eESG Sponsored Sessions

If you would like us to consider your AAG 2020 session for EESG sponsorship, please contact us through the People page.

AAG 2020: Navigating wicked problems as geographers: challenges and strategies for participating in wicked problem research


Organizers: Jeffrey Swofford, Arizona State University
Wicked problems are problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because they are ill defined, more complex than we fully grasp, and open to multiple interpretations. Wicked problems are overwhelming—for both the communities they impact and the researchers who study them. Indeed, academic and professional engagement related to wicked problems might have the capacity for creating unique stressors and challenges for the experts themselves. Considering that many students and scholars studying geography may focus on wicked problems throughout their careers, understanding the social-psychological challenges of working with wicked problems and the potential strategies that can be used to manage these challenges is an important contribution to both research and teaching in geography.This organized session will feature early-stage research proposals, conceptual research, and empirical research that highlight the challenges of developing new knowledge and research for wicked problem topics. We especially encourage presenters that showcase real-world examples and/or new methodological approaches for analyzing the geographic dimensions of wicked problems. Possible topics may include but are not limited to:
Human-geography research related to wicked problems in areas such as poverty, food and hunger, violence, health and wellness, politics, global change and the environment, for example.Challenges associated with conducting research and fieldwork in communities impacts by wicked problems; and strategies for addressing these challenges.Exploring researcher-research participant relationships related to wicked problems research.Frameworks and typologies for understanding geographic and interdisciplinary research related to wicked problems.Other proposed topics related to wicked problems.
Interested participants should email their abstract to Jeffrey Swofford (jeffrey.swofford@asu.edu) by November 13, 2019.

Panel: “Slow” Geographies and Ecological-Ethical Dilemmas of International Research


Co-organizers: Ashley Fent (Vassar College) and Joseph Holler (Middlebury College)
In spite of ongoing concerns and discussions about rapid climate change, the IPCC reported in 2018 that greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise and predicted that if current climate policies and levels of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are maintained, it will no longer be possible to remain below the IPCC’s target goal of a 1.5o C increase in warming. This year, 7,000 colleges, universities, technical schools and community colleges from around the world declared a climate emergency in a letter to the UN, pledging to increase their sustainability curriculum and reach carbon neutrality by 2050 (Ryan 2019). Meanwhile, due to various initiatives and petitions within diverse disciplines, academic conferences are moving toward low-emissions models.
We are interested in exploring in this panel what it might mean to do “slow” and less carbon-intensive geographical scholarship in conducting internationally-engaged research. Slow scholarship has previously been theorized through the lens of feminist theory as a collective response to the neoliberalization of the academy and the demands for rapid publication timelines associated with this growing emphasis on research productivity (Mountz et al. 2015). In our application of “slowness” to understandings of academics’ active engagement with climate change, we are interested in thinking with panelists about whether and how internationally-engaged research can be conducted more equitably and more sustainably.
Recent scholarship has expressed concerns that academic careers still require considerable amounts of air travel to participate in conferences and conduct international research. One study estimated that air travel to the 2011 AAG Annual Meeting in Seattle was responsible for 5,351 metric tons of carbon emissions--an amount that is 3.8 times the total annual emissions of the average Haitian (Nevins 2014). Air travel contributes four to nine percent of carbon emissions from human activities (David Suzuki Foundation 2017), and it is growing rapidly, with demand outpacing UN predictions and reducing the impact of efficiency gains made within the industry (Tabuchi 2019). Frequent fliers taking six round trips or more per year are responsible for 68% of the aviation industry's emissions (Rutherford 2019). Increasingly, both long- and short-term global research, study abroad, and fieldwork experiences are also being encouraged among undergraduates in geography and other disciplines (McGuinness and Simm 2005). At the same time, studies have found no correlation between metrics of academic productivity and emissions from air travel; this suggests that many scholars can reduce their professional travel without adversely impacting their academic success (Wynes et al. 2019). Of course, structural changes, both within academia and within capitalism, are needed to fully address what has been termed “ecological privilege,” as it pertains to inequalities in emissions and the effects of those emissions (Nevins 2014). However, these trends raise a series of dilemmas for critical scholars who conduct international research (often on issues that intersect with anthropogenic climate change) while acknowledging the need for socio-ecological transformation (Baer 2018; Kjellman 2019).
The environmental and climatic impacts of this air travel add to a number of other ethical dilemmas that emerge in particular from scholars from the Global North conducting international research, often in the Global South. Feminist scholars have raised issues of power in transnational research dynamics, and have encouraged greater attention to positionality and the negotiated ethics and relational racialized and gendered subjectivities involved in the research and writing process (Kobayashi 1994; Sultana 2007; Faria and Mollett 2016). Additionally, scholars have critically examined the unequal relationships between foreign researchers and their research assistants and research participants, tracing both the problematic power differentials and the opportunities for collaboration, debate, and co-authorship that arise from these relationships (Neely and Nguse 2015). Some scholars have argued against a reactive turn away from research in the Global South in order to conduct “safer” and ostensibly less problematic textual analysis, which may fail to engage with the concerns and preoccupations of real-world individuals and communities (Nagar 2002). In this view, critical scholars should develop better ways of working through the dissonances and discomforts of conducting and writing transnational research, rather than retreating entirely from the prospect of doing international fieldwork. We view climate change as illustrating these ethical dilemmas further, as the emissions from personal and professional consumptive practices in the Global North exacerbate extremely dangerous living conditions for people in the Global South. This situation prevents climate solidarity and perpetuates racialized and gendered forms of structural and ecological violence.
We invite panelists to consider questions such as:
What are some models of international collaboration that you have used in your work? How can electronic networks, social media, and virtual meeting platforms be used to coordinate research and conferences?To what extent can and should the "speed" of remote data-driven research (e.g. with microdata and remote sensing) replace the necessity for air travel and in situ empirical observation? (And what are the emissions impacts of relying on energy-intensive digital technologies and data centers?)How do you balance your interest and/or your students’ interest in international dynamics with the need to reduce air travel? Have you found ways to engage and address your research through more localized data collection practices?What are some of the professional and personal difficulties you have encountered in practicing “slow” research?What are the limitations of individualized or department-level initiatives to reduce air travel? What are some strategies for enacting and advocating structural changes?How might seniority and tenure play a role in who can practice “slow” geography and who cannot?What should be the differential obligations of scholars who have benefited from the white supremacist and patriarchal capitalist system that has driven anthropogenic climate change, and those who belong to communities that have been marginalized, oppressed, and subjected to various forms of violence by this system?
We invite participants from both the Global North and the Global South in this panel, which will be run as an informal, roundtable discussion. We encourage remote participation, via Zoom. Significantly reduced rates are available for virtual participation, at $10 for students and $20 for faculty (more information on how to register at these rates TBD). Reduced rates for in-person attendance are also available for students, underemployed scholars, and scholars from developing countries.

Green Policy Development and Environmental Justice

Organizers: Hamil Pearsall, Yuki Kato
This panel explores the impacts of green policies or green development in the city with a particular focus on how communities of color, low-income communities, and other marginalized communities. We aim to engage in a critical discussion over the ways in which greening explicitly or implicitly manifests in state or local policies, and how the concept guides urban development processes, as being critiqued by the emerging "green gentrification" scholarship. Another major point of discussion will focus on how frontline communities of environmental injustice respond to these changes, including the extent of their ability to challenge the negative impacts of development, their modes of resistance, and the range of outcomes. The panel will identify future research directions on the intersection of suggestions. greening and development, as well as policy recommendations based on the discussions.

Should the AAG Consider Carbon Offsets as Part of Its Transition to Low-Emissions Annual Meetings?

Session Sponsored by the AAG Council’s Climate Action Task Force and the Energy and Environment Specialty Group
Concern about the considerable CO2 footprint associated with travel to and from large academic conferences is growing in light of the climate crisis. Among the proposed remedies are carbon offsets, which many champion as a way of erasing the detrimental climate impacts of air travel. Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann, for instance, characterizes them as “a viable means of decarbonizing your air travel.” At the same time, many take issue with offsetting. Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, calls offsetting “worse than doing nothing,” “without scientific legitimacy,” and “dangerously misleading.” As the AAG seeks to dramatically reduce the CO2 emissions associated with its annual meetings—which now draw between 7,000 and 9,000 registered participants--the AAG Council’s Climate Action Task Force invites panelists to engage the debate over carbon offsets. The panel welcomes panelists who will be present in Denver as well as those who would like to participate via video conferencing.Please contact John Hayes jhayes@salemstate.edu if you have any questions or would like to participate.

AAG Panel Session: Studying Transit: Experimental Research and Just Transitions

Organizers: Dylan Harris, Clark University, Worcester, MA; Gabe Schwartzman, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
The question of how to study transitions in geography has resulted in rich and interconnected scholarship about energy geographies, extractive landscapes, racial capitalisms, and the changing climate to name a few topics. From scholarship on the potentialities in the indeterminate future geographies of a low-carbon economy (Bridge et al, 2013); the turn to study art and experimentation in political ecologies of socioecolgocial transformation (Hawkins et al 2015; Braun, 2015); the prospects and promises of design for a ‘Just Transition’ (White, 2019); to Indigneous critique of the novelty of the Anthropocene (Whyte, 2018); conversations have centered around how to think about futures and futurity in the midsts of transitions (Rickards et al, 2014; Braun, 2015; Wynter and McKittrick, 2015; Knappe, 2019). In light of an emerging Green New Deal in the U.S., and of the prospects of a ‘Just Transition’ more broadly (Indigenous Environmental Network 2018), this panel brings together scholars interested in what it means to study transit (Byrd, 2011). More specifically, we are interested in discussing the methodological, analytical, and empirical challenges that come along with studying an issue that is currently happening or has not yet happened. We are also interested in a broad discussion of what exactly needs to transition, regarding everything from energy systems to food systems, and what are our roles as researchers in identifying and helping facilitate these needs. Finally, and importantly, we are interested in discussing the conceptualizations of justice that underpin a ‘Just Transition'. For this panel, we aim to have a wide-ranging conversation about these ideas, drawing from a variety of perspectives across a diversity of sites to begin thinking through what it means to study transit.

AAG 2020 Panel and Paper Session: Feminist Energy Geographies

Organizers: Mukul Kumar (University of California, Irvine) and Nikki Luke (University of Georgia)
This session invites participants working in different geographical and resource contexts to consider feminist approaches to energy geographies. As a growing field of nature-society scholarship, energy geographies has advanced research agendas to investigate the changing spatiality of energy extraction, finance, production, and use. Building on political economy and political ecology literatures, theory-building around energy considers the interdependent relationship between energy and capital accumulation, and as such, energy geographers have explored the connections between energy and social reproduction and the diverse ways in which energy systems intersect in everyday life (Calvert 2016; Valdivia 2018). Research into the geographical imaginaries of extraction and consumption examine how energy systems have shaped modern culture and politics (Appel, Mason, and Watts 2015; Huber 2013; Scott 2010), while research into energy poverty evidences the intimate entanglements of energy access and energy markets at home (Halff, Sovacool, and Rozhon 2014; Harrison and Popke 2011; Hilbert and Werner 2016). Historical and contemporary interventions trace the intersections of gender, race, class, and geography that generate difference in access to energy infrastructure (Desbiens 2004; Harrison 2016; McDonald 2009; Needham 2014; Nye 1992; Petrova and Simcock 2019). Feminist political economy has the potential to extend analyses of the ways in which energy contributes to uneven power relationships. Following a recent intervention on feminist political economy that situates “social difference – including, but not limited to, gender – to be integral to the functioning of political-economic systems and knowledge production processes” (Werner et al. 2017, 2), we ask how engaging feminist political economic and feminist political ecological scholarship may be useful for understanding energy systems in a period of energy transition and for whom feminist geographical energy research is useful? We are particularly interested in papers that consider feminist epistemologies and methodologies in energy research.

AAG 2020 Sessions: Environmental Justice, Communities and Just Energy Transitions

Organizers: Marissa Bell, University at Buffalo (SUNY); Sara Peterson, University at Buffalo (SUNY) In recent years we have seen the emergence of the field of energy justice and, concurrently, we have seen the centering of communities in discussions of energy policy, security, consumption, and transitions. In this time, communities have gained prominence as both the objects and subjects of energy debates, as the focus of conversations have increasingly turned to understanding both the ways in which existing energy decision-making procedures impact communities as well as the ways in which these same communities might become empowered within these energy decision-making and governance processes. This focus on communities is essential to effecting sustainable, just, and equitable energy for communities; it is all the more invaluable in a cultural climate rife with uncertainty, political distrust, and 'false news'. Through this session, we would like to shed light on the various forms of environmental governance that center communities in some form or another and facilitate conversations amongst the diverse range of geographers working in this domain. Recognizing and embracing the wide range of focus areas and methodological approaches that are pertinent to questions of environmental governance, communities, and energy justice, we welcome abstracts using a range of methodological approaches on a variety of themes.

AAG 2020 Paper Session: Critical Renewabilities: Political Ecologies of Renewable Energy

Organizers: Ingrid Behrsin, Sarah Knuth, Anthony Levenda, James McCarthy
Facing the challenge of global climate change and other 21st century disruptions, scholars across multiple fields of geographic research have increasingly embraced renewable energy transitions as a core concern. Such transitions are at once material and ecological, power-laden, and culturally meaningful – and thus deeply geographical (Bridge et al. 2013). Critical renewable energy geographers are therefore drawing upon political economy, feminist science studies, decolonial studies, environmental justice and other interdisciplinary approaches to investigate renewable energy transitions as emerging spaces of possibilities and constraints. This scholarship illuminates how renewable energy development may usher in new green economic imaginaries of technological 'disruption' and renewal (Knuth 2017; 2018), promise novel socioecological fixes to capitalist crisis tendencies (McCarthy 2015; Castree and Christophers 2015), and/or serve as liberatory “technologies of existence” (Powell 2006). Renewable energy transitions, and the variegated movements both in support of and in resistance to them, are thus fertile terrain for political ecology and critical energy scholars.

AAG 2020 session: Human-Environment Dimensions of Shale Gas Development


The massive increase in development related to shale gas extraction across the globe has given rise to a wide variety of ecological impacts and changes in human-environment dynamics. This session seeks to increase the interaction and collaboration of researchers focusing on the geography of shale gas development including aspects such as landscape fragmentation, impacts on native populations, impacts on wildlife populations, wastewater disposal, and seismicity. The session organizers hope that the interaction of scholars on this topic will lead to future interdisciplinary efforts of cross-location comparisons that are currently lacking in the research.

Rural Energy Transition in the Global North: Community Benefits, Contradictions and Future Challenges


Over the past two decades, we have witnessed different processes of the ongoing transition to a more sustainable energy systems. One of the ways how to reduce our high carbon dependency is deployment of renewable energy sources. These new phenomena significantly affect especially rural spaces that have been traditionally conservative in adopting innovations, and the new developments have altered landscapes and land use dynamics, brought about new land use conflicts and disconnections between policy makers and stakeholders (Cowell et al., 2011, Frantal et al., 2014). It´s known that these tensions differ depending on geographical locations, political-institutional settings and local socio-cultural contexts of individual projects. There´s also no doubt that the mentioned trends offer wide possibilities for diversification of agricultural activities and they might lead to the desired and more sustainable socio-economic and environmental development of rural areas. In other words, facilities for generation of renewable energy in the countryside are becoming an integral part of the wider societal change in favor of the sustainability transformation of the rural (Marsden and Rucinska, 2019). As rural areas are characterized by lower population density, it seems beneficial to support a de-centralized system of generating renewable energy. A huge potential of such locally generated electricity and heat for local development is obvious and plenty of „smart practice“ examples of such symbiosis exist (Frantal, et al., 2018). In order to shed more light on the issue of rural energy transition, it is necessary to reflect social-spatial relations in a given area as they determine all decisions in the scope of production, distribution, and consumption of energy (Pasqualetti, 2011). The legal arrangements regarding the energy sector applicable in a given area must be also analyzed in order to identify the key particularities. Special attention has to be devoted to studying the value systems influencing the daily behavior of the population of the local communities affected by renewable energies. And finally, the perception of usage of the surrounding landscape by the local population has to be significantly taken into account. To move forward, the public and political support for individual energy industries need to be reconsidered (Chodkowska-Miszczuk et al., 2019). In this Session, we strive to learn more about examples of rural energy transition from various geographical contexts in the Global North. We try to capture the spatial regularities of identified changes, to point out the directions of energy transition and to analyze the relationships formed between the new energy entities and the places where they are located.

Energy Poverty & Beyond: Understanding Energy-Society Tensions

Organizer: Joshua Randall - North Carolina State University
Energy poverty, the lack of households to acquire and afford energy and necessary levels, is a global issue occurring at various geographies. Further, it is multidimensional and reproducing, as political, structural, social and spatial implications all play parts in how energy poverty (and other social impacts) exists. Although energy poverty is a pressing issue, it is not the only way in which the connection between society and energy is present. Research situating the tensions between society and energy exists through theoretical frameworks, explicit spatial analysis, and much more. With the end goal of a just energy system, how do geographers focus and frame these interactions, especially considering a changing climate and population patterns? What can be gleaned from the wide range of energy-society research to help push forward a goal of a just energy world? This session welcomes papers that are approaching the social impacts of energy, with a focus on energy poverty, energy vulnerability, energy justice (including just energy transitions), or any similar topics through a spatial lens. This session extends a broad reach, from applied work to theoretical, to better tie both the understanding of the social realities of energy and the spatial analysis of energy as one process.

CFP AAG: Making Things the Same: How Carbon Has Been Constructed for Decarbonization Policies

Organizers: Xi Wang, Cecilia Springer


A growing number of jurisdictions around the world are recognizing the threat of climate change and implementing policies to reduce their own carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is conceptualized as a global pollutant because it is in theory spatially homogeneous in its impacts. Thus, climate policies have largely framed the climate change problem and carbon dioxide emissions as a set of technical and managerial challenges (Edwards 2010) requiring the application of economic theory (Lohmann 2009). However, decarbonization policies at all levels hinge on local efforts--and have localized impacts. The production, measurement, and regulation of carbon dioxide emissions is a highly heterogeneous process incumbent upon existing social, spatial, and political economic dynamics, making these policies highly relevant to geographers. This raises questions around the construction of carbon as a commodity; how biochemical processes came to be counted and made fungible; how systems of measurement, tracking, and exchange are defined, managed, and regulated; the political economy of decarbonization; and who gains and loses through the construction and implementation of decarbonization policies.
We ask: What are the costs of the emerging technocratic regime to managing carbon? Geographers have begun to explore the nature of decarbonization efforts, from market-based instruments like carbon pricing policies (Bryant 2017) to non-market policies like voluntary targets and command-and-control regulations, as well as complementary policies that address renewable energy and energy efficiency. Others have begun to assess the environmental justice impacts of carbon pricing programs (Cushing et al. 2016). This session aims to apply a critical lens to policy instruments that theorize carbon as a commodity. We are interested in papers that draw on theories from science and technology studies, political economy, political ecology, climate and environmental justice, and other critical approaches to open up new frameworks and methodologies for understanding the construction, implementation, and impacts of decarbonization policies in different geographies. Specifically, this session seeks to promote discussion around the following themes and questions:
- The political economy of decarbonization policies- Differences between decarbonization policies in theory and in practice, and the production of socio-spatial unevenness and disparity- Expertise and knowledge production in the design of decarbonization policies (Lippert 2015), as well as the relationship between decarbonization policies and citizen science/advocacy- The ways in which the materiality of carbon and carbon dioxide emissions interact with regulatory structures (Mackenzie 2009)- The logics of neoliberalism and accumulation expressed in carbon pricing mechanisms (Knox-Hayes 2010; Bohm et al. 2012)- The historical context and genealogies of decarbonization policies- The expression of modernity, ecological modernization, and futurism in decarbonization infrastructures (Bailey et al. 2011; Knox-Hayes 2010)- The effects of decarbonization policies, including but not limited to hot spots and related environmental and climate justice concerns (Cushing et al. 2016)

Cross-sectoral, multi-scalar perspectives on geographies of energy poverty

Organizer: Dr. Siddharth SareenEnergy poverty scholarship is gathering force across geographies. The multi-dimensional phenomenon exhibits multiple national policy definitions and modes of operationalisation even within global regions like Europe, and its manifestation in some contexts bears little resemblance to others. To some, energy poverty implies brutal hardship, whereas others regard it as a tolerable irritant. Yet, there are patterns that iterate across geographies, and merit trans-local knowledge exchange, notably cross-sectoral dynamics and their impact on energy poverty. These include interactions between: social housing and energy efficiency, socio-spatial residential distributions and transport energy poverty, distributed renewable energy uptake and access to electric grid infrastructure, socio-economic groupings and access to building retrofit schemes, to name a few. This panel aims to cross-fertilise perspectives from multiple sectors and various scales, by drawing on panellists’ experiences from contrasting contexts. In what ways is pooling our reflections instructive for our academic practice? A point of departure is the European experience with the ENGAGER energy poverty network, where applied researchers, practitioners and policymakers have engaged in such efforts since 2017 to enhance energy poverty alleviation. Short interventions from several energy poverty scholars will draw a broad frame to trigger such co-thinking among panellists and with the audience.

- Siddharth Sareen will outline multi-scalar tensions between energy poverty and solar energy uptake, drawing on ethnographic research in Portugal.- Anaïs Varo will debate different policy strategies to tackle energy poverty and the emerging concept of the right to energy.- Joshua Randall will reflect on spatial energy poverty characterisations and social impacts between multiple scales in a rural U.S. context.- Sara Peterson will discuss the relationship between discussions of infrastructure and energy resilience and community resilience.

Energy Transitions

Organizer: Dr. Michael Minn
Energy transitions are inherently complex and prolonged affairs, and there are numerous unanswered questions about the timing and nature of the transition to whatever comes after the fossil fuel era. These questions cross disciplinary and epistemological lines, making them particularly suited to exploration from the perspectives of geography. These sessions present research related to transitions in energy sources and uses, along with the social, political and/or economic implications of those transitions.