November 29, 2018
This year’s Geography 2050 symposium, hosted by the American Geographical Society, went off without a hitch. According to the AGS Chief Executive Officer John Konarski, that’s because of the hard work of Martin “Mike” Pasqualetti — a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. As the symposium chair, Pasqualetti put together the entire event, which took place at Columbia University on November 15 and 16.
“The star of the show was Mike,” Konarski said. “He made sure that everything was cohesive, that the speakers made sense, that they were people who were clearly on the cusp of innovation and creativity who understood this issue of energy from many different facets. We could not have done this without Mike.”
Since the theme of the symposium was “powering our future planet,” all of the dialogues and presentations revolved around geography and energy production or consumption. To non-scientists, those fields might seem unrelated, but Konarski said that our energy system is dependent on geography; for example, a discussion about solar energy will include where solar panels can be placed and where there’s enough sunlight to feed them.
According to Pasqualetti, key takeaways from Geography 2050 ranged from climate change as a growing catastrophe to the development of fusion power to renewable energy and energy storage. Keynote speeches were made by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Robert Cardillo, the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Notably, Whitehouse said in his recorded speech that according to his observations in Congress, all major fossil fuel companies — including those that claim to care about climate change and say they support a price on carbon — are still paying for and running political operations that are against climate change action.
Besides Pasqualetti, several ASU faculty, staff, students and affiliates spoke at the symposium on topics such as energy policies and futures, universal ethics for the U.S. energy transition, environmental consequences for energy supply and demand, the energy context, and social dimensions for energy access. ASU speakers included:
- Gary Dirks: Director, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability
- Kristin Mayes: Professor of Practice, School for the Future of Innovation in Society
- John Hofmeister: Distinguished Sustainability Fellow, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Citizens for Affordable Energy
- Wes Hersche: Associate Director of Research, Global Security Initiative
- Kevin Seegmiller: Program Manager, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; PhD candidate, School of Sustainability
- Jacob Bethem: PhD candidate, School of Sustainability
Konarski said that these experts from ASU brought well-rounded and informed contributions to the table. “I think the ASU contingent was absolutely critical to us being able to pull off an energy-focused symposium,” he said.
In particular, Konarski cited Gary Dirks’s perspective as vital, as Dirks was the president of British Petroleum Asia-Pacific and BP China before he became involved in sustainability at ASU. Dirks’s session at Geography 2050 was called “The Global Reach and Geographic Implications of China's Energy Demand.”
Overall, the symposium was a thought-provoking and energizing discussion of knowledge, ideas and innovations surrounding geography and energy. “It will be a very, very high bar for future symposiums,” Konarski said.
Photos courtesty of the American Geographical Society.