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Craig Simmons

University of Newcastle, Australia | Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Engineering, Science and Environment

Professor Craig T. Simmons FAA FTSE is a leading groundwater scientist, recognised for contributions to groundwater science, science leadership, education, and policy reform, working across the public and private sectors.

Craig was Foundation Director of the ARC National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training and Pro Vice-Chancellor Research at Flinders University. He was Executive Director for Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences at ARC.

Craig is currently Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Engineering, Science and Environment at the University of Newcastle where he provides executive leadership to the Schools of Architecture and Built Environment; Engineering; Environmental and Life Sciences; Information and Physical Sciences; and Psychological Sciences.

Craig is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering and American Geophysical Union. He has received awards including the Australian Academy of Science’s Anton Hales Medal for distinguished contributions to research in the Earth Sciences, South Australian Scientist of the Year, Australian Water Professional of the Year, Australian Award for University Teaching, and International Association of Hydrogeologists Presidents’ Award.

He is a lead author of the United Nations World Water Development Report “Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible” and coauthor of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.

Groundwater: Why Science Alone is Not Enough

Wed 29 Nov. 8.40am - 9.25am

For as long as humans have existed on planet Earth groundwater has been a fundamental resource for our survival. Even today half of the world’s drinking water and nearly half of the water used for growing food is groundwater. Unfortunately, however, our groundwater resources often pay the price of the very progress they enable. Groundwater is front and centre in critical contemporary issues about our environment, food and water security, coal seam gas and fracking, mining, energy and nuclear waste disposal. In its Global Risks 2015 Report, the World Economic Forum ranked water crises as the number one risk in terms of impact to society – ahead of weapons of mass destruction, spread of infectious disease, failure of climate change adaptation and fiscal crises.

Because of its importance, groundwater use and management is a divisive, contentious, controversial and emotive issue. Tensions between farmers, mining companies, and the environment are at an all-time high. The community is alarmed by fracking in shale gas production and the possibility it could contaminate groundwater. Managing groundwater – scientifically, environmentally, economically and socially – is a grand challenge.

Humans are fundamentally community creatures. We often hear about a social license to operate for mining or a new government policy, but what does that really mean, and what does it take to gain such a license? We, as scientists, tend to think and act as if science is enough and that having ‘found’ a solution it is someone else’s problem to ‘make it happen’. However, the truth is much more complex, and however much we might not like to hear it, science is necessary but insufficient for effective, efficient groundwater management and governance.

It is no longer enough to produce a report and send it out for implementation. We no longer live in a world in which there is one single source of truth. Science itself is challenged on a daily basis. There is public misinformation and disinformation, understanding and misunderstanding, interest and disinterest, unconscious bias, emotion, perceptions, not to mention psychosocial and socioeconomic drivers that shape how we think. As scientists, policy makers, managers and human beings we ignore these at our peril.

Groundwater – as we think of it within our academic and scientific context – is a science. Groundwater is also fundamentally and crucially a social science. This talk explores bridging the gap between these two worlds, making the case for a broader understanding of science and the many roles it plays upon which to build a more inclusive and effective future.

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