Research

City footprints and SDGs provide untapped potential for assessing city sustainability

Cities are recognised as central to determining the sustainability of human development. However, assessment concepts that are able to ascertain whether or not a city is sustainable are only just emerging. Here we review literature since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed in 2015 and identify three strands of scientific inquiry and practice in assessing city sustainability. We find that further integration is needed. SDG monitoring and assessment of cities should take advantage of both consumption-based (footprint) accounting and benchmarking against planetary boundaries and social thresholds in order to achieve greater relevance for designing sustainable cities and urban lifestyles.

Read More »

Artificial Photosynthesis Would Unify the Electricity-Carbohydrate-Hydrogen Cycle for Sustainability

Sustainable development requires balanced integration of four basic human needs – air (O2/CO2), water, food, and energy. To solve key challenges, such as CO2 fixation, electricity storage, food production, transportation fuel production, water conservation or maintaining an ecosystem for space travel, we wish to suggest the electricity-carbohydrate-hydrogen (ECHo) cycle, where electricity is a universal energy carrier, hydrogen is a clean electricity carrier, and carbohydrate is a high-energy density hydrogen (14.8 H2 mass% or 11-14 MJ electricity output/kg)carrier plus a food and feed source. Each element of this cycle can be converted to the other reversibly & efficiently depending on resource availability, needs, and costs. In order to implement such cycle, here we propose to fix carbon dioxide by electricity or hydrogen to carbohydrate (starch) plus ethanol by cell-free synthetic biology approaches. According to knowledge in the literature, the proposed artificial photosynthesis must be operative. Therefore, collaborations are urgently needed to solve several technological bottlenecks before large-scale implementation.

Read More »

Religious and secular ethics offer complementary strategies to achieve environmental sustainability

By applying a single dataset (i.e., panel data at a national level) and a single analytical framework (i.e., a dynamic mathematical model), I compared religious (REL) and secular (SEC) ethics in two ways: as feasible strategies (i.e., with realistic parameter values such that a strategy can achieve its goal) and as reliable strategies (i.e., with a tight statistical relationship between a strategy and its goal). In both cases, the goal is to achieve environmental sustainability, but with different precepts and principles applied within different perspectives: global vs. local sustainability, individual feelings vs. social pressures as determinants of pro-environmental behavior, and long-run vs. short-run sustainability. Analytical results (feasibility) showed that REL are overall more feasible than SEC and, specifically, REL are more likely to affect the many pro-environmental behaviors required to achieve global sustainability, whereas SEC to affect some pro-environmental behaviors required to achieve local sustainability; REL are more likely to affect pro-environmental behaviors based on individual feelings and social pressures from small communities, whereas SEC to affect pro-environmental behaviors based on social pressures from large communities; REL are more likely to solve collective-action problems to achieve short-run sustainability, whereas SEC to solve collective-action problems to achieve long-run sustainability. Statistical results (reliability) based on 32 random- and between-effects regressions support these results and, particularly, REL and SEC were complementary in time (e.g., for REL, short-run sustainability is more reliable than long-run sustainability; for SEC, long-run sustainability is more reliable than short-run sustainability), in space (e.g., for SEC, local sustainability is more reliable than global sustainability), and in society (e.g., for REL, individual feelings are more reliable than social pressures).

Read More »

Ecologists and the development of sustainability curricula for majors vs. non-majors

Ecologists usually study interactions among living and non-living things at a particular spatial scale. Ecological curricula often have a biological focus except in ecosystem or applied ecology courses. At the undergraduate level, the impact of human activity on ecology class discussions is often relegated to urban ecology classes. The discussion of sustainability is a side line in introductory or upper level ecology courses, except in applied research courses, and more intensely addressed in non-science general education courses. To develop a global sustainable society will require that different disciplines understand the many factors that affect “sustainability” and work with a common definition of that term. To start the discussion among disciplines that is necessary to solve global environmental problems ecologists need to outline a clear connection between efficient natural resource management practices and global biodiversity goals. Faculty need to network across disciplines in curriculum development, and consider answers from the point of view of coursework in biology, earth science and physical science majors vs. in the general education or liberal arts core curriculum. The sustainability curriculum outcomes of such interdisciplinary discussions are considered for various undergraduate programs throughout the United States focusing on the process of integration of ecological knowledge.

Read More »

Using the Campus as a Teaching and Research Tool*: opportunities for ecologists to link to campus sustainability efforts

Campus sustainability projects offer opportunities to link campus operations with academics. For ecologists, these links can include building upon urban long term ecological research such as urban nitrogen budgeting. In addition, the campus can serve as a tool to examine local biodiversity, urban storm water, and climate change issues in the classroom. This presentation will describe how an urban nitrogen budget at the University of Minnesota was developed. In addition, this presentation will describe how the Sustainability Office and the environmental studies department at Macalester College currently collaborate to develop campus sustainability academic projects. By linking to campus sustainability projects, ecologists have an opportunity to improve pedagogy, connect students to civic engagement, and offer real-world projects without leaving campus.

Read More »

Multi-indicator sustainability assessment of global food systems

Food systems are at the heart of at least 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The wide scope of the SDGs call for holistic approaches that integrate previously “siloed” food sustainability assessments. Here we present a first global-scale analysis quantifying the status of national food system performance of 156 countries, employing 25 sustainability indicators across 7 domains as follows: nutrition, environment, food affordability and availability, sociocultural well-being, resilience, food safety, and waste. The results show that different countries have widely varying patterns of performance with unique priorities for improvement. High-income nations score well on most indicators, but poorly on environmental, food waste, and health-sensitive nutrient-intake indicators. Transitioning from animal foods toward plant-based foods would improve indicator scores for most countries. Our nation-specific quantitative results can help policy-makers to set improvement targets on specific areas and adopt new practices, while keeping track of the other aspects of sustainability.

Read More »