February 23, 2015
By Prasad Boradkar
Note: March 3 marks the launch of ASU’s new Biomimicry Center, established in partnership with Montana-based Biomimicry 3.8, and co-directed by Prasad Boradkar. In this essay, Boradkar describes how biomimicry can help us create solutions to address our problems in sustainable ways.
A short five-minute walk takes me from my suburban home in south Phoenix to the Sonoran Desert, from the highly standardized and manufactured human-made world into the somewhat wild and undomesticated natural world.
Satellite views show stark differences between the two landscapes: rectilinear, hard lines divide the land inhabited by people, while meandering, unrestrained territories mark the land inhabited by all other creatures. We have, by design, created in contrast to the natural world, an artificial world of products, buildings and cities.
Philosopher Richard Buchanan describes design as “conception and planning of the artificial.” Using these processes of planning, we have created everything from tiny paperclips to enormous jet aircraft, from the smallest dwellings to the largest metropolises. And though these things are made of such materials of human creation as chrome-plated steel, aluminum and reinforced concrete, they are all ultimately extracted from the natural world. From the natural emerges the artificial.
November 19, 2014
By Ray Jensen
Note: December marks eight years since the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted at the United Nations headquarters in New York. In this essay, Ray Jensen advocates for a new model to address disability issues, with the goal of improving global sustainability through inclusion.
The romantic biography of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, was released this month. Its focus is on the relationship of this extraordinary man and Jane Wilde, who weds Hawking and for as long as she is able, embraces the challenges of his life with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). From the trailer, it seems that Hawking received, not a death sentence, but a prison sentence when he was a young man, and gradually was translated into a person with a disability. Sometimes it happens that way.
For other people with disabilities, the point of entry is birth, athletic injury, auto accidents or the violence of war. However it arrives, it is usually unexpected, always unwanted, and often the beginning of a journey that can tax the emotional, financial and relational health, not only of the individual with the disability, but of their family and loved ones.
October 24, 2014
By Heather Lineberry
Note: Now through January 17, the ASU Art Museum hosts Trout Fishing in America and Other stories, an exhibition by artists Bryndis Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson. The project is supported by a research grant from the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.
Over the past four decades, solutions to the persistent and complex challenges of sustainability have typically been developed through scientific analysis. There has been an assumption that knowledge will lead to appropriate action. Recently the accuracy of this one-dimensional assumption has been in question, and many have begun to seek more effective ways of developing robust solutions.
About a year ago, Arnim Wiek from the School of Sustainability asked me to co-author a chapter for an introductory textbook on sustainability. This might seem an odd request for a contemporary art curator and art historian, but much of my research and curatorial work has explored the ways that artists have engaged with our challenges in living sustainably. I’ve found that art can facilitate deep collaboration across disciplines and social groups to challenge existing models and propose new ones.
August 25, 2014
By Rebecca Tsosie
Note: Rebecca Tsosie is a senior sustainability scientist and Regents’ Professor of Law at Arizona State University.
There are two ways to view the relationship between Indigenous peoples and sustainability policy. One approach places them at the center of sustainability studies, and one relegates them to the periphery. The latter approach became the subject of a recent controversy between experts commenting on the latest draft of the United Nations’ new sustainable development policy.
Significance of the term “Indigenous peoples”
Several weeks ago, a panel of experts from the United Nations expressed concern that the latest draft of Sustainable Development Goals had deleted all references to “Indigenous peoples,” substituting instead the phrase “Indigenous and local communities.” The shift might seem harmless to the uninformed reader. However, as the U.N. experts noted, the effect of the change was to undermine the success that Indigenous peoples have had in claiming their rightful identity as “peoples” with a right to “self-determination,” equivalent to that of all other peoples under international law.
July 20, 2014
By Rick Heffernon
Note: July is Park and Recreation Month, created in 1985 to celebrate and encourage parks, recreation, and conservation efforts that enhance quality of life for all people. In this essay, Rick Heffernon discusses the quality-of-life benefits of trails like the Arizona Trail, for which he has served as a trail steward for more than 15 years.
People need trails. Seriously.
Work, home, kids, plans, commitments, life — they’re all stressful. Even happy events, like vacations, promotions, marriage, graduation, and success can provide a potent lump of stress. Trails, however, offer a cure.
Healthy Benefits of Trails
Take a quiet energizing walk down a rambling trail lined by majestic trees and nodding flowers and you immediately feel a therapeutic break from the everyday. Trail walks soothe our bodies from head to toe, both physically and mentally. They can pull us back from the brink and reinvigorate our spirits. Plus, trails make us smarter. Stuck on a difficult problem? Just take a long walk and you’ll likely find a solution.
Trails also provide a litany of other happy benefits. Among these are improved fitness, access to clean air, reduced traffic congestion, preservation of open space, protection of natural resources, and the simple joy of self-propulsion.
June 19, 2014
By Dr. Anthony Michaels
Note: Dr. Anthony Michaels (Tony) is an internationally known environmental scientist who has been a leader in both academia and business. On May 15, 2014, Dr. Michaels became CEO of Midwestern BioAg, the industry leader in biological agriculture and one of the pioneers in sustainable food production.
Can We Feed Nine Billion People While Improving the Environment?
As the world population grows to nine billion people, we face many fundamental questions. How can we improve agricultural production to feed that many people? How can we improve farm economics? How can we reduce climate impacts, minimize the nitrogen runoff that creates dead zones in oceans and reverse soil erosion? How can we create nutrient-rich foods? I believe that a big part of the answer is biological agriculture.
Biological agriculture is an integrated farming system. It combines the best historical practices, honed over centuries, with the strength of the latest scientific discoveries. It promotes natural biological processes to dramatically improve agricultural yields and reduce farm costs.
May 12, 2014
By Lt Gen (ret) Norman R. Seip, USAF
Note: May 17, 2014, is Armed Forces Day, a holiday established in 1949 by President Harry S. Truman as a single day for U.S. citizens to thank all military members for their service. On the occasion of the first Armed Forces Day, Truman recognized the military for progress toward its “goal of readiness for any eventuality,” a goal that endures today.
The Pentagon is leading the charge toward a secure renewable energy future. Senior military and national security leaders agree: a single-source dependence on fossil fuels – primarily oil – endangers our troops in combat zones and threatens our long-term security interests.
Additionally, our continued reliance on these dirty fuels is worsening the impacts of climate change. The effects of shifting weather patterns are already destabilizing vulnerable regions of the world, and international instability could force the military into an ever-rising number of resource-driven conflicts.
While the civilian “debate” on these issues trudges on – hampered largely by politicians beholden to petroleum interests – the Department of Defense has recognized that reducing fossil fuel dependence, investing in clean energy technologies, and incorporating climate change into national security strategies are operational, tactical, and strategic imperatives.
To strengthen our national security and prevent more of our servicemen and women from being sent into conflicts abroad, our civilian leaders would be wise to follow the lead of the military and increase our commitment to employing clean energy and combatting the threat of climate change.
April 22, 2014
By William McDonough
Note: William McDonough is a globally recognized leader in sustainable development. Trained as an architect, Mr. McDonough’s interests and influence range widely, and he works at all scales. Mr. McDonough has written and lectured extensively on design as the first signal of human intention.
Living in the age of cities
We live in the age of cities, in the midst of the most dramatic transformation of urban life and the urban landscape the world has ever seen. Cities have always been engines of growth, innovation and opportunity, drawing people from afar since the ancient settlements of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus, and the Yellow River gave urban form to “a certain energized crowding” along their alluvial plains.
But urbanization on a global scale has happened in a heartbeat. It took more than 5,000 years of human development for the world’s urban population to approach one billion, in the early 1960s, but in the short half-century since it has more than tripled, reaching 3.5 billion in 2010. By 2030, according to the latest United Nations estimates, five billion people will live in cities, nearly half of them making their lives in homes, schools, workplaces and parks that do not yet exist.
March 21, 2014
By Dr. Vandana Shiva
Note: March is Women’s History Month, a tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society. Dr. Shiva, originally a theoretical physicist, is an environmental activist, author and expert in ecofeminism. She will present a Wrigley Lecture during the Fall 2014 semester.
Over the last four decades, I have served grassroots ecological movements, beginning in the 1970s with the historic Chipko (Hug the Tree) Movement, in my region of Central Himalaya. In every movement I have participated in, it was women who led the actions, and women who sustained actions to protect the earth and the sources of their sustenance and livelihoods.
Women of Chipko were protecting their forests because deforestation and logging was leading to floods and droughts. It was leading to landslides and disasters. It was leading to scarcity of fuel and fodder. It was leading to the disappearance of springs and streams, forcing women to walk longer and farther for water.
February 17, 2014
By David Eisenman
Note: February 20, 2014, is the United Nations’ World Day of Social Justice. The goal of the observance is to remove barriers people face due to gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, or disability. Dr. David Eisenman’s expertise is in public health and disasters.
In their book, “Resilience – Why Things Bounce Back,” authors Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy argue that it’s time for sustainability to move over and make room for resilience.
Suddenly it seems to me that the whole world is talking about sustainability and resilience. In the field of disasters – my field – both are important concepts, complementary to each other and worthy of action and resources.
But frequently missing from the discussion is one of the most important determinants of sustainability and resilience – social justice. Social justice is central to both.
January 21, 2014
Note: 2014 is the United Nations’ International Year of Family Farming. The goal of the observance is to call attention to the role of family farming in achieving sustainable development. Senior Sustainability Scientist Hallie Eakin is an expert in agrarian change, vulnerability, and adaptation. Her work was recently featured on Arizona PBS’s Horizon program.
The International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) focuses on the role of the family farm in meeting our most pressing sustainability challenges: food security, poverty alleviation, and environmental integrity. That family farms are now seen as significant in solving these challenges, rather than causing them, marks a revolution in international thinking.
Many people envision small-scale farms as unfortunate features of the developing world: impoverished, lacking basic services, and suffering from economic insecurity and, ironically, hunger. Associating poverty and hunger with smallholder communities is not unfounded, but does family farming cause poverty or food insecurity? My work in Latin America, and that of many other scientists elsewhere, clearly answers, “No.”
December 18, 2013
Note: Senior Sustainability Scientist Nancy Grimm recently guest edited and authored two articles in the November 2013 edition of the Ecological Society of America’s Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, highlighting current and future implications of climate change for ecosystems. The issue includes work from over 50 scientists who contributed to this part of the U.S. National Climate Assessment.
In 2014, the United States will release its third National Climate Assessment (NCA) based on the efforts of hundreds of scientists and practitioners over a three-year period. During 2011-2012, I served as a senior scientist for the NCA in Washington, DC. I worked with teams who assessed the current and future impacts of human-caused climate change on biogeochemical cycles, ecosystems, and urban systems. These topics are highly interrelated and solutions to climate and global challenges must recognize their interdependence. A sustainable future depends on rethinking the extraction and recycling of Earth’s mineral resources, reducing impacts on ecosystems, and investing in building sustainable cities.
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.