Student Sustainability Consulting Projects

Now that the spring semester is in full stride, my Junior-level “Policy and Governance” class is once again engaged in a number of sustainability consulting engagements with local and state governmental agencies.  Student teams of 4 or 5 are working as consultants for government officials and responding to questions solicited from the agencies.  The projects include:

  • Helping Avondale research and set up a farmer’s market;

avondalefm

  • Creating a plan for Gilbert’s Water Conservation group to reduce commercial water consumption;

Gilbert water

  • Supporting Queen Creek’s efforts to have green waste pick up for its residents; and

QC landscape

  • Working with the Arizona State Forestry’s Urban and Community Forestry group on management of edible trees.

AZ Forestryoranges

In the coming weeks, I’ll provide more details about the projects and what the consultants are recommending. I’m very excited about these projects in terms of providing great experiential learning opportunities for the students, strengthening ties between the School of Sustainability and its community, and providing workable solutions to practitioners’ real issues.

 

Transformation towards Ecosystem Stewardship

I’ve just returned from a wonderful workshop in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  With amazing scholars and collaborators, Georgina Cundill of South Africa and Ro Hill of Australia, we facilitated a meeting for the International Social Science Council-funded group “Collaborative Tansformations Toward Ecosystem Stewardship”.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll write a bit about each of these pieces – what do we mean by collaboration, by social transformation, and by ecosystem stewardship.  Here, I’ll simply provide a brief overview of the project.

What we are trying to do is bring together a number of examples of how people work together and collaborate in attempting to resolve environmental dilemmas that they face.  We want to see if conditions that facilitate and enable collaboration to flourish in different contexts around the world are the same or not.  We have numerous case studies in diverse social-ecological systems – from the forests of Kerala, India to the forests of Puerto Rico, from the Arctic of Alaska to the deserts of Arizona, from Easter Island to the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and from Aboriginal land in Australia to the land of the San in the Kalahari, among others.

The meeting was a huge success in crafting the broader research project as well as starting on an overview paper that highlights the social transformations needed to shift societal focus toward ecosystem stewardship and a more holistic approach to the natural world than a purely use-oriented perspective.  In each of our cases, researchers are directly engaged with practitioners – NGOs, indigenous groups, government agencies, and resource users/managers.  The work is action-oriented and use-inspired.  We hope that by working together, the research can answer the questions that practioners are asking, while the practitioners can experiment with the theories and ideas coming out of the research.

Broadly speaking our goal is to understand the role of collaboration in transforming towards just and safe pathways and how to support these collaborations.  To do this, we need a better understanding of the process of transformation.  What we mean by just and safe pathways, refers to the “doughnut” of Raworth (see http://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/)

Raworth doughnut

 

The goal is to stay within the planetary boundaries (see the latest on Planetary Boundaries in Science at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2015/01/14/science.1259855) while still achieving a modicum of social development (see the manuscript by Leach, Raworth, and Rockstrom on Navigating Pathways in the Safe and Just Space for Humanity).

These are the broad goals that we are working toward in this project both locally and globally.  I’ll keep you posted as we move forward.

Let me close with a photo from outside our research site:

PE Beach

Student-led Sustainability Science Video Journal

Recently I was filmed by some of ASU’s School of Sustainability graduate students regarding my research.  The interview became a part of their “Elevator Talks” series in the online video journal that they edit – the Sustainability Review (tSR), which is accessible at https://thesustainabilityreview.org/

tSR converted from a traditional journal format to a video format last year and publishes peer-reviewed science videos of sustainability research in an online format.  The goal is to make the science more accessible than many traditional forms of science communication.  This is particularly relevant as the challenges of sustainability science concern both the social and natural environment (the social-ecological systems that I so often mention).  However addressing these challenges requires changes in the societal drivers exacerbating these challenges, particularly within the Anthropocene.  Oftentimes, these changes require mobilization of the many.  Traditionally, science has not been successfully communicated or done an adequate job at increasing awareness of these dilemmas.  The science videos of tSR attempt to tackle these problems.  I encourage you to see what the students are working on.

 

 

 

A Quick Note on Commonsense in Conservation

Getting past the vitriol in the current conservation dialogue has become increasingly difficult.  Finally, Heather Tallis, Jane Lubchenco and hundreds others have written a commonsense essay that goes beyond the apparent need for confrontation.  I was delighted to see several members of Arizona State’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes as original signatories.

Please read the essay in Nature at: http://www.nature.com/news/working-together-a-call-for-inclusive-conservation-1.16260

You can also sign the petition at: http://blog.nature.org/science/diversity-conservation-petition

 

Welcome to the Anthropocene

It’s the time of year when the academic calendar starts to get long in the tooth, and I only occasionally have time to peek out from behind the curtain of campus.  When I did this recently, I realized that there were a few phrases that I use regularly in my teaching and research that seem commonplace to me, but my friends outside of academia had no idea what I was talking about.  This concerned me both because I was so out of touch but also because these seem, to my mind, to be crucially important concepts for today’s society.  The two phrases were the Anthropocene and the Great Acceleration.  I remember having similar feelings several years ago when I referred to global climate change, and I was met with either blank stares or a “you mean global warming” question.  Happily, I generally hear global climate change today.  I hope that soon I won’t encounter blank stares when I mention the Anthropocene.

To begin, the Anthropocene captures the idea that human society has so fundamentally altered the planet that we are no longer in the geological epoch known as the Holocene but now in a new human-dominated epoch, the Anthropocene.  This is introduced by Will Steffen and others in a wonderful paper in Ambio in December 2007 (Steffen, W., Crutzen, P. J., & McNeill, J. R. (2007). The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature. Ambio: A Journal of the Human Environment, 36(8), 614-621.). [Note:  there are references to the Anthropocene going back several more years to 2000, but this article is 1) one of the most highly cited and 2) a really good read.]

The basic idea is that in the Pre-Anthropocene period, humans didn’t have the capacity or the technological means to dominate nature (the Earth Systems).  This started to change in the Industrial Era (Stage 1 of the Anthropocene) from around 1800-1945.  With the onset of industrialization, the expansion of the use of fossil fuels, and the advancements of technology, we began to transform the earth on a global scale.  This shift from local effects to global was the key change.

Stage 2 of the Anthropocene (1945-present) is when things really started changing.  This is known as the Great Acceleration.  Pressure on the global environment intensified.  Often people talk about exponential growth in population or the global economy, but the Great Acceleration goes far beyond that, as shown in the figure below.

4-1

The figure is from the very informative website:  http://anthropocene.info/en/home.  This website explains these ideas in much more detail with great references for further, more specific questions.  This is interesting for a number of reasons.  Of importance to me are a number of questions about the ramifications for social-ecological systems and what this means for changing how we govern and collectively make decisions in such an environment – in a world being altered at an accelerating pace, with increasing connectivity around the global between people and their aggregate actions.  Ultimately, if humans are shaping the world in entirely new directions, can we also collectively decide the type of world that we want to live in and make decisions to get there.

I’ll end with one final comment.  There is a proposal to formally adopt the Anthopocene as a geological epoch.  It is currently under review with the International Commission on Stratigraphy, with a current target decision date of 2016.  The question is whether geologic formations would show a distinct demarcation for when the Anthropocene began.

Linking Complexity and Indigenous Knowledge

Let me begin by saying that I’m treading on ground that I’m only beginning to explore.  However, I find it fascinating to think about linking cutting edge science with traditional knowledge systems.  In a similar fashion to how ultra-conservative politicians often sounding like left-wingers and hyper-liberals sounding like John Birchers, it’s interesting to explore recent work in complex adaptive systems with very different ways of understanding the world.

Last week in my undergraduate course, Systems Thinking, my TA, Edward Dee, spoke about the Navajo knowledge system in which he was raised, and he began to clarify his own thinking about how many commonalities exist between complex adaptive systems and the Diné concept of hozho or the broader elements of Sa’ah Naagháí Bik’eh Hózh==n. (SNBH), which is often translated as “one’s journey of striving to live a long, harmonious life.”  Edward noted common features of these two world views – in taking a holistic perspective, linking the social and ecological as a single entity, seeing emergent behavior (as in the example of the Red Ant Way in Diné tradition or how individual interactions lead to a collective behavior unpredicted by the individual actions in complexity jargon), and drawing on multiple ways of understanding.

In following up on his class, I came across a blog posting on hozho that clearly explains what I was trying to comprehend in a straightforward layperson’s account.  The website is at resilience.org, which surprised me as I consider myself a scholar of Resilience Thinking.  The website draws on the academic literature of resilience but does so in the pursuit of “resilient communities” as part of the Post Carbon Institute.  I know very little about this organization at this point, but I did find the post on hozho to be very nice.  Click here to see the article:  http://www.resilience.org/stories/2011-02-14/desperately-seeking-hozho

Enjoy.  I’ll post more as I learn more about the topic.

Getting a job in the field of Sustainability

As a faculty member in a School of Sustainability (https://schoolofsustainability.asu.edu/), we spend a great deal of time preparing our students for life after college.  It’s a bit different than many other majors.  After all, everyone knows what an engineer or an accounting major can do.  But what does a sustainability graduate do?  What skills do they bring to the table?  I’ve written a great deal about the structure of our curriculum, the training our students receive, and how we prepare them for future employment in the past:

http://michaelschoon.com/2014/04/11/training-students-to-be-solutions-oriented/

http://michaelschoon.com/2014/01/08/a-new-application-of-problem-and-project-based-learning/

http://michaelschoon.com/2013/04/11/a-brief-comment-on-problem-and-project-based-learning-in-the-classroom/

In future posts, I’ll write a bit more on our learning objectives in the school and how we’ve structured curriculum along skill sets that we want our students to take away rather than the topical areas of many other lines of study (environmental or otherwise).  I’ll expand a bit on the New American University at that point as well (for now, see http://newamericanuniversity.asu.edu).

Instead, what I’d like to focus on is something of grave concern to our current students, their parents, and prospective students – job prospects upon graduation.  I’m very pleased to write that tracking all of our students from the first graduates until the past semester, we see the following:

  1. We have graduated 448 undergrad sustainability majors.
  2. Tracking most of those, 86% of them are employed with another 12% in graduate school.
  3. Of those employed, nearly 50% are in a sustainability position or a sustainability field.
  4. We have graduated 50 Master’s students and 13 PhDs.
  5. All of our grad students are employed.
  6. Of our Master’s students, 82% are employed in Sustainability.

So, if you are thinking about enrolling in Sustainability but are worried about finding a job, or if your friends and family are pushing you away from following your dreams toward a more “realistic” path, please take a look at the data first.  Great opportunities await.

For more information, see our Dean Chris Boone’s blog post (http://cgboone.personal.asu.edu/wordpress/) as well as the data on the School of Sustainability’s website, noted above.

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