My appointment at the University of Arizona (UA) is as a faculy member in the School of Geography and Development. I returned to the University of Arizona in 2009 after several years in the UK as Director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University and holder of the Oxford Chair in Environmental Policy in the School of Geography and the Environment. I maintain a visiting appointment with Oxford where I am also affiliated with Linacre College. My prior appointments at UA were as the Director of the Institute of the Environment (2009-2016) and the Center for Latin American Studies (1996-2003) and as a faculty member in Geography. I also served as Interim Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. My earlier academic career included faculty positions at Penn State University (1990-1995) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1985-1989).
My degrees are in Geography from University College London (1976), the University of Toronto (1980) and UCLA (1984). I was fortunate to complete my PhD as a fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, working with the greatly missed Steve Schneider. My other mentors and role models included Ken Hare, Ian Burton and Anne Whyte (from Canada) and Tim O’Riordan from the UK.
I have been interested in the impacts of climate on society and issues of equity and climate change for most of my professional life.
I was born in Accra, Ghana when my dad was working on the Volta project and this gave me a lifelong interest in other parts of the world with geography as my favorite school subject.
My MSc at Toronto was on drought impacts where I worked as a research assistant for the Institute for Environmental Studies on a variety of international environmental initiatives. I did my PhD with Werner Terjung and his group at UCLA on climate change and the world food system through a cooperative program with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), spending two years as one of Steve Schneider’s group in the Advanced Study Program just as climate change was emerging as a major issue in the early 1980s.
I was especially interested in the potential and limitations of modeling climate impacts using both crop simulation models and the first generation of global models that allowed the assessment of climate change impacts. As it became clear to me that our knowledge of climate impacts in the developing world was insufficient for modeling, and that some of the most interesting questions were about how people and places became vulnerable to climate change, I was able to use a research fellowship from the SSRC and MacArthur Foundation to begin fieldwork in Mexico. I was particularly interested in understanding vulnerability to natural hazards in the agricultural sector and to explore how global warming might affect agriculture and livelihoods in Mexico and was funded by NSF and EPA for work on these topics.
In 1988 I was invited to become a member of the US Social Science Research Council national committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change and this led to many other opportunities to serve on committees seeking to mobilize and define research on social science and global change including the US National Academy Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (which I chaired from 1995-99), the NOAA Global Change Advisory Committee and the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Inter American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI).
Mexico was a fascinating place to work and when I moved to the University of Arizona (starting with a sabbatical in 1994) I began to work on a wider range of Mexican environmental issues, especially land use change and US-Mexico border environmental issues. I was able to work with my students in several regions of Mexico and in other parts of Latin America and have sustained a strong interest in Latin American climate impacts and policy. One of the most significant issues to draw my attention was the spread of neoliberalism in the Americas and its impact on environmental conditions and management, not only through NAFTA but also in the privatization of resources and other changes in governance. At the University of Arizona I was funded by the Ford, Hewlett and Mott foundations to co-organize an annual conference (the Encuentro Fronterizo) on US-Mexico border environmental issues, and by NASA for work on land use change in Mexico. I also helped to develop a regional climate assessment center for the southwest US (a model for the national NOAA program), which now flourishes as CLIMAS in Arizona’s Institute of the Environment. One other commitment is a Prentice Hall textbook on world regional geography (World Regions in Global Context) that I wrote with Sallie Marston and Paul Knox where we use globalization and environmental history to place world regions in a global context. The 6th edition includes two new authors – Vincent Del Casino and Paul Robbins.
Upon moving to the UK my interest (re)turned to climate change, partly because of the expertise that surrounded me in Oxford, because of the UK leadership in climate policy, and also because the implementation of international climate policy raises some intriguing questions about the political economy and practices of mitigation and adaptation. As a coordinator of projects on climate policy for the James Martin 21st Century School and for the Tyndall Centre I focused on climate and development, climate adaptation, and on the geographies of the new carbon economy in the form of the CDM and other carbon offsets. I also became active in collaborations between science and the arts, especially with several UK groups interested in the challenges of climate change
Since I returned to the University of Arizona I have continued to do research on environmental and climate issues including the impacts of climate responses such as adaptation and carbon offset projects in the developing world, on earth system governance and international environmental policy, and on climate and poverty. I am associated with several interdisciplinary projects on climate assessment.
I am (or have been) a member of editorial or advisory boards for Global Environmental Change, Nature-Climate Change and WIRES-Climate Change. In recent years I co-chaired the Transition Team for a new international science initiative called Future Earth and was chair of the Science Advisory Committee for the ICSU Global Environmental Change and Food Systems program (GECAFS). I am a member of ICSU-IHDP Earth Systems Governance project. I have worked on the US National Climate Assessment and the NRC America’s Climate Choices and have served on the UK and US Human Dimensions of Global Change Committees.
I was a member of the board of Cape Farewell (an organization that brings artists, scientists and educators together to collectively address and raise awareness about climate change) and currently serve on the board of Julie’s Bicycle a non profit company established to find ways to reduce the UK music industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.
My most recent international activity is serving as a Lead Author for the IPCC Special Report on the world at 1.5C. The report will be published in 2018.