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Sustainability News

New findings in the role fish play in balancing coral, algae

September 17, 2021

When people think of coral reefs, images of beautiful colors and structures come to mind. But beyond aesthetic pleasure, coral reefs provide numerous benefits, ranging from food security and coastline protection to their role in coastal traditions and cultures. Although reefs cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, they support about 25% of marine life and earn their nickname: the rainforests of the sea.

A major challenge to reefs today is whether corals can persist under changing climate. One way that climate affects corals is by stimulating the overgrowth of algae that can smother the reef, making life tough for new corals to survive.

To better understand the balance between coral and algae, postdoc Shawna Foo and Global Futures Scientist Greg Asner at Arizona State University’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science explored the role of herbivorous fish in keeping check on one of the main antagonists in coral-algae fight for reef space, known as “turf algae.” Their findings were published on Aug. 9 in Coral Reefs, the Journal of the International Coral Reef Society.

Read more on ASU News. The abstract follows.

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ASU, partners announce completion of Allen Coral Atlas mapping

September 9, 2021

Allen Coral Atlas sample mapping mageArizona State University alongside atlas founding partners at Vulcan Inc., National Geographic, Planet and the University of Queensland presented to the world a complete projection of the planet's coral ecosystems. The Allen Coral Atlas, named for the late Vulcan founder and celebrated philanthropist and entrepreneur Paul Allen, allows formal scientists, conservationists, policy makers and citizen scientists to fully explore the world's coral reefs and see in real time how oceanic warming causes bleaching or allows for rehabilitation.

“Our biggest contribution in this achievement is that we have a uniform mapping of the entire coral reef biome,” said Greg Asner, managing director of the Atlas and director of ASU’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation. “If you don’t know what you’ve got more uniformly, how would the U.N. ever play a real role? How would a government that has an archipelago with 500 islands make a uniform decision? (The atlas) lets us bring the playing field up to a level where decisions can be made at a bigger scale because so far decisions have been super localized.”

Learn more.

Sept. 2: Food. Nature. People.

August 30, 2021

Food, nature and people are the three essential elements of our food system. When these elements are in balance, our food system provides nutritious food and livelihoods and supports natural systems like biodiversity, nutrient and water cycles and a stable climate. Unfortunately, our food system is out of balance, threatening people and communities around the world. To reverse this dangerous trend, we need to implement solutions at scale, quickly.

This half-day digital event will show the way forward, by providing actionable scientific evidence to build sustainable landscapes and by connecting with people on the ground to share knowledge and experience and fundamentally transform agriculture and land management. By rebuilding resilient food systems, supporting sustainable use of forests, trees and other healthy landscapes, we can adapt to the crises we have created.

ASU’s Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, part of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, is a partner in this international, virtual and free event. Learn more and register.

Sept 7: Workshop on Reimagining Climate Futures

August 30, 2021

Join the Center for Science and the Imagination (CSI), the Journal of Science Policy & Governance (JSPG) and the UK Science and Innovation Network for a workshop that brings together innovative thinkers in climate science and provides opportunities to reimagine positive climate futures. This event will feature early career researchers published in a special issue of JSPG on climate-change solutions, and CSI's Climate Imagination Fellows, who are working on stories that inspire positive visions of climate action and resilience.

Workshop participants will work in interdisciplinary teams to create their own narratives on climate-policy interventions, focusing on issues including climate migration and displacement, advocacy and coalition-building and transforming institutions and industries.

The event will also feature a conversation with Emily Cloke, the British Consul General in Los Angeles, California, whose portfolio includes bolstering scientific cooperation between the U.S. and UK and exploring ways to tackle the climate crisis. Register online.

Sept. 1-2: Advancing Women, Peace and Security in the Indo-Pacific

August 30, 2021

To further the implementation of Women, Peace and Security (WPS) that advances a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, Pacific Forum International, in partnership with USINDOPACOM Office of WPS, is organizing the conference Advancing Women, Peace & Security in the Indo-Pacific. Topics in this conference include cultivating a culture of allyship in security, building bridges between CSOs and local government, WPS in the defense sector, gender and preventing/countering violent extremism, and gender and climate security in the Indo-Pacific. Learn more on the event website.

Entrepreneur Magazine: These are the reasons why you will return to your desk

August 30, 2021

The future of the office has become an open question after the coronavirus lockdown forced billions of people to work from home. Will office workers return to their cubicles with refrigerators when the pandemic ends? Or will employees want to hold on to their newfound freedom and flexibility, while noting the lower costs of no-show?

At least some companies have already answered this question: Twitter, for example, says that most of its employees can continue to work from home forever, making the office simply a place to meet with clients. Three academics weigh the future of the office. Beth Humberd and Scott Latham of University of Massachusetts, Lowell, say jobs that are inherently relational are more likely to last. Global Futures Scientist Deborah Salon discusses a survey that finds office workers want more flexibility where they work.

Read the piece in Entrepreneur.

The Conversation: Organic food has room to grow

August 30, 2021

Organic food once was viewed as a niche category, but today it’s a routine choice for millions of Americans, with over half of organic sales in conventional grocery store chains, club stores and supercenters.

Surveys show that 82% of Americans buy some organic food, and availability has improved. Still, overall organic sales add up to a mere 6% of all food sold in the U.S. In addition, there are some 2 million farms in the U.S.; of them, only 16,585 are organic – less than 1%.

A recent report by the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems recommends dedicating 6% of USDA spending to supporting the organic sector, a figure that reflects its market share. Kathleen Merrigan explains why and how in a new piece for The Conversation.

Rethinking resources and conservation

August 30, 2021

An Arizona State University assistant professor says laws regarding natural resources on public land are antiquated and prevent voluntary conservation.

“Use-it-or-lose-it requirements, together with narrow definitions of eligible uses, can preclude environmental groups from participating in markets for natural resources,” said Bryan Leonard, a senior sustainability scientist at ASU who was the lead author

on a recently published policy forum for Science. “These restrictions can bias resource management in favor of extractive users, even when conservation interests are willing to pay more to protect resources from development.”

Leonard said resources can include oil, gas, water and a variety of minerals and raw materials. He added the laws were created in the 19th and early 20th centuries when the country’s priorities were different, and they now need to be updated.

Read the ASU News Q&A with Leonard about his article and resources on public lands.

Announcing GFORS, the Global Futures Office of Research Services

August 30, 2021

The Global Futures Office of Research Services (GFORS) is a virtual organization of the set of services required by members of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory to plan, apply for and perform externally sponsored research. GFORS organizes and administers these services through a single web portal.

GFORS is available to all members of the Global Futures Laboratory who are performing (or want to perform) externally sponsored research. Members include the following: faculty, post-docs, staff and students within the College of Global Futures; the centers, projects and initiatives in the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation (GIOSI); participants in the Global Futures Focal Areas groups; Global Futures Scientists and Scholars. Participants in centers, projects and programs within the Global Futures Laboratory that are not within GIOSI, such as the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainable Solutions Service, the ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future, etc., are also welcome to use GFORS.

You may be asking, "Can GFORS really serve all those groups?" And the answer is, well, not yet. However, that is the ultimate goal. While capacity is currently limited, we are working hard to create more efficient processes and build more capacity. Read more on the website: globalfutures.asu.edu/gfors.

California wildfires make underground utilities an infrastructure priority

August 30, 2021

Despite years of declaring that conversion of high-voltage, long-distance electrical transmission lines to underground installation was cost prohibitive, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has announced plans to spend $20 billion over 10 years to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in wildfire-prone areas of California.

The move comes after PG&E filed a preliminary report with the California Utilities Commission noting that the Dixie Fire, which so far has decimated 460,000 acres in Northern California, may have been ignited by a blown fuse on one of its utility poles. The utility company has been linked to multiple fires in California and pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Camp Fire.

According to Samuel Ariaratnam, a nationally recognized expert in trenchless technology and a professor and Beavers-Ames Chair in heavy construction at Arizona State University, utility companies are beginning to move their power lines underground, but none have contemplated a project on the scale of the PG&E announcement.

“This action taken by PG&E, while motivated by tragic circumstances, highlights the importance of adopting advanced new technologies despite the initial expense,” said Ariaratnam. “Over time, those upfront expenses will pay dividends in diminished maintenance, repair and replacement costs. Most importantly, it will save communities and lives, not only from wildfires, but from other catastrophic events like ice storms, hurricanes and tornados.”

Read more on ASU News.

New paper positions waste pickers as models of environmental stewards for circular economy

August 27, 2021

Waster picker collecting plasticA new paper published by a team from the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service that includes College of Global Futures associate professor Rimjhim Aggarwal examines the culture and economy of waste pickers. In the paper, published Aug. 10 in Sustainability, the authors demonstrate that waste pickers, typically part of extreme poverty communities based on or around landfills, have the potential to act as environmental stewards by mitigating the effects of waste, contributing to the resilience of urban systems, reducing greenhouse gas emissions through recovery of materials from waste streams and saving energy and preserving natural resources by enabling recycling and reuse.

"They play critical roles in waste management, but their full potential to contribute to the circular economy remains unrealized due to their marginalized social status, lack of recognition by authorities, and disconnection from the formal economy. Additionally, they face significant occupational hazards and social exclusion, and their livelihoods are at risk of being displaced by private-sector-led waste management approaches."

The paper was co-authored by Raj Buch, Alicia Marseille, Matthew Williams, Rimjhim Aggarwal and Aparna Sharma. Read the full report.

Dave White selected as Southwest chapter lead author for National Climate Assessment

August 23, 2021

Dave WhiteDave White, deputy director of Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation and professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, has been tapped by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to represent the Southwest region as chapter lead author for the Fifth U.S. National Climate Assessment. White previously served as co-author for the complex systems chapter for the Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment, published in 2018.

“I am honored to step into the lead author role for NCA5 for the Southwest, and I look forward to building an author team that represents the true diversity of our region,” White said. “Our primary goal is to develop actionable knowledge to address the climate crisis.”

Learn more.

'Code-Red' megadrought is the Southwest's latest demand for collaborative innovation, says Dave White in Washington Post

August 23, 2021

Colorado River and Lake Mead low water levelsThe Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation's deputy director, Dave White, was featured in the Washington Post on Aug. 18 with his opinion piece on the US Bureau of Reclaimation's recent report on a record low water level for both the Colorado River and Lake Mead. In his opinion, White asserts that "nothing less than a water 'moonshot'" will be the only way forward to ensure that the needs of industry, agriculture and residents will be met.

"Debates over water rights and water usage are often emotional because people’s lives and livelihoods depend on this basic component of our existence. Solving the problem will demand unprecedented cooperation among competing parties, rapid technological innovation and thoughtful public engagement."

Read the full opinion.

Can Market Interventions Make Coral Reef Fisheries More Sustainable?

August 18, 2021

Program Lead for Coral Reef Conservation, Katie Cramer and Research Professor at the School of Sustainability, Jack Kittinger published an article exploring how market-based initiatives can increase the sustainability of fisheries entitled, 'Reef Conservation off the Hook: Can Market Interventions Make Coral Reef Fisheries More Sustainable?'

The health of coral reefs has taken a massive hit due to overfishing, pollution and climate change, which has had a grave impact on reef ecosystems and the people who depend on these reefs for food and job security.

According to their article, "Coral reef fisheries contribute up to one-quarter of the total fish catch in developing countries (Jameson et al., 1995) and account for more than one-quarter of all small-scale fishers (Teh et al., 2013). Reef fisheries are intensely exploited as a local source of protein and for export-oriented trades including the aquarium, live reef food fish, and dried sea cucumber (“beche-de-mer”) trades (Sadovy et al., 2003Wabnitz et al., 2003Purcell et al., 2013)."

Market-based solutions have been floated to decrease unsustainable production practices in wild-capture fisheries and seafood farming. The article discusses the benefits and potential pitfalls of these types of solutions.

Read the full article here

A response to the Working Group 1 contribution to the IPCC 6th Assessment Report

August 14, 2021

Changing, by Alisa Singer (2021)The first working group’s contribution to the 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “The Physical Science Basis” released on August 9, comes at a moment when our planet is experiencing multiple crises, some of which directly highlight the key findings of the report. To avoid additional, more extreme events, we no longer have decades to make choices to change what we can and should do to mitigate climate change – we must act now and act more boldly than previously envisioned in any of the current commitments.

The negative impacts of human activities on our planet affect not only the climate system but also social and environmental systems including water, energy, food, economies and public health. There is a high level of interconnectivity between these systems as well as between all environmental and societal systems, the ultimate drivers of change on our planet. We have outgrown the capacity of our planet to sustain “business as usual.” In other words, global society is asking our planet to give more than it has to offer. Unless we dramatically change our ways to more equitable and environmentally conscious ways we face a future in which life will be forced to severely adapt through sacrifice or planetary self regulation.

Yet, we do still face a future of hope. As we have seen with the COVID pandemic, an intersection of science, policy, humanities and resources guided by principles of equity, inclusivity and justice can drive unprecedented response and solutions at record speed. The challenge, with COVID and climate change, is to translate these solutions into meaningful and just collective action.

This idea — the opportunity of human action to positively and impactfully help shape our global future to ensure a habitable planet for all — is at the very essence of the work being done by more than 600 scientists and scholars here at Arizona State University. This is how the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory is shaping tomorrow, today.

Read our full response.

New study: Proportion of world population exposed to floods grows tenfold in 15 years

August 12, 2021

Flooding affects more people than any other environmental disaster in the world. Between 2000 and 2019 alone, an estimated $651 billion in flood damages occurred globally.

As climate change projections indicate that the proportion of the population exposed to floods will only increase in the next decade, a lack of observational data and a reliance on traditional flood models — which have high uncertainty — limit researchers' ability to have a clear picture of the scale and human impact of recent floods.

New research led by Arizona State University PhD geography alumna Elizabeth Tellman uses satellite data to provide one of the clearest pictures to date of how floods are changing and who is at most risk.

In the study “Satellite imaging reveals increased proportion of population exposed to floods,” published in Nature, Tellman and her team used satellite imagery to analyze 913 large flood events around the world from 2000 to 2018, evaluating flood extent and population exposure.

Read more on ASU News. The paper's abstract follows.

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ASU scientists use commercial satellite data to determine water flow in Southwestern rivers

August 9, 2021

NASA has funded an Arizona State University project to use commercial CubeSat data to determine the presence of water in arid and semiarid rivers in California and Arizona. CubeSats are small satellites, typically the size of a shoebox, that can orbit the Earth and even travel in deep space.

The study, led by sustainability scientist Enrique R. Vivoni of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, will provide data and assessments that can assist Southwestern states in their efforts to manage water resources, impose regulations on pollution and maintain water quality in rivers.

Traditionally, approaches for determining water in rivers are conducted using ground-based field surveys that use the presence (or absence) of plant or animal species associated with flowing conditions. These approaches are usually labor- and time-intensive and often limited by access to remote areas.

For this study, Vivoni and Zhaocheng Wang, who is a graduate student in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, developed a new approach to use Earth-observing satellites to detect flowing water in arid rivers. Read more on ASU News.

Is cutthroat science hindering discovery?

August 9, 2021

Time to Say Goodbye to Our Heroes? This piece by sustainability scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton appeared in the most recent edition of Issues in Science and Technology (sign up in the sidebar to receive the e-newsletter or subscribe to the magazine here).

The author describes how notoriety, rather than society, has become the motivation for research, making competition, rather than collaboration, the norm. Narrowly allocating resources -- professorships, staff and funding -- to those considered “leading scholars” has led to incremental gains in knowledge and a loss of talent. Elkins-Tanton advocates for broader and more equitable participation across demographics and disciplines to "create knowledge where we need it and enable faster adoption of interventions."

Zócalo Public Square hosts a livestream talk at 1:00 p.m. Arizona time this Wednesday, August 11. Register for the event.

ASU's Erinanne Saffell appointed Arizona’s state climatologist

August 9, 2021

Erinanne Saffell, a senior lecturer in Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, remembers experiencing severe floods growing up in Arizona in the 1970s.

“When I was about 3 years old we had a tropical cyclone that flooded out the area, and my family was sandbagging our house in Scottsdale. I remember Hurricane Joanne in 1972, and my mom was driving the station wagon. I couldn't see because the rain was so intense. Most of my early childhood memories are of too much water flooding in Arizona,” Saffell said.

These early experiences sparked Saffell’s lifelong fascination with water and led her to pursue a career researching extreme weather and climate events, including flood and drought, as well as impacts of urban heat islands. Since 2009, she has worked as a senior lecturer in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where she develops courses and upper-division seminars in physical geography, meteorology and climatology, and directs K–12 outreach and training programs on these topics.

Now, Saffell has been appointed Arizona’s state climatologist by Gov. Doug Ducey — a role in which she will educate and advise both local and state communities on issues of climate and weather. Read more on ASU News.