Introduction to CFES
My name is Ian Young and I am the current President of the Canadian Federation of Earth Scientists (Fédération canadienne des sciences de la Terre), a new name for the now 35 year old Canadian Geoscience Council. Ironically, the CGC was founded to provide a united voice for Earth sciences in Canada at a time when there was galvanizing concern over the lack of influence of Earth science on the national stage, a lack of awareness of the impact and benefit of Earth science among the general population, and concern over the recruiting of bright young students with little high school exposure to Earth science into Earth science programs at Canadian Universities. “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. Thirty-five years later, not only does the original mandate still ring true, but in fact with Earth science related topics such as climate change, geohazards and energy supply ever more in the news, it is even more relevant today than it was in the 70s. Unfortunately, while there were many excellent initiatives that came out of CGC and some tireless and energetic Earth scientists contributing countless hours to the cause, CGC never developed into the influential national voice that was envisaged.
Recognizing this, two individuals in different parts of the country and different parts of the Earth science community, initiated a path of renewal that included the presidents of Canada’s major Earth science organizations. A remarkable consensus of opinion across all segments of Earth science developed over the next two years, culminating in a meeting in November 2006 in Quebec City. In all, at the Quebec meeting 20 unanimous motions were passed, including the name change to CFES-FCST, and a presidency that will rotate through the various sectors of Earth science, starting with Oil and Gas. This is how I found myself in the possession of a compelling request from a group of oil and gas organizations late last summer to head up a rejuvenated organization.
As a manager and leader in the oil and gas business, my own petroleum geology had slipped into the background, and I had come to think of myself more as an oil and gas businessman than a geologist. In the months since, after countless phone calls, visits to Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Vancouver Ottawa, Toronto and Quebec City and meeting a fascinating cross-section of committed and passionate Earth scientists, not only have I rediscovered these original roots, but I’ve become more familiar with the whole Earth science community that stretches across every part of this country, a community with profound reach and accomplishment. I have become aware, for example, that in 2006 more money was raised in Toronto for the global mining business than New York, London or any other world market; I’ve learned the annual PDAC conference is the largest Mining-related conference in the world; and I have learned about an NRCan initiative whereby Canadian Earth scientists work with local geoscientists in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia to help local residents protect themselves from the risks associated with volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides.
With Canada’s vast geological landscape and abundance of natural resources it will come as no surprise that Canadian Earth science is held in high regard. Indeed, in a study conducted by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) of the quality and reputation of science in Canada, Earth science was ranked highly in every category. It is the only science that covers the spectrum from extraction of resources through to the understanding of groundwater and the impact of surficial processes on the physical environment. As Earth scientists we are privileged to understand both the benefits of the Earth’s riches and the physical, monetary and environmental costs of their extraction while in addition, dealing with remote and often inconclusive data gives us a balanced understanding of risk and uncertainty. With this broad perspective we are in a unique position to provide meaningful input on many concerns that trouble modern day policy makers and public opinion. It is this milieu in which Earth sciences and CFES finds itself today, and the milieu in which we must build our vision.
Vision for CFES
Defragmenting the Earth science community in Canada, effectively recruiting bright young minds and improving the visibility, awareness and influence of Earth science nationally – it is a tall task facing CFES, but I am optimistic. Any organization that can combine the expertise of physical geographers, hydrogeologists, natural hazard specialists and mining and oil & gas geoscientists, has incredible potential energy to harness. What gives me additional optimism is the strength of the organizations that form the make-up of CFES and their obvious willingness, even eagerness, to collaborate. The current President of the CSPG, one of the largest Earth science organizations in Canada, listed collaboration with and involvement in CFES as one of his four priorities in the coming year.
With this kind of support in mind, my vision for CFES is more along the lines of LINUX, the open source program. Where other software companies compete aggressively for talent and market share, LINUX provides a service that is made powerful by collaboration across the broad community of experts who contribute time and energy to provide a world-class system. Similarly I see CFES as an entity made immeasurably stronger by the diversity and brain power of a broad population, in this case Earth scientists. Continuing on the analogy, CFES will be successful through the success of its member organizations and, with an emphasis on collaboration, leveraging the work and volunteer effort that is already in place, rather than creating a large organization that competes for funding and volunteer effort with those organizations.
Short Term Priorities
A number of initiatives designed to provide useful service to member societies are currently underway:
- Maintain a comprehensive website with links to all member organizations and relevant Earth science related societies. ( www.geoscience.ca or www.cfes-fcst.ca)
- Develop a comprehensive Earth sciences conference calendar ( already posted on the website)
- Create a “Careers in Earth Science” website targeting junior high school children through CGEN (the Canadian Geoscience Education Network)
- Continue work to investigate shared service potential for member societies, including insurance, registration, student chapters and communications.
- Complete a new “highly qualified personnel” survey to provide a snapshot of employment opportunities in the spectrum of Earth science sectors, as well as highlight the expected demographic- related shortfall.
- Partner with the Canadian National Committee for the International Year of Planet Earth, coming up in 2008. As part of that initiative, CFES is the organizational partner for the exciting new book project: Four Billion Years and Counting, Canada’s Geological Heritage planned for publication during 2008.
Longer Term Priorities
In the longer term, CFES must develop a national advocacy and advisory panel made up of distinguished Earth scientists from all the sectors, an essential step towards improving the image, influence and impact of Earth scientists in Canada. The panelists will be selected for both the respect they command among their sector peers, as well as for their ability to impress upon provincial and federal decision-makers the importance of Earth science on Canada’s present and future. I see this august group as part of a two-pronged CFES approach to outreach and advocacy, with the grass-roots, volunteer-driven CGEN as the second part.
I started this article by quoting the original goals of CGC when it was founded in 1972 and I noted how its goals are as relevant today. If we as Earth scientists want to make progress towards those goals we need to fully participate in our local and sectoral societies with an awareness of how that organization is a part of a broader community. To quote the environmental movement, we need to think globally and act locally. By itself CFES will not magically create cooperation, a sense of community, and a greater awareness of Earth science in Canada. That requires a spectrum of strong Earth science organizations full of individuals who recognize the common issues that impact all organizations and have the willingness to collaborate across boundaries. My introduction into the broader Earth science community has made for remarkable discovery. I invite you to actively support your affiliated professional organization and perhaps begin your own journey of discovery.