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ASU Barrett scholar-in-residence gives advice, inspiration in keynote speech

January 29, 2018

Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the first scholar-in-residence under Barrett, The Honors College’s Distinguished Global Leader Program, dispensed practical advice, world observations and inspiration in a wide-ranging speech Jan. 24 at Arizona State University.

Vike-Freiberga, is the former president of the Republic of Latvia (1999–2007) and current president of the World Leadership Alliance/Club De Madrid. She will be a scholar-in-residence at Barrett until March 2. Vaira Vike-Freiberga Former President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Photo courtesy Nicole Greason/Barrett Honors College Download Full Image

In her talk, which was attended by approximately 300 ASU students, faculty, staff and community members in the Carson Ballroom at Old Main, the former president touched on many themes, including involvement in world affairs, leadership, the women’s movement, and politics.

Addressing students specifically, Vike-Freiberga said millennials should not be reticent about getting involved in domestic and world affairs, but rather seek out opportunities to engage locally and globally in meaningful ways.

“The decisions you make in life now will affect you all of your life. At the end of your life, hopefully you will have constructed a beautiful and worthwhile life of service to others,” she said.

Young people also should not fear change, but strive to find their place in society, as well as their purpose.

“We have to adjust to change. We can’t stay the same. Ask yourself, where do I fit in? Where does my country fit in?” adding that, “without a sense of contribution, without a sense of purpose we can’t have influence on the wheels of fate and fortune.”

A good dose of practicality and healthy skepticism also is necessary when engaging with leaders.

“Beware of political leaders who make unreasonable promises. Leaders will promise their followers the moon, but won’t give them what’s on the earth. Look for leaders who are practical and grounded in reality,” she said.

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Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former president of Latvia, speaks to a crowd of about 300 in her keynote address as Barrett, The Honors College's scholar-in-residence, under the college's Distinguished Global Leader Series. Photo courtesy Nicole Greason/Barrett Honors College

She also touched on these topics:

• Her views on U.S. President Donald Trump: “Is Mr. Trump’s threat of nuclear war going to change North Korea? I doubt it. Is the leader of North Korea’s work on developing nuclear bombs going to bring him world respect? I don’t think so.”

• Using privilege responsibly: “You are a privileged bunch. Privileged in the facilities that are available to you. Privileged to be where you are. You have the privilege of your capabilities. Make use of your gifts and privilege and use them to the fullest. Make yourselves agents of change for the good of your community and your world.”

• Thoughts on the worldwide women’s movement, in response to a question from an audience member: “Unfortunately, women have been clinging to the bottom of the wheel rather than the top. The key is to get a critical mass together to develop a super-saturated movement that will crystallize and create change. We are moving toward that and change is coming.”

• On refugees who may want to return to their own countries, in response to a question from an audience member: “The best thing you can do for your country is to go back and bring your knowledge and perspective. It is the biggest gift you can bring to your country; the fact that you have a broad perspective on the world.”

Vike-Freiberga will continue her residency with events, panel discussions and meetings with students. See her schedule here.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College


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Will our cities survive the 21st century?

January 29, 2018

Mexico City panel, co-hosted by ASU, delves into resiliency of cities

The city of Miami is sinking. Yes, in the literal sense — swaths of the metropolis, built on flat permeable limestone, will be swallowed by seas expected to rise between 4 to 8 feet globally by the century’s end.

The $50 million waterfront condos still being developed on Miami Beach; the working-class stucco homes miles from the coast in Hialeah; beaches, hotels, office buildings, malls, hospitals, schools, highways, wastewater treatment plants and airports in between will be under water. 

"Long before Miami is the New Atlantis, it will be broke and waterlogged and full of half-abandoned neighborhoods where mosquitoes breed and leaking septic systems turn Biscayne Bay into an algae-filled lagoon," Rolling Stone contributing editor Jeff Goodell wrote in his recent book, "The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World."

It’s also the scene Goodell set for the audience of “Will our Cities Survive the 21st Century?,” a Future Tense event co-hosted by Arizona State University and COMEXI, Mexico’s influential foreign affairs think tank, on Jan. 23 at one of Mexico City’s WeWork spaces. The conversation brought together reporters, experts and resilience officers from around the world. And, partnered with a 38th-floor window view of the western hemisphere’s second-largest city, it put the stakes on display.

Goodell explained that though not every city faces the same threats, the Miami thought experiment provides a good analogy for the risks others will face in the coming decades. Rising seas coming for Rio de Janeiro and Jakarta. Blaring heat waves looming for Phoenix and Dubai. Deadlier quakes lying in wait for Los Angeles and Tokyo. Megafloods on the horizon for Rotterdam and Guangzhou. The specter of scarcity, migration, disease and instability that will spill over from the stress of climate change.

Mother Nature is a fierce adversary, he said, and presents challenges that can’t be easily engineered away. Where are we going to spend our money? Who and what gets protected or saved? Who lives behind the sea walls, and who doesn’t?

Getting our priorites straight

Atyia Martin, the former chief resiliency officer for the city of Boston, said she had to think a lot about these questions of priorities. When she started her job in 2015, she said, “We realized we had to look at ‘resilience’ from a different perspective. A lot of times with resilience, people get stuck on the environment, on infrastructure, on assets, on the economy, but we don’t really connect the dots between those things and people. The reason all that stuff exists.”

Looking at the data, Martin said she and her team saw how previous initiatives disproportionately burdened people of color — the majority of the city’s population —exacerbating existing inequalities and stressing the social cohesion that makes urban life successful.

“We can’t claim our city is resilient if only some of us are resilient,” she said.

Martin and others in the conversation said that any successful future for cities relied on involving all communities when communicating threats, setting priorities and making decisions about mitigation and adaptation.

When Shade Shutters, a senior sustainability scientist at the ASU Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, said he went to communities and economic developers in Arizona with tools to help them create green economies, they initially dismissed him, responding that they wanted to prioritize jobs. The mindset was often, "put food on the table first, then you can think about the long-term."

Shutters said it took years of back and forth to realize that rebranding “green decision tools” as “innovation and creative economy tools,” and asking Arizonans “how would you like to be an energy-exporting state?,” could get all parties to engage and realize they want the same thing.

Shade Shutters, a senior sustainability scientist with the Arizona State University Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, speaks about green economies during a panel discussion held in Mexico City Jan. 23. Photo by Zayda Ávila

Turning fear into motivation

In coastal Wellington, New Zealand, bright blue road markings indicating “Tsumani safe zones” — the inland lines experts determined to be out of reach of the largest projected mega-wave — demonstrate how making clear information available can help people to make their own choices, said Derek Baxter, Wellington City Council engineer. Similar people-centric designs could map earthquake zones or sea level rise too.

But with the magnitude of the potential devastation climate change, natural disaster, economic disruption, and other threats pose, how much truth can you tell people before they feel hopeless, overwhelmed, or in denial? Then how do you turn that information into change when the inertia to do everything the same is so strong? It’s something Barack Obama struggled with, Goodell said, who interviewed the president when he made a public trip to the Arctic in 2015.  

“Never let a good crisis opportunity go,” said Baxter, who acknowledged the political difficulty of taking action to adapt to the rising seas, heat waves, floods and prolonged droughts that climate change has already started to bring to the nation. After disasters, people are quick to forget the nightmare of their experience and the goodwill it inspired among the community after.

A big theme of the second half of the event was how crisis worked to make Mexico City more resilient. After a devastating earthquake hit the capital in 1985, killing thousands if not tens of thousands of people, public pressure pushed the government to invest heavily in earthquake engineering, stricter building codes, evacuation protocols, and early warning systems. When powerful twin quakes hit last September, including one on the anniversary of the 1985 disaster, the city fared far better.

But the metropolis of nearly 9 million, with suburbs that raise the population up to 21.3 million, isn’t yet as resilient on other measures. Chronic sociopolitical problems, chiefly inequality and corruption, strain the city. As do environmental and engineering problems, including pollution, traffic, floods, and a water supply that’s stressed, overexploited, and depleting. Oh, and the city is literally sinking into the ground.

Taking lessons from Mexico City

Sergio Alcocer, a research professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Engineering and president of México Exponencial, a think tank focused on advancing tech-savvy public policies, said tackling these many issues should start with setting a minimum standard of resilience for all residents, and prioritizing areas below that standard first.

“Mexico City is a city of many cities,” he said, alluding to the vast differences in character and quality of life across the sprawling megalopolis. In one of Mexico City’s largest and poorest neighborhoods, Iztapalapa, for example, the municipal water pipes are so filled with cracks that families can’t count on them for water. Instead, they must wait hours for unreliable delivery trucks for a few days’ supply. Meanwhile in wealthy Condesa, for reasons of affluence and geography, clean water flows freely. A strong resilience plan, said Alcocer, needs to focus on “democratizing quality of life.”

Some of that is already coming from citizens. In the 1980s, Alcocer said, Mexican society was not as demanding, and people often accepted problems as a given. In recent years, he said, more people have been claiming their place, both pushing government and making changes in their own communities.

As a child growing up in a heavily polluted Mexico City in the 1980s, Arnoldo Matus Kramer — now the city’s chief resilience officer — said such citizen pressure forced government to monitor and improve its air quality. He also said he sees a great sustainable mobility movement rising in the city. Young people starting to walk, bike, or take public transit during the week may finally break the car culture that’s led to the city’s nightmarishly congested roads. Meanwhile, there’s been a rethinking of how public spaces can enhance sustainability, such as parks and soccer fields that double as catch basins during floods, or installing rainwater collection and treatment systems. Governments, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs (including a bar that sells artisanal purified rainwater) are already on it.

Top photo: Panel members at the "Will Our Cities Survive the 21st Century" event spoke on topics regarding climate change, sustainability and disaster prevention. Photo by Zayda Ávila

Written by Kirsten Berg, ASU Office of University Affairs

Q&A: How can research support the new DOD National Defense Strategy?

ASU director discusses the growing complexity of security challenges around the globe

January 26, 2018

For the first time in ten years, the U.S. Department of Defense has a new National Defense Strategy. The strategy, released Jan. 19, covers a range of global issues affecting the U.S., including an increasingly complex age of technological innovation and warfare.

“The reemergence of long-term strategic competition, rapid dispersion of technologies, and new concepts of warfare and competition that span the entire spectrum of conflict require a Joint Force structured to match this reality,” the report’s summary reads. Nadya Bliss Nadya Bliss. Download Full Image

ASU Now spoke with Nadya Bliss, director of Arizona State University's Global Security Initiative, about the growing complexity of security challenges around the globe, and how research can help address these challenges.

Question: What are your biggest takeaways from the DOD’s new strategy?

Answer: There is a clear focus on sustained commitment to maintaining a technological edge in support of the warfighter in the changing geopolitical landscape. Secretary (Jim) Mattis is committed to the U.S. maintaining its dominance, particularly in the context of emerging operational domains, such as space and cyberspace. In addition to technological advancements, there is a clear emphasis on implications of new technologies on operations and future conflict.

This strategy creates an opportunity and an environment to motivate new and disruptive research — both in technology and engineering and in interdisciplinary work. Also, there is a clear emphasis on the need for process innovation — essentially, we can’t just build the most cutting edge technology, we also need means with which to get it in the hands of people who need it.

Q: One portion of the strategy reads, “the surest way to prevent war is to be prepared to win one.” What does that mean for the research community? 

A: First, let me point out that this sentiment very much resonates with me. Often, researchers have misconceptions about what working with Department of Defense looks like — that the Department only focuses on weapons, weapon systems and kinetic warfare. A huge focus of the Department is deterrence — avoiding military conflict.

One of the key aspects of the strategy is making sure the U.S. is not just keeping up with all the technological developments, but is leading those developments. Particular topics of interest to the Department, specifically in context of research and development, are swarm robotics, cybersecurity, big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and biotechnology.

ASU’s research strengths align with well with national needs. ASU’s work in swarm robotics, particularly the newly established Center for Human, Artificial Intelligence and Robot Teaming, is highly relevant to the new strategy; similarly, work on novel immunosignature technologies have relevance to emerging biosecurity challenges. Work in the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics, particularly on automated malware analysis and system resilience, have potential to increase efficiency of cyber operations.

Q: How can researchers work together with the Department of Defense, private companies and other entities to develop and implement solutions to these challenges?

A: The Department of Defense invests more than $2 billion annually in basic research. Significant additional funding is allocated to applied research. Both research components and labs of services – Army, Navy, Air Force — and agencies like DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, provide lots of opportunities for universities to engage.

The thing that tends to be different about the DOD, as compared to the NSF (National Science Foundation), for example, is that while the DOD still wants to fund basic science and engineering work, they would like you to think about how this work has impact on the DOD mission and needs.

This particular strategy strikes me as one that appreciates the long-term need for research investments. Plus, there is tremendous amount of opportunity for impact and quite frankly the problems are incredibly interesting. This strategy also calls for ensuring our alliances are strong — strategic international research alliances, such as the PLuS alliance, could have significant potential. 

Leslie Minton

Media Relations Manager, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Netherlands ambassador speaks at Thunderbird

January 26, 2018

Thunderbird School of Global Management has long been a place where world leaders, dignitaries and business leaders have stopped in to address students, faculty and the community. A visit on Jan. 23 from Henne Schuwer, ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States, was no exception.

In the United States for his third assignment on behalf of the Netherlands’ government, Schuwer kicked off his visit with a keynote that brought in students and alumni from around the Valley.  Honorable Henne Schuwer, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Honorable Henne Schuwer, ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Download Full Image

In his opening remarks on "The Silent Partner: The Netherlands’ Role in the U.S. Economy," Schuwer noted that he believes there is a link between Thunderbird’s former role as a training facility for fighter pilots, and its current role as an educator of business leaders who will go out into the world and fight to build relationships.

“You need to see what the world is about and spread what you’ve learned here — the necessity of international trade — to other parts of the world,” he said.

Watch the video of Schuwer's keynote.

Tolerance is the foundation of a good relationship

According to Schuwer, part of building relationships is understanding and tolerating differences.

“The Netherlands accepted Jews from Spain and France, Christian Huguenots when they fled France, and Belgian and Flemish [refugees] when [Belgium] fell to Spain. The business model of tolerance helped make the Netherlands the richest country in the world, because we were accepting of other people,” he said.

“The Netherlands has long been a nation of tolerance,” Schuwer added. “It’s been the key to our success.”

Schuwer said that part of that success can also be attributed to the Netherlands’ long-standing relationship with the United States, even before it became a country. A 1609 expedition in search of a passage to the Far East failed when they realized the Hudson River would not get them there. But, it succeeded in the founding of New Amsterdam, now New York City.

Other facts he gave about the Netherlands' relationship with the U.S. included:

• The Netherlands helped fund the American Revolution by loaning 5 million guilders in 1782, and assisted in financing the Louisiana Purchase with a 13 million-guilder loan.

• More than 850 Dutch companies are active in the United States, such as Royal Dutch Shell, Philips and Unilever, and have invested over $274 billion.

• More than 2,000 American companies have invested more than $723 billion in the Netherlands.

• The Netherlands exports more than $700 billion per year, making it the second-largest exporter in the European Union and sixth in the world.

• It’s the second-largest net agricultural exporter in the world, all for a country of 17 million people that’s the size of Coconino County (which is 1/7th of Arizona’s total size).

• More than 17,000 U.S. service personnel are interred in the cemetery in Margraten, in memory to the thousands of troops who helped liberate the Netherlands from the Nazis in WWII.

Politics makes strange bedfellows

Schuwer said that good international relationships are not built on business alone; politics also play an important role. He noted that this was made apparent during the 2016 presidential election, where international trade was treated as a “bogeyman” by both candidates — that it was bad for America, took American jobs and was bad for the economy. Then-candidate Donald Trump decried the trade deficit, said he would renegotiate NAFTA and was going to leave the TPP.

The ambassador said he believes the U.S. leaving the TPP within the first week of the new administration was a mistake, but does think that NAFTA could use a refresh.

“There are valid reasons to do so. [NAFTA] needs to address many 21st-century issues not covered by the 20th-century agreement, such as intellectual property,” he said. “But I believe it’s inconceivable that Mexico would agree to a big shift in the labor force…back to the U.S. If that’s the ultimate goal, I think you’re in for a deadlock and failure.”

Deficits aren’t all bad

As for the trade deficit, Schuwer said he sees the upside and downside.

“If you’ve got a deficit,” he said, “the other guy is better off. But international trade isn’t a zero-sum game, where the people with the surplus are the winners. It’s got to be a global balance.

“While the United States does have a substantial trade deficit around the world, it has an enormous surplus of investments here. For example, BMW’s largest exporting factory is in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and employs over 8,000 workers. The U.S. attracts an enormous amount of investment. Your trade deficit is in goods, but not services, an important distinction when 80 percent of the American economy is in services.”

International trade is good for international security

With the idea that trade is what keeps countries safe, Schuwer quoted from Thunderbird faculty member, Dr. William L. Schurz: “Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers.”

“This is the essence of international trade relations and people trading with each other, and the essence of what you have to learn here,” Schuwer said.  “It’s more than trade, it’s building a society where you have more than economic interests, such that war would be impractical.

“Free trade is the precursor for a free world.”

Written by Tim Weaver, Thunderbird Executive Education

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Foreign aid is a delicate dance of quid pro quo

Former ambassador says cutting off U.S. foreign aid would be self-defeating.
January 25, 2018

Former ambassador says relief to other countries requires careful contemplation

Pakistan, Palestine, Nigeria and many developing countries may soon feel the pinch if the Trump administration and the British government carry out their threats to cut foreign aid. The two countries have stated they are questioning the efficacy of the funding and wonder if the money might be better spent on infrastructure projects.

The United States and the U.K. spend billions of dollars a year in assistance, but lately they are threatening to curtail their largesse when other nations don’t reciprocate. ASU Now spoke to Ambassador Michael C. Polt, senior director of next-generation leadership programs for ASU's Washington D.C.-based The McCain Institute for International Leadership, which is dedicated to advancing character-driven global leadership based on security, economic opportunity, freedom and human dignity.

Polt, the former U.S. ambassador to Estonia, Serbia and Montenegro, served under presidents from Ronald Reagan through Barack Obama. 

Man in glasses in black suit
Michael C. Polt

Question: President Donald Trump has recently voiced his displeasure with Pakistan for taking billions in foreign aid and being unwilling to pursue terrorist networks. How important is foreign aid to Pakistan?

Answer: U.S. assistance to Pakistan, amounting to roughly $1 billion in 2016, is a significant contribution to encouraging Pakistani efforts to combat terrorism and build democracy and the rule of law along with economic stability. It is no secret that for some time the United States, over several administrations, has not been satisfied with the level of effort and accountability by Pakistani authorities on behalf of these goals. It is absolutely proper for our government to exercise due diligence and control in monitoring the use of American taxpayer resources on behalf of our foreign-policy goals and in support of our declared partners in helping achieve a set of common objectives.

Q: Do you see benefit in continuing foreign aid to Pakistan and the region?

A: Yes, I do. Pakistan, Afghanistan and other regional states live in a dangerous neighborhood, and many are far from achieving their own national security and making much needed contributions to the broader stability, prosperity and democratic development of the region. Despite the clear challenges in making U.S. and other nations’ support for such efforts count and show positive results, U.S. diplomatic, military and developmental engagement remain important in support of protecting American interests.

Q: A few journalists have claimed that Trump, and more recently Britain, are using aid cuts as a foreign-policy tool to punish the recipient. Do you feel there’s any truth to this statement?

A: U.S. foreign assistance is an essential tool of U.S. foreign policy. Careful targeting of assistance programs worldwide and thorough monitoring of the effective use of assistance funds are needed to maximize the benefit to both us as donors and to the recipient nations and societies. Including foreign aid in the broader development and execution of U.S. foreign policy is every administration’s responsibility.

Q: How important is foreign aid? And if it were cut off, how significant would it be to our relationships and the stability of the world?

A: Thoughtful allocation and deployment of U.S. foreign assistance is essential, as is periodic review and adjustment, including conditionality attached to its use. Any suggestion of “cutting off” U.S. foreign assistance, a percentage of barely 1 percent of the annual federal budget, would be self-defeating and harmful to our national and global interests. 


Top photo: Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Wing push pallets of halal meals onto a cargo plane. These meals were delivered to Pakistan as part of a humanitarian relief mission. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

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ASU selected as host for the Association for Borderlands Studies

January 25, 2018

As the conversations surrounding borderlands continue to evolve, so too does Arizona State University's role as a thought leader in the global discourse on borderland studies.

The association is the leading global, scholarly association in the field of borderland studies, with more than 1700 memberships in 55 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. Members include individual scholars, international organizations, and professionals from various universities, who are dedicated to the systematic study and exchange of ideas related to borderlands and frontier areas.

As the host institution, ASU will assume ABS's administrative duties to both support and amplify the association's goals.

The importance of ASU’s commitment to borderland studies in Arizona should come as no surprise, said Francisco Lara-Valencia, associate professor in the School of Transborder Studies and ABS president-elect.

“If you consider that the major trading partner of Arizona is Mexico, and that one in three Arizonans have some connection with Mexico, it is easy to fathom the importance of border studies for ASU,” Lara-Valencia said.

But behind the veil of Arizona and Mexico’s mutual economic partnership, lies a parallel, national conversation about border security and immigration, Lara-Valencia added: "One portraying it as a resource, and the other one as a hazard.” 

Being in Arizona provides ABS and ASU with the unique opportunity to be engaged in the global conversation about borders and transborder social, cultural, economic, political, and environmental realities. 

“In many ways, Arizona is ground zero for border studies,” said Lara-Valencia. “Scholars and policy-makers in other border regions of the world are looking at Arizona for understanding and experience that can be useful in explaining their own border realities.”

ABS hosts an annual conference with its members and publishes a quarterly, peer-reviewed journal. More information about the Association for Borderland Studies can be found at absborderlands.org.


Top photo: "Mexico, 1857," School of Transborder Studies Gallery. Photo by Andy DeLisle (2014)

Jamie Ell

Multimedia editor , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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New Global Futures leader on people, the planet and the task we have ahead of us

January 23, 2018

Leading earth scientist Peter Schlosser to head ASU center, launched with the goal of planetary management

There are big-picture jobs, and then there’s Peter Schlosser’s mission.

He has the whole world in his hands.

One of the world’s leading earth scientists, with an expertise in the Earth’s hydrosphere and how humans affect the planet’s natural state, Schlosser has been tapped to head Arizona State University’s new Global Futures Initiative, announced this week by ASU President Michael M. Crow.

The initiative will look for ways for humankind to manage the planet as a whole and extend habitability. Schlosser will act as an orchestra conductor, linking related research at the university and forming partnerships with prominent scientists domestically and internationally. As University Global Futures ProfessorSchlosser will have joint appointments in the School of Sustainability, the School of Earth and Space Exploration in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering., he will look at the planet from a systems approach.

“The world, the planet, and its subsystems are all complex systems, and we really take the systems approach,” said Schlosser, whose formal title will be vice president and vice provost of Global Futures at ASU. “We might hone in on parts of that system to solve a particular problem, but once we have solved them we have to bring it back into the context of the overall earth system.”

Schlosser defined what he means when he uses the word “planet”: “the physical, bio-geo-chemical, social, economic, cultural domains, all integrated because they can’t really be separated.”

The effort will tackle more than climate change. Water scarcity, food security, population growth and degradation of soils are all serious sustainability issues.

“We are pushing the limits on many fronts,” Schlosser said. “It’s a very fine-tuned planet. You turn one knob, and you are sure to see the ripple effects throughout the entire system. Some react very fast — it’s what we call resonance points. If you hit some of these resonance points, by a little nudging, you might have a huge effect.”

We talked to him about the new initiative, his role, what needs to be done, and what the biggest problems are.

Question: In your words, what is the mission of the Global Futures Initiative?

Answer: What I’m looking at is a way to get a feeling for where the planet might head — there are different trajectories — and find out which state might be the most favorable for life in the future, for societies to thrive, and for us not to exceed the boundaries of what the planet has to offer; in other words, not to puncture through too many of the planetary boundaries, which means resources the planet has to offer, living conditions, etc.

As we are looking for these possible future states of the planet we also have to consider if we know how to get there. If we imagine different states, some that are shaped by aggressive development, some shaped by less-aggressive development, we have to explore which possible trajectories we have and to which extent do we have to manage the planet, and — more fundamentally — how well can we manage the planet?

Q: What is your role with the initiative?

A: My role will be to bring together the talent pool from within — and there is already a large talent pool at ASU — get them grouped around this question, and some of the bigger subquestions, but also reach out beyond the boundaries of ASU to form a national and international network of scholars who can contribute to these questions.

These questions are big. They are so big that no single university, no single small alliance of universities can really fully solve them. We might expand existing networks to a more global level, to more involvement of prominent scholars who are working on these and similar questions, so that we really have access to the full talent pool that is around and can help move these questions forward and find answers to them.

Q: What will have to be done first?

A: We really have to dedicate academia to accept that we are already engineering the planet in many random fashions. We have to commit to move toward what I would call planetary management, which means a more structured, strategic, thought-out management of our resources, of the way we use the planet, of the way we live on the planet, and on the way we shape the environment for a future that is in sync with what the planet actually offers us and does not exceed all the boundaries and thereby destroy our foundation. ... This is not something we can solve like the moonshot, and then it’s done. We are in the Anthropocene, and this will be with us for as long as we can think forward.

Q: What’s the biggest problem, in your view?

A: The biggest problem in my view is the time scale. The problems are evolving so fast that we have trouble to catch up. For example, take the Paris Accord. By 2050, 2060, within the next three or four decades we have to be carbon neutral, which means we cannot increase the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. That’s a very short time. Right now we still burn significant amounts of fossil fuels. That’s just one example of what our challenge really is.

It is of course based on looking at things in fundamental ways — that is what academia has done in its entire history. What is added in the area of sustainability, of global futures, as an additional, specific and defining factor is that the timelines are really short for us to act. I see that as one of the major challenges.


Top photo: University Global Futures Professor Peter Schlosser talks about his goals and transdisciplinary commitments in his new position at ASU on Jan. 4. While his primary research focuses on hydrologic systems, specifically oceans and groundwater, he will direct research at ASU on planetary challenges from a systems perspective as vice president and vice provost for Global Futures. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


Former Latvian president joins ASU as scholar-in-residence

January 22, 2018

Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former president of the Republic of Latvia (1999–2007), and current president of the World Leadership Alliance/Club De Madrid, has joined Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State Unviersity as a scholar-in-residence under its Distinguished Global Leader Series.

From late-January through March, Vike-Freiberga will be the featured speaker at a series of large campus events and guest lectures in Barrett Honors courses. She also will meet with Barrett students in small group formats to discuss current events and her experiences as a global leader. See a schedule of her appearances on the Barrett website. Vaira Vike-Freiberga Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former president of Latvia and Barrett, The Honors College scholar-in-residence. Download Full Image

"The faculty, students and staff of Barrett, The Honors College warmly welcome Dr. Vike-Freiberga, and her husband, Dr. Imants Freibergs, to Tempe and Arizona State University and extend our gratitude to her for her time and efforts in sharing her immense knowledge and expertise with our students and faculty," said Mark Jacobs, dean of Barrett, The Honors College.

Vike-Freiberga has an interesting and extensive biography, filled with service to her country and activities on the world stage.

She played an instrumental role in achieving membership in the European Union and NATO for her country and raised the nation's recognition in the world through her international activities. She was appointed special envoy on United Nations reform in 2005 and was an official candidate for the post of UN secretary general in 2006.

Since the end of her presidency in 2007, Vike-Freiberga has been solicited as an invited speaker on social issues, moral values, European historical dialogue and democracy. In December 2007, she was appointed vice-chair of the Reflection Group on the long-term future of Europe. In 2011–2012, she chaired the High-Level Group on freedom and pluralism of the media in the EU. Since 2014, she has been president of the Club de Madrid, which has a membership of over 100 democratically-elected former heads of state and government. In 2015, she was a member of two High-Level Groups on European security and defense. In 2016, she was a member of the High-Level Independent Team of Advisors to the UN Economic and Social Council Dialogue on UN development.     

Born in Riga in 1937, and having left Latvia as a child refugee, Vike-Freiberga started schooling in a refugee camp in Germany in 1945, continued in French Morocco, and pursued higher education in Canada. In 1965, she received a doctorate in experimental psychology at McGill University in Montreal. Vike-Freiberga emerged as a prominent spokesperson on politics and science policy while a professor of psychology and interdisciplinary scholar at the University of Montreal (1965–1998). She returned to her native country in 1998 to head the Latvian Institute. Less than a year later, she was elected president by the Latvian parliament and re-elected in 2003.

Vike-Freiberga is a member, board member or patron of 30 international organizations, including the World Leadership Alliance (president), the Board of Trustees of the Nizami Ganjavi International Centre (co-chair), the Global Leadership Foundation, as well as five academies, and an honorary fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford University. She has been awarded 34 Orders of Merit (first class) and 19 honorary doctorates, as well as many medals, prizes and honors, for her distinguished work in the humanities and social sciences. She has published 15 books and authored more than 200 articles, book chapters, reports, and audiovisual materials.

See what Vike-Freiberga has to say about global politics, her role as president of Latvia, an encounter with Oprah Winfrey and other topics in this Q&A.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College


2 ASU students receive Barrett Global Explorers Grant

Award allows Barrett, The Honors College students to conduct research abroad

January 22, 2018

One will study human-wildlife interactions, the other will study human trafficking support. With the support of the Barrett Global Explorers Grant, Arizona State University Barrett, The Honors College juniors Kinley Ragan and Lauren Barnes will do their best to circumnavigate the globe this summer while conducting research for their senior honors theses.

Previously known as the Barrett Honors Intercontinental Study Award, the newly reconceived grant provides funding for Barrett juniors to conduct a multi-country research project. In addition, students develop global connections and bolster their understanding of world issues. Grants range up to $10,000. Kinley Ragan Kinley Ragan, a biological sciences major, has won the Barrett Global Explorers Grant to conduct a multi-country research project. Download Full Image

A biological sciences major who is also pursuing a minor in statistics and a certificate in Geographic Information Systems, Ragan will conduct research for her project, “Human Wildlife Conflict Management in an Expanding Society,” over a period of 12 weeks in five different countries. To develop an improved understanding of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) mitigation strategies across the globe, she will visit national parks in Thailand, Australia, Nepal, South Africa, and Colombia and interview park rangers and local community members.

“Humanity is expanding and new landscapes are being reached every day. With our development comes decreased land for animals, smaller buffer zones, and more run-ins with wildlife,” Ragan said. “This research is significant because it impacts everyone and is a global issue. To maintain biodiversity and human and ecosystem well-being, we need to coexist with our wildlife,” she added. Ragan said she plans to publish her research and expand on her project in graduate school as she pursues a doctorate.

Barnes, a social work major, will conduct research on the means by which communities around the world provide resources and support to survivors of sex trafficking. She will meet with members of non-governmental and law enforcement organizations in at least three different countries, as well as service providers and non-profit groups to interview them and document what services they provide and how. Considering that she has never before traveled outside the United States, Barnes is especially excited to conduct research in Ireland, France, Spain, Ghana, or South Korea.

“This research is significant because sex trafficking is an under-researched area and being able to identify and understand it on a global level increases our abilities as a world to fight this issue and support these survivors,” Barnes said. 

The application process for the Global Explorers Grant is quite rigorous. Applicants must initially submit a five-page proposal detailing an international research project spanning at least five countries on at least three different continents. A committee of Barrett faculty members then selects the five strongest applicants for development into ten-page proposals. The final selection meeting also includes a 10-minute oral presentation and a 20-minute interview with the award committee.

“It was one of the tougher application and interview processes I’ve been through,” Barnes said. “I am extremely grateful and excited. I know this is a large award and feel so thankful for the (award) committee believing in my project and me. I look forward to spending my summer researching a topic I care deeply about.”

Kyle Mox, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement, housed at Barrett on the Tempe campus, said members of the award committee agreed that these research projects are worth supporting because they highlight ASU’s interest in social embeddedness and Barrett’s commitment to global initiatives.

“Both of these projects are not only important for the students’ intellectual and professional development, they also have the potential to help solve important global problems,” he said. “We agreed that they represent the ambitions that we hope to foster at Barrett and ASU — to be future ‘problem solvers.’”

Another important selection criteria for the award are the student’s personal characteristics.

“We hope to see students who are independent, thoughtful, and culturally aware,” Mox added. “Considering that they are going to be essentially circumnavigating the planet on their own, it’s important that they also demonstrate maturity and resourcefulness, not to mention a little courage.”

The expansion and renaming of the program follows a generous donation from long-time Barrett benefactor Charles Bivenour. A member of the Circumnavigators Club, an international organization founded in the early 1990s to promote global travel, Bivenour sees international travel as integral to undergraduates’ educations.

“I feel having international travel and exposure to different countries and cultures is absolutely necessary for students. With support from the Barrett Global Explorers Grant, not only do students develop a project that will satisfy their intellectual growth, they also have an opportunity that will contribute to their overall personal development,” he said.

Bivenour also served as a member of the award committee.

“I am honored to be involved with ASU and especially Barrett by helping support the grant,” he added. “It’s my way of doing something meaningful and worthwhile.”

Barrett, The Honors College is in the midst of Campaign 2020, an effort to gain support for programs like this grant and other opportunities that help students fulfill their goals and potential. The campaign focuses on building support in several areas, including student scholarships; fostering global citizenship by expanding access to educational travel, global leaders and internships; increasing the amount of professional development funds for honors faculty and establishing a visiting honors faculty program; and developing an honors student success center. Find out more about how you can join them in strengthening Barrett’s unique learning environment.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College


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Unlocking the magic of the 'dry Atlantis'

ASU professor says mysterious Teotihuacan was his "first love" in archaeology.
Ancient Teotihuacan city may hold solutions to wealth inequality.
January 19, 2018

Meet the ASU professor working to bring the cutting-edge ideas of mysterious, ancient Teotihuacan back into the light

Have you ever felt a deep, instant bond with a city? A place where the people, culture and even the architecture all seem to whisper, “This is where you belong”?

Arizona State University’s Michael Smith experienced this feeling as a student in the '70s — but for a city that had sat unoccupied for more than 1,000 years.

“Teotihuacan was my ‘first love’ in archaeology,” he said.

So he threw himself into a world of artifacts and ruins to piece together what life was like in Teotihuacan’s heyday. While it’s known the city hosted a peak population of 80,000 and influenced culture in the surrounding area during — and even after — its time, just who built and ran the place is something of a mystery. Along the way to uncovering those secrets, however, Smith is finding valuable lessons for our own modern cities.

In the last year, he has studied everything from inequality in the world’s ancient settlements to buying and selling in the Aztec empire. But for the Teotihuacan Research Laboratory director and School of Human Evolution and Social Change professor, the journey to get there didn’t start with amazing discoveries.

It started with a wide-eyed undergraduate who connected with an ancient city.

A legend sparks a lifelong passion

After reading a book during college that suggested ancient Mesoamericans were from the lost city of Atlantis, Smith read up on the Aztecs and Maya. Though he quickly dismissed the story as “a bunch of baloney,” the lure of a civilization with unknown mysteries stuck with him. Through archaeology, he realized, the sealed doors of time could indeed be cracked open.

He took courses from Professor George Cowgill, a world authority on Teotihuacan, and lost himself to the ancient city after a summer research project there.

photo of Smith as a student at Teotihuacan in 1974
Michael Smith at Teotihuacan as a student in 1974.

“I found the experience of walking the fields, finding traces of ancient sites and visiting major ruins very exciting, something I wanted to devote my career to,” Smith said. “I also fell in love with Mexico — the country, the people, the food, the music.”

After earning his graduate degree, Smith spent nearly 15 years doing fieldwork on Aztec daily life in Cuernavaca, Mexico, before returning to Teotihuacan to support the site’s research laboratory and eventually replace Cowgill when he retired as lab director.

“Switching my research from the Aztec period back to Teotihuacan was a natural development,” he said, despite the thousand-year difference between the two societies.

His research had undergone another change — one activated when the ASU Department of Anthropology broke down the barriers between anthropology’s subdisciplines and added new areas of study around applied math, health and the environment, becoming the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

Though he was skeptical at first, Smith now describes this as a “turning point” for himself and the school, as it prompted him to work with researchers from other fields and study cities through the ages. This gradually became his main research focus, and his work at Teotihuacan only reinforced it.

“During this process, I was transformed from an archaeologist with comparative interests into a truly transdisciplinary scholar of urbanism,” Smith said. Today, he admits he’s as likely to read a sociological paper on neighborhoods as he is an archaeological account of the Aztecs.

At Teotihuacan, the expanded possibilities of interdisciplinary work bring revelations that manage to surprise even one of the men who know it best.

Shocking levels of equality in an ancient society

Despite our progress in many areas since the time of Teotihuacan, modern cities still grapple with increasing gaps between the rich and poor. Some of the solutions for the future, however, may lie in the past.

Smith’s recent work, published with Timothy Kohler of Washington State University in Nature, explored the roots of inequality, starting with ancient settlements around the world. Working with a team of researchers from other institutions, Kohler and Smith found that once people made the switch to farming, inequality kept climbing in the Old World, yet stayed the same in the New World.

The culprits, according to their study, were draft animals. Horses, cows and the like allowed the wealthy Old World farmers who owned them to plow more land and grow extra food, making them even richer. In the New World, meanwhile, draft animals weren’t available, so farming was limited by the use of human labor.

He and the team used the differences in house size at various settlements to calculate their Gini indexes — a standard measurement of inequality where zero means everyone has the same amount of wealth and one means a single person holds all the wealth.

photo of Teotihuacan housing compound "Palace of the Sun"
Palace of the Sun, a housing compound at Teotihuacan.

Naturally, one of the settlements measured for the study was Teotihuacan. Though it was one of the largest ancient cities in the New World, its index is a surprisingly low 0.12.

“In fact, this is the lowest Gini index for any state-level society ever studied,” Smith said. He explained that the widespread use of large homes and the absence of a big royal palace give Teotihuacan its low score.

This society stands in contrast to that of the Aztecs, whose economy Smith researched for his new book, "Rethinking the Aztec Economy."

The Aztecs were a people of strict social classes, which shows in the way they viewed wealth and ownership.

They used currency (cacao beans for small purchases, set sizes of cotton cloth for large purchases) to measure and track wealth. Some members of the middle class, like merchants, could occasionally become richer than nobility — but they had to hide it. Commoners were also barred from land ownership, which was only for the nobles who ruled the government.

At Teotihuacan, meanwhile, signs of high wealth-equality abound. Luxurious apartment compounds with colorful mural paintings on the walls and open-air patios were the standard for the average home.

Smith and Kohler will explore the topic and its takeaways for modern cities even further in their upcoming book, "Ten Thousand Years of Inequality: The Archaeology of Wealth Differences."

“One basic lesson is that it is possible to have a large and prosperous city without having a huge underclass of poor, disenfranchised people,” Smith said. “If the ancient people of Teotihuacan could figure out how to do this, then perhaps today’s cities can, too.”

Where the mysteries are hidden in plain sight

After being inducted as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science next month, Smith plans to immerse himself in research at Teotihuacan — but amazingly, none of it involves him picking up a shovel.

That’s because decades of archaeologists have done the digging for him. In fact, the lab facility at Teotihuacan is stuffed to the brim with artifacts and records, and many of them have never even been studied. ASU students often travel to the lab and spend their summers trying to help catalog it all.

photo of Smith working in the Teotihuacan lab
Smith working in the Teotihuacan lab.

“Much can be learned about ancient Teotihuacan without carrying out new fieldwork,” Smith said. “Like all archaeologists, I love fieldwork, and the thought of digging at Teotihuacan is tantalizing. But I realized that I can create more and better knowledge of the site — more ‘bang for the buck’ — by concentrating on the existing data.”

One project based on this concept is the completion of the Teotihuacan Mapping Project, an effort to map the entire ancient city that began in the 1960s. Smith recently received a National Science Foundation grant to finish many of the outstanding tasks and archive the data and results in ASU’s the Digital Archaeological Record, an online archive of archaeological data managed by the Center for Digital Antiquity.

Another major focus will be analyzing Teotihuacan’s unusual form of standard housing, called the apartment compound, to begin uncovering the mystery of why everyone lived in luxury villas. Smith believes that understanding this aspect of Teotihuacan life will open a window into even more areas of their society, from economics to their ever-elusive form of government.

It’s easy to see why, nearly 40 years later, Smith continues to have such a passion for this ancient city. With each new generation of researchers come fresh insights into its past — of the archaeological, rather than the Atlantian, variety.

Now a respected authority in his own right, Smith is able to instill that same passion in even more wide-eyed students, setting them on a path to unknown discoveries and ensuring that Teotihuacan lives on as a scientific and cultural model for thriving future cities.

Mikala Kass

communications assistant , School of Human Evolution and Social Change