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ASU experts, Phoenix mayor approach climate question from distinct viewpoints.
June 22, 2017

Phoenix mayor joins ASU panelists from sustainability, economics fields who have opposing views on value of US commitment

When the United States withdrew from the Paris climate agreement earlier this month, it ignited a debate over what should happen next to address the inexorable changes in our environment.

That debate was taken up by the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University with three experts who approached the issue from distinct viewpoints.

The panel discussion, held June 21 at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus, was moderated by Rob Melnick, executive director of the institute and a professor of practice in ASU’s School of Sustainability.

ASU faculty speak at the "Paris Departure: What Lies Ahead" panel discussion at the Downtown Phoenix campus on Wednesday. From left are Rob Melnick, executive director of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute for Sustainability; Sonja Klinsky, senior sustainability scientist at the institute, and William Boyes, founding director of the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty at ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

 In December 2015, 195 countries signed the agreement, committing to voluntarily reduce carbon emission. Afterward, 147 countries ratified the pact, including the U.S. — although it was sanctioned by then-President Barack Obama, not Congress. On June 1 of this year, President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the pact. Individual cities cannot technically sign the agreement, but in the United States, 330 cities — including Phoenix, Tempe, Flagstaff and Tucson — have committed to the goals of a 26 to 28 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2025.

“The nations got together not to debate whether there was a changing climate. The question was, what can nations do about it?” said Melnick, who asked each panelist to summarize their starting positions.

Sonja Klinsky, senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and assistant professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability: “One thing we have to remember is that that we can’t actually leave the globe. We have to work together. It’s not just about climate — when you have an agreement, it affects how you work with a variety of other issues. It was entirely voluntary for every country and it was completely universal, except for Syria and Nicaragua.” 

Greg Stanton, mayor of Phoenix: “Even when President Obama signed us up for the Paris accord, mayors knew it would be up to cities to meet the requirements. He may have taken credit for signing on, but we knew it would be local communities around the country that would do the heavy lifting. Our chief sustainability officer has a very ambitious 2050 climate action plan that will make Phoenix carbon neutral in that time.” 

William Boyes, founding director of the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU: “With this issue, which is so emotionally hot, the seen overrides the unseen. The seen is the seas rising and ice melting, but what we don’t look at is the costs to implement something like the Paris accord. The decline in the number of jobs in the United States would be 600,000 by 2035. Income loss of $20,000 per family of four by 2035. Those are devastating impacts for something that would have a benefit of .03 degrees Celsius at best.” 

Highlights from the discussion

Question: Were there economic arguments for countries to sign onto the Paris accord?

Boyes: Many countries signed on because they don’t have to do anything. Other countries signed on because we promised to give them money. CEOs of the top 500 companies loved the Paris accord, but the small companies don’t. Why? Because with the restrictions, competition would be limited.

Klinsky: Does anyone know what per-person emissions are in the U.S. now? It’s around 22 tons per person. In China, it’s about six tons. In India, it’s around two. For most of Africa, it’s less than one. China is starting much lower and will peak at less than half of emissions per person than we will. So far, when China has made promises they’ve kept them in the climate space because they are so vulnerable to climate change.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton makes a point at the climate-change panel discussion held by the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability on Wednesday at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

 Stanton: Phoenix took the lead in investment in light rail in our community. Now we have $9 billion in private-sector investment. If we only look at it as a dollar-for-dollar thing, the cost of not being successful is too great.

Q: While President Trump has taken one position, many cities are making their own commitments. What effect does this have?

Stanton: The city-federal relationship is certainly at its lowest point right now since I’ve been involved in public life. It’s not going to change a thing about how we implement public policy.

Klinsky: For the first time, many city governments were included in many international delegations to participate in negotiations, which is an important element of how we think about how we’ll govern — to recognize the power of local government.

Q: If you support the agreement, what’s bad about it? If you don’t support it, is there anything good about it?  

Klinsky: The Paris Agreement cannot say very much about how we deal with vast domestic inequality. There are communities in America where if we took away their main source of revenue, a coal power plant, we have no idea how to deal with them. There is a gaping hole that does not clearly listen to the needs of the lowest-income members of a country.

Stanton: I would say the biggest weakness is that it doesn’t allow mayors to directly sign on. It would have a level of commitment form the participating countries that the rest of the world could better rely on.

Boyes: I worked in very poor countries like Botswana and China 30 years ago, and I have a strong belief in allowing individual freedom and with that freedom, they’ll innovate. One of the problems with this agreement, and so I don’t think there is anything good about it, is that the government dictates what the individual can do.

Q: What about carbon fees?

Klinsky: I think it’s a great idea. There are many ways of putting a price on carbon. By creating some kind of a cost that recognizes that we should not treat our resources as though they have no value — what could be more valuable than our atmosphere? — you are creating a system where companies are incentivized to innovate.

Boyes: It’s an issue that economists have been involved with for a long time. It’s a real possibility. If the government makes something free, everybody overuses it.

Q: How do we move forward on climate change without increasing the partisan divide?

Boyes: I think the example is fracking. That has had the biggest impact on declining emissions in the U.S. than any other event and it’s not government-run or -controlled. It’s actually restricted by the government. If there’s a profit, individuals will jump in and innovate.

Klinsky: I think we’re swimming with opportunities. There are large-scale technological investments. The cost of air pollution to people’s health is astronomical. That’s a public health debate. There’s a social justice perspective. How will we deal with agriculture? Find your skill set and apply it.

Stanton: For some reason this became a partisan issue for a while, but I’m an optimist that this will become a bipartisan way to move forward.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU is meeting the need for proficient speakers of uncommon languages.
June 23, 2017

Critical Languages Institute marks 15 years of teaching Albanian in immersive program

About 5 million people in the world speak Albanian, making it one of the less common languages. It’s not even in the top 100The most commonly spoken language is Mandarin, with 955 million speakers..

But with the fall of communism in 1991 and the strategic location of the Balkan states, Albanian has become a language of crucial importance in the world.

This summer, the Critical Languages Institute at Arizona State University is marking 15 years of teaching Albanian — one of the only immersive programs for that language in the United States.

“Now that Albania is more open to the world, it’s important to have students learn Albanian language and culture,” said Linda MenikuShe spends two months at ASU every summer and is a lecturer at the University of Tirana the rest of the year. Meniku wrote the textbooks used by the students., the instructor who launched the program in 2002.

Typically, there is a handful of students in each session. In 15 years, 127 people have learned Albanian at the institute on ASU’s campus. Some want to speak Albanian for careers in international business, law or diplomacy, but Meniku has also had students who wanted to learn it so they could study archeology or mythology in Albania. One student became interested after working with Kosovar refugee families in Phoenix, and this summer, one student is learning it so she can converse with her boyfriend’s family.

Students in this summer's Critical Languages Institute's Albanian program make the Albanian "eagle" symbol with their hands. From left, they are Joe Casavecchia, Tyler Moore, Emily Barnes, instructor Linda Meniku, Aleksej Demjanski, Chris Kinley and Travis Nielsen.

 Albania, a bit smaller than South Carolina, lies about 45 miles across the Adriatic Sea from the heel of Italy’s boot. Occupied during World War II and then isolated and ruled by a brutal communist dictator until 1991, the country now is a member of NATO. Tourism is booming, with the dramatic Albanian coastline named one of the “52 Places to Go” by the New York Times in 2014.

Albanian also is the language of Kosovo, a country still recovering from ethnic wars in the 1990s with Serbia, and it is spoken in Macedonia, Italy and Greece.

The U.S. government has designated Albanian as a critical language with proficient speakers in high demand, according to Kathleen Evans-Romaine, director of the Critical Languages InstituteCurrently, the CLI offers programs in Albanian, Armenian, Bosnian, Croatian, Hebrew, Indonesian, Persian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Turkish and Uzbek., part of the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies.

“Typically you have heritage speakers, who are the children of refugees or immigrants. The difficulty is that there are sometimes restrictions in working with the government if you are a heritage speaker, because they might not be able to get certain kinds of clearance,” she said.

“If you’re going to be working on legal reform in Kosovo, you need to speak Albanian at a very high level,” she said.

The institute’s programs are tuition-free, funded by federal agencies, sponsors and donors. The federal Title 8 program pays for language instruction for graduate students, such as Joe Casavecchia, who graduated from ASU in May with degrees in political science and American history. In the fall, he’ll enter the University of Chicago Law School.

“I’ll be studying international trade and economic development from a domestic perspective, but you always need to have an international background and to keep your options open,” he said.

“If you find your international niche and they need someone who speaks Albanian, then there you are.”

Albanian is considered a “category 2” language — more difficult to learn than French and Spanish but not as hard as Mandarin and Persian.

Chris Kinley, a doctoral student in modern Balkan history at Ohio State University, is studying border villages between Greece and Albania and is learning the language at ASU this summer for his research.

“This is my sixth language, and I think it’s the hardest one to learn. I love the Albanian language, but there are some really intense grammar rules,” he said.

First-year Albanian is taught in a seven-week program on ASU’s Tempe campus with an optional four-week immersion trip to Tirana, Albania’s capital, where students stay with host families. Second-year Albanian is taught in eight weeks in Tirana.

“Visiting Tirana is a very deep and strong cultural experience, and they see a lot of historical sites,” Meniku said. The country has been open to outsiders for only about 25 years, and the students visit an old Cold War bunker that’s now a museum.

“Every year I have students who change their lives by taking Albanian.”

Indeed, one of Meniku’s former students became so passionate that she funded a scholarship for the study of Albanian. Elaine Berkowitz, a dentist in Pittsburgh, was deployed to Camp Bondsteel in post-war Kosovo with the U.S. Army Reserves in 2007, 2010 and 2011, where she volunteered her time lecturing in a dental school and teaching brushing and flossing to children. She found the Kosovars to be kind and appreciative. After she retired from the Army in 2012, she searched for a program to learn the language.

“Lo and behold, ASU was the one,” said Berkowitz, who was 68 when she took first-year Albanian in 2013. “It was tough! But I thought the program and Linda were terrific.”

Since then, she has returned to Kosovo and Albania several times. In 2015, she established the scholarship to make it easier for students at the Critical Languages Institute.

“This is a poor country, but the Albanian Muslims are the greatest people,” she said. “They extend hospitality like you wouldn't believe.”

The Critical Languages Institute’s Albanian program will celebrate its 15th anniversary at a gathering at 7 p.m. Monday at the Adelphi Commons on the Tempe campus, with ethnic food, music and dancing. For more details, contact the institute at 480-965-4188.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now