Dear AESS community:
I want to be sure that you have the AESS 2018 conference on your calendars. We will meet June 20 – 23, at American University in Washington DC. Those of you who attended our 2016 conference at AU may recall a lot of construction, which is now complete. We will have access to impressive new facilities, including dorms and meeting spaces.
I am struggling to create a pithy statement of our conference theme, which I will provide in some detail here. The theme emerges from two timely issues in our field. First, many of our conversations leading up to, during, and since our June 2017 meeting in Tucson addressed the need for much broader and richer inclusion in all aspects of environmental studies and sciences. This includes participation in defining priorities, asking questions, producing answers, and implementing solutions. Second, the election of President Trump has empowered longstanding challenges to the legitimacy of academic sources of information necessary for effective environmental, health, and other technological decisions. For now I will refer to these two broad issues as inclusion and legitimacy, although I welcome more apt descriptors.
Some quick observations, which I hope will provoke conversation.
First, I believe these two issues are central to the future of environmental studies and sciences. They are not add-ons or topics of discussion. Rather, they suffuse our collective efforts.
Second, neither of these issues is new, and neither is unique to environmental studies and sciences. I hope that we can bring in ideas and voices that will ensure we address these issues efficiently and usefully in our contexts.
Third, what does seem new is the intensity of their salience, and the stakes associated with managing them well and soon. Responding to climate change in ways informed by legitimate climate science and appropriately inclusive of cultural knowledge could affect millions or billions of lives.
Fourth, important tensions manifest between inclusion and legitimacy. We need norms, rules, and practices that favor shifts towards both appropriate inclusion and increased legitimacy. We need effective responses to arguments that excluding some voices–climate change deniers, for example–is anti-inclusive, and to claims that communities reasonably concerned about nuclear waste management lack technical knowledge and thus legitimacy.
So my first draft of a conference theme is Inclusion and legitimacy in environmental studies and sciences: tensions and synergies. But as several colleagues have pointed out, without the context above, this statement may be impenetrable. I welcome your thoughts on the theme–how best to state it, what you think about it, where it might lead our conversations. I also hope you are thinking about your own presentations and participation at AESS 2018!