Q&A with Arnim Wiek
Dr. Wiek is an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability. Over the last 10 years, he has conducted sustainability research in Europe, Canada, Sri Lanka, and the U.S. addressing topics such as emerging technologies, urban and regional development, land use conflicts, resource governance, and climate change. His research is carried out in collaboration with partners from government, business, and civil society. He is currently directing research in conjunction with ASU’s Center for Nanotechnology in Society, Decision Center for a Desert City, and Central Arizona—Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research project.
What event triggered your focus on sustainability?
As a graduate student in philosophy at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, I attended an event that featured a replay of 12-year-old Severn Suzuki’s courageous speech to the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In that speech she said, “I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future.” Right then I decided it was time to get involved in addressing the challenges of sustainability, and since that time I have devoted my career to sustainability research and education.
What is your most important sustainability-related research project?
I am co-leading a long-term project to craft coordinated strategies for urban sustainability in Phoenix from the city to the neighborhood level. To reach this goal, we are developing “sustainable anticipatory governance,” a new concept that applies visioning, complex system analysis, and future scenario construction to create adaptive governance strategies that will lead to transformative change.
Our project team works interactively with the Phoenix Planning Department, as well as with stakeholders from government, administration, business, and civil society across the city. The research engages numerous faculty and student collaborators from diverse academic fields and includes running a studio-like workshop course for ASU students from public affairs, urban planning, sustainability, and other programs.
How does your research affect decisions in the “real world”?
My research engages decision-makers in high levels of interactivity when it comes to conducting research, challenging basic assumptions, and analyzing claims and value positions. We have been able to clearly demonstrate that such interactive research on sustainability issues improves institutional and civil capacity and decision-making for sustainability.
What world sustainability challenge concerns you most?
We must address the “triangle of collective failure”: complexity, capacity, and change. The gap is widening between the increasing complexity of our society and our limited cognitive, emotional, and organizational capacity. To bridge this gap, we need to fundamentally change our ways of consumption, production, trade, mobility, education, and cooperation and become the responsible leaders, engaged citizens, and change agents we promise to future generations.
February 26, 2010