Global Change & Sustainability Center Seminars: Fall Preview

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

The Global Change & Sustainability Center (GCSC) Seminar Series returns on Tuesday, Aug. 31. The series features a different speaker on alternate Tuesdays of the fall semester. All seminars are free and will take place on Zoom.

Dr. Brenda Bowen, director of the GCSC and associate professor of Geology & Geophysics, will kick off the fall series with her talk on “Transdisciplinary Explorations of Sustainability in a Time of Change at the Bonneville Salt Flats.” She encourages everyone—students, staff, faculty, and community members—to tune in.

“I’ll be talking about work that I’ve been doing for eight or nine years, really focused on the Bonneville Salt Flats and the changes that are currently happening in this landscape,” Bowen says. “We’ve been studying how this environment is changing from a biophysical standpoint—so looking at the sediments in the groundwater and environmental fluxes of how the landscape is changing—but then also have been working really closely with social scientists, and communication scholars, and engineers, and artists, and stakeholders from a huge range of different perspectives to try to do science that will help aid in data-driven decision making.”

While Bowen specializes in geology, she explains that the interdisciplinary and social science elements of her work are just as essential. “We got to advance the work on the science, and across the sciences, but then also really bridged into these other areas around how perceptions of environmental change are framed based on your position in the stakeholder ecosystem,” Bowen says. “Who talks to who, and who’s at the table, and how [are] decisions made about land management, and resource use, and extraction, and mitigation, and restoration? Who’s making those decisions?”

Interdisciplinary sustainability research like Bowen’s will reappear throughout this semester’s GCSC seminars, which feature faculty members from all different disciplines across the University of Utah campus, ranging from law to philosophy to engineering. The fall series takes on questions such as, “How do we bridge across these disciplinary silos that are so entrenched in academia?” Bowen explains. “How do we see this from all…different disciplinary lenses and approaches?”

Dr. Stacy Harwood, professor and chair in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning, will give the second seminar on “Everyday Racism in Integrated Spaces,” which examines the experiences of students of color at the University of Utah, a predominantly white institution. “We talk a lot about campus as a living lab,” says Bowen. “But it’s not just the physical spaces where we do that—it can be in our social spaces, too.”

Dr. Carlos Santana, professor of Philosophy, will wrap up September with a discussion of the Anthropocene and possibilities for collaboration between natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities in a new geologic era.

In October and November Dr. Heather Tanana, research assistant professor in the College of Law, will discuss the intersection of Indigenous resource needs, climate change, and environmental policies; Dr. Taylor Sparks, professor of Materials Science and Engineering, will discuss the materials needed to achieve a just energy transition; and Dr. Lynne Zummo, professor of Educational Psychology and curator of learning sciences at the Natural History Museum of Utah, will explore the cognitive process related to learning and making decisions about climate change.

Bowen encourages students, staff, faculty, and the broader community to tune in at no cost for this semester’s bi-weekly seminars. Interested graduate students can still add the online section of the one-credit GCSC Seminar course, which can be found under SUST 6800-002 in the course catalog.

Join us for Bowen’s seminar on ecological change at the Salt Flats on Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 4 p.m., and learn more about the upcoming seminar speakers and topics.

 

GCSC Seminar: Awakening an Audience with Environmental Theater

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

Thinking about climate change can be so overwhelming that we might, at times, wish to look away. Some aren’t willing to look at all. Phantom Limb Company invites us to consider our relationship to the natural world through a different lens—one that is mesmerizing, emotional, and beautiful.

On Tuesday, April 20 at 4 p.m., co-founder and artistic director of Phantom Limb Company Jessica Grindstaff will give her GCSC seminar, “Storytelling, Imagism and Empathy: Awakening an Audience,” which explores puppetry and performing arts as methods of generating emotion and action around environmental issues and climate change. Three virtual performances by Phantom Limb are also offered through UtahPresents, with the final screening on April 22. Ticket holders will be able to view all three performances through April 30.

Jessica Grindstaff began her career as a visual artist, and arrived in the theater industry through an unexpected twist of events. “I can’t really explain how we ended up where we have,” she says of her journey with co-founder, Erik Sanko. “We had a visual art show together, and then the gallerist wanted him to do a little performance with the puppets that he was exhibiting.”

“We just accidentally ended up making this play,” Grindstaff says. “It was supposed to run for a couple of weeks in downtown New York, and then the New York Times wrote it up and it ended up running for three months.”

The show was a huge success. After it closed, a producer approached Grindstaff and Sanko and asked what they hoped to do next. “We both had been big fans of the Shackleton story, so we said let’s make a play about that,” Grindstaff reflects. They received a grant to fund their idea, and soon found themselves in Antarctica researching Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition. “I would say that it was actually there where it started to become real for me,” Grindstaff says. “I started to understand what I wanted to do”

In Antarctica, Grindstaff and Sanko met and worked with scientists whose research centered on climate change and melting ice. “The majority of their work [was]… in one way or another cataloging the effects of climate change on the ice, on the land, on the animals that live there,” Grindstaff explains. “So, rather than the play just being about Ernest Shackleton, we introduced a component to the piece that was about the future of Antarctica and climate change.”

It became important to Grindstaff and Sanko that their work include a social and environmental message. “And so, we decided to make a trilogy,” Grindstaff says. “We would spend the next 10 years making a trilogy that was related to people’s relationships to the environment and nature, and how that was changing,”

The second piece in the trilogy, Memory Rings, is about the Methuselah—the world’s oldest living tree. “We were looking at the timeline of that tree’s life and everything that happened from germination until now, and looking for stories of people’s relationship to the forest or wood over that time,” Grindstaff says. The final piece in the trilogy, Falling Out, takes place in Fukushima and examines the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown—a natural disaster paired with a manmade disaster.

Phantom Limb’s plays rarely have words, focusing instead on movement and imagery. “On stage, we’re placing images near one another and then ask an audience to make their own connections,” Grindstaff says. “Especially when you’re talking about things like climate—issues that are overly described to us in society in very specific ways that are often around fear, or guilt, or what we should personally be doing—I think leaving space for people in that conversation to find out who they are, and what their role and what their thoughts are in it and their emotions are in it, is really important and it’s really powerful.”

Grindstaff and Sanko use puppets, in part because they are an effective medium for generating emotion. “For a puppet to work, someone has to empathize,” Grindstaff explains. “The puppet is nothing. It’s a piece of wood or a papier-mache. An audience member has to engage in the work on an empathetic level, they have to put themselves inside of it. And I think around the topics of climate and climate change and our roles in our communities, that that is a great thing to do.”

The results of their art are hard to measure, Grindstaff says, but audience members often tell her that they feel moved and leave the theater thinking about their own roles within these complex issues. “They walked out looking at themselves, which is a goal, I think, in our work.”

Register for Grindstaff’s talk on Tuesday, April 20 at 4 p.m. to learn more about Phantom Limb Company’s work, and how environmental art moves hearts and minds.

GCSC seminars: spring 2021 sneak peak

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

 

The Global Change & Sustainability Center (GCSC) kicks off its spring 2021 seminar series on Tuesday, Feb. 2. Brenda Bowen, director of the GCSC, encourages everyone—students, staff, faculty, and community members alike—to tune in.

The 2021 spring series features a different speaker on every Tuesday of the spring semester. All seminars are free and will take place online.

Bowen explains that the increased frequency of the spring seminars is due, in part, to the GCSC’s desire to provide opportunities for connection and engagement in the online world. “We just don’t get to see our community the same way right now with everyone working remotely,” Bowen says. “This is really one of the main ways we’re connecting with students, with faculty, and with the community.”

Speakers will include professors and alumni from the U, as well as researchers and academics from across the country. “We have Steve Burian kicking off the seminar series,” Bowen says. “He’s been an associate director of the Global Change & Sustainability Center since its inception, and is just concluding a really exciting project where he’s been working with USAID on water sustainability globally.” On Tuesday, Feb. 2, Burian will give the first GCSC talk of the semester, “Catalyzing Higher Education Capacity to Advance Water Security in Pakistan.”

The spring seminar series was designed to reflect the importance of justice, resilience, and wellness in sustainability work, and to draw connections between sustainability and current, pressing issues, says Bowen. With COVID-19 weighing on the minds of Utahns, for example, the GCSC specifically sought an expert to speak on the connection between global change, viruses, disease, and land-use decisions.

Other talks will examine how social factors influence health, explore strategies for inclusive community engagement, share research and practices for urban resilience, discuss sustainable development in the aftermath of COVID-19, and much more.

“What’s exciting is that all of [the talks] build on each other and you learn a little bit about something different in each one,” Bowen says. “The whole point is to come learn something new.”

Bowen encourages graduate students to sign up for the one-credit GCSC seminar course and hopes that community members will tune in every Tuesday at 4 p.m. “You’re going to get every perspective,” she says. “The artistic perspective, a justice perspective, a biophysical science perspective, a policy perspective, built infrastructure…we’re going to come at it from all these different viewpoints.”

While each speaker comes from a different background and expertise, their talks fit together and tell a story over the course of the semester. “They weave together into this complex world of sustainability,” Bowen says.

Join us for Steve Burian’s seminar on water security on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 4 p.m., and learn more about the upcoming seminar speakers and topics.

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Sustainability Leaders Recommit to Centering Equity and Justice

Along with many of you, we spent this past week filled with grief. These feelings are tragically familiar, as is their cause. The legacy of racial oppression played out on city streets around the country and right here in Salt Lake City. We all must play a role in demanding justice in our communities and our nation. Recognizing that our silence would itself be a form of violence, we recommit to working actively against the systems that devalue and disregard black lives and disproportionately impact communities of color. In the Sustainability Office and Global Change & Sustainability Center, we will center justice and equity, reaffirming antiracist practice as a fundamental part of our shared work. We stand in solidarity with oppressed communities, pledge to listen and act, and acknowledge that this is a collective fight.

Brenda Bowen, Global Change & Sustainability Center Director
Adrienne Cachelin, Sustainability Education Director and professor/lecturer in Environmental & Sustainability Studies
Kerry Case, Chief Sustainability Officer

Researching Sustainability from Home

Did you know that the Sustainability Office has a librarian?

Academic Librarian Amy Brunvand has been working with the Sustainability Office to help collect and preserve information about using the campus as a living laboratory for sustainable change. While campus is shut down, University of Utah students, faculty, and staff can think of campus libraries as a virtual branch library that offers access to collections, subscriptions, and services to anyone with a university network ID and password. That means you’ll be able to do college-level research from home in order to complete literature reviews, term papers, and other course assignments.

There are specific strategies that are especially useful to approach sustainability research topics. Consider: Who cares about this topic? Why do they care? The list of stakeholders often includes:

  • Federal, state, and local government agencies that set policy and write regulations;
  • Industries and businesses that lobby for favorable business conditions;
  • Citizen groups that advocate for environmental and social justice causes. 

Many of these types of organizations put reports and information online. However, researchers may still run into frustrating paywalls. If that happens to you, University of Utah campus libraries can help. For instance, if you are researching local issues, the Salt Lake Tribune has a paywall, but you can read articles online for free by using the Marriott Library subscription. Likewise, if Google Scholar—a search engine for scholarly academic papers—hits a paywall, you can log into the library website to get the article you need. Even if the university doesn’t have a subscription, librarians can ask if another library can send articles via interlibrary loan

Here are three things you can do to make research from home more efficient and effective:

  • Set up your computer for off-campus library access. 
    You’ll need to do a few things to get full access to library subscriptions, ebooks, and journal articles. 
  • Get research help from a real person.
    If you are not finding what you need, don’t waste hours searching. The Marriott Library offers research help via live chat, phone, and email. 
  • If you hit a paywall, ask the library for help.
    Campus libraries have a number of ways to help you get around paywalls and can even purchase copies of ebooks on request

Recently, Brunvand set up several research portals to help students find information about key local issues:

Librarians at the Marriott Library serve as liaisons for sustainability-focused degree programs. These librarians have also set up research portals, including the following:

As always, Brunvand is available to help answer questions about sustainability research. You can email her at amy.brunvand@utah.edu. Be aware that library hours and services may change in response to the COVID-19 public health situation. Check the Marriott Library’s COVID-19 webpage for updates. Computer labs are available in the Union, Gardner Commons, and Health Sciences Education Building; please check with individual labs for hours. If being at home puts you in a vulnerable spot, contact a Student Success Advocate.

Seeking Systems that Serve Us All

by Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

In the western United States, most of our cities are situated in arid landscapes–dryland ecosystems or deserts.  Historically, dry landscapes have been viewed as wastelands, lacking value until we created a use for them. Most humans now live in cities, and dryland ecosystems are currently home to over 2 billion people worldwide. Like any other organism, we humans modify our environment to facilitate our survival and meet our needs. And there is a tendency for us to think of cities as separate from “nature”. Dr. Nancy Grimm’s groundbreaking work examines the relationship of humans and other living creatures with their urban environments and looks at ways we might rethink the socio-cultural value of the water-limited landscapes we call home.

On Tuesday, February 25th, Dr. Nancy Grimm will present her talk “Rivers of our dreams: water futures in urban central Arizona” from 4 – 5 p.m. in room 210 of the Aline B. Skaggs Biology Building as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s Seminar Series.

Dr. Grimm, an ecosystem ecologist and interdisciplinary sustainability scientist, is the Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Ecology in the School of Life Sciences, distinguished Sustainability Scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, and Regents Professor at Arizona State University. Last year, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Grimm currently serves as the co-director of the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network (URExSRN), working with cities to create collaborative visions for future urban infrastructure, building resilience and sustainability plans, and exploring nature-based solutions to urban resilience challenges. As the director of the Central Arizona-Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER), an innovative interdisciplinary study of complex metropolitan regions, she helped develop conceptual models of social-ecological-technological systems, expanding how we think of ecology today.

Biodiversity makes ecosystems healthier and more resilient to destabilizing disturbances. Climate change is already bringing more potentially catastrophic disturbances like storms, floods, and droughts to our doorsteps. Couple this with the lack of biodiversity in cities, and one can see how, in thinking of our cities as separate from nature, we’ve made ourselves more vulnerable and less prepared to survive climate crises. Dr. Grimm’s research asks the question of how we might come together collectively to make plans and increase our ability to adapt to stability-rattling events.

A desert city like Phoenix, with 20 years of CAP-LTER data, can help researchers model systems around questions like how pollution might cycle through the water of the city and desert streams. Who might be impacted most in extreme events like floods or droughts? How will the city’s infrastructure hold up? How does stormwater impact water quality? Different ecosystems respond differently to the same disturbance, so not every city will approach, respond to, or withstand droughts or floods in the same way. But looking at ecosystem models that include cities is a way to start thinking of all the complex interworking parts of the system.

What does it look like for an urban environment to affect changes in an ecological system? How important is the factor of scale in shaping more sustainable cities? What sorts of tradeoffs might we expect in an effort to create a more sustainable future for ourselves?

Come explore these questions with Dr. Grimm on Tuesday afternoon, February 11, 2020.  Her talk “Rivers of our dreams: water futures in urban Arizona,” will be from 4 – 5 p.m. in room 210 of the Aline B. Skaggs Biology Building.  As usual, we’ll have some sweet treats, coffee, and tea, so bring your mug and enjoy.

Slow Your Commute

How shifting your commute can add to the journey (and clear our air)

By Kate Whitbeck, Communications, Sustainability Office

We have all heard of slow food and fast fashion, and how we want to seek out the first and avoid the second. What about slow transportation? It’s a concept that suggests getting to your destination as quickly as possible shouldn’t be your primary goal. Your commute can serve many different purposes. Slowing your commute can add to the journey (and clear our air).

Before I started working at the university, I was a slave to my vehicle, racing off each morning to drop my kids at school then driving 25 minutes to my office—which was in a public transit desert—and then racing back to pick up my kids, fitting in a few errands and driving home. I arrived home stressed from dealing with traffic, frustrated that I hadn’t fit in any exercise and anxious that I hadn’t had time to finish my work at the office.

When I started working at the university I had the great fortune to became a regular public transit user. There were a number of factors that made it work: 1) I live within a few miles of the campus; 2) There are at least three bus routes that travel to the U within about 4-5 blocks of my house; and 3) All my children could get to school using the same bus route. It didn’t hurt that my university ID also covered my fare.

Admittedly, for me it does take longer to get from place to place using public transportation. At first, I struggled thinking that this was wasted time that I could spend doing other things until I realized that my commute brought me home at the end of the day without the frustrations of dealing with traffic and had allowed me to fit in my 10,000 steps, connect with my children in a relaxed way and saved me money. This is when I shifted my attitude around my commute and embraced slow transportation.

Slow transportation is about rejecting speed as the objective and reimagining our transition from one place to another as an opportunity to check off other boxes.  Your morning commute (in something other than a single-occupant vehicle) can serve as the following:

Exercise Time: Depending on what your commute looks like it can take the place of a trip to the gym.  The bus route that runs to the U most frequently is further from my house. It also drops me further from my office. This could be viewed either as an impediment or as an opportunity to get in more steps.  Biking or walking to work serve that same purpose.

Work Time: Taking the train and the bus can allow you to put in extra work time. An uninterrupted hour at the beginning and end of the day can allow you to use your time in the office more effectively.

Relaxation Time: Taking TRAX, FrontRunner or the bus allows you to listen to your favorite podcast, catch up on the news, or scroll through social media. If you own a good set of noise-canceling headphones you can turn your transit commute into a meditation session. Doing absolutely nothing but staring out the window and letting your mind wander can also feel incredibly liberating. You arrive feeling refreshed and ready to get to work.

Connection Time: In my case, my commute allows me another 15 minutes of uninterrupted, undistracted time with my children. I am not fighting traffic, thinking about where to park, or battling unsafe road conditions. I get that not everyone’s lives allow for this intersection, but it can allow for connection of a different sort.

Slowing down your commute, especially by walking or biking, allows you to connect to your city and its inhabitants in a new way. When you walk the last few blocks to your destination you notice things that you wouldn’t see when whizzing by in a car. You notice the new businesses that have opened, those that have shut down. You notice that the neighbor two blocks away painted their house blue. You begin to recognize other slow commuters. You interact with strangers giving directions or chatting at the bus stop. These interactions help us feel grounded and connected to our community.

Sometimes I think we weren’t meant to move so quickly from one place to the next. When we are dependent on our own two feet to get places, we are far from the fastest species on the planet. For the majority of the millennia our species has inhabited this planet it took time to get from one place to another, enough time to mentally transition so that when we arrived at our destination we were present in a different way. Maybe we haven’t yet evolved to travel so quickly from one place to another.  Maybe we all need to try a little slow transportation.

 

Throughout February, consider slowing your commute. Take action on air quality by tracking your commute behaviors with the Clear the Air Challenge, a statewide competition that aims to reduce emissions from vehicles by promoting alternative transit options. Join the U team at travelwisetracker.com/s/university-of-utah.

Mark your calendar for Winter Bike to Work Day – February 13th, 4-6 pm. Cyclists are invited to stop by our two pop-up locations on Guardsman Way and the Legacy Bridge for hot drinks and free resources on their commute home.

collaborative Conservation

Photo: Buck Island Ranch by Carlton Ward

By Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

For many of us, it is hard to envision a role for cows in land conservation. Out here in the West, cattle ranging has completely reorganized ecosystems over the last couple hundred years, and there are strong and complex opinions regarding the practice. The reality is that here in the United States we do range cattle, and we can never go back to exactly the way things were before cattle arrived on this continent. We may also never know every last impact of this past, but we can use what we learn from the past to guide and shape future practices. 

This is the focus of Dr. Hilary Swain’s work, although not out West, but rather in Florida. On Tuesday, February 11, 2020, she will deliver her talk, “The confluence of biodiversity, ecosystem processes, and socio-economic factors in Florida ranchlands,” from 4 – 5 p.m. in room 210 of the Aline B. Skaggs Biology Building as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s Seminar Series.

Dr. Swain has been the Executive Director of the Archbold Biological Station, sitting in the headwaters of the Everglades in south-central Florida, for 25 years.  \The lands of Florida have been evolving with cattle for even longer than our Western plains have, and Dr. Swain’s work, overseeing the operations, research, and education at the Station, looks at reorienting practices of cattle ranching to a more ecologically productive, healthy, and meaningful relationship with the land. Land and cattle have shaped each other over the years but the relationship doesn’t have to stay unhealthy. Learning best practices for our current moment is a step forward in adapting and rehabilitating rangelands.

Archbold is a world-renowned field station connected to the University of Florida. “[It] represents everything I believe in: great science, active conservation and education,” says Swain.[1] Biological field stations provide wonderful opportunities for science to collaborate across disciplines, with private landowners, and with agencies ranging from local to global, informing conservation in powerful ways. The subtropical Buck Island Ranch that operates with around 3,000 head of cattle on Archbold’s 20,000-acre property is recognized by the Audubon Society as an “Important Bird Area,” and ranges land with a mix of native, semi-native, and improved (aka fertilized) pastures. This provides an opportunity to study best ranging practices in a collaborative way where overlapping goals can be taken into account quickly, with the ultimate goal of increasing the area’s biodiversity. 

Buck Island Ranch has been collecting data as part of the field station since 1988, providing an environment to effectively study current land use in relation to historical uses, and to evaluate tradeoffs. “Archbold’s mission is to build and share the scientific knowledge needed to protect the life, lands, and waters in the heart of Florida,” says Swain.[2] Field stations provide the ability to study ecosystems and ecological relationships in unprecedented ways, providing insight into how we might adjust our methods to live more synergistically. As one of 18 nationwide USDA Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network sites, Buck Island Ranch is also helping to link the local ecological data of the ranch to larger ecological networks across the United States. Archbold Biological Station shines as an example of what it looks like to study the intersection of ecological concerns with economic ones, both words rooted in the Greek oikos, meaning home. The land we live on is a part of our home and learning how to coexist with the ecosystem processes of the land is perhaps the most essential adaptive quality of our times. 

Come learn more from Dr. Swain about life on a large field station and the research being conducted at Archbold on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. Her talk “The confluence of biodiversity, ecosystem processes, and socio-economic factors in Florida ranchlands,” will be from 4 – 5 p.m. in room 210 of the Aline B. Skaggs Biology Building. As always, there will be coffee and treats, so bring your mug and enjoy!

[1] https://news.wgcu.org/post/hilary-swain-phd

[2] https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/fee.2023