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Rare Earth scientists

Not enough young people enter the geosciences. A passion for the subject should be sparked early on.

The supply of food, water, energy and mineral resources, along with environmental degradation and climate change, are among the most pressing problems of humankind today. To meet these challenges will require a significant amount of Earth science expertise. Yet the community of geoscientists is small. What's more, rapid growth is not apparent — not least because the geosciences hardly feature in schools. It is high time for children to be encouraged early on to learn more about our planet.

The demand for geoscientists continues to grow, despite the economic downturn. Fossil fuels remain a necessity, and Earth scientists are needed to find new hydrocarbon deposits and help extract them from the ground. And as many countries are shifting their focus towards renewable energy resources, more geoscientists are needed; for example, to assess winds and waves as well as geohazards and environmental impacts. Global demand for metals and minerals is at an all-time high, too.

As a result of these emerging job opportunities for geoscientists, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of geoscientists in the US will grow disproportionately, by 21% between 2010 and 2020. An expanding job market is not just a North American phenomenon: worldwide, the number of qualified scientists is unlikely to meet demand (Nature 473, 243–244; 2011). University enrolment rates are simply too low.

Compared with other science subjects — physics, chemistry and biology — there are only a small number of Earth-science graduates. Registrations for undergraduate courses at US institutions are on the rise (http://www.agiweb.org/workforce/reports.html), but the job market globally is expanding even faster. It is no wonder that few young people choose to study the geosciences, given that in schools Earth science subjects are often not taken very seriously. High-school teachers of geoscience subjects do not necessarily hold a relevant degree, and in times of austerity and budget cuts, the Earth sciences are easily sacrificed to preserve the more traditional science subjects.

On an increasingly vulnerable planet, governments need to teach the young people of their country an understanding of the Earth's basic make-up and dynamics, along with inspiring a fascination for its age and beauty. How else can we expect humanity to survive the Anthropocene?

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Rare Earth scientists. Nature Geosci 5, 835 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1670

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