The Geological Column

Will Meadows

In politics, there is a dangerous gap between science and policy. Maybe this isn’t the exact thought you had in your lab this morning, or late last doing that long government assignment. It definitely isn’t always mine.

Yet, if we’re going to spend so many hours in labs, in front of computers and deep into text books for the sake of getting majors that will eventually allow us to be influential, why not see the usefulness of our knowledge now and do something?

With the Human Rights Month coming to an end at Lawrence, it is interesting to think about the potential impact Lawrence students can make on real-world issues. In this week’s Geological Column, I’ll show two examples of how geology relates to real-world issues at Lawrence. Whatever your major, you can make an impact.

A group of students committed to the environment has been organized with a movement across North America to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would pump oil from the Alberta Tar Sands, making it one of the most ecologically devastating fossil fuel projects in history. Greenfire members are on their way to Washington, D.C. to protest the project and are also holding numerous public events to educate our local communities.

This political movement is essentially geological. With a thorough knowledge of climate and carbon implications and an analysis of the ever-increasing destruction of the Alberta watersheds, geologists have the most powerful tool in winning this legal and political battle — scientific truth. Thanks to Lawrence students, that truth will be heard.

In the eastern Honduras, four indigenous groups are fighting for their livelihoods on the Patuca River. A series of economically unviable dam projects being used as a political statement threaten their way of life. Hearing the call of these indigenous groups, Lawrence students, in collaboration with students from around the country, have founded the Partners of the Patuca, an international campaign to stop these dams.

What might actually stop these dams? Geologists! As of today, a major piece of the campaign’s goal is working with scientists from various U.S. colleges to review the Environmental Impact Assessment of the dam projects, and to show, through science, that neither the hydrology upon which the economics of the project is based nor the ecological impacts have truly been taken into account. Lawrence students are working to educate key political players on these facts, working to help the indigenous tell their story, Again, knowledge into action.

So knowledge is important, but knowledge without action is not the Lawrence way. I’m proud to say that majors at Lawrence have shifted from a goal to something more active and meaningful.