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Sustainability News

Arizona Must Think Like a Nation for it to Fulfill Promise of the Sun Corridor

May 4, 2008

As published in Arizona Republic: Viewpoints by Michael M. Crow, Arizona State University President

Twenty "megapolitan" areas with potential equivalent to the richest foreign countries are emerging in our nation. Arizona, with its natural assets, spirit of free enterprise and open culture is home to one of these, the Sun Corridor. These vast regions' competitiveness will drive massive economic and social opportunities.

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Related Story: Helping Phoenix Achieve Sustainability in Uncertain Times

April 30, 2008

What can we do to live sustainably in an uncertain world? Here, in a desert city averaging eight inches of rainfall annually yet carpeted with golf courses and dotted with swimming pools, it is an especially relevant question. Unfortunately, Phoenix’s tangle of laws, rights and agreements, which range from individual wells to regional compacts, also make it a difficult one to answer. Add global climate change to the equation and you have a recipe for policy paralysis.

Breaking that paralysis means finding ways to make decisions under uncertainty. It sounds painfully difficult, but perhaps there is a common-sense approach that could get the valley on the right track right now. All it requires is balancing the budget and hedging our bets.

“I think businesspeople shake their heads at this because, who doesn’t understand the need to manage your stock portfolio in the face of an uncertain economy?” says Patricia Gober, co-director of Decision Center for a Desert City. “Businesses do that. Individuals do that. Why shouldn’t we do it with natural resources?”

People live with uncertainty every day. Some live within their means, saving for the future, while others max out their credit cards. Phoenix, unfortunately, falls into the latter category, living the lush life off non-Arizona water. One major step in the right direction, then, might be to cut up the proverbial credit cards and become a desert city again.

It might not be as hard as it sounds.

“In Phoenix, depending on the municipality, between 60 and 70 percent of home water use is outdoor water use,” Gober says. “We can xeriscape our yards and have tremendous impact before ever influencing the way people take showers, flush their toilets or wash their dishes.”

Xeriscaping would not only remove water-guzzling plants, it would also decrease water use by getting rid of high-tech sprinkler systems, which tend to be insensitive to variations in water requirements over time. Getting rid of swimming pools, which annually lose the equivalent of their total volume through evaporation, could also be a big help. A smarter alternative might include community pools in new residential developments.

Another more controversial way to reduce outdoor water use might be to infill the city. Increasing population density, Gober says, would decrease per-capita outdoor water use.

The problem with this option is its potential impact on the urban heat island—the area of locally higher temperature associated with urban areas. Increasing the amount of heat-absorbing building materials while shrinking swaths of open area could worsen heat island effects, as could the amplified insulation and wind resistance caused by taller buildings. If so, they could offset or overwhelm any potential gains from infill.

“How does that balance work? We don’t know,” Gober says. “If you plant trees, does that mitigate the urban heat island effect in central Phoenix? How much water would it take to maintain the vegetation versus how much water would it save to have a cooler environment? These are just a few of the real policy questions that need to be answered for Phoenix to sustain itself in uncertain times.”

Continuing investigations into the ideal urban balance, along with future developments in building materials and green technologies, could bring Phoenix closer to becoming a “sustainable city.” In the meantime, Gober says, finding smarter growth strategies and managing our own water budgets are a step in the right direction.

Nick Gerbis

ASU Media Relations

(480) 965-9690

> Feature article

Demographer at Crossroads of Climate and Growth

April 30, 2008

Interdisciplinary focus help’s ASU’s Gober chart Phoenix’s future in uncertain times

Pat Gober, Director of the Decision Center for a Desert CityPatricia Gober understands better than most that major shifts, in a climate or a career, are periods rife with uncertainty. The professor and former chair of Arizona State University’s department of geography was at the top of her game as a demographer and urban geographer when, a decade ago, she struck out to explore new intellectual terrain.

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Students from Arizona State University Compete in Wal-Mart's "Better Living Business Plan Challenge"

April 16, 2008

Winner of environmentally friendly innovations competition to receive $20,000

Press Release

Tempe, AZ - On Apr. 18, 2008, students from Arizona State University (ASU) will travel to the Wal-Mart Home Office in Bentonville, Ark. to compete in the “Better Living Business Plan Challenge.” The competition was created to provide students around the world an opportunity to invent sustainable products or business solutions and present them to a panel of Wal-Mart executives, government officials, suppliers and environmental organizations. In addition to gaining an audience with some of the top business and sustainability leaders in the US, the winning school will receive $20,000.

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School of Sustainability Featured on NBC Nightly News

March 28, 2008

NBC visited Arizona State University in February 2008 to explore in depth the nation's first School of Sustainability. Their report aired nationally March 24, 2008, on NBC Nightly News. Interviews with students, professors, and administrators shed light on challenges facing this generation of students, opportunities that await graduates, and how ASU's School of Sustainability prepares students for the future.

> Watch the NBC Nightly News video

> Watch NBC interview of ASU students

> Watch NBC interview of President Michael Crow

Special on the Ramifications of the Urban Transformation

February 8, 2008

Science Magazine

"News articles offer an on-the-ground look at how cities are tackling specific problems from poverty and sanitation to traffic jams. Reviews and Perspectives examine how cities take shape and the impacts of urbanization on the environment, human health, economic growth, and the demographics of the developing world."

Be sure to check out the video presentation including GIOS researcher Nancy Grimm.

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ASU Event to Open up Climate Talks

January 28, 2008

Arizona Republic

From a young age, small environmental efforts like this were embedded in my thought process. I saw how being environmentally savvy was a social event because I got to do it with my favorite person; an environmental event because cans were not being put in the garbage; and an economic event, because I earned a small dividend! Although these realizations came much later, the founding principles were there.

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ASU to Join "Focus the Nation" Effort

January 28, 2008

Arizona Republic

To help create solutions to global warming, more than 1,200 colleges, universities and high schools in Arizona and across the United States this week will participate in Focus the Nation, a teach-in to educate and energize about 1 million young adults.

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Professors See Solutions in Slime

January 25, 2008

ASU News

You know algae. It’s the gunk that collects on the sides of a fish tank when you forget to clean it. It’s the slime that makes you slip on rocks while crossing a stream. You probably think of algae as a nuisance, if you even bother to think of it at all.

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A Threat So Big, Academics Try Collaboration: Disciplines Cross Lines to Fight Global Warming

December 25, 2007

New York Times

The threat of Global Warming is sparking new collaboration between academic disciplines. "'We want all the departments to contribute without thinking they own the initiative themselves,' Dr. Fink said. Already, experts in biogeochemistry — the study of the scientific underpinnings of earth’s origins and existing biosystems — are working with social scientists to study the impact of rapid urbanization on plants and animals."

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Sustainability for Arizona: The Issue of Our Age

November 27, 2007

Morrison Institute and the Global Institute of Sustainability

The 6th edition of Morrison Institute's Arizona Policy Choices series, Sustainability for Arizona describes sustainability as a defining issue and organizing principle for the 21st century. Produced in partnership with Arizona State University's Global Institute of Sustainability, the report provides real-life examples and policy choices for the state. It includes the advice and insights of more than 25 policy leaders and thinkers from the public and private sectors, including ASU President Michael Crow.

> Read the report

Outdoor Water Use Strains Resources

September 1, 2007

by Patricia Gober for the Arizona Republic

Photo of Patricia Gober, Professor at Arizona State University and Director of Decision Center for a Desert CityWater is the key resource for growth in a desert city like Phoenix. The Valley is blessed with a diverse portfolio of water sources, including the upland watersheds of the Salt and Verde rivers, the Colorado River Basin and, when surface waters are in short supply, a vast network of underground aquifers.

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Being Smart About Being Green

August 27, 2007

By Philip White

Arizona Republic: Environment

Photo of Philip White, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University Evidence that we each need to be more environmentally responsible surrounds us. Global warming is no longer just “a theory,” and the rate of species extinction increases precipitously as the growing human population expands its pressure on the Earth's resources.

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ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability: Guiding Arizona's Long-Term Future

June 9, 2007

by Jonathan Fink for the Arizona Republic

Photo of Jonathan Fink, Julie Ann Wrigley Director of the Global Institute of Sustainability and University Sustainability Officer at Arizona State UniversityArizona is a state built on optimism – a welcoming land of dazzling landscapes, abundant sunshine, and seemingly limitless economic opportunity.

But lately there is a growing unease among our citizens, concern that the bounty that drew us here might be running out. The decade-long drought might turn into a 1930s-style Dust Bowl. The choking “brown cloud” of air pollution might never lift. Night-time temperatures might pass the century mark and keep on rising. Freeway construction might never relieve the growing load of traffic.

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