News Brief from our Chair Darla Munroe

March 20, 2020
Beijing's citywide “greening” efforts

PhD Candidate Sam Kay is studying Beijing's citywide “greening” efforts, which include regulations to cover walls surrounding construction sites with artificial grass. (Photo credit: Sam Kay).

Student News: 

Gabriel (Gabo) Zeballos-Castellon (PhD Candidate) has been awarded a Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship in the Quechua language for the Academic Year 2020-2021.

Chen Zhao successfully defended his dissertation, titled “Impact of Initial Soil Moisture on the Accuracy of Runoff Simulation”. His committee members were Desheng Liu, Alvaro Montenegro and Bryan Mark and advisor Steven Quiring.

Geography Blog: 

We started a blog in January to kick-off some reflection on the upcoming 50th anniversary of Earth Day upcoming on April 22nd. Many other departments and institutes around campus had planned programming to mark this occasion.

Geography as a discipline has always had an holistic understanding of the reciprocal, mutually dependent relationships among natural and social systems. We also have intellectual diversity within our subfields that makes it harder for any geography community to take a unified stance on issues like “sustainability;” we may agree in principle of the necessity to address global environmental problems, but geographical critical thought makes us question environmentalism: who is driving such agendas, in pursuit of whose goals, over what time horizon? So while conservation movements are central to geography’s purview and many geographers’ research agendas, we may not be as visible to the public in events such as Earth Day.
With our Earth Day focus this semester, we asked several graduate students, faculty and visitors to the department to write something from their own research relevant to themes of global environmental change. We wanted to showcase our collective research and give students a chance to write for a broader public: our alumni, our university community, and prospective graduate and undergraduate students.

I have been remiss in highlighting some recent entries, given the rapidly changing national and international situation with COVID-19. So please let me do these pieces justice this week.
Faculty member Becky Mansfield wrote a piece on 50 years’ retrospective on the EPA, which was meant to be our biggest highlighted entry this term. The rolling back of environmental regulations might be of less pressing public interest right at this moment given the COVID-19 pandemic, yet her thoughts on “deregulatory science:” taking large-scale health outcomes and devolving them to problems of individual risk, are also part of the discourse and policy response advocating "herd immunity": if the disease is primarily a concern for the elderly and immune-compromised, it is thus their responsibility to stay at home.
PhD Candidate Sam Kay’s piece on Greening Policies in Urban China from his dissertation also dovetail well with the reports of air pollution's exacerbation of COVID-19 illness, as well as very real pollution abatement visible with COVID-19 related restrictions on movement.
And finally, our own resident expert on public health and disease, Elisabeth Root has written a piece to place this pandemic within a larger context of public health as an outcome of coupled natural-human systems.

So, though COVID-19 may have highjacked central focus from Earth Day, this pandemic is also emblematic of the issues Earth Day was designed to tackle, and so many other things geographers study: societal impacts on ecosystems and vice versa (like wildlife food markets carrying zoonotic diseases to urban populations); globalization and international travel and trade; tax cuts, health care spending, and disaster management; public health reflecting multiscale (international, national, regional and local) actors and institutions, and so much more.
If you are stuck indoors, please take the time to read these and any other entries you may have missed! I reflect that with this first semester of our blog (stay tuned for future themes), we definitely did not end up where we had thought at the start of semester, and nevertheless, this collective output shows how relevant geography is to our rapidly changing world.
Stay safe, all!

Darla Munroe
Professor and Chair