Why we are launching the ASU Global Futures Laboratory

By Michael M. Crow and Peter Schlosser

We are living in a particularly urgent moment of our species’ history and our existence within a complex, tightly connected set of systems called Planet Earth. Over time, humans have placed significant pressure on our planet’s resources, yet we have not responded with the necessary care. Indeed, we have failed to successfully harness our intellectual capacity to ensure a habitable future.

This cannot stand. We must be better organized to engage in dramatic action to tackle some of the myriad critical issues, including climate change.

That’s why we are seeking to consciously evolve our intellectual and organizational structures to respond with greater breadth, depth and urgency. It’s why we are launching the Global Futures Laboratory at ASU. The goal: nothing less than helping build a habitable future in which well-being is attainable for all humankind.

Across the United States, there are hundreds of laboratories owned and operated by the federal government to address issues deemed critical to the functioning of our society and economy. This includes 17 major national laboratories under the auspices of the Department of Energy.

But none of these are pursuing the complex collection of social, cultural, economic, technological and scientific challenges spawned by the current and future threats from environmental degradation. Recognizing this, we see an opportunity and perhaps our greatest challenge — to mobilize the innovative capacity of ASU, engage our strategic partners and a broad stakeholder group, ask the necessary questions, generate options for solutions, and work aggressively and urgently to implement the best of them. We envision Global Futures as a world headquarters for an international alliance of scientists, scholars and other innovators.

This effort draws on our university’s deep commitment to use-inspired, transdisciplinary research and our ongoing work in sustainability. It is predicated on our belief in academia’s responsibility to advance the quality of decision-making about the future of our planet and society. It represents our mission, stated in ASU’s charter, to serve the communities in which we live, including our global community. Finally, the launching of the Global Futures Laboratory reveals our optimism that this undertaking can help move the needle on global change, respond meaningfully to societal and environmental crises in the years ahead, and help create a positive future for us all.

We know this is ambitious. We know it will take many partners and maximum brainpower, drive and creative collaboration. We know there is not one solution to the challenges that beset us, but many.

Time is of the essence. Let’s get to it.

Michael Crow is the president of Arizona State University.

Peter Schlosser is the vice president and vice provost of the ASU Global Futures Laboratory.