Thursday, October 19, 2017

Education: How to Address Public Concerns on Geological and Geothermal Energy Projects

Communicating contested geoscience to the public: Moving from ‘matters of fact’ to ‘matters of concern’ (Earth-Science Reviews)

by Iain S.Stewart & Deirdre Lewis

Geological issues are increasingly intruding on the everyday lives of ordinary people. Whether it is the onshore extraction of oil and gas, the subsurface injection of waters for geothermal power or the deep storage of waste products, communities across the world are being confronted with controversial geological interventions beneath their backyards.

Communicating these complex scientific and technical issues is made more challenging by the general public's unfamiliarity with the geological realm. Cognitive studies confirm a cultural dissonance with the subsurface and highlight lay anxieties about tampering with nature. 

In addressing those concerns, factual information is argued to be subordinate to values and beliefs in shaping public perspectives on contested geoscientific issues. In this context, scientists' attention to technical accuracy and their emphasis on professional consensus may do little to influence multiple publics whose worries instead root into their sense of place, trust and governance, as well as equity and ethics. 

With a growing recognition that it is social rather than technical factors that stir public unease and fuel community outrage, geoscientists need to develop new strategies to engage dissonant publics, underpinned by a culture change in geocommunication from conveying ‘matters of fact’ to brokering ‘matters of concern’.