Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

October 29, 2007


Host: Larry Lemmons

Sustainability Town Hall


  • Highlights from the Sustainability Town Hall with Rep. Harry Mitchell. Hosted by ASU, the town hall features sustainability experts from the university and the city of Scottsdale. Congressman Mitchell speaks on the importance of stressing environmental alternatives.
Category: Sustainability

View Transcript
>>Larry Lemmons:
Tonight on Horizon, Congressman Harry Mitchell hosts a town hall on the ASU campus on sustainability. Highlights of that event next on this Horizon special edition.

>>Announcer:
Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Good evening and thanks for joining us on this Horizon special edition. I'm Larry Lemmons. Recently Arizona state university held a town hall on sustainability. The purpose was to let Congressman Harry Mitchell and the public know some of what's being done in the valley to promote sustainable actions. Congressman Mitchell is a member joining the congressman on the panel was John D'Anna, senior editor of the "Arizona Republic" and who writes the green column in the paper, Jonathan Fink, the director of the Global Institute for Sustainability, Charles Redmond, the director of ASU's School of Sustainability, Jay Golden, also with the Global Institute of Sustainability, Anthony Floyd, of the city of Scottsdale, and Harvey Bryant of ASU's School of Sustainability. What you're about to see is an abridged version of an event that lasted about an hour and a half. If you'd like to seat entire town hall go to our website at www.azpbs.org. The sustainability town hall suggests ways in which ordinary people can contribute toward making our planet a better place to live.

>>Harry Mitchell:
You can see what's happened as the population continues to increase, energy, the carbon footprint, all what fuels are doing not necessarily in the best interests of this earth. So I think you find ways to in every aspect -- to be more compatible in every aspect.

>>Harry Mitchell:
I'm very excited to be here with these experts and be able to host this town hall. It's an opportunity to showcase some of the exciting things that are happening right here at ASU and around our community, particularly when our community is quickly becoming one of the leaders in one of the most important issues of our time. How can we build sustainable, livable, environmental-friendly communities? Arizona state university is becoming a global leader in this issue. The global institute for sustainability, the only institute of its kind in the nation, is something that will have a profound impact on how we think about communities, how we grow our communities and how we do it in a smart way. ASU is practicing what it preaches. Just a few months ago I toured the new Bio-design institute. It was great to see all the great work that was taking place there. What really surprised me was that institute is an entirely sustainable building. We're seeing some good things from the city of Scottsdale which I know our panel will be talking about a little bit later. Let me say that I see exciting things at the state left as well. In addition to that, the forward-looking university. We're fortunate to have a forward-reaching governor who understands this issue very well. Some of you may know that Governor Napolitano created a growth cabinet that incorporates 14 state agencies and gets them to think all the time what they can do to make sure that our state grows in a more sustainable and environmental-friendly way. In the next 25 years, our state population is going to double. Think about that, double. There are 6 million Arizonans right now. And we're going to double what we have. That's a lot of growth. So how do our state agencies work together so we can better handle that growth I think is extremely important? One other thing that I'm excited about that governor is working on is how sustainable practices can help world and poverty-stricken communities. Not many Arizonans know that some of the areas in our state where the Native Americans live on these reservations are among the poorest communities in our nation. There are over 10,000 Native American households in Arizona that do not have electricity. Over 10,000! One of the big reasons is that in some areas in the rural of Arizona it's difficult and expensive to build power lines from home to home when they're miles apart. So one of the things congress is doing is helping some of these families get their own solar units for their homes. That way they can have electricity, lights, refrigeration, for all of their food stuffs, without the need of power lines. And that sustainability in practice right here in Arizona. And congress is working on some things that I hope will help. We've passed legislation that repeals the $13 billion in oil tax giveaways and funds in solar energy and wind energy, more sustainable energies. I'm also cosponsor of a piece of legislation that extends through 2016, energy tax credits for residential investment in solar technology. Well, there's a lot of exciting things that are happening. But I think all of us still have a tremendous amount to learn. And that's why I'm here today, to help all of us learn and to learn more myself about what we can do as a member of this community and as a member of congress to encourage practices that will help our community sustain the vibrancy and renew ability. And I thank you so much for being here. I thank all of you for being here to enlighten us. John, thank you. [Applause]

>>John D'Anna:
A reader of my blog, one of the six of seven, I guess, that do read it, recently left a comment that was fairly bleak. And it said in part, "just give it up. Human life will end soon. The world is in its last stages and there's nothing anyone can do anymore." and when you sort of look at the evidence, you can see why somebody might think that. In his book, "the world without us" Alan Wiseman writes about how there's a blob of floating plastic waste that's twice the size of Texas floating somewhere off the pacific. The arctic ice is disappearing so fast that region may experience its first completely ice-free summer within the next 30 years. And that's going to mean that polar bears will be threatened with extinction not by hunting or pollution but by drowning. Rising sea levels are threatening millions of homes, not just in Southeast Asia and low-lying island countries but also places like Florida and Louisiana. And even if we were to stop greenhouse gas emissions today, the ones that are already in the atmosphere will not dissipate for years, meaning our warming trend is not likely to end soon. Like I said, that can be a bleak picture. I know our panel will address some of the important things being done in our communities to address the damage that's already been done. Hopefully they can address things that we can support this work. In other words, maybe they'll let us know how one person can make a difference. Secondly, all three Arizona's universities are working on sustainability issues and so are some Arizona cities as well as nongovernmental organizations. How can we get everyone on the same page to harness and maximize all that collective brain power? And lastly, what's the message we want to send back to Washington with Congressman Mitchell? It's interesting that here in Arizona while there's a lot of work being done in solar energy, most of us can't afford to put into a residential solar system without taking out a second mortgage. And if a third world country like Bangladesh can ban those ever-present plastic shopping bags which incredibly have been seen at huge altitudes by jet liners, why can't we ban them?

>>Jonathan Fink:
Sustainability issues are some of the most important concerns that the citizens in of the country have and particularly students are interested in. So we're trying to respond to those needs, both in terms of doing research that can help find solutions to the problems that society is facing, and also to help train the next generation that could come along and help make those solutions work.

>>Jonathan Fink:
And I think all of us are aware that we are now in a time when things are changing at a faster and faster pace, and not necessarily in a good direction. I think probably everybody here has seen al gore's movie. Many of you have probably seen Leonardo DiCaprio's movie. You come out of those movies, particularly the gore movie, feeling pretty nervous if not depressed. And while both of those films tries to lay out some positive pathways forward, the over-riding impression that I had and people that I know had was, wow, these are really serious issues. And unless something dramatic happens pretty soon, we could be heading towards a precipice that we may not be able to come back from. So one of the issues in sustainability is to focus on solutions and have an idea what are some of the things we can do today with technology and policy that can start moving us away from some of the practices that have gotten us into the problems that we have today, and move us toward ways of coming up with solutions. And to some extent, it actually requires having I think some psychologists involved and others who understand what is it about motivation and what can we do to communicate to individuals like all of us to have a positive attitude about finding ways forward without just feeling so overwhelmed by what's going on to say, "well, it's somebody else's problem. I just can't deal with this. I'm going to go back and just go skiing or something." so that's -- what the significance of that is, I think, as far as the institute of sustainability goes is it really takes lots of different perspectives to try to address these issues. At ASU we have lots of different schools and colleges and programs, many of which if not all of which have something to do with sustainability. Now, sustainability basically has to do with trying to reconcile the environmental values with economic values and social values. So the difference between what people were concerned with from the environmental movements in the 70's and what falls under the heading of sustainability today is that we're trying not to set up a polarity between either you're for the environment or against the environment, and big business versus tree huggers and those kinds of things. Because the problems that we're facing today are just so, so large that they have to have industry involved in finding the solutions and implementing the solutions.

>>Jonathan Fink:
We're all sensing that there is some urgency now that maybe wasn't in people's awareness ten years ago or even five years ago. And the question is what do we have to do now? What does everybody have to do? That's what we're trying to help address.

>>Charles Redman:
I might try something with john number one's question, or the blogger's question of why bother if the world's ending. I think we as people always bother. I don't think there is such a thing as the end of the world. And I certainly don't think there is going to be an end of the life or end of humans. And I do think it's our obligation, even if things are getting bad, to make them less bad. And I think it's our obligation to find out a way to make them better. And if I were to give a very general definition of what sustainability means to me -- and I hope it's going to mean to the next generation of students we work with -- it's how to make the world a better place in each and every different way and in each and every scale. And some of those issues are the grand ones you hear about or see in al gore's movie. But many of them are the challenges that confront us very directly. We know them well. Heat, heat is a very central issue and it is changing and probably not in the direction people in phoenix like. It's okay if you're in Manitoba but not so okay in Phoenix. Water, and we're looking at it in lots of ways. And Arizona has been a pioneer at water management for the last 100-years, and maybe we're going to come up with exciting things. Energy is on all of our minds. Economic prosperity is definitely a challenge. And phoenix, quite frankly, is a city not just rapidly growing but socially and demographically and culturally changing at an enormous, probably the fastest rate in the united states as well. And all of these things are probably global challenges. But they're all challenges for our community and our state and our nation. And we have to find ways to work on them. And we have, to as john number two just said, we have to find ways to work comprehensively on them. It's not enough to solve the water problem if what it means is tripling the energy consumption. We can solve the water problem in a heartbeat. Let's desalinize the Pacific Ocean. But there are energy problems to that. We can solve problems of the heat island by air conditioning the outdoors. But these things just aren't going to work. So we have to take a comprehensive approach. What I'm here to talk about, actually, is ASU's new school of sustainability, as John mentioned, the first degree granting institution in this country to say sustainability is more than an adjective. It's not just an attitude on how we're going to do something, but it's going to require a real comprehensive re-evaluation of how we go about things.

>>Jay Golden:
Certainly Arizona and Phoenix are very well invested and very well-known for its work in urban sustainability, focuses on areas such as water, materials for energy, energy itself like solar and also logistics of [indiscernible] and business practices for sustainability.

>>Jay Golden:
Not only is our world's population increasing at a tremendous rate, as of July 11th, 2007 we are all residents of the first time in the history of our planet an urban society. And what's going to happen is we have this collision. We have a collision of a rapidly urbanizing society, one that within two generations or so we may be up to 80 -- that's a very high number, let's say 70, 60 to 70 conservatively living with this large population growth in cities. We need natural resources, we need policies, we need new ways of living so we can sustain a quality of life. And again, under the terminology of sustainability, not just for ourselves but for future generations. And so I think that kind of lays the foundation as to why you see CEOs of major corporations or families taking pictures on covers of magazines domestically and internationally. We have a greening effect, a sustainability effect that's hitting our planet. And through that there's a variety of influences that are driving this. And it's not a single influence. And I kind of come back a little bit to our regional governments and the role they're playing. They're working towards frame works. We just recently saw September 139 when the federal judge William Sessions III upheld that automakers do have to meet more stringent state regulations for carbon dioxide. You see local governments, 40 of the largest local governments in the world who are taking on businesses for carbons for sustainability within the regions. That has a cascading impact. They're establishing regulations, and quality of life metrics that industry and local government are working in partnerships to establish well ahead of sometimes the central government. Industry examples. Well, at the above the line they want a return on investment to the shareholders. These pledges unless they foresee the opportunities. When you see that some of the investments from city group for climate change all the way down to Tyson foods wants to reduce biofuels every year from its waste and also provide shareholder equity and also has the integrity that organizations are looking for. Now, if you go on the web right now and you look up any organization, major corporations, what you'll see on the front page of the website now? It's the vogue. What is their annual sustainability report and sustainability index? Shareholders are requiring it of themselves; organizations are requiring it of themselves.

>>Jay Golden:
What I hope to gain from it is maybe a little greater understanding by Congressman Mitchell as to what some of the program expertise we have as a community both academically and broader community, including the universities in Arizona. And what type of federal programs can be maybe directed towards -- I don't mean in a monetary, I just mean within an understanding towards our type of research. And specifically there's a great need on a national basis for more focus on urban sustainability. And I think that's what ASU and our partners, UofA. And NAU bring to the table to really make a great impact not own regionally and locally but globally.

>>Anthony Floyd:
We're very fortunate in Scottsdale to have mayor Manross who formerly was a city council member when we adopted our green voting program in the city of Scottsdale. But I think it really takes the foresight of elected officials and administrators to orchestrate this. Now, I'm a public servant. But I'm very passionate about green buildings and sustainability. So sometimes it gets in the way of me doing my job at the city. But I think it helps me overall perform a better job to help work through the network, and sometimes bureaucracy that we have at larger organizations and particularly in governmental organizations. But what's very important by having the city to set a tone, it creates a resolution. And in Scottsdale we created a resolution to require all state facilities to meet the lead goal standard. And it really was an educational process going down that road and through the process of actually adopting that policy. But there was a lot of work to get to go that. It wasn't until 2005 we adopted that resolution. There are so many factors we've been working on through the whole organization. And I think my key point, particularly in dealing with city policy, is the implementation. And that is dealing with institutionalization, I think, that you have to have this filter throughout organization. It can't just be a policy or resolution without anyone implementing it or understanding what the intent of it is. So that's very important from the city policy. Also, this policy unfolds into other areas to various details of green building, whether it filters down to energy policy and water policy and renewable energy and solar and materials and on and on and on. So it's a process even after you pass that resolution for it to become institutionalized in the organization. Even down to the level of design review and planning development. Most cities have a design review board. And looking at buildings and how they perform. So even at the esthetic level we have to be able to incorporate that functionality to relate the heat island effect and renewable energy and water efficiency. How does that all relate at the beginning level going through the public meeting dialogue of planning and zoning and setbacks and densities and heights that sustainability needs to be a part of that process early on with any project or development going through the city.

>>Harvey Bryan:
In relationship to the common footprint in particular, it gives them an understanding of the impacts of how it impacts global issues. And it allows you to respond locally. So you don't necessarily have to wait for government or policy people to make the necessary improvements in legislation or whatever. You can actually start doing things now.

>>Harvey Bryan:
And the best way to do it is to understand what our carbon footprint is. Carbon foot printing concept is try to understand the impact of your activities or your workplace activities or again the building you might be living in or working in, how much that impacts and generates carbon that has to be mitigated by some practices. And a few months ago in June I wrote an article, part of the new geo series that is in the republic, a number of faculty at ASU writing news articles on how to reduce your carbon footprint. And it was very popular. And I got a lot of e-mails about people who then went on the website that I suggested and actually started using that and started to actually develop some dialogue with their households, their family, their work unit or something else, to understand things that they could do now to change their footprint or set some targets internally and say, within six months, nine months or a year we'll reduce our footprint by half.

Audience Member:
What if the Gore hypothesis is wrong or the empirical evidence isn't there to support it? And there does turn out to be cycles of over centuries cooling and warming? To what extent would that affect the current interest in sustainability? Would this interest still be sustained to be doing the kinds of things we're talking about today?

>>Jonathan Fink:
Well, we probably all want to comment on that one. The question was, what if -- I missed the first part, but I think it was basically what if we're not seeing strictly as a generation of global warming but this is part of some natural cycle. And what happens if we start implementing these policies and things start cooling off in ten years? I think a lot of the policies being talked about have to do with energy efficiency and all kinds of efficiencies which inherently save money. And whether you have a trade program which accelerates the implementation or not, the goal is to find solutions that actually make sense independent of how fast the climate may or may not be changing. And so I think there are all kinds of technological and economic advantages that will happen. They'll be more important if temperatures continue to rise as fast as they seem to be. But if they don't, there's a dual use benefit of just getting more for less.

>>Jay Golden:
One other quick item which is, so you're right. You're still living on a planet that's going to be inhabited by 9 billion people and 70\% are going to be living in the city. We have to find resources, innovations, requires a new mindset for sustainability. So sustainability is not going away. Now, the question of what are the imperative issues of sustainability, whether it's climate, water, as a resource energy, community as a resource, those are going to go up and down based on the priorities of each of the regions in the global community.

>>Charles Redman:
One more thing to the energy issue that tom freedman in the "New York Times" columnist points to regularly, and that is we're experiencing probably the largest transfer of wealth since the end of the colonial era. And those of us who consume petroleum to those of the world who produce it. And it seems like we attract poor governments in producing countries. So I think the geopolitical issue is as important as the economic local issues, which is important as probably but not certain global warming issue. And I think all three of them stand on their own as reason enough to take serious, serious action.

>> Harvey Bryan:
Yeah. Obviously at a conference recently James Hanson from NOAA spoke about his work. He was one of the leading atmospheric scientists that predicted a lot of the things that are happening. And he just wishes he's wrong. And a lot of the atmospheric scientists wish they are wrong. They want to be proven wrong. They just don't see any evidence right now. And that's the dilemma we face.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Thanks for joining us on this special edition of Horizon. I'm Larry Lemmons. Good night.

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