Learn a bit about Social-Ecological Resilience

For those that missed the webinar on resilience a couple weeks ago, here is a link to it:

We had a wonderful session with nearly 300 people listening and following it live.  Please let me know what you think and if I can explain anything that is unclear.  Thanks!!

Webinar on Resilience tomorrow

On Wednesday, March 2nd, with my good friends Jacopo Baggio and Jenny Hodbod, we will be presenting a webinar in conjunction with the Security and Sustainability Forum.  We have been asked to present on our book “Principles for Building Resilience”, which we published last year with Cambridge University Press.  This was an initiative by the Resilience Alliance Young Scholars.

Our goal in the webinar is to introduce the increasingly popular concept of resilience as it applies to social-ecological systems.  We will introduce 7 principles seen to build general system resilience. If you have interest in following the webinar, it can be seen live tomorrow from 1:15 – 2:45 EST.  Sign up at the link below if you’d like to watch it live.  Please note that this is audio with presentation slides.  No chance to watch me in a live studio audience.  For that you need to sign up for my online classes here at ASU!


If you can’t attend the webinar during the live presentation, it will also be archived shortly afterwards and viewed at anytime on the Security and Sustainability forum website archive, with links from the homepage.

I look forward to seeing your questions on Wednesday!

Cool new video on Seven Principles for Building Resilience

The Stockholm Resilience Centre recently created a video on how to apply resilience thinking and based on the seven principles that we address in the book “Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems” from Cambridge University Press.  The video is available at: Resilience Video.  Very nice, short, understandable intro to the topic.

Four Quick Takeaways from the Pope’s Encyclic on Climate Change

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’m not a climate change expert.  However, I am a professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability, so I hear and see a fair amount of the latest research.  I was quite interested in the Papal announcement and am equally interested to see the commentary on it in the coming days.  As editorials are not yet out, I’m interested in a number of topics related to this and look forward to how this will play out in the news and social media.  For those new to the discussion, the Pope announced today that the global citizens need to take steps to protect the world from climate change (see this Reuters news link for early press on it).  He clearly articulates the world as a social-ecological system in which human action impacts the global environment and the state of the environment affects people directly and indirectly.

My Four Quick Takeaways:

  1. It will be curious how the Republicans respond to this.  As of now, only Jeb Bush’s has commented, saying something to the effect that he doesn’t go to church for policy advice.  However, this may be an opportunity that many Republicans have been waiting for – an opportunity to engage with the climate debate with a bit of support from conservative Christian groups.  I’ve always wondered why the climate debate has focused on the science, which has bordered on the ridiculous, when there are plenty of other threads for political debate regarding how to respond.  I’d be delighted to see a shift in the dialogue toward one of when, where, and how to respond rather than argue about whether climate change is reality and whether humans are the cause.  This is a great opportunity.  Let’s not waste it.
  2. The Pope framed this not as a scientific debate (the science is clear) or a political debate but as a moral argument.  He notes that climate change is human-induced and will affect everyone.  However, it will disproportionately affect those already the poorest and most vulnerable.  As people, we have a moral obligation to do something about this. Again, see the post above, this is an opportunity for leaders of people – religious, political, business – to engage in meaningful, ethical ways.
  3. Following from the previous point, making a difference will require individual action.  This may be the area that this announcement has the most importance.  Many of the changes required to effect change require modifying lifestyles – less fossil fuel consumption, eating lower on the food chain, reducing conspicuous (and other) consumption, and so on (not sure how the Pope would respond on population demographics!).  These changes mostly are not happening because these are unpleasant changes, even for those that can afford to change.  But if religion is good for anything, it is in making people sacrifice in the present for rewards in the future.  This is what makes this announcement so incredibly important.
  4. Clearly the timing is also important – just before the next round climate talks to take place in Paris this fall.  It will be interesting to see if this moves the needle at all.  After 20 UN annual climate change conferences (we’re about to have COP 21) which have made virtually no difference, it will be curious to see if this provides any momentum or will to change.  I’m an optimist at heart, but my head tells me that this is a stretch.

What do Prius drivers and drunk drivers have in common?

OK.  Let me start by saying I fully support fuel-efficient driving and I do not condone driving under the influence.  Let me also confess that I drive a Prius.  After buying the car, I noticed that all of its indicators on energy efficiency were causing me to alter my driving habits.  See the photos below:

consumption prius toyota-prius-display

These displays are great, and they succeed in their objective of making additional data readily at hand for the driver.  They also encourage drivers to act in ways that are more fuel efficient, and this is a great thing.  Yet like all positive change, this one comes with a few drawbacks.  The first is that all of the display work tends to draw the driver’s eyes from the road to the display.  This was the initial change that led me to think about how Prius drivers’ driving habits may be quite different than those of many other vehicles.  Of course, I can think of plenty of other activities that alter driving habits (texting, selecting music on usb connections, etc), so let’s not dwell on this too much.  It was an anecdotal observation and nothing more.  And we can think of technological solutions to this problem, like projecting onto the windshield, as many luxury cars do already.

However as I drove more, I started to see other issues – both good and bad – with driving based on this new information.  I began to display tendencies toward hypermiling behavior.  Hypermiling is adjusting your driving habits to achieve greater fuel economy.  We all do this to an extent, yet I am struck by the driving habits of hard-core hypermilers and how much some of these habits/tendencies resemble those of driving under the influence.  To see a great list of ways to increase your fuel efficiency through hypermiling, see http://ecomodder.com/forum/EM-hypermiling-driving-tips-ecodriving.php.

As you can see from this list, there are a number of habits that could lead to “irrational” driving or displays of driving resembling that of driving under the influence. From that list, I’ll make just a few comparisons.  First, the hypermilers talk about “target driving” or driving at a constant (low) level of fuel consumption.  This leads to slowing down and speeding up as you go up and down hills.  Such variable speed driving is a common symptom of a driver not “paying attention”.  Second, hypermilers often try to drive the minimum speed limit, rather than the maximum (or more), something problematic on many of our highways.  Third, the hypermilers suggest coasting to slow down and minimizing the use of brakes.  They also suggest when braking is needed, you should brake hard and later than normal.  All of these habits can lead to improving fuel economy.  However, they (and many other techniques) also resemble the sporadic driving behaviors of impaired drivers.

A few caveats… First, I see a great need to learn how to drive more fuel efficiently, and many of these techniques work and can make tremendous differences in fuel consumption.  Second, the website I refer to above also emphasizes safety and following traffic regulations, noting the trade-offs of safety inherent in some of their suggestions.  Third, there is a middle road between unsafe driving and being more conscientious of our driving decisions.  I’ve learned a lot about my own driving through experimenting with these techniques.  They are quite different from the racing and muscle car mentality that I grew up with.  In a future post, I’d like to look into automotive engineering breakthroughs.  I think that the true engineering breakthroughs are now coming on the efficiency front rather than on the speed/acceleration front.  But I’ll leave that alone for the moment.

Any thoughts from police and whether they see this phenomena as well?

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;


  • 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