Bethe, who died at home in Ithaca, New York yesterday, was a titan of physics and a shining example of a scientist engaged in public life. As William Broad's obituary
in today's New York Times
puts it, "What is perhaps most remarkable about Dr. Bethe is how his long life embodied a deep faith not in the ultimate authority of science but of people and the human spirit - a surprising stance for a man often viewed as one of the field's high priests. He understood its limits. His personal philosophy seemed deceptively simple: science and technology, while good friends of great importance, cannot save humanity. Instead, he taught that only humane reasoning and the struggle to foster just human relationships would keep civilization from using the accomplishments of science to destroy itself."
While that was written with the atomic bomb in mind, geologists are deeply involved in the creation of wealth and the impact of technology upon the global environment, and they too ought to concern themselves with the just use of scientific knowledge.