State Board of Education
Written Testimony of Scott W. Tinker

I visited my son’s eighth grade science class at Canyon Vista Middle School this month. They are in the midst of their Earth science unit. Unfortunately, this is the last time that my son will be able to study Earth science in public school in Texas.

I asked the class some questions to gauge their perspective on several topics:
• What is the definition of a scientific theory? Majority response: a concept or an idea about something, as in “I have a theory . . . ” Reality: a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world. The kids, like most adults, confused theory with hypothesis. A scientific hypothesis that survives experimental testing becomes a theory.
• What do geologists do? Majority response: look at rocks. Reality: study all Earth systems that lead to understanding energy, water, minerals, climate, oceans, evolution of life, other planets . . . and rocks.
• What tools do geologists use in their work? Majority response: hammers, compasses, microscopes, and seismic data. Reality: Electron microprobes, scanning electron microscopes, mass spectrometers, massive parallel computing clusters, satellite, airborne, and ground-based electromagnetic, lidar, sonar, radar, and other remote sensing devices, high-end 3D and 4D visualization . . . and hammers, compasses, microscopes, and seismic data. In fact, the energy industry is second perhaps only to the space industry in terms of development and application of advanced technology.
• What percentage of total U.S. energy consumption comes from renewable energy (wind, solar, hydrothermal, biomass)? Majority response: range of answers from 10% to 50%. Reality, about half of one percent (0.5%) every year for the past 20 years.
• What is the source of a significant amount of the water that farmers and ranchers in west and north Texas use for crops and livestock? Majority response: rain, lakes, and streams. Reality: nonreplenishable aquifers.

In all fairness, I didn’t expect these eighth graders to know the answers to these questions. Such topics might be investigated in a high school Earth science course; unfortunately, this cannot, and therefore will not, happen today in Texas.

I’m Scott Tinker. I am Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology and the State Geologist of Texas. I am a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin and hold the Allday Chair of Subsurface Geology. Prior to coming to the University of Texas 4 years ago, I spent 18 years working in exploration, production, and research in the energy industry. My father is a geologist. My brother is a geophysicist. I am admittedly biased, but also informed on this topic.

More important than my bias, I am the father of four children, three of whom are currently attending Texas public schools. It is for them that I come before you to offer unqualified support for Recommendation I of the Texas Earth Science Task Force. Earth science courses must be a core credit option to satisfy the science requirement for students enrolled in Recommended and Distinguished Achievement high school plans.

Every day, Texas citizens are impacted by decisions regarding water resources, waste disposal, coastal erosion, flooding, development of mineral resources such as sand, gravel, and limestone, and development of energy resources such as oil, natural gas, coal, hydroelectric, and renewables. To cast wise votes, read a newspaper with authority, or participate in public debate, citizens need to be educated in the basic concepts of Earth science. Water, energy, and land use are critical issues facing all of us, and in my view it is unacceptable that we face these potential crises with uninformed citizens. The cost of ignorance of these issues is simply too great.

An informed citizen should know
• That the theory of evolution is not a hypothesis, but rather an organized system of accepted knowledge that incorporates facts and laws and applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a set of phenomena.
• That to fuel the energy demands of Texas and the nation requires a sensible and phased transition away from coal and oil into natural gas and eventually a hydrogen economy, and that “renewable” sources provide excellent regional supplements to energy supply but supply only one half of one percent (0.5%) of the U.S. energy demand.
• That an aquifer is an underground geological formation or group of formations that contain water, that aquifers provide a significant portion of drinking, ranching, and farming water in Texas, that contamination can result from several sources and that we can control many of these, and that recharge varies by aquifer.
• That tropical storms and flooding represent annual threats to Texas and that erosion of our coastline is an ongoing process.
• That climate change has been occurring for millennia, but anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases are perhaps now accelerating and could impact climate change.
• That continued human development in Texas will require ever-increasing supplies of limestone, sand, and gravel.

Texas will need natural scientists, policy makers, and engineers to deal with various natural resource and environmental fields of endeavor, and children need to be exposed to these exciting ideas and concepts. For the next 50 years, fossil fuels will continue to be an important part of the energy supply and hundreds of thousands of Texans will be employed in exploring, developing, refining, and transporting the fuels or regulating the industry. The negative environmental impact of these activities has decreased dramatically over the past three decades and will continue to do so as informed young people enter the workplace. Alternative energy sources will be excellent supporting sources of energy during this transition, but they cannot meet our energy needs in the near and mid term. Citizens need to know this.

Texas will need scientists to interact with decision makers to deal with the commodity of water and the various surface, subsurface, desalinization, and commercialization options available to supply water. The need to address environmental issues associated with water will be with us forever. Increasing numbers of young people will be employed in fields related to hydrology and environmental management.

Many of the great challenges facing us in science and engineering today occur at the overlap between traditional sciences. The Earth sciences are multidisciplinary and address precisely these scientific overlaps. Earth sciences represent a true integration of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and computer sciences and provide an organizational framework for how we view much of the natural world. Earth sciences combine observation with analysis and can stimulate an abiding interest in all science.

The Earth sciences also illustrate the consequences that the actions of humans and other life forms have on the land, and provide an understanding of the options that are available to deal with such impact. Whether the students live in a large city or a small town, in the country, or along the coast, a well-taught course in the Earth sciences will enrich their lives and the lives of those around them.

I strongly support, and urge you to approve, Recommendation I as unanimously recommended by the Texas Earth Science Task Force.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I think Texas kids, including mine, will thank you as well.

Scott W. Tinker, Ph.D.

Citizen of Texas and father of four
Director, Bureau of Economic Geology and State Geologist of Texas
Professor and Allday Chair of Subsurface Geology, Department of Geological Sciences
The University of Texas at Austin