ASU Wrigley Institute News

America burning: the Yarnell Hill fire tragedy and the nation’s wildfire crisis

January 23, 2014

Photo by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Photo by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Six months after 19 firefighters lost their lives battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire near Prescott, Ariz., The Weather Channel investigated the larger problem of U.S. wildfires. In an article and original documentary titled “America Burning: The Yarnell Hill Tradegy and the Nation’s Wildfire Crisis,” journalist Neil Katz, along with executive producer Greg Gilderman and producer Shawn Efran of Efran Films, interview surviving family members and the sole surviving firefighter.

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ASU professor wins ‘Digging Into Data’ challenge

January 23, 2014

c-michael-barton

ASU professor C. Michael Barton has been named a “Digging Into Data” challenge winner. He is among a cohort of research teams representing Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States that were named by 10 international research agencies, including the National Science Foundation in the United States.

The Digging into Data program encourages research teams to develop new insights, tools and skills in innovative social science and humanities research using large-scale data analysis. Fourteen teams will receive grants to investigate how computational techniques can be applied to “big data” in social sciences and the humanities. Each team represents collaborations among scholars, scientists and information professionals from leading universities and libraries in Europe and North America.

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ASU School of Life Sciences, Phoenix Zoo team up for conservation research

January 17, 2014

Photo by: Sandra Leander
Photo by: Sandra Leander

Modern, professionally managed zoos frequently serve as global conservation agents – working to save species, educate the public about species loss and recovery, practice conservation breeding and reintroduce animals into the wild. These important efforts depend on understanding the scientific complexities of the animals and their habitats, as well as the history, ethics and policies that often deeply impact animal survival.

Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences and the Phoenix Zoo are launching a new program to strengthen animal conservation efforts by collaborating on new research and improving conservation communications and outreach to the public.

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Kao is first to graduate with Master’s in Sustainability Solutions

January 17, 2014

Photo by: Tim Trumble

After a very busy year and a half being a graduate student in Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability, Karen Kao celebrated her achievements as the graduate speaker at the school’s fall convocation this past December. With a background in psychology, Kao is very interested in the behavioral change behind sustainability, which led her to the school’s master’s degree in sustainable solutions.

“The program is an applied degree, so anything that I learned in the academic field of psychology, I could learn how to translate into practice,” Kao says. “Graduating as the first student from the program, I feel well-equipped with the strategies and thought-processes that help build solution options, and I take with me a practical skillset that’s transferrable to almost any subject in sustainability.”

As a student, Kao served as a research assistant on projects implementing practical solutions to sustainability issues, ranging from economics to urban planning. As part of her capstone project, mandatory for the master’s degree in sustainable solutions, Kao conducted community engagement workshops in Phoenix to collect public opinions for Reinvent PHX. The project, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Grant Program, aims to develop a new model of sustainable urban development, where public transit, housing, jobs and services improve the quality of life for all residents.

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Municipal sludge holds hints to human health risks

January 16, 2014

Thousands of chemicals serving a variety of human needs flood into sewage treatment plants once their use life has ended. Many belong to a class of chemicals known as CECs (chemicals of emerging concern), which may pose risks to both human and environmental health.

Arjun Venkatesan, a recent doctorate, and Rolf Halden, professor and director of the Center for Environmental Security at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, have carried out meticulous tracking of many of these chemicals.

In a study appearing today in the Nature Publishing Group journal Scientific Reports, both authors outline a new approach to the identification of potentially harmful, mass-produced chemicals, describing the accumulation in sludge of 123 distinct CECs.

Ten of the 11 chemicals found in greatest abundance in treated municipal sludge or biosolids were high-production volume chemicals, including flame-retardants, antimicrobials and surfactants.

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Professor publishes commentary in Sustainability: Journal of Record

January 14, 2014

sus.2013.6.issue-6.coverIn the December 2013 issue of Sustainability: Journal of Record, Scott G. McNall and George Basile discuss the current discourse surrounding sustainability and how a new narrative on the corresponding issues can change the shape of our future.

In their article, “How to Create a New Narrative for Sustainability That Will Work: And Why It Matters,” McNall and Basile, a professor in the Executive Master’s for Sustainability Leadership program and a sustainability scientist in ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, write that while climate change continues to affect our planet, “humans are hardwired to respond to the danger in front of them, not the danger on the horizon.”

Fortunately, we humans are “storytelling creatures” and can craft this new sustainability narrative with real-life metaphors, humor, emotion and applicable values, so suggest the authors.

“In crafting stories about the human condition and our future, we must remember that humans have proven themselves to be resilient, creative and adaptable over millennia,” write NcNall and Basile. In part 2 of their series, the authors will share specific guidelines for crafting a new narrative for action.

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City of Phoenix, ASU establish public/private sustainability incubator

January 9, 2014

srpwastesort1.jpgThe City of Phoenix city council approved a four-year partnership with Arizona State University to create the Center for Resource Intelligence. The center will provide a wide array of research, development, education, and solutions services to more effectively manage the city’s resources and create economic value.

Industries such as energy, water, resource extraction, product development, manufacturing, and recycling will collaborate to convert trash once destined for the landfill into business opportunities and jobs. The center is part of the City’s effort to create value, economic opportunity, and jobs.

The center will be managed by the Sustainability Solutions Services program, part of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

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Want to save the whales? Put a price on them says ASU professor

January 6, 2014

Photo by: Leah Gerber
Photo by: Leah Gerber

Overharvest by commercial whaling has been a well-recognized world threat to stable whale populations since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) issued a moratorium against commercial whaling in 1986. However, because of loopholes, whaling countries at odds with the ban continue to hunt under the guise of scientific whaling or in outright objection to the IWC, while the IWC and its members, as well as whale conservationists, can offer few methods to enforce the ban or effectively curb whale harvests.

This lack of cooperation and constructive communication among whalers, the IWC and conservationists has posed a decade’s old roadblock to solution building and balancing whaling practices with stabilization of whale populations.

One recently proposed solution is the creation of “whale shares,” an approach developed by Leah Gerber, a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, and colleagues from the University of California, Santa Barbara, is published as a forum in the January issue of Ecological Applications.

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Scientists propose ‘dirty but necessary’ way to feed 9 billion people

January 2, 2014

cornfieldThe modern agriculture system that feeds most of the world’s population relies in large part on phosphorus, a chemical element that is mined from a small number of ancient seabed locations around the world. Phosphorus (in the form of the compound phosphate) is an essential ingredient in fertilizer and is critical for food systems worldwide, but about 75 percent of it is mined and exported from just one country – Morocco.

The United States will become entirely reliant on imports of phosphorous within roughly three or four decades – and as phosphate deposits become more scarce, the price of fertilizer could spike and massively disrupt our food supply.

In a Future Tense article for Slate magazine, ASU’s James Elser, Regents’ Professor in the School of Life Sciences, and Bruce Rittmann, Regents’ Professor of Environmental Engineering and director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, propose a three-part solution to this looming crisis.

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Inaugural Sustainability Solutions Festival set to take place Feb. 17-22

December 18, 2013

In partnership with the GreenBiz Group and The Sustainability Consortium, Arizona State University’s Sustainability Solutions Festival will bring the nation’s leaders in sustainable business, renewable energy, research, humanities, and innovation during one week of local events. The Festival is a project under the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, a program part of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

“The Sustainability Solutions Festival exemplifies ASU’s endeavor to address the world’s environmental, economic, and social challenges of the twenty-first century through collaborative, transdisciplinary, and solutions-oriented thinking and training,” says Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University.

The Festival will take place at various locations across Tempe and Phoenix, beginning Feb. 17 and ending on Feb. 22. Additional partners include Arizona Solar SummitArizona Science CenterArizona SciTech FestivalSedona Film Festival, and the City of Tempe.

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