Skip to Content
Report an accessibility problem

The Conversation: Organic food has room to grow

August 30, 2021

Organic food once was viewed as a niche category, but today it’s a routine choice for millions of Americans, with over half of organic sales in conventional grocery store chains, club stores and supercenters.

Surveys show that 82% of Americans buy some organic food, and availability has improved. Still, overall organic sales add up to a mere 6% of all food sold in the U.S. In addition, there are some 2 million farms in the U.S.; of them, only 16,585 are organic – less than 1%.

A recent report by the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems recommends dedicating 6% of USDA spending to supporting the organic sector, a figure that reflects its market share. Kathleen Merrigan explains why and how in a new piece for The Conversation.

Rethinking resources and conservation

August 30, 2021

An Arizona State University assistant professor says laws regarding natural resources on public land are antiquated and prevent voluntary conservation.

“Use-it-or-lose-it requirements, together with narrow definitions of eligible uses, can preclude environmental groups from participating in markets for natural resources,” said Bryan Leonard, a senior sustainability scientist at ASU who was the lead author

on a recently published policy forum for Science. “These restrictions can bias resource management in favor of extractive users, even when conservation interests are willing to pay more to protect resources from development.”

Leonard said resources can include oil, gas, water and a variety of minerals and raw materials. He added the laws were created in the 19th and early 20th centuries when the country’s priorities were different, and they now need to be updated.

Read the ASU News Q&A with Leonard about his article and resources on public lands.

Announcing GFORS, the Global Futures Office of Research Services

August 30, 2021

The Global Futures Office of Research Services (GFORS) is a virtual organization of the set of services required by members of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory to plan, apply for and perform externally sponsored research. GFORS organizes and administers these services through a single web portal.

GFORS is available to all members of the Global Futures Laboratory who are performing (or want to perform) externally sponsored research. Members include the following: faculty, post-docs, staff and students within the College of Global Futures; the centers, projects and initiatives in the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation (GIOSI); participants in the Global Futures Focal Areas groups; Global Futures Scientists and Scholars. Participants in centers, projects and programs within the Global Futures Laboratory that are not within GIOSI, such as the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainable Solutions Service, the ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future, etc., are also welcome to use GFORS.

You may be asking, "Can GFORS really serve all those groups?" And the answer is, well, not yet. However, that is the ultimate goal. While capacity is currently limited, we are working hard to create more efficient processes and build more capacity. Read more on the website:

California wildfires make underground utilities an infrastructure priority

August 30, 2021

Despite years of declaring that conversion of high-voltage, long-distance electrical transmission lines to underground installation was cost prohibitive, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has announced plans to spend $20 billion over 10 years to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in wildfire-prone areas of California.

The move comes after PG&E filed a preliminary report with the California Utilities Commission noting that the Dixie Fire, which so far has decimated 460,000 acres in Northern California, may have been ignited by a blown fuse on one of its utility poles. The utility company has been linked to multiple fires in California and pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Camp Fire.

According to Samuel Ariaratnam, a nationally recognized expert in trenchless technology and a professor and Beavers-Ames Chair in heavy construction at Arizona State University, utility companies are beginning to move their power lines underground, but none have contemplated a project on the scale of the PG&E announcement.

“This action taken by PG&E, while motivated by tragic circumstances, highlights the importance of adopting advanced new technologies despite the initial expense,” said Ariaratnam. “Over time, those upfront expenses will pay dividends in diminished maintenance, repair and replacement costs. Most importantly, it will save communities and lives, not only from wildfires, but from other catastrophic events like ice storms, hurricanes and tornados.”

Read more on ASU 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.

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.”

Learn more.

'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.

Can Market Interventions Make Coral Reef Fisheries More Sustainable?

August 18, 2021

Program Lead for Coral Reef Conservation, Katie Cramer and Research Professor at the School of Sustainability, Jack Kittinger published an article exploring how market-based initiatives can increase the sustainability of fisheries entitled, 'Reef Conservation off the Hook: Can Market Interventions Make Coral Reef Fisheries More Sustainable?'

The health of coral reefs has taken a massive hit due to overfishing, pollution and climate change, which has had a grave impact on reef ecosystems and the people who depend on these reefs for food and job security.

According to their article, "Coral reef fisheries contribute up to one-quarter of the total fish catch in developing countries (Jameson et al., 1995) and account for more than one-quarter of all small-scale fishers (Teh et al., 2013). Reef fisheries are intensely exploited as a local source of protein and for export-oriented trades including the aquarium, live reef food fish, and dried sea cucumber (“beche-de-mer”) trades (Sadovy et al., 2003Wabnitz et al., 2003Purcell et al., 2013)."

Market-based solutions have been floated to decrease unsustainable production practices in wild-capture fisheries and seafood farming. The article discusses the benefits and potential pitfalls of these types of solutions.

Read the full article here

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.

New study: Proportion of world population exposed to floods grows tenfold in 15 years

August 12, 2021

Flooding affects more people than any other environmental disaster in the world. Between 2000 and 2019 alone, an estimated $651 billion in flood damages occurred globally.

As climate change projections indicate that the proportion of the population exposed to floods will only increase in the next decade, a lack of observational data and a reliance on traditional flood models — which have high uncertainty — limit researchers' ability to have a clear picture of the scale and human impact of recent floods.

New research led by Arizona State University PhD geography alumna Elizabeth Tellman uses satellite data to provide one of the clearest pictures to date of how floods are changing and who is at most risk.

In the study “Satellite imaging reveals increased proportion of population exposed to floods,” published in Nature, Tellman and her team used satellite imagery to analyze 913 large flood events around the world from 2000 to 2018, evaluating flood extent and population exposure.

Read more on ASU News. The paper's abstract follows.

Continue Reading

ASU scientists use commercial satellite data to determine water flow in Southwestern rivers

August 9, 2021

NASA has funded an Arizona State University project to use commercial CubeSat data to determine the presence of water in arid and semiarid rivers in California and Arizona. CubeSats are small satellites, typically the size of a shoebox, that can orbit the Earth and even travel in deep space.

The study, led by sustainability scientist Enrique R. Vivoni of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, will provide data and assessments that can assist Southwestern states in their efforts to manage water resources, impose regulations on pollution and maintain water quality in rivers.

Traditionally, approaches for determining water in rivers are conducted using ground-based field surveys that use the presence (or absence) of plant or animal species associated with flowing conditions. These approaches are usually labor- and time-intensive and often limited by access to remote areas.

For this study, Vivoni and Zhaocheng Wang, who is a graduate student in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, developed a new approach to use Earth-observing satellites to detect flowing water in arid rivers. Read more on ASU News.

Is cutthroat science hindering discovery?

August 9, 2021

Time to Say Goodbye to Our Heroes? This piece by sustainability scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton appeared in the most recent edition of Issues in Science and Technology (sign up in the sidebar to receive the e-newsletter or subscribe to the magazine here).

The author describes how notoriety, rather than society, has become the motivation for research, making competition, rather than collaboration, the norm. Narrowly allocating resources -- professorships, staff and funding -- to those considered “leading scholars” has led to incremental gains in knowledge and a loss of talent. Elkins-Tanton advocates for broader and more equitable participation across demographics and disciplines to "create knowledge where we need it and enable faster adoption of interventions."

Zócalo Public Square hosts a livestream talk at 1:00 p.m. Arizona time this Wednesday, August 11. Register for the event.

ASU's Erinanne Saffell appointed Arizona’s state climatologist

August 9, 2021

Erinanne Saffell, a senior lecturer in Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, remembers experiencing severe floods growing up in Arizona in the 1970s.

“When I was about 3 years old we had a tropical cyclone that flooded out the area, and my family was sandbagging our house in Scottsdale. I remember Hurricane Joanne in 1972, and my mom was driving the station wagon. I couldn't see because the rain was so intense. Most of my early childhood memories are of too much water flooding in Arizona,” Saffell said.

These early experiences sparked Saffell’s lifelong fascination with water and led her to pursue a career researching extreme weather and climate events, including flood and drought, as well as impacts of urban heat islands. Since 2009, she has worked as a senior lecturer in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where she develops courses and upper-division seminars in physical geography, meteorology and climatology, and directs K–12 outreach and training programs on these topics.

Now, Saffell has been appointed Arizona’s state climatologist by Gov. Doug Ducey — a role in which she will educate and advise both local and state communities on issues of climate and weather. Read more on ASU News.

Low levels on the Colorado River: What it means for you

August 9, 2021

The Colorado River is running low. Battered by 20 years of drought, flows have been consistently dropping in the river that 40 million people depend upon. The water level in Lake Mead is the lowest it has been since Hoover Dam was built, at 36% capacity.

On Aug. 15, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will declare a shortage. That will result in a cut in deliveries to Arizona farmers. Most people won’t notice any changes, either in their bills or the new subdivision being built down the block.

But other cuts are looming, and life in the Southwest will become more complicated. Experts say a few wet winters won’t change anything; the river is overallocated between states, and it’s not coming back.

Should we conserve? Or not worry about it? Will we have water cops and drought-shaming, like Nevada and California?

“We have developed very adaptive, complicated systems so that we can have a high degree of water certainty, which we need to have because we're in one of the most arid places in the U.S.,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, a policy research think tank.

Read more on ASU News.

Survey: Craft brewers eager for guidance on sustainability

August 9, 2021

The craft brew industry has boomed over the past few years, and new research by an Arizona State University professor shows that while the brewers would like to use sustainable practices, many don’t think that consumers would be willing to pay a lot extra to support those efforts.

“Brewing is quite resource-intensive, and the number of craft brewers has hugely increased. We had 1,500 12 years ago and now it’s over 7,000,” said Carola Grebitus, an associate professor of food industry management in the Morrison School of Agribusiness at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus.

“Brewing is very water-intensive, and we were thinking about what that might mean,” said Grebitus, who also is a senior sustainability scholar in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation at ASU. Her paper, "Sustainable development in the craft brewing industry," was published recently in the journal Business Strategy and the Environment.

Read more in ASU News. The abstract follows.

Continue Reading

KE seeks new limited submissions chair

August 9, 2021

Knowledge Enterprise is seeking nominations for the Chair position for Limited Submissions. In this role, the selected appointee will complete a two-year term attached to the Vice President of Research (VPR) and work closely with the Research Development staff, specifically the Opportunity Manager (OM). An additional year of service is possible and will be negotiated within the last three months of the term.

Nominations for this position will be collected through InfoReady until the posted close date. Nominations will be accepted from individuals, chairs, school directors, and assistant/associate deans of research at ASU. Target skills and abilities are described below, along with the expected workload. Review of the nominations will be done by the VPR and selected staff members.

Learn more and nominate.

Apply today for the KE DC Leadership Workshop Series

August 9, 2021

Are you interested in increasing your experience and understanding of the federal funding landscape to expand the depth of your sponsored project award portfolio? If so, consider applying to join an innovative team of ASU faculty that seeks to create a new way to engage with Federal funders and decision-makers in Washington DC.

The KE Washington DC Leadership Workshop Series will help faculty members understand the broader policy environment that funders work in, how to have more impact with your science or scholarship in the policy domain, and engage with policy levers to create policy changes that lead to research opportunities. The workshops will bring together a group of interdisciplinary faculty with a group of policy and government experts from both ASU and the federal government. The format will vary but will include speakers, discussions with experts, working sessions, coaching participant presentations, and will involve a trip to Washington DC for a week in early April.

Learn more and apply.

KE seeks new vice president of research

August 9, 2021

Under the direction of the Executive Vice President, and in close partnership with the Chief Science and Technology Officer, the Vice President of Research serves as an integral part of advancing the research agenda of the Knowledge Enterprise at ASU and is an essential member of the university leadership. The successful applicant will be a:

  • Strategic and executive level decision maker
  • Cooperative and respectful manager of institutional investments and personnel
  • Curious and collaborative leader who inspires and supports action by others

Apply via Interfolio.

IPCC releases report on physical science basis of climate change

August 9, 2021

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes released its latest climate report today, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis.

The Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report addresses the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change, bringing together the latest advances in climate science, and combining multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations.

Watch the video trailer for this report.

“The role of human influence on the climate system is undisputed.” – Working Group I Co-Chair Dr. Valérie Masson-Delmotte