Q&A with Jodie Pall – “Geologist wants research for climate justice not corporate interest”

Jodie gives her account of why she did this, the importance of climate justice in her field and more…

University of Sydney student Jodie Pall got the audience talking after dropping a banner reading “Geologist wants research for climate justice not corporate interest” at a Geosciences Awards night earlier this year. It attracted interest given a lot of the geology prizes are funded by mining companies. Jodie gives the Sydney Environment Institute her account of why she did this, the importance of climate justice in her field and more…

What motivated you to drop your banner at the Geosciences Awards Night?

I wanted to open up and make room for discourse about climate change at the School of Geosciences, because it is clear geographers and geologists could be doing more to address the interlocking climatic and humanitarian emergencies affecting our lives. Receiving an award gave me a platform to draw attention to the way our scientific education has been corporatised, with mining and resource extraction being the focus of undergraduate studies in geology. However, the corporatisation of university education affects all students, so I also wanted to challenge the leaders of our university to divest from mining corporations and from polluting industries so that our education and research is not complicit in funding climate change.

Did you receive support from your fellow students/lecturers?

Many academics from the School of Geosciences spoke to me in the days and weeks following the banner drop, supporting the idea that the school needs to get with the times. Phil McManus, the Head of School of Geosciences, expressed similar sentiments and support for students who are speaking up about critical environmental and social justice issues. I think the banner drop didn’t reach students beyond those who attended the awards night, but I know there are students who feel as strongly as I do about climate justice, and I encourage them to contact me or the Fossil Free USYD Campaign.

How do you resolve the dilemma of being a geologist and contributing to resource extraction?

I have been extraordinarily lucky in having teachers who introduced me to plate kinematics, which got me involved in carbon cycle modelling and away from research fuelling resource extraction. More broadly, I don’t believe that being a geologist requires you to work in conflict with what is ecologically just. It’s difficult for geology students, as I imagine it must be for any student dealing with the dismal economic reality of finding full-time employment, to believe that there are meaningful graduate jobs available outside of extractive industries. I think it’s an issue that plagues many geologist students and academics – that they love the science but don’t want to be involved in mining. That’s why I think it’s important that geology is taught at this university in a way that explores the breadth of the field of study, from hydrogeology to geomorphology to volcanology. University study shouldn’t be posed as a dilemma in which you must compromise on your values in order to guarantee future employment.

How is corporate interest dictating your degree?

Throughout my degree, Unit of Study outlines have emphasised how the course will equip me with the graduate skills sought after by mining companies. In fact, the Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia (PESA) and other petroleum industry bodies provide honours and post-graduate scholarships for geology students. If you want to graduate with a geology major, you have to undertake a compulsory subject that centralises on the understanding of petroleum production, mining techniques, mineral deposit formation and the development of hydrocarbon reservoirs in sedimentary basins. Industry information nights primarily feature spokespeople representing oil and gas companies, and I’ve even been told by a lecturer to invest in coal seam gas projects underway in Queensland. The geology research group, EarthByte, is largely funded by the industry partners Chevron, Statoil and Oil Search, which has undeniably influenced the direction of research toward oil and gas exploration. Even though EarthByte is an innovator in tectonics and geodynamics, which can be used to understanding Earth’s past climate, undergraduate students are barely exposed to what are considered the research strengths of the geology academics here at USYD.

How can the study of geology evolve to incorporate climate justice?

I think that geology has a lot to offer the understanding of climate change. Many geology academics here at USYD are part of the EarthByte research group and have helped develop plate tectonic models, which are incredibly useful in studying the feedback loops between the atmosphere, hydrosphere and geosphere. We have a wealth of resources, professors and promising post-graduates able to teach students how to model Earth’s palaeo-climate and the carbon cycle in deep time, and we have the opportunity to band with our geography neighbours to lead multidisciplinary research on alternative energy solutions that actually improve human and non-human lives rather than exacerbating the conditions that endanger them. Overall, geology is a broad field and the school has a responsibility to pursue knowledge that benefits society and to teach geology as an environmental science rather than an extraction-only one.

You can get in contact with Jodie via her email jodie.pall@sydney.edu.au

Image: Supplied