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Carbon Free Day: Do your part

Shorten your shower, drive less, buy local foods for April 17 Carbon Free Day.
April 11, 2019

Bike to work, take the stairs, eat a plant-based meal: New signature event for Earth Month encourages ASU community to make pledge

Glaciers melting. Record storms. Rising sea levels. Problems quite off the human scale.

What can little old you do about all of that?

Quite a bit, it turns out. And that is the point of Arizona State University’s Carbon Free Day on April 17: to demonstrate small things everyone can do on a daily or weekly basis that add up.

"ASU is a major force in the area of sustainability education," said Stefanie Lindquist, deputy provost and vice president for academic affairs. "So I like the idea of our active participation in this Carbon Free Day. As such a large institution, we could save putting a lot of carbon into the atmosphere if we committed ourselves to a day of active efforts to reduce our collective carbon footprint."

ASU is committed to becoming climate positive by 2035. The university has made great strides to reduce its carbon emissions since making that pledge. Total emissions are down 28% compared with a 2007 baseline.

“That’s despite the fact we’ve added over 40% gross square footage and almost 31% in our student population in that same period,” said Corey Hawkey, assistant director of University Sustainability Practices. “We’re on the path to meet our goal, but there is still work to be done. It’s part of the reason we’re doing this day. … We’ve made great progress, and it’s something we should all be appreciative of.”

The university — staff, students, faculty and physical buildings together — is estimated to emit about 768 tons of carbon per day. One day of emissions is the equivalent of more than 131,000 average one-way commutes. It’s also close to 24 days of air conditioning in an average-size home. Or, looking through the lens of food, about 232,000 servings of beef.

“That hopefully gives some perspective on how large our emissions are, but also what an impact just a day makes,” Hawkey said.

ASU will be purchasing carbon offsets and planting 218 trees to mitigate the university’s emissions for the day. Join the commitment by making a pledge for Carbon Free Day to reduce carbon emissions. Choose from transportation, food and energy pledge categories or create your own.

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”  — Gandalf, "The Fellowship of the Ring"

Mind you, none of these involve moving into a yurt, biking to Tempe from Buckeye or quitting bacon forever.

“It was important for us to come up with some unique pledges people might not be thinking about, like keeping adequate air pressure in your tires, so your car drives more efficiently and you use less gas,” said Susan Norton, program manager of Sustainability Practices.

Transportation pledges include riding a bike, creating a meal plan to cut down on trips to the store during the week or being an energy-efficient driver. The latter means starting and stopping more slowly and keeping a steady speed. You can keep a ton of CO2 out of the atmosphere just on these alone (the same amount a tree in Arizona absorbs during 10 years), plus you’ll save a lot of money on gas.

Student Casey Rapacki rides a bike 15 minutes each way to campus every day.

“It helps me get some daily activity in, allows me to come and go as I please — no catching the bus! — had a one-time fee and does not contribute to daily car traffic or greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. 

She has also run into fellow School of Sustainability friends on their bikes.

“We all rode our bikes together,” she said. “We were kind of like a biker gang, except fuel-efficient and harmless.”

JC Porter is a bicycling beast. Assistant director of University Parking and Transit Services, Porter commutes 20 miles each way to the Tempe campus, five days a week. “If I am feeling lazy, I commute 7 miles each way to the Polytech campus,” Porter said.

Deservedly, Porter won Tempe’s 2018 Bike Hero award.

Jonathan Kelman, an instructor in the School of Sustainability, rides to work at least four days a week. He gets to think; he saves money on gas, car maintenance and parking; and it’s faster than battling rush hour traffic. Another bonus: “I can commute in to campus on my mountain bike, teach class and then hit the trails in Papago Park north of campus, and ride back home. There may be a burrito involved on the return trip. That's hard to beat!”

Let’s address the obvious excuse against biking right off the bat: The Tempe campus has two free places to shower — the Sun Devil Fitness Complex and Wrigley Hall.

When it comes to food pledges, you don’t have to go vegan, even though one plant-based meal during the week won’t kill anyone. Buy some local groceries from a farmers market. Don’t waste food. Cut down on beef by eating a rack of baby back ribs or a fried chicken. Most emissions from meat production come in the form of methane gas, which cows breathe and excrete via their manure. Eating chicken or pork helps reduce emissions. Who’s not down for ribs?

The point is to commit to make whatever small changes you can.

“Everybody plays a role in it,” Hawkey said.

View the Carbon Free Day pledge choices on the Earth Month website.

Top image: School of Sustainability students and staff bike on the Tempe campus on April 4. Image by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Driving fatalities off the road

April 11, 2019

ASU talk examines future of self-driving cars with Waymo chief external officer

In 2017, about 40,000 people died in car accidents, according to the National Safety Council. The vast majority of those accidents were caused by human error.

Self-driving car companies see themselves as the answer to that problem.

A talk at Arizona State University Thursday evening looked into the future of self-driving cars and potential impacts of the technology.

Tekedra Mawakana, chief external officer at Waymo, talked with Andrew Maynard, professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society about social and policy-related challenges of developing self-driving car technology.

Mawakana, who leads communications, marketing and public affairs at Waymo, said they aren’t in the car business at all.

“Our goal is to build the world’s most experienced driver,” she said. “We’re not building cars.”

Waymo has been testing its technology in the Valley for a little more than two years. The cars use a combination of many technologies, including lidar and radar, to form a 360-degree picture of the surroundings.

back of self-driving Waymo car

One of Waymo's Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans sits on display before "Let’s Talk Self-Driving: A Fireside Conversation" with Waymo’s Tekedra Mawakana and ASU Professor Andrew Maynard. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“How does it learn what’s what?” asked Maynard, a leading expert on the socially responsible development of emerging and converging technologies. How does it differentiate a kid dashing across a street from a plastic bag blowing along the road?

The cars measure everything, down to the height of the curb. Critical info is shared across the fleet, anything from what different intersections are like (stop sign? traffic light? crossing guard?) to problem areas to avoid, like an accident scene. The technology also takes note of everything around it, from people to buildings to other cars.

The Valley, with its wide streets and perpetual sunshine, is an easy place to drive, Maynard noted. Is Waymo testing anywhere more challenging?

“We look for climates that test us,” Tekedra said. The company is testing in 24 cities, including snowy Colorado and the rainy Pacific Northwest.

How are backup drivers trained? “Their job is to remain alert,” she said. “There are a lot of humans around our cars who aren’t alert.”

Maynard brought up the fatality in Tempe last March, which occurred when a pedestrian ran out in front of an Uber self-driving vehicle and was killed.

“We are here to prevent that,” Tekedra said. “Days like that remind us of why we’re here.”

She called attention to the fact that despite 40,000 people dying on the nation’s roads each year, Americans don’t treat it as a mass casualty.

“There’s a part of driving that’s unsafe, and we’re comfortable with that,” she said. “These are risks that are worth taking because it’s better than the status quo."

Waymo is formerly the Google Self-Driving Car project — a technology company, not a car company.

“Do you have the institutional know-how?” Maynard asked.

Waymo makes the self-driving tech, not the actual cars, Tekedra said, which are made by Chrysler and other auto companies.

“We’re not actually in the auto industry,” she said.

What will 50 years from now look like? Maynard asked.

Fewer than 1,000 people dying each year in car accidents, and kids not knowing roads used to be dangerous places, Tekedra said.

Top photo: Waymo's Tekedra Mawakana talks with Professor Andrew Maynard about the challenges and opportunities of developing autonomous car technology and its effect on drivers at ASU's Marston Theater on April 11, 2019. Mawakana is the chief external officer and oversees the company's public policy and governmental relations, public affairs, communications, marketing and social policy. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now