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Sustainability 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.

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.

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.

NAS report advises shifting focus from projecting to preparing for climate change

June 23, 2021

As it drafts its next decadal strategic plan, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) should shift its focus to providing insights that help society prepare for and avoid the worst potential consequences of climate change, while protecting the most vulnerable, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Traditional climate research that projects changes in the natural environment to estimate potential consequences is not meeting the needs of decision-makers as they respond to the climate crisis, the report says.

Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031 recommends USGCRP accelerate research on the multidirectional relationships among human and natural systems to advance our understanding of how to manage urgent current and future climate risks. Our food availability, for example, depends on a complex interaction between natural systems, such as the carbon and water cycles, and aspects of human systems, such as population growth or farming practices.

Sustainability scientist Nancy Grimm is an advisor to the USGRP and was an author of the report. Sustainability scientist Hallie Eakin, who is a member of the NAS Board on Environmental Change and Society, served as a reviewer of the report. Read the press release on nationalacademies.org.

Models of human heat strain don’t account for complexities

June 23, 2021

To better prepare for an ever-warming world in which heat waves are increasingly common, a group of international researchers is calling attention to the physiological variables and complexities of how humans react to the heat, or their “thermoregulation.” It turns out that these variables characteristically are often oversimplified and that oversimplification can result in a faulty understanding of how heat will affect humans as the climate changes.

The researchers’ commentary, Simplicity lacks robustness when projecting heat-health outcomes in a changing climate, was published online in the journal Nature Communications. Sustainability scientist Jennifer Vanos is the lead author.

“We’re hoping that this paper will lead people to think more about the intricacies of the human body and how it deals with heat in the same way that we think about the intricacies of climate models,” said Vanos.

“We often see news reports of study results suggesting that a place in the future will not be survivable,” said Vanos. “That’s important, but we want a place to be livable, not just survivable. Livable means the climate can safely sustain work, play and well-being for an extended period of time.” Read more in ASU News.

New paper: Collaborative governance for the food-energy-water nexus

June 8, 2021

Sustainability scientist and GIOSI deputy director Dave White and recent School of Sustainability PhD graduate J. Leah Jones published a paper, A social network analysis of collaborative governance for the food-energy-water nexus in Phoenix, AZ, USA, in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

The authors conducted a social network analysis of food-energy-water nexus governance in the Phoenix metropolitan area, as part of a project funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Professor Ross Maciejewski from the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering. The social network analysis revealed challenges to collaborative governance of FEW nexus stakeholders, such as limited trust between actors. However, the research found that by leveraging bridging there are opportunities to increase collaborative governance between sectors. This study was a component of Jones’ dissertation.

The abstract follows.

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New paper: Sustainable consumption communication

May 25, 2021

School of Sustainability assistant professor Tyler DesRoches, sustainability fellow Daniel Fischer and their co-authors have published a new paper, Sustainable consumption communication: A review of an emerging field of research, in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

According to Fischer, the paper provides a review of sustainable consumption communication (SCC) as a field of research. Analyzing 67 papers, the authors describe 4 types of SCC research that conceptualize and relate the terms very differently.

The abstract follows.

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Student-led course: Intersectional environmentalism and sustainability

LinkedIn | May 24, 2021

This year, undergraduate student William Walker had the privilege of executing one of his goals, which was to bring representation to overlooked identities in sustainability through a student-led course.

With support from the School of Sustainability, Walker developed a student-led, faculty-advised course named "Intersectional Environmentalism and Sustainability." The course, which included undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students, examined how identities such as race, class, and gender create different realities for different people and how those people navigate the world around them.

According to Walker, students in the class taught the class on topics such as Black representation in sustainability, ecofeminism, and Indigenous leadership in sustainability. Walker said, "This initiative was awe-inspiring because it broadened student's horizons on what inclusion really means."

A web page describing the course and all the students' topics was created by fellow students Tahiry Langrand and Jordan Sene.

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.

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.

Learn more

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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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.

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.

Sustainability storytelling students premiere short-form documentaries

December 4, 2020

Join sustainability scientist Peter Byck, producer and director of carbon nation and carbon cowboys, for a premiere of his students' work this semester. The event format will be to showcase one film, then do a Q&A with the filmmakers, then repeat for the second film. Join via Zoom on Friday, December 11, at 10:00 a.m. Arizona time.

The Visitors demonstrates how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of wildlife and parks to human health and well-being, while addressing waste management and other pressing sustainability challenges.

Inseparable provides a perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic as a wake-up call to our inextricable connection to the Earth and an opportunity for us to reconnect to nature to find peace amidst increasing uncertainty.

Fri through Sun: Devils Invent: ASU / Devex Global Hackathon

November 8, 2020

Arizona State University and Devex are hosting a global hackathon. Open to universities from anywhere in the world and based on the model from the PLuS Alliance and Devils Invent, the hackathon calls on students to create solutions to five real-world development challenges aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). One winning team in each challenge category will showcase its solution at Devex World and receive opportunities to further develop their idea.

The event takes place Friday November 13, 2020 at 5PM MST through Sunday November 15, 2020 at 3:30PM MST.

Students at ASU will be competing for a slot to go up against students from around the world and will be creating solutions in 3 of the 5 areas which are related to: business transforming development, data revolution, and innovation at scale. One winning team in each challenge category will showcase its solution at Devex World and receive opportunities to further develop their idea!

Learn more and register.

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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