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Sustainability News

Klaus Lackner joins Newsweek's America's Greatest Disruptors Hall of Fame

December 20, 2021

Klaus lackner in the CNCE labKlaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions and a pioneer in the carbon capture research space, has been named to Newsweek's Hall of Fame for America's Greatest Distruptors. In a special edition published Dec. 15, Lackner was one of five initial innovators tapped to receive this honor, each recognized by the publication as "Visionaries whose career-long actions have had far-reaching impact."

Lackner, who in also is a professor with the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, was the first person to suggest the artificial capture of carbon dioxide from air in the context of carbon management. His work in this space has led to a partnership between ASU, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and the private corporation Carbon Collect to manufacture and deploy the Mechanical Tree, a passive energy carbon collection system. The first Mechanical Tree will be installed for testing at ASU's Tempe campus in early 2022. The research by Lackner and his team has also been recognized by Discover Magazine Discover as one of seven ideas that could change the world.

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ASU receives $6.36M grant to launch Pacific Island research center

September 30, 2021

Funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the center will support research into how Pacific Island communities can build resilience to extreme climate events

Fallen trees and a blue house sinking into floodwater.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced a five-year, $6.36 million research grant that will launch the Pacific Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (Pacific RISA) program as a research center at ASU within the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. This partnership with ASU is the next step in an ongoing effort of the Pacific RISA initiative to support communities in the Pacific region in becoming more resilient to the effects of climate change. The team will expand their research, advocacy and action from their home base on the Island of Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, leveraging support from the East-West Center, the University of Hawaiʻi Water Resources Research Center, various other stakeholders and now ASU, to address the most pressing regional and community-specific climate challenges.

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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.”

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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.”

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'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.

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.

Global Futures faculty join international team to examine how extreme events can be future indicators

July 30, 2021

Arizona wildfire caused by lightningTwo ASU faculty affiliated with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, Michael Barton and Sander van der Leeuw, joined an international panel of 31 natural and social scientists to write a newly published article in Nature Geoscience that investigates abrupt shifts in the Earth's past and how they can be used to predict the future.

The article, Past abrupt changes, tipping points and cascading impacts in the Earth system, was published today an made available with open access by Nature Geoscience.

"We are increasingly concerned about the potential for abrupt changes resulting from human impacts in coming decades," said Barton, director of education and professor at the School of Complex Adaptive Systems. "Equally important, however, are societal dynamics that can make seemingly resilient human systems vulnerable to abrupt economic or political change--or even collapse--from otherwise manageable environmental fluctuations. Study of past socio-environmental tipping points can give us important insights needed to plan for future ones."

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Five women entrepreneurs named awardees for the 2021 WE Empower UN SDG Challenge

July 15, 2021

The WE Empower UN SDG Challenge – a global business challenge led in partnership by Vital Voices Global Partnership and Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at ASU – today announced the five social entrepreneurs selected as their 2021 Awardees.

The five 2021 WE Empower Awardees are:

• Olufunto Boroffice, Founder and CEO, Chanja Datti Ltd (Nigeria)

• Nidhi Pant, Co-Founder and Head of Finance and Partnerships, S4S Technologies (India)

• Sara Saeed, Co-Founder and CEO, Sehat Kahani (Pakistan)

• Panmela Castro, Founder and CEO, Panmela Castro Arte e Cultura and Rede Nami (Brazil)

• Aline Sara, Co-founder and CEO, NaTakallam (United States)

Each entrepreneur was selected on the basis that they lead an enterprise committed to advancing one or more of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, and leverage their businesses to push for progress in their communities.

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Swette Center report sets organic food agenda for US

July 2, 2021

The ASU Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems recently released a report to help President Joe Biden set a new agriculture agenda based to organic foods. "The Critical To-Do List for Organic Agriculture: Recommendations for the President" is outlined with 46 recommendations for the current administration and Congress to use as a framework for food development and safety as well as its impacts on climate change, research, supply chain, animal welfare standards, racial justice, social equity and enforcement.

"In our report, we establish a baseline of support that USDA should provide the organic sector — 6% of whatever dollars are being distributed," said Kathleen Merrigan, Swette Center executive director and Kelly and Brian Swette Professor of Practice in Sustainable Food Systems. "We chose this number because 6% of food purchased in the U.S. today is organic. We argue that support for the organic sector should, at minimum, be commensurate with its market share."

Learn more about the center's approach to developing these recommendations and some information behind the numbers in this exclusive interview with Merrigan on ASU News.

A Double Heat and Housing Crisis in Phoenix

June 23, 2021

construction crew working in the heatIn the June 20 edition of The New York Times, writer Jack Healy visits Phoenix to explore how the region is addressing a housing shortage while in the midst of near-record heat. The article interviews Melissa Guardaro, an assistant research professor at the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation at Arizona State University and a HUE researcher.

“Extreme heat has made the problems we have all the more evident,” said Melissa Guardaro, regarding the rising housing crisis and the scorching heat in Phoenix.

Read the full article. ASU faculty, staff and students can read the article with a free New York Times group pass subscription via ASU Libraries.

Do trees provide the best shade for urban environments?

June 9, 2021

Shade monitoring at ASU ariane middelShade is a term that residents of arid, hot environments learn to appreciate, especially during scalding summer months. But what makes for the best shade?

“Cities have started to plant trees as a means to shade the environment. But oftentimes you can’t really plant trees because of infrastructure challenges. There may be sewer lines underground, internet cables, or business signs that will be blocked,” said sustainability scientist Ariane Middel, assistant professor in ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering and a HUE grantee. New research explores viable alternatives to trees for providing shade to keep people comfortable outdoors.

Using a special mobile lab named MaRTy, Middel and her team are assessing what makes for the best provider of shade. The findings may surprise you.

Learn more at ASU News.

Peter Schlosser named chair of AGU Development Board

May 6, 2021

AGU logoASU vice president and vice provost of Global Futures, Peter Schlosser, was recently named as chair of the Development Board for the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Joining Schlosser on the board as new members are John Podesta, former advisor to presidents Obama and Clinton and founder and Chair of the Board of Directors for the think tank Center for American Progress, and Tong Zhu, Dean of College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at Peking University. They join a board dedicated to a membership of 130,000 members, from ethusiasts to experts from around the world, focused on Earth and space sciences.

In his introductory address to the AGU membership, Schlosser, who was first appointed to the AGU board in 2015 and recognizes AGU as the first scientific organization he joined, said, "I was trained as a physicist and used measurements of isotopes and trace substances to better understand the hydrosphere, air/sea gas exchange and continental paleoclimate. Thus, AGU was a natural choice as its broad scope in Earth and Space Science covered my interests in a way no other professional society did."

Learn more about Schlosser's appointment and the AGU.

New book: Resilient Urban Futures

April 27, 2021

A new open access book, Resilient Urban Futures, addresses the way in which urban and urbanizing regions profoundly impact and are impacted by climate change. Editors include Urban Resilience to Extremes SRN members Zoé Hamstead, sustainability fellow David Iwaniac, Timon McPhearson, Marta Berbés-Blázquez, Elizabeth Cook and School of Sustainability adjunct faculty member Tischa Munoz-Erickson.

The editors and authors show why cities must wage simultaneous battles to curb global climate change trends while adapting and transforming to address local climate impacts. This book addresses how cities develop anticipatory and long-range planning capacities for more resilient futures, earnest collaboration across disciplines, and radical reconfigurations of the power regimes that have institutionalized the disenfranchisement of minority groups.

Although planning processes consider visions for the future, the editors highlight a more ambitious long-term positive visioning approach that accounts for unpredictability, system dynamics and equity in decision-making.

This volume brings the science of urban transformation together with practices of professionals who govern and manage our social, ecological and technological systems to design processes by which cities may achieve resilient urban futures in the face of climate change.

Greg Asner, Haunani Kane discuss coral reefs, indigenous knowledges and role of youth for Earth Day Celebration

April 24, 2021

ASU Global Futures Laboratory celebrates the 52nd Earth DayTwo of the planet's leading ocean biologists, Greg Asner and Haunani Kane from the Global Futures Laboratory's Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, joined ASU vice president and vice provost for Global Futures, Peter Schlosser, for an extensive conversation as part of a celebration of the 52nd annual Earth Day. In addition to providing a glimpse into one of the center's newest tools, the Allen Coral Atlas, Asner and Kane spoke extensively about the importance of indigenous perspectives and knowledge in understanding the greater biodynamics of our oceans' biomes such as coral reefs.

"I think a lot of my experiences on the canoe (as navigator with the Polynesian Voyaging Society) allowed me to develop a relationship with my work as a scientist," said Kane, who joined ASU as an assistant professor and researcher this year. "Coming upon an island and seeing the island first by the color of the clouds, the reflection of the lagoon and then the tips of the coconut trees, and then spending time with the people there, it really helped me to shape my understanding of how islands and reef island systems are impacted by changes in climate."

Watch the entire conversation.

ASU recognized as nation's most impactful for second straight year

April 24, 2021

ASU is #1 in teh US for global impact.With sustainability long held as a core value across the entire university and home to the nation's first comprehensive Global Futures Laboratory, ASU was again ranked by Time Higher Education as the top US institution when it comes impacts made addressing 17 specific goals aimed at achieving a better world for 2030, known as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ASU also retained a top-ten international ranking, tied at #9 with last year's top ranked-institution globally, University of Auckland in New Zealand.

ASU scored a total of 95.8 points out of 100, with highest scores pertaining to goals for Sustainable Cities and Communities (93.4, second overall globally); Responsible Consumption and Production (89.7, fourth); Eradicating Poverty (87.1, third); Clean Sanitation and Water (82.3, fifth); Climate Action (81.8, fourth); and Life Below Water (89.5, seventh). Each SDG includes a set of targets and indicators designed by the United Nations and adopted in 2015 to provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.

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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.