In mid-November I represented the CSEG at the semi-annual Canadian Geoscience Council (CGC) meetings, held this time in Québec City, so my comments this month will relate to the CGC.
The CGC has tried to be an effective umbrella organization for the earth sciences at the national level, but in recent years has drifted into irrelevancy. The CSEG, as a member organization, has continued to pay its dues, with each successive CSEG Executive wringing its hands over whether it was a waste of money or not. When the ongoing question of whether the CSEG should belong to the CGC fell into my lap, I found out that the CGC itself was facing an internal watershed – should it drift on into oblivion, or reinvent itself as an effective body? The CGC chose the latter; it identified its failings and weaknesses, and started to take steps to fix them and overhaul itself. I made it a personal mini-mandate for the CSEG to support this process during my presidential tenure, with the understanding that next year’s executive would re-evaluate based on the progress seen to date.
After attending the November meetings I can report that I feel very positive and optimistic about the CGC and its future, although much work remains to be done. One of the first steps taken (in early 2006) was to define a new structure. One of the main purposes of a national umbrella body is to provide an effective advocacy voice for communications with the federal government. The feds, when developing industrial policy, are only interested in the economic impact a particular sector brings to the table. The CGC in the past was dominated by the academic world, and thus was unable to clearly articulate the connection between the earth sciences and the Canadian economy, and unable to establish relevancy to the government. The new CGC structure was defined to address this. The six main earth science sectors were identified (energy, minerals, academia, government, environment, and surficial); these sectors will now supply the Presidents on an annual rotating basis, with the first two coming from the two biggest sectors (in terms of employment) – energy first, then minerals.
Over the summer a very careful Presidential selection process was undertaken, with an extremely successful result – the new CGC President is Ian Young, V.P., New Ventures at EnCana, and highly respected in our sector. So that was an extremely important first step forward. The Québec meetings marked the passing of the Presidential torch from Harvey Thorleifson on to Ian. Once this was done, several motions concerned with the overhaul of the organization were discussed and voted on. A key one was the renaming of the organization – the new name is the Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences CFES (the acronym lends itself to the spoken “café”), FCST in French.
Six priority initiatives were defined, with the idea that achieving these would get the CFES off to a good start, generate credibility, and create positive momentum.
Investigate insurance for member societies (Directors / Officers liability and Field Trip insurance).
Conference Calendar – prepare and post on CFES-FCST website a list of conferences up to and including 2011.
Internal Communications – find an editor for a CFES-FCST Newsletter.
External Communications – establish a coordinating committee between member societies, and coordinate first responders of each member society.
Jobs and Recruitment – poll major employers in each sector for HQP gaps and needs, and establish a demographics snapshot for the Earth Sciences.
Set up a “Careers in the Earth Sciences” web site via CGEN.
We also had an extremely interesting and informative presentation from a representative of the American Geological Institute (AGI), a strong organization started in 1948, and most closely resembling what the CFES aspires to. The AGI aims to facilitate and coordinate communication between American earth science organizations, and to fill in the gaps between these organizations. It has built up a viable business model mainly based on textbook sales (US$6.3m in 2005!) It maintains a presence in Washington so that decision makers there are more likely to be aware of earth science issues and desires. It also plays a critical role in defending the earth sciences in the rough and tumble, and highly political world of U.S. school curricula. The way it was portrayed to us, just as the AGI helps snuff out an uprising of anti-science creationists in Texas, they get a flare up of Intelligent Design politics in Kansas, and so on! I suspect our educational world is less of a battlefield and more of a landscape, but we do have similar concerns north of the border, and the CFES hopes to address these. There has been a dramatic decline in earth science content in Canadian school curricula, notably in high schools.
In his closing Québec City remarks, Ian spoke about how each of us representing the many areas of earth science activity across Canada feels a sense of community within our respective organizations, but that we are also all members of the larger family of Canadian earth scientists. That really struck a chord in me and I felt quite inspired. Those of you that know me, and the cynical and jaded streak I possess, may be surprised by that, but it’s true! Whether it’s a seismic interpreter in Calgary, or a hard rock geologist working on Baffin Island, or a GSC paleontologist plugging away in an Ottawa lab, or a marine sedimentologist in Nova Scotia, or a West Coast earthquake seismologist, all of us have in common a love of the natural world, the quest to understand it better, and we all share the excitement of discovery – it could be an oil pool, a new fossil, or an ore body. All of us know the importance our science has to the Canadian economy, and we all want to see subsequent generations have access to the kind of educations and jobs afforded to us. I believe the CFES can play a large role in making that happen, and I believe each of us, via the CSEG and CFES, can be part of that process.