Remarks Delivered by AGS President Jerry Dobson
Globe-Signing Ceremonies in New York and Atlanta, March 30 and May 25, 2004
“At a previous globesigning, I introduced Neal Armstrong to Don Walsh-one of only two men ever to reach the deepest ocean bottom. In mid-sentence, I realized what a singular, historic moment it was. I tucked that sense of awe away inside myself and continued as if it were commonplace for the highest and deepest recordholders of all human history to meet at an AGS gathering. I hope each of you can feel that same exhilaration tonight as you view the globe and meet our globesigners.
Such is the power of this exceptional globe. For nearly a century it has symbolized the relentless human quests to explore the Earth and Moon, to fly farther and faster, to understand real world geography and shrink it down to manageable size.
The American Geographical Society was founded 153 years ago to support scientific exploration of the Earth, and we remain true to that goal. Today, we remind the world that exploration is still needed, not only in Space, but here on Earth as well. Who knows what secrets yet lie beneath desert dunes or tropical rainforests, in undiscovered caves, or on the vast shallow ocean floor that was habitable land just ten thousand years ago? When America is ready to dream, AGS is ready to lead.
Exploration is fraught with risk, and geography itself is the reward. Each discovery adds to the body of knowledge that allows geographers to explain earth processes, inform other sciences, and plan for a lasting and livable tomorrow. The American Geographical
Society is the nation’s oldest and strongest advocate for geography as a science, geography as knowledge of the real world, and geography as an essential tool in business and government.
But, let’s be honest. When I say “geography,” most of you think of drawing maps and learning your states and capitals. Think again!
This animation (An ArcGlobe demonstration, provided by ESRI, Inc, was running on eight plasma screens surrounding the audience.) vividly demonstrates how geography has been transformed though computerization. Today, geographers themselves collect, analyze, and communicate information faster and better than ever. More important, this revolutionary technology-called geographic information systems or GIS-now shares our skills with more than 2 million users worldwide, most of whom are not trained in geography. Geographers fly Delta’s planes. We may not be in the cockpits, but our software, models, and databases are.
GIS is improving just about everything that involves location, movement, or flow. Served increasingly via the Internet, it’s providing information of vital importance to citizens and decision makers at all levels of business and government. It’s changing how you drive your car, buy or sell land, and pay your taxes; how goods are moved and facilities sited; how hunters hunt, boaters boat, and voters vote; how criminals are caught and confined.
Geography is the science behind precision-guided weapons. One year ago, the largest barrage in history rained down on Baghdad for weeks with such precision that the lights stayed on. That changed the nature of warfare as fundamentally as the A-bomb did in World War II. The implications for foreign policy, international relations, and global ethics are staggering.
Geographers are helping you make better business decisions. “Location, location, location” is the mantra of business, and geography is the where. Where to find markets, labor forces, and raw materials? Where to site business operations and build infrastructure? Where and how to transport goods and deliver services?
Real world geographic knowledge is essential in this age of globalization, rapid population growth, resource constraints, and international conflicts. Changing markets for goods and services, shifting labor forces, and associated impacts on public services and natural resources touch your business and personal lives daily as, for instance, when workers migrate to the United States and Europe; when manufacturing jobs shift to Mexico and China; and when freshwater shortages raise taxes and limit business expansion. Geography is the integrative science that connects all physical and social sciences to understand such complex earth processes.
Geography is central to homeland security. Prior to 9/11, New York City’s GIS was housed in the World Trade Center. Afterward, the only surviving copy was with the geographers at Hunter College who had helped build it. One of them unplugged his computers, loaded them in a van, and drove to the city’s new emergency operations center. A call went out for GIS volunteers.
About 50 showed up and worked around the clock until the system was operational again. The restored GIS then played an essential role in Search & Rescue by firefighters and police and in subsequent recovery efforts.
GIS helps assess risks to people and property, modeling, for instance, the impacts of earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods - something that many of the insurance people here tonight can appreciate. The LandScan Global Population Database, for instance, is now the world standard for estimating populations-at-risk in natural disasters, technological accidents, terrorist attacks, and wars.
GIS, however, generates risks of its own. The same technology that guides a missile can monitor and control a person. The implications for social relations, human rights, privacy, and freedom are staggering.
Tonight, we announce a new AGS Institute for Business and Government. It will tackle urgent needs in business, government, science, and society. It will be America’s strongest voice alerting you and the rest of society about issues emerging from our field, our information technologies, and topics that have been the focus of geographic investigations for centuries. It will serve as an independent, trustworthy body, free of political influence to bridge the gap between science and business, public and private. It will engage experts and decision makers in workshops and public forums. With their help-and yours-this AGS Institute will formulate an aggressive agenda for improving geographic research, education, and training to support sound decision making.
AGS is up to the task. We helped establish the nation’s telegraph network. We helped choose a route for the Transcontinental Railway. We led the American debate over where to place the Panama Canal. We were responsible for drafting President Woodrow Wilson’s famous “Fourteen Points” that reassured America’s allies in the midst of World War I, and we provided massive, direct support to him at the Paris Peace Conference.
AGS has a proud past and a critical stake in the future. If the AGS Fliers’ & Explorers’ Globe can be a catalyst in this vital initiative, its value will be thousands of times greater than its appraised worth. We, the Officers and Council of the American Geographical Society, bear a tremendous responsibility as stewards of such a treasure. With deepest gratitude we say: Thank you, Marsh, for your corporate sponsorship of AGS and for making this ceremony possible. Thank you, Delta, for supporting us in so many ways. Thank you, Marsh and USAIG, for helping to restore and preserve this rare and precious symbol of risk and reward. Please take the opportunity soon to learn more about AGS, or, better yet, to become an active supporter. At the very least, tell your friends and colleagues that geography is more than learning your states and capitals.
Ask us how we can help your business. Challenge us. Explore, with us, the risks and rewards awaiting you and your business in this new age of geographic awareness and capability.