October 14, 2013
Paul Hirt is an Associate Professor in the School of Sustainability and the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. He is also a Senior Sustainability Scholar at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. Hirt is a historian and writer whose work has been published by numerous academic presses and journals. His most recent book is titled “The Wired Northwest: The History of Electric Power, 1870s-1970s.” His other writings include a history of national forest management since World War II titled “A Conspiracy of Optimism,” two essay collections on Northwest history titled “Terra Pacifica” and “Northwest Lands, Northwest Peoples,” and two-dozen articles and book chapters on environmental and western history. For several years, Hirt has led students on trips to the Grand Canyon exploring the human history behind this natural wonder and national treasure. He is also involved in projects exploring nature and history in the US-Mexico borderlands and he recently joined an Institute for Humanities Research team exploring the role of the humanities in sustainability research, teaching and outreach.
1. Can you describe the first time when you became interested in history?
I started my academic career as an undergraduate majoring in philosophy fascinated by ideas about the nature and meaning of life. I was raised to embrace a moral commitment to do “good works,” but it was not always clear how to determine in a complex world which works contribute to justice and welfare and which do not. For many years I sought a ground for truth and certainty in philosophical and religious systems, eventually earning a master’s degree in comparative Asian religions. Finding little shelter in the storm of competing belief systems, however, I gravitated toward a pragmatic understanding that ideas and beliefs are limited human expressions shaped by time, culture, and social context. While the struggle for understanding is universal, the results are infinitely variable. I eventually came to understand that what we think matters less than what we do. That empirical focus is what brought me to history.
2. How do you combine sustainability with history?
While working on my doctorate at the University of Arizona in the 1980s, I became deeply involved in citizen efforts to influence public lands management through public participation mandated by the federal government. I was amazed that so many of the western landscapes that I loved were “public lands” owned by the American people: national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges, etc. I extended my work on public lands recently with a public education program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, titled “Nature, Culture, and History at Grand Canyon.” A team of researchers and writers from ASU and the Grand Canyon Association spent three years developing narratives about Grand Canyon history for a website and digital audio-tour. We also developed curriculum materials for teachers.
3. How can history help inform our decisions regarding climate change and sustainability?
The historical record reveals the glorious complexity of humanity and human institutions, a complexity that embraces both the admirable and the appalling. Many things in our world need fixing: injustice, poverty, violence, pollution, environmental deterioration, etc. History offers lessons in how we as individuals and as collectives understand our world and seek to shape it to serve our needs and desires. We can see how our actions result sometimes in progress and other times in decline, how in one instance we may improve our lives and our lands while in another instance we exploit and degrade both. History, thus, serves as a guide on the path forward.
4. What is the global sustainability challenge that concerns you the most and why?
Water and energy in arid regions. Living now in one of the largest desert cities in North America, I have recently turned my attention to water supply challenges and alternative, renewable sources of energy, joining collaborative research projects with faculty and graduate students in ASU’s School of Sustainability and ASU’s Decision Center for a Desert City. One result of that work is an essay titled, “The Mirage in the Valley of the Sun,” published in the journal, “Environmental History.” I have given many public presentations to community groups, often on mixed panels, about the risks and realities of central Arizona’s water supply. Interestingly, providing water to Metropolitan Phoenix requires a tremendous amount of electrical energy to pump groundwater from deep in the aquifer and to bring Colorado River water uphill to the valley from hundreds of miles away on the California border. Likewise, electricity consumes a tremendous amount of water for steam turbines and for cooling at power plants. Consequently, Arizona and the whole arid Southwest face an integrated water/energy supply challenge. In fact, this is a global problem. The successes and failures of our efforts here in central Arizona will be instructive to other cities and nations facing similar challenges in a warming world where many arid regions are expected to suffer more frequent and intensive droughts.
5. What is your teaching goal?
My mission, my pleasure in life, is to explore the lessons of the past to inform and engage public debates about how to create a more sustainable and just future, “a more perfect union,” in the words of our founders; or, as one of my literary heroes Wallace Stegner put it, to build “a civilization to match our scenery.”
6. How will your teaching affect the future paths of ASU’s sustainability students?
Sustainability problems are complicated and require many disciplinary perspectives—humanities, sciences, and social sciences—to understand and address those problems. My courses focus in particular on the human dimensions of sustainability challenges in a wide variety of places and times. I strive to provide students with substantive grounding in historical case studies of environmental challenges and conceptual frameworks. Through readings, lectures, in-class discussions, writing assignments, group research projects, films, and guest presentations, students examine the complex social foundations of environmental problems and problem-solving, learn methods of historical and critical inquiry, and develop intellectual tools for understanding and solving contemporary sustainability challenges.
7. Finally, what does the word “sustainability” mean to you?
I like to approach this concept from its negative expression: examining that which is “unsustainable.” We can’t predict the future, but we can easily see where we as a society have made mistakes or taken a wrong turn in the way we organize our production, consumption, and social order. For example, agricultural and forestry practices that deplete soil or otherwise harm the productive capacity of the land are unsustainable. Economic practices that lead to boom-and-bust economies or that create more social poverty than social wealth are unsustainable. Sustainability to me is a moral commitment to a secure, stable, healthy, and just society that lives within the capacities of its biotic environment and that conscientiously and generously shares space and resources with the other creatures that co-habit this miraculous living planet.
October 12, 2013
César Torres and Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, both senior sustainability scientists, partnered with the Biodesign Institute’s Jonathan Badalamenti to study the relationship of light-sensitive green sulfur bacterium Chlorobium and anode-respiring bacterium Geobacter and how the two generate electricity. These bacterium may help create clean energy from waste sources.
“When you put these two organisms together, you get both a light response and the ability to generate current,” says Badalamenti.
The researchers hope their work will lead to more studies on microbial fuel cells like bacteria in order to create a more sustainably fueled future.
October 12, 2013
Arizona State University’s College of Liberal Arts and the Southwestern and Rocky Mountain Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science are bringing together experts, students, and the public for the one-day forum “Adapting to a water-stressed West” on Nov. 4.
The West is a long-standing, drought-stricken part of the U.S. where population growth and consumption are increasing water needs, but little to no water is coming in. The forum hopes to promote a useful discussion on sustainable water methods and development challenges.
The forum also includes a student poster session and a demonstration of the Decision Theater – Water Simulation program developed by Decision Center for a Desert City. The deadline for submission of a poster abstract is Monday, Oct. 21. To register for the event or the poster competition, visit https://clas.asu.edu/aaas-swarm.
October 11, 2013
School of Sustainability students and alumni are invited to tour the Phoenix facility of DIRTT (Doing It Right This Time), an architectural and interior design firm that creates customizable, adaptable, and sustainable installations.
Taking place on Wednesday, October 30 at 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., the tour will take you through the DIRTT facility and its Green Learning Center in Phoenix. Participants will learn about DIRTT’s 3D modeling software that allows the firm to design installations before manufacturing, save paper, and eliminate wasteful mock-ups. DIRTT representatives will showcase the firm’s environmentally friendly manufacturing and design processes such as low-VOC powder coats and recycled glass and aluminum.
October 11, 2013
Arizona State University will host the 4th Annual Lincoln Ethics Symposium where students and community members will discuss and ponder current human rights and sustainability issues. The free Symposium is scheduled for November 12, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. on the Tempe campus.
Several Sustainability Scientists will provide keynote lectures on the Symposium’s theme, “Are We Smart Enough to Save Ourselves? Are We Kind Enough to Save Each Other?” LaDawn Haglund, also an associate professor of justice and social inquiry, will examine our current consumption patterns and how they relate to our treatment of the planet and people.
Amy Landis, an associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, will challenge the notion of greenwashing and sustainable product responsibility.
Also in attendance will be Braden Allenby, director of the Center for Earth Systems Engineering and Management. He will reflect on conflict’s role in civilization and question whether all conflicts are destructive or perhaps constructive.
The symposium also will be broadcast online; details are pending.
October 10, 2013
Teams of ASU faculty and staff are encouraged to complete an application for the ASU President’s Award for Sustainability when they have successfully developed, implemented, and promoted sustainability principles, solutions, programs or services in the areas of teaching, learning, research, community outreach, or campus operations.
The application form is online. The submission deadline is Jan. 9, 2014. Teams that receive this award will be recognized by President Michael Crow at a reception and award ceremony in April 2014.
October 8, 2013
It is estimated that the world’s population will reach 9.5 billion by 2050, pushing an already-stressed food system to the brink of exhaustion. Unfortunately, young generations are becoming less and less interested in agriculture. To inspire future farmers, Sustainability Scientists Rimjhim Aggarwal and Marek Wosinski organized this year’s “Empowerment for Peace through Leadership in Agribusiness and Sustainability” workshop taking place in India on Oct. 19-26.
The workshop will focus on in-field sustainable agriculture training for young community leaders from 18 developing countries.
“We want to show that this is not completely impossible; it will take time,” says Aggarwal.
“Sometimes you think a project won’t be successful, but then you meet someone who had similar difficulties and then see that yes, it is a huge task, but it has been done. And that is a tremendous source of inspiration.”
October 8, 2013
Just in time for the fall weather, the Farmers Market @ ASU Tempe is open for business starting today. This year, a new Sustainability Speakers Corner event series attracts local sustainability and gardening experts to share their knowledge and provide conversational lectures on anything from worm composting to chicken raising.
“The new event series is another great way to promote health and wellness on campus, as well as to build relationships and community ties,” says Betty Lombardo, University Sustainability Practices program manager. “By interacting with attendees, the food and gardening experts will help people connect with their food so that they can develop sustainable living practices.”
Students, faculty and staff are welcome to get involved with the Farmers Market @ ASU Tempe by contacting Betty Lombardo.
October 7, 2013
Arizona State University will further develop its strategic roadmap to climate neutrality by 2025 with Ameresco, the largest independent energy services-solutions provider in the U.S., and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a nonprofit that aims to improve global energy consumption.
“Arizona State University, Ameresco, and RMI serve as living laboratories for ideas and experiments that are transforming the world in varied and meaningful ways,” says ASU President Michael M. Crow. “We hope this effort creates a ripple of similar commitments from other institutions of higher learning, communities, and future generations of environmentally aware citizens across the globe.”
To achieve climate neutrality—or no greenhouse gas or carbon outputs—Ameresco and RMI will first draft a plan then identify additional funding sources for implementation. The two partners will also complete technical assessments across ASU’s four campuses.
October 6, 2013
Students from ASU’s School of Sustainability, coordinators from ASU’s Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, and managers from SRP and City of Phoenix conducted a waste audit of two SRP buildings at a City of Phoenix waste transfer station. Participants wanted to see the difference between the buildings’ waste streams, one from an administrative building and the other from a fieldwork building. The students and project leaders sifted through 2,000 pounds of trash to decipher waste and recyclable items.
“We’re learning that waste is actually a very valuable resource that we can utilize which is why I am involved in this; I want to see what we’re throwing away and how we can divert a lot from landfills,” says Tony Perez, an undergraduate in the School of Sustainability.
Many students observed the hidden intricacies behind our trash while sorting through food waste, soft plastics, colored glass, and paper products.
October 5, 2013
Keep your eyes out for some “sustainable bees” at the Homecoming Parade starting at 11:00 a.m. Then join the Institute and School at the Homecoming Block Party that begins at 12:00 p.m.
At the Block Party, visit the School of Sustainability tent in Zone H, tent 155 (map) to receive sustainable swag, make your mark on the giant thumbprint tree, get your very own “bee sustainable” temporary tattoo, and test your knowledge on the giant crossword puzzle. Also learn how you can travel to Botswana with Senior Sustainability Scientist and ecologist Dan Childers to study African wildlife, a spring 2014 trip organized by the Arizona State University Alumni Association.
Come by the Institute’s tent in Zone H, tent 154 (map) to taste and purchase some locally grown dates, create your own newspaper seed planter with the ASU Arboretum team, learn how to compost, relax in the Zen garden, take a sustainability themed photo with your friends, play fun ecology games, and enjoy a bee-themed craft station.
Then stick around for some Sun Devil Football at 3:00 p.m.!
October 3, 2013
In his monthly Arizona Republic column, Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president of ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development (OKED), discusses the many sustainability initiatives and research undergoing in Phoenix that find solutions to issues like the urban heat island effect, transportation, housing, and health. Programs include ASU’s Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research, the Global Institute of Sustainability’s Sustainable Cities Network, and ASU’s sustainability goals.
“At Arizona State University, we launched the Global Institute of Sustainability as a hub for concentrating expertise, training future leaders and conducting collaborative research,” Panchanathan writes. “We work closely with local governments and the private sector to develop policies and practices that help our communities and the world.”
October 2, 2013
In the October 2013 issue of Boardroom Journal by Food Product Design, Senior Sustainability Scientist George Basile and The Sustainability Consortium’s CEO Kara Hurst comment on sustainability’s role in the global food supply chain.
In his article on pages 4-6, Basile writes that when people think about food, they don’t necessarily recognize the complex system behind their favorite sandwich. To correct this, he suggests a new sustainability lens in which to look at food. Food impacts many sustainability issues we have today: economic, social, and environmental. He writes, “Without secure food supply and access, sustainability is no more possible than the running of a machine is without fuel.”
In her piece on pages 11-12, Hurst asks how sustainable your business is. She writes, “Sustainable businesses care about what they do with the money that they make…They care more, however, about how that money was made in the first place.” The Sustainability Consortium is working on a sustainability index to measure product and service sustainability.
October 2, 2013
Join us for the #sustleadership chat w/ @bruno68 @WSSIatASU @triplepundit & @CSRwire on Oct 15 at 3:30pm EST! http://bit.ly/asu_csr #csr
TEMPE, Ariz. – October 1, 2013 – The Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, a program within the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University, will convene a Twitter Chat on Leadership Through a Sustainability Lens. The chat will be co-hosted by professors George Basile, Senior Sustainability Scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability and Professor of Practice at ASU’s School of Sustainability, and Bruno Sarda, Director of Global Sustainability Operations at Dell and professor and consultant for ASU.
Sustainability enables a more complete understanding of the world around us. What kind of leadership is needed not only for individuals to succeed, but for organizations, communities and societies to thrive well into the future? Traditional MBA programs have taught future leaders to externalize problems, how to account for some things and not for others, and how to maximize profit and push risk off on society. Now, in order to address sustainability and the need to make businesses and organizations thrive into the future we need a new kind of exec/Master’s model.
In partnership with TriplePundit and CSRwire, experts from the nation’s leader in sustainability education will share their perspectives and seek feedback from the sustainability community.
September 27, 2013
Salt River Project (SRP) and the Conservation and Renewable Energy Collaboratory (CREC) at ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) has selected four projects to be funded to research renewable energy and conservation. Senior Sustainability Scientist Milt Sommerfeld’s work on algae and water quality will be allocated funds from the $170,000 grant.
“Industry partners like SRP are the foundation of the college and provide an important component of our project-based learning and applied research model,” says Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of CTI.
Sommerfeld hopes to use algae to capture water contaminants and then use the resulting algae to produce biomass for fuel, feed, or fertilizer. The research will be conducted at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation where Sommerfeld serves as co-director.
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.
September 23, 2013
This past summer, School of Sustainability junior Tayler Jenkins traveled to the south Asian sovereign state of Nepal to assist Sustainability Scientist Netra Chhetri on his research investigating climate change impacts on farmer livelihoods. Jenkins collected fodder, turned buffalo excrement into fuel, and learned conservation farming methods.
“Living on the farm was cool because the Nepalis have such a slow pace, but they still get things done,” Jenkins says. “They are always in the present and their time is based on the sun.”
Jenkins also received a Neely Foundation Food and Agriculture Sustainability Research Grant for her self-proposed thesis topic on the community-based Rupa Lake Rehabilitation and Fishery Cooperative.
September 23, 2013
David Guston, a senior sustainability scientist and director of ASU’s Center for Nanotechnology in Society, is set to bring a more social and ethical outlook to ASU’s research through the university’s new Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Virtual Institute will bring together an international team of concerned scientists, researchers, and students to instill more responsibility into emerging technologies.
“We are thrilled that NSF has chosen to advance responsible innovation through this unique, international collaboration,” Guston says. “It will give ASU the opportunity to help focus the field and ensure that people start thinking about the broader implications of knowledge-based innovation.”
September 20, 2013
Nanomaterials like silver, titanium, silica, and platinum can be found in your food, clothes, cleaning supplies, and body care products. Many of these items still subsist in the environment even long after you’ve thrown them out. However, researchers don’t know how much and how long the nanomaterials survive in environments like fragile ecosystems.
Fortunately, Senior Sustainability Scientist Paul Westerhoff is leading a team of chemistry and engineering faculty for a National Science Foundation-funded project that will locate and measure nanomaterials in the environment.
The research will be conducted as part of ASU’s Sustainable Water Initiative. Findings from the research will be shared with ASU’s Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program that studies urban ecosystems.
September 19, 2013
New professor and filmmaker Peter Byck shares his story of how he became interested in sustainability and climate change to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Sydni Dunn. Byck is a professor of practice in ASU’s School of Sustainability and Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
His first course, Sustainability Storytelling, started this fall and has students creating short documentaries about solar issues in Arizona.
“The sustainability students know the subject but don’t know how to tell the stories, and the journalism students know how to share the message but don’t have a firm grasp on the details,” says Byck. “That’s why we brought them together.”