Climate Change and the 2024 Annual Meeting in Honolulu

NASA aerial of the Lahaina fire on Maui.
NASA aerial of the Lahaina fire on Maui.

Photo of Rebecca Lave

This summer has been suffused with visceral reminders of the consequences of climate change: intense and extended heat waves, poor air quality, high ocean temperatures, and the list goes on.  As geographers, we knew climate change was already here, but even so the last few months have caused grief and shock.

The fires in West Maui continue to be particularly upsetting. As I write this column nearly a month after the fire, emergency organizations have confirmed the death of 115 people and have posted the names of another 385 who are believed to be missing. It is one of deadliest wildfires in U.S. history.  And history clearly matters here. The Maui fires were enabled by economic and ecological imperialism, as Kanaka scholar Kamana Beamer explained in a recent piece in The Guardian.

Until the nineteenth century, a dense Hawaiian population thrived in an abundant Lahaina landscape that featured flowing streams, waterways that irrigated taro and other crops, and a fishpond. But this sustainable food system was appropriated, manipulated, and in some cases destroyed to enable extractive plantation monocropping that lasted over a century. When the former sugar plantation shuttered its business in 1999, increased diversion of surface waters and the absence of active agricultural cultivation resulted in overgrowth of invasive non-native grasses, shrubs and trees that fueled the fire. As geographers have been arguing for more than half a century, there is no such thing as natural disaster.

Local resident's tribute of tagging "Lahaina Strong" on a wall beside a road. Credit: State Farm Insurance
Local resident’s tribute, Lahaina Strong. Credit: State Farm Insurance

While there has been an outpouring of public support, other responses to the fires have been profoundly disheartening. Indigenous and environmental groups are contending with opportunists exploiting the tragedy to grab water and land rights. Residents of West Maui have instead advanced post-recovery visions for reducing inequality and increasing the strength and interconnection of human and non-human communities. That is a future worth fighting for (see the Maui United Way’s response to the fires; the Na’Aikane o Maui Cultural Center, a key player in the fight for Kanaka land rights; and ongoing efforts by the Hawai’i Alliance for Progressive Action).

All this means that climate change and AAG’s role in mitigating or exacerbating it are heavy on my mind.

AAG’s Work on Climate Thus Far

Thanks to the big-picture thinking of the Climate Action Task Force and the efforts of staff, AAG has made some important initial steps in mitigating its climate impacts. The entire AAG endowment has been de-carbonized, so that we no longer financially support the fossil-fuel industry. AAG has moved into a LEED Gold building, notably reducing its day-to-day emissions. The first cohort of the Elevate the Discipline program, intended to increase geography’s impact on public policy, is focused on climate change. Through these and other programs, Gary Langham and the AAG staff have made it clear that they are serious about climate change.

AAG’s remaining climate impacts come primarily from the annual meetings. That means that AAG as an organization and we as a discipline will need to make some hard choices if we are to have any hope of bringing our net emissions down to 0 by 2050 as spelled out in our climate action commitment.


Mitigating the Climate Impacts of Annual Meetings

There are multiple options that we could pursue to mitigate the impacts of our annual meetings.

While many other professional societies have backed away from hybrid conference models because they are expensive and logistically challenging, AAG is continuing to make it possible to attend the annual meeting virtually. Thus, one approach would be to eliminate or reduce travel emissions via virtual attendance and the node model pioneered this spring. Nodes would have the added benefit of allowing us to contract with smaller hotel chains and vendors with better approaches to mitigating their impacts.

Another option would be to change the pattern of our annual meetings more radically, holding large in-person conferences every other year. In the alternate years, AAG could organize a set of smaller “hubs” connected by video-conferencing, perhaps linked to the existing regional meetings; an entirely virtual meeting every other year would reduce emissions further. In either case, it would take creative thought to enable the intellectual community building that is such an important component of the annual meeting, but I believe it is doable.

A third option would be some sort of offset. As geographers and others environmental scientists have demonstrated repeatedly, offsets have a terrible track record. Leaders of the Energy and Environment Specialty Group recently suggested instead that AAG make a long-term investment in an alternative energy project that might actually offset some of our emissions, preferably one with a strong social justice component. If it were possible to find a legitimate project, this could be an important component of AAG’s climate mitigation strategy.

Over the long term, we need to pursue some combination of these more interventionist approaches (along with other creative ideas from the Climate Action Task Force and AAG members), if we are to have any hope of moving AAG to net zero. The bottom line here is that AAG is going to have to change, and to change radically.  That means we as geographers will have to, too.

Immediate steps AAG members can take to mitigate the annual meeting’s climate impacts

There are things AAG members can do immediately to reduce the climate impact of the annual meeting: attend virtually and/or help to organize a node.

Attending virtually is one straightforward way to reduce emissions associated with the 2024 annual meeting. We need to work on making virtual attendance more engaging, though. AAG’s data shows that in the past few years, the average virtual participant attended fewer than two full sessions: their own and part of another. Thus, I would encourage anyone going the virtual route to think carefully about viable ways to increase their engagement with the annual meeting. I would also encourage specialty groups to develop at least one virtual networking event for their members.

Another thing members can do to reduce the carbon footprint of the 2024 annual meeting would be to help organize a node. This approach was pioneered last year with a mini-conference that brought together geographers in Montreal, and a watch party for students at Cal State Fullerton.  Both were very successful, but organizing them took a substantial amount of work. If more people volunteered to help organize it would make a big difference. If you are interested in co-organizing a node, please contact Patricia Martin or Betsy Olson, the current co-chairs of the Climate Action Task Force.

Our work to reduce AAG 2024’s impact on carbon and climate change is intertwined with the important work so many are putting into centering Indigenous Hawaiian history, knowledge, struggles, and victories at the meeting in Honolulu. I hope, too, that all virtual attendees and nodes will prioritize attending the talks, panels, and featured sessions that focus on Kānaka Maoli. As geographers, we know that climate change is inextricably social and biophysical: prioritizing one at the cost of another cannot move us forwards.

I am very grateful for Neil Hannahs and Aurora Kagawa-Viviani’s review of and suggestions for this column.

Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at rlave [at] indiana [at] edu to enable a constructive discussion.


A Fine Balance: Using Our Collective Power for Good in Hawai‘i

The Ko’oloa’ula is an endangered plant in the mallow family that grows on Maui and many other islands in Hawai'i. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Ko’oloa’ula is an endangered plant in the mallow family that grows on Maui and many other islands in Hawai'i. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Photo of Gary Langham

As AAG prepares for our 2024 annual meeting, I have talked with and worked beside AAG thought leaders and Kānaka representatives, seeking the greatest possible benefit to Hawaiians and Hawai‘i. AAG President Rebecca Lave has described the recommendations and actions from these discussions in her July and August articles, as well as this month’s. Let me add my thoughts and perspectives.

A recent article from The Guardian on the devastating fires on Maui brought home the urgency and complexity of what we are trying to accomplish. Climate change has already plagued the islands for decades. Now, in the wake of the fire, so much more has been lost, from the lives lost and missing to the immense cultural treasures and shared community memories of places that are now gone. Businesses and livelihoods are lost and will take months and years to rebuild if they can return. To add insult to injury, in Lahaina, a former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom that burnt to the ground, predatory land speculators are already harassing local property owners, aiming to capitalize on the destruction. Maui is recovering from COVID-19 and depends on tourism for its economy, with about 75% of its workforce reliant upon it. The question of whether, when, and how to accept visitors is uppermost in many Mauians’ minds: “For so many people to face economic uncertainty or challenges, on top of those who have lost everything in the fire – it compounds the issues and prolongs the recovery,” said T Ilihia Gionson, a public affairs officer for the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. “That is the risk of discouraging travel to Hawaii generally. It’s a fine balance.”

“Going forward, I don’t know if it’s less tourism, but I think more mindful tourism,” Trisha Kehaulani Watson of ʻĀina Momona told The Guardian. “We have to think about enhancing and evolving the visitor experience to be one that invites people who can contribute to Hawaii, as opposed to just taking from us.” [To aid Maui, see our resources here.]

What is happening now in Maui reinforces what is at stake in our effort to live up to our best when visiting Honolulu. We must find ways to leverage our members’ collective talents and AAG’s resources to support the lives of the people living where we will convene. We also must provide attendance choices supporting individual decisions to join us in person, virtually, or at one of the regional nodes. We must educate our members about Hawaiian history, culture, and current issues in a discursive, mutual way, not extractive. Even as we look to lighten our carbon footprint, we must be mindful of our whole footprint and tread with care.

Our Work to Be Good Guests in Honolulu

AAG met in January for in-depth discussions with Kānaka people, geographers, and community members. Their feedback made us realize the issue was not whether we would come to Honolulu but how. They emphasized the need for reciprocity and mindfulness of where we were and what we could bring to replenish it. The AAG immediately agreed to implement all the recommendations suggested by the Kānaka community. For example, I am working with our engagement leader, Neil Hannahs, to develop webinars to help attendees learn more about these themes in the run-up to the annual meeting.  Attend one of AAG’s educational webinars on Hawai‘i

We are now working to implement the other recommendations from these conversations. Kānaka geographers and local people with a range of knowledge are being engaged in developing themes for the annual meeting that center on their issues and concerns, such as US militarism, food sovereignty, and colonial legacies. Field trips and events will be paired with these themes to create meaningful experiences on the Island. AAG will also work with interested specialty groups to select Hawaiian keynote speakers and foreground Kānaka themes. Kānaka Maoli and other Pacific Basin Indigenous groups receive free registration, and AAG will provide free vendor space and publicity for local Kānaka-owned businesses.

It is important to note that one of our most important potential contributions to the meeting is also the most contested and potentially challenging to manage: the presence of thousands of geographers whose work is to understand space and place and respond to the most critical issues of the day. Bringing them into learning and collaborating with Hawaiian community leaders, academics, and others could be one of the great legacies of the 2024 meeting – if we act with care and visit with mindfulness.

Reducing Our Overall Climate Change Impact

In late 2021, AAG asked members what actions they wished AAG to take to reduce climate change impacts. Here is what you said:

Bar chart taken from an AAG survey on climate showing actions members would like to see AAG take, the top of which is taking a role in policy and advocacy for climate action.
This bar chart depicts results from a survey of AAG members. Among the 93% who urged AAG to take leadership on climate change, the top suggestion was that AAG take a role in policy and advocacy for climate action.
Taking Responsibility: AAG Acts on Climate Change


Since then, AAG has made significant strides across all of these categories. AAG continues to engage in policy and advocacy, from supporting member attendance at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) to promoting our members’ authorship of key elements of global climate change assessment; from the focus on Climate and Society as our inaugural theme for the new Elevate the Discipline media and advocacy training program for geographers, to actions at key flexion points in the public discourse, including sign-on letters and statements calling on the United States to address climate change).

AAG has also now completely divested from fossil fuels. We continue to work on reducing carbon emissions associated with travel to meetings (virtual options, nodes). We reduced the emissions at our headquarters and day-to-day by moving to a LEED Gold building and adopting a hybrid-plus-remote workweek. In short, we’ve made excellent progress.

The AAG Annual Meeting in Denver had a 36% reduction in carbon emissions, compared to the 2010 baseline from our report.

Reducing our emissions from travel to meetings is related to the AAG pledge to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030, relative to our 2010 meeting. To measure this, we adopted a method to estimate carbon from travel. Our first meeting since developing the approach was in Denver. Denver had a 36% reduction compared to the 2010 baseline (6663 vs. 10,414 tCO2) and a 58% reduction compared to our 2015-2019 average (16,244 tCO2). Some of this reduction was due to changes in in-person attendance, but also from new options like virtual participation and nodes. Our analysis showed that attendees further from Denver were more likely to attend a node or attend virtually. All this suggests that we are on track to meet our 2030 goals. Meeting our net-zero goals by 2050 will require new approaches.

Leveraging Institutional Power

In August, we met with the AAG Environment and Energy Specialty Group (EESG) to consider options for addressing the 2024 meeting’s carbon footprint. We are working with them and the Climate Task Force on this issue.

Those meetings reinforced the importance of the hybrid meeting and regional attendance nodes, not only to reduce the carbon burden but also for preserving our members’ ability to choose the kind of meeting they wish to attend. Meeting with EESG also reminded me of our ability and responsibility to act on our collective buying power with our hotels and other vendors. For example, hotels are slowly starting to adopt net-zero standards. These efforts should be evaluated carefully but also supported and championed. Imagine this: if AAG and similar academic societies used its collective economic influence to accelerate the adoption of net-zero buildings at all our meeting venues, how much more carbon would be saved compared to anything we could do as individuals.

As we work toward an AAG Annual Meeting that can be truly responsive and respectful of the place and people hosting us, I also think about power, its uses, and its proportions. I think about what I can accomplish on behalf of our membership that I cannot accomplish as an individual. I felt helpless when I saw the devastating wildfires on Maui in mid-August in a summer of extreme heat, fires, and floods worldwide. Nevertheless, I reflect on my ability to bring some change at scale on behalf of AAG to transform how we convene and channel our collective power for the greater good.

Please note: The ideas expressed by Executive Director Gary Langham are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. Please feel free to email him at glangham [at] aag [dot] org.



On Belonging, Action, and Accountability: An Update on JEDI at AAG

Person holding their hands in the shape of a heart with sunlight in background

By Risha RaQuelle

Photo of Risha BerryIt’s hard to believe that I will celebrate my first year at AAG in just a few months. As I close in on this eventful year of implementing AAG’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) plan, I’d like to offer an update on our work so far, and to explain how it connects with the creation of a Culture of Care at AAG and in the discipline.

JEDI Plan Implementation

At AAG 2023 in Denver, I had my first chance to meet many of you in person, and to hear about your experiences and hopes for AAG’s JEDI initiative. In collaboration with our Communications team we designed a JEDI Booth at the Annual Meeting with a comment board for members to use to scan QR codes to provide feedback in six areas:  Member Engagement, Virtual Repository, Truth and Reconciliation Task Force and production of Geography Videos to highlight JEDI scholars. We utilized this feedback to inform insights for incorporation into our implementation planning. A major milestone from that kick-off in Denver is that dozens of AAG members have volunteered for the seven JEDI working groups discussed below. I am grateful for your engagement.

Since April, the JEDI Committee has been at work creating and populating the seven working groups who are collectively activating the 32-point JEDI plan. We have created a framework for the work, called TLC GRAM, which stands for Training, Listening, Communications; and Governance, Reports, Advocacy, and Membership. These seven areas correspond exactly to the seven working groups. I’ll discuss those more in this article.

State of Geography and JEDI-Oriented Storytelling

AAG has woven action and education for JEDI values directly into its daily activities. Just a few highlights include the State of Geography report, which examined known and newer trends in the demographics and inequities of degree conferral; and the use of social media and website stories to showcase the diversity of our discipline through the voices of our members.


AAG also integrated JEDI principles into its programming and cohort selection for the new Elevate the Discipline program, which provides geographers with advocacy and media training. This year’s theme was Climate and Society; 15 scholars were selected from 11 U.S. states and Barbados to participate.

JEDI Approach to all AAG Activities

We are working with all AAG staff to elevate JEDI principles throughout the organization’s work, including membership, professional development, advocacy, and events.

For example, we have created internal checklists informed by various taskforces to guide staff as we improve member experiences at the Annual Meeting, incorporating feedback from the Mental Health Taskforce, and the Accessibility Taskforce to ensure a framework for reinforcing a harassment free AAG.

We have also worked closely with President Lave and Executive Director Langham to incorporate insights from the JEDI Committee into planning for our upcoming annual meeting, with awareness to inform our Culture of Care approach with this and subsequent Annual Meetings.

Our year-round webinar offerings often address JEDI topics, including the recent and popular webinar, in partnership with trubel&co, which introduced department chairs to the Mapping Justice workshop approach for high school students, focusing especially on providing students of color with GIS tools for mapping issues of consequence and importance to them, including public health, food justice, environmental justice, and more. So far, nine geography departments have approached trubel&co to work together on campus programming for high school students.

The seven JEDI committees’ work is growing in specificity daily; I anticipate much more progress to report in upcoming columns. In this one, I’d like to take another moment to say more about some of the terms we are using to describe our work on the JEDI plan.

Defining a Culture of Care

This year, I introduced the concept of “Culture of Care” into our discussions about achieving JEDI goals for the discipline and within AAG. The Othering and Belonging Institute at the University of California-Berkeley offers this definition of Cultures of Care: “practices that create belonging in the context of othering. A Culture of Care is an affirmative, generative form of resistance and adaptation.”

In other words, a Culture of Care — whether at work, in a friendship network, or among members of an organization like AAG — creates a haven of care and inclusiveness, in contrast to othering and oppression. As AAG Lifetime Achievement winner and abolitionist geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore has said, “What the world will become already exists in fragments and pieces, in experiments and possibilities.”

The closely related term “belonging” is also a key goal of our work. The Othering and Belonging Institute says, “The concept of belonging describes more than a feeling of inclusion or welcome. Its full power is as a strategic framework for addressing ongoing structural and systemic othering, made visible, for example, in the wide disparities in outcomes found across a variety of sectors and identity groups.”


TLC GRAM is more than a handy mnemonic (although with a 32-point plan, that function is appreciated!). It is also the frame on which a Culture of Care can be built by AAG.

No single part of TLC GRAM is more important than another. All must work together. Although the TLC part of TLC GRAM — Training, Listening, and Communication — is the heart of our efforts to be more just and inclusive, these efforts are only as good as our accountability. GRAM (Governance, Reports, Advocacy, and Membership) help AAG maintain our responsibility for equity and diversity, alongside inclusiveness and justice. These areas correspond exactly to the seven subcommittees now assembled to work on aspects of the JEDI plan.

Training – JEDI Subcommittee

(Chaired by Robin Lovell, Ph.D.)

This subcommittee will provide opportunities for JEDI learning through resources online, existing training opportunities, and AAG workshops. Specialty and affinity groups may organize programs in support of their own JEDI mission and goals.

Listening – JEDI Subcommittee

(Chaired by Debarchana Ghosh, Ph.D.; JEDI Committee Member & Council Liaison)

This subcommittee is already underway with JEDI Office Hours. JEDI listening sessions will be offered at key meetings, including the AAG Annual Meeting, regional meetings, and in other venues. AAG will assess opportunities to reach out to marginalized students, work with community colleges, and, potentially, connect with K-12 teachers and students.

Communications – JEDI Subcommittee

(Chaired by Caroline Nagel, Ph.D., Chair of the JEDI Committee)

This subcommittee is optimizing the website, AAG Newsletter, and other platforms to be more JEDI-focused, share more information, and provide more opportunities for interaction. The subcommittee is also examining ways to tell a more complete story about the discipline’s history and current realities, through multimedia storytelling, a proposed new Truth and Reconciliation Task Force, and a virtual repository of JEDI resources.

Participate in AAG’s weekly JEDI Office Hours. You can reserve a time to talk with staff about your ideas for advancing JEDI.


In the areas of accountability – GRAM – AAG has laid out these objectives:

Governance – JEDI Subcommittee

(Chaired by Joseph Wood, Ph.D.)

Among the subcommittee’s focal points are regular audits of AAG governance structures to identify and address systemic or structural barriers to achieving JEDI excellence. AAG will use the results of these audits to adjust and amend policies to reflect guiding JEDI principles, and foster collaboration among committees, task forces, and other entities engaged in JEDI work (e.g., Anti-Harassment Task Force, Accessibility Task Force). JEDI will also be a standing agenda item at all meetings of the AAG Executive Committee and the AAG Council.

Reporting – JEDI Subcommittee

(Chaired by Risha RaQuelle, Ph.D.)

Using voluntary information from members, the subcommittee will work with AAG to better understand the discipline’s representation of diverse identities, research specialties, departmental affiliations, and institutional affiliations. Working with the Healthy Departments Committee, the subcommittee will develop an evaluation tool for departments and programs to assess their own status, policies, practices, and progress toward JEDI success.

Advocacy – JEDI Subcommittee

(Co-Chaired by Mia White, PhD, and Meghan Cope, Ph.D. – JEDI Committee Members)

This subcommittee will advise AAG on advocacy issues at the intersection of geography and JEDI advancement.

Membership – JEDI Subcommittee

(Chaired by Russell Smith, Ph.D. – JEDI Committee Member)

This subcommittee will advise AAG regarding its membership fee structure, recruitment, and retention strategy to attract and increase the proportion of members from formerly excluded groups and institutions (e.g., MSIs, HBCUs, HSIs, Community Colleges, and Tribal Colleges) across professional and academic spheres. The subcommittee will also explore new ways of recognizing JEDI best practices and leadership through its awards program.

Each committee meets every other month. The next meetings will be held in September, with workplan deliverables due in December. We will unveil our updates and approach to operationalizing the workplans at the Annual Meeting.

Get Involved!

The TLC GRAM working groups are ongoing, and AAG welcomes participation. You can also sign up for a visit with AAG staff during JEDI Office Hours (any topic is welcome; AAG will set some topics this fall, for example research partnership opportunities with us will be discussed in October.) You can reserve a time to talk with staff about your ideas for advancing JEDI with any thoughts, questions, or ideas.

Find out more about AAG’s JEDI Plan implementation at AAG Culture of Care to find out more.


Boundaries and Connection: Creating a Meaningful Meeting in Honolulu

Panorama of Menehune fishpond, aka Alekoko Fishpond, historic Hawaii, Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii, USA

Photo of Rebecca Lave

The first of AAG’s webinars in preparation for the annual meeting in Honolulu took place on Tuesday, July 25. Webinar participants Aurora Kagawa-Viviani (University of Hawai‘i-Manoa), Mahina Paishon-Duarte (Wai Wai Collective CEO and co-founder) and Ulalia Woodside Lee (Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i) shared stories, images, and songs to introduce Hawaiian culture and the central role of reciprocity; critiques of the impacts of imperialism and interlinked economic, environmental, and cultural struggles; and tools to help us organize the annual meeting in a way that positively addresses both. More than 130 AAG members attended the webinar, Aloha Aku, Aloha Mai: Aloha Given, Aloha Received.

These webinars are an important piece of AAG’s commitment to centering Kānaka (Indigenous Hawaiian) history, struggles and triumphs (see my July column for details on the other parts of that commitment), and to building a new locally engaged, justice-focused model for our annual meetings in Honolulu and beyond. This new model is an obvious step forward: in retrospect, it seems absurd that Geographers, the academics most centrally focused on space and place, have engaged so little with the areas outside our conference hotels. With the notable exception of field trips, our annual meetings have mostly focused inwards.

Yet this new model raises big questions, which Aurora, Mahina, and Ulalia crystalized for me in their comments on the 25th.  It is relatively straightforward to engage intellectually with Kānaka scholars, and even some local thought leaders, via key notes at the annual meeting. Economically, AAG has committed to waiving fees for Kānaka vendors during the meeting and providing lists of Kānaka-owned businesses to visit. But even a quick look at the chat log from the webinar shows that attendees also wanted to build meaningful relations while they were in Honolulu. How do we enable annual meeting attendees to build genuine connections with local communities without placing burdensome demands on their time and resources? How do we enter communities in respectful ways? In Ulalia’s words, how can we “level up expectations for guests” in Hawai’i?

There are no simple answers to these questions.  My hope is that we will develop a collective response via the webinar series, and discussions among Specialty and Affinity Groups, the local organizing committee, and Kānaka community engagement facilitator Neil Hannahs.  A few initial options mentioned during the webinar were:

  • Embracing our kuleana as guests: carefully considering what skills and connections we can bring to the local community, and being intentional about ways we can be useful and reciprocal.
  • Land engagements: field trips that enable conference attendees to contribute labor and resources to existing workdays for Kānaka community groups (rather than asking for special events for us).
  • Events for school groups: offering workshops for local schools, perhaps at the schools or in the Convention Center.

I look forward to adding to and refining this list in conversation with you to develop new practices for our annual meetings.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0136

Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at rlave [at] indiana [at] edu to enable a constructive discussion.


Kumulipo: Hawaiian Explication of Creation 

Hawai‘i Habitation: Consequences of Human Values 

Restoring Waiwai: Redefining Wealth to Foster Health & Abundance 

Supporting AP African American Studies through Geography: How Geography Instruction Can Be Strengthened in the New Course

Photo of the Seaview African United Church, credit: Dennis Jarvis for Flickr
Seaview African United Church, credit: Dennis Jarvis, Flickr

By Lisa Tabor, University of Northern Iowa, and John Harrington, Jr., Independent Scholar

In January 2023, the AAG spoke out against Florida’s decision to ban the College Board’s new AP African American Studies course, and subsequently called upon the College Board to resist political pressure and deliver the full curriculum that it had developed. While the politics of this situation are concerning, we are also concerned that the AAG may be missing an important opportunity to move forward, sharing the value of a geographic mindset on topics related to the teaching of African American studies. In our collective, and career-altering experience working with educators and education scholars, we have discovered that content is not the problem: the appropriate and accurate representation of our perspectives and use of best practices in geographic education pedagogies is the problem. Our thoughts are tempered by knowledge of the work of education scholars, over a decade of work with K-12 teachers in state geographic alliances, and supported by the process of Creating Significant Learning Experiences (Fink, 2013).

Here are some of our recommendations related to the development of the new AP class addressing African American studies and opportunities for geographers to make helpful contributions:

Strengthen geography’s role in curriculum development. To date, much of the emphasis in public discourse has been on political influence, overshadowing the iterative work of subject matter experts and education scholars working together to develop the new curriculum. From our experience, social studies education scholars tend to have a good handle on what topics/material will (or will not) work well with a high school student cohort, and should have access to high-quality resources that bring geographical perspectives and pedagogies to their lesson plans.

Support K-12 teachers in developing familiarity and expertise with geography. African American studies is like much interdisciplinary scholarship that builds course content from ideas that originate in multiple academic areas. Academic areas that AP African American studies build from include sociology, psychology, history, geography, political science, and gender and ethnic studies. A good class will be transdisciplinary, with ideas and examples that build from and merge content from individual academic areas. Teachers of these courses will naturally emphasize the material with which they feel most comfortable and confident. We ask, what can the AAG do to help K-12 teachers develop confidence and competence related to teaching the relevant topics for AP African American Studies. A cohesive, discipline-wide message could focus on addressing the accessibility of relevant content and methods for delivering the new curriculum. This will enable AAG and members to better collaborate and participate, establishing geography’s inherent ‘place’ within the larger boundaries of AP African American Studies.

Leverage the AP Human Geography knowledge base. A good number of topics are inherently geographic within the scope of AP African American Studies. A teacher with a good geography background can bring a great deal to teaching about redlining, patterns of migration from the South to urban centers in the North, the diffusion of jazz from several cultural hearths, how sense of place matters and is different for different cultural groups, and environmental racism. The spatial association between redlining, depleted tree canopy, higher levels of air pollution, and warmer high temperatures provides an example of important connections we want students to be able to make. We invite teachers and curriculum developers of AP Human Geography to share relevant lessons with teachers of AP African American Studies.

Create a clearinghouse of relevant teaching resources. AAG and its members can help fulfill the need for excellent content for this and other study areas. For example, K-12 teachers are supported by knowing that there is a go-to source for good content on climate change and energy in the CLEAN effort. The NSF GEO and EHR funding programs may be a source for such an effort by AAG and its members. There is also a need for relevant professional development for teachers who want to address the breadth of topics available for inclusion within AP African American Studies, and potentially other study areas.

To frame this entire discussion, we believe the topic of how to do a better job of teaching geography has been an under-emphasized area within the AAG. AAG policy principles include “Preserving the Arc of Geography,” which discusses sustaining “geographers from the beginning of education through retirement by bolstering institutions, advocating for funding, supporting programs, and utilizing assessments.” The AAG could do much more to address how to effectively share the academic subject that we care so much about. We believe that the AAG has followed in the footsteps of many other disciplinary organizations by leaving much of the educational aspects up to faculty in the colleges of Education and then wondering why those who are not experts in our field are not representing us well.

One path forward to bring more geography resources to the teaching of the AP African American Studies course is to call for information from geography teachers and geography educators on what role they have currently played in the new course, relevant to its spatial elements. With the College Board preparing to offer it to hundreds more schools, considerable attention to these questions could have significant impacts on students’ and teachers’ understanding of the geographies of the African American experience—an understanding that can certainly be promoted across many other AP courses invoking geographic knowledge. Building from the foundation of existing good practice could make the AAG a key place for moving forward.


Recommended Reading

Fink, L. Dee Creating Significant Learning Experiences (2013).
This text addresses the challenge of designing meaningful curriculum and classes. Fundamental Knowledge, Application, Integration, and Caring are four categories of Fink’s significant learning that we identify as vital for geographic lessons that support the AP African American Studies curriculum.

Background on the Photograph

From the photographer, Dennis Jarvis: “The Seaview African United Baptist Church was established at Africville on Nova Scotia in 1849; it joined with other black Baptist congregations to establish the African Baptist Association in 1854. The community’s social life revolved around the church. Demolished in 1969, [it] was rebuilt in the summer of 2011 to serve as a church and historic interpretation center.

“Africville was a small community located on the shore of Bedford Basin, in Halifax. During the 20th century, the City of Halifax gradually took over this community through municipal amalgamation. Africville was populated almost entirely by Black Nova Scotians from a wide variety of origins. Many of the first settlers were former slaves from the United States [and] Black Loyalists who were freed by the Crown during the American Revolutionary War and War of 1812.

“[Africville] has become an important symbol of Black Canadian identity and the struggle against racism. The site was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1996 as being representative of Black Canadian settlements in the province and as an enduring symbol of the need for vigilance in defense of their communities and institutions. After years of protest and investigations, in 2010 the Halifax Council ratified a proposed “Africville apology,” under an arrangement with the federal government, to compensate descendants and their families who had been evicted. In addition, an Africville Heritage Trust was established to design a museum and build a replica of the community church. A commemorative waterfront park has been renamed as Africville.” Image used under a Creative Commons license.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0133

Perspectives is a column intended to give AAG members an opportunity to share ideas relevant to the practice of geography. If you have an idea for a Perspective, see our guidelines for more information.


The 2024 Annual Meeting in Honolulu

Green triangular sign saying "Aloha visitors, please check in at office"

Photo of Rebecca Lave

Over the last year, I have heard from geographers on four continents, voicing concerns about the 2024 annual meeting in Hawaiʻi in relation to cost and accessibility, climate change and carbon emissions, and Indigenous self-determination and legacies of settler colonialism. These issues of economic, climate, and Indigenous justice are deeply important to me, and I love being part of a discipline that foregrounds them and their interconnections. Thus, I deeply appreciate the people who took the time to reach out, and I am dedicating my first column as AAG President to these concerns.

The decision to hold the 2024 annual meeting in Honolulu was made in 2016, long before the current Executive Director, Gary Langham, or any of the current Council members held positions of authority at AAG. That said, we take responsibility for deciding to move forward. Our decision wasn’t made lightly, and it took into account the real costs of cancelling, as well as the inherent responsibilities in proceeding, especially in terms of climate action and attention to the wishes and wellbeing of the Kānaka Maoli, the sovereign people of Hawaiʻi.

I’d like to address these considerations one by one, although they are of course interconnected.

Indigenous Sovereignty

The concern I heard most frequently was about Indigenous self-determination, often citing tweets from Deondre Smiles, former chair of the Indigenous People’s Specialty Group, stating that Indigenous Hawaiians (Kānaka Maoli) did not want visitors to come to Hawaiʻi, and contemplating a boycott of the annual meeting. I reached out to Deondre in response to his statements on Twitter, and we decided the best way forward was to convene a conversation between Indigenous Geographers and AAG. After much consultation about who should be part of that conversation, we met on March 10 with a group of Hawaiian geographers, most of whom were Kānaka. They made two points that changed my thinking about the annual meeting:

  1. Kānaka Maoli are not a monolithic group, and they have a range of views about and relationships to tourism; and
  2. AAG was welcome as long as we were good guests. This second point is guiding a range of actions I’ll describe below, but the key is this: Rather than viewing Hawaiʻi through kitschy-touristic lenses (Grass skirts! Drinks in pineapples! Sun-bathing between sessions!), we need to do the work of learning about and attending to Kānaka history, struggles, and successes.

The geographers in that meeting asked AAG to walk away from typical annual meeting practices which, other than field trips, are only lightly tailored to the place where the meeting takes place. Instead, they asked us to center Kānaka issues throughout the conference, from the vendors to the keynotes. Among the most important things that we have agreed to and begun to implement are:

  • Kānaka vendors will have free space in the Convention Center.
  • Kānaka-owned restaurants and other businesses will be prominently highlighted in our visitor information, so that meeting attendees can support them.
  • Kānaka geographers and local people with a range of knowledge will be engaged directly in developing themes for the annual meeting that center their issues and concerns, such as US militarism, food sovereignty, and colonial legacies.
  • Field trips and events will be paired with these themes to create meaningful experiences of the Island.
  • Kānaka Maoli and other Pacific Basin Indigenous groups can attend the meeting free of charge.
  • AAG will work with interested specialty groups to select Hawaiian keynote speakers and foreground Kānaka themes.
  • AAG will develop a series of webinars to help attendees learn more about these themes in the run up to the annual meeting.
  • The AAG Indigenous People’s Specialty Group will have free space to run its own programming during the annual meeting.

Our discussion also resulted, in this meeting, in AAG hiring a Kānaka event coordinator, Neil Hannahs, the founder of Hoʻokele Strategies LLC, to help with all of the above, to ground us in Indigenous Hawaiian values, and help attendees to be good guests.

Climate Impact

We are still thinking about how to address the climate impacts of holding the annual meeting in Hawaiʻi, but there are a few things we can say with certainty now.

First, given the excellent and damning work geographers have done about the ineffectiveness of carbon offsetting, we know that is not a realistic option.

Second, thanks to the vision and persistence of former AAG President Emily Yeh and the members of the Climate Action Task Force she convened, the willingness of AAG staff to think outside of conventional conference models, and the impressive efforts of geographers in Fullerton, CA and Montreal, we now know that nodes offer a viable alternative to attending the annual meeting in person.

In 2021, AAG released a report to aid in decision making for its meetings. Based on those projections, we know that AAG 2024 in Honolulu could have much higher emissions than typical meetings if no options are provided (35k vs. 16.5k tCO2). Adding additional hubs can reduce emissions impacts dramatically, however, which is why we are seeking to scale up nodes dramatically. The current plan is to have at least 10 nodes next year, offering much lower-carbon and lower-cost ways to view, and even participate in, the annual meeting.


AAG’s early response to concerns raised about the meeting was to look into the cost of cancelling. Doing so would have cost over $1 million, or about 1/6 of AAG’s annual operating budget. Particularly because AAG has spent millions of dollars over the last few years of virtual and hybrid meetings, there is no way to absorb that cost without laying off staff and cutting back on activities that support and promote geography and geographers. We have opted to instead invest resources—funds and people—in hosting the most robust, ethically responsive, and locally (and virtually) engaging 2024 meeting we can host. As with actions we have had to take over the past nearly four years, AAG’s stance is a thoughtfully risky one.

We know that traveling to any AAG meeting is costly, disproportionately so for our many members who do not have access to departmental or other funds to attend. That’s another reason it is so important to us to keep the virtual option in place, and to do what we can to secure competitively low hotel rates. While Honolulu is one of the most expensive places the annual meeting is held, it’s worth noting that travel costs vary markedly by geography; I heard from geographers from Aotearoa New Zealand who were delighted that they could actually afford to attend the annual meeting this year. For all AAG members, we provide a number of options that can defray travel and registration expenses including the Community College Travel Grants, AAG Student Travel Grants, and AAG-GTU Travel Grants.

Looking Forward

I have learned much by working through the concerns raised by our members, particularly in terms of Kānaka Maoli wishes and sovereignty. I have also been surprised and very pleased at AAG’s response to both criticism and constructive suggestions. Over the last few months, I have shifted from being worried and uncertain about the Hawaiʻi meeting, to actively looking forward to learning more about Kānaka history, struggles and victories. Land acknowledgments, where many organizations stop short, have been criticized (appropriately, in my view) for merely naming histories of dispossession and death; AAG’s planned approach in Hawaiʻi feels like the beginning of an answer to how disciplinary societies can do more.

I hope you will be part of the 2024 meeting, and I encourage you to be in touch with AAG concerning any questions. Email,.

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Join us in learning more. At the annual meeting in Honolulu the AAG will pilot a new approach that connects the conference more strongly to the place where it is held. To do that respectfully and well, we need to learn more about Hawaiʻi before we go. Between July and March, the AAG will be hosting a virtual learning series featuring Hawaiian speakers and perspectives on a broad range of environmental, political, and historical topics including Indigenous ecological knowledge and sovereignty. We are excited by these opportunities and invite you to join us. You can register for free for the first webinar in this series.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0132

Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at rlave [at] indiana [at] edu to enable a constructive discussion.