBC presenter and academic Professor Iain Stewart and you have the recipe for a fascinating day.

Figure 2: GFGD founder Dr Joel Gill gives the opening address on Geology and the sustainable development goals

The programme was impressively diverse, jumping effortlessly from panel discussions on mining and sustainability to group discussions on exploring best practice. There were so many important messages I couldn’t regurgitate everything into a short blog, so I’ve made a super-summary of my favourite points:

Trade not Aid

This topic surfaced several times, and it’s something that I felt reflected the changing attitudes of many NGOs discussed on the day. It was mentioned by The Geological Society’s Nic Bilham in his opening remarks and raised in the groups discussions on best practice. In these discussions, ‘Scene’ Co-director Vijay Bhopal, related his experiences of delivering solar power supply to off-grid Indian villages. He emphasised the necessity to sell the solar technologies to those who need it, even if it is heavily subsidised, as opposed to gifting it. The only way to ensure longevity of solar powered systems was to build a market from the bottom up, he said, training technicians and providing a platform to sell and replace broken parts.  I this capacity, I felt geology has much to offer, developing industry in areas where help is needed is a more effective and sustainable way to provide aid- whether it be by sustainable mining, maintaining boreholes or lighting villages.

The opportunities are out there

The day wasn’t just about discussion, it was about getting involved. Representatives came from all over the country to encourage young geologists to sign up to schemes and events. Here’s a summary of just a few of the opportunities mentioned, along with the people in charge (more information can be found on the GfGd website):



Hazard communication and Geologists: a help or hindrance?

This topic was addressed by Professor Stewart in his keynote on the ethics of seismic risk communication. His core theme addressed the role geologist should play in saving lives in the event of a natural hazard. He used the example of his work in Istanbul, where a large and devastating earthquake is geologically likely in the future. He explored the role of the psyche in resident’s attitudes to the seismic risk they face. In many areas of high-risk, the picture is a complex one and the situation is often politically charged. In the case of Istanbul, the demolition of ‘dangerous’ buildings in high-risk areas was negated by the construction of reportedly unaffordable, earthquake-proof housing. Many residents believed that seismic risk was being used as a political tool to remove them from their neighbourhoods.

So where, asked Stewart, should the geologist slot into the picture? Are they only responsible for reporting the scientific information and exempt from decision-making and education? Or should they shoulder a sense of responsibility to ensure their results reach the people at risk? Should they help by educating about risk or is this really just a hindrance to those involved? In Stewart’s eyes, the geologist has an important part to play, but she must be appropriately trained in the method and timing of communication in order to be most successful. Hopefully, this is something GFGD may address in its capacity to inspire and influence a new generation of geologists.
  

Here my far-from-exhaustive summary ends. To finish would like to thoroughly encourage any geologists (or geologists-in-training) to get involved with GFGD. It was a really insightful day organised by a very deserving charity.

This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Keri McNamara, a PhD student in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.

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