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Sustainability News

Mar. 25: Margaux Hein to discuss coral reef restoration

March 11, 2021

Margaux Hein is an ecologist specializing in restoring coral reefs and linking theory to practice. Her work seeks to better assist managers and practitioners in designing, implementing, and monitoring their restoration efforts.

In this Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science Monthly Seminar, set for March 25 at noon Arizona time, Hein will review the status and trends in the field of coral reef restoration and present results from her research on its long-term effectiveness.

More information and Zoom link.

Resilience Matters: Reimagining the Future in a Tumultuous Year

March 10, 2021

The Urban Resilience Project at Island Press has published a free, online e-book: Resilience Matters: Reimagining the Future in a Tumultuous Year. The book compiles reporting from the previous year and includes diverse thought leaders in climate, health, politics, water, smart growth, and racial justice.

Authors include ASU sustainability scientists Ann Kinzig and Shade Shutters. These fresh insights from on-the-ground practitioners offer alternatives to the unsustainable, inequitable status quo.

UREx featured in inaugural issue of npj Urban Sustainability

March 9, 2021

Nature Partner Journals announces its inaugural issue of npj Urban Sustainability, an open-access, online-only journal dedicated to publishing high-quality papers that describe the significant and ground-breaking research covering urban environments through the lens of sustainable development, studied across a broad range of research topics.

Several of the articles in the inaugural issue feature work from ASU's Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network.

Read the inaugural editorial.

White on Horizon: Should Arizonans be worried about Texas-like power problems?

Horizon | March 9, 2021

Dave White, deputy director of ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, was featured March 8 on the KAET news and current affairs program Horizon, where he discussed the dependability of electricity, gas and water in times of extreme and/or unexpected weather.

“What we saw in Texas is a classic example of what we call cascading risk, so an extreme weather event in this case extreme cold, caused disruption to the states electrical grid. That disruption and power loss subsequently caused a number of other impacts including disruption to water systems, disruptions to transportation networks, unfortunately loss of life, and a variety of other impacts to the residents of Texas,” White said.

Asked whether something similar can happen in Arizona, White responded, “Yes absolutely. Although we’re doing everything we can to prepare for and to prevent such disasters from affecting us here in Arizona, we should be aware of these risks and how these risks can affect us here."

Watch the full interview on KAET.

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.

NASEM report charts path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050

March 2, 2021

Achieving net-zero carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2050 is feasible and would not only help address climate change but also build a more competitive economy, increase high-quality jobs, and help address social injustice in the energy system, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Sustainability scientist Clark Miller was a member of the committee that wrote the report, which emphasized that immediate action and proactive innovation are required and recommended a portfolio of near-term policies to ensure equitable access to benefits generated as a result of this transition, mitigate harms to vulnerable populations and engage public participation in decision-making, and revitalize the U.S. manufacturing sector.

Read the NASEM press release, and access the full report, Accelerating Decarbonization of the U.S. Energy System.

Next IASC event March 9-11: Fisheries and aquaculture commons

March 2, 2021

ASU hosts a series of Our Commons Future conference events organized by the International Association for the Study of the Commons. The aim of the conference is to bring together researchers, practitioners, and policy makers for the purpose of improving governance and management, advancing understanding, and creating sustainable solutions for commons, common-pool resources, or any other form of shared resources. IASC will especially focus on the increasing diversity of domains where concepts of commons are applied.

Future Conferences

Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mar 9–11, 2021

Commoning the Anthropocene, Apr 21–23, 2021*

Conceptualizing the Urban Commons, May 6–8, 2021

Polycentricity, May 17–19, 2021

Water Commons, May 19–21, 2021

Knowledge Commons, June 9–11, 2021

• Land and Forest Commons, September 2021 (information coming soon)

General Conference, October 11-15, 2021

ASU virtually hosts world's largest scientific meeting

March 2, 2021

Arizona State University was well represented at the 2021 AAAS meeting, held from Feb. 8-11, with a showcase of more than 50 virtual tours, live chats, scientific sessions, student presentations and poster sessions, and special plenary sessions by world scientific leaders.

The theme for AAAS 2021 was “Understanding Dynamic Ecosystems.” From the environments that we inhabit to the social systems in which we live and work, we are all embedded in a variety of ecosystems. Finding ways of maintaining the stable balance of these ecosystems in the face of rapidly changing circumstances is critical for our advancement.

Sustainability doctoral student wins AAAS student e-poster competition

February 28, 2021

Sustainability PhD student Wenjuan Liu has won first place in the American Association for the Advancement of Science 2021 student e-poster competition. Arizona State University was the host of this year's conference, the world's largest scientific meeting.

Liu's advisors in the School of Sustainability are Hallie Eakin and Datu Agusdinata. Liu's poster, Li Mining-Community-Aquifer Interactions in Salar De Atacama: An Agent-Based Model, was presented live on February 10.

Liu describes the significance of her research: "This research developed an agent-based model to examine how mining’s brine pumping behaviors affect groundwater movements and how changes in water resources affect social-stress dynamics under different mining projections. Our simulations highlight the importance of understanding and managing the downside risks of lithium extraction, point out potential pathways to help build community resilience, and identify governance challenges in regulating lithium mining stemming from resource uncertainties. This study also contributes to informing lithium-mining stakeholders about the challenges and opportunities to provide better management of the world’s largest lithium production sites for a sustainable future."

The abstract follows.

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Brayboy named ASU's new vice president for social advancement

February 27, 2021

Distinguished sustainability scientist Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy has been named ASU's new vice president for social advancement. His duties will include overseeing and implementing a variety of academic and social initiatives in Arizona and Hawaii.

“I’m very excited about this portfolio because it allows me to take on new challenges that are near and dear to my heart,” said Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s senior adviser to the president on American Indian affairs. “This work is an opportunity for ASU to continue living our charter. The social advancement aspect is crucial. Part of my role is to convene people and to bring our vast intellectual and research power to assist in helping create the conditions for a better society.”

Read the full article on ASU News.

March 8: International Women’s Day event

February 26, 2021

Join us on International Women’s Day for the first in a series of events showcasing ASU’s initiatives and partnerships advancing Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls.

Panelists will discuss the barriers women face due to discriminatory laws around the world and learn how ASU is combating these challenges by partnering with global organizations on SDG5 initiatives, including the SDG 5 Training for Parliamentarians and Global Changemakers and WE (women entrepreneurs) Empower UN SDG Challenge.

More info and registration.

Walker comments on disinformation and the arbiters of truth

February 25, 2021

Sustainability scholar Shawn Walker, assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences in the New College at ASU, has been quoted in a recent article on disinformation and conspiracy theories.

The article, The Disinformation Vaccine: Is There a Cure for Conspiracy Theories?, appeared February 24, 2021, in Rolling Stone. The article discusses research by Cambridge University's Sander van der Linden, who believes we can protect people against bad information through something akin to inoculation – a sort of truth vaccine. He calls his tactic "prebunking."

Walker, skeptical of applying concepts such as inoculation and herd immunity to disinformation, says the epidemiological approach risks overlooking the nuances and differences between online communities and how one form of intervention or solution might work in, say, a particular Reddit subgroup but not on Twitter. “There has to be thoughtful engagement and the understanding of the different balkanization of these communities,” Walker says. “Some you want to go in and engage, and some you don’t want to because it feeds the beast.” Walker goes on to explore the ethics around profit motives and the snuffing out of not just disinformation but unpopular opinions and inconvenient facts.

Call for Papers: Handbook of Human and Planetary Health

February 21, 2021

The Handbook on Human and Planetary Health will focus on demonstrating how planetary health may be pursued, with an emphasis on humans and on human influences. This which will follow on the success of the Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education, which is a "living edition" and the Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the world´s largest editorial project on sustainable development ever undertaken.

The Handbook on Human and Planetary Health will focus on:

  1. Outlining which human activities influence or disturb natural systems
  2. Describing the health impacts of environmental problems to human health
  3. Illustrating some of the measures which may be deployed to change current trends (e.g. reductions in resource consumption)
  4. Showcasing tested solutions to reduce human influences on planetary health

The publication is paying a special attention to the relations between the environment and zoonetic diseases. Other related themes may also be accepted. The publication will be part of the world´s leading peer-reviewed book series on matters related to sustainable development. This will be a high-impact, high citations, peer-reviewed piece.

The editorial team is now asking for expressions of interest, with the following details:

  1. Title of the possible contribution
  2. One paragraph describing it
  3. Names and contact details of the authors

The deadline is 20th March 2021. Full papers are due by 20th June 2021. The book is expected to be published in late 2021. The expressions of interest should be sent by the above deadline to: Further details on submissions and the format to be followed will be discussed with the authors whose outlines have been accepted.

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SolarSPELL brought virtual learning resources to South Sudan

February 15, 2021

SolarSPELL worked with a partner in South Sudan to provide virtual educational learning materials to over 35,000 primary and secondary students learning remotely from July through October 2020. Empower Kids South Sudan trained facilitators to take SolarSPELL units to schools in South Sudan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SolarSPELL devices are digital libraries designed and produced by ASU students and professors. They require no access to internet or electricity. Each SolarSPELL device encases a solar panel, a battery, and a Raspberry Pi, which are low-cost, extremely compact computers. All the educational resources are curated and stored on microSD cards inside each device.

Each SolarSPELL unit broadcasts an offline Wi-Fi hotspot that allows users to access the digital library through common internet browsers like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. The virtual interface for the library is designed to resemble the experience of using the internet.

Read the full article on

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.

March 4: Embracing Our Charter: Leading Inclusion at ASU and Beyond

February 12, 2021

This year, the Faculty Women’s Association (FWA) is exploring the impact of systemic racism in our community and higher education. For their 2021 FWA Leadership Summit, Embracing Our Charter: Leading Inclusion at ASU and Beyond, they highlight inspirational leaders who move forward justice, inclusion, diversity and equity within ASU and beyond. Through a dynamic discussion, panelists will share their experience and leadership strategies in their work to confront systemic racism and promote inclusive practices and initiatives. We invite you to join us for this important dialogue!

Event panelists include Cassandra Aska, Sara Brownell, Tiffany Ana Lopez, Ayanna Thompson, and moderator Lisa Magaña. This event is open to all ASU faculty, staff and students.

COVID-19 dashboards offer incomplete pictures

February 10, 2021

"Visualizing and reporting the summary figures for the COVID-19 pandemic is not as straightforward as measuring the number of steps you take in a day or number of transactions in a week," say ASU authors Michael Simeone, Gracie Valdez and Shawn Walker in a new piece for Future Tense. Simeone and Walker are sustainability scientists at ASU.

We are surrounded by charts, graphs, and dashboards that try to summarize and surveil the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States; we haven’t seen this kind of explosion of data visualization since the advent of the Weather Channel. But these dashboards, none of which existed before March, are experiencing some growing pains.

Read the full article, What COVID-19 Dashboards Aren’t Telling Us, published Feb. 9, 2021.