GEOETHICS ((Greek) geo – earth and  ethos - habit, custom, disposition, sustained nature of a phenomenon) - is a discipline focusing on the relationships in the “human being – inanimate nature” system arising from the study of the Earth and its mineral resources, field exploration, mineral resources production and practical use and also, of the use of the subsurface during the construction and operation of the underground facilities unrelated to the mineral production. The term has been originally introduced by Czech scholar and organizer of science Vaclav Nemec, in 1991. At the symposium devoted to the 70-th anniversary of Professor Adam Trembecki (Krakov, Poland) he made a presentation called "Technical and ethical issues associated with computer modeling of open-cast mining operations" where he first publicly voiced the idea of the need to develop internationally applied ethical principles of mineral resources replacement and use and, he called the new discipline Geoethics.

Geoethics is a separate discipline within the scientific research area called the Earth Ethics that targets the relationships in the study and use of the ultimately large conglomerate consisting of the geological and geographical settings and their respective systems and, the biosphere that encompass the entire planet and present themselves as the aggregate of the animate and inanimate natural parameters (Fig. 1).

Jamais Cascio, the US futurologist who is known by his forecasts and development of the future moral norms and standards, defines Geoethics as “ the set of guidelines pertaining to human behaviors that can affect larger planetary geophysical systems, including atmospheric, oceanic, geological, and plant/animal ecosystems. These guidelines are most relevant when the behaviors can result in long-term, widespread and/or hard-to-reverse changes in planetary systems, although even transient, local and superficial alterations can be considered through the prism of geoethics. Geoethical principles do not forbid long-term and widespread changes, but require a consideration of repercussions and so-called "second-order effects" (that is, the usually-unintended consequences arising from the interaction of the changed system and other connected systems)”.

Geoethics is based on the perception of the planet Earth, its geological envelopes, its subsurface and all geological features as fundamental basis of mankind’s life, on acknowledging the equality and equal value of the inanimate and also, on limiting the humans’ rights with respect to the inanimate nature.   

Key postulates of the geoethics:

1. The earth, its subsurface and the geological features on its surface have an inherent right to exist whether or not they are of any value for the humanity, just due to their inherent value;

2. Natural resources, including the mineral resources possess their inherent properties that do not allow to translate some of their value parameters in terms of market prices or any other similar  pragmatic measures;

3. Non-uniform distribution of mineral deposits across the planet calls for entirely new approach to the management and utilization of the mineral resources and also, to the distribution of revenues generated from exploiting such deposits;

4. Depletion of mineral resources, their limited and finite nature leave one to wonder about availability and rights of the present and future generations on the mineral resources and, the decisions taken by national and  regional governments in the area may cause wars; presently, there is pressing need for developing international tools to regulate  the use of the mineral resources, expert reviews including the ethical review of the resolutions being passed and broad dissemination of the information about any impacts from such resolutions;

5. The geography of the mineral operations is less dependent on the availability of accessible mineable deposits in a given territory, while it is increasingly determined by social environment and the environmental standards applicable in the territory; there is notable shift of mining centers to the third-world countries.    

6. Landscapes and the subsurface should be treated not just like protected features located within the mineral production and processing areas , they are to be viewed as the heritage of the future generations;

7. Sustainable development assumes priority to recycled products use, where recycling process does not affect all of the Earth’s Spheres as adversely as in the original extraction and processing of the minerals.

The subjectmatters of the geoethics are geoethical situations, issues and dilemmas.

Geoethical situations arise where there are two different views on what is acceptable and unacceptable in a specific situation. For example, in general, a geoethical situation arises every time when a decision is taken whether to start mining operations if there are two (or, more) targets of equal value. A reasonable solution would be based on the comprehensive analysis of the available geological data, economical, technical, social, environmental and other information, as well as on assessment of its objective nature, reliability and fullness and, on the conclusions that would assist in taking the right decision.

Geoethical issues are more complex than geoethical situations because they imply availability of several ethical options. It is essential to see which of the available options would benefit all of the concerned parties. One good example is the pertroleum production operation in the continental shelf zone. Ever growing demand for the hydrocarbons cannot be simply met by production from the continental fields. However, the Deepwater Horizon disaster that occurred on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, taking 11 lives and destroying the platform and, as the result oil was gushing from the damaged oil well for four months spilling out, according to different estimates from 2.9 to 4.9 Mbbl, resulted in the biggest environmental catastropohy in the USA and the nearby countries. Less than one month before the accident, the US President made the program for the development of the continental shelf public. That program provided access to significant blocks off south-eastern coast. Ban on petroleum operation in the greater part of the US shelf was imposed in 1981. Since that time, US petroleum companies spent a lot of effort trying to convince the authorities and the general public of the need to develop new yet untapped resources. The aftermath of the accident will affect all players in the petroleum industry including producers as well as consumers, local communities and government organizations. Those events served as yet another reminder that petroleum industry is a complex one and most activities there are associated with high-level risks and, one can only reduce the risk to zero level if all offshore exploration and production activities are stopped and the demand for energy is curbed or covered by the alternative sources of energy. According to some scholars, there is no alternative to hydrocarbons in the mid term, anywhere in the world. The offshore exploration and production may be sanctioned, accepting for granted, though, that, from time to time there will be problems causing harm to people and adversely impacting the environment. The effects may manifest themselves in higher oil production costs due to a range of additional risk margins and costs that will need to be taken in account in planning further offshore petroleum operations and, in delayed new projects that may become uneconomic or socially or, politically unacceptable under the given conditions. Geoethical issues may be ranked according to their significance for certain territories, as: global, regional, local and private (individual).  

Geoethical dilemmas arise where, under the given circumstances any decision will result in losses for one of the parties. In that case one will have to choose a lesser-evil option because none of the solutions will benefit all. Such dilemmas often occur in a crisis situation, like, in case of a natural calamity. During the recent unusually intensive fires that occurred in the abandoned peat excavation areas in the Moscow region in the summer of 2010, the fire resulted in huge pollution of atmospheric air (MAC exceeded dozens of times), loss of vast forest areas and loss of human lives, Russian Government resolved that tens of kilometers of waterways be arranged for water logging of the peat fields, sourcing water from river Oka. However, old drainage systems that had been built before the peat excavation started were not dismantled.  Huge mass of water was pumped out of the Oka that shallowed during that unusually hot and dry summer. Even now when the fires have been successfully put out, the peatland remains potentially hazardous sources of fire. Under the circumstances, a serious decision was taken that bogland be restored there in its original natural condition. It is fairly easy to forecast the consequence (changes in vegetation and wildlife, water bodies and their hydrological conditions), while any positive impact is not evident because the natural equilibrium that formed in the past decades will be destroyed under the pretext of restoring the natural environment.

Important contributors to the development of geoethics are V. Nemec and L.Nemecova (Czech Republic),  Professor А. Trembecki (Poland), Professor F. Wilke (Germany), Professor J. Bussac (France), Professor I. Martinez (Spain), Professor G. Gold, Prof. М. Komarov, Prof. N. Shilin (Russia), Prof. V. Ghur (Ukraine).

Geoethical situations, issues, dilemmas, outcomes of the theoretical investigations and applications are discussed at the Geoethics workshops held under the aegis of the bi-annual  international symposium “Gornorudny Přibram” (Czhech Republic) that has been held since 1992. Since 1997, there is a separate geoethics workshop existing in the framework of the international conference «New Ideas in Earth Science» (Russian Federal Geological Exploration University, Moscow). Also, beginning from 1996, a separate geoethics workshop has been existing under the international geological congresses held once in four years. The workshop is chaired by Vaclav Nemec, the founder of the Geoethics (Tables 1 and 2). Discussions helped evolve a solid theoretical base as well as accumulate data from applied research work, performed by researchers and applied science specialists, including Russian ones (О.S. Bryukhovetski, А. М. Gaidin, N. P. Grigoriev, А.А. Deryagin, А.V. Zavarzin, О.L. Knyazev, О.V. Korotkova, А.G. Krasavin, А.I. Krivtsov, B.G. Kuzmin, А.А. Neghinskaya, N.C. Nikitina, А.L. Nikolsky, L.P. Ryzhova, G. S. Senatskaya,  Е.B. Solntseva, V.V. Chernikov, V.К. Chistyakov, М.А. Shamina, V.V. Shatalov et al.).  


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