2 ASU experts join national panel to address security risks from climate change

July 13, 2022

Millions of farmers and their families — from Central America to Southeast Asia to Africa — have fled their homes amid drought and widespread crop failure. Forced to choose between flight or death, their numbers could swell to as many as 143 million by 2050, a U.S. report warns, unleashing the greatest wave of migration the world has seen.

As nations fall short of the reduction in net greenhouse emissions needed to meet Paris Agreement goals, international tensions will likely rise as countries debate who bears more responsibility to act and pay — and how quickly. A photo collage depicting the impact of climate change, including forest fires, on the environment. Image by Jhazzye Mosley Download Full Image

Summer wildfires, fueled by land parched with drought, consume vast swaths of forests in the United States. Among the country’s unsung heroes are U.S. National Guard members, who increasingly serve on the frontlines battling the blazes. 

These examples are part of a growing narrative from U.S. intelligence and homeland security agencies on how climate change isn’t just an environmental problem, it’s a threat to national security. 

At the direction of Congress, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have entered into a partnership to establish a Climate Security Roundtable. The roundtable will convene experts from academia, the private sector and civil society, as well as government, to support an existing federal interagency Climate Security Advisory Council. The council is a partnership between the intelligence and federal science communities to better understand and anticipate the ways climate change affects U.S. national security interests. The roundtable’s experts will provide perspectives and analysis to help the Climate Security Advisory Council leverage the technical expertise and capabilities outside the federal government and better inform national security assessments. 

Arizona State University is the only organization with two appointees to the Climate Security Roundtable: Nadya Bliss, executive director of the Global Security Initiative, and Vernon Morris, director of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Nadya Bliss

Headshot of Nadya Bliss

Bliss leads ASU’s hub for interdisciplinary security research and primary interface to the defense, intelligence and homeland security communities. She also serves as vice chair of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Information Science and Technology Study Group and will assume the role of chair later this summer. The group brings top scientists and engineers together to identify new areas of development in computer and communication technologies and potential research directions for DARPA, a Department of Defense organization that advances breakthrough technologies for national security.

Prior to joining ASU in 2012, Bliss spent 10 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, most recently as founding group leader of the Computing and Analytics Group. 

“I’m not what you consider a traditional climate change expert. I’m not even a nontraditional climate change expert,” she says. “I am a national security expert. I’m a computer scientist. I’ve done a lot of work in coupling advanced research capabilities with mission needs, in areas such as disinformation, cybersecurity and, in this case, climate change. I see climate change as something we call a wicked problemWicked problems involve many interdependent factors that can make them seem impossible to solve..” 

Bliss recently co-authored a white paper for the Computing Community Consortium that highlights the role of computing research in addressing climate-change-induced challenges. “Climate change is an existential threat to the United States and the world,” the authors write. “Inevitably, computing will play a key role in mitigation, adaptation and resilience in response to this threat.” 

The authors examined six key areas where these challenges will arise: energy, environmental justice, transportation, infrastructure, agriculture, and environmental monitoring and forecasting. A climate change action plan, the white paper reveals specific ways in which computing research can play a key role in reducing threats, using devices and architectures, software, algorithms/AI/robotics and sociotechnical computing. One example is using advanced decision support systems to determine the best incentives to encourage people to hop on a bus or drive an electric vehicle. 

Vernon Morris

Headshot of Vernon Morris

Morris joined ASU as a chemistry and environmental sciences professor and director of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences in 2020. From 2001 to 2020, he served as founding director of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Center for Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology, where he was a chemistry professor and founder of the Atmospheric Sciences Program. As a researcher, he has examined how tiny particles in the air — such as droplets, dust particles or bits of fine black carbon — can have an outsized impact on the planet’s climate. 

“I directed a NOAA center for about 18 years, where one of our themes was developing integrated decision support systems — taking environmental observations and bringing those into modeling and predictive systems for the specific purpose of informing decisions,” he says. 

He served as chief scientist aboard the Aerosol and Ocean Science Expeditions, or AEROSE, a first-of-its-kind series of trans-Atlantic research cruises to track and characterize the properties of Saharan desert dust. The field expeditions produced data that proved instrumental in validating satellite measurements, refining climate and weather models, and advancing the understanding of atmospheric chemistry. Supporting his drive to make atmospheric science a more inclusive field, Morris included dozens of students from historically Black colleges and Hispanic-Serving Institutions on expeditions.

A diversity of perspectives and experiences is crucial for addressing climate security successfully. Often the people most impacted by climate change — such as people living in low-lying Pacific Island nations that may become uninhabitable as sea levels rise or Central American farmers who can’t grow crops — have little influence on decision-making. As a member of the Climate Security Roundtable, Morris will advocate for equity in climate change policymaking. 

“I’m interested in broadening the number of voices and perspectives that go into the ultimate decision-making process,” he says.

Sounding the alarm

“The national security community has recognized climate change as a threat multiplier for decades,” says Bliss.

But the nation’s security agencies collectively communicated the climate risks they face for the first time in October 2021, when the Department of Defense, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Department of Homeland Security and National Security Council released four distinct reports on the issue.

The reports include the National Intelligence Estimate, a first-of-its-kind document produced by the National Intelligence Council, the most senior intelligence analysts with deep expertise on security threats facing the United States and the rest of the world. 

The NIE echoes climate scientists’ warning that the world is off track to meet the Paris Climate Accords’ goals of keeping the Earth’s temperature from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial norms. Estimates show temperatures are expected to increase to 2.0 degrees Celsius by midcentury. 

The report says climate change risks to American national security will only grow in the years to come. Among its predictions: The so-called decarbonization pressure — the pressure to mitigate climate change — will spike global tensions as countries argue about how to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change will ignite cross-border flash points, with a growing risk of conflict between countries over water and migration. And the effects of climate change will be felt most acutely in developing countries that are least equipped to adapt.

While the challenges appear daunting, Bliss sees signs of hope in both the Climate Security Roundtable and ASU’s role in it. 

“It’s really important to take a hopeful perspective, knowing there are ways to move forward that are positive,” she says. “I think the National Academies brings the level of rigor, professionalism, expertise and convening power that is needed for this kind of problem.  

“ASU has committed to tangibly improving the world in many dimensions. And anticipating and mitigating national security risks is one of them.”

Lori Baker

Communications Specialist, Knowledge Enterprise

Constructing a legacy

Core values of collaboration, partnership and entrepreneurship drive the success of the Del E. Webb School of Construction

July 13, 2022

The construction industry is poised to grow dramatically during the next decade. In Arizona, there is demand for every type of structure from affordable houses to large industrial complexes, not to mention roadways and bridges needed to serve everyone now calling Arizona home.

In order for those buildings to take shape, there is a connected demand for the skilled trade workers and the construction management personnel who are vital to each project’s success. Del E. Webb School of Construction graduates seated in a row wearing graduation attire and hard hats. The Del E. Webb School of Construction has seen thousands of students graduate from its construction management and technology program since it was established under that name in 1992. Arizona State University has offered construction management classes dating back more than 50 years. Photo by Monica Williams/ASU Download Full Image

“People are getting hired left and right,” says Anthony Lamanna, the Del E. Webb School of Construction programs chair and Sundt Professor of Alternative Delivery Methods and Sustainable Construction at Arizona State University. “We could graduate three times as many students and there would still be jobs available.”

For the past five years, Lamanna has held the role of overseeing the Del E. Webb School of Construction, a part of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the seven Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

He says the location within the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment gives the Del E. Webb School of Construction an edge because the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment is not only home to the construction management and technology and construction engineering programs, but also the civil engineering, environmental engineering and sustainable engineering programs. He says the unique collaboration enables faculty, students, alumni and industry partners to address and solve issues related to the construction and sustainability of the built environment in our communities, both locally and globally.

Construction and sustainability are two subjects that have been at the forefront of Lamanna’s research since he earned his doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has sought to establish standards for repairing and retrofitting existing buildings and designing structures for adaptive reuse. For example, he has looked at adapting a building once used as a funeral home and turning it into a bookstore.

Lamanna also spent a large amount of time in New Orleans prior to and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He worked to repair hurricane- and tornado-damaged structures, as well as design high-wind-resistance retrofittings.

“Lamanna’s research contributions have found their way into structural codes and standards, thus influencing real-world structural design and construction,” says Ram Pendyala, director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. “His work has helped advance industry partnerships for the Del E. Webb School of Construction.”

Lamanna says that since accepting the position with the Del E. Webb School of Construction, he has seen a tremendous amount of growth in the program and has led the effort for the programs to gain accreditation through the American Council for Construction Education, or ACCE, and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or ABET, a meticulous process that he says he has grown to understand while serving as an external program evaluator for both organizations.

Del E. Webb legacy

Construction management schools were first created by construction companies needing workers with skill sets that fit the unique factors of the job site.

ASU saw the need early and added a Department of Construction in 1957 alongside the architecture program before it was moved to what was then known as the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. It would be decades before other universities saw the need to partner with the industries in which their graduates would be working and create construction programs of their own.

The Del E. Webb School of Construction, as it’s now known, was established in 1992 with an endowment from the Del E. Webb Foundation. Webb was the founder of the Del E. Webb Construction Company in Arizona in the mid-1920s. By the 1960s, it became one of the largest companies in the United States. His legacy for crafting unique communities can be seen in his Sun City developments and ASU’s School of Construction.

“Our motto is ‘We built that’ for a reason,” Lamanna says. “It is a point of pride, a phrase of recognition.”

ASU has graduated thousands of construction management and construction engineering students since its founding. Many of them have settled into roles here in the Valley, building the communities they live in. Since 2017, the school’s students have achieved 100% industry job placement within six months of completing their degrees.

RELATED: Construction industry professionals bring industry knowledge to the classroom

From classroom to construction site

“Internships are highly correlated to full-time job offers in advance of graduation,” says Matthew Eicher, who oversees the Del E. Webb School of Construction’s internship program. “I think it helps the students to be more purposeful in the companies they approach, and they understand the expectations of the job market.”

Eicher is the assistant director for student development and outreach with the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. He says the skills students learn in these placements cannot be replicated anywhere else.

“They put the curriculum into context and empower the students to make better decisions about which sector of construction is best for them,” Eicher says.

There are two mandatory internships for construction management and technology undergraduate students, with at least one being in the field exposing students to active construction sites.

Eicher says the construction management and technology program produces more successful graduates because the internship process gives students “clarity about the value of their degree.” Additionally, the curriculum improves from the feedback provided by not only the students, but also company evaluations.

In summer of 2021, there were 158 different employers for 264 construction undergraduate students registered for internships. Industry partners can be highly connected and participate in a myriad of activities that are closely tied to the academic enterprise, or they can simply post positions to ASU’s student recruitment platform. Eicher says it is truly up to the person or company to determine how involved they want to be in the development and recruitment of students.

Del E. Webb School of Construction has also welcomed a number of industry professionals back into the classroom to serve as faculty associates, leading courses in their areas of specialization.

Industry Partner Circle

In an effort to support students with more than just job placement upon graduation, the Del E. Webb school established the Industry Partner Circle, or IPC. The circle is made up of industry partners from across the state that want to see construction students thrive. The industry partners provide funding for scholarships, endowed faculty positions and internship placements.

“We have created a pipeline for students to get the training they need,” Lamanna says. “It wouldn’t be possible without the industry support.”

As of June 2022, IPC has more than a dozen members, including Willmeng Constructionthe PENTA Building Group and INSURICA. In some cases, these companies are owned and operated by Del E. Webb alumni or employ many Del E. Webb graduates.

Pendyala notes that the Industry Partner Circle is an example of the many kinds of industry partnerships that Lamanna’s leadership has enabled.

“He has worked tirelessly to build relationships and bring stakeholders together to advance the construction workforce of the future,” Pendyala says.

Monica Williams

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering