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Sustainability News

The Texas Storm Was No Black Swan

March 3, 2021

Last month's winter storms proved Texas' utility systems are not prepared to persevere through extreme weather, but what about the rest of the nation? Or the planet?

It goes without saying that more extreme weather events are on the horizon. In the latest thought leadership piece for Medium by Peter Schlosser, Steven Beschloss, Clea Edwards and Jason Franz, we look at how Texas responded to their lack of preparation and how the rest of the nation and the world can avoid a similar collapse.

Given that electrification is not only a cornerstone to a functioning modern society but also central to the success of critical infrastructure systems supporting water, food, fuel, and much more, this lack of preparedness is stunning. But Texas is not alone in the failure to adequately prepare. While Texas did intentionally place itself on an energy island, isolating itself from the two national grid systems that allow for greater backup and sharing, it should be seen as a bellwether of growing and increasingly interconnected threats. In California, for example, rising heat levels and massive wildfires crippled its energy system and required rolling blackouts.

We can hope that this catastrophic failure of preparedness will be a loud signal to leadership in Texas and beyond to confront the flaws of their systems amid continuing climate change. But hope is not enough: It will take massive new resources, rethinking the national and regional power grid systems, and redesigning them so that they are resilient enough to withstand extreme weather conditions.

Read the full article here.

"COVID-19 has revealed some of the weaknesses in the energy system": Gary Dirks talks energy transitions with International Policy Digest

March 3, 2021

Gary Dirks, senior director of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and executive director of ASU LightWorks, recently sat down for a conversation with Marc Serber from the International Policy Digest. In this exchange, Dirks shares ASU's history in energy research and why this pandemic has shined a brighter light on the need to transition fuel sourcing and production away from fossils and to renewables.

"Well, COVID-19 has had a very negative impact on the oil industry, and it’s probably the last nail in the coffin for coal also," Dirks said. "I think it’s drawn forward a lot of the thinking about the pace at which we aim to decarbonize, probably by as much as 10 years, and that has opened up a lot more thinking about how and when we actually deploy renewable energy."

Read the full interview here, and learn more about the work going on at LightWorks.

Peter Schlosser discusses climate and opportunity on Horizon

February 12, 2021

ASU's Vice President and Vice Provost of Global Futures, Peter Schlosser, was featured this week on the KAET news and current affairs program Horizon, where he discussed the current threat of climate change and the Biden administration's prioritization of climate action.

"We actually see the expression of this (existential) threat, which is a global threat, but we see it locally. Here in Phoenix, we see wildfires, we have drought...we have record heat, record death related to heat. So, more frequently we see fallout of this global crisis play out in our backyard."

Across the interview with Ted Simmons, Schlosser addresses the ideas of decarbonization, the opportunity of job growth and trillion-dollar industries and the real impact of the Paris Accords and the meaning behind the Unied States re-entering the accords via a recent executive order.

"I hope that by seeing more and experiencing more - more people are getting closer to the crisis - I hope this will wake them up and make them willing to take on different choices, different from what got us into this crisis."

View the fulll interview at KAET PBS.

ESSA: a new graduate training initiative solving global challenges from the bottom-up

February 12, 2021

“How do we expand our reach not just to other disciplines but also to non-scientists to make it easier to work with stakeholders and those who make policy decisions?”

That was the question put forth by Sarah Bearman, second-year PhD student in the School of Earth and Space Exploration questions during the first reading group meeting of Earth System Science for the Anthropocene, or ESSA. ESSA is a growing network of graduate students, faculty members and practitioners addressing global challenges through a new lens. The developing ESSA initiative at ASU, directed by Nancy Grimm (School of Life Sciences) and Abigail York (School of Human Evolution and Social Change), aims to re-think how we approach graduate training in the Anthropocene.

“Students need a new path to help them prepare for careers and multi-disciplinary research outside of academia,” says Grimm, Regents Professor at ASU. Grimm and York state that the formation of the ESSA network was driven by the need to invoke a new science and graduate training. Starting in Spring 2021, graduate students from different research programs and interests virtually join together to discuss articles about the future of science focusing on five key ideas: collaboration, team science, communication, solutions-driven research and framing transdisciplinary scholarship to explicitly center justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

The ESSA reading group also brings together students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to open up new doors for collaboration and discussion. An engineering PhD student, Iranvaloo, describes the way scientists can engage in different types of knowledge and methodologies, “...there are a lot of tools and approaches in the engineering and the computer vision realm that can aid in how we approach our experimental problems.”

“We need to make spaces that define what mentoring relationships mean to students and their success,” Grimm says, reflecting on her position as a long-time faculty member and graduate student mentor. “It’s telling to find that there are no pre-existing faculty mentoring trainings at ASU or even other universities...if we want to train students then we must also ask faculty to be held to the same standard”. Grimm and York are working to build a community of students and faculty who embody these same principles in ESSA.

If you’re a graduate student, faculty member or practitioner, you can join the ESSA scholars community by contacting essa@asu.edu or follow @ESSA_ASU on Twitter for reading group and networking announcements.

2020 brings record heat and dryness to Arizona

February 12, 2021

“The heat in 2020 was not helpful in the least, and the global pandemic was not helpful as well,” said associate professor David Hondula, a partner with the Healthy Urban Environments program at the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation.

In an article featured in the Arizona Republic, Hondula points to energy assistance and home weatherization assistance for low-income people as solutions to help avoid severe risk and even deaths due to the extreme heat and conditions of the current climate.

Read more about the consequences of the State’s driest summer on record and the pandemic on vulnerable people in our communities.

Feb 23: Phosphorus: Past and Future book launch

February 9, 2021

Drs. Jim Elser and Phil Haygarth – two big names in the field of phosphorus sustainability – have joined forces to write a book for lay audiences that describes the nature and history of phosphorus, its uses, and its twin role as both an essential ingredient of agriculture and a major contaminant of our waters. Join the book launch event, set for February 23 at 9:30 a.m. MST. Register online.

Jim Elser is a limnologist and National Academy of Sciences member with research focused on the effect of key limiting nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in lake ecosystems. He is a Research Professor and Distinguished Sustainability Scientist in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and School of Sustainability and serves as the Director for the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance. He is also director of the Flathead Lake Biological Station of the University of Montana.

Phosphorus: Past and Future, available from Oxford University Press, discusses emerging efforts and innovations to develop phosphorus sustainability solutions to protect our food supply and water quality. The book launch event will include a high-level tour of the book with the authors and the insights they gained from writing it. There will be plenty of time for the audience to ask questions of the authors. You can also follow the conversation at the Twitter hashtag #thePbook.

Who gets their lights back first if a cyberattack brings down the grid?

February 9, 2021

According to experts from ASU's Decision Theater, the United States needs a Continuity of the Economy plan to ensure we can reconstitute the economy in the wake of a devastating cyberattack. ASU's Jon Miller and sustainability scientist Shade T. Shutters contributed an article to Future Agenda, a series from Future Tense in which experts suggest specific, forward-looking actions the new Biden administration should implement.

Miller and Shutters' co-authors were sustainability fellow Benjamin Ruddell of Northern Arizona University, with Samantha F. Ravich and Annie Fixler of the Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Their article is entitled Who Gets Their Lights Back First if a Cyberattack Brings Down the Grid?

ASU’s Decision Theater and the Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies are partnering on a data driven visualization of interconnectivity and dependencies across economic sectors to demonstrate how the U.S. government can begin to understand prioritization of recovery.

Center directors share recent highlights

February 9, 2021

In a recent meeting of center directors affiliated with the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, participants were asked to provide a recent highlight or accomplishment. A wide variety of answers were shared, and some of them are reproduced here.

Center for Games and Impact has hosted workshops, local trainings, thought leader gatherings and a month-long game exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum with thousands of visits.

Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science has acquired the Allen Coral Atlas, giving the Global Futures Laboratory the world's largest coral reef monitoring system.

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ASU contributes to brief on federal recycling policy

February 5, 2021

In early 2020, Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions colleagues, Alicia Marseille, interim deputy director, and Raj Buch, director of sustainability practice, joined the Consumer Brand Association’s Recycling Leadership Council (RLC), a broad coalition of stakeholders brought together to identify the federal government’s role in fixing the U.S. recycling system.

On February 4, RLC released its Blueprint for America’s Recycling System. The detailed report provides a vision for ambitious policy action that will move the United States toward a circular economy.

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The Earth League launches 10 New Insights of Climate Science with UNFCCC

January 29, 2021

Unaccounted emissions from permafrost, threats to the land sink, impacts on mental health and freshwater, COVID-19 outcomes and rights-based litigation to address climate change are some of the most recent findings in climate change science summarized in the 10 New Insights in Climate Science 2020.

This interdisciplinary report was launched by the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory's partners at The Earth League in partnership with report co-sponsors United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at a virtual event on Jan. 27 featuring Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. This report accompanies a paper simultaneously released in the journal Global Sustainability. The project was made possible through a partnership with Future Earth and the World Climate Research Programme. ASU contributors to this report included Peter Schlosser, co-chair of The Earth League, Clea Edwards and Clark Miller. The Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory is the North American secretariat for The Earth League, working in coordination with the Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS) at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany (PIK).

Access the full report.

Global Futures hosts climate policy discussion with Obama administration's John Morton and GFL fellow Frank Sesno

December 22, 2020

The Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory hosted a special discussion with Emmy-winning journalist Frank Sesno and former Obama Administration climate policy advisor John E. Morton for a comprehensive conversation about President-elect Biden's incoming administration and it's placement of the climate and climate action as one of four priorities. The two went over what challenges and opportunities incoming administration and Cabinet-level appointees will confront. What will be their likely priorities—domestically and internationally—and how will they engage a diverse collection of stakeholders?

The interview was conducted by award-winning television journalist and Global Futures Fellow Frank Sesno, who also is director of Planet Forward, a climate and environment focused news platform through George Washington University, where Sesno is faculty. Morton is a former White House Senior Director for Energy and Climate Change, responsible for coordinating policies and strategies on international energy and climate change for the Obama administration. Morton is currently a partner at Pollination, a climate change advisory and investment firm. He brings more than 25 years of experience in emerging markets, investment finance and environmental policy.

The conversation was grounded by a welcome by Peter Schlosser, Vice President and Vice Provost for Global Futures.

View the full conversation here.

ASU launches Sustainable Maryvale StoryMap

December 7, 2020

ASU’s Community Capital Lab, led by sustainability scientist Mark Roseland, has published the Sustainable Maryvale StoryMap. Developed in collaboration with ASU’s Design Studio for Community Solutions, the tool focuses on a Phoenix, Arizona neighborhood to demonstrate how we can localize the Sustainable Development Goals. The Lab proposes using six forms of Community Capital to redirect local systems toward community sustainability by localizing the SDGs. Sustainable Maryvale demonstrates the value of this approach at the neighborhood level and how it can be replicated in neighborhoods across the US and beyond.

The Sustainable Maryvale StoryMap has been submitted to the 2020 ArcGIS StoryMap Competition for the Sustainable Development Goals hosted by ESRI and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). Winners will be announced in February 2021. ASU is one of more than 850 university members of the SDSN. The SDSN was established in 2012 to mobilize global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical solutions for sustainable development, including the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Foo, Asner study uses satellites, field studies to improve coral reef restoration

November 13, 2020

A new study published in Restoration Ecology by researchers from Arizona State University’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science found evidence that particulate organic carbon levels are one of the most important factors in determining coral outplant survival. Author Greg Asner is a sustainability scientist and center director.

This new finding suggests that potential coral outplanting sites should be selected in areas where sedimentation levels are low, away from coastal development, or where coastal development is carefully managed for reef conservation.

“New restoration protocols can use remotely sensed data of multiple oceanographic variables to assess the environmental history of a site. This will help evaluate and optimize site selection and give their outplants the best chance of survival,” said Shawna Foo, lead author and postdoctoral researcher at the ASU center.

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Universities collaborate to create new Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI)

October 15, 2020

ASU to join six other universities to create an institute to better understand locust phase change.

As a formidable ecological force, locusts have a long history of devastating crops and causing food insecurity throughout history and around the world. A secret to their success—dubbed phase polyphenism—is a textbook case of phenotypic plasticity where an individual can modify its phenotype in response to a changing environment. Locusts can capitalize on times of plenty by altering their morphology, physiology, and behavior as they shift from a cryptic and solitary lifestyle to a mobile and gregarious one. This ultimately results in the dramatic outbreaks with swarms of billions of individuals we are seeing currently on multiple continents.

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Taming locusts in Senegal: Working with communities, empowering women

October 14, 2020

Locusts are a major pest in many parts of the world, damaging plants and livelihoods. Senegal is one such place; farmers constantly battle migrating swarms of the local Senegalese grasshopper.

Led by Associate Professor Arianne Cease from the School of Sustainability and funded by USAID, the Global Locust Initiative went to Senegal — an area where they’ve been working since 2016 — to see if changing crops’ nutrients would deter locusts and to work with local communities and organizations to monitor and manage locust numbers.

The initiative, part of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, is devoted to researching the complex problem of locusts and finding solutions alongside local collaborators.

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New climate video series centers on diverse youth voices

September 24, 2020

Alexandria Villasenor speaking at climate action eventClimate change may feel formidable, and people worldwide are already experiencing its effects, but our future is not yet decided. Catastrophe is not inevitable.

Countless people around the world, recognizing the urgency of this moment, are taking climate action in a way that draws from their personal experiences and passions. A new PBS video series in collaboration with the Arizona State University Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory is telling the stories of some of these courageous, innovative and captivating people.

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Writers from around the world envision the future, earn spot in new magazine

September 23, 2020

Graphic that says "Envisioning the Future: A story contest 2020"In April, Arizona State University’s Narrative Storytelling Initiative invited people worldwide to write a short story on what they think the future holds, based on our current world. No science fiction, no fantasy, but an imagined future reality.

The results are in, and they’re illuminating. Enjoy the top five in a new magazine displayed on Issuu: Envisioning the Future, Volume 1.

The initiative received 43 submissions from around the world — with 20 from the ASU community — for its story contest in partnership with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. Adaptation to a changed reality was one of the recurring themes among most of the stories, which ranged from 400 to 700 words, said Steven Beschloss, director of the Narrative Storytelling Initiative.

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West Coast Fires: Will they finally push us to act?

September 21, 2020

In our latest piece on Medium, co-authors Peter Schlosser and Steven Beschloss examine the wildfire outbreak across the western US and if this is finally the climate-oriented moment that will move people to take that next step towards impact and change. "In short, are these fires, is this deadly pandemic, is another round of pounding from hurricanes, capable of awakening a reluctant, distracted public? Has the alarm bell grown so loud that it can’t be ignored any longer? Have we reached a tipping point when Americans and others walk to their proverbial window and shout: 'I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore'?"

You can read the piece on Medium. To ensure you don’t miss any Global Futures Laboratory Medium posts, follow our Medium channel directly, or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn where we announce all new posts.

Growth in plastic waste could exceed mitigation efforts

September 17, 2020

Plastic trash floating underwaterToday, ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes Founding Director Leah Gerber and Associate Center Director of Biodiversity Valuation and Assessments Beth Polidoro published a Science article titled “Predicted growth in plastic waste exceeds efforts to mitigate plastic pollution.”

In addition, 18 researchers from other universities and NGOs co-authored this publication including ASU Conservation Innovation Lab graduate students Erin Murphy and Miranda Bernard.

This work emerged from the center’s Plastic Emissions Working Group supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center.

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