Environment and Social Justice Initiatives in SGD

The University of Arizona, School of Geography and Development (SGD) has a central interest and expertise in addressing the challenges of environmental and social justice in our community, country, and the world.  A geographic perspective focuses on understanding spatial patterns of social, economic and environmental inequality and on the connections, policies, institutions and behaviors that reinforce or reduce them.  Our particular skills and teaching expertise include the use geographic information science and mapping (the digital analysis and representation of complex data); the integration of insights from social science, physical science, and the humanities; the use of multiple methods of research ranging from interviews to statistical analysis, computer models and satellite imagery; attention to differences within society including the experiences of women and diverse populations; and an ability to connect global processes and their local manifestations across a changing world. 

The School has recognized excellence in understanding the relationships between people and environment, especially the causes, consequences and regional impacts of climate change and in the management and political ecologies of food, water, and pollution in the southwest US, Latin America, and beyond.  Other expertise and interests include urban social justice, changing population patterns, immigration, human rights, and geographies of health.  Our faculty and students work with community organizations, environmental groups, government, and international agencies to identify and solve some of the deep inequalities that limit human potential and community development.  

For example, we have developed programs that place students as interns in learning gardens to build environmental and food system awareness in some of Tucson’s poorest schools; we have used GIS, statistics, models to analyze historical climate and other data to inform decision making about water, fire and agriculture; we have examined historical and contemporary patters of population distributions, debt,  immigration, development, and social policy with particular attention to the inequalities and rights they address or promote; we have mapped forests, land use and energy resources in relation to the rights of indigenous and local peoples; and, we have demonstrated how some people and countries are more vulnerable than others to drought, floods and heatwaves.  We help lead university-wide programs on environment and public policy, sustainable development, climate justice, art and environment, and water resources.  The School offers internships and fieldwork that engages communities, and profoundly changes the students who participate.   Our undergraduate degrees in geography, regional development and environmental studies train students in spatial analysis and nature-society interactions, and our professional graduate degrees in geographic information science and development practice prepare students for work in the public and private sector.  

Although we have many ongoing projects in environment and social justice, and a growing cohort of students interested in working for a more equitable and sustainable world we could do much more if we had more support. Specific needs include:

  • Travel scholarships for students to undertake internships, field research and study abroad – many of our students cannot afford the extra expense of these important training opportunities
  • Funds to support our ongoing commitment to community engagement through the Community and School Gardens Program, the Public Political Ecology Lab, the Climate Justice Program, our more general internship programs, and the Environment and Sustainable Development initiative. 
  • Support for a new initiative to create a ‘Peoples Guide to Tucson’ which will introduce and map key sites of environmental and social struggle and success in our community
  • Support for equipment and staff that allow us to undertake cutting edge environmental and social analysis, including geographic information science and community outreach, in support of justice and sustainability
  • Funds to support the development of online teaching and to bring in visiting scholars and practitioners to inspire and inform our students in new areas of research, methods and outreach
  • Scholarships and fellowships for students at undergraduate and graduate levels who could not otherwise attend UA, especially for those representing disadvantaged groups, from developing countries, and who have active commitments to environmental and social justice

Faculty and students have a range of ongoing activities in the area of environmental and social justice.   They include individual research projects, collaborations with community, and classes:

Greening Food Deserts: looks at food access for low income populations in Tucson (Stephanie Buechler and Daoqin Tong)

Climate Alliance Mapping Project (CAMP): provides research and mapping support to environmental organizations and Indigenous groups committed to climate justice and just transitions to renewable energy. It also provides a digital space for communities to share information and experiences through digital stories (Tracey Osborne)

Public Political Ecology Lab (PPEL): a social science lab dedicated theoretically-informed engaged scholarship, as a vehicle for social and environmental change (Tracey Osborne and SGD students)

CLIMAS: Poverty and Climate Change in the SW: (Margaret Wilder)

Green Infrastructure and Community Engagament on Tucson's South Side (Andrea Gerlak)

Tucson Lives:  Lynn Staeheli, Orhon Myadar

Environment and Sustainable Development : Diana Liverman and Katherine Snyder

Human rights: Liz Oglesby