Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences is a report for the National Research Council by a team of geographers, led by Alexander Murphy of University of Oregon. Alec kindly gave me a copy when I visited earlier this month. There is a lot in the report, and it discusses a broad set of issues which include food security, bio-diversity, climate change, geopolitics, migration, health, economics and so on. It does so by raising questions – both in terms of the chapter titles and also within each chapter.
How Are We Changing the Physical Environment of Earth’s Surface?
How Can We Best Preserve Biological Diversity and Protect Endangered Ecosystems?
How Are Climate and Other Environmental Changes Affecting the Vulnerabilities of Coupled Human–Environment Systems?
How and Where Will 10 Billion People Live on Earth?
How Will We Sustainably Feed Everyone in the Coming Decade and Beyond?
How Does Where People Live Affect Their Health?
How Is the Movement of People, Goods, and Ideas Transforming the World?
How Is Economic Globalization Affecting Inequality?
How Are Geopolitical Shifts Influencing Peace and Stability?
How Might We Better Observe, Analyze, and Visualize a Changing World?
What Are the Societal Implications of Citizen Mapping and Mapping Citizens?
It’s well-worth reading, and illustrated with a range of diagrams, tables and maps. There is a bit of tendency to pull back on some of the controversial aspects, but it’s worth remembering what constraints the authors were working under. I understand from Alec that there will be a set of critical responses coming out in one of the main geography journals. I can see it being helpful in teaching, and in terms of setting some research agendas – not so much for academics, perhaps, but in terms of those who fund them. It also has an aim of feeding into policy discussions and informing citizens in their encounters with geographical questions. If it helps to develop debates within the discipline about what its purpose is, and to help push a message of what geographers do outside of the discipline, then it is to be applauded. I’d certainly see it as a start, rather than any kind of last word.
Both the paper and pdf versions of the report are available to purchase, but are quite expensive, but you can read quite a few bits online. It’s a shame that the whole pdf isn’t open-access, given its aim of increasing awareness of the geographical dimensions of these crucial questions.