July 26, 2013
School of Sustainability Interim Dean Christopher Boone, together with Michail Fragkias, visiting professor at Boise State University and former executive director of the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change program based in ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, edited a volume, Urbanization and sustainability: Linking urban ecology, environmental justice and global environmental change. The book was published in 2013.
Boone and Fragkias contributed a chapter to the volume examining the connection between environmental justice and sustainability. They suggest that vulnerability science could be a bridge between studies of local environmental justice and long-term, global sustainability studies.
Another chapter authored by a team of Arizona State University scholars – Bob Bolin, Juan Declet Barreto, Michelle Hegmon, Lisa Meierotto, and Abigail York – builds on previous CAP LTER research and examines shifting vulnerabilities, hazards, and risks in the Phoenix area.
Through case studies, analysis, and theory, the book brings together a range of scholars from urban ecology, environmental justice, and global environmental change research. In doing so, the editors have linked ideas, frameworks, and theories from the three fields to provide new, integrated insights on the pathways toward urban sustainability.
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.
July 23, 2013
If you want to eat and drink clean water, then you should care about an element called phosphorus. We use it to fertilize our food, but sometimes too much of it ends up in our water supplies, causing pollution and fish kills. Researchers, including Distinguished Sustainability Scientist James Elser, are more concerned than ever because our global phosphorus supplies are non-renewable, and we are gobbling them up.
“There are big challenges, such as how to keep the phosphorus where it belongs and how to make sure we have enough phosphorus for the long term,” says Elser.
Elser co-edited the book “Phosphorus, Food, and Our Future” to provide a comprehensive examination of the entire phosphorus issue for scientists, government officials, and stakeholders like farmers, miners, and wastewater engineers.
July 23, 2013
Senior Sustainability Scientist Matei Georgescu spoke from Phoenix to Beijing viewers of China Central TV-America about urban heat island effects on a July 17th broadcast. The urban heat island effect—when temperatures soar in metropolitan areas due to development—is no stranger to cities like Phoenix and Beijing.
“In essence, urban areas are heat sinks—they absorb incoming solar radiation differently than the natural landscape would,” explained Georgescu, also an assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “In cities, incoming solar radiation is trapped in the built environment during the day, and is not released as efficiently in the evening as it would be, had the megapolitan environment not been present.”
Georgescu’s research investigates the effects of the urban heat island, which include human and animal health issues and increased energy consumption.
July 20, 2013
John Riley, former executive director of Purchasing and Business Services and university chief procurement officer for Arizona State University, is now the associate vice president of University Business Services and the university sustainability operations officer. Riley replaces Ray Jensen, who retired in March.
“I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with such an outstanding group of dedicated professionals,” Riley says. “Together, we will deliver exciting sustainability initiatives, such as powering our Central Plant with biogas or generating electricity from biomass.”
Riley is now responsible for overseeing business operations like parking, licensing, materials procurement, and university stores in addition to advancing ASU’s sustainability initiatives.
July 19, 2013
The books will be based upon a series of events, where experts from various domains in the field of sustainability will explore selected facets of sustainability—ecology, politics, philosophy, art, justice, vulnerability, and long-term perspectives.
The first of these events was held in April, and papers submitted by the invited experts are now being compiled a book, which Boone hopes will set the tone for the rest of the book series.
The April seminar focused on traditional ecological knowledge and asked, “What can indigenous cultures teach us that adds to our body of sustainability knowledge, and how can we translate that knowledge, appropriately, to action?”
An ASU News article, Old becomes new: Traditional knowledge shapes sustainability thinking, helps put this complex topic into a context a lay audience might understand.
July 18, 2013
In 2012, the United Nations Environment Programme published a report stating that within the next two decades, the world could see up to 60 million new jobs within the sustainability sector. To help students prepare for this change, the School of Sustainability is introducing new courses this fall that cover the social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability.
New courses include:
SOS 394: Energy Policy
SOS 394: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory
SOS 494: Sustainability and Social and Family Welfare
SOS 498: Sustainability Short-Form Documentary
July 17, 2013
In the July issue of Green Living magazine, contributor Cheryl Hurd talks with Gary Dirks, the new director of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and of ASU’s LightWorks. So-called “light-inspired” research takes place at LightWorks, including solar power, clean fuel, and photosynthesis.
“When we talk about solar in the context of LightWorks, we don’t just mean solar panels,” says Dirks. “There are a range of technologies, some for generating electrons and some for generating fuel. LightWorks is very much about solar-based energy but not simply photovoltaics.”
Dirks also says Arizona has “fantastic solar energy” and LightWorks plans to implement more outreach and educational programs to promote solar use throughout the state.
July 16, 2013
In a Future Tense article, David Biello explores the reasoning behind American farmers’ climate change disbelief. Most farmers in the U.S. are affected by the changing weather, however, they don’t view it as a by-product of climate change, rather something that has been happening since the dawn of time.
It’s too bad; farming is the second-largest contributor to climate change, with the increased use of fossil-fueled equipment and nitrous oxide-filled fertilizers. But there has been a shift to more fuel-efficient machinery and low-impact farming techniques not because of climate change, but because of money.
“It’s cheaper to farm that way, and you still get the same type of crop, if not a bit better,” says Oregon wheat farmer Kevin McCullough.
July 15, 2013
School of Sustainability associate professor Arnim Wiek and his international colleagues were recognized by the journal “Sustainability Science” for their paper, From complex systems analysis to transformational change: a comparative appraisal of sustainability science projects, which the journal called its Paper of the Year for 2012.
“Science in general,” says Wiek, “is largely dominated by describing and explaining the world, and only little inspired by transforming the world. The question is then: How do sustainability scientists move from ‘only’ describing and analyzing sustainability problems to actually contributing to sustainable solutions?”
“The article shows that it is not easy to do solution-focused research, and it explores some of the reasons for this,” says Wiek. “We cannot just continue doing research we used to do – describing and explaining the world – and hope that the results will lead to real impact and progress towards sustainability.”
July 12, 2013
The Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3), a project led by Arizona State University and the U.S. Department of Energy, will be part of the second algae training workshop on the University of Texas at Austin’s campus.
“We are excited to spread the wealth of knowledge that ATP3 has as a collaboration,” says Gary Dirks, director of ATP3, ASU LightWorks, and the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability.
The informal workshops are open to students, researchers, and faculty interested in algae formation, cultivation, and research. Algae experts will lead modules on culture monitoring, sample collection, chemical composition, and growth measurement. To sign up, visit atp3.org/education/. The program fee is $1,600 and includes training, materials and three lunches.
July 12, 2013
Wednesday, July 10th marked the 100th anniversary of Earth’s hottest temperature—recorded in Death Valley, California at 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Senior Sustainability Scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability Randy Cerveny celebrated with fellow weather experts at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and Museum in Death Valley.
“I was really happy looking out in that auditorium as we spoke,” said Cerveny, also a President’s Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “There were a lot of weather tourists who are very interested in this.”
Cerveny was part of the World Meteorological Organization team that re-certified Death Valley’s record after investigating a falsely recorded highest temperature in El Azizia, Libya.
July 11, 2013
Phoenix’s long battle to supply its growing population with enough water is discussed in an article part of USA Today’s “Weathering the Change” series. Phoenix, the fifth-largest city in the U.S., joins other Southwest cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Diego that are preparing for dwindling water supplies due to climate change.
Arizona state climatologist and Sustainability Scientist Nancy Selover says, “Water is our biggest issue. You can never have enough water.” The most recent National Climate Assessment shows that Phoenix’s drought has been “unusually severe.”
We’ve sustained ourselves for so long thanks to the Colorado, Salt, and Verde Rivers and underground water. However, increasing temperatures pose health risks, especially for the elderly, homeless, and underprivileged.
July 11, 2013
In a Co.EXIST article by Stan Alcorn, Arizona State University researcher Kevin Gurney discusses his tool, the Ventus Project, an online portal that allows everyday citizens to record nearby carbon-emitting power plants.
People around the globe can identify power plants and then input data like location and name into Ventus. About 90 percent of carbon emissions from power plants is recorded, but that other 10 percent is what Gurney’s team is after.
“We try to do this ourselves in Google Earth and it can be done,” says Gurney. “It’s just so unbelievably labor intensive; it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
July 8, 2013
As one of four study abroad experiences offered by the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives’ Global Sustainability Studies Program this summer, School of Sustainability students joined several professors in Dubai to meet His Excellency Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Minister of Economy.
There, the students discussed tourism, governance, economics, and other local issues with His Excellency and several regional industry and business leaders.
“The students learned how to behave in a different culture and in the presence of high-ranking officials,” says David Manuel-Navarrete, a senior sustainability scholar in the Global Institute of Sustainability and a professor in the School of Sustainability. “The Emiratis we encountered provided a lot of insight and personal experience for the students.”
July 8, 2013
Rajesh Buch, a practice lead with Sustainability Solutions Extension Service under the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, graduated from the School of Sustainability last year. He is now applying his background in mechanical engineering, energy systems, and business in the Extension Service, a unique consulting group that pairs student analysts with faculty members who guide sustainability projects.
As a practice lead, Buch organizes the student groups and collaborates with the faculty to implement projects such as greenhouse gas inventories, waste recycling programs, and biofuel evaluations.
“Sustainability is a way to correct our way of developing,” he says. “We can start by taking baby steps. I contribute by assisting those private and public organizations that are willing to recognize the importance of sustainability.”
July 2, 2013
“Our world is on a collision course with environmental realities and we’re quickly running out of runway to take meaningful corrective action,” writes Bruno Sarda in an article published in the Guardian’s Sustainable Business section. Plenty of leaders have told us how to alleviate climate change, but yet we still go day by day making no change. So what do we need? Sarda says leadership.
Sarda, the director of Global Sustainability Operations at Dell and a consultant for the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, says true sustainability leaders can enact change if their plans are long-term; aligned with the strategy of a company or organization. Deliberate action will come from set goals co-administered by leaders and participants.
“Our world needs a ‘shock and awe’ campaign executed by highly trained sustainability warriors who can effectively lead change, set strategy and execute on goals, be awesome communicators and keep up with a rapidly evolving global context,” writes Sarda.
July 1, 2013
In an AZ Central opinion article, Senior Sustainability Scientist and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning professor Mike Pasqualetti reflects how the Navajo Generating Station is a larger symbol for our growing dislike of coal. The Navajo Generating Station, located near Page, has been a heated topic since its future has been up for discussion with tribal nations, energy providers, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Will it close or be retrofitted?
“Coal is also losing momentum nationally,” writes Pasqualetti. “It dropped from 50 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2012, driven by cheap natural gas. Fifty-two gigawatts (about 16 percent of the existing coal fleet) has been announced for retirement by 2025.”
If Arizona is to keep coal, the state has to find a way to severely cut emissions and compete with growing renewable and natural gas markets.
June 27, 2013
Arizona State University researchers will be featured on the cover of the June 28 edition of Science for their work in studying what most people ignore: dirt.
The international team funded by the National Science Foundation and led by School of Life Sciences professor Ferran Garcia-Pichel found that temperature determines where soil microbes can live and form crusts that prevent erosion and provide energy for surrounding vegetation. Unfortunately, the scientist say that in 50 years, higher temperatures due to climate change may change the abundance of different microbes in colder U.S. deserts with unknown consequences.
“Our study is relevant beyond desert ecology,” says Garcia-Pichel. “It exemplifies that microbial distributions and the partitioning of their habitats can be affected by global change, something we’ve long known for plants and animals. This study tells us clearly that we can no longer neglect microbes in our considerations.”
June 27, 2013
Normally, the Earth maintains a balance of carbon outputs and inputs. However, since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve been putting more carbon into the atmosphere than Earth can handle.
Luckily, the ocean absorbs a quarter to a third of our carbon outputs. Part of that comes from really small algae called phytoplankton that turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. When ocean animals eat phytoplankton, they eventually pass fecal pellets, some of which sink to the deep ocean and may even get buried in the sea floor, effectively removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
This is “the only mechanism that can actually permanently bury organic carbon,” says Susanne Neuer, a plankton ecologist in ASU ‘s School of Life Sciences and a senior sustainability scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability. “The carbon is buried on geological time scales, so that’s gone for a very long time.”
Oceanographer Neuer is studying this process and phytoplankton’s role in climate change mitigation in her lab with undergraduate and graduate student researchers.