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Every year since 2009 our flagship journal, the Annals of the American Association of Geographers, has published a special issue that highlights geographic research around a significant global theme.

The eleventh special issue of the Annals, published in March 2019, brings together 31 articles plus an introduction, edited by James McCarthy, on environmental governance in a populist/authoritarian era. Over a two-year period, papers were sought from a wide spectrum of researchers from different parts of the world who address theoretical, methodological, and empirical questions regarding how environments are known and governed in an era substantially characterized by populist and/or authoritarian politics around much of the world.

The six sections of this special issue explore the differences it makes when environmental research, knowledge construction, and decision making occur in the context of such political formations as the populist and authoritarian regimes that have been growing increasingly widespread throughout the past several years. While each regime is unique to its current spatio-temporal position, the commonalities among authoritarian and populist regimes are highlighted with a closer look at environmental politics within these political spaces. What emerges are three central connections that these types of political configurations have to the environment: roots in decades of neoliberal environmental governance, climate change and integrally related issues of energy development and agricultural change, and complex conflations of nation and nature.

Each of the articles in this special issue brings a unique perspective to understanding environmental movements and political action in areas of the world governed by populist or authoritarian regimes. Some of the topics explored in the special issue include comparative studies on the environmental history of particular regimes worldwide, economic growth through the commodification of the environment, the widespread increase of neoliberalism especially with regards to resource extraction and overproduction, national security as a means to seize natural resource areas and downplay climate change, nationalistic and patriotic ties to the environment, and the difficulties of conducting scientific research under such restricted atmospheres. The issue does not end without positivity, offering articles that explore populist movements that have the potential to combat the authoritarian state through environmental action.

Special issue guest editor James McCarthy argues that geographers are well placed to explore the topics included in this special issue: “[Geographers] are adept at analyzing and explaining how any environmental project is always also a social one and vice versa and, more particularly, at understanding how particular sorts of socioenvironmental projects—the liberalization and globalization of agricultural production, for example—relate to broad social tensions and trends. We are especially well equipped, and indeed have an obligation given our disciplinary history, to continue to remind publics of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy and consequences of conflating physical environments and social identities. We can advocate as well as analyze and add our voices and knowledge to the many others attempting to create realistic, grounded, yet ambitious visions of more just, equitable, and sustainable futures. In short, environmental issues, movements, and politics can and indeed must be central both to resistance against authoritarian and reactionary populist politics and to visions of progressive alternatives to them. The articles in this issue provide many promising starting points for such visions.”

The Annals of the AAG publishes six times a year (January, March, May, July, September and November). See the table of contents of the Environmental Governance in a Populist/Authoritarian Era special issue or go to the T&F website to access the full articles. If you are interested in submitting a paper to the Annals, please refer to the information for authors.