Chris Honors 2019

The State and Future of AGU


When I announced I would be leaving AGU in October 2019, 31 March seemed so far away. But now that it’s only a few days from now, I realize time flew by so quickly!

With the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I know many of us are spending more time with our loved ones and reflecting on what is important. I am fortunate that my family and friends – including all of you and the team at AGU – are doing well.

In fact, AGU’s staff have not missed a beat and have been working overtime to keep things moving forward. AGU is facilitating knowledge and resource sharing for teaching online, adapting publications deadlines for those impacted and encouraging the use of ESSOAr as a virtual poster hall for Earth and space science conferences that have been canceled or postponed. We also created a Google doc so that anyone can donate or add local drop-off/pick-up details for PPE so they get into medical professionals hands ASAP.

We’ve also heard from many of you about how you are adapting classes and field trips to be done virtually, setting up home offices to continue your work and looking for innovative ways to collaborate with colleagues. Please continue to share how you are coping during this time so others can benefit from what you are learning.

I am fortunate to have a few moments to reflect on my near decade of serving as AGU’s Executive Director and CEO. While I am saddened that we must fight this pandemic, it also serves as a reminder of how invaluable science is going to be in the future. It is also heartening to remember that the reason we are all staying at home is so that the most vulnerable are hopefully able to avoid contact with anyone who is affected with COVID-19 and to keep the healthy from overwhelming the medical community.

The world is taking this step because people trust science. And we need to be good stewards of this trust because we need everyone around the world to take more steps to protect the Earth and its environment. I know that the strength and perseverance of our Earth and space science community is integral to getting us through this time, and AGU will continue to advance science, as we have done for the past 100 years.

Pride in what we have accomplished
Over the past decade, AGU has helped to advance the depth and breadth of the scientific fields encompassed by our Earth and space science community. New sections, journals and meeting topics were formally introduced, such as GeoHealth, education and science and art.

There’s also been greater support for open science and open data. For example, AGU has been a leader in the Enabling FAIR Data project. We’ve also expanded open access options[PDF], such as making 96% of our content free and making all new journals, including our new flagship AGU Advances, open access.

AGU has been a leader in improving the culture within the science community. We were the first scientific society to declare harassment and bullying scientific misconduct, akin to plagiarism. We’ve also put community science front and center to help develop solutions to local issues through initiatives like the award-winning Thriving Earth Exchange.

Excitement for the future
As we speak, AGU leaders on the Board and Council are developing our new strategic plan that will guide us through the next decade. The strategic plan envisions how AGU will serve as the global scientific society that represents and defines what it means to be a responsible scientist.

AGU has the challenge and opportunity to continue to shape Earth and space science into a culture that embraces and supports both fundamental deep discovery and values acceptance and inclusion of voices outside the core Earth and space science disciplines. Together with all of you, we built the foundation so that communities around the world use science-based information to make informed decision to solve societal grand challenges. We will continue to support scientists who are undertaking fundamental and multi- and transdisciplinary research as well as those who want to engage in scientific careers outside academia.

We also see an opportunity for AGU to lead our community in rising above the geopolitical barriers that could stall scientific innovation and progress, while also valuing the courage it takes to continue leading, advancing, innovating, experimenting, convening and collaborating.

This is the course that AGU has charted. Future scientists will look back again in 100 years and be proud of our visionary foresight.

Parting thoughts
During last month’s Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego, Calif., I was inspired by our plenary speaker, Nainoa Thompson. Nainoa is best known as the first Hawaiian to practice the ancient Polynesian art of navigation since the 14th century without the aid of western instruments. The theme of his speech was how humanity and society can thrive when science, technology, culture and values exist in a symbiotic relationship.

Nainoa hit on the point of what AGU is looking to accomplish through our next strategic plan. We want to express that science is essential and can only be held back when isolated from the knowledge, experience, values, insights and viewpoints of others.

We, as humans, still have much to learn and understand about our Earth and other planetary systems. We have allies around the world who want to work with us. That’s why Earth and space science is the science of the 21st century. Science, especially your science, is integral to humanity’s future.

Thank you for the opportunity to work alongside all of you and to be a part of this community for the last ten years. It has been my honor.

There are 4 comments

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  1. Stephen Sparks


    Huge thanks for your leadership and efforts for AGU and geoscientists. It was a pleasure to work with on the Board and Council.

    Steve Sparks

  2. Catherine Johnson


    This is a wonderful piece. Your very succinct statements of the critical role of Earth science, and of our responsibilities as scientists and inhabitants of this planet are just one indicator of why we are fortunate to have had your leadership. Thank you,

    Catherine Johnson

  3. Maribeth Stolzenburg

    Thank you, thank you, for your leadership and insights. Your enthusiasm for AGU’s work and your wonderful ability to pull us together toward a common goal will be sorely missed.
    Be well,
    Maribeth Stolzenburg

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