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News from Environmental Humanities Initiative

The inconvenient consequences of a culture of convenience

ASU Wrigley Institute News Environmental Humanities

October 5, 2018

Huge expanse of plastic waste with sunsetSingle-use plastics — such as cups with straws, takeout containers and water bottles — are so common in our culture of convenience that we often don’t give them a second thought.

But their momentary utility is misleading: These items stick around a really long time.

Because of the way plastic is designed, “its afterlife is much longer than its useful lifespan,” said Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Institute's Center for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State University. Plastic that we use for just a moment “has the potential to pollute for decades, centuries or millennia.”

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Cambridge University Press’s New Directions in Sustainability and Society book series appoints new editors

ASU Wrigley Institute News Environmental Humanities New Directions

August 27, 2018

In 2013, Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability and the Amerind Foundation entered a partnership with Cambridge University Press to publish a book series exploring the impact of the sustainability sciences. That series, New Directions in Sustainability and Society (NDSS), has just been renewed by Cambridge University Press under new leadership. ASU professors Joni Adamson, an environmental humanist, and Shauna BurnSilver, an environmental anthropologist, have been tapped as the new series editors. The renewed series will expand the original collaboration to include ASU’s Environmental Humanities Initiative.

During its first five years, NDSS was co-edited by Christopher Boone, dean of ASU’s School of Sustainability, and and Norman Yoffee, professor emeritus at University of Michigan’s Department of Anthropology and Department of Near Eastern Studies. Several compelling works were published, including "Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability." This book emerged from a symposium held in 2013 at the Amerind Foundation which gathered sustainability, anthropology and humanities scholars from ASU and across the U.S. to think about sustainability from the perspectives of indigenous peoples. Published in 2018 and edited by Melissa K. Nelson and Dan Shilling, "Traditional Ecological Knowledge" is an exemplar of the collaborative potential of NDSS projects.

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ASU spring Ditch the Dumpster sees new record of donations

ASU Sustainability News

August 8, 2018

The Arizona State University Zero Waste department collected 58,000 pounds of reusable items in the spring 2018 Ditch the Dumpster event, more than any previous years.

Ditch the Dumpster is a campus program to collect and redistribute or divert student's items when they move out of the dorms. Collected items are donated to organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Goodwill, St. Mary's Food Bank, The Center for Habilitation, and United Food Bank.

This year, Zero Waste collected 58,820 pounds of reusable clothing, electronics, furniture, and other household items. On top of these donations, 97,480 pounds of materials were recycled. The Ditch the Dumpster program also donated more than $5,400 in scholarships for local students.

Visit the Zero Waste website for more Ditch the Dumpster information.

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Monsoon rains found to be beneficial to underground aquifers

ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

August 2, 2018

A storm cloud drops torrential rain over a desert mountainUsing a combination of field instrumentation, unmanned aerial vehicles and a hydrologic model, a team of researchers from Arizona State University and the Jornada Long-Term Ecological Research Program of the National Science Foundation has been studying the fate of monsoon rainfall and its impact on groundwater recharge in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico.

Their findings, recently published in the journal Water Resources Research, explain how a surprising amount of rainfall, nearly 25 percent, from monsoon storms is absorbed into small stream beds and percolates into the groundwater system. The researchers identified factors affecting the percolation process through the use of a numerical model that reproduced the long-term observations obtained at a highly instrumented research site.

“The results of this study show that monsoon storms serve an important role in recharging groundwater aquifers near the point of runoff generation,” said ASU hydrologist Enrique Vivoni of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. “This is an essential process that banks renewable surface water for future use as a groundwater resource in the arid Southwest and throughout the world.”

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ASU research demonstrates silicon-based tandem photovoltaic modules can compete in solar market

ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

August 2, 2018

ASU Assistant Research Professor Zhengshan Yu holds up solar cellNew solar energy research from Arizona State University demonstrates that silicon-based tandem photovoltaic modules, which convert sunlight to electricity with higher efficiency than present modules, will become increasingly attractive in the U.S.

A paper that explores the costs vs. enhanced efficiency of this new solar technology appears in Nature Energy this week. The paper is authored by ASU Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Assistant Research Professor Zhengshan J. Yu, graduate student Joe V. Carpenter and Assistant Professor Zachary Holman.

The Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative was launched in 2011 with a goal of making solar cost-competitive with conventional energy sources by 2020. The program attained its goal of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour three years early, and a new target of $0.03 per kilowatt-hour by 2030 has been set. Increasing the efficiency of photovoltaic modules is one route to reducing the cost of the solar electricity to this new target. If reached, the goal is expected to triple the amount of solar installed in the U.S. in 2030 compared to the business-as-usual scenario.

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Psyche mission aims to help scientists understand Earth’s core

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

July 17, 2018

Artist's rendition of Psyche asteroid with spacecraft in backgroundThree times farther from the sun than Earth, a massive asteroid made of metal floats in space between Mars and Jupiter. Its name is Psyche, and it could be the core of an early planet that survived violent collisions when the solar system was forming. Psyche was the sixteenth asteroid ever discovered, in 1852, but only recently has a spacecraft mission been initiated by Arizona State University and NASA to study this asteroid in more depth.

Unlike most other known asteroids, which are primarily rocky, Psyche appears to be made almost entirely of nickel-iron metal — much like Earth’s own core. According to ASU’s Psyche website, “The asteroid Psyche may be able to tell us how Earth’s core and the cores of the other terrestrial (rocky) planets came to be.” Scientists can’t investigate Earth’s core directly, so studying an asteroid with a similar makeup may be the next best thing.

ASU leads the Psyche mission, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for its management, operations and spacecraft navigation. The spacecraft is slated to launch in 2022, and then it will spend nearly four years cruising through space, using the gravitational field of Mars to increase in speed, until it reaches Psyche in 2026. Upon arrival, the spacecraft will orbit Psyche for 21 months, mapping and studying the asteroid’s properties.

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Government policy, public perception and real-world economic consequence

ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News Environmental Humanities

July 12, 2018

Power plant on the Navajo NationEarth is experiencing a Great Transition as its peoples slowly shift from fossil fuels to wind, plants, natural processes and our sun.

It’s not the first time people have changed where they get their energy sources, but as energy historian Chris Jones

said, what makes the Great Transition different is that this time we need to get rid of something, instead of just adding something. Climate change is the binding constraint.

Arizona State University is part of a new coalition of 13 leading research universities committed to tackling climate change. The group — called the University Climate Change Coalition — includes universities from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Read the full story on ASU Now to learn how ASU energy scholars are confronting the difficult challenges of transforming the climate narrative and enacting change through policy.

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Solar technology seeking a balance

ASU Wrigley Institute News LightWorks News Environmental Humanities

July 11, 2018

Solar panels line the top of a building on ASU campus in TempeArizona. Where you don’t have to shovel sunshine, as the old tourism ads chortled. At Arizona State University, students and alumni are Sun Devils. The sun is in the university logo. Solar panels cover almost every structure.

It’s natural then that solar panels take the biggest slice of ASU’s energy research pie. Financial estimates for the next decade point to more than $1 trillion invested in renewable energy globally.

Read the full story on ASU Now to learn more about the evolution of solar energy technology happening at ASU, where researchers are look to find affordable, reliable solutions.

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ASU on the forefront of a Great Transition

ASU Wrigley Institute News LightWorks News Environmental Humanities

July 9, 2018

Aerial view of a city skyline with a river at sunsetThere is a Great Transition underway, a colossal shift from fossil fuels to wind, plants, natural processes and our sun. It’s born from technological innovation and necessity. If humanity continues to dispel the dark entirely with carbon fuels, we will eventually wipe ourselves out.

Renewable energy sources are no longer the sole province of Northern California hippies and hard-core Alaskan survivalists.

Are we skipping blithely toward a clean-air future, with solar panels on every roof and an electric car in every garage? Not at all. Experts agree your energy future will involve a mix of sources. It will also involve solving a massive problem that is composed of thousands of problems itself.

Read the full story on ASU Now to learn what Arizona State University researchers are doing to develop scalable, renewable energy solutions for the "wicked problem" of fossil fuel consumption.

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ASU sustainability scholar explores the origins of human thinking on climate

ASU Wrigley Institute News Environmental Humanities

May 24, 2018

Joni AdamsonAs Joni Adamson tells it, these are exciting times for the environmental humanities. And she should know: Adamson, a senior sustainability scholar at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University, was recently awarded a highly sought-after fellowship from the National Humanities Center and is now looking forward to advancing her work in this realm.

Adamson, whose work explores the intersections between literature and the environment from the perspective of environmental justice, has been tapped to receive the Benjamin N. Duke Fellowship of the Research Triangle Foundation. She is working on a new book that aims to trace the origins of human thinking on climate.

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Bringing stable power to the most remote communities

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News LightWorks News

February 22, 2018

DR. Nathan Johnson in front of Solar PanelsAs many as 1.3 billion people lack access to electrical power, according to Senior Sustainability Scientist Nathan Johnson. That's why the ASU engineer – who directs the Laboratory for Energy And Power Solutions – is advancing technologies for electrical-grid modernization and off-grid electrification.

One of these solutions is the microgrid, which provides independent power generation and storage. Johnson and the LEAPS team are developing microgrids that are more technically and economically viable – easier to design, scale and transport. On top of providing the world's poorest and most remote communities with stable power, this technology can improve scenarios like disaster relief and medical care.

Johnson’s approach to military microgrids won a TechConnect Defense Innovation Award at the Defense Innovation Technology Acceleration Challenges Summit.

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Slum residents make themselves count

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

February 20, 2018

picture of slumsIf cities in developing nations don’t address their burgeoning slums, poverty will increase, political instability will heighten and human misery will continue.

That's according to Senior Sustainability Scientist José Lobo, one of the authors of a 2018 report presented at the World Urban Forum. The report detailed the efforts of Know Your City, an initiative that organized slum residents in 103 cities to profile, enumerate and map their communities.

“The central premise of community data collection is that the data collected becomes an instrument to foster a dialogue among the many different parties (communities, public agencies, governments, NGOs, international funding agencies) about the design and implementation of effective solutions,” Lobo said.

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Food Systems director calls for lifestyle-wide behavior change for a more sustainable future

ASU Sustainability News Food Systems News

February 20, 2018

Chris WharChris Whartonton, director of the Food Systems Transformation Initiative, gives the latest KEDTalk hosted by ASU's Knowledge Enterprise Development. "We live in a world of wild, damaging, unsustainable excess," he says, and the solution requires a rapid, transformational response. By revealing what is hidden in plain sight, Wharton illuminates a path to health, wealth, happiness and sustainability through values-based behavior change.

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ASU hosts Environmental Humanities workshop

ASU Wrigley Institute News Environmental Humanities

February 7, 2018

Mike HulmeIn January 2018, over 40 participants from universities around the world gathered at ASU for a workshop co-sponsored by the Environmental Humanities Initiative and the PLuS Alliance.

The workshop focused on the ways that humanities methodologies are contributing to interdisciplinary collaboration and participatory engagement on climate change and energy transition. Participants also explored how better assessment of impact might be piloted through modes of inquiry that include narrative, story, metaphor, imagery and representations that convey the cultural knowledge behind decision making.

Mike Hulme, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Cambridge, kicked off the workshop with a 2018 EHI lecture titled “The Cultural Functions of Climate.” Workshop sessions were keynoted by leading international cultural geographers, humanists and philosophers, including Giovanna Di Chiro of Swarthmore College and Kyle Powys Whyte of Michigan State University.

We followed up with Joni Adamson – English and Environmental Humanities Professor, Senior Sustainability Scholar & Director of the Environmental Humanities Initiative – to tell us more about the workshop and EHI:

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Accelerating the transition to a low-carbon future

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News

February 6, 2018

Image of MountainsASU is part of a new coalition of 13 leading research universities committed to tackling climate change. The group – called the University Climate Change Coalition, or UC3 – includes distinguished universities from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Each university has committed to mobilizing its resources and expertise to help businesses, cities and states achieve their climate goals. Specific UC3 goals include hosting cross-sector forums and producing a climate mitigation and adaptation report.

The formation of UC3 was announced at the Second Nature 2018 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit.

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Sci-fi can offer a window to our food future

ASU Sustainability News Food Systems News

February 1, 2018

The Minnesota DietThere are plenty of sci-fi stories set in post-apocalyptic scenarios where urban ruins crumble amid mass environmental destruction, and the remaining human communities struggle to find food, water and shelter. Charlie Jane Anders’ short sci-fi story “The Minnesota Diet” is different, and the Food Systems Transformation Initiative (FSTI) director Chris Wharton explains why in a special Future Tense article for Slate.

Anders’ story begins in fictional New Lincoln, a technologically advanced, future urban city seemingly well-insulated from agricultural vulnerabilities—until it isn’t.

Wharton says “The Minnesota Diet” offers opportunities for backcasting and reflection on our current behaviors when it comes to our food system. Anders’ story lends insight into more than just the technological efficiencies required for food production and delivery systems — it invites us to think critically about the choices we make right now with the resources we have today.

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Retailers rise with the tide of responsible products

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

February 1, 2018

Shopping Cart in Grocery Store Aisle$200 billion worth of consumer products are now managed using tools created by The Sustainability Consortium – an organization run by ASU and the University of Arkansas – according to the consortium's 2017 impact report.

TSC helps companies define, develop and deliver more sustainable products by providing them with science-based tools. Its members – which exceed 100 and include brands like Walmart, Amazon and Walgreens – have access to research insights in almost 130 product categories. To date, 85 percent of consumer goods are covered.

“We are now seeing the tide changing in the number of companies committing to creating sustainable products for a more sustainable planet,” said TSC Chief Executive Euan Murray.

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Survival strategies for the 21st century city

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

January 29, 2018

ShadeWhen Senior Sustainability Scientist Shade Shutters approached communities and economic developers in Arizona with tools to create green economies, they initially dismissed him. The mindset was, "put food on the table first, then you can think about the long term," and they wanted to prioritize jobs.

Shutters was eventually able to garner interest by rebranding 'green decision tools' as 'innovation and creative economy tools,' insight he shared at a Jan. 23 Future Tense event co-hosted by ASU and COMEXI – Mexico’s influential foreign affairs think tank.

Titled “Will our Cities Survive the 21st Century?," the event convened reporters, experts and resilience officers from around the world. Participants agreed that the successful future of cities relies on involving all communities when communicating threats, setting priorities and making decisions about mitigation and adaptation.

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Professor says crisis should serve as 'wakeup call'

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News DCDC News

January 29, 2018

DroughtAs Cape Town, South Africa nears “Day Zero” when authorities turn off the taps — expected in the first half of April 2018 — Senior Sustainability Scientist Dave White expresses the pressing need to adapt urban water systems to stresses like climate change.

White, who directs ASU's Decision Center for a Desert City, says that the causes of Cape Town's water crisis are familiar to water managers in water-scarce cities around the world – like Phoenix. These include limited supplies, dramatic population growth, aging and inefficient infrastructure, persistent drought, inadequate reservoir storage and climate change impacts.

Luckily, White provides a number of ways to improve water resilience. Among them are greater public engagement in water management planning and decision making, public and private investment in technology and infrastructure, rainwater harvesting, enhanced recycling and reuse of wastewater, cross-sector conservation and demand management, and development of new renewable supplies where feasible.

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Pioneering planetary management

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

January 23, 2018

Image of a GlobeWith the goal of harnessing the innovative capacity of academia and developing options for the sound management of our planet, ASU President Michael Crow announced the launch of the Global Futures Initiative in January 2018.

Global Futures will take the pieces ASU already has and fuse them together more tightly while breaking intellectual ground. It will build new and bigger collaborations; find untapped opportunities that lie between disciplines, schools and existing projects; and amplify ASU’s global impact.

That's according to Peter Schlosser, Vice President and Vice Provost of Global Futures, who was recruited from Columbia University to lead the effort.

“Global Futures is a platform from which to take a broad look at the trajectory of our planet and the role of global society in shaping it," said Schlosser, "to gather and synthesize knowledge from many frameworks and to fundamentally alter how we manage the planet in ways that achieve sustained habitability.”

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