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Sustainability News

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.

All hands on deck to protect Island Earth

April 2, 2019

Nainoa Thompson on boat looking out to seaA Thought Leader Series Piece

By Nainoa Thompson

Note: Hawaiian master navigator Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, gave a Wrigley Lecture in October 2018.

“Nainoa, you have no idea how beautiful your Island Earth is until you see it from space. But we are changing it. It’s going to change us. And we’re not prepared for the change.”

Conversations with one of my best friends and teachers, the late Hawaii-born astronaut Lacy Veach, would often end up this way. He would then say, “You can’t protect what you don’t understand, what you don’t care about.”

To understand the Earth, Lacy urged me to sail around the world on the Hōkūleʻa, a deep-sea voyaging canoe, as the ancient Polynesians did: using as wayfinding tools the stars, the winds, the waves and other cues from nature. No modern instruments. No GPS.

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You will return home

February 28, 2019

Jack KittingerA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Jack Kittinger

We know the challenges we face in conservation. Conservation is about human security — it's about people, communities, families — our children. Globally, we continue to neglect how important nature is to our survival and ability to thrive.

Even as our most pressing environmental problems multiply, our resources to combat them don't keep pace. We strive. We come up short. It's easy to look at the global scale of the challenges we face and feel overwhelmed — to want to give up.

But we don't and we can't.

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A conservative case for a carbon tax

September 18, 2018

Bob Litterman smiling and wearing suitA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Bob Litterman

Continuously pumping greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere is a risk. We simply don’t know our atmosphere’s capacity to safely absorb these heat-trapping emissions, but we do know it’s not limitless. Evidence shows that Earth’s temperature is rising, oceans are warming and acidifying, ice sheets are shrinking, and intense weather events are happening more and more frequently — all of which directly or indirectly cause societal damage. Though Earth’s climate has always changed, it is virtually certain that this rapid trend of warming is caused by human activity since the mid-20th century. And there’s no sign of it slowing down.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, carbon dioxide accounted for 81 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2016. As we drive gas-fueled cars, power electricity grids with fossil fuels, grow food and live our lives, we are dumping carbon into the atmosphere at an unprecedented and alarming rate. Once released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide can affect climate for hundreds or thousands of years — longer than any other greenhouse gas.

At what point will we reach a catastrophic tipping point in which future generations will be unable to adapt to the impacts of climate change, leading to a significant and permanent decline in well-being?

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Housing is critical to equitable and inclusive cities

January 30, 2018

Reckford JonathanA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Jonathan Reckford

Note: Habitat for Humanity CEO Jonathan Reckford gave a Wrigley Lecture titled "Housing for Inclusive and Equitable Cities" in January 2018.

With 60 percent of people worldwide projected to be concentrated in urban areas by 2030, developing sustainable communities that are inclusive and equitable for all will require creating affordable housing located near job opportunities. Some of the most promising ideas emerging in both developed and developing economies involve combining mixed-income housing with transit-oriented developments.

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Seeing the mission through: growing an army for sustainability

November 15, 2017

Alan AtKisson wearing a dark blazer and smilingA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Alan AtKisson

When it comes to sustainability as it is practiced today, I helped get a number of things started, from the use of sustainability indicators, to the concept of training “sustainability change agents," to the search for measures of our planet’s ecological boundaries, to weaving the concept of sustainability into the practice of developing the “Blue Economy” – the economy of our oceans and seas.

By making this statement, I do not mean to imply that I take credit for those things — far from it. The emphasis is on “helped." These were processes that would have happened anyway, no doubt. I was just lucky enough to be around in their early, generative moments, and to lend a hand.

Don’t worry: the main purpose of this short article is not to reminisce, as you will see, but to look ahead and reflect on what the sustainability movement needs going forward. But sometimes, to see the way ahead clearly, we have to look back.

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Progress in the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development

September 14, 2017

Sustainable Tourism Thought LeaderA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Kathleen Andereck & Christine Vogt

Note: To celebrate the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute for Sustainability and the Center for Sustainable Tourism in the School of Community Resources and Development at ASU will host Megan Epler Wood – Director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Wood's lecture will take place at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 2, at the Tempe Center for the Arts. It will be followed by a dessert reception and book signing.

The origins of sustainable tourism

The concept of sustainability, as we think of it today, emerged from several global initiatives on the heels of the environmental movement. Four initiatives in particular – the Brundtland report Our Common Future released in 1987; the Rio Summit with its Agenda 21 in 1992; and the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, or Rio+10, and then Rio+20 in 2012 – spurred the conceptual development of sustainable tourism.

In the Brundtland report, its authors took a serious look at the impacts of industrial and human activities on the planet. Tourism was flagged in recognition of its contribution to these impacts.

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A funny thing happened on the way to the job market

July 17, 2017

asu-sustainability-dean-booneA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Christopher Boone

Note: This essay originally appeared in several newspapers in the Valley and across the country.

Deans of colleges and schools have an annual ritual. Each fall, they greet their incoming class of freshmen – excited, hopeful and mostly young minds ready to enter adulthood, citizenship and self-sufficiency.

These students have worked hard to get into the school of their choice, and now their journey begins. This meeting is a blend of informational, inspirational and joyous.

Often sitting beside these excited young students are their equally excited parents, who have sacrificed to enable their children to reach this auspicious moment. They dream their children will become the proverbial “doctors and lawyers and such,” and also artists, engineers, historians, teachers, journalists and other well-known vocations.

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Seizing sustainability at a time of reckoning

June 7, 2017

Crispin TickellA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Sir Crispin Tickell

Sustainability is a funny idea. Why should we worry about our sustainability? The history of life is full of species that rise and fall, sustain themselves or fail to do so, as circumstances change.

But until recent history, our awareness of the past has been short term, and the wider background has been lacking. My own conversion to longer-term thinking arose from awareness of the changes in climate that took place in the 17th century and profoundly affected every aspect of life in Europe.

Now things are changing. People are becoming aware of their effects on the planet. Most people no longer question growing crops in such a fashion as to conserve the fertility of the soil, treating the habitats of other creatures with respect, preparing for big events like volcanic explosions or hits from space, and working out the future in terms of constant variation in the condition of the shallow layer of Earth’s surface where life happens.

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Myanmar at a turning point for natural capital and human wellbeing

View Source | April 24, 2017

Myanmar Leah BiodiversityA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Leah Gerber & Penny Langhammer

After a half-century of isolation, the Republic of Myanmar has reengaged with the international community following democratic elections in 2015. The country is experiencing rapid political, social and economic change, presenting it with both risks and opportunities.

Comprising a large portion of the Indo-Burma region, Myanmar is home to a remarkable diversity of unique species and ecosystems. While the country has maintained this rich biodiversity for centuries, Myanmar now faces challenges in sustainably managing its natural life-support systems and must address climate variability, water scarcity, agricultural productivity and energy security.

Recognizing that biodiversity underpins a range of ecosystem services that are required for sustainable development, Myanmar updated its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan in 2015 and confirmed its commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals last year.

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The greatest threat of our time and no one wants to talk about it

October 25, 2016

Smokestacks in front of an orange sunsetA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Leon Billings & Thomas Jorling

Note: As the two senior staff members who led the Senate environment subcommittee during the 1970s, Leon Billings and Thomas Jorling are widely regarded as pioneers of the "Golden Age" in environmental policy when Congress developed some of the most influential and enduring legislation – still in effect today.

While electronic media, political commentators and candidates wallow in irrelevancy, our planet’s future hangs in the balance. Actions man has taken over the last century and a half have contaminated the thin patina of atmosphere that we call air.

No, this isn’t conventional air pollution that we have sought to reduce through efficiency and technology. This is climate pollution caused by a group of pollutants called greenhouse gasses, byproducts of man’s use of natural resources to improve the human condition.

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Putting values on our plates

October 25, 2016

Joan McGregor, wearing pearl earrings and necklace, smiling in front of a treeA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Joan McGregor

Food is inseparable from human history, culture and values. It provides significant meaning to people around the world, regardless of nationality. The failure of food systems to recognize these qualities in food contributes to some of the vast inequalities we see today.

A sustainable food system, then, is one that respects historical, cultural and place-based practices. It supports ecological health, considering the current strengths and challenges of a region’s natural resources and protecting them for future generations. Encouraging culinary innovations that contribute to human health and nutrition is another key component.

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Externalized environments, bodily natures and everyday exposure

September 12, 2016

Stacy wearing purple tie-dye and standing in front of oceanA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Stacy Alaimo

Note: Stacy Alaimo is Professor of English and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, where she served as the Academic Co-chair for the President’s Sustainability Committee and directed a cross-disciplinary minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies.

She is internationally recognized as a leading scholar in the environmental humanities, ecocultural theory and science studies; has presented plenary talks across the U.S., Canada and Europe; and has served on the prestigious international evaluation panel for Sweden’s major environmental humanities grant competition.

Sustainability plans require data to capture the extent to which universities, businesses, cities and even nation states are minimizing their environmental impacts. Such information is invaluable for tracking the progress of efforts to cut carbon emissions; to reduce the use of energy, water and toxic chemicals; and to reduce waste and pollution.

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The advent of the humane economy

March 7, 2016

smiling wayne wearing black suit jacket and light blue tieA Thought Leader Series Piece

By Wayne Pacelle

Note: Wayne Pacelle is president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, the nation's largest animal protection organization. He is author of the book, "The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers Are Transforming the Lives of Animals," and his March 2016 Wrigley Lecture is titled "The Humane Economy." 

A decade ago, Arizona voters approved a ballot measure to stop the extreme confinement of pigs and veal calves on industrial-scale farms. Opponents mounted a vigorous and mocking campaign, claiming that food costs would rise and farmers would suffer if these animals were given just a little room to move beyond tiny crates. The electorate saw through those scare tactics and passed Prop 204 in a landslide, with 62 percent voting to give animals raised for food better lives.

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We've got climate change all wrong

March 1, 2016

james hansen wearing brown hat and navy blazerA Thought Leader Series Piece

By James Hansen

Note: James Hansen is the former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is an adjunct professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute. He is credited for perceiving the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, and delivered a Wrigley Lecture on the topic in February 2016. This essay appeared in The Arizona Republic in the same month.

The commercials are low-key, but omnipresent. Gentle, warm encouragement, the key message implicit: vote for the political candidates on the take from the fossil-fuel industry. “I am an energy voter” commercials are persuasive. They promise jobs, low prices at the pump, warm homes, and energy independence for our nation.

Benefits for all, or so it seems. In reality, benefits flow mainly to a handful of people, the fossil-fuel magnates, who prefer to be anonymous. “I am an energy voter” commercials, in effect, ask us to place our offspring on a sacrificial alter. As we raise the knife, unlike Abraham, we hear no voice telling us to stop, to put down the knife.

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Seeing the full picture: save nature, live better

September 16, 2015

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By M. Sanjayan

M. Sanjayan wearing an orange jacketNote: M. Sanjayan is a leading ecologist, speaker, writer and Emmy-nominated news contributor focused on the role of conservation in improving human well-being, wildlife and the environment. He serves on Conservation International’s senior leadership team as executive vice president and senior scientist, and is the host of the 2015 PBS TV series, Earth – A New Wild.

When asked to visualize nature, we tend to picture a rain forest, coral reef or African savannah – a place busy with countless plant and animal species. But there’s something missing from that picture, something that profoundly influences every one of those scenes. The missing piece is people.

What does the real picture of nature look like? In my recent PBS project EARTH: A New Wild, we took what was essentially a natural history series and deliberately brought people into the frame. The point was to help show the essential connections between nature and the people who live with it.

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Reimagining Phoenix by Pitching Waste

July 31, 2015

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By John Trujillo

Headshot of author John Trujillo Note: John Trujillo is the director of Public Works at the City of Phoenix and heads the City's Reimagine Phoenix initiative. In January 2014, the Phoenix City Council approved funding for $2 million to initiate the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network, which is managed and operated by the Sustainability Solutions Services, a program within the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives at ASU.

The current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by almost another billion by 2025 – reaching 9.6 billion by 2050. A report by McKinsey & Company states that three billion people from developing countries will rise into the middle class by 2030. This population growth will create an unprecedented demand for our planet’s already limited resources, thereby increasing commodity prices and the cost of future manufacturing and reducing our natural resources.

Currently, we work in a linear economy society that extracts resources to make products for consumers to use. The vast majority of these products are then disposed of in landfills where we manage and maintain environmental controls for decades. The City of Phoenix wants to change that concept by creating a circular economy in which we divert waste from landfills and keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use and then recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end.

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Happily Ever After: Storytelling and the Long View

March 25, 2015

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Ed Finn

Ed Finn Note: Ed Finn is the founding director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, where he is an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Department of English.

The story goes that when beetles were discovered in the eaves of the great hall at New College in Oxford, everyone began wondering where they could possibly find replacements for the gigantic timbers that had held up the roof for hundreds of years. They needed oak trees almost as old as the building itself. As it turned out the founders of the college had planted oaks expressly for the purpose of repairing structures, with university foresters protecting them over generations. The great hall was completed in the late 1300s, and they were building something that they intended to last functionally forever.

Today it seems like the expected lifespan of a building is getting shorter, not longer. More alarmingly, our perception of time seems to be narrowing—we forget our history just as readily as we ignore the future.

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Biomimicry: Mining Nature for Ideas

February 23, 2015

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Prasad Boradkar

asu-biomimicry-prasad-boradkarNote: March 3 marks the launch of ASU's new Biomimicry Center, established in partnership with Montana-based Biomimicry 3.8, and co-directed by Prasad Boradkar. In this essay, Boradkar describes how biomimicry can help us create solutions to address our problems in sustainable ways.

A short five-minute walk takes me from my suburban home in south Phoenix to the Sonoran Desert, from the highly standardized and manufactured human-made world into the somewhat wild and undomesticated natural world.

Satellite views show stark differences between the two landscapes: rectilinear, hard lines divide the land inhabited by people, while meandering, unrestrained territories mark the land inhabited by all other creatures. We have, by design, created in contrast to the natural world, an artificial world of products, buildings and cities.

Philosopher Richard Buchanan describes design as “conception and planning of the artificial.” Using these processes of planning, we have created everything from tiny paperclips to enormous jet aircraft, from the smallest dwellings to the largest metropolises. And though these things are made of such materials of human creation as chrome-plated steel, aluminum and reinforced concrete, they are all ultimately extracted from the natural world. From the natural emerges the artificial.

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Regarding Inclusion – Do We Leave Anyone Behind?

November 19, 2014

ray-jensen-2013A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Ray Jensen

Note: December marks eight years since the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted at the United Nations headquarters in New York. In this essay, Ray Jensen advocates for a new model to address disability issues, with the goal of improving global sustainability through inclusion.

The romantic biography of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, was released this month. Its focus is on the relationship of this extraordinary man and Jane Wilde, who weds Hawking and for as long as she is able, embraces the challenges of his life with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). From the trailer, it seems that Hawking received, not a death sentence, but a prison sentence when he was a young man, and gradually was translated into a person with a disability. Sometimes it happens that way.

For other people with disabilities, the point of entry is birth, athletic injury, auto accidents or the violence of war. However it arrives, it is usually unexpected, always unwanted, and often the beginning of a journey that can tax the emotional, financial and relational health, not only of the individual with the disability, but of their family and loved ones.

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