Q&A;: Diana Liverman
Diana Liverman, professor of geography and development and co-director of the Institute of the Environment, was one of two UA professors confirmed as regents' professors by the Arizona Board of Regents this semester. The position is awarded to professors who are recognized nationally or internationally in their field. Liverman, who is also a visiting professor at the University of Oxford, came to the UA as the director of Latin American Studies in 1996. She returned to her family in England for several years in 2004 before coming back to the UA as co-director of the institute. Her current work centers on human climate adaptation research and creating an interdisciplinary environmental center at the UA. She will be inducted in the fall.
What's the most exciting thing you've brought to the UA or collaborated on since you've been here?
I think trying to sort of build the environmental profile of the U of A. There are so many amazing environmental researchers here. What has been really exciting is developing the university web portal on the environment, hiring new faculty. It's exciting for me to help the UA build its environmental excellence … As far as specific things I'm excited about, I feel like I've broadened the institute to engage with more people across the university. We've been doing some work with the humanities, bringing writers and artists in. There's another initiative with the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences to develop a new program in consumerism and the environment to study how consumers view the ""greening"" of consumption. That's very exciting. … We're trying to work with Eller and the law school. It's been fun to develop those new links since traditionally the institute has been linked to the College of Science.
What kind of research are you doing on climate adaptation?
I've always been interested in how people cope with drought and flood in a current context — how can farmers cope with drought, how do people respond to natural disasters. If you think ahead to look at climate change, that's going to bring some very big environmental changes. So I sort of transferred my interest in past adaptation to the climate to thinking about the future. Right now I'm particularly interested in big development banks. The World Bank and the UN are all very worried about their long-term investments in development. They're worried climate change will undermine those investments and create poverty just when they're trying to eliminate it. I'm very interested in how those big, international institutions are thinking about climate adaptation and what sorts of choices are they going to make. Are they going to see it as an opportunity to eliminate poverty or build up big seawalls and dams? There are many ways to adapt. Are we going to try to breed better crops or try to give farmers better fertilizer to make the most of the crops they have?
What sparked your interest in the environment and Latin America?
I've always been interested in the environment ever since I was a kid. I was actually born in Ghana in West Africa, so I was always interested in other parts of the world and hunger and desertification and environmental problems. My parents used to take us to national parks on our holidays, so that got me sort of interested … I always sort of thought I wanted to work in Africa, but when I started my Ph.D., I was at UCLA and I decided to learn Spanish. I had the opportunity to start working with people on projects on Mexico. There were all sorts of problems with drought. There was the Mexico City earthquake. All sorts of problems were starting. I just found Mexico to be a fascinating place to study the environment. It has a very diverse physical environment, and it's also got everything from very poor farmers to also very wealthy people. And so you can see the full spectrum of the physical environment and social environment in Mexico.
How do you feel being recognized as a regents' professor?
It's incredibly flattering. It really made me feel good about coming back here. It's sort of an extra ""welcome back."" There are so many people who should get them, so I'm also a little embarrassed. There's a little bit of a joke because the two other very well known environmental people who are regents' professors also have British accents. We've all lived here for years but somebody said, ""Oh, you must have to have a British accent to be an environmental regents' professor.""