Sunsetting the Global Climate Change Committee

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

The AAPG Executive Committee met at the International Conference and Exhibition in Rio de Janeiro in November to discuss a variety of issues, among them the role and activities of the AAPG Global Climate Change Committee. This standing committee was formed several years ago with the mission statement “to promote and facilitate various fields of geologic study that relate to global climate change and potential solutions.” Its unstated mission was to improve AAPG’s image after a public relations setback.

The talented and passionate individuals on this committee have served under the able leadership of committee co-chairs Priscilla Grew and John Armentrout, and they have organized several well-attended forums. The committee discussions have been impressive in their range and professional tone. Scientific balance on the issues has been the committee’s goal, and over the years this committee probably has come as close to balance as is possible given the nature of the debate.

The committee activities have indeed advanced the goal of improving the public perception of AAPG, but recent developments suggest that they have reached the limit of what can be done without becoming a distraction and undoing that progress. The issue before the Executive Committee in Rio was whether or not the Global Climate Change Committee’s discussions and goals are continuing to serve the petroleum-geoscience interests of the AAPG membership.

People on various sides of the climate change issue have argued that AAPG has a moral obligation to take a stand on the climate change questions, and by sponsoring specific forum themes we have in fact implied that AAPG endorses specific viewpoints. But that presumes that AAPG is the keeper of the climate change truth. In fact, during the Executive Committee review, we asked questions such as: Does AAPG have experience or credibility in that field? Will taking a stand help us find oil and gas? Will continuing to be publicly involved create or save jobs in petroleum geology? Does either side have a politically winnable argument? Will staying involved help our public image?

The answer to all these questions was a definitive “No.” Unless one merely wants to irritate the opposition, arguably not our mission, there was no advantage to inserting AAPG more deeply into the climate change debate. Climate change is peripheral at best to our science. Moreover, the debate is becoming political rather than scientific, with less-than-scientific passion on both sides. AAPG is not designed to be a political organization.

AAPG, as a scientific association of petroleum geologists, has the mission to foster and disseminate solid geoscience relevant to finding the oil and gas that power today’s civilization, and we’re very good at it. Our knowledge, expertise and credibility regarding climate change are concentrated in our familiarity with the marvelously wild changes in climate that are documented in the sedimentary and stratigraphic record. Moreover, we are the most knowledgeable people in the world about subsurface fluid flow in heterogeneous geologic media, whether that fluid is oil, gas, or sequestered CO 2, and therefore we can contribute to potential climate change solutions when they are needed. AAPG can and has creditably published on those subjects. In contrast, as a group we have no particular claim to knowledge of global atmospheric geophysics through either our education or our daily professional work.

For our members who want to follow the climate change discussions there are numerous, easily accessed Web sites. If there’s a demand, and if it helps us to find hydrocarbons or characterize potential sequestration reservoirs, AAPG can host climate-related technical sessions at our meetings – but like our other sessions, they should be composed of presenters who are doing the primary research.

In the meantime, the Executive Committee saw no advantage and several significant potential pitfalls in maintaining an AAPG Global Climate Change Committee. The AAPG Global Climate Change Committee has fulfilled its mission with passion and energy, providing lively debate. The members are sincerely thanked for a job well done.

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