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