Postcard from Mesoamerica


As Geography research begins in the field and ends in the field, so does my Presidential Column. I had the good fortune to be able to compose most of my first column (July 2018) during my fieldwork in Belize and Guatemala in Central America. Now I am filing my final column as your AAG President from field camp in northwestern Belize, working with an international team of colleagues, students, and volunteers to study the resilience of ancient Maya society. While “Op-Ed” stands for Opinion/Editorial, it also represents both Opportunity and Education. I thank you, my readers and fellow AAG members, for the Opportunity to freely explore challenging and timely issues and to share thoughts and opinions on current events and research over the last year. I am also grateful for the platform of the AAG Newsletter on which to perform one of my primary duties as a Professional Geographer: to Educate, to enable understanding and discussing important issues from local to global scales, and, to inspire actions to solve the planet’s most critical human and environmental problems. It is a tall order, but we should set expectations for ourselves at the very highest level to ensure a better future for people, the environment, and the planet.

Pocket transit given to Tim Beach, Sheryl’s husband, by his father. (Photo courtesy Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach)

This is my 26th field year exploring the palimpsests of millennia of urban and agricultural landscapes of parts of modern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. Each year we discover more about how extensive and influential ancient humans have been in the Americas. We have increased our understanding of human influences on the earth, from William Denevan exploding the Pristine Myth in the 1992 Annals Special issue (82(3):369-85), to the 2013 dawning of the journal The Anthropocene, (Anne Chin, Editor-in-Chief), to the May 2019 binding vote of the Anthropocene Working Group approving that the Anthropocene shall be “treated as a formal chrono-stratigraphic unit” and its primary marker will be “one of the stratigraphic signals around the mid-twentieth century of the Common Era” (AWG, 5/21/19). It is still a complicated matter of agreeing when that marker occurs in time globally. While the swirling smog of the 19th C. Industrial Revolution was a leading, if not charismatic, candidate, not to mention the globally detectable nuclear testing fallout signal of the mid-20th C., evidence still builds for an Early Anthropocene. Denevan’s idea (1992) that 18th century human visibility on the landscape was less substantial than that which was visible before 1492 still stands the test of time, further supported by W. F. Ruddiman et al.’s 2016 work (Rev. Geophys. 54: 93-118) on early, increased releases of CO2 and Methane to the atmosphere associated with increased burning and farming like rice paddy (wetland) agriculture in Asia. Now with advanced geospatial technology such as Lidar guiding our field exploration and validation, we are fast on the trail of finding significant extents of ancient landesque capital, including cultivated landscapes, ranging far across the Western Hemisphere, including Mesoamerica. Much else has changed in field research infrastructure since the early 1990s: Quad maps in Belize were produced for us in 1993 as Ozalid blueprints in the Government Mapping Office in Belmopan. Now there is a Land Information Center providing geospatial data. In 1994, a colleague mounted a brick-shaped GPS unit on an extension pole in the jungle, trying to reach a satellite signal at just the right hour. For communications, there was a payphone and one fax machine in the general store in the village near our field camp, a lifeline for college students with final papers due who were here in the field to collect data before the rainy season hit. Now we despair that the local internet is not working today in camp. Yet, there are some regions here in Belize and beyond still too remote to access cell service, allowing us a moment to also rejoice that there are places untouched by clouds of 4G data smog to walk through and be interrogated by.

My last official duty as AAG President will take place at the end of June, when I travel on behalf of the AAG to Beijing and Harbin, China, where I will be hosted by the Geographical Society of China to present in a session on “Scientific Organization Governance” at the China Association of Science and Technology Meeting, and will present academic talks on my team’s Ancient Water Management research, at Chinese universities. It is a privilege to be able to collaborate internationally, and to thereby conduct science and science diplomacy. Getting back to my yearlong theme of Science, Geography, and Human Rights, we must strive to fulfil the ideals of making science accessible to the benefit of all people; of guaranteeing scientists their rights to practice and to preserve science; and to protect scientists’ rights to collaborate freely and internationally.

Although my title will change to Past President on 1 July, my service to AAG as a member of the leadership team will continue for one more year: on the AAG Executive Committee, the AAG Council, and the Disciplinary Matters Committee. My writing assignment will shift from a monthly column, to composing the content and form of the Past Presidential Address for the Denver meetings and for the Annals, as per tradition. I look forward to my new role, and continuing to serve our association. I congratulate the incoming President, David Kaplan, and thank him for his service this past year as Vice President, and ask that you all lend your support to his efforts and themes. I also thank Derek Alderman for his service as Past President, and congratulate him on completing his term on the AAG Council, concluding on 30 June. I also extend a warm welcome and best wishes to Vice-President elect Amy Lobben. Speaking of service, please do not forget to nominate deserving AAG members for awards! See the AAG website for complete details.

The AAG Council and AAG Committees and Task Forces deserve much of our thanks for keeping our association vibrant and dynamic through their volunteer efforts. I am most grateful for the lasting friendships and professional relationships that have been formed with the Officers, Council, Committees, and the AAG Staff, and thank them all for their support during my presidency and beyond. My final words of praise are for the AAG Staff, the Legal team, and retiring Executive Director Dr. Douglas Richardson, for their day in and day out dedication to this non-profit organization’s mission and members. I will not be able to name all of the AAG staff in this column but please know you are a terrific team! I will note that AAG’s Rebecca Pendergast and Emily Fekete are especially thanked for their good-natured patience with my stretching the concept of “column publication deadline.”

AAG Members, I thank all 12,000 of you for making the AAG a community. I look forward to seeing you at future meetings, especially in Denver for the 2020 AAG Annual Meetings. Make a Difference with Geography. Have a great summer, wherever your Geography takes you!

— Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach
President, American Association of Geographers
Professor, Geography and the Environment and C.B. Smith Fellow in US-Mexico Relations, University of Texas at Austin
slbeach (at) austin (dot) utexas (dot) edu

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0055


Geography, Green Resolutions, and Graduation

Complex organizations have complex interests and responsibilities, especially in the 21st century. My October 2018 Column reminded us to keep our eyes on the prize of equity for all. Together, we Geographers have worked diligently over the last several years to shine a light on equity and banish harassment and bullying from our meetings, our places of work, and our lives. We have more work to do, but we do have a heightened awareness, and a strong, renewed resolve to move forward with justice. Even though we have a strong Statement of Ethics (2009) condemning workplace harassment and discrimination, we further renewed our resolve to fight bullying and harassment with the Harassment Free AAG Initiative of 2019 (Please also remember to take the Post-Meeting Survey). And we will keep working to improve the climate for all. While keeping an eye on our social and civil well-being, the well-being of our planet also needs our attention and actions as strongly as ever. Protecting the civil rights and human rights of scientists helps to advance and protect science, to the benefit of people and the planet.

Headlines are just as alarming on the environmental justice side of the scales as they are on the social justice side. A recent email correspondent offers fair points regarding institutions and fossil fuel divestment, but implied that AAG is neglecting the environment because of our recent focus on anti-harassment initiatives. We should not be forced to make a false choice between the workplace climate, the atmosphere, and our fiduciary responsibility to members and donors as a non-profit, among others. AAG has invested in a portfolio of green funds, and it is worth thoughtful consideration of additional long-term, planet-healthy investment strategies, absolutely. We must of course maintain a complementary balance of Planet Earth’s and her Inhabitants’ well-being. Our AAG Logo and flag, after all, are green.

Recent headlines and reports include this week’s news that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have hit an all-time high of 415 ppm (Washington Post, 5/14/19). That concentation is the “…highest level in human history” (WaPo 5/14/19). Other headlines include news that “humans are speeding extinction and altering the natural world at an ‘unprecedented’ pace” (NY Times 5/12/19).

In light of these daunting global trends, members of the U.S. Congress, led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed. Markey have proposed a non-binding resolution, the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal does not pit society against the environment, but blends the well-being of both by resolving to “reduce greenhouse emissions…to avoid the worst consequences of climate change while also…addressing “societal problems like economic inequality and racial injustice.”(New York Times, 2/21/19).

The plan encompasses five main goals to:

“invest in sustainable businesses”;

“Move to 100% clean energy by 2030”;…

“Create a Commission…to provide publicity, training, education and direct financing” for projects and reforms;

“Establish a renewable Energy Administration” modeled after Roosevelt’s “Rural Electrification Administration”; and

Create a “Full Employment Program… a direct employment initiative to guarantee jobs and a living wage for every American…” (See this link for the Full Plan Language).

Geographers’ diverse talents and insights can contribute in all of these areas.

Within the AAG’s ranks, there are also renewed Green goals. AAG passed a Resolution Requesting Action on Climate Change in 2006. In Spring 2019, a group of members have pointed out that much has changed in the last 13 year since that resolution, and it is time to strengthen our commitment to fight climate change. This monumental effort was led by Geographers Rutherford H. Platt, Ian Burton, Susan Cutter, James Kenneth Mitchell, James L. Wescoat, Claire Rubin, and Martin A. Reuss. The group sent a new Resolution on Climate Change to Council, which was passed unanimously at the April 2019 AAG Meeting. The new Resolution was rooted in the legacy of Geographer and National Academy of Sciences Member Gilbert White (1911-2006), for whom a special session was convened by the aforementioned panelists at the 2019 Annual AAG Meeting. Dr. White’s work showed compassion for people and the environment, with his pioneering work using planning policies to move people out of dangerous flood plains and save lives and property, as opposed to sole reliance on technological solutions to flooding and flood control. His floodplain management work is a great example of fulfilling the human right to benefit from science. The Green New Deal echoes this, incorporating smart business and social policy solutions to improving the environment, the economy, and people’s well-being together. The new AAG Climate Change Resolution promotes 8 goals to fight climate change, compatible with the Green New Deal, summarized at the AAG Website 2019 AAG Climate Resolution for full details. Many thanks to the authors, and to the AAG Council for supporting this.

Future Geograph-ies/-ers

It is graduation time and the goals of social and environmental justice should inspire the new generation of Geographers who are graduating this month from our institutions. We welcome them to the company of scholars and professionals, and we encourage them to carry the torch forward, to create a better social, physical, and technological world, and a brighter future. We also need to continue lending our full support as senior scholars and professional mentors for the latest generation of Geographers, in whom I have great hope, confidence, and inspiration. I end this column with my very best wishes and gratitude to my students who will always be members of our home departmental community, and to all students at this important time of transition in your lives. Congratulations to all, and to those who share in your success!

— Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach
President, American Association of Geographers
Professor, Geography and the Environment and C.B. Smith Fellow in US-Mexico Relations, University of Texas at Austin

Feel free to share your thoughts with me at: slbeach (at) austin (dot) utexas (dot) edu

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0054


Harassment-Free AAG: Moving Forward

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

Attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In civil society, we measure our words and deeds, and listen to others’ ideas and opinions. We set our expectations for civil discourse not necessarily based on a minimum expectation of the law, but based on our humanity, because we set high standards for ourselves and feel empathy for others.

We, too, can be thoughtful in word and deed. We, too, can have each other’s best interests at heart. Sometimes, however, we can be too stunned by words or deeds to move, frozen in shock. We can be frozen by the fear of the powerful, or the shock of the unexpected. And, we can become frustrated when the wheels of justice turn too slowly or silently. We applaud those who do speak up for justice.

I am writing to assure our community that Harassment-Free AAG does not end at the boarding gate for the flight home from the Annual Meeting. In fact, avoiding workplace discrimination and harassment all weeks of the year is the first concern in AAG’s current Statement of Professional Ethics (see section II and II.A.).

The AAG launched Harassment-Free AAG at the 2019 Annual Meeting, which members did use. I am again grateful to all the individuals, AAG Staff Members, and committee members who worked hard on the policy and on the logistics, enactment, launch, and post-meeting follow through of this new program. This program builds upon the 2017 Council Resolution creating the Standing Committee on AAG Annual Meeting Attendee Disciplinary Matters. Meanwhile, AAG members will be receiving a post-Annual Meeting survey created by the Harassment-Free AAG task force, due out in early May, to assess their experiences as a benchmark for the beginning of this program, so please watch for it and respond.

And, justice moves at a judicial pace. Several incidents did occur and were reported, and the AAG is processing them. Please do not misinterpret silence as inaction or not caring. In order for AAG sanctions to be enforceable, there must be due process. This is in fairness to those seeking justice, to complainants, witnesses, and to respondents, until all evidence is presented and considered, and decisions are rendered in the formal process. If there is no due process, it undermines AAG’s ability to enforce sanctions when warranted. So rest assured that the meeting Advocate, Ombudsperson, and AAG Staff, AAG legal counsel, and officers have been working hard behind the scenes both during and after the meeting to process and respond to reports.

That said, some incidents have been discussed in the wider social media, which of course cannot be un-seen. One recent incident is made more troubling because of the lack of response of bystanders in real time. It is certainly our collective duty to call out bullying: peer pressure is another check on misbehavior in civil society, in addition to formal proceedings. Again, we turn to Dr. King for introspection:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Every one of us has a responsibility to speak out against mistreatment and misbehavior. While it is up to the justice system to investigate their severity and pervasiveness, and to determine consequences, this is also about our humanity and doing the right thing. AAG has released the following statement with the hopes that it will ease members’ concerns about the status of pending cases:

Statement by AAG regarding Harassment Free Meetings and Recent Incidents

“ The AAG is fully committed to having harassment free meetings. We have recently implemented a new wide-ranging Harassment Free AAG meetings policy (see AAG Event Conduct Policy that was rolled out at the Washington, DC meeting, and it has already made a positive contribution. The AAG is now compiling all the information currently available on each of the five harassment incidents which have been reported at the recent Annual Meeting. We have presented this information to our attorney, and will be undertaking formal investigations of each of the incidents as promptly as legally possible. The AAG also has a legally-reviewed policy in place on how to proceed regarding such incidents, and a special AAG Committee to handle these cases. That process is moving forward now on each of these incidents as rapidly as possible, and each will be thoroughly investigated, and enforceable sanctions will be forthcoming as warranted.”

Waiting for findings is painful, especially because we are sometimes at the mercy of University processes and timelines. So, again, I am grateful that AAG has a clear and enhanced anti-harassment policy and a process to address misbehavior by our members. I am grateful for our AAG Members’ concern and attention to this topic, and for the AAG Staff’s prompt and thorough actions to respond. AAG Council has asked the Harassment-Free Task Force to work on more specific topics that have arisen, including suggestions from our members, as we move into year 2 of this program. We will continue to review and update the new policy as unanticipated circumstances arise, and as the post-meeting survey provides input. Our work is far from done.

Thank you for allowing me into your mailboxes each month to discuss important issues that affect us all and thank you all for moving AAG into the 21st century in our expectations for courteous, thoughtful, and professional discourse, for healthy debates among ourselves, and for respect for one another.

Please share your ideas with me at: slbeach (at) austin (dot) utexas (dot) edu

— Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, President, AAG
Professor, Geography and the Environment, The University of Texas at Austin

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0053


Harassment-Free AAG: What to expect at the Washington D.C. Meeting

I am excited to write that there are four weeks to go in our countdown to the AAG Annual Meetings in Washington DC (April 3-7, 2019). I welcome guest columnist Dr. Lorraine Dowler, who has been a prior contributor to this space, and this month we highlight Climate Change to which we can all contribute positively for the AAG Meetings.

Harassing behavior by powerful individuals towards those more vulnerable has given rise to recent social movements including #MeToo, #UsToo and, Idle No More to name a few. These social movements are also influencing the academy as countless numbers of academic associations are currently examining how safe and inclusive their academic meetings are for those members who do not represent the majority of meeting attendees. These associations are gathering data about harassment through surveys, updating professional codes of conduct and hiring consultants to develop programs that directly address harassment and the creation of safe and inclusive spaces at academic meetings. Relatedly, the AAG charged a task force in Spring 2018 to gather information and recommend programmatic changes in order to envision a safer and more inclusive national meeting. The Council approved the task’s force proposal for the 2019 meeting, and this column will furnish a preliminary overview of resources that will be available to attendees at the Washington meeting.


AAG Election Underway and Looking Forward to the Annual Meeting in Washington DC in April!

The AAG election season is underway! This week, AAG members around the globe received email links to log on and vote for 2019-2020 AAG officers and committee members. Balloting is open from 30 January to 21 February, so please remember to take a few minutes to dig out that email, vote, and be heard! I thank the AAG nominating committee for providing us with a highly distinguished slate of candidates, and I especially thank the candidates for their willingness to stand for office and their commitment to serve the AAG should they be elected. So now it is up to you, fellow AAG members, to get out and vote to select the future leaders of our association!

Borderline Insanity: The Threat from the North

The record-breaking 35-day U.S. Government partial shutdown was finally suspended on 25 January, until 15 February 2018 for negations on border security. I hope that the White House can come to an agreement with our Congress on how best to ensure our security, avoid another partial government shutdown, and treat those seeking refuge humanely and with dignity. I truly hope that government workers, including thousands of professional geographers, are never used as political hostages again. On a related front, four women who are members of a humanitarian group whose intent is to save lives of asylum seekers lost in the desert with no water, where hundreds have already died, have been convicted on 18 January 2018 of entering a protected federal refuge in Arizona and leaving behind food and water jugs. AAG and APCG have been closely following the situation for a humanitarian geographer also caught up in this sweep, and for our colleague’s sake we have been careful to not interfere with the case until action is requested. Individuals have been staying in contact, and have contributed to a defense fund. More volunteers go on trial this spring.

Chicago (polar vortex), Australia (fires)

Our nation’s attention was diverted from immigration issues and the potential for a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border this past week, to a more serious and dangerous threat streaming across the northern border of the U.S. This threat took the lives of at least 21 people, and made no distinction between college students, package delivery workers, jail inmates, and homeless people. The threat was the Polar Vortex, and it unleashed record-breaking cold on about 70 percent of the U.S. population this past week. The White House response was to tweet about the record cold and ask essentially, “what the (heck) is going on with global waming (sic)? Please come back fast, we need you.” We need not look too far to find it … for at the very same time, the White House forgets that it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere, where in parallel, extreme heat fanned wildfires in Australia. Of course, with a flat earth, one never worries about the other side. What the White House does not care to understand is that Polar Vortex disruption can be connected to atmospheric carbon imbalances, and global warming splitting the polar jets (read more at NOAA also explained it elegantly. The White House’s purposeful mischaracterization of how the atmosphere works feeds the flames of climate denial, and puts our citizens, economy, and environment in physical danger. We geographers need to continue to communicate climate change science to the general public and to policy makers because it is every global citizen’s right to benefit from scientific knowledge. We must also continue our research to understand and communicate the teleconnections of global warming, atmospheric circulation, and extreme weather events, and to protect that right to conduct our scientific inquiry.

Closing Thoughts: Looking Forward to Annual Meeting in Washington DC in April!

As I noted in my first presidential column, imagine what 12,000-plus geographers can do together to make a better world. We will be meeting in just two months in Washington, D.C. to share our ideas and to make a difference with Geography! Although the call for AAG annual meeting paper sessions and individual paper and poster abstracts is now closed, participants may still edit their entries until 23 February 2019. Poster session organizing is open until 14 February 2019. The annual meeting schedule is now posted so you can make your travel plans accordingly. In addition to the opportunity to share your exciting geography research at paper and poster sessions, AAG is planning many special events for the 2019 Annual Meeting.

I am very happy to announce the full slate of our presidential plenary panel who will join me to kick off the AAG meetings on 3 April 2019: Dr. Douglas Richardson (AAG Executive Director); Dr. Mei-Po Kwan (U. Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Geography Professor), Dr. John McNeill (University Professor of History, Georgetown U.; American Historical Association President), Dr. Heather Viles (Oxford University Geography Head and Professor), and Dr. Rita Colwell (University of Maryland College Park Distinguished University Professor, Cell Biology and Public Health).

Please do plan to join us at 6:20 pm on 3 April 2019 to hear opening remarks from AAG Executive Director Dr. Douglas Richardson. This will be an historic moment you will not want to miss, as it will be Doug’s last opening session welcome before he retires from the directorship in early 2020. We thank and congratulate him for his dedication and leadership!

Next, you will hear from our distinguished panelists. These eminent scholars in Human Geography and Physical Geography, Environmental History, and Biological Sciences will address the intersection of their research and the themes of our meeting: “Geography, Environmental Science, Human Health, and Human Rights.”

We will conclude our opening session by recognizing our 2019 Honorary Geographer Dr. Rita Colwell, who will also address the audience as a distinguished panelist.

Other special events during the annual meeting will include a keynote address by former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. (April 4), and on 5 April we will honor The Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden with the AAG Atlas Award, followed by her keynote address.

It will be my deepest honor to welcome all of you in Washington, D.C. in April, just in time for the cherry blossoms.

Until then I wish you a warm and cozy Groundhog Day weekend!

— Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach
President, American Association of Geographers
Professor of Geography and Fellow of the C.B. Smith Sr. Centennial Chair in U.S. Mexico Relations, University of Texas at Austin

Please share your ideas with me at: slbeach(at)austin(dot)utexas(dot)edu

To register for the annual meeting, click here.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0051



Share Your Science, and Make a Difference with Geography at the AAG Annual Meeting in April 2019

Happy New Year, Geographers and Friends of Geography! There is still much for us, as fellow AAG Members, to do and to accomplish, and what better month than January to re-commit ourselves to serving people and the planet, when we celebrate Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday. It is hard to believe we are already halfway through the fiscal year, whether you are still enjoying the academic winter break, or are just returning from the holidays with family and friends. I do ask that we stop to recognize our fellow Geographers in the federal workforce who, at the time of this writing, are experiencing one of the two longest Government shutdowns in U.S. history, and we hope it is resolved soon for their sake and for the greater good of our country. Their absence is felt at the conference I am currently attending, the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) International Meetings in San Diego as I write this column.

Thomas Vilsack, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Governor

The opening SSSA session keynote speaker was former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Governor Thomas Vilsack, who spoke on “Climate Smart Agriculture, Good for the Farm and Good for the Land.” He exhorted us to share our science not only with fellow scientists, but with the broader public and policy makers. He also emphasized that we actively address climate change, in the context of this meeting of course in agriculture, and especially in food security as the planet’s population grows, and to address the loss of arable land as urban areas expand to accommodate growing populations worldwide. The momentum to make a difference across disciplines is clear, from academic and professional association to association, not only in climate change, but also in addressing harassment and discrimination head on as SSSA also did in their meeting opener, and we are witnessing a sea change of scientific activism. We Geographers will take up the baton at our AAG Meetings in April in Washington D.C., so be ready for your turn around the track! As Secretary Vilsack pointed out, there is much competition now with misinformation widely available on social media, and scientists in particular must continue to provide evidence-based, peer-reviewed science that can stand the test of time and rise above the sea of misinformation. Scientists cannot abandon the scientific method in our activism, we must use our activism to embrace it and educate the public and policy makers on its rigor and benefits. This is where the human right to benefit from science helps us to make a strong case.

The AAG Meeting Online Program is now posted so it is time to make your travel plans! I am excited that our AAG Annual Meeting is coming together so well for April in Washington D.C., and remind all of you that there is still time to submit poster abstracts by 31 January 2019, and to organize poster sessions by 15 February 2019. Posters and sessions may also be designated by submitting authors as one of the three Special Themes of the 2019 Annual Meeting: Physical Geography in Environmental Science, Geographic Information Science and Human Health, and Geography and Human Rights. Paper abstracts and sessions are also open for edits until 24 February 2019. My thanks go out to the AAG staff and our theme-organizing committees for their work on the program, and most of all, you, the AAG members, for submitting your exciting research to share, you are the stars of our meeting!

Doug Richardson, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, Rita Colwell, Mei-Po Kwan, Heather Viles

To open the Annual Meeting, please join me for the 2019 AAG Presidential Plenary Opening Session, on 3 April 2019 at 6:20 pm. It is one of many special events AAG has planned for us. The Plenary will address “The Intersection of Geography, Environmental Science, Human Health, and Human Rights,” featuring distinguished panelists addressing how their research fields intersect with Geography and these three meeting themes. Our invited panelists include distinguished scholars in human and physical geography, environmental history, and biological sciences. It will be my honor to welcome you all to the meetings, and to preside over our panel of distinguished guests including Dr. Mei-Po Kwan (U. of Illinois Geography Professor), Dr. Heather Viles (Oxford University Geography Head and Professor), and 2019 AAG Honorary Geographer Dr. Rita Colwell (University of Maryland College Park Distinguished University Professor, Cell Biology and Public Health), who will receive her award and address our gathering at this event. Stay tuned for more details!

Remember, again, to check for your paper presentation time and other events to attend in the Online Program and make your travel plans! I look forward to seeing you in Washington D.C., April 3-7, 2019.

— Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach
President, American Association of Geographers
Professor of Geography and Fellow of the C.B. Smith Sr. Centennial Chair in U.S. Mexico Relations, University of Texas at Austin

Please share your ideas with me at: slbeach(at)austin(dot)utexas(dot)edu

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0050


Paradise Lost, Global Warming Report, and Geographers Speak Up

The 2019 Annual Meeting of the AAG is shaping up, and I thank those who responded to participate in the three featured themes, Health and GIScience, Human Rights, and Physical Geography in Environmental Science, in addition to the many independent abstracts and sessions submitted. Program committees and AAG staff, to whom I offer my deepest appreciation, are now sorting abstracts and assembling sessions from the more than 5,000 paper abstracts submitted. Thus far, we have 306 paper abstracts and 71 sessions submitted in Health and GIScience; in the Human Rights Theme we have 201 paper abstracts and 82 sessions; and in Physical Geography in Environmental Science there are 233 paper abstracts and 42 proposed sessions. Although the call for paper sessions and abstracts is now closed, participants may still edit their entries until 23 February 2019. Additionally, the Call for Posters is open until 31 January 2019, and poster session organizing is open until 14 February 2019. I look forward to seeing you in Washington, D.C., April 3-7, 2019!

Smoke plume from the fast-moving Woolsey Fire encroaching on Malibu on Nov. 9, 2018, as residents evacuate along the Pacific Coast Highway (CC by-SA 4.0 by Cyclonebiskit)

This week marked two landmark accomplishments. The first accomplishment is that fire-fighting crews have brought the Camp Fire in my beloved northern California to 100 percent containment. The city of Paradise, (population around 26,000), is devastated along with the smaller communities of Magalia and Concow in the largest and deadliest wildfire in California history, and the largest fire in the U.S. in 100 years. 88 people are now known to have lost their lives, with nearly 200 still missing. Paradise is on the doorstep of Chico where I went to school, and families are hurting, with hundreds homeless, 18,000 buildings destroyed, and more than 62,000 hectares scorched (an area bigger than the city of Chicago). Schools across northern California, all the way to San Francisco, were closed due to the smoke from the fires, and only recently are re-opening. A part of southern California also burned in tandem to the Camp Fire, with the Woolsey Fire in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties consuming over 39,000 hectares, an area roughly the size of Denver. The fire destroyed 1,500 buildings, and killed three people. It was brought under containment shortly before the Camp Fire. Three firefighters were injured in each fire, respectively. We thank Cal Fire and all of the responders from other jurisdictions who assisted. Cal Fire provides web based GIS fire mapping and incident tracking, an important geographic information science benefit offered to the public. And the first response from the White House was unbridled ignorance about California forests and blame wrongly cast upon California State forest management, before and after a Presidential site visit. Our dear leader in the White House suggested forest floor raking as the answer. This is lunacy. In reality, 45.8 percent of all land in CA is federally owned, and KTVU TV reported that 57 percent of California forests are federally managed, with 2 percent managed by the state, and the remaining 39 percent are under private management, where most of the fire losses have occurred. Most of the land that burned does not look like Trump’s imagined Jellystone (apologies to Hanna-Barbera Productions) to be tended by Finnish raking teams, it is Mediterranean scrubland and chaparral, mixed with suburban neighborhoods. As the Camp Fire hit close to home for my family and community, the Woolsey Fire hit even closer to home for Past AAG President Glen MacDonald, who with his family had to evacuate from their home. Dr. MacDonald made a bold public statement calling out the U.S. President’s misinformation about California forest management, and noted the powerful connection between increasingly frequent and large wildfires, changing seasonality, and climate change. Now, flooding is beginning to take over the Camp Fire site. Although Giving Tuesday is past, and I do not often break the “fourth wall” to make personal appeals, please do consider contributing to the charities of your choice to assist wildfire victims.

Leslie-Ann Dupigny-Giroux (Photo courtesy U. of Vermont)

The second landmark accomplishment this week was in climate change communication: Federal scientists at 13 Federal agencies partnering with independent, university, and research scientists were able to complete and publish a clear and sobering report on Climate Change, the Fourth National Assessment, reporting mandated by Congress since 1990. The report covers 12 areas of impact and actions. When reporters asked Trump about the report, Trump said he “saw” it, read “parts” of it, and it is “fine.” A follow-up question about the findings of negative economic impacts elicited his response that he does not believe it. This is completely off the rails to deny, without any counter evidence, his own administration’s scientists’ dire findings on global warming that will affect our economy, our environment, our food, our water, and our health. He claims that our water and air are at their “cleanest” by ignoring the very legislation that he has attempted to disassemble, that allowed air and water quality to improve over the last decades. If our commander in chief will not wake up, we cannot wait for that day, we must wake up and act ourselves. Geography Professor Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, Northeast Chapter lead author on the Fourth Climate Assessmentspoke out in an interview on the report. She notes that changes in seasonality and in coastal environments are vulnerabilities in the Northeast, the regional report she led. She also notes a key takeaway that mitigation and adaptation measures being put in place offer hope and are critical. Dr. Dupigny-Giroux also notes that even if greenhouse gas inputs stop today, global warming will not level off anytime soon due to greenhouse gases already accumulated in the atmosphere. Climate change matters. The free press matters. Peer-reviewed science matters. The freedom to practice, communicate, and benefit from science matters.

An ancient Roman aqueduct leading to ancient Carthage (Tunis) is presented by CAJG meeting local organizing chair Dr. Mabrouk Boughdiri, professor at the University of Carthage, earth science department to field group. (Photo courtesy Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach)

I end this column with hope. We must work hard to get there, however. In the same month that a CNN White House correspondent had his press credentials stripped by the White House, but later restored by a federal judge, as noted in last month’s column, a Washington Post reporter was brutally murdered in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul. The White House has repeatedly called members of the press the enemy of the people and has chosen to believe Saudi government denials of involvement in the murder, over our own national intelligence community findings otherwise. I travelled to Tunisia this month to give a keynote in the 10th Anniversary of a Springer/Nature Journal, the Arabian Journal of Geosciences, the flagship journal of the Saudi Society for Geosciences. (Full disclosure, I am an AJGS associate editor for Geography, Geoarchaeology, and Geotourism.) What I witnessed at this international meeting of nearly 500 participants was enthusiastic freedom of expression, camaraderie, academic diplomacy, thoughtful discussion and debate, student encouragement and empowerment, and science communication. In my keynote comments, I thanked the founding editor for giving voice to scientists across the region for the past 10 years with the journal, and reminded all of the right for scientists to practice, to share their science, and to gather and collaborate internationally. And at this meeting, all were treated as welcome, and women were featured speakers in addition to men. I am grateful for the new friends I have met, the outstanding papers I heard, the excellent field trips to enhance our teaching, and the new research opportunities and ideas we all shared. (Tunisia hosted the International Geographical Union meeting in 2008). This week, Tunisian citizens freely rose up to speak against the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince, in protest of the murder of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi. So, our Geoscience conference was not a singular or staged event in free speech. I am encouraged by Tunisians lighting a candle in the darkness, and thank our Tunisian hosts for their warm welcome, sincere hospitality, and many kindnesses during the meetings, and look forward to returning, Inshallah.

Finally, there are two upcoming events related to Science and Human Rights to observe in December: The 30th Anniversary of World AIDS Day will be observed on 1 December 2018; and Human Rights Day will mark the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 2018. Cherish and protect our First Amendment and our human rights. Take part, speak up, and make a difference with Geography!

Wishing you a peaceful and rejuvenating holiday season,

— Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach
President, American Association of Geographers
Professor of Geography and Fellow of the C.B. Smith Sr. Centennial Chair in U.S. Mexico Relations, University of Texas at Austin

Please share your ideas with me at: slbeach(at)austin(dot)utexas(dot)edu

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0048


Watershed Moments

It is time to show our democracy, our humanity, our compassion, and our resolve. It is time to say no to the murders of journalists, worshippers in synagogues, African American churchgoers, schoolchildren, theatergoers, yoga practitioners, and disco dancers. It is time to VOTE. Please take a moment of silence for all victims of ever-senseless and hate-fueled violence inspired by the rhetoric of the current U.S. Administration…


…Thank you.

I embrace the privilege to write this column each month, a right to free expression for which Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi died. VOTE.

I am honored for the opportunity to take part in AAG Regional Division Meetings this fall, and am grateful for the freedom of assembly, a right for which 11 worshippers died in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue. VOTE.

Now, the U.S. President believes he can change the Constitution by executive order, to erase the birthright of American citizenship. Furthermore, the Administration is working to erase transgender identities, lift protections for endangered species, and is sending National Guard troops to an imaginary invasion at the U.S.-Mexico border. VOTE.

Remember to speak out against alternative facts, to light the candle in the dark. During Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s powerful testimony in the Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing, Sen. Patrick Leahy stated “Bravery is Contagious.” VOTE.

When you exercise your right and civic duty to vote on Tuesday 6 November, remember that our great grandmothers fought for that right in suffrage. Communities today still fight voter suppression. This is a watershed moment in our history, it is now or never for freedom of expression, for civil and human rights, for the environment, for the future of the planet. Of course, your choices are your own: be heard. VOTE.

Deepwater Horizon beach cleanup. (Photo by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

Meanwhile in the Colorado River Watershed we are not safe either, and are not being helped by a gutted and demoralized EPA…It is humbling to live in the very modern city of Austin, Texas, with the advantages of modern water treatment and sewer systems, to receive a 5 am text with a boil water order for our metropolitan area of nearly a million citizens. Our water treatment system was overwhelmed by flood waters traveling down the Colorado River Watershed. This 50 year magnitude storm event took out a 49 year old bridge in the Hill Country. Austin and its suburbs were without clean tap water for over a week and we still face restrictions of not being able to water yards, fill pools, or wash cars. Such a first world problem with regards to pools and cars, and water conservation is the increasing norm for drought-prone central Texas. Imagine never having clean water or sanitation in the first place. 844 million of the world’s citizens today have no access to safe water, and 2.3 billion people live without access to sanitation. And in the U.S., Food and Water Watch notes that half a million households had their water shut off for the inability to pay their water bills in 2016. How do we ensure water security, both from an economic and humanitarian perspective, and from a production capacity perspective? This is a grand challenge for Geographers to work on. As climate change continues to bring more extreme events, our infrastructure is being overwhelmed. If this is the case in one of the most developed nations on the planet, how will less well-off countries cope with looming environmental challenges? In the U.S., the Trump Administration rolled back protections for clean water in 2017, relaxing limits on toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plant ash, among other senseless environmental protection rollbacks. VOTE.

It is encouraging to be receiving AAG Members’ thoughtful geography abstracts for the AAG Annual Meeting major themes: Geospatial Health Research; Geography and Human Rights; and Physical Geography in Environmental Science. Thank you. There is still time to participate the paper abstract deadline has been extended to 8 November 2018; Poster abstracts are due 31 January 2018. Consider submitting your research to be presented at the AAG Annual Meeting in Washington DC in April 2019. While you are in Washington, visit your legislators, share your science, speak up and be a part of the change: make a difference with Geography. And on Tuesday 6 November, make a difference with your citizenship: VOTE.

Please share your thoughts with me at slbeach (at) austin (dot) utexas (dot) edu.

— Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach
Professor and C.B. Smith Sr. Fellow in U.S.-Mexico Relations
Geography and the Environment, University of Texas at Austin

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0047


Geography and Climate Change in the 21st Century: Keeping our Eyes on the Prize

Geography has many grand challenges for the 21st Century: combatting climate change and biodiversity loss; providing clean water; investigating safe refuge, health care, education, and poverty; preparing for natural hazards, and ensuring food security among many. Another grand challenge is ensuring a harassment-, bullying-, and bias-free Geography workplace, to ensure that progress continues on our other grand challenges. This is a “climate change” that we must unite around. This is not an easy topic to write about, but it is my civic and professional duty.

Donna Strickland, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics (Credit: UNI, Waterloo)

On this week that Nobel Prizes are being announced, a cloud hangs over the academy and over our justice system. The Nobel Prize for Literature for 2018 will not be awarded because of sexual and financial misconduct allegations against committee members, culminating in one key figure being sentenced to jail this week for rape. Another news item notes how few women have been awarded Nobel Prizes and raises questions about bias. Fortuitously, the Nobel Prize committee just awarded Dr. Donna Strickland, the third female scientist in history (and first in 55 years), a Physics Nobel, shared three ways by scholars working on laser physics.

U.S. Supreme Court building (Credit: Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Meanwhile, the U.S. has just been through wrenching hours of testimony regarding sexual assault allegations, as part of the hearings to appoint the next U.S. Supreme Court Justice. We have not progressed far since Anita Hill testified on Capitol Hill. Another professional woman, separated by nearly three decades from Dr. Hill’s experience, gave solemn testimony last week. Both women came forward out of a sense of civic duty and opened their professional and personal lives and families to public scrutiny and far worse, for no personal gain. This testimony contrasted sharply with a privileged candidate for the highest judicial seat angrily responding during his turn, especially towards female questioners. But these are not the only allegations that have crossed our news feeds or desks. I have learned of recent sexual misconduct allegations, proceedings, and findings against a geographer at a U.S. institution. I also have received a signed request from AAG members for our organization to address a specific case and, more broadly, these issues in more depth. Broadly speaking, as a former administrator, I cannot discuss specifics of cases because victims, witnesses, and accused (and exonerated) parties must receive due process and be protected from retaliation in these proceedings. Meanwhile, the challenge for AAG is what can we do, as a professional organization, to improve the climate for and among our members?

As I wrote in my September 2018 column, the AAG Council appointed a committee to work on improving and strengthening our AAG Meeting Conduct policies, to make our Annual Meeting a safer place. The AAG Inclusion Committee will be presenting their findings and recommendations to AAG Council to consider this fall, so we can move forward with a new plan. I am grateful to the committee, led by Dr. Lorraine Dowler, for their hard work on this. Stepwise, there are other ways we can address the issue of harassment, bullying, and bias in our community and institutions. One of the informal observations by the Inclusion Committee was that science organizations seem to be ahead of the issues in several senses. For the rest of this column, I will share some of the best practices of other organizations, and set an agenda for where we may ask the AAG Council and our membership to go next.

On the topic of equity, The American Geophysical Union (AGU) President and President-elect have raised the issue of gender equity in their awards, and tasked their honors committee to study how to improve in this area, and their members to be more proactive in nominating deserving diverse members. Prompted by this published discussion, an AAG member sent me a query about gender balance in AAG Awards, and asked if AAG has undertaken a study to see where we stand, and expressed optimism that we are doing well. I would expand this to a broader examination of equity in terms of how do we honor, elevate, and retain all protected classes in our profession. This is another of our grand challenges then, to assess the equity in our recognition systems.

Also on the topic of honors, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Board just passed a policy and procedure to revoke AAAS Fellowship status due to “proven scientific misconduct, serious breaches of professional ethics, or when the Fellow in the view of AAAS otherwise no longer merits the status of Fellow.“ This includes sexual misconduct. This is another grand challenge that should be considered by our organization and others as a next step, again building on our Safe Meetings, anti-harassment, and ethics policies.

Broadening out on consequences for bullying, harassment, bias, and workplace hostility, AAG needs to work in partnership with our home institutions and our sibling organizations to ensure seamless reporting, support, and action structures to deal with complicated sets of allegations and due process for all, especially when they cross multiple jurisdictions. I have heard instances where a victim was harassed at a meeting, and the perpetrator was not from their home institution, and the event was co-sponsored by two organizations. Unfortunately, the home institution had limited capacity to deal with this. Therefore, these kinds of cases can fall through institutional jurisdictional gaps when it comes to Title IX enforcement. A further complication to protect victims and witnesses from retaliation is that they are not identified and do not know the penalties handed out to perpetrators. Thus, it will often take a very long time for investigation outcomes to see the full light of day. Creating a reporting structure and clearinghouse in partnership with our home institutions is therefore another one of our grand challenges. For AAG Meetings we have made progress to build on with our Inclusion Committee, combined with our foundational anti-harassment policies, and our existing standing committee that hears meeting harassment cases.

I wish that Geography and other organizations’ “Presidential Columns” did not have to be about demanding that our memberships be more respectful and more inclusive of one another; for civility; and for basic human rights. It is the responsibility of leadership to listen to our members; to shine the light on timely and difficult professional issues that have always plagued our fields, not only recently; and to act to make our professional communities kinder, more inclusive, and in the words of Former AAG President Victoria Lawson, “caring” places, of “human and environmental well-being” (Lawson, 2009, Antipode 41(1): 210-214). I believe we geographers are all on the same page with treasuring our planet and our environment, but we still have to work on valuing and respecting each other. I salute the vast majority of geographers who do care, the women and men who write to me, who sign your names with sincerity, hope, and courage to share ideas and ask for changes, and who are already part of the positive “climate change” in Geography.

Please share your ideas with me at: slbeach (at) austin (dot) utexas (dot) edu

— Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, President, AAG
Professor, Geography and the Environment, The University of Texas at Austin

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0045


A New Academic Year

This Labor Day weekend marks the return to University instruction for many geography faculty and students, and as an educator, I welcome you all back to our academic community and wish you a successful new academic year. Many of us are returning from field and lab research, writing, and conferences, wondering where the summer went and why we are considered nine-month-employees! The answer is we are year-round members of our academic communities. Last week I wrote the final Department Chair’s welcome of my term to the UT Austin Geography community. As my term closes, I am passing the administrative baton to a wonderful colleague, to whom I give my thanks and wish all the best. I am excited for the new beginning of rejoining my fellow professors and to have more time to devote to scholarship, to my students, and to the AAG. I thank those faculty, students, and staff who helped along the journey, and thank the department chairs who will carry our missions forward.

Every September, my family also celebrated the ritual known as back-to-school. Like my current household, we lived on the academic calendar: My Father is a retired junior high school teacher, and my Mother retired after a career that included elementary, junior high, and school district librarianships. The excitement of a new school year was signaled by the faint odor of dry grasses, star thistle, and oak leaves rehydrating in the cool, dewy September mornings of northern California. My educator parents encouraged me to follow any profession I desired, and gave me the confidence as a young girl to embrace science. My mother bought me my first microscope for my birthday while I was an elementary school student. In my windowsill, I grew protozoa from the science kit and studied them, along with rocks and minerals collected with my parents, under that microscope. Parents and teachers comprise an important partnership to inspire young students to succeed, and I encourage all of us to actively engage our students in Geography in the classroom and in research, to do outreach, and to practice inclusion.

For our non-academic professional Geography community, I pause to thank you for your research partnerships, your innovation and entrepreneurship, and for the internship opportunities and inspiration you offer to our students. I owe my career in water resources to an internship with the California Department of Water Resources. Geography professionals are also our university alumni, and as such are members of our extended academic communities; we thank you for your support and salute your successes. Looking ahead to Fall 2018, we have many AAG regional division meetings to attend. I encourage professional and academic geographers and students to take full advantage of these opportunities to exchange ideas and renew connections with friends, colleagues, alumni, and alma maters. We members of the AAG Executive Committee will be fanning out to attend the regional meetings, stretching from Keene, NH, to Reno, NV, and we look forward to connecting with all of you there. Please also remember that registration for the AAG Annual Meeting in Washington DC is now open.

Professional Meetings and Inclusiveness

An extremely important matter of AAG concern is creating and maintaining an inclusive, professional environment for meeting attendees. At our Spring meeting in New Orleans, the AAG Council created a task force to address harassment at AAG Meetings. They will have their first meeting in Washington, DC, in mid-September to consider data gathering, best practices, and policies that other professional societies employ for their meetings, to make the AAG Annual Meeting a safe space for all participants. The Task Force will report back to the AAG Council later this Fall. Derek Alderman’s January 2018 Presidential Column, co-authored with Lorraine Dowler, provides an excellent summary of the issues and resource links. This new Task Force is empowered by the AAG Professional Conduct Policy and AAG Statement on Professional Ethics. We also have a Standing Committee on AAG Annual Meeting Disciplinary Matters, and it has acted when called upon. We need to make our policies more visible, create safe spaces at our meetings, and provide a clear path of due process, to proactively reduce the number of incidents of inappropriate behavior, and to deal with those that do happen with firm consequences. In a future column I will report back on the progress of this Task Force.

Reflections on Rio: Geographers as Global Ambassadors

Speaking of conferences, this August I attended the World Congress of Soil Science in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Four Thousand soil scientists assembled under the theme of “Beyond Food and Fuel.” This conference called to attention the importance of soil as both a natural and cultural resource, and its multiple functions ranging from ecosystem support to biogeochemical cycling, to archiving environmental change and cultural history. Exhibits and activities included geographically curated Brazilian soil profiles, soil art, and a student “soil judging” competition with teams from around the world. We are reminded by this gathering of scientists that much of Geography studies the Critical Zone we humans inhabit. Rio is a city of contrasts, from wealthy to impoverished communities all perched side by side in a stunning geological and biogeographical setting, including the coastal Atlantic shore. More drama is added by granitic domes looming around the city and offshore as islands. Lush greenery clings to the steep slopes, as do houses, highways, and bike paths. The living natural heritage is preserved in The Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro. Not a week and a half after our return from Rio, however, it is shocking to see that Rio, Brazil, and in fact the world has just suffered a huge loss of cultural and scientific heritage with a fire destroying the National Museum of Brazil over the September 1 weekend. Sources have compared this fire to that which destroyed the ancient library of Alexandria in 48 BC. Helping Brazil to rebuild cultural and scientific heritage lost from this tragedy will take time and a global effort. I urge Geographers to assist in this recovery, and I offer my deepest condolences to our Brazilian hosts.

Geo-existential Legislation: S.2128 The Geospatial Data Act

Alerted by the AAG, one of my last official acts as Geography Chair at UT Austin, and an early action as AAG President, involved writing a letter to a Texas Senator, requesting support and sponsorship of S.2128, the Geospatial Data Act (GDA) of 2017. This legislation will be voted on in a Senate sub-committee soon. The AAG, led by our Executive Director, has worked tirelessly for many years to support Geographers’ professional access to participate in federal research and contracts involving mapping and geospatial data analysis. This important current legislation has the potential to save U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars by reducing duplication in geospatial data activities across all federal agencies, and has been endorsed by numerous prominent geospatial and geography organizations, including the AAG; the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC); and the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF). It has also been supported by private-sector leaders, including Google, Esri, Boundless, and many others. If enacted, the GDA will improve coordination between the numerous agencies that use geospatial data as a critical asset in many endeavors, including responding to disaster situations such as Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, which impacted Gulf and Caribbean coastal communities a year ago. You can follow this and other policy issues affecting Geography on the AAG Policy Page. As always, feel free to write to your legislators and share your opinion on this and other matters. Thank you!

Please share your own ideas with me via email: slbeach [at] austin [dot] utexas [dot] edu

— Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach
President, American Association of Geographers
Professor, and Fellow of the C.B. Smith Sr. Centennial Chair in U.S.-Mexico Relations
Geography and the Environment, The University of Texas at Austin

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0043