Contest challenges writers to imagine futures shaped by climate change

September 18, 2015

ASU to award $1,000 to top climate fiction short story

The challenge with climate change is that it’s gradual — a pervasive, creeping calamity that can be difficult for people to accept or comprehend. But, what if people could understand it better by escaping their everyday realities? ASU Climate Fiction panel in April 2015 The ASU Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative hosted a climate fiction panel in April that included a flash fiction exercise to devise stories about Arizona's future water and drought scenario. Photo by: Jason Franz/Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives Download Full Image

Speculative fiction stories have the power to take policy debates and obscure scientific jargon and turn them into gripping, visceral tales. The emerging subgenre of climate fiction, epitomized by novels like Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam Trilogy, helps us to imagine futures shaped by climate change in deeply human terms.

The Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at Arizona State University, in partnership with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Council, invites writers to submit short stories that explore climate change, science and human futures for its first Climate Fiction Short Story Contest. The submission deadline is Jan. 15, 2016, and contest entry is free.

“Climate change is starting to appear as a character in all our stories, so there is no better time to invite creative visions of how humanity will face these challenges,” said Ed Finn, co-director of the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative.

The contest will be judged by science fiction legend Kim Stanley Robinson, the award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author of many foundational works in climate fiction, along with other experts from the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative.

"This contest is a wonderful idea and I'm happy to be part of it,” said Robinson. “There's a thrill to writing and reading fiction that can't be matched by any other activity. As we move into the climate change century, the stories we tell each other about coping with it are going to be a crucial part of our thoughts and actions, so I urge people to give this contest a try and see what happens.”

The grand-prize winner will be awarded $1,000, with three additional finalists receiving book bundles signed by award-winning climate fiction author Paolo Bacigalupi. A collection of the best submissions will be published in a forthcoming online anthology, and considered for publication in the journal Issues in Science and Technology.  

Stories are required to envision a future for Earth and humanity that is transformed in some way by climate change. They should also reflect current scientific knowledge about climate change and its consequences for human societies and the environment. The jury is particularly interested in stories that illuminate the political, ethical and technological challenges that individuals and communities must confront in the face of climate change. 

"Merging climate science and deeply human storytelling, climate fiction can be a powerful learning tool,” said Manjana Milkoreit, Walton Sustainability postdoctoral research fellow at ASU. “Taking the reader into a possible future, a story can turn modeling scenarios and temperature graphs into meaning and emotion. It can help us make sense of and respond to this incredibly complex problem."

For full contest rules and details, and a link to submit stories for consideration, visit

The Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative is a partnership between the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, and the Center for Science and the Imagination. It explores how imagination — or lack thereof — shapes humanity’s response to climate change, and how imagination merged with science can create solutions to climate challenges. The initiative hosts public events, offers courses at the intersection of art, literature and climate science as well as encompassing research projects uniting scholars and practitioners from a broad range of disciplines. 

Jason Franz

Assistant Director, Strategic Marketing and Communications, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory


Smart city designs earn ASU sustainability students Verizon grants

September 18, 2015

Last fall, ASU’s School of Sustainability teamed up with Verizon to offer a groundbreaking new course — the Smart City and Technology Innovation Challenge.

Students spent the semester learning about the latest in smart technologies, and brainstorming how they could be applied to cities for the benefit of urbanites. They molded their ideas into business propositions, which were carefully considered for generous grants from Verizon. Aerial view of Downtown Phoenix Three ASU sustainability students have been awarded grants for their ideas generated in the Smart City and Technology Innovation Challenge. Download Full Image

Now, the judges have spoken and the challenge’s three winners have been announced.

First-place winner Alex Slaymaker is in her second year in the School of Sustainability’s Master of Sustainability Solutions program and has a passion for eliminating waste.

“Cities of the future will view sending waste to the landfill as an outdated inefficiency that hurts their bottom line and reputation,” she said.

Slaymaker’s waste-reducing proposition, PHXflow, is a vibrant online waste networking platform created for small- and medium-sized businesses interested in selling, donating, purchasing or exchanging unwanted materials with other businesses in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“Picture a for all different kinds of waste, from wooden crates to leftovers,” Slaymaker said.

In Phoenix alone, enough waste is generated in one year to fill Chase Stadium seven times. Although recovered materials account for one stadium’s capacity, the Brookings Institute estimates that over $500 million worth are exported from the Phoenix metropolitan area each year. Half are sent across the world to Asia, where they are transformed into new products that are sold back to the United States.
The remaining six stadiums of waste are sent to landfills, even though 50 percent is compostable, 15 percent is recyclable and 23 percent is recoverable.

PHXflow aims to correct this by allowing companies to inject by-products back into the regional supply chain so that others can create wealth from what would otherwise be waste - a matchmaking proposition now backed by a $5,000 grant.

Christopher Frettoloso, the second-place recipient of $2,000, conceived BetR-block, LLC.

BetR-blok, pronounced “better block,” manufactures sustainable, low-cost building materials from recycled paper and other cellulosic materials. The company designed and built low-cost, energy-efficient equipment to pulp, mix and press recycled paper, cardboard, straw, palm fronds and other regionally-available plant material into affordable construction blocks.

Given the skyrocketing costs of materials and construction along with the pressing need for low-cost, sustainable homes, the company — which joins Edson’s cohort of 2015 start-ups — sees it as a matter of time before BetR-blok becomes a construction material of choice.

Alex Cano is the challenge’s third-place recipient of $1,000 and the innovative mind behind BISTEG-USA. His proposition tackles the aesthetic concerns associated with current solar technologies, which are often relegated to out-of-sight places like rooftops.

The technology Cano is researching takes advantage of recent advances in thermocouple materials that generate electricity from temperature gradients. The devices he envisions are constructed of glass blocks or small window panes — materials that are easier on the eyes and provide a wide range of display options.

Amit Jain, director of Verizon Corporate Strategy, is pleased that the Verizon grants will support such smart and sustainable endeavors.

“I was impressed by the enthusiasm of everyone involved in this course, from instructor Colin Tetreault to his talented cohort of students,” Jain said. “Verizon is committed to accelerating the pace of innovation, making this partnership with the School of Sustainability very much worth our while.”

Perhaps the real winners of the Smart City and Technology Innovation Challenge are the city dwellers who benefit from the future outputs of these savvy student ventures.

Communications specialist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability