Reflecting on the Emerging Field of Geoethics

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Apr 11, 2019
by Lucy Browett
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Reflecting on the Emerging Field of Geoethics

Salzburg Global Fellows co-author chapter in new book on exploring geoethics Salzburg Global Fellows Martin Bohle and Rika Preiser at Schloss Leopoldskron

It’s common for first-time participants at Salzburg Global Seminar not to know what to expect during a program. For Martin Bohle, an advisor to senior management at the Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission, the one thing he did expect was to stand out.

“I was prepared to be the outsider – [an] official of the European Commission (Eurocrat) and STEM-loving,” Bohle said. “In that sense, it was true, but [it] did not feel like that after some initially very suspicious looks faded away.”

Bohle arrived at Schloss Leopoldskron at the beginning of 2018 for the Salzburg Global program, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology, and Making Sense of the Future. The program, which ran from February 20 to 25, sought to answer questions about the arts, technological advancements, environmental preservation and defining the future.

Despite Bohle’s concerns of being an outsider, his experience at Salzburg led to a significant outcome: finding a new co-author for a book he had begun writing with his colleagues called Exploring Geoethics - Ethical Implications, Societal Contexts, and Professional Obligations of the Geosciences.

The co-author in question was Rika Preiser, a senior researcher at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

Bohle and Preiser both spoke on the program panel entitled “Connecting Creative Foresight and Policymaking.”

As a result of meeting in Salzburg, both Preiser and Bohle co-authored the chapter "Exploring Societal Intersections of Geoethical Thinking."

Bohle said of the collaboration, “Her thoughts have enriched the book and strengthened the reflections about system dynamics and cultural contexts. In turn, she [has] discovered new ground that enriches her thinking.”

The book itself is a joint effort of Bohle’s colleagues, all of whom are experts in geoscience with different professional backgrounds to reflect on ethics in geoscience. He said, “We present the emerging field of geoethics, its potential, and limitations.

“This work is about how ethical subjects relate to professional duties, scholarly interests, activities in professional geoscience associations, or responsible citizenship in times of anthropogenic global change.”

Bohle and Preiser have since joined forces again to create the publication Handling GeoEndowments Geoethically for this year’s EGU General Assembly, which took place earlier this month.

Reflecting on his time in Salzburg, Bohle said, “Participating at [the program] strengthened my determination to think about ‘The Future’ from various angles.

“I got exposed to people and their ideas that otherwise I would not have met. In consequence, I understood deeper that geosciences have a cultural meaning, in an educational sense as well as in daily societal practices. That meaning needs to be expressed, what brings artists closer to my thinking - thanks to Salzburg Global. The book refers to arts in some places, but that relationship I have to explore further.”

How did the program impact him personally and professionally? Bohle said his network had been enriched and he had become exposed to different ideas. He added, “This [experience] has co-shaped what I did last year; the book is one example.”


The Salzburg Global program, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, was part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The program was supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the program can be found by clicking on the following link: https://bit.ly/2Z6mcw0