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Sustainability News

The greatest threat of our time and no one wants to talk about it

Board Letter Thought Leader Series ASU Wrigley Institute News

October 25, 2016

Smokestacks in front of an orange sunsetA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Leon Billings & Thomas Jorling

Note: As the two senior staff members who led the Senate environment subcommittee during the 1970s, Leon Billings and Thomas Jorling are widely regarded as pioneers of the "Golden Age" in environmental policy when Congress developed some of the most influential and enduring legislation – still in effect today.

While electronic media, political commentators and candidates wallow in irrelevancy, our planet’s future hangs in the balance. Actions man has taken over the last century and a half have contaminated the thin patina of atmosphere that we call air.

No, this isn’t conventional air pollution that we have sought to reduce through efficiency and technology. This is climate pollution caused by a group of pollutants called greenhouse gasses, byproducts of man’s use of natural resources to improve the human condition.

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Putting values on our plates

Board Letter Thought Leader Series ASU Wrigley Institute News

October 25, 2016

Joan McGregor, wearing pearl earrings and necklace, smiling in front of a treeA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Joan McGregor

Food is inseparable from human history, culture and values. It provides significant meaning to people around the world, regardless of nationality. The failure of food systems to recognize these qualities in food contributes to some of the vast inequalities we see today.

A sustainable food system, then, is one that respects historical, cultural and place-based practices. It supports ecological health, considering the current strengths and challenges of a region’s natural resources and protecting them for future generations. Encouraging culinary innovations that contribute to human health and nutrition is another key component.

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Externalized environments, bodily natures and everyday exposure

Board Letter Thought Leader Series ASU Wrigley Institute News

September 12, 2016

A Thought Leader Series Piece

by Stacy Alaimo

Stacy wearing purple tie-dye and standing in front of oceanNote: Stacy Alaimo is Professor of English and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, where she served as the Academic Co-chair for the President’s Sustainability Committee and directed a cross-disciplinary minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies.

She is internationally recognized as a leading scholar in the environmental humanities, ecocultural theory and science studies; has presented plenary talks across the U.S., Canada and Europe; and has served on the prestigious international evaluation panel for Sweden’s major environmental humanities grant competition.

Sustainability plans require data to capture the extent to which universities, businesses, cities and even nation states are minimizing their environmental impacts. Such information is invaluable for tracking the progress of efforts to cut carbon emissions; to reduce the use of energy, water and toxic chemicals; and to reduce waste and pollution.

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The advent of the humane economy

Thought Leader Series ASU Wrigley Institute News

March 7, 2016

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Wayne Pacelle

smiling wayne wearing black suit jacket and light blue tieNote: Wayne Pacelle is president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, the nation's largest animal protection organization. He is author of the book, "The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers Are Transforming the Lives of Animals," and his March 2016 Wrigley Lecture is titled "The Humane Economy." 

A decade ago, Arizona voters approved a ballot measure to stop the extreme confinement of pigs and veal calves on industrial-scale farms. Opponents mounted a vigorous and mocking campaign, claiming that food costs would rise and farmers would suffer if these animals were given just a little room to move beyond tiny crates. The electorate saw through those scare tactics and passed Prop 204 in a landslide, with 62 percent voting to give animals raised for food better lives.

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We've got climate change all wrong

Thought Leader Series ASU Wrigley Institute News

March 1, 2016

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By James Hansen

james hansen wearing brown hat and navy blazerNote: James Hansen is the former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is an adjunct professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute. He is credited for perceiving the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, and delivered a Wrigley Lecture on the topic in February 2016. This essay appeared in The Arizona Republic in the same month.

The commercials are low-key, but omnipresent. Gentle, warm encouragement, the key message implicit: vote for the political candidates on the take from the fossil-fuel industry. “I am an energy voter” commercials are persuasive. They promise jobs, low prices at the pump, warm homes, and energy independence for our nation.

Benefits for all, or so it seems. In reality, benefits flow mainly to a handful of people, the fossil-fuel magnates, who prefer to be anonymous. “I am an energy voter” commercials, in effect, ask us to place our offspring on a sacrificial alter. As we raise the knife, unlike Abraham, we hear no voice telling us to stop, to put down the knife.

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Seeing the full picture: save nature, live better

Thought Leader Series ASU Wrigley Institute News

September 16, 2015

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By M. Sanjayan

M. Sanjayan wearing an orange jacketNote: M. Sanjayan is a leading ecologist, speaker, writer and Emmy-nominated news contributor focused on the role of conservation in improving human well-being, wildlife and the environment. He serves on Conservation International’s senior leadership team as executive vice president and senior scientist, and is the host of the 2015 PBS TV series, Earth – A New Wild.

When asked to visualize nature, we tend to picture a rain forest, coral reef or African savannah – a place busy with countless plant and animal species. But there’s something missing from that picture, something that profoundly influences every one of those scenes. The missing piece is people.

What does the real picture of nature look like? In my recent PBS project EARTH: A New Wild, we took what was essentially a natural history series and deliberately brought people into the frame. The point was to help show the essential connections between nature and the people who live with it.

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Reimagining Phoenix by Pitching Waste

Thought Leader Series

July 31, 2015

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By John Trujillo

Headshot of author John Trujillo Note: John Trujillo is the director of Public Works at the City of Phoenix and heads the City's Reimagine Phoenix initiative. In January 2014, the Phoenix City Council approved funding for $2 million to initiate the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network, which is managed and operated by the Sustainability Solutions Services, a program within the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives at ASU.

The current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by almost another billion by 2025 – reaching 9.6 billion by 2050. A report by McKinsey & Company states that three billion people from developing countries will rise into the middle class by 2030. This population growth will create an unprecedented demand for our planet’s already limited resources, thereby increasing commodity prices and the cost of future manufacturing and reducing our natural resources.

Currently, we work in a linear economy society that extracts resources to make products for consumers to use. The vast majority of these products are then disposed of in landfills where we manage and maintain environmental controls for decades. The City of Phoenix wants to change that concept by creating a circular economy in which we divert waste from landfills and keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use and then recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end.

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Happily Ever After: Storytelling and the Long View

Thought Leader Series

March 25, 2015

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Ed Finn

Ed Finn Note: Ed Finn is the founding director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, where he is an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Department of English.

The story goes that when beetles were discovered in the eaves of the great hall at New College in Oxford, everyone began wondering where they could possibly find replacements for the gigantic timbers that had held up the roof for hundreds of years. They needed oak trees almost as old as the building itself. As it turned out the founders of the college had planted oaks expressly for the purpose of repairing structures, with university foresters protecting them over generations. The great hall was completed in the late 1300s, and they were building something that they intended to last functionally forever.

Today it seems like the expected lifespan of a building is getting shorter, not longer. More alarmingly, our perception of time seems to be narrowing—we forget our history just as readily as we ignore the future.

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Biomimicry: Mining Nature for Ideas

Thought Leader Series

February 23, 2015

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Prasad Boradkar

asu-biomimicry-prasad-boradkarNote: 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.

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Regarding Inclusion – Do We Leave Anyone Behind?

Uncategorized Thought Leader Series

November 19, 2014

ray-jensen-2013A Thought Leader Series Piece

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.

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What can art bring to sustainability?

ASU Sustainability News Thought Leader Series

October 24, 2014

heather-lineberry-2014-trout-fishing-exhibit-asu-webA Thought Leader Series Piece

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.

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Indigenous Peoples and Sustainability Policy: Exploring the Politics and Practice of “Indigenous Sustainability”

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News Thought Leader Series

August 25, 2014

tsosie_2011A Thought Leader Series Piece

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.

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Trail Magic: Why Trails Are Good for You, Your Economy, and Things that Matter

Board Letter Thought Leader Series

July 20, 2014

Rick Heffernon Arizona Trail SustainabilityA Thought Leader Series Piece

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.

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Sustainable Agriculture: The Future is Biological

Uncategorized ASU Sustainability News Thought Leader Series

June 19, 2014

Tony-Michaels-bioag-May14-smA Thought Leader Series Piece

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.

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Renewable Energy as a Key National Security Interest

Uncategorized Thought Leader Series

May 12, 2014

Lt-Gen-Norm-Seip-320x320A Thought Leader Series Piece

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.

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Building Cities that Celebrate Life

Uncategorized Board Letter Thought Leader Series

April 22, 2014

William-McDonough-2013-Lynne-Brubaker-PhotoA Thought Leader Series Piece

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.

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In Defense of the Earth and Women’s Rights: Four Decades of Evolution of a Philosophy and Activism

Uncategorized Thought Leader Series

March 21, 2014

Vandana-Shiva-EcofeminismA Thought Leader Series Piece

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.

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Resilience, Sustainability, and Social Justice

Uncategorized Board Letter Thought Leader Series

February 17, 2014

A Thought Leader Series Piece

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.

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Climate Adaptation: Lessons from Family Farming

Board Letter Thought Leader Series

January 21, 2014

A Thought Leader Series Piece

Hallie-Eakin-0081By Hallie Eakin

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.”

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The Anthropocene: Humanity’s age of change

Thought Leader Series

December 18, 2013

A Thought Leader Series Piece

Grimm2012-cropped-TLSBy Nancy Grimm

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.

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