Global Futures: Futurecast | Vol. 1, Fall 2021

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Global Futures:

Futurecast Edition 1 | Fall 2021


Unfolding pathways When I first arrived at Arizona State University, I spoke of how the idea of “global futures” could be a platform from which ASU would take a broad look at the trajectory of our planet and the role of global society in shaping it. That was merely four years ago, and we now find ourselves in a world that is living through a global pandemic. At the same time, climate catastrophes and social unrest are becoming a nearly weekly occurrence, and major economic, supply chain and technology challenges remind us of the fragility of our environmental and societal systems. These developments invite questions. Which positive futures we can envision? For which we can plan in a strategic, long-term fashion when the world in which we exist and which we are an integral part of is confronting crises with the utmost urgency? The future is now. We cannot postpone our intentions or actions if we want to correct the landscape we are currently navigating. Moreover, we cannot escape the hard truth that humankind is not only capable of creating challenges such as the dire climate and social circumstances that we are in, but that we actually did it. However, we are also the lone species on this planet that can repair the damage that we have inflicted upon ourselves, our planet and our fellow inhabitants. The urgency with which we must confront this damage is greater than it ever has been in this planet’s history. In other words, imagining our future no longer simply means imagining flying cars and currency-less economies. 1

When we at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory consider the future, we think of a number of opportunities and options that lead to pathways where humankind may thrive. We consider them on timescales ranging from the next nanosecond to the next years, decades, centuries and beyond. But we also explore what it means to be human within these environmental and social conditions, what choices mean, and if we should innovate simply because we can. Throughout it all, we know that humanity may only thrive if all other planetary systems are also thriving. The planet itself will do just fine without us, but we cannot exist without its life-supporting systems. The next 10 years represent one of our greatest opportunities to shape our future in a peopleand-planet-positive direction through a shift of societal will. We have the commitment of this university and a powerful network of global partners to drive this endeavor forward. We also work to engage policy leaders and financial stakeholders. They must both hold to their commitments made at the 2016 United Nations Conference of Parties climate negotiations and lead in new policy to curb carbon emissions that are hurtling us toward that precariously perilous perch. The Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory is a first-of-its-kind institution structured around five core spaces (discovery, learning, solutions, networks, engagement). Our scientists, scholars and students explore possible global futures through 14 focal areas. We also established the College of Global Futures by bringing together three unique schools to educate and equip our planet’s current and future leaders. In fall 2021, we expanded our presence in the climate arena by releasing a complete set of digital maps of

the planet’s coral systems with the Allen Coral Atlas, establishing a new Hawaii-based center focused on climate resilience with Pacific RISA, launching a new partnership in the Atlantic with the Bermuda Institute of Oceanic Sciences and broadening our partnership with Starbucks with the establishment of the ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future of People and the Planet. In the next few weeks, we will erect a prototype of the MechanicalTree™ that our researchers have been working on for years with our corporate partners at Carbon Collect, which is pioneering a new way to passively remove carbon from our air. In the spring of 2022, we will open a brand-new physical home in a LEED-certified structure that allows for collaboration and interaction in a way no other building has before. In the fall of 2022, we will host the first ever Global Futures Conference, a new convening for a broad global stakeholder community to ask, “Which global future(s) do we want, and can there be any consensus getting there?” All this has been enabled by a core of more than 730 Global Futures Scientists and Scholars based around the world. We have so many key foundational elements in place that we see the most important role of the Global Futures Laboratory is building toward the delivery of a sixth unofficial core space – the development and delivery of hope.

Peter Schlosser Vice President and Vice Provost, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, Arizona State University


Another COP is in the books. So now what? As the global high point of COVID-19 infections seemed to ease this past spring, the world began to exhale a sigh of relief and turn its gaze toward a resolute and impactful 26th Conference of the Parties climate negotiations in the coming winter. With no negotiations held in 2020 due to the pandemic and extreme climate events occurring more regularly and in more places, the sense of urgency to make something happen now at a COP could not have been higher. And then, as if by force majeure, global COVID-19 infection rates began to rise again in late summer. Grand plans for an all-out event in Glasgow began to give way to more tepid expectations. Before you could say “carbon tax,” the goals for COP26 focused on holding nations to their financial commitments that were agreed upon in 2015. Yet, two weeks of presentations, discussions, debates and negotiations went down in a bone chilling Scotland winter, even pushing beyond the scheduled close to finalize language around fossil fuels. The ultimate outcome? Not very much at all.


“We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres at the event. ASU climate experts who have spent their academic lives dedicated to the changes our planet has seen have grown tired of the lack of urgency. “At the present level of national contributions and commitments we are heading towards a 2.4 centigrade world, and this in view of the fact that even a 1.5 degree increase will leave parts of the globe such as Singapore, Seychelles, Fiji,

Papua New Guinea, Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Bahamas and Belize threatened for their very existence,” says Peter Schlosser, vice president and vice provost for Global Futures at ASU. “This fact highlights how serious the problem we are facing is and how urgent climate action has become. We have waited too long to act and are now confronted with the need for action on an unprecedented scale without any time to spare.” The big wins centered on curbing methane emissions, finalizing the carbon market outlines first set out in the 2015 Paris Accords and finally including coal and fossil fuels as official

parts of the agreement language. But, perhaps the great win of this year’s COP was not simply the inclusion of more youth and global diversity, but their very vocal presence and insistence that they will and must be heard in these global climate conversations.

the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, is frustrated by the growing gap between policy action and actual climate events, but sees light in both the opportunity for innovation and in the burgeoning leadership of the world’s young people.

“I was left with the sense that there is increasing, widespread support for addressing equity within and between generations, which is necessary if climate change actions are going to succeed,” says Christopher Boone, dean of the College of Global Futures, who was part of the ASU contingent attending this year’s COP. “The fact that so many young people from very diverse backgrounds, including indigenous people, were in the ‘blue zone’ gave me hope.”

“My emotions during the COP26 vacillated between inspiration and hope to cynicism and despair,” says White, who attended the first full week of COP activities. “COP26 is an international, consensus-based negotiation, and thus, requires compromise and diplomacy and necessarily incremental changes and solutions. As the climate activists and scientists point out, the interventions necessary to bend the curve on green house gas emissions and adaptations are simply not keeping up with the pace of environmental change.

Amanda Ellis, senior director for global partnerships and networks with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, agreed that the youth activists were out in force - as were civil society and business - throughout COP. However, she also felt that COVID-19 travel restrictions made it difficult for representatives of many developing nations, especially those from the Small Island Developing States coalition, to attend. “In some cases others were brought in to act on their behalf, as in the case of the Maldives, where former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Ambassador to the U.N. in New York Prince Zeidof Jordan made considerable negotiating impact,” says Ellis, herself a former U.N. head of mission and ambassador for New Zealand.

“Yet, the Fridays for Future march was inspiring and it was impressive to see the youth climate activists, including Greta Thunberg and Elizabeth Wathuti, leading the effort to take urgent action on climate mitigation and adaptation and specifically to ‘follow the science’ and commit to maintaining global mean temperature increase to 1.5ºC,” he adds. Maintaining hope and a commitment to drive innovation, engagement and the development of solutions, regardless of the pace of policy, remains our very best bet.

What does this mean as the world looks forward to COP27 in Egypt and beyond? Dave White, associate vice president for research advancement and director of


Allen Coral Atlas Unprecedented mapping of the planet’s coral habitats gives researchers and policymakers a map to heal Earth’s oceans and climate. Makenna Flynn

From offering food security and protecting coastlines to supporting 25 percent of the ocean’s marine biodiversity, coral reefs play a vital role for this planet. And for these marine ecosystems, information is opening new doors for targeted action. In 2017, a group of organizations brought together under the vision of Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen and celebrated marine biologist Ruth Gates set out to create global habitat maps and connect a community of coral conservationists, researchers and educators around the world. Created by and for the community, the Allen Coral Atlas is more than a resource. It is a collaboration of coral reef scientists and conservationists working together to build and improve coral reef mapping and monitoring. From the creation of habitat maps through using the Atlas for conservation impact, community and innovation are the key ingredients. In September, the Allen Coral Atlas, now managed by the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, met a major milestone by completing global habitat maps of the world’s tropical, shallow coral reefs. By combining satellite imagery, advanced analytics and object-based analysis, the global collaboration has resulted in maps that show the marine ecosystem’s benthic and geomorphic data in unprecedented detail. Reefs between the latitudinal lines 30º N and 30º S were mapped and turned into downloadable data available on the atlas website. “We now have the highly detailed maps needed to create new spatial plans and marine protected areas,” says Wen Wen, a marine spatial analyst in Indonesia. “The Allen Coral Atlas is playing a large role in prioritizing 30 million hectares of 9

a new MPAs and providing alternative locations for a coastal economic development project of a shoreline airport. This tool is a blessing to our country.” Currently, officials from 14 countries are engaged with atlas team members, working on 48 new marine planning projects using the atlas maps as their foundational data set. Vatu Molisa, Vanuatu Project Liaison Officer for the IUCN Marine Program, explained how the atlas will be used to inform the region’s coral protection activities. “We will be utilizing this very valuable and important dataset to contribute to our continuing National Marine Spatial Plan and efforts, and look forward to future and continuing collaborations.” The use of the habitat maps goes beyond marine spatial planning, with organizations using the atlas for disaster recovery, proposed policies for fishing regulations and the identification and documentation of local threats to coral reef habitats. Combined with recent innovation — a monitoring system capable of detecting coral bleaching in biweekly increments — the Allen Coral Atlas is now the most complete, consistent, accurate and continually updated resource for coral scientists, policymakers and regional planners. To bolster this effort, in October, ASU and the Allen Coral Atlas announced an effort to support expanded coral reef protection by partnering with the Commonwealth of Small Island Nations Secretariat to bring cutting-edge coral-mapping technology to the teams at the forefront of policy action. “The Commonwealth is home to 45% of the world’s tropical coral reefs, which act as

vital reservoirs of marine life and biodiversity, natural sea defenses, and a source of life and livelihood for millions of people. However, they are severely threatened by global warming and other human pressures,” says Paulo Kautoke, senior director for trade, oceans and natural resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat. “This initiative will provide Commonwealth countries with essential geographic data and ecosystem health information to protect and manage their coral reefs in a sustainable manner.”

To push adoption of the Allen Coral Atlas, the Commonwealth Secretariat will soon be launching online training modules for coral managers and technicians in member countries to learn how to use the atlas to map local reefs, study bleaching trends and feed this data into policy and decision-making processes. The Commonwealth’s Charter is implemented through 10 country-driven action groups, each led by a “champion country.” Championed by Australia, Belize and Mauritius, the action group on coral reef protection and restoration include countries such as the Bahamas, Barbados, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Kingdom.

“By partnering with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Allen Coral Atlas will reach new countries and communities as a resource to generate and scale coral reef protection and management,” says Greg Asner, managing director of the Allen Coral Atlas and director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science. “The true impact will best be achieved as more governments and organizations implement the atlas toolkit in pursuit of long-term reef sustainability, biodiversity protection and the preservation of human livelihoods that depend on the world’s coral reefs.”


First MechanicalTree™ to be unveiled at ASU’s Tempe campus This passive carbon collection technology developed by Klaus Lackner could spawn thousands of CO2-capturing tree farms across the globe.

Carbon levels in the atmosphere are at an all-time high, and many climate scientists predict a grim future for the planet. To successfully reach the 1.5° C target outlined in the Paris Agreement, global emissions need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero around 2050. Considering the path we are on now, experts are expressing concern that it’s likely too late to halt or even slow the effects of global warming. In response to this, researchers at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory are synthesizing ideas and developing technology that will not only slow carbon emissions, but reverse them. Imagine a single tree that does the work of 1,000 trees in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Klaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions (CNCE) and global futures scientist at the laboratory, made this a reality with his MechanicalTree. The MechanicalTree has leaves just like a regular tree, in that they bind CO2 to their surface. But these “leaves” come in the form of large disks stacked in a column that stands at around 30 feet in height. The column contains 150 of these disks, which become loaded with CO2 as wind passes


through the open column. After about an hour or so, the column begins to collapse into its base. Once sealed inside the base, the CO2 collected from the air is converted into purified, compacted carbon that can either be sequestered in the ground or commercialized for use in industries like agriculture. “The situation has gotten to the point where we need to stop talking about it and start doing something about it,” says Lackner. “Carbon dioxide is a waste product we produce every time we drive our cars or turn on the lights in our homes. Our device can recycle it, bringing it out of the atmosphere to either bury it or use it as an industrial gas.” CNCE has partnered with Carbon Collect Inc., to commercialize the trees, which is key for scaling production as well as establishing MechanicalTrees in the market as a source of carbon for commercial use. Reyad Fezzani, a director at Carbon Collect, told the State Press, “What we’re trying to do is reduce the cost per ton to the lowest level possible, ideally below $100. Today, carbon dioxide is manufactured at much higher prices.” Additionally, carbon collecting technologies are highly attractive to big corporations in the fuel industry. These corporations are responsible for the bulk of emissions, so there is mounting pressure to either decrease use of fossil fuels or scale up sustainable technology that mitigates the industry’s harm to the planet. The first MechanicalTree is currently being fabricated in Wisconsin and is on track to be unveiled at ASU’s Tempe campus in early 2022. Lackner and his team envision this single tree spawning hundreds, thousands and ultimately billions. The future of passive carbon

capture could look like hundreds of these “tree farms” all over the world. Currently, the Carbon Capture–ASU team is designing three of these farms for three distinct geographical locations using a commercial-scale system that can draw 1,000 tons of CO2 from the air every day. “The amount of CO2 we put out year to year is increasing. If we want to stabilize the CO2, our emissions have to get close to zero,” warns Lackner. “Very simply, that’s what our device does.” When we think about the challenges that are

laid out before us, we can point to greenhouse gas emissions as the culprit behind many of our planet’s woes. Not only do these gases pollute the air we breathe, but they also lead to extreme weather events such as storms, heat waves and droughts, as well as melting glaciers, rising sea levels and warming of ocean waters. MechanicalTrees and other methods of passive carbon capture are going to be essential in healing the damage that humans have caused. Many people are waking up to the realities that environmentalists and climate scientists have been warning us of for years — the next five to 10 years will be pivotal.

Despite the daunting challenges ahead, Lackner continues to spread a message of hope for the future of the planet: “We can do it. We can provide the energy the world needs, and we can clean up after ourselves.”


Seizing the moment: Innovation as a call to action Sally Kitch and Diana Ayton-Shenker

The idea of “futurecasting” requires an implicit integration of science, technology, the humanities and arts in order to best visualize where our society may be headed. As important as technological applications may be, (where would we be without the COVID-19 vaccine?) this approach is incomplete. Getting to the root cause of global challenges and existential threats requires probing questions and deep dives beyond the quick fix of technical problem-solving alone. While effective and promising technological advances already exist to address many environmental and health problems, puzzling questions remain. Why have humans allowed our planetary home to reach its current degraded state? Why aren’t environmental protection technologies more widely supported and implemented? Who bears the brunt of environmental hazards and why? How is environmental injustice related to racial injustice? How is the sexual violence against women that continues unabated related to the ongoing history of climate change denial? What role might social justice issues play in some people’s refusal to take a COVID-19 vaccine? What role might climate change denial play in anti-vaxxers’ refusal to accept vaccine science, and vice versa? How do attitudes toward the planet reflect underlying racial hatred and misogyny in the U.S.? How might those attitudes be changed? For seven years in a row, Arizona State University has ranked #1 for innovation, according to U.S. News & World Report. More than a distinction, this designation is a call to action. It inspires the entire ASU community, including its network of partners beyond our campus boundaries, to continuously advance the university’s educational and research

capacities – now and well into the future – so that we, as a global society, may innovate and inform action toward a better, more just and sustainable world. We are inspired by the challenge to innovate, especially when facing an alarming syndemic – defined by Merrill Singer in the 1990s as the biological and sociological interactions that diagnose and define conditions – of intersecting crises as we do today: the COVID-19 pandemic; systemic racial injustice and violence; growing economic inequity; and cascading environmental catastrophes. ASU, as well as higher education in general, must assume its responsibility to impact the world in tangible, enduring ways. Seize the Moment, a new humanities and arts-based collaboration between the Humanities Lab, ASU-Leonardo and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, is designed to help answer that call. The aim is to find concrete and catalytic ways to address the current multi-part syndemic of threats to human flourishing, social equity and planetary well-being that the COVID-19 pandemic has both exposed and exacerbated. Solutions to these challenges cannot be achieved by a single approach or discipline. Seize the Moment encourages new, sometimes radical collaborations across the arts, humanities, scientific and technological disciplines that rarely interact on university campuses or among political leaders or policymakers. This approach is exemplified by the project’s major ASU partners — the Humanities Lab, Leonardo/ISAST (the International Society of Arts, Sciences, and Technology) and the Global Futures Laboratory. Seize the Moment is predicated on the idea that cross-disciplinary collaborations create 17

the new vocabularies, exploratory lenses and innovative world views and methodologies required to address the complex, intersecting challenges of this unprecedented time. Seize the Moment’s collaborative studentfaculty teams take up compelling questions, which are too seldom considered together. Teams bring the insights and wisdom of diverse training and experience to bear on developing integrated strategies that are critical to longterm future-building. Seize the Moment projects may address straightforward symptoms, like sea level rise or COVID-19 deaths, as well as underlying quandaries, like the human

tendency to harbor prejudices, succumb to misinformation, struggle with conflicting values, resort to denial, confuse fact and fiction, and blur distinctions between truth and lies. Seeing and addressing such root causes of complex challenges requires all the tools in the academic toolbox, often beginning with the cultural insights of the humanities and the social and emotional impact of the arts. At the core of Seize the Moment are the team-taught, interdisciplinary, problemfocused Humanities Labs and Leonardo Labs for undergraduate and graduate students. These labs recognize the importance of the

humanities and arts as partners with other fields for achieving the deep investigation required for resolving humanity’s most intractable and complex challenges. Faculty teams represent humanities disciplines and programs — such as literature, history, philosophy, and gender and racial studies — and science, social science, engineering and arts disciplines from around the university. All labs produce impact outcomes that address their social challenges through action, from policy documents and public engagement events to podcasts, community dialogues and art projects. The unique format of the Humanities Lab provides a platform for innovative learning and research experiences for faculty and students that align with ASU’s mission and aspirations to address future-focused themes and solutions — needs such as sustainable fashion, epidemic emergences, deconstructing race, indigenizing food systems and a range of issues pertaining to food, health and climate change. Leonardo’s creativity lens, scholarship and practice provide compelling research resources and platforms from its global network, programs and publications to complement the ASU and Global Futures expertise. Team-taught, online Leonardo Labs provide a transdisciplinary arts, science and technology framework to challenges such as humanizing digital culture, navigating chaos, embodied healing, and art-science responses to COVID-19. Each lab cultivates the 5 C’s of core creative competencies: creative communication, collaboration, content generation, critique and contemplation. By inaugurating this series of online Leonardo Labs, Seize the Moment recognizes artists as critical drivers of social change, leading the way in how to make sense of the world, shape futures and forge meaning.

Seizing this particular moment challenges societies everywhere to change the way they do business. Our world demands novel approaches to defining and resolving intractable problems that may seem to defy even the possibility of solution. By engaging student-faculty teams in addressing those problems without the limits of discipline or major, Seize the Moment models intergenerational action for use beyond university walls. This interaction and engagement is what fuels the level of innovation, both in product and in thought, necessary to address current and future challenges.

Sally Kitch is University and Regents Professor of womens and gender studies, and founding director of the Institute for Humanities Research and of the Humanities Lab at ASU. Diana Ayton-Shenker is the executive director of Leonardo’s partnership with ASU, where she is professor of practice jointly appointed with the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering.


The future of water and agriculture A conversation with water expert Dave White and agriculture expert Kathleen Merrigan.

Kathleen Merrigan is an expert in food and agriculture, currently serving as the executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University. She is known for authoring the law establishing national standards for organic food and the federal definition of sustainable agriculture. Dave White serves as associate vice president of research advancement and director of the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation at ASU. He is internationally recognized for his contributions to science in support of sustainability, particularly as it relates to water resources.

Issues of water and agriculture are closely intertwined in the conversation about climate change and the health of our planet. The Colorado River water shortage, constraints on fossil fuels, land management issues and more are among the pressure points for our society. But as the demand for resources greatly outpaces our ability to react accordingly, it raises questions about how we can propel the necessary discussions and implement policy to not only keep up, but also get ahead of the scarcity to come. In this conversation, water expert Dave White and food systems expert Kathleen Merrigan, point to the most critical topics of concern and potential solutions for the next 5–10 years.

Merrigan: Well, I’m relatively new to Arizona. I’m from the East Coast, and water law is different in my part of the world. On the East Coast, we think about water as a riparian system. So whoever’s upstream is sort of the boss of the water. The western part of the world is a prior-appropriation situation. So first in time, first in right. It’s very different and has its pros and cons. But what stands out to me particularly is that in Arizona, nearly 59% of our farmers and ranchers are Native American. When you think about first in time, first in right, there were definitely people here before the large-scale industrial farmers that are dependent upon what’s becoming a very scarce resource in our state. We know that agriculture is a big claimant for water globally. It varies depending upon where in the world you are, but let’s just say, on average, 70%. So when we think about water in the era of climate change, agriculture is central to the discussion. And I think what we’ll see at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) that’s coming up in Glasgow is that perhaps for the first time, agriculture will be a center-stage issue in climate change talks. Not just a recognition of water issues, but carbon, soil health and so on.

White: Yeah, I think the story of water in agriculture in Arizona really exemplifies many of the trends and challenges that we see in global agriculture. First and foremost is the issue of the water demand for agriculture, which communities and individuals both benefit from. And we know that the primary signals of climate change are visible through water and water resources. Climate change impacts global temperature and 21

precipitation patterns, both of which have an impact on water resources, which then directly affect agricultural productivity. And then as you noted, in Arizona about 70% of water demands in the state can be attributed to the agricultural industry. And our agriculture sector includes a wide variety of producers, ranging from Native American communities, to smaller family farms, to larger multinational corporations. So Arizona, in my mind, offers both a blueprint for many of the challenges that we face in understanding the synergies and the relationships between water and agriculture, and opportunities for finding successful solutions to become more resilient in the face of all of these challenges. We have all of the ingredients necessary here to create a new kind of future for agriculture. I’ll be participating in COP26 as part of the ASU delegation, so I am also very curious to see how agriculture and water are brought in as part of that global dialogue. And I want to ask you, Kathleen, from your vantage point in dealing with agriculturalists, how do they

evaluate the risks, uncertainties and challenges when thinking about the security and availability of water? How do these different groups make decisions about what, where and how to grow crops in the context of uncertainty about the availability of future water, whether it be from the Colorado River or from groundwater?

Merrigan: That’s a great question, Dave, and there are a lot of answers to it. I think when you say the word “risk,” it brings up a few thoughts. One being, if you’re down in Yuma County, you’ve always had an irrigated crop. But where I’m from in New England, people didn’t irrigate at all. Now, because of the erratic nature of our climate, farmers are putting in irrigation systems because they need to control that risk. This also means it makes their operations more expensive and they may be relying on water that they might not have otherwise used. And then there’s the other question you posed, what kind of crops are grown? Well, it’s a complex calculation. And one of the things that

I know is that when you have invested in farm machinery and you have markets developed, it’s really hard to pivot to do something else. I think a lot of people say when looking at Arizona crops, well, you have a lot of fruits and vegetables, and those are thirsty crops. And there’s this whole issue of embedded water. Since Arizona is such a powerhouse in lettuce production, we ship a lot of water out of the state in the form of lettuce. Some people look and say it’s crazy that cotton is grown in Arizona. But on the other hand, cotton can deal with salinized water in a way that some other crops can’t. Some people say we shouldn’t grow almond trees or alfalfa in a really thirsty, water-starved area. But as we look at sustainability in its entirety, we have to factor in the costs and repercussions of then having to haul in alfalfa from other places to feed the cattle and the dairy cows that we have here. It’s a complicated network of systems that are deeply intertwined with one another. But while it is true that a large portion of the water goes to agriculture, the industry

has made a lot of changes over the last few years that have decreased their overall intake of water, while urban water intake has actually increased. A lot of the time this conversation is so focused on what farmers are doing to negatively impact the environment, but we have people in suburban areas watering their massive lawns in the middle of the day and using Roundup to deal with weeds in their yard. There is tension there that is only going to increase as the scarcity becomes more obvious over time.

White: One of the things that I often think about is how we can foster productive state- and community-level dialogues around these issues. Because many of the decisions are simply aggregates of multiple individual decisions, right? Farmers are business owners reacting to a variety of different factors, including global market demands, the changes in the prices of commodities and their investments into production. They’re attempting to balance these factors, so the 23

compilation of all of those individual decisions sort of creates the landscape that we see. I think that’s true when you look at the urban fabric as well — the choices of individual landowners, homeowners, developers, et cetera. I think we need to focus more of our energy on conversations that look at the public benefits and goods that water and agriculture provide and how we make collective decisions about those resources. Now this is where it gets challenging, because it really is the intersection of public goods and private goods — we’re talking about private landowners, privatized water rights. We don’t have many great forums for discussions that look at balancing costs and benefits, and consider what’s best for a state, society or community. Of course the primary arena for these conversations is within the legislature and the state governments. But as we have seen, that particular decision-making system has been largely paralyzed and ineffective. For example, we look at the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and see the inability to collectively address a critical social challenge in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the inequity in our society. It poses the question: What would a positive and constructive set of dialogues look like, and who leads that? And what role does ASU play in facilitating that kind of dialogue?

Merrigan: Well, I don’t see it happening in Washington, D.C. There has been pushback by our federal government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in particular, on the European Farm to Fork Strategy. They had some really ambitious environmental goals, including increasing organic land in the EU from 8.5% to 25% by 2030. For comparison, in

the U.S., it’s 0% to 2%. It’s at two-tenths of 1% currently. It’s ingrained in the American psyche that everything has to be market-driven. It has to be voluntary. It has to be incentive-based. We hate regulations. That’s the tough stuff. So to your point, Dave, ASU has a prime opportunity to take on a leadership role here. I mean, certainly you yourself have played one, and we have a lot of great faculty contributing to innovations in water governance. That’s one of the benefits of being in academia, right? We have the ability to be movers and shakers in the way politicians may try but often fail.

White: Agreed. One of the things that you mentioned is that our current system is very market-driven. In a market economy, we tend to place a premium on individualism within our values and cultural ethos. There’s less appetite for regulatory approaches, but there tends to be wider consensus for incentivebased approaches. It makes me wonder, what might be some of the incentives for the agricultural community? I know people don’t

like the word “subsidies,” but price supports, incentives or other investments to reduce water demand and increase efficiency. Is that something that should be on the table?

of the climate. It’s unproductive for each individual producer to make those decisions, it needs to be done in some sort of collective way which isn’t happening currently.

Merrigan: We like the term “cost share.” In the past, the USDA has provided a cost share for different environmental practices, such as putting a buffer strip near a stream to prevent erosion. You might have an incentive to retire some environmentally sensitive land or to protect a wetland. We have structures for that where a farmer might get up to 50% cost share. And if that person is socially disadvantaged or a new farmer, they could see an incentive of up to 90%. And I know that the Biden-Harris administration is incorporating more of these incentivebased programs into their climate plan.

White: Some of our Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation centers, institutes and faculty are tackling that issue. For example, Rimjhim Aggarwal has been working on understanding irrigation districts as a collective to help to bring farmers and producers together to serve an important role in governance. In addition to strengthening the already existing farm bureaus and advocacy organizations, there are a lot of potential new models for collectives that could be explored to think about distributing costs and improving the way that farmers can communicate their values and interests to politicians and stakeholders.

That’s great because farmers need that help, but I don’t think it gets us out of the pickle of what we’re growing and where. I think on a larger scale, the challenge is with shifting crop hardiness zones based on the realities

Merrigan: We also have the conservation districts and irrigation districts. Almost every county in this country has a conservation district, so there’s sort of a collective there.


At the Swette Center, we work closely with the Arizona Association of Conservation Districts, so there are these existing partnerships that bring people together. There are no easy decisions ahead, but those difficult conversations need to happen.

White: One of those challenges, and an area that is ripe for innovation, is creating policy systems that are able to adapt and respond to match the pace of change in environmental systems that we’re seeing. Another thing I want to touch on that you brought up earlier is the role of Native American communities. Tribal communities are both physical water rights holders and users. Many of them are becoming increasingly more politically active and politically powerful, in part because of successful assertions of their rights to water and land. I’m curious if there are any lessons that we may be able to adapt from Indigenous systems of agriculture or water management that can inform large-scale approaches to conservation?

Merrigan: Of course, and I think you taught me this Dave, we wouldn’t be in our homes in the Phoenix area had it not been for Native American farmers a long, long time ago, who developed the canal system for our area. There’s a lot of Indigenous wisdom to tap. I’ve visited tribal farming operations in Arizona where they’re really focused on techniques that build around natural processes, such as dry land farming. They place an emphasis on respecting what Mother Nature has to offer. Another issue that crops up is that big businesses are making these carbon commitments — we’re going to be carbon

neutral by 2050, reduce our carbon by 50% by 2030, etcetera. But what bothers me as a food systems person, and I imagine bothers you too as a sustainability person, is this myopic obsession with one value. I’m not hearing, “we’re going to make these commitments about water,” “we’re going to make these commitments about equity,” and so on. So Dave, I’m hoping in your travels and at COP26, you can kickstart the conversation around carbon commitments in the broader context of what we really need, which is our business leaders to be fostering a systems-based approach.

White: I agree. I think the emphasis on reducing and reversing greenhouse gas emissions is because of their obvious and numerous impacts on climate change that are so front and center to the discussion. It’s harder to communicate, especially at a corporate visionary level, something that says we need to focus on interconnected systems, because it’s a much more abstract concept. I think more companies will start to take a comprehensive approach to sustainability and resilience that factors in all the different systems, as well as the equitable treatment of people.

Artificial intelligence: Friend or foe for building a better future? Andrew Maynard

In 2015, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and the late Stephen Hawking were rather incongruously nominated for the 2015 Luddite Award — an honor bestowed by the Information Technology & Information Foundation for “The Worst of the Year’s Worst Innovation Killers.” Musk, Gates and Hawking — along with many others — had expressed growing concerns over the potential risks of naïve and irresponsible developments in artificial intelligence, commonly referred to as AI. In spite of their collective technological optimism, the speed of recent advances had them running scared.

Six years on, the debate over the potential risks of AI, and how to ensure its ethical and responsible development and use, is fiercer than ever — so much so that the White House has just committed to developing a “bill of rights” to guard against the inappropriate use of AI and similarly powerful tech. Yet, as with many technology trends, the challenges and opportunities AI presents are more complex than they may at first seem.


From mythology to machine learning: A history of AI Like many emerging technologies, artificial intelligence is shrouded in hype and speculation. It is almost inconceivable that we will be able to navigate an increasingly complex maze of emerging global threats without the help of AI. Yet, the potential risks and possible benefits are often elevated to nearmythical proportions. Either way, when the mystique is stripped away, it’s apparent that we are on the cusp of developing new AI-based technologies that could profoundly impact the future we are creating. While it’s tempting to think of AI as a relatively recent development, its roots are buried deep in human history and mythology. As a species, we’ve long been intrigued with the relationship between the creator and the created and enamored by the possibility of transcending from the latter to the former. This is a theme that threads through many of our origin stories, myths, religions and philosophies. It’s only in the last half century or so that we have begun to develop capabilities that tantalizingly open up the possibility of flipping our god-like aspirations from fantasy to reality. And in the Western science and technology tradition that grew out of the Enlightenment and was fueled by the Industrial Revolution and the Big Science of the 20th century, this aspiration encompasses replicating one particular aspect of ourselves: intelligence. The computer scientist and codebreaker Alan Turing famously speculated about the possibility of machines one day exhibiting intelligence that is indistinguishable from a living person. But the technology he was working with at the time was only sufficient to hint at what might be possible. Interest continued through the 1950s in the idea of machines that could problem-solve as well as or better than people. With the advent of neural networks — algorithms that simplistically reflect how researchers at the time believed the

human brain works — there was growing excitement around the possibility of creating machines that mimicked human intelligence. Early work on AI didn’t deliver on what many believed it promised. The field was re-energized in the 1990s as exponentiallyincreasing computer power and breakthroughs with layered neural networks led to the emergence of deep learning and similar technologies. These advances continue to form a foundation for current-day AI that is transforming almost every aspect of our lives, as increasingly powerful systems are designed that can solve problems, make decisions and carry out actions faster, more accurately and more efficiently than people. Yet, to call these systems “artificial intelligence” is something of a misnomer. They represent a type of intelligence that is narrowly defined by an ability to solve problems in a particular way. This is an understanding of “intelligence” that is grounded in 200 years of advances in science, technology and engineering that reflect a largely Western-driven philosophy of progress. It’s a definition of intelligence that only captures a small slice of the richness and diversity of human intelligence. And yet, narrow as it is, the capabilities that are beginning to arise from its incorporation into AI have the capacity to radically alter the future we are heading toward — possibly more so than any previous technological breakthrough. And this is what makes the responsible and ethical development and use of the technology so critical to ensuring a vibrant future — as long as we can learn to navigate the potential pitfalls.

The scourge of superintelligence In 2014, the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom published the book “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.” In it, he lays out the possible existential risks of an AI future where smart computers invent ever-smarter progeny, until we hit a point where we are not only surrounded by machines that are vastly more intelligent than us, but machines that recognize humanity as either irrelevant to their continued progress or an impediment to it. This is a vision of an AI future that inspired Musk, Gates and others to raise the alarm over out-of-control AI. It’s also one that has led to massive investments in the development of safe and ethical artificial intelligence in recent years. Nonetheless, focusing on the threats of emergent superintelligence is in itself dangerous as it obscures more real and imminent risks associated with nearterm uses of AI. It also makes it harder to identify and follow pathways toward a future where AI is an asset rather than a risk.

A particular challenge with superintelligence as an idea is that it’s grounded in concepts of intelligence, motivation and power that are more reflective of how its proponents think about and see the world than how AIbased technologies are actually progressing. Real-world AI is less about replicating and superseding human intelligence and is more concerned with developing machines that have the ability to achieve specific goals, such as the sophisticated use of data and inference. It is this ability to find solutions to specific goals and problems faster and more efficiently than people can that is at the core of what makes AI so transformative. It’s also what underlies the real-world risks of developing the technology faster than we are able to consider and understand the potential consequences. Even though many of these risks don’t extend to the level of a threat to human existence — at least not yet — they are, nevertheless, serious.


Navigating the AI risk landscape Buoyed along by concerns around existential risks, the past five years have seen a flurry of activity around AI ethics. Since 2016, there have been a growing number of academic papers and sets of principles on how to develop and use AI ethically, and for good reason. The more we trust machines to make decisions that affect our lives, the more we open ourselves to machines impacting people in ways that many would consider to cross ethical lines. For instance, algorithms that are designed to determine the probability of someone being a felon or to assess someone’s trustworthiness or credit-worthiness raise serious questions around bias, justice and equity. Likewise, machines that filter job applicants, prioritize medical care or assess socially acceptable behavior all extend into areas that are deeply wrapped up in diverse understandings of right and wrong, of rights and values, of dignity and legitimacy.

Delegating decision-making to machines in these and similar areas risks being seen as an abdication of responsibility and something that ultimately undermines trust. Equally worrying, if machines making decisions have been trained to reflect the perspectives, philosophies and biases of their creators, there is a risk of embedding biases into technological systems without the checks and balances that come from appropriate levels of transparency and accountability. There are also risks of material harm associated with decisions that are delegated to machines. The company Tesla is currently grappling with this very issue as questions are raised over the safety of its AI-based autopilot system — questions that are becoming more pertinent as the company rolls out its more advanced Full Self-Driving system. To make matters more complex, many of the risks associated with AI lie beyond conventional risk assessment and management frameworks — especially where they involve hard-toquantify but highly impactful social risks, such

as threats to autonomy, dignity and identity. It’s risks like these that the ASU Risk Innovation Nexus was established to address. In the Nexus, we use an approach to emerging challenges that recognizes risk as a threat to what is important to the developers and stakeholders of new technologies — from loss of life to loss of dignity, and everything in between. This risk innovation approach to developing emerging technologies builds on providing pragmatic pathways to navigating “orphan risks” that are easy to overlook but nevertheless essential to ensuring responsible and beneficial innovation. It’s also an approach to risk that recognizes the dangers of not developing new technologies as we strive to build a better future. And this is where the possible risks of AI need to be balanced by the potential benefits of the technology. Beneficial AI Despite all of our collective knowledge, understanding and human capacity for problem-solving, we are living in a world in crisis. In this moment, we are grappling with a global pandemic, social injustice, escalating geopolitical tensions, growing mistrust in expertise, human driven climate change, technologies that outstrip our abilities to use them responsibly and a growing population that is placing increasing demands on limited planetary resources. These and many more challenges point toward us standing at a critical tipping point in human history. Never before have there been so many people with so much power and so little understanding, vying for

so few resources, on a planet that is being pushed so far beyond its point of equilibrium. Within this increasingly complex system, technology is both a problem creator and a problem solver. We cannot live without technology innovation, but neither can we thrive in a future dominated by technologies that are ill-considered and irresponsibly developed. This is where AI has a critical role to play. In the worst case, AI has the potential to quickly destabilize social, political and technological systems. On the flip side, technologies that come under the broad umbrella of AI have the capacity to help us transcend the looming crises we face and build a more just, vibrant and sustainable future — if, that is, they are developed and used responsibly. Naturally, such a future will depend on many factors beyond how we develop and use artificial intelligence. AI done well will enable us to extend our collective problemsolving skills in ways that are inaccessible without it. And this is where the technology is not only important for our collective global futures, but is also essential. At a purely material level, AI has the capacity to open new discoveries through humanmachine partnerships. These span from the discovery of new materials, to new ways to combat disease and improve health and wellbeing, to advances in reprogramming DNA. And they potentially include novel approaches to sustainable energy generation and use, global supply chains, transportation and many other future-looking possibilities that are beyond the reach of human endeavors alone. But the power of AI as a problem-solving tool goes far beyond this. With access to


massive datasets, powerful learning algorithms, and the right social, economic and political levers, there is no reason why AI cannot be used to address global social challenges. This is where advances in AI become particularly interesting from a global futures perspective. As individuals and communities, we are manipulatable. We don’t like to admit it, but beyond our illusions of rationality, we are subject to a vast array of cognitive biases and unconscious behaviors. And anyone — or anything — who can understand how to make use of these has the ability to shape how people behave. Of course, we know this — it’s the basis of marketing, of political campaigning, of social persuasion, and of how we negotiate and interact with others to achieve what we want. Yet manipulating people with precision is incredibly difficult to do. What if smart machines that understand our biases (and how to utilize them) could nudge us toward some futures, and away from others? Imagine if we could avoid a climate change

catastrophe, or global pollution or social injustices, by partnering with machines that are adept at social manipulation. This is an opportunity that is fast coming within reach, but it’s also one that will force us to think critically about who’s part of deciding what the future looks like. And it’s an opportunity that places a searing spotlight on the tension between what we should do and what we can do with the technology we’re developing. In this respect, Musk, Gates and Hawking were right to be concerned about AI. But they were also wrong about what we should be worried about. Beyond the potential loss of jobs, the erosion of agency, and the embedding of biases in the technologies we hand our future over to, perhaps one of the greatest threats of advanced AI is that it could be used to manipulatively impose one group’s vision of the future on the world at the expense of others. Or that it could learn how to use what makes us uniquely human to create the future we think we want, while robbing us of the future we need in order to thrive.

It’s precisely questions like this that are fueling a growing body of work on beneficial and responsible AI. Despite the risks, artificial intelligence is emerging as a technology that we cannot afford not to develop as we seek to build a more sustainable and promise-filled future for humanity and the planet we inhabit. Achieving this will require a level of creativity, innovation and vision that transcends conventional disciplinary silos and leverages every area of human expertise and experience — something that the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory aspires to. The irony, of course, is that to truly achieve this, we’re going to need help in the form of — you guessed it — AI! Andrew Maynard is a scientist, an author, a communicator and an internationally recognized expert and thought-leader in emerging technologies and their socially responsible and ethical development and use. He currently serves as the associate dean of curricula and student success in the ASU College of Global Futures and is director of the ASU Risk Innovation Lab.


What’s next? Imagine a place built for the future that fully honors the land and people of its past. Imagine a place designed to optimize collaboration and discovery in a way no structure has before. Imagine a place where experts and learners, teachers and students, researchers and assistants coexist and comingle as they help shape viable options that form the pathways to a global future where all of Earth’s inhabitant may thrive. In April, 2022, Arizona State University will formally open the doors to a new physical space that will embody the entire philosophy behind the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory – a space dedicated to the enablement and empowerment of discovery, learning, solutions development, networking and engagement. Every level of this new structure features laboratories, classrooms, meeting space and recreation space that will equip and inspire the students, faculty, staff and guests of the Global Futures Laboratory to address and explore the critical issues related to the future of our planet. This new home for Global Futures, on track for LEED Platinum certification, is located on a site that was home to the indigenous peoples of the Akimel O’Odham and the Piipaash. It was also a place that holds the water way that powered the Hayden Flour Mill, a spur line that linked the Tempe Creamery to the greater Union Pacific rail network and remnants of the U.S.’s first coastto-coast highway. Aspects of each of these historic elements, including the continued activation of a rebuilt indigenous canal, have been preserved as part of the new structure. For the occupants, the structure provides 140,000 square feet of programmable space, with 70,000 square feet dedicated to laboratory use. It will yield a 26% reduction in global warming potential while retaining 100% of rainfall to recharge the aquifer and water landscaping. The exterior skin, created from glass-fiber-reinforced concrete, reduces thermal banking and has been custom crafted to optimize shade and passively cool the building from Arizona’s hot climate. We look forward to celebrating our new headquarters with you in April 2022.



The Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory™ is a unit of the ASU Knowledge Enterprise