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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Bouyoucos Conference

Bouyoucos Conference on Soil Stewardship

 In an Era of Global Climate Change


An interdisciplinary group representing various specializations within soil science, philosophy, and policy met in the historic Steinhart Lodge at the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, NE for a two-day Bouyoucos Conference in June of 2009.  The goal of this Bouyoucos Conference was to provide an opportunity for scientists to explore the ethical aspects of environmental management with a particular focus on soil stewardship as it relates to global climate change.  The 18 attendees represented federal agencies, the Congressional Soils Caucus, land-grant and other public universities, and private industry.  The conference was organized by Tom Sauer (USDA-ARS, National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, Ames, IA), John Norman (Department of Soil Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Monique Leclerc (Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, University of Georgia).   


Conference participants were challenged to develop insights and perspectives to enable more effective dialogue with non-scientific audiences more accustomed to ethical arguments than scientific analyses.  Specific questions to be addressed included:


-        What are the ethical principles that affect individuals’ decision-making processes regarding environmental issues such as soil degradation in relation to climate change?

-        Does awareness of these ethical underpinnings allow scientists to better understand and potentially have greater influence on the decision-making process?

-        What are the potential risks and benefits of engaging audiences in discussions that go beyond scientific analyses into the realm of environmental ethics?

-        Can we develop recommendations for soil scientists interested in participating in these discussions that will improve their ability to effectively engage non-technical audiences and better communicate the value of our science? 


The conference was divided into three ½-day sessions focusing on sustainability and food security, ethical perspectives of climate change mitigation, and enhancing communication between scientists and non-secular audiences.  Each session was led off with an invited presentation.  Fred Kirschenmann spoke on “Re-framing the Science of Sustainable Agriculture”, arguing that energy prices and climate change will necessitate a new, more ecologically-tuned agriculture that makes restoration of soil health a top priority.  Michael Nelson, in his presentation “Caring for the Land: Climate, Environmental Ethics, and a Changing World”, noted that science is designed to discover facts but actions require moral judgments.  Due to their widely different training and perspectives, Nelson argued that collaboration between scientists and ethicists will be very challenging but essential to developing effective and fair climate change mitigation strategies.  Cal DeWitt presented “Re-ligating Science, Ethics, and Praxis: Land and Soil Stewardship in Religious Perspective” highlighting the importance of connecting science and ethics with praxis to enable sound environmental management.  Nine volunteered presentations on subjects related to the three ½-day themes and generous time for group discussion rounded out the conference program.


The last morning of the conference was spent discussing possible conference products.  It was decided to focus initial efforts on composing a statement that captured the spirit of the presentations and discussions that would serve as a call for action to improve soil stewardship.  Results of pre- and post-conference surveys of the attendees were used to provide a preliminary assessment of the group’s perspectives and support for different aspects of the statement.  The keynote speakers, led by Michael Nelson, agreed to develop a first draft, which was then circulated among the attendees and revised until a final version was agreed upon.  The final statement is titled “An Urgent Appeal for Soil Stewardship”. The goal of this statement is to heighten awareness of the climate change implications for soil sustainablity especially the need to connect the science with the ethical underpinnings of potential policy initiatives.


Conference participants have presented posters at the 2009 meeting of the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Society and the 2009 Pittsburgh Soil Science Society of America annual meetings.  The Appeal has been posted on departmental websites and/or distributed to faculty members and has been the subject of articles in newsletters of the International Plant Nutrition Institute, the International Union of Soil Sciences Commission on the History, Philosophy and Sociology of Soil Science, and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference as well as a news piece in the journal Soil Survey Horizons. 


This Bouyoucos Conference was made possible by generous support from the Bouyoucos Conference Committee of the Soil Science Society of America. 


Urgent Appeal for Soil Stewardship


2009 SSSA Annual Meeting Bouyoucos Poster


Group Picture of Bouyoucos Conference Attendees 

Last Modified: 5/7/2010