November 25, 2013
Note: Documentary filmmaker Peter Byck joined the School of Sustainability as a professor of practice this semester. His position is jointly shared with the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he is now teaching students how to create their own clean energy documentaries.
Can good storytelling lead us to a low-carbon economy? And can I help students become good storytellers? These questions have led me to Arizona State University to become a joint professor of practice for the School of Sustainability and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
The Greeks had an expression that I will roughly paraphrase: “The storyteller rules society.” So the power of good storytelling is clearly not a new idea; but, storytelling has been a tough nut to crack for the folks who aspire to guide us to a low-carbon economy. I think the reason is simple enough: The scientists, engineers, and thought-leaders focused on sustainability are good at what they do; they just are not trained in storytelling. That’s why Carl Sagan became so well-known – a brilliant scientist and a fantastic storyteller – a powerful combination.
For me, documentaries are an excellent way to get a story told. Films aren’t the only storytelling game in town, to be sure, but they are incredibly accessible and easily disseminated now with the World Wide Web. And great documentaries actually change society. The Thin Blue Line proved that by using DNA, many people on death row were actually innocent. Super Size Me literally showed that too much fast food is, indeed, bad for one’s health; at least it was damaging for the filmmaker and his liver.
October 29, 2013
Note: This month Tim Beatley’s Biophilic Cities Launch exhibit featured student photography and videos from Senior Sustainability Scientist David Pijawka’s Sustainable Cities course. The work explores local examples of biophilia in neighborhoods, public parks, and vacant lots.
When I describe myself as a “biophilic urbanist” as I sometimes do, reactions vary from quizzical looks to knowing smiles. But almost always my title serves to open a conversation about the quality of contemporary life and the important role of nature in our lives.
The concept of biophilia was popularized by Harvard biologist and entomologist E.O. Wilson. To Wilson, biophilia is “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Innate means hereditary and hence part of ultimate human nature.” We are carrying with us, so the argument goes, our ancient brains, and so no wonder that we are happier, more relaxed and productive in the presence of nature. Living a happy, meaningful life is certainly possible in the absence of nature, but much harder, as we increasingly understand that nature is not optional but essential.
Biophilic design has been well-articulated and convincingly adopted by architects, but relatively less attention has been given to understanding the implications of biophilia for the design and planning of urban neighborhoods, cities, and metropolitan regions, otherwise known as biophilic cities.
September 25, 2013
Note: Christopher Boone became the Interim Dean of Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability in July. He continues to teach in the School of Sustainability and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. He recently co-edited the book, “Urbanization and Sustainability: Linking urban ecology, environmental justice and global environmental change.”
History shows that significant transitions are possible, and these radical changes can have far-reaching impacts on human beings and the environment. In a span of just three human lifespans—roughly 200 years—we have experienced demographic, energy, and economic transitions that have altered the human condition and our relationship with the planet. In the United States in 1800, birth rates were high, but life could be miserably short; people depended on animals, falling water, and wood for energy; and the economy was based on agriculture and resource extraction.
Today in the U.S., families are not large enough to replace the current generation, but people can expect to enjoy long lives; we are utterly dependent on fossil fuels for energy; and the economy is based mainly on services. The implications of these transitions are multi-faceted and complex, but they have contributed to, among other concerns, rising energy and material demands, global climate change, biodiversity loss, and increasing disparities of human well-being.
August 27, 2013
Note: John Sabo is the Global Institute of Sustainability’s director of research development, where he leads a grant proposal team that since 2008, has brought in over $44 million in expenditures. Sabo also collaborates with scientists across the U.S. investigating the impacts of water shortages on the sustainability of human and natural systems.
The year 2013 will be remembered in the U.S. as a year of extremes: The effects of Hurricane Sandy continue to cripple New York City. Droughts across the Corn Belt are causing massive crop failure. Devastating fires destroyed hundreds of homes in Colorado for a second year in a row. Flash floods have claimed lives and businesses from coast to coast, including communities experiencing recent drought and fire. This year was exceptional. Or was it?
When most people think of climate change, they think of global warming—the trend of rising air temperatures that causes a shift in expected or long-term average climate conditions. There are valid exceptions to the trend of course. Many people observe their cities occasionally cooling, and therefore think global warming is not happening. Local observations that differ from the global average from time to time are an example of a second aspect of climate change that is equally, if not more important, than the global trend: Climate change exacerbates regional differences in climate as well as the swing between years of famine and years of plenty.
July 24, 2013
Note: Chris Spence is the director of the Institute at the Golden Gate, a program of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in partnership with the National Park Service that advances environmental stewardship and well-being through parks and public lands.
Do you ever feel like the news on climate change is stuck on repeat? Day after day and year after year, we seem to hear the same dire predictions from climate scientists and activists, the same calls to “act now before it’s too late!”
I first started working on climate policy in 1993, which coincidentally is the year the movie “Groundhog Day“ first screened. It’s about a selfish television weatherman doomed to repeat the same day time and again until he finally learns to change his ways.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve sometimes felt like I’m stuck in “Groundhog Day.” While the science is stronger than ever, working on climate policy can feel like being trapped in a time warp of inaction and paralysis. We all know the problem is real and growing, but serious action on a large scale sometimes seems beyond our grasp.
June 25, 2013
Note: As the Director of the newly established Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, Patricia Reiter is responsible for overseeing the success and impact of eight programs that use evidence-based knowledge to deliver solutions to today’s complex sustainability issues.
On occasion, Arizona State University (ASU) President Michael M. Crow draws similarities between the fields of medicine and sustainability. ASU Senior Sustainability Scientist and United Nations Champion of the Earth Sander van der Leeuw developed the idea further in a diagram (see below) that describes the domain of medicine as the health of the individual in relationship to their environment and the domain of sustainability as the health of societies interacting with their environment. This analogy between medicine and sustainability is useful in explaining the intent of the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability’s Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives.
May 29, 2013
Note: Mick Dalrymple is a LEED-accredited professional and co-founder of the Arizona Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. He is the ASU project manager of Energize Phoenix, an initiative that aims to save energy, create jobs, and improve local neighborhoods along a 10-mile stretch of Phoenix’s light rail. Recently, Dalrymple has been promoting the Global Institute of Sustainability’s 2013 Energy Efficiency Idea Guide for Arizona.
Imagine what would happen if an array of stakeholders made a concerted effort to cool the overnight low temperature of downtown Phoenix by one degree. For starters, more people would spend their evenings outdoors, increased economic activity would boost local businesses and tourism dollars, and roughly 21 million kilowatt hours (nearly $2.1 million) of energy would be saved per year.
But most importantly, Phoenix would become a real example to the world that we all can work together to positively change our climate.
Such is the power of One Degree, a simple concept that describes a tremendously complex and ambitious (but doable) challenge to create concerted change that improves community sustainability.
April 30, 2013
Note: Ellen B. Stechel is the Deputy Director of ASU’s LightWorks and Managing Director of LightSpeed Solutions, communicating global efforts of leading scientists and researchers working towards sustainable transportation energy based on liquid hydrocarbon fuels from the sun.
A network of issues buried beneath the strategic and economic importance of petroleum and the increasing concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide is complex; however, until addressed, no measure of global sustainability will be obtainable.
If we accept that, any solution to such issues yield lower net carbon emissions by 50-80 percent, then despite obvious advantages, alternative fossil fuel pathways cannot be the ultimate solution for transportation.
March 20, 2013
Note: Sunita Narain is the director general of The Centre for Science and Environment. She will be speaking at the next Wrigley Lecture Series on March 27 at Arizona State University.
We all know the threat of climate change is urgent. We also know combating this threat will require deep and drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. This is when, already, the poor of the world—who are more vulnerable and less able to cope—are feeling the pain of a changing and more variable climate.
The question is: Why has the world been desperately seeking every excuse not to act, even as science has repeatedly confirmed that climate change is real? Climate change, though related to carbon dioxide and other emissions, is also related to economic growth and wealth in the world. Climate change is man-made. It can also devastate the world as we know it.
February 27, 2013
Note: Kara Hurst is the CEO of The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), a joint initiative between Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas that is working to develop science-based tools for measuring and reporting consumer product sustainability.
By almost any measure, global consumption is growing rapidly. Yet many businesses still struggle to produce sustainable products, and most consumers don’t know how to identify and differentiate them. The result is: we continue to waste valuable natural resources, compromise ecosystems, and threaten human health.
Businesses and consumers desperately need a better system for assessing the sustainability of consumer products. To be viable, the system must be one that businesses can trust and consumers can easily apply to make informed decisions.
Such an assessment system must also be rigorously science-based, simple to understand, and fully transparent. And it must earn the buy-in of a vast cross-section of corporations, watchdog organizations, and governments.
November 27, 2012
Note: Bruno Sarda is the director of global sustainability operations at Dell, a consultant for the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, and a faculty member at the School of Sustainability.
Our world faces ‘wicked’ problems.
Wicked problems, as explained by Ann Kinzig, chief research strategist at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, are challenges that are complex “all the way down.” They resist simple solutions.
Wicked problems include how to deal with a rapidly changing and unstable climate. How to feed a projected 9 billion people on this planet while enabling many to rise out of poverty. And how to do all of the above while respecting the physical boundaries and finite resources of our planet. These problems are the key challenge of sustainability.
September 27, 2012
By Hunter Lovins
Note: Hunter Lovins is a past Wrigley Lecture Series speaker at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and was a keynote speaker at the inaugural conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education held at ASU in 2006.
Business is probably the only institution on the planet that is nimble and well-managed enough to respond to the global sustainability crises facing humanity. Such challenges as the impacts of climate change, soaring resource prices, poverty, and loss of biodiversity are threats, but are also opportunities. The businesses that successfully respond will be big winners in the marketplace.
Business sustainability leaders already outperform their less sustainable peers. Over 40 studies from all the major management consulting houses, as well as from academic journals such as Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Review, show that the companies that are sustainability leaders have higher and faster growing stock value, better financial results, lower risks, and more engaged workforces than other companies.
Despite all this, we’re losing. The international Convention on Biological Diversity report, Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, highlights a sobering loss of species and habitats among the world’s ecosystems. Threats like the acidification of the oceans could, worst case, end life as we know it on earth. This has happened several times before on our planet with up to 90 percent of species going extinct. Meanwhile, both the International Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warn that unless global leaders implement more sustainable practices immediately we will, perhaps as early as 2017, lock in an unsurvivable amount of global warming.
July 31, 2012
By Greg Stanton
Note: ASU and Phoenix have collaborated on numerous big projects through the years, including development of the ASU campus in the heart of downtown. More recently, ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Phoenix teamed up to win a $25 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to launch Energize Phoenix, a sustainable energy efficiency program that creates green jobs and reduces carbon emissions while transforming energy use in diverse neighborhoods along a 10-mile stretch of the Metro light rail.
Sustainability is what turns big cities into great cities. It’s a transformation that starts with good leadership and collaboration, then takes off with visionary thinking and long-term planning. Great cities thrive when sustainability permeates decisions, strategies, and operations.
Phoenix has long benefited from visionary leaders with long-term outlooks. These leaders provided the ideas and groundwork that made it possible to create a major city in a vast desert. They secured a multidimensional water supply that is one of the most reliable in the country. They established strong economic foundations for us in information technology, biotechnology, and other high-value industries that are at the core of a sustainable economy. And they set aside vast natural wonders as preserves for future generations.
Thus, Phoenix has paved the way and has become the sixth most populous city in the nation with 1.4 million people across almost 520square miles. More than that, Phoenix is the beating heart of a vibrant metropolitan region that encompasses more than 4 million people. It is also the capital of a huge and diverse state that is home to 6 million residents.
June 27, 2012
Note: ASU and Henkel have a long relationship on issues of sustainability, beginning with ASU’s collaboration with the Dial Corporation, now a Henkel company. More recently, Rob Melnick, executive dean of the Global Institute of Sustainability and the School of Sustainability, was an advisor to Henkel in the development of the company’s current sustainability strategy.
The Earth’s resources are finite – the faster we expand, the faster we use them up. This idea was central to the prescient 1972 study, “Limits to Growth,” commissioned by the Club of Rome.
Forty years later, it is now obvious that human consumption is exceeding these limits. Our population of more than seven billion people devours many resources more quickly than they can be renewed.
What will happen in another 40 years when the world’s population expands to a predicted nine billion people? Consumption and resource demand could grow faster than ever before. Will the people on this planet willingly forego a higher quality of life and the level of consumption that goes with it? Not likely.
May 30, 2012
By Ralf Wilde
Note: ASU and TÜV Rheinland in 2009 established a commercial joint venture in Tempe, Arizona – the TÜV Rheinland Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory. It is currently the world’s leading provider for PV technology testing.
Our modern definitions of sustainable development have come a long way from the earliest 18th century German paper about sustainable forestry. Over the last 25 years, however, the concept of sustainability has been stretched considerably to encompass a growing number of issues, ideas, and processes.
May 1, 2012
By Richard Kidd
Note: ASU was selected by the Army National Guard to partner in the development and delivery of an online Graduate Certificate in Sustainability Leadership designed exclusively for Soldiers and Army-related civilians. Classes are offered through the School of Sustainability.
Imagine the U.S. Army called to war with no fuel, no supplies, and no training.
You can’t. To safeguard against such a scenario, the Army embraces sustainability as a foundation of its global mission, operations, and strategic management. As a matter of preparedness, sustainability is integrated across the Army’s four lines of operation – material, military training, personnel, and services and infrastructure.
This is not a fad, but serious business. Army leaders have been working since 2000 to embed sustainability into the Army’s culture. Through collaborations with academia, federal agencies, and other organizations, and by emphasizing the key role sustainability plays in enabling operations at home and overseas, the Army has shifted its behavior. A strong culture of sustainability now ensures that the Army of tomorrow has the same access to energy, water, land, and other natural resources as it does today.
March 29, 2012
By Lawrence M. Krauss
Shortly after the end of World War II, Albert Einstein uttered his now famous warning about the new global danger of nuclear weapons: “Everything has changed, save the way we think.”
In the intervening sixty-odd years, the world has continued to change and become even more dangerous. And still, there is no great evidence that our way of thinking about global catastrophes has evolved to meet the challenges.
I am currently honored to be co-chair of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – a body created by Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer in 1946 to help warn the public about the dangers of nuclear war.
January 31, 2012
Several centuries of species exploration have taught us that a vast number of Earth’s plants and animals are extremely limited in their ecological associations and geographic distributions. When these species lose their specific habitats, it usually means extinction. Yet, because we don’t know what or how many species actually exist or where they live, we are unable to detect or measure these quiet changes in biodiversity.
November 3, 2011
In early October, Andrew Ross issued the latest indictment of Phoenix: Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City. Ross’s book represents the latest, longest, and most articulate examination of Arizona’s capital – the nation’s sixth largest city – as a kind of colossal demographic mistake. But he’s not the first to go down this path.
In a 2006 radio interview, author Simon Winchester said that Phoenix “should never have been built” because “there’s no water there.” In 2008, Sustainlane.com rated Phoenix among the least sustainable cities in the U.S. for water supply, primarily because of the distance water must travel to reach the city. In 2010, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that Maricopa County, home to the Phoenix Metro area, was among the “most challenged” places in the U.S. for climate change – this conclusion based on the difference between rainfall and water use within the county. And in 2011, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) found current patterns of Arizona water use to be “unsustainable,” due to the large amount of water going to agriculture.
These views highlight the huge problems inherent in measuring urban sustainability. In large part, Phoenix seems to be everyone’s favorite whipping boy essentially because it’s hot in Arizona and doesn’t rain very much. This view is too simplistic.