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