This story appears in the December 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Alexander Graham Bell, the second president of the National Geographic Society, defined geography as “the world and all that is in it.” In fact, National Geographic’s original mission was to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge.
For many, the word “geography” elicits school-age memories of studying the names of rivers, oceans, or capitals. So it’s fair to ask: Is geography relevant today?
In the roughly two years since the National Geographic Society refined our focus as a nonprofit organization, we’ve had an opportunity to rethink our relevance in the 21st century. The world now faces far different challenges than it did at our founding in 1888.
Today we inhabit a planet with a burgeoning population that could approach 10 billion people by mid-century. That’s nearly three times as many people as 50 years ago—and it will force massive resets in how we house, educate, feed, and provide energy to people without burning up everything in or on the planet.
As National Geographic’s publications have borne witness to for decades, attempts to tackle such challenges have often had crushing impacts—on wildlife, on weather patterns, on water and air, on public health, and on nations and people in conflict.
As we seek to make a difference on these issues, we’ll concentrate our efforts in three distinct areas. We will double down on investing in solution-oriented innovators whose work focuses on the stresses on our changing planet, on wildlife and wild places, and on understanding the human journey, from our origins and cultures to our exploration of space.
National Geographic also will use its resources to educate kids about the 21st-century heroes at work among us: scientists and explorers, photographers and technologists, environmental and science journalists, mappers and teachers. Then we’ll bring these heroes’ stories to more than 730 million people worldwide, via this magazine and the digital and broadcast outlets in our arsenal.
We are excited to unleash the power of National Geographic toward making a difference. Thank you for joining us.