ASU Wrigley Institute News

Dean Sander van der Leeuw: Innovate differently for sustainable existence

September 11, 2012

In a recent opinion article featured in Bloomberg, theoretical physicist Mark Buchanan interviews School of Sustainability Dean Sander van der Leeuw on humans’ power to alter the planet.

Buchanan, a columnist for Nature Physics, shares his thoughts on why humans continue to innovate and improve technology, but with ever-increasing consequences on the environment. The sudden explosion in human activity since the Industrial Revolution caused higher temperatures, increased population, and more species extinctions. Now, scientists are calling our present time the “Anthropocene” era—the time period in which human activity affects all of Earth’s processes profoundly.

What sets us apart from other species, Buchanan says, is our ability to innovate through technology.

“New techniques for everything from farming to computation interact and combine to drive the creation of more innovations in an ever-accelerating spiral,” Buchanan writes. “Paradoxically, technological innovation has also created our biggest problems, including climate change, environmental destruction and the threat of nuclear annihilation.”

But, Buchanan points out, innovation and technology is necessary to civilization. How can humans exist without threatening natural systems and avoid additional environmental consequences? Dean Sander van der Leeuw says humans must innovate differently.

“Humans suffer from a mismatch between our thinking about what we do and the truth of what we do,” Buchanan paraphrases van der Leeuw. “Our brains make sense of a multifaceted world by ignoring much of its complexity—a trait Van der Leeuw calls ‘low dimensional’ thinking.”

“Every human action upon the environment modifies the latter in many more ways that its human actors perceive, simply because the dimensionality of the environment is much higher than can be captured by the human mind,” says van der Leeuw.

So the solution? Buchanan and van der Leeuw suggest humans must “innovate differently by using technology to reduce the mismatch between our brains and reality.”

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Researchers identify tradeoffs in combatting urban heat islands

September 10, 2012

A team of researchers from Arizona State University has found that warming resulting from megapolitan expansion is seasonally dependent, with greatest warming occurring during summer and least during winter. Among the most practical ways to combat urbanization-induced warming – the painting of buildings’ roofs white – was found to disrupt regional hydroclimate, highlighting the need for evaluation of tradeoffs associated with combating urban heat islands (UHI).

“We found that raising the reflectivity of buildings by painting their roofs white is an effective way of reducing higher average temperatures caused by urban expansion,” said Matei Georgescu, an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and sustainability scientist. “However, increased reflectivity also modifies hydroclimatic processes and, in the case of the ‘Sun Corridor,’ can lead to a significant reduction of rainfall. Our maximum Sun Corridor expansion scenario leads to a 12 percent reduction in rainfall, averaged across the entire state. Painting roofs white leads to an additional 4 percent reduction in rainfall.”

Located in a semi-arid environment, the Sun Corridor is composed of four metropolitan areas: Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott and Nogales. With a population projection expected to exceed 9 million people by 2040, the rapidly expanding megapolitan offers the opportunity to identify tradeoffs focused on sustainable expansion of the built environment.

“Truly sustainable development will have to consider impacts extending beyond average temperature,” Georgescu explained. “A crucial step in that approach is to identify potential adaptation and mitigation strategies and assess tradeoffs, to ensure that we make smart decisions with minimum damaging consequences.”

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View a video on the Sun Corridor research »

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Helping cities adapt to climate change

August 30, 2012

Q&A with Nancy Selover

selover (2)Nancy Selover is a Senior Sustainability Scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability, a research professor at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), and State Climatologist at the Arizona State Climate Office. As a climatologist with an interest in water supply issues, she is co-chair of the Drought Monitoring Technical Committee of the Governor’s Drought Task Force, a member of the Arizona Flood Warning System, a member of the Applied Climatology Committee of the American Meteorological Society, and Arizona’s state coordinator for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network, a nationwide citizen-scientist network of precipitation observers.

How did sustainability become part of your research focus?

The issue of sustainable water supply became immediately apparent in 2005 when I joined the Governor’s Drought Task Force as a member of the Monitoring Technical Committee. This group watches Arizona drought conditions statewide and guides the National Drought Monitor reports for Arizona. As a climatologist, I was acutely aware of the scarcity of water resources in desert regions, but as a part of this group I learned how the recharge rate of groundwater is highly variable across our watersheds. So, while the Phoenix area has access to renewable surface water from the Salt, Verde, and Colorado rivers, other parts of the state are not as fortunate. For them, water conservation and sustainable use are critical issues.

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State climatologist, ASU sustainability scientist weigh drought effects on Ariz. agriculture

August 29, 2012

In a feature story titled “Planting Sustainability Ideas” in the State Press Magazine, State Climatologist Nancy Selover tells reporter Shawn Raymundo that “(t)hough 60 percent of the U.S. is in some form of drought … this year is actually mild compared to previous years throughout the decade.”

In the Aug. 29, 2012 online report, Selover noted that “(s)ince the Valley was a major agricultural area for more than 100 years, irrigation systems and canals connected to the Salt and Colorado Rivers were built by the Salt River Project and Central Arizona Project early on to combat the lack of rainfall and prevent water shortages during dry spells.”

Another ASU sustainability scientist, Hallie Eakin, also weighed in on the issue in the story. “It’s always to the interest of the farmer to use their water in the most efficient way possible because of the key resources,” said Eakin, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability.

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ASU named one of nation's best, 'greenest' schools

August 24, 2012

The Princeton Review has listed Arizona State University as one of “the best 377 colleges” in the United States and one of the best western colleges in its 2013 just-released guide.

For the fourth consecutive year, ASU was named as one of the nation’s “greenest universities.” The university also was ranked 71st for “best quality of life.”

Students say ASU’s “greatest strength is the great depth of its faculty and wealth of opportunities offered to students.” Many students say they chose ASU because it “offers a huge range of classes and majors at a reasonable cost,” and the university provides “the best of both worlds: a large research university and an honors program tailored for individual needs.”

ASU was noted for, among other things, having the largest collection of energy-producing solar panels at a public university; its School of Sustainability, which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees; its numerous LEED award-winning buildings; and its financial support of bus and light rail passes for students and employees.

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WaterMatch website promotes reuse with companies, universities

August 24, 2012

CH2M HILL’s WaterMatch, a grassroots, goodwill initiative that promotes the reuse of municipal effluent for industrial and agricultural use, is expanding through collaborations with companies and universities around the world. Arizona State University and Intel are among the targets for this expansion in the U.S.

CH2M HILL, a program management, construction management, and design firm located in Denver, developed WaterMatch as a free website that uses social networking and geospatial mapping to connect water generators with water users.

ASU and Intel are working with local municipalities in Arizona and the U.S. Southwest to populate the WaterMatch map and associated wastewater treatment plant profiles. They also are conducting research into the uses and benefits of WaterMatch.

“Our students are eager to engage on the critical issue of water sustainability in Arizona and work on a grassroots project,” said John Sabo, director of Research Development at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. “It’s great to see the program our students helped to pilot expand globally.”

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Urban Desert Vegetation Supports Native Bird Populations

August 24, 2012

New research by Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) finds that native vegetation supports native bird species better than popular grass lawns. The research published in PLOS ONE highlights work done by CAP LTER graduate students, visiting professors, and field assistants.

Hilary Gan and Eyal Shochat of ASU and Paige Warren and Susannah Lerman of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studied the relationship between bird foraging behavior and residential yard types. The study found that desert-like yards, not exotic and moist yards, provides native birds mini-refuges and helps offset biodiversity loss in cities.

“With this study, we’re starting to look at how different yards function–whether birds behave differently by yard type,” says Lerman, a CAP LTER graduate student. “We’re doing that by using behavioral indicators, especially foraging, as a way of assessing birds’ perceptions of habitat quality between differing yard designs.”

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Read the journal article »

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EPA Honors Sustainable Cities Network as 2012 Environmental Hero

August 23, 2012

SCN-Pres-Award1The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded 12 winners for their 2012 Environmental Heroes in the Pacific Southwest. Among the winners, ASU’s Sustainable Cities Network (SCN) received acknowledgement in the Green Government category.

The SCN works with local government agencies, communities, individuals, and organizations to explore sustainable solutions to local issues. ASU, city, county, and tribal leaders established the SCN to ensure sustainability across the region, share knowledge, and collaborate on sustainability efforts.

The annual award recognizes organizations, companies, individuals, and others for making significant contributions to protecting the environment.

“The winners, green heroes all, prove there are many ways to protect our air, water, and land,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Each one has taken up the challenge to improve our environment, and we all stand to benefit.”

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Multiple factors, including climate change, led to ancient Maya collapse

August 21, 2012

A new analysis of complex interactions between humans and the environment preceding the 9th century collapse and abandonment of the Central Maya Lowlands in the Yucatán Peninsula points to a series of events – some natural, like climate change; some human-made, including large-scale landscape alterations and shifts in trade routes – that have lessons for contemporary decision-makers and sustainability scientists.

In their revised model of the collapse of the ancient Maya, social scientists B.L. “Billie” Turner and Jeremy “Jerry” A. Sabloff provide an up-to-date, human-environment systems theory in which they put together the degree of environmental and economic stress in the area that served as a trigger or tipping point for the Central Maya Lowlands.

“The theory acknowledges the role of climate change and anthropogenic environmental change, while also recognizing the role of commerce and choice,” says Turner.

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Children draw their feelings about future of water

August 21, 2012

“The Science of Water Art: A Citizen Science Project”—a collaborative research project that brings together professionals, community members, college students, and children to think about the role that water plays in each of our lives—will be on display Sept. 1-30 at ASU’s Deer Valley Rock Art Center.

The project is part of a larger global ethnohydrology study led by three Sustainability Scientists—Amber Wutich, Alexandra Brewis Slade, and Paul Westerhoff—along with two researchers outside the university. The study is starting its fifth year with a look at the role of water, climate change, and health in several communities worldwide. The study is sponsored by ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change (SHESC).

The art facet of this study allows for a look into how climate change and water insecurity are viewed by younger generations, and gives a voice to children so that they may share their outlooks on this vital resource.

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$3M NSF award to launch alternative energy research, PhD program

August 20, 2012

A new effort at Arizona State University to educate and train students in renewable and solar energy is receiving backing by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Through its Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, the NSF is providing $3 million to ASU to help develop a doctoral program in energy and to equip students with the skills needed to find solutions to the energy challenges of the future by establishing the IGERT Solar Utilization Network (SUN) program.

“At ASU, we are strong in three important areas: biological energy conversion, photovoltaics and solar thermal energy conversion,” says Willem Vermaas, the lead scientist in the program, Foundation Professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, and Senior Sustainability Scientist. “Because we have those three, we are in a unique position to say, ‘Now let’s train students so they are not only experts in those areas, but also so they can understand the pros and cons of the various ways of creating alternative energy.’ We also need to teach them about the social, environmental and economic contexts of emerging solar technologies so societal transformation can happen,” he says.

The IGERT Solar Utilization Network program begins this fall semester.

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Viewing choices through a sustainable lens

August 16, 2012

Sustainability is a human decision — a responsibility that relies on good information and how we choose to use it — according to George Basile, a senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University, who made that point in this month’s cover story in Sustainability: The Journal of Record.

Reframing sustainability as a human decision challenge, rather than “some version of people, planet and profit coming together,” was one of the subjects discussed by Basile in the “On the Record” feature with journal editor Jamie Devereaux.

“Sustainability is something that humans want. We want a future that is sustainable for us, so it is a human construct…. Therefore, humans to a certain extent are in charge of making that happen, or not,” said Basile, a professor of practice at ASU’s School of Sustainability.

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Growing use of nanoparticles raises questions for researchers

August 14, 2012

As the use of nanoscale materials in consumer goods increases – including in food, personal care products and medicine – researchers are exploring the possible health and environmental impacts of exposure to nanoparticles.

More and more products contain titanium, silver or zinc that is nano-sized by being burned or crushed into an extremely fine dust and then used as ingredients in products or as a coating.

Among those leading research on the effects of nanoparticles is Paul Westerhoff, associate dean of research in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, senior sustainability scientist, and a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

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Sustainable Retirement

August 13, 2012

An interview by Tom Curry with Nicholas Hild, Senior Sustainability Scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability and Emeritus Professor in the College of Technology and Innovation, was featured in the Journal of Environmental Management Arizona, February/March 2012 issue.

Dr. Hild reflects on his move into retirement and the changes he has witnessed in Arizona’s environmental regulations. Dr. Hild observes that Arizona’s stance on the environment seems to match with who gets elected to the State legislature. Local businesses understand that environment regulation compliance is a positive step towards sustainability. Dr. Hild advises that university sustainability programs must have technical requirements that are combined with policy education, so that while entering the workforce, students can properly advise their employers with truly sustainable solutions.

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Engineering grad's skills help set stage for growth of children's care home

August 13, 2012

A private children’s residential care home in Mesa, Ariz., that has been serving its local community for almost 60 years will be better prepared to expand, thanks in part to the expertise of a recent Arizona State University engineering graduate.

During his final semester of study this past spring to earn a professional science master’s degree in the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization program, Sage Lopez helped the Sunshine Acres Children’s Home take steps to develop a cost-saving renewable-energy system.

Working with Milt Laflen, a member of a volunteer committee charged with ensuring the home’s future energy needs can be met, Lopez assisted in devising a solar-energy master plan designed to help control energy costs as Sunshine Acres grows.

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Modeling reveals significant climatic impacts of megapolitan expansion

August 13, 2012

According to the United Nations’ 2011 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, global urban population is expected to gain more than 2.5 billion new inhabitants through 2050. Such sharp increases in the number of urban dwellers will require considerable conversion of natural to urban landscapes, resulting in newly developing and expanding megapolitan areas.

Could climate impacts arising from built environment growth pose additional concerns for urban residents also expected to deal with impacts resulting from global climate change?

In the first study of its kind, attempting to quantify the impact of rapidly expanding megapolitan areas on regional climate, a team of researchers from Arizona State University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research has showed that local maximum summertime warming resulting from projected expansion of the urban Sun Corridor could approach 4 degrees Celsius.

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BBC Nature: New swimming cave cricket species filmed

August 7, 2012

In a BBC Nature article, entomologist and sustainability scientist Quentin Wheeler talks about the possibility of a new species of swimming cave cricket recently discovered in a remote Venezuelan tepui, a type of table-top mountain.

“Places like small islands and mountain tops and caves are really new exciting laboratories of genetic experimentation,” Wheeler says.

It was a BBC film crew that spotted the new species of cricket.

“You can’t really as a biologist, put into words how it feels to see something, to film something that’s never been named,” says Dr. George McGavin, biologist and film presenter.

Conservation biologists call places like this hotspots – areas inhabited by a high number of endemic species that cannot be found anywhere else.

The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University collates information about newly discovered species, in part because of its value in the study of evolutionary history but also out of a concern for bio-diversity and conservation.

They record around 18,000 new species a year but Professor Wheeler said that they are not about to run out of discoveries.

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Energy rules when defining ‘green’ say ASU sustainability experts

August 6, 2012

Mick Dalrymple
Mick Dalrymple
Harvey Bryan
Harvey Bryan

In an Arizona Republic article, sustainability scientist Harvey Bryan and Energize Phoenix project manager Mick Dalrymple comment on energy conservation recently reported from state agencies.

“Only two areas can be measured: water and energy consumption. Energy is the one you can take to the bank,” Bryan says.

New Energy Star buildings for Arizona’s Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Administration, and Department of Health Services reduced energy use by 22.5 percent, exceeding each building’s 2011 goal of 15 percent. The Governor’s Office of Energy Policy hopes to increase the number of Energy Star building certifications after investing $3.5 million in federal stimulus funds into increasing the energy efficiency of state buildings over the past 18 months. The investments included retrofitting 10 of the 12 large state buildings with a more efficient compact fluorescent lighting.

“Lighting is by far the single most cost-effective retrofit that someone can do,” says Dalrymple.

The article stresses the importance of individual actions towards more sustainable behavior.

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Sustainability scientist links healthy seafood to sustainable fish

August 2, 2012

When ordering seafood, the options are many and so are some of the things you might consider in what you order. Is your fish healthy? Is it safe? Is it harvested responsibly?

While there are many services and rankings offered to help you decide – there’s even an iPhone app – a group of researchers have found a simple rule of thumb applies.

“If the fish is sustainable, then it is likely to be healthy to eat too,” says Leah Gerber, an associate professor and senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University.

Gerber and colleagues ran an analysis of existing literature on fish to see which choices are consistently healthier and which are high in mercury or overfished. Their findings are published in today’s early online version of the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a publication of the Ecological Society of America.

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Living Like the Future Matters: Inspiring Urban Sustainability

Thought Leader Series

July 31, 2012

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Greg Stanton

Greg StantionNote: ASU and Phoenix have collaborated on numerous big projects through the years, including development of the ASU campus in the heart of downtown. More recently, ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Phoenix teamed up to win a $25 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to launch Energize Phoenix, a sustainable energy efficiency program that creates green jobs and reduces carbon emissions while transforming energy use in diverse neighborhoods along a 10-mile stretch of the Metro light rail.

Sustainability is what turns big cities into great cities. It’s a transformation that starts with good leadership and collaboration, then takes off with visionary thinking and long-term planning. Great cities thrive when sustainability permeates decisions, strategies, and operations.

Phoenix has long benefited from visionary leaders with long-term outlooks. These leaders provided the ideas and groundwork that made it possible to create a major city in a vast desert. They secured a multidimensional water supply that is one of the most reliable in the country. They established strong economic foundations for us in information technology, biotechnology, and other high-value industries that are at the core of a sustainable economy. And they set aside vast natural wonders as preserves for future generations.

Thus, Phoenix has paved the way and has become the sixth most populous city in the nation with 1.4 million people across almost 520square miles. More than that, Phoenix is the beating heart of a vibrant metropolitan region that encompasses more than 4 million people. It is also the capital of a huge and diverse state that is home to 6 million residents.

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