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Seeing the 'wonder of nature' despite the impact of COVID-19

April 16, 2020

For the first time in decades, Indians were able to see the Himalayan mountain range through the skies from their homes. Last week, Los Angeles had some of the cleanest air in the world. These are only two examples of how the global pandemic is affecting our environment — and how we think about climate change.

The connection between the coronavirus and climate change was the topic of conversation during the April 14 Future Tense “Social Distancing Social,” a joint online effort of Slate, New America and Arizona State University. “Thinking about Climate Change in the Wake of Coronavirus” explored the immediate environmental impacts of the pandemic and how we as a society can use this experience to think about how we approach climate change. Henry Grabar, a staff writer for Slate, moderated the conversation with Bina Venkataraman, editorial page editor for the Boston Globe, Future Tense fellow and former White House senior adviser for climate change innovation.

Grabar and Venkataraman discussed how some major changes over the last few weeks, such as the visibility of the Himalayas from northern India, are a result of government-mandated social distancing measures, since so many people have not been leaving their homes and have not been reliant on usual modes of transportation that would normally lead to high smog levels.

“I think these changes have helped us see the wonder of nature,” Venkataraman said. “When it comes to appreciating the natural world and valuing it in our lives, there’s some degree to which we have to experience that wonder in order to want to do something about it.”

Venkataraman added that this could demonstrate how changes in individual habits can lead to large-scale improvement, especially if we adopt elements of current behavioral changes after the pandemic is over.

She emphasized, however, that the environmental impacts many are seeing today not going to be permanent, since this is likely to be a pause in human activity.

“I wouldn’t say I’m suddenly hopeful that nature can self-correct,” Venkataraman said. “The scale of change we have ushered in is not something that will be corrected by a brief pause in industrial activity.”

Venkataraman, however, believes this pandemic presents a unique opportunity.

“We have an incredible opportunity at this moment because it’s a moment in which the federal government is going to have to spend to get us out of this crisis,” she said. “We have the chance to re-energize our economy and invest in green energy and infrastructure to make our communities more resilient when crises strike.”

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy and society. The partnership provides insightful, timely and unexpected analysis at the intersection of technology and society through written commentary and live events in Washington, D.C., and beyond.

Top photo by Pexels

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ASU names new McCain Institute executive director

April 16, 2020

Former Ambassador Mark Green to head up Washington, D.C.-based organization

The Arizona State University character-driven leadership program based in Washington, D.C., has found a new chieftain.

Man in suit and tie with flag behind him

Mark Green. Photo courtesy of U.S. Agency for International Development.

ASU President Michael M. Crow and board chair Cindy McCain announced Thursday that Ambassador Mark Green will serve as the new executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership at ASU’s Barrett and O’Connor Washington Center in the nation’s capital. Green starts his new position on April 20.

“Ambassador Green’s selection continues our unwavering commitment to securing the absolute best talent available,” Crow said. “His leadership style, vision, and global success match up superbly with the ASU Charter.”

Green joins a long line of ambassadors at the McCain Institute, which is named for Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Green was the former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) since August 2017. His other posts include heading the International Republican Institute, serving as ambassador to Tanzania from 2007 to 2009 and representing Wisconsin in the United States House of Representatives for four terms.

“Character-driven leadership, in America and around the world, has never been more important,” Green said. “At USAID, I helped strengthen our humanitarian and global development tools. At the McCain Institute, I’ll have an opportunity to reinforce the leadership needed to use these and other tools at a critical moment in our history.”

The selection comes after an extensive search facilitated by Korn Ferry and led by Fran Townsend, McCain Institute board member and former homeland security advisor. Cindy McCain, the late senator's widow, applauded the selection.

“Mark Green’s hallmark is inclusive, character-driven leadership that produces remarkable results,” said McCain, board chair of the institute. “I’ve known and admired him for a long time, and am so proud we now get to work with him directly as our executive director. I know my late husband would approve.”

Based in Washington, D.C., as part of ASU since 2012, the McCain Institute is a unique, action-oriented policy institution with major programs that advance character-driven leadership based on security, economic opportunity, freedom and human dignity.

Green holds a law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. In 2012, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science from Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies. Two years later, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania presented him with a special Presidential Certificate of Recognition and Appreciation.

Top photo: The Barrett and O'Connor Washington Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

Reporter , ASU Now