In this issue:

  1. Articles with Attitude
    The ambiguity of environmental disasters
    Peter R. Mulvihill
  2. Commentary and Opinion
    Commentary: integrating environmental DNA into applied ecological practice
    Jennifer Petruniak, Douglas Bradley… Robert H. Hanner
  3. Original Article
    Making the board: participatory game design for environmental action
    Katherine Ball, Kirk Jalbert, & Lisa Test
  4. Original Article
    Climate change perception, vulnerability, and readiness: inter-country variability and emerging patterns in Latin America
    Gabriela Azócar, Marco Billi … Anahí Urquiza
  5. Research Article
    Heterogeneity, trust and common-pool resource management
    Fijnanda van Klingeren & Nan Dirk de Graaf
  6. Original Article
    A gendered lens to self-evaluated and actual climate change knowledge
    Batanai Sammie, Elvis Mupfiga … Raymond Mugandani
  7. Articles with attitude
    Narrow pasts and futures: how frames of sustainability transformation limit societal change
    Janina Priebe, Erland Mårald, & Annika Nordin
  8. Original Article
    Community obstacles to large scale solar: NIMBY and renewables
    Sandra George O’Neil
  9. Original Article
    The Grand Concepts of Environmental Studies Boundary objects between disciplines and policymakers
    Jakob Lundgren
  10. Original Article
    Sustaining future environmental educators: building critical interdisciplinary teaching capacity among graduate students
    Diana Denham, Mary Ann Rozance … Erin Goodling
  11. Research Article
    A study of faculty perceptions and engagement with interdisciplinary research in university sustainability institutes
    Paul Bolger
  12. Original Article
    Narratives of place: critical reflections on place-making in the curriculum of environmental studies and sciences (ESS)
    Gabriel R. Valle
  13. Environmental Education
    Student representations and conceptions of ecological versus social sciences in a conservation course
    Amanda E. Sorensen, Jeffrey Brown … Jenny M. Dauer
  14. Correction
    Correction to: Student representations and conceptions of ecological versus socialsciences in a conservation course
    Amanda E. Sorensen, Jeffrey Brown … Jenny M. Dauer
  15. Book Review
    John Boehnert. Zoning the oceans: the next big step in coastal zone management
    Richard Smardon
  16. Book Review
    Karen D. Holl. Primer of Ecological Restoration
    Donald J. Leopold
  17. Book Review
    Ortwin Renn, Frank Ulmer, and Anna Deckert (eds.). The Role of Public Participation in Energy Transitions
    Richard C. Smardon
  18. Correction
    Correction to: A framework for teaching socio-environmental problem-solving
    Cynthia A. Wei, Michael L. Deaton … William R. Burnside

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Sustainability in the Desert

Sustainability in the Desert

I spent the first ten years of my academic career at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as part of a highly interdisciplinary environmental studies department. My colleagues and I repeatedly faced some version of this question: ‘how can you work on environment and sustainability issues when you live in a desert?’ I’ve heard the same concern about AESS’s upcoming meeting at the University of Arizona. Then – as it does now – the question seemed fair to me. So, I spent some time evaluating the sustainability of where I lived and came up with a presentation that I gave around the country that I called Las Vegas: the Sustainability Everytown. My premise was, and remains, that where you live is a lot less impactful than how you live.

For example, I had colleagues in Las Vegas who lived in net zero energy houses. Such homes minimize energy demand with passive and active solar design. In places like Las Vegas, peak energy demand is at the hottest times of the hottest days of the year, which also corresponds to the best times for photovoltaic electric power generation. Further, even the coldest days of the year in Las Vegas are typically sunny enough to generate power. Homes that produce energy in Las Vegas can be more sustainable than homes that are energy hogs, even when they are located in cities with strong sustainability ethics like Portland, OR and Pittsburgh, PA.

Similarly, homes in Las Vegas can have a far smaller water footprint than other, ostensibly more sustainable cities. One key area can be found in outdoor landscapes. An interesting study by one of our graduate students, Carole Rollins, directed by my colleague and founding AESS member Helen Neill, found that after a few years in Las Vegas, people’s preferences shift from lawns to xeriscaping. A front yard with grass has become so normalized in the U.S. that people rarely question it. But in a dry place like Las Vegas you need to water cacti to keep them alive. The amount of water needed to keep grass alive is enormous. Keep in mind that the troubled Colorado River supplies Las Vegas as well as parts of six other states and northwestern Mexico. Xeriscaping, on the other hand, reduces exterior water use to a minimum while creating other ecosystem services. Careful design and behavior, both out and indoors, can have more sustainable outcomes than water guzzling (and pesticide intensive) landscapes elsewhere.


Xeriscaping example from Green Planet Landscaping in Las Vegas (source)

As a final example, it is true that there is little (although not zero) agriculture in Las Vegas. Nearly all food must be imported. For my presentation, I photographed collection of items from Trader Joe’s in Las Vegas that included California wine, European butter and pizza, tomatoes from Central America, and fruit from Africa. Any Trader Joe’s in the United States had the same offerings imported from the same faraway places. This is the nature of our cities and speaks to the sustainability of our food system overall, not just what is happening in Las Vegas. Sustainability, in this view, can be found in efforts to reduce food waste, including energy associated with its production and transportation. This is not a place-specific effort; any city can work on food waste issues.

My argument is not that Las Vegas–or Tucson–serves as a paragon of sustainability. Rather, I challenge the assumption that places can’t be sustainable by merit of where they are located. Instead we should ask how we widen everyone’s opportunities to live more sustainably.


Sample of ENR2 from Kitchen Sink Studios (source)

At AESS’s 2017 meeting in Tucson, you’ll be impressed by the University of Arizona’s Environment and Natural Resources 2 Building’s innovative sustainable design. You will also find people associated with local government, academic, art, business, and other communities committed to living thoughtfully in a desert setting. I look forward to the discussions that meeting in the desert will provoke!

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