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Andrew Alden

Earth Science Literacy

By October 14, 2013

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Today is day 2 of Earth Science Week 2013, and its theme is "Earth Science Literacy." The folks at earthscienceweek.org have a set of "big ideas" videos to support the day, and the teacher's-friend project DLESE has its set of Earth Science Literacy Maps. Those are great things for educators, especially for homeschoolers, and I have only praise for them.

On a more everyday level, speaking among ordinary citizens, I would propose a few simple truths as the basics of Earth science literacy.

  • We owe everything in civilization to Earth: metals and fuels and crushed stone and chemical feedstocks don't grow on trees. In fact, we need all those things to grow trees in the first place.
  • Earth has its own agenda: the atmosphere, hydrosphere and all the other -spheres interact in slow, but calculable ways. We can dam most of the world's rivers, and we can model how the Earth will respond. We can dig into a mountainside, and there are engineers who can tell us out how to do so safely. We can dump carbon dioxide massively into the atmosphere, and climatologists can tell us the likely consequences.
  • Earth has a long, strange history, longer than we can imagine and stranger than we ever knew. Four and a half billion years of changes have left their marks in the rocks—which preserve a fossil and chemical record of Earth's history, just like a giant stack of documents, written in a language we barely know.
  • Earth science needs a steady stream of support: Science is carried out by a community of people that includes equipment makers, museums and other archives, skilled specialists in many fields from physics to biologists, and a base of support similar to the one that keeps the space program alive.

I'm Earth-science literate because I adore this field, all of it. The rest of this week is too short a time to keep sharing that passion—even the rest of my life is.

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