ASU Wrigley Institute News

Mission critical: Species explorers propose steps to map biosphere

April 2, 2012

Scientists say worldwide collections, existing experts and technology make charting 10 million species in less than 50 years achievable; a necessary step to sustain planet’s biodiversity

systematicsbiodiversity_march2012_coverTEMPE, Ariz. – An ambitious goal to describe 10 million species in less than 50 years is achievable and necessary to sustain Earth’s biodiversity, according to an international group of 39 scientists, scholars and engineers who provided a detailed plan, including measures to build public support, in the March 30 issue of the journal Systematics and Biodiversity.

“Earth’s biosphere has proven to be a vast frontier that, even after centuries of exploration, remains largely uncharted,” wrote the authors, who include biodiversity crusaders Edward O. Wilson and Peter H. Raven.

“Exploring the biosphere is much like exploring the universe,” the authors argued. “The more we learn, the more complex and surprising the biosphere and its story turn out to be.”

By most estimates, about 2 million of Earth’s species are known, with about 18,000 new plants and animals discovered each year. Experts estimate at least 10 million species on Earth are yet to be discovered or accurately classified. These species are tiny, large, buried, hidden in collections, or in plain sight.

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ASU to use $27.5M Walton investment to accelerate sustainability efforts

March 29, 2012

Investment to ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability will educate future leaders

WaltonsandCrow[1]The Rob and Melani Walton Fund of the Walton Family Foundation is providing $27.5 million to Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS) to develop and deploy promising solutions to sustainability challenges including energy, water, environment, climate, urbanization, social transformation and decision-making in local, national and global contexts and to educate future leaders in sustainability. The investment to ASU is designated entirely for program support.

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Sustainability Waits: Doomsday Clock Ticks Forward

Thought Leader Series

March 29, 2012

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Lawrence M. Krauss

Shortly after the end of World War II, Albert Einstein uttered his now famous warning about the new global danger of nuclear weapons: “Everything has changed, save the way we think.”

In the intervening sixty-odd years, the world has continued to change and become even more dangerous. And still, there is no great evidence that our way of thinking about global catastrophes has evolved to meet the challenges.

I am currently honored to be co-chair of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – a body created by Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer in 1946 to help warn the public about the dangers of nuclear war.

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Sabo to direct research development for GIOS

Institute Press Releases

March 27, 2012

John-Sabo2John Sabo, an expert in ecohydrology and water resource management, has been named director of research development for the Global Institute of Sustainability, a transdisciplinary unit in the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. OKED is responsible for advancing research, entrepreneurship, innovation and economic development at Arizona State University.

Sabo is also a senior sustainability scientist in GIOS and an associate professor in the School of Life SciencesCollege of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Dr. Sabo has a collaborative and entrepreneurial approach. I’m confident his leadership will greatly benefit sustainability-related research and researchers across ASU,” said Rob Melnick, executive dean with GIOS and the School of Sustainability.

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ASU researchers, Nobel laureate have stake in ‘Planet under Pressure’ forum

Institute Press Releases

March 22, 2012

The future of the oceans, poverty alleviation, global trade, biodiversity and food security are among research areas that will be at the core of the “Planet under Pressure” (PUP) conference this month with more than 2,500 participants, including several scientists from Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

“The agenda for worldwide sustainability science will be set at this conference,” stressed Sander van der Leeuw, dean of ASU’s School of Sustainability and a PUP conference participant. “The whole of the research agenda for sustainability science for the next several years will be recast and the funding reorganized to take account of the discussions at this conference,” he said.

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What’s the Big Deal About “Resilience”?

March 19, 2012

sanderFrom, this interview with Torie Bosch features Sustainability Scientist Sander van der Leeuw, dean of the School of Sustainability. Van der Leeuw will be a panelist at this weekend’s Future Tense event, Defining Resilience, where academics, policymakers, and other experts will discuss resilience in the environment, business, national security, even the Constitution. Bosch spoke to van der Leeuw about resilience in the Roman Empire, prehistoric Australia, modern ecology, and more.

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Fundamental steps needed now in global redesign of Earth system governance

Institute Press Releases

March 16, 2012

32 leading experts from around the world argue for immediate ambitious reforms

TEMPE, Ariz. – Some 32 social scientists and researchers from around the world, including a Senior Sustainability Scholar at Arizona State University, have concluded that fundamental reforms of global environmental governance are needed to avoid dangerous changes in the Earth system. The scientists argued in the March 16 edition of the journal Science that the time is now for a “constitutional moment” in world politics.

Research now indicates that the world is nearing critical tipping points in the Earth system, including on climate and biodiversity, which if not addressed through a new framework of governance could lead to rapid and irreversible change.

“Science assessments indicate that human activities are moving several of Earth’s sub-systems outside the range of natural variability typical for the previous 500,000 years,” wrote the authors in the opening of “Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance.”

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Higher ed presidents say teaching sustainability is good business

March 9, 2012

Achieving carbon neutrality on American college and university campuses is not a matter for science alone. It has to be taught. And, in dealing with budget reductions coupled with enrollment growth, college and university presidents have learned that sustainability is also a good business model.

“We’ve all faced one big dilemma in the past few years,” said David Schmidly, president of the University of New Mexico, noting that UNM experienced budget cuts of about 20-22 percent, while at the same time enrollment increases of 15 percent.

“What we found is sustainability can be useful for teaching not only a paradigm to be a better citizen; we have found that sustainability is good business. It’s a good way to contain cost and save money,” he said, adding that UNM’s energy conservation program saved more than $8 million over just a few years.

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Identifying change agents in science

February 29, 2012

Q&A with Jane Maienschein

Jane Maienschein

Dr. Maienschein advises students involved in history and philosophy of science projects.

A student presents her history of science project at an annual meeting of AAAS.

Jane Maienschein is a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability; a Regents’ Professor, President’s Professor, and Parents Association Professor at the School of Life Sciences (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences); director of the Center for Biology and Society; and adjunct senior scientist at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory. She specializes in the history and philosophy of biology and the way that biology, bioethics, and biopolicy play out in society. In 2010 she was named a CASE and Carnegie Foundation U.S. Professor of the Year.

How did you become involved with sustainability in your career?

I never thought of my work as connected with sustainability, since my primary research field is the history and philosophy of developmental biology. It wasn’t until I was nominated to be a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist and began working with Ann Kinzig in the Global Institute of Sustainability that I thought more about where the idea of sustainability comes from, what it means in changing contexts, and why it matters. Subsequently, I was encouraged to write on the history of sustainability for the AAAS members’ website, and that led to a project examining the history of biodiversity and sustainability.

What is your most important sustainability-related project now?

I’ve been working with a collaborative group at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to develop a repository for digital content on the history and philosophy of science. A new project along these lines focuses specifically on biodiversity and sustainability. This project will teach ASU undergraduate and graduate students to research and write peer-reviewed articles about the change agents who helped transform these fields. The articles will then be linked to related digital content – pictures, videos, interviews, and other articles – and also to the rich published literature of both the Biodiversity Heritage Library consortium and the E.O. Wilson-inspired Encyclopedia of Life, both of which are partners in the project. In addition, ASU’s Manfred Laubichler and Robert Page are leading a related project to connect this work on biodiversity and sustainability to the Global Classroom (a project funded by the Mercator Foundation), so that international teams will develop associated content to add to the collection. These collaborations will bring together research and learning in the best possible way and involve a mix of students and faculty members.

How will your sustainability-related work affect policy or other decisions?

My work in 1997-1998 as a Congressional Fellow and senior science advisor showed me that influencing decisions is a subtle process and results are difficult to trace. In fact, we often have the greatest impact when we simply provide those in power with research materials and ideas. This is a different approach than most researchers seek, but it is consistent with my conviction that education is a long-term process and the greatest impacts tend to come later rather than sooner. But if we can get students, members of the public, and even ourselves to continually ask the hard questions and push for better answers, we will have succeeded.

What world sustainability challenge concerns you most?

Willful ignorance. By that I mean the persistent efforts by some people to sow doubt and create confusion when there should be none – for example, the people who deny evidence of human-caused climate change. This is deplorable. If the facts are bleak, let’s face them. If they call for hard answers and hard work, let’s get moving.

February 29, 2012

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ASU a 2012 Finalist for Institutional Excellence in Climate Leadership

February 24, 2012

Second Nature will announce the winners of the 3rd Annual Climate Leadership Awards at the 6th annual Climate Leadership Summit of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) on June 21-22, 2012 in Washington, D.C.  Arizona State University is one of five finalists in the “Doctorate Granting University” category.

The Climate Leadership Awards highlight campus innovation and climate leadership to transition society to a clean, just, and sustainable future, and are chosen from ACUPCC signatory institutions in good standing via a nomination process.

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ASU sustainability scientist gives anthropologist view of globalization at the local scale

February 19, 2012

The modernization of isolated villages brings about a change in human information flow patterns that not only destroys the social fabric of the community, but also the economy and the landscape, according to Sander van der Leeuw, a Senior Sustainability Scientist at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

Van der Leeuw, an archaeologist and anthropologist specializing in the long-term impacts of human activity on the landscape, studied the consequences of the construction of roads after World War II in Epirus, a region dotted with rural villages that is shared by Greece and Albania. He looked at how information flow patterns were changed by the building of roads and how the mindset of the people in the villages was transformed as a consequence, leading to major transformations in the economy and the social life of the population.

“The roads brought the villages into the modern word, which is essentially a globalization process,” said van der Leeuw, who presented an anthropologist’s view on how globalization works at the local scale during a session at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Feb. 19.

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Climate change takes back seat to decision-making in water security says ASU researcher

February 17, 2012

Phoenix, the sixth largest U.S. city, is vulnerable to water shortages even without climate change because of heavy outdoor water use and fragmented governance, according to research conducted at the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) at Arizona State University.

“Scientists, decision-makers and the general public have different perceptions of Phoenix’s water problems,” said Patricia Gober, a geographer and Senior Sustainability Scientist at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

“Scientists see a demand problem, decision-makers see a supply problem; and residents see someone else’s problem,” said Gober, a founding director of DCDC. Gober presented findings from simulation modeling and the principles of decision-making during a session on water security on Feb. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Bonding out: Making companies pay up front for potential environmental disasters

February 15, 2012

Whether it’s building an oil pipeline, drilling for fuel in the ocean or “fracking” to flush natural gas out of the Earth, we’re often asked to believe the process is safe, when companies want to do something that could have big benefits. But that process also could be potentially disastrous for the environment.

Now, an economics professor at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business has a way for these companies to show the public that the risks will be managed – by requiring them to post the estimated costs of a spill or major environmental side effect ahead of time through the creation of refundable environmental bonds.

“If the risks are manageable, as proponents suggest, then raising the money for the bonds should not be a challenge,” explains V. Kerry Smith, an environmental economist, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. “In each case, the requirement for an environmental bond shifts the responsibility for who assumes the risk of any catastrophic event of large-scale development to those arguing the risks are small. When enough others agree, we should have a robust market for those willing to assume the resulting environmental risks.”

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European economist raises 'green growth' strategy as deficit solution

February 9, 2012

A solution to the global financial crisis may be in the hands of economists – notably those like Carlo Jaeger of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) – who are embracing a bold economic model designed around green growth.

Jaeger, who has a joint appointment at the University of Potsdam and chairs the European Climate Forum, is at Arizona State University this winter as the Julie Wrigley Visiting Senior Scholar at the School of Sustainability. He has been interacting with ASU sustainability scientists, faculty members and students to discuss research on how a green growth strategy to address the global financial crisis can bring about transformational changes.

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Sustain What? Exploring Species for a Sustainable Future

Thought Leader Series

January 31, 2012

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Quentin Wheeler

Several centuries of species exploration have taught us that a vast number of Earth’s plants and animals are extremely limited in their ecological associations and geographic distributions. When these species lose their specific habitats, it usually means extinction. Yet, because we don’t know what or how many species actually exist or where they live, we are unable to detect or measure these quiet changes in biodiversity.

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What Would Steve Jobs Have Done?

January 26, 2012


From Sustainability: The Journal of Record, December 2011, 4(6): 261-263, an article by Senior Sustainability Scientist George Basile about the important role of universities in leading change in sustainability and the critical relationship between entrepreneurship and student success.

For any sustainability graduate or new practitioner, there exists a tale of two narratives. The first reflects the reality of a historically horrendous job market, a new field with relatively unknown academic degrees, and an abundance of competition from seasoned professionals. The other reflects the reality of being at the leading edge of a pioneering wave with the opportunity and promise of discovery and forging one’s own future given a more complete understanding of the reality humanity finds itself in. Both narratives paint a picture of transition and both are true. So, what is one to do?

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Insects rank high on inventory of newly discovered species

January 24, 2012

Annual ‘State of Observed Species’ report released by International Institute for Species Exploration

This word cloud visually represents the number of species in each category that was discovered and officially described in calendar year 2009. In this design, the larger the word means a greater number of species in that category. Beetles dominate the 19,232 species newly known to science in 2009, according to the 2011 State of Observed Species (SOS) report released Jan. 18, 2012, by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. More at Photo by: International Institute for Species Exploration/Arizona State University
More than half of the 19,232 species newly known to science in 2009 – the most recent calendar year of compilation – were insects. According to the 2011 State of Observed Species (SOS) report released Jan. 18 by the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU, insects comprised 9,738 of the year’s new species, or 50.6 percent.

The second largest group in the 2009 report was vascular plants, totaling 2,184 or 11.3 percent. Of the 19,232 in the total count, seven were birds, 41 were mammals and 1,487 were arachnids – spiders and mites.

And, according to this latest report, there was a 5.6 percent increase in new living species discovered in 2009, compared to 2008.

The annual SOS report card on the status of human knowledge of Earth’s species summarizes what is known about global flora and fauna. The 19,232 species described as “new” or newly discovered during 2009 represent about twice as many species as were known in the lifetime of Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who initiated the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications more than 250 years ago, said the report’s author, Quentin Wheeler, an ASU entomologist and founding director of the species institute.

“The cumulative knowledge of species since 1758 when Linnaeus was alive is nearly 2 million, but much remains to be done,” Wheeler said. “A reasonable guess is that 10 million additional plant and animal species await discovery by scientists and amateur species explorers.”

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Soldiers to learn sustainability techniques at ASU

January 11, 2012

Online certificate custom-designed to meet US Army, Army National Guard, Army Reserve readiness objectives

The design and establishment of an online graduate certificate in sustainability leadership at Arizona State University for soldiers and civilians in the U.S. Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve was inaugurated Jan. 6 during a signing ceremony.

Participating in the event at the Army National Guard Bureau headquarters in Arlington, Va., were ASU President Michael M. Crow; Brig. Gen. Daniel J. Nelan, assistant to the director, Army National Guard; and Richard G. Kidd IV, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for energy and sustainability.

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Initiative to study, restore mountain preserves

January 4, 2012

Cholla in South Mountain ParkMetropolitan Phoenix has the largest set of wild land preserves of any major metropolitan area in the United States, including the largest city park in the country, South Mountain Park. Mountain preserves are treasures in our own backyard, yet the pressures of urbanization, invasive species and overuse of certain parks threaten their long-term integrity.

Arizona State University’s Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) program in the Global Institute of Sustainability and ASU’s Ecosystem Conservation and Resilience Initiative (ECRI) in the School of Life Sciences are part of a new initiative to address the future of these mountain park preserves.

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Modernizing utility rates to aid energy efficiency plans

December 20, 2011

“You cannot run an economy, especially one poised for growth (like Arizona) without energy,” noted two Arizona State University energy experts in an op-ed that appeared in the Dec. 19 Arizona Republic.

“On the cusp of its 100th birthday, Arizona is facing an aging energy infrastructure that is unprepared for a sustainable future,” wrote ASU’s Gary Dirks and Matthew Croucher. Dirks is director of LightWorks, an ASU initiative that capitalizes on the university’s strengths in solar energy and other light-inspired research. He is also a distinguished sustainability scientist with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainably. Croucher, an economist, is an associate research professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business and a senior sustainability scientist with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

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