|The city and its subterranean environment
Let’s start with the final question of the conference session, posed by Dr. Nigel Clark of Lancaster University, What do geo-social futures look like, what do we want from the ground beneath our feet?The Verticality and the Anthropocene session at the RGS-IGB conference saw a merging of perspectives from social scientists and applied geographers to examine ‘the interface between human designs on the subsurface and the malleability of geological formations under both natural and human processes’. Much of the discussion centred on the issue of ownership and governance of the subsurface. Listening to the speakers, where the historical and philosophical approach to this issue was frequently highlighted, I was reminded of the works of Emerson in Nature and Other Essays(i), where the concept of commodity, property and the visual and theoretical connotations we attach to nature is discussed.
Commodity and Property
‘Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul…we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens…What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between?’
|Drilling a groundwater production borehole for
West of Scotland Water, at Machrie, Arran
However what resonated most was Dr. Saskia Vermeylen’s observation that the broader historical and political context of the laws on ownership should be considered, i.e. what additional sentiment is behind the laws as written? This is a concept I can identify with, for example legislation is often brought in after significant events that had large economic, social or environmental impacts and the justification for the new legislation is only apparent to those who remember those events.
Human attachment to the subsurface
|Long Harry Mine, Mid Lincoln Ironstone Mines, Greetwell
So returning to the first question, what is the geo-social future? What do we want from the ground beneath our feet? The growing interest of local communities in the uses of the subsurface, re-connecting with our natural environment is a move in the right direction to answer this question. And the next steps – how do we continue to merge the broader perspectives of the social scientists with the practical approach of the applied scientists?
Read abstracts from the RGS-IGB Verticality and the Anthropocene session here
Find out the urban geoscience research at the British Geological Survey here
(i) Emerson (2009), Nature and Other Essays, Dover Publications Inc. ISBN-13: 978-0-486-46947-8.