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Writers from around the world envision the future, earn spot in new magazine

September 23, 2020

ASU Narrative Storytelling Initiative selects top 5 stories that imagine our future reality

In April, Arizona State University’s Narrative Storytelling Initiative invited people worldwide to write a short story on what they think the future holds, based on our current world. No science fiction, no fantasy, but an imagined future reality.

The results are in, and they’re illuminating. Enjoy the top five in a new magazine displayed on Issuu: Envisioning the Future, Volume 1.

The initiative received 43 submissions from around the world — with 20 from the ASU community — for its story contest in partnership with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. Adaptation to a changed reality was one of the recurring themes among most of the stories, which ranged from 400 to 700 words, said Steven Beschloss, director of the Narrative Storytelling Initiative.

“One of the inspiring aspects of every submission, but particularly the winners, is how each of the authors grappled with and depicted the essential humanity of life, no matter how challenging or even bleak that ecological or social reality might be,” said Beschloss, who is also a professor of practice in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “That ingredient of humanity gives me optimism that we can face the future without forsaking the qualities that make life both livable and rewarding.”

Over the summer, Beschloss and two judges — Joni Adamson and Ronald Broglio, both professors in the Department of English and sustainability scholars in the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation — sifted through the stories for a process of blind judging and, after much debate, selected five finalists. Authors of the top three entries will receive cash prizes, and the top five will all get a signed copy of "Environment" by ASU Professor Rolf Halden along with publication in the new magazine. Each story in the magazine is paired with an original illustration by designers in ASU Knowledge Enterprise.

“Despite living in a world thrown into chaos by COVID-19, extreme fires and punishing hurricanes, each submission was an example of what writer Rebecca Solnit has called ‘radical hope,’” said Adamson, director of the Environmental Humanities Initiative. “Each storyteller helped me imagine how communities and individuals will build resilience and insist that it is possible to flourish and live more sustainably in the future.”

The Environmental Humanities Initiative and the Institute for Humanities Research both contributed to Envisioning the Future. Starting with first place, winning stories were written by Hanna Sander-Green, Joe Herbert, Gina Beyer, Lila Asher and Karina Forbes Bohn.

If this contest sounds like something you’d enjoy participating in, you’re in luck.

“This is not a one-time thing,” Beschloss said. “This is necessary work, and we will create other such opportunities in the coming year.”

Keep an eye out for upcoming opportunities by following the Global Futures Laboratory on Twitter.

Kayla Frost

Communications Specialist , ASU Knowledge Enterprise


One of the world’s driest deserts is the focus of a new study on our changing climate

September 23, 2020

Carbon, one of the main building blocks for all life on Earth, cycles among living organisms and the environment. This cycle, and how it works in one of the driest places on Earth, is the subject of a new study recently published in the journal Plant and Soil with lead author and Arizona State University scientist Heather Throop.

While the natural carbon cycle should be balanced each year, with about as much carbon taken out of the atmosphere as is released back by natural processes, humans are upsetting this balance through carbon dioxide additions to the atmosphere, both through changing land use that releases carbon stored in soils and from burning fossil fuels. researchers measuring carbon dioxide release from the soil in the Namib Desert in southern Africa University students Ruusa Gottlieb (left) and Priscilla Mundilo measure carbon dioxide release from the soil at one of the high rainfall sites in the Namib Desert. Photo: Heather Throop/ASU Download Full Image

In an effort to understand what controls the release of carbon dioxide from soils in deserts, Throop and a team of university students from Namibia conducted field work in the Namib Desert, one of the world’s driest regions that stretches more than 1,200 miles along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia and South Africa.

What Throop and her team ultimately determined from their research is that subtle differences in surface topography and erosion have big influences on microorganisms in the soil and these differences ultimately affect carbon cycling. Even in the driest places, they found signs of life influencing carbon cycling.

“The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affects our climate, so understanding what affects the release of carbon from soils is important for predicting how climate will change in the future,” said Throop, who is an associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Life Sciences.

To conduct their analyses, the research team chose six locations that differed in yearly rainfall. At each site they carried out 48-hour sampling campaigns, working continuously day and night to collect data. At each location, the team analyzed the landscape structure and plants and selected representative locations to sample. Then, they simulated rainfall and used gas analyzers to measure carbon dioxide release from soils to determine how carbon cycling responded as soils dried after the simulated rain.

“It’s really an incredible amount of data to collect manually,” said Throop. “And having a crew of dedicated and enthusiastic students made this work possible. Often for remote field work like this, we just get a snapshot of what is happening at one or two sites or at a few points in time. It was exciting to be able to collect the data continuously for a few days and at six different sites.”

The students participating in this research came from the University of Namibia and the Namibia University of Science and Technology. They were each participating in the Summer Drylands Program, an intense research experience where students plan, execute and report on an experiment within a short timeframe. 

“The ability of technology to record soil carbon was outstanding,” said co-author and student researcher Vimbai Marufu, who is now in graduate school at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. “What I treasure the most from the experience is what it means to work on an interdisciplinary team and the unexplainable satisfaction of being close to nature.”

And there are plans to continue additional fieldwork in the Namib Desert with a recent grant from the National Science Foundation to ASU. This grant will provide support for U.S. students to conduct research in the Namib Desert in collaboration with Namibian researchers.

“We hope to use this work to help us in understanding how deserts respond to a changing climate,” said Throop. “How biological processes function in the extreme dry of the Namib Desert will gives us clues about how relatively wet deserts will behave under drier conditions.”

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration