USC’s zero waste football game is Saturday

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USC FOOTBALL ZERO WASTE GAME
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The University of Southern California and USC Athletics are proud to be leaders in sustainability. Here are our accomplishments from the past year and commitments to zero waste that we will celebrate during the Oct. 1 Zero Waste Game against Arizona State.

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ACCOMPLISHMENTS

In 2021-22, USC Athletics won the Pac-12 Zero Waste Challenge in both football and men’s basketball.

It was the third time USC won the Pac-12 Zero Waste Challenge in football, and its first honor in men’s basketball.

In both Zero Waste Challenge games, USC diverted over 90% of game day waste from landfills.
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SPORTS FOR CLIMATE ACTION

In July 2022, USC Athletics re-committed to the United Nations’ Sports For Climate Action Framework, a worldwide initiative to achieve climate change goals in sports.

This pledge follows USC’s guiding sustainability principles:
Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
Reduce overall climate impact
Educate for climate action
Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
Advocate for climate action through communication
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WATER CONSERVATION

Sprinkler irrigation schedules at USC athletic facilities have been adjusted for designated days and times between 4pm-9am window, with spot watering as needed by hand.

This is in accordance with the State of California’s conservation measures, the City of Los Angeles Phase 3 Water Conservation Ordinance and USC’s commitment to water reduction efforts.
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ONE TREE PLANTED

In Sept. 2022, USC Athletics partnered with One Tree Planted to develop a reforestation campaign centered around the 2022 USC Football season.

One Tree Planted oversaw replanting of ?30 million trees in 2021.

USC and OTP will work together to plant six trees for every USC touchdown, and one more for each USC extra point.
Through USC Football’s first 3 games, 140 trees have been pledged to be planted (20 touchdowns and 20 extra points).
PAC-12 ZERO WASTE CHALLENGE

During each football and basketball season, Pac-12 campuses compete with each other in pursuit of a zero waste home game in each season. Zero Waste is an effective tool to fully engage the athletes, faculty, staff, students, fans, and the community at the athletic venue to show active commitment to zero waste and sustainability. The zero waste competitions have continued to grow and is now in its fourth year with all Pac-12 campuses participating.

The competition encourages campuses to move towards zero waste and be creative on developing best practices, whether it be directly through reuse, recycling, and composting or by working with partners to drive impactful changes. Partners can include concessionaires, merchandise vendors, haulers, campus departments, manufacturers, sponsors, and service providers.

The Pac-12 zero waste competitions are unique when compared to other zero waste or recycling competitions. It not only uses the diversion rate as a key factor for the competition but it also takes into account two other key elements to succeed in achieving zero waste at athletic venues.

The score card also includes a Partnership and Participation section in identifying and developing partners, sponsors, and stakeholders and to identify their specific roles in the competition. The other special key element is the Innovation Credit section where the campus must identify their impacts of the competition through engagement with the campus, tailgates, organizations, sponsors, fans, contributions, and community.

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In a warmer world, half of all species are on the move — but where are they going?

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In a Warmer World, Half of all Species Are on the Move. Where Are They Going?

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In a Warmer World, Half of all Species Are on the Move. Where Are They Going? A new computer modeling tool provides a more accurate analysis of species range shifts under climate change – and it’s even bleaker than expected.
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From the deepest oceans to the highest mountains, human-caused climate change is making a profound impact on animals and plants around the world, with many species pushed to the brink of extinction by rising temperatures.

From bears to moose to lynx, and even squirrels and frogs, animals are leaving their homes in search of cooler climates as the planet warms. In fact, roughly half of the world’s 4,000 species are on the move, with many migrating northwards towards higher latitudes.

For ecologists and conservationists, understanding how these species’ viable habitats expand and contract in the context of a rapidly shifting climate is critical. As such, species distribution modeling is often used to predict migration habits and suitable habitats for species under different environmental conditions.

But current models can produce inaccurate, and overly optimistic results, because they fail to consider a key question: can a species realistically reach a suitable climate before it’s too late?

Not all environments are suitable for every species, and animals shift and migrate at different paces based on a range of factors, such as mobility, reproductive ability, or landscape features. In ecology, this is known as a dispersal limit or constraint.

“When we think about the impact of climate change on species habitat, we have to ask: where can the species live in the future under climate change, but more importantly, can they get there?” said Bistra Dilkina, a USC computer science associate professor and co-director of USC’s Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society.

“We have to dynamically and accurately assess conservation priorities and getting the right tools to understand future concerns is very important.”

That’s why Dilkina teamed up with Georgia Tech biogeographers Jenny McGuire, an assistant professor, and Ben Shipley, a Ph.D. candidate, to create MegaSDM, the first modeling tool that considers dispersal limits for many species, climate models, and time periods at once.

When provided a list of species and environmental data, the model produces a series of maps illustrating how species move over time in different scenarios under climate change.

A shift northward
In a recent paper, the team modeled 165 North American mammals’ distributions in 2010 and projected to 2050 and 2070 under two scenarios: with dispersal limits and without. They found a predictable decline in overall species richness from 2010 to 2070 across North America, and a small but visible shift northward.

But the map with dispersal constraints sounded a dire warning: many species will be unable to colonize all the available suitable habitats in 2070.

“When dispersal rate is taken into consideration, the future looks bleaker than we would have anticipated,” said McGuire.

“When looking at changes in habitat suitability over time, we see habitat shrinkage to the south, and habitat suitability expansion to the north, which is to be expected. But importantly, when integrating dispersal limitations into the analysis, we also see a lot of the habitat suitability gains are lost due to dispersal limits.”

As a result, the model could allow researchers to shine new light on which species are truly at risk of extinction due to climate change. Previous studies suggest that species with slow dispersal rates–including primates, shrews, moles, and species from the opossum order–are at the highest risk, in the Western hemisphere at least.

Also at risk are cold-weather, high-elevation species such as the pika, a small mountain-dwelling animal that can overheat and die in temperatures as mild as 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite declining numbers, the tiny mammal has been denied endangered species status with studies suggesting it will migrate to cooler areas upslope.

But with dispersal constraints taken into account, the future looks less optimistic for the pika.

“Pikas are unlikely to move around a lot throughout the year, so their dispersal rates are quite low. As a result, even if some new suitable habitat opened up on a mountain range to the north, it might be unlikely that any population of pika would establish there, and as the climate warms, their habitats will shrink,” said Shipley.

“The map without dispersal constraints may show an expansion to colder and higher mountain ranges, whereas a dispersal-constrained map would show a decrease in habitat without a corresponding expansion through time.”

Empowering future action
Another advantage of MegaDSM: it can synthesize many species, time periods and climate scenarios at once. By outputting unique maps describing the changes in species ranges, it allows researchers to predict species distributions going back and forward in time to anticipate where a species could potentially live in the future.

“Most of the current techniques used by species distribution models are static, so they only project to a single time period, and they don’t incorporate aspects of movement across landscapes,” said Shipley. “But MegaSDM uses a multi-step time approach, so you can apply these distribution models to past or present time periods, and show dynamic movement, like expanding and shrinking of range sizes.”

It also allows researchers to tease apart the impacts of climate change versus other barriers to migration–urban development or unsuitable habitat for instance.

“If we look at just today, we’re not getting a full picture of all the different climates in which a species can live,” said McGuire. “The tool allows us to recognize when a species is being restricted by other types of impacts, and it allows us to better anticipate where they could potentially live in the future and to identify potential areas for restoration.”

Developing the open-source tool required careful system engineering and planning to determine how to create a modular system using the least memory requirements, said Dilkina, the Dr. Allen and Charlotte Ginsburg Early Career Chair in Computer Science.

First, the researchers modeled the habitat suitability for species using relevant publicly available data, such as geographic information systems (GIS) layers, including elevation, land cover, urbanization level and forestation. Next, they looked at where these species have been detected, and climate data for the present and the future.

Going forward, the team plans to use the tool to identify species at the highest risk in the hopes of strategically implementing conservation strategies, wildlife steppingstones or corridors for instance, to expand the connectivity of conserved landscapes.

In particular, Dilkina plans to employ MegaSDM in her collaborative work with ecologists, economists, GIS and policy researchers on a new National Science Foundation grant titled ‘Scrambled responsibilities – species conservation and collaborative governance in an era of global change.’

“Climate change is here faster than we anticipated,” said Dilkina. “Building the tools to help us make quantitative predictions about what will happen is extremely important, and I believe this will empower future action in biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation efforts.”

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USC-LADWP agreement taps into offsite solar power for the university and its neighbors 

USC will obtain 25% of its electricity from solar-generated power and contribute to new solar programs that expand opportunities for disadvantaged communities to access affordable clean energy — all under a new agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Assignment: Earth logoThe 20-year agreement approved by the L.A. City Council on Wednesday will help USC meet its goals in reducing carbon-based energy consumption. In addition, the university will become the first L.A. institution to contribute to Los Angeles DWP’s Clean Energy Adder program, which will make renewable energy more accessible and affordable for residents in multifamily dwellings, including those surrounding USC’s campuses.

The contract provides USC with up to 25 megawatts of electricity on any given day — the equivalent of taking 5,413 gas-fueled cars off the road — from the LADWP Springbok 3 Solar Farm in Mojave, about 95 miles north of Los Angeles. The solar farm will virtually apply nearly 30% of its energy production to USC — one-quarter of the university’s annual electricity needs.

“USC has set an ambitious goal of going carbon-neutral by 2025, and this agreement between USC and LADWP is an exciting and significant step toward achieving that through increased access to solar energy,” USC President Carol L. Folt said.

“This is a meaningful example of how, working together, USC and the city can set the pace and do our part to fight climate change.”

Shifting to renewable energy including solar power

All USC-operated buildings and facilities on the University Park Campus in Downtown L.A. and most on the Health Sciences Campus in Boyle Heights will be part of this effort.

We hope to set an example for other L.A. institutions to seek out aggressive solutions to the climate crisis.

Mick Dalrymple, USC chief sustainability officer

“This new agreement marks a major milestone toward reducing our environmental impact and realizing our goal of achieving climate neutrality,” said USC Chief Sustainability Officer Mick Dalrymple.

“By taking this step, we hope to set an example for other L.A. institutions to seek out aggressive solutions to the climate crisis.”

LADWP Clean Energy Adder program

In addition to lowering its carbon footprint, USC will contribute approximately $180,000 per year to LADWP programs that support multifamily residents in and around USC’s campuses. These funds will also support disadvantaged communities who have historically been challenged by socioeconomic conditions and pollution. This first-of-its-kind arrangement is a bold step in supporting disadvantaged community access to clean energy.

Under the new Clean Energy Adder program, larger institutions like USC may subscribe to two LADWP solar-focused programs. USC is the first organization to financially support the Shared Solar Program, which enables renters in multifamily dwellings to offset a portion of their electricity with solar-generated energy. Furthermore, funding from USC will be set aside from the Virtual Net Energy Metering pilot program that incentivizes solar development at multifamily buildings.

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President Folt touts USC’s role in a more sustainable and equitable L.A. at annual Business Council summit

Business and environmental leaders and experts from around the country gathered Thursday morning at USC’s University Park Campus to discuss how education, business practices and policy will shape the future of Los Angeles.

After two years of being held virtually, the Los Angeles Business Council‘s Sustainability Summit took place in the university’s Town and Gown ballroom. The 16th annual event addressed topics such as the city’s clean energy future, revitalizing buildings with carbon-free power, water resources and drought, and achieving a new all-electric transportation sector.

USC President Carol L. Folt noted that creating a greener and more sustainable Los Angeles for all residents is an admirable goal, but to do so, people from all backgrounds need a seat at the table. As a biologist, Folt said that her own mindset had transitioned from thinking about sustainability as a way to preserve beauty in the natural world, to seeing it as a vehicle to create greater equity in society.

“Some of the solutions for sustainability taken in short term or taken from one perspective may look like they are going to leave people out,” Folt said. “One of our biggest jobs is to get people to learn across differences and solve these thorny problems without immediately dividing their attention.”

Sustainability Summit features USC experts

Also representing the university throughout the summit were Alan Arkatov, founding director of the USC Rossier School of Education’s Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education, who moderated a conversation on “Edible Education”; and USC Chief Sustainability Officer Mick Dalrymple, who participated in a panel discussion on carbon-free power in buildings.

Assignment: Earth logoDalrymple highlighted USC’s Assignment: Earth project, an action-oriented plan to guide the university’s commitment to sustainability and addressing climate change between now and the 2028 Olympic Games in L.A.

“We’re one of many anchor institutions in L.A. and in the community, so we have a responsibility to lead, and we have a responsibility to lead by example,” he said.

The city’s leadership was well-represented in a panel featuring Folt, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who discussed clean technology and the future of the L.A. workforce. The exchange was moderated by Manuel Pastor, USC Distinguished Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity, who started by addressing the Inflation Reduction Act. Pastor called the bill, signed into law by President Joe Biden last month, the “single most significant piece of federal legislation around environmental justice,” and emphasized how it benefits disadvantaged communities.

“I’ve been saying all along, how do we make sure that equity is baked in rather than sprinkled on?” Pastor said.

From there, the discussion led into the collaborative effort among USC, UCLA and the other four-year and community colleges in L.A. to train the next generation of the workforce. Folt pointed out how having two leading research universities in a major, forward-thinking city makes for a perfect combination.

“In this city you’ve got two of your largest research universities in America both committed to climate neutrality by 2025,” Folt said. “This is really a big deal — and it is about California, and it is about this region, and it’s about the city helping lead it, so just be really proud of that.”

Folt also discussed USC’s sustainability efforts so far and the university’s upcoming goals, including carbon neutrality, increased access to electric vehicles and offering more courses around sustainability in various disciplines.

“We have 22 different professional schools, and we see sustainability as needing to be deeply embedded in every one of them, whether you’re in business or in the arts,” Folt said.

Sustainability Summit: L.A. in 2035

One of the last questions posed to Folt, Garcetti and Block asked what they saw when they envisioned L.A. in 2035. Folt quoted world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall: “The real danger to the future is apathy.”

“I think by 2035, apathy is gone,” Folt said. “I hope I wake up to a place where students are not limited in their futures based on where they grew up and what it costs to get there, and we lead the way in training people and giving them access to education at every level, with great respect and a livable life with it.”

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Clearing the air: USC faculty seek to shift the climate change conversation

The specter of more frequent, unprecedented natural disasters looms behind climate change. More numerous wildfires and hotter temperatures make stepping outdoors a fraught choice. Tsunami heights are predicted to reach previously unseen levels. Many of the predictive models that forecast our drinking water supply, drive our supply chains and inform other features of the modern world depend on predictable phenomena to plan against.

Recipients of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies’ 2022 Faculty Innovation Awards are taking steps to explain the threat and risks posed by climate change in ways that inform and inspire action rather than deepening cultural divisions.

To make the best use of climate change research, experts need to share that knowledge with the public in ways that are clear and meaningful.

Jessica Dutton, USC Wrigley Institute
for Environmental Studies

For example, economists Matthew Kahn and Rob Metcalfe are using cutting-edge digital tools to accurately convey potential long-term environmental risks for homebuyers. Gale Sinatra, W?ndi Bruine de Bruin and Norbert Schwarz, each an expert on science communication, are investigating how political affiliation may distort understanding of climate terms.

“To make the best use of climate change research, experts need to share that knowledge with the public in ways that are clear and meaningful,” says Jessica Dutton, associate director for research and engagement of the USC Wrigley Institute. “These projects are redefining how climate information moves into public dialogues and informs societal choices.”

Climate risk tool gives homebuyers information they need to make informed choices

Purchasing a home is the most complicated, expensive decision ever faced by many adult Americans. Today’s rapidly changing climate adds a new wrinkle to that calculus: Even after you’ve found your dream home, a natural disaster could wreck your investment.

The ability to accurately measure and quickly disseminate climate data may provide a useful tool for prospective homebuyers, says Kahn, Provost Professor of Economics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Kahn and co-investigator Metcalfe, associate professor of economics at USC Dornsife, have partnered with Redfin and the First Street Foundation to incorporate historical and current weather data to assign properties with a risk score for flooding or wildfire.

“When people search for a home, they’ve always looked to see if it is in a good school district, it is in a safe neighborhood, is it a walkable neighborhood?” Kahn says. “More and more homebuyers, in my opinion, or going to do their due diligence in terms of environmental risks: Is the home in a fire zone, is there a risk for flooding?”

In joint research with Daryl Fairweather of Redfin and Sebastian Olascoaga of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kahn and Metcalfe are investigating the effect of this data on purchasing tendencies. The study uses data from a 2020 Redfin-led experiment where it tested the effect of included flood risk data for a randomized sample of more than 17 million users. The researchers found that flood risk data altered the behavior of Redfin users. Users in the test group traded size for security, with many choosing smaller homes or fewer bedrooms to live in a lower risk property.

“Increased access to high quality, home-specific information about emerging climate risks,” Kahn says, “means that capitalism increases our ability to adapt to climate change. Buyers are less likely to regret their purchase and sellers can take steps to offset Mother Nature’s punches so that they can still sell their asset for a high price.”

Messaging matters, especially with climate change

How do you address a crisis if you can’t agree on what to call it? The challenge of communicating complex scientific information has motivated the work of Sinatra, the Stephen H. Crocker Chair Professor of Education and Psychology at the USC Rossier School of Education. For 15 years, Sinatra has studied science education with the aim of “understanding the cognitive and motivational processes that lead to successful learning in science.”

A person’s motivations and emotions play a large role in their receptivity to climate-related messaging. For instance, the term “climate crisis” can prompt a different emotional response than “climate justice,” “climate change” or “global warming,” according to Sinatra. “The terminology that communicators and policymakers use really matters to people — different terms evoke different emotions,” she says.

“The goal is to leverage emotions in a positive way — in other words, not to get people upset or angry, but rather to elicit emotions that heighten concern and engagement with the topic. Then we can move to heighten their motivations to pay attention to messages around climate change and to perhaps take actions in their own life to mitigate its effects by adopting more sustainable practices.”

Sinatra says most people don’t understand the science and terms behind climate change, but it isn’t their fault: “The questions we’re facing — why is the climate changing and what is the science behind it? — require familiarity with complex information that is not taught well in K-12 instruction.”

Sinatra’s project will use the Understanding America Study and dataset, which is a large demographically representative sample of 6,000 individuals across the United States.

“We want to figure out which terminologies to use to most productively educate people to take action,” she says. “We can figure out which terms resonate with people from different political affiliations.”

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Bringing the magic of scuba diving to a more diverse crowd

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arcela Riddick emerged from the water in a wetsuit and scuba mask, shouting excitedly. She had just completed her first ever scuba dive, in Big Fisherman’s Cove outside the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island.

“I absolutely lost it — in the best way — coming out the water. I was screaming at everybody that I was a fish,” says Riddick, who recently graduated from the USC Marshall School of Business with a Master of Science in Social Entrepreneurship degree and who is building a career in environmental education.

Despite growing up on the beaches of Southern California, she’d never had the chance to dive before due to the high cost of lessons and equipment. The lack of diversity among the diving community also deterred her.

The Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, headquartered at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, recently hosted the Wrigley Institute Scientific Diving Discovery Program to help people like Riddick learn how to scuba dive. The program aims to diversify the field of scientific diving, which is overwhelmingly male and white.

“Scuba diving can be a gateway to science careers, ocean conservation issues and deeper connection with and stewardship for the environment. We want to open those doors to as many people as possible,” says Jessica Dutton, associate director for research and engagement at the USC Wrigley Institute.

Diving for knowledge

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Divers traverse a first aid course, which took place both on land and in the water, as part of their training.

The program began with support from an Ocean Exploration Education Mini-Grant from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. Dutton and John Heidelberg, director of the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center and associate professor of biological sciences, applied for a grant to train students from underrepresented minority groups how to scuba dive, at no cost.

Their vision was a course that would get students directly into the workforce. “We thought, ‘Okay, what training does someone need so they can get a job as a scientific diver straight out of our program?” explains Hanna Reed, diving safety officer at the USC Wrigley Institute. Reed helped organize the program and instructed the students, along with Kory Lambert, chair of the Next Generation Committee for the National Association of Black Divers, who also earned his certification as a dive master while assisting with this course.

After securing the funding, Dutton, Heidelberg and Reed launched an application process that brought in seven undergraduate students from across the country.

In July, the students spent three weeks at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center where they dove in progressively deeper water and trained in skills like underwater data collection, first aid, knot tying and operating small boats. At night, they studied for certifications including the AAUS Scientific Diver certification and the NAUI Advanced Scuba Diver certification.

They also attended lectures on subjects like fish identification and heard from scientists from different backgrounds, including Diane Kim, adjunct assistant professor (teaching) of environmental studies, who spoke about her experience as a Korean American woman working in science and her innovative kelp research.

Riddick says these lectures helped illuminate what they were seeing on their dives.

On her deepest excursion, some 65 feet, Riddick spotted a giant shovelnose guitar fish, a species she could identify thanks to a vertebrate identification class led by David Ginsburg, professor (teaching) of environmental studies.

“It was nearly the size of me and I’m almost 5-2!” says Riddick.

Friends in low places

Two scuba divers shake hands underwater, one holds a board and another scuba diver holds up a underwater graduation sign.
An underwater graduation ceremony capped off the program.

Reed says the program offers a tangible career boost for students; there are a surprising number of jobs available to those with diving certifications, from environmental consulting to marine archaeology to work with aquariums.

Reed arranged lectures by Octavio Avila, director of USC Dornsife Career Pathways, and his team who walked participants through the options available to them.

“The goal for the program was for participants to see that there was room in the diving community for all different backgrounds, to see what researchers do every day and hopefully get them comfortable with the idea of graduate school or careers in science,” says Reed.

USC Wrigley is hoping to expand this program next year, to a total of 16 participants, if they can locate another round of funding.

Beyond employment prospects, the program also helped students build a network of like-minded colleagues. Riddick feels she’s made genuine connections with her fellow participants, with talk of a reunion diving trip in Miami.

“I’m now part of a global community of people who know how to breathe underwater,” says Riddick.

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Seven new members joined the scientific diving community this summer thanks to a USC Dornsife program aimed at diversifying its ranks.
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Q&A: New incentives could electrify the car market, but old roadblocks remain

The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act boosted incentives for car-hungry Americans to buy electric vehicles. For the next ten years, electric vehicle buyers will continue to get up to $7,500 in tax credits toward new cars, while used EV purchases will be eligible for $4,000. The fine print is extensive. The source of the parts, point of assembly, vehicle price, manufacturer, and the potential car buyer’s income all factor into the EV equation.

Hovig Tchalian is an assistant professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business studying the way new technologies impact the processes of market emergence. We spoke with him about how incentives might affect the EV market at a time of high gas prices and supply shortages.

What is the current status of the EV market?

(The electric vehicle) is one of those product categories that’s taken a long time for people to get used to, so it’s fragile. Rising gas prices have spiked demand recently, but it’s been a nascent market for a long time: It’s been the next big thing for a hundred years. If you go back to the ’90s, the GM EV-1 was supposed to break through. Then it was the Nissan Leaf. Then it was Tesla.

A lot of manufacturers followed Tesla in the early 2000s aiming at the higher end of the market. These vehicles cost more to make.

Also, in the early 2000s they marketed them as sports cars, not EVs. ‘These are really fun to drive, and your neighbors will gawk at you for having the first one on the block. It happens to be electric, which just makes it faster. Zero to 60 in under four seconds. Go buy one.’ They’ve now tried to move downmarket because you can’t do that forever. But it is fairly expensive to get the technology right, to get these things to work.

Now we’re at double digit demand for EVs globally, but for the longest time it was stuck at one or two percent.

Maybe we’re at an inflection point, where incentives matter even more. I appreciate that policymakers are actually trying to do something about this, but it’s very difficult to get it right.

Will the incentives included in the new bill mean more electric cars in consumers’ driveways?

That’s something economists will debate. Generally, it will push it up. The question is how much. It’s less a question of simply giving people incentives. It’s more that several things have to line up. Think about how you and I make buying decisions for cars. The questions we ask. Is it going to get the right fuel economy? Do I look cool driving it? Can I afford it? It’s not just the price.

Incentives solve one part of the EV puzzle, but you still need to solve the other: adoption.

For most car buyers, EVs are unfamiliar. There’s anxiety about range, the number of charging stations and the time it takes to recharge. There were some recalls. The earlier Tesla models had a transmission issue.

If I show you a new electric, self-driving car that has risks, you’re much less likely to adopt unless you’re one of those people who stand in line for hours to get the latest Apple product. People still have doubts. A rebate or incentive doesn’t change that.

A lot of this is behavioral. It’s not so much the economics alone or the infrastructure. It’s asking people to change their behaviors. The more you ask people to change their behaviors the more difficult it is for these technologies to get adopted.

Car buyers are paying an average of $54,000 for an EV. How do high EV prices factor into the equation?

It’s difficult for somebody who is making $30,000 or even $50,000 a year to buy one of these. The economics don’t necessarily work out.

What will hold back the overall impact of the incentives is the amount they offer in relation to the price. If it’s going to cost you an extra $2,000 to buy an electric car and you get a $2,000 rebate, the incentive has zero effect.

Is pricing as easy as subtracting the incentive from the sticker?

There’s confusing messaging and ongoing changes. For instance, there are multiple rebates — especially in California. Not all vehicles qualify. It’s not just about where the parts are made.

Once a manufacturer produces 200,000 units — such as Tesla or GM — they no longer qualify for federal incentives.

It throws a bit of a wrench in the works when people are trying to buy. There’s enough for people to worry about when they adopt an EV: It’s unfamiliar, it’s unusual and they have range anxiety about running out of charge. You have to go to a different mechanic. People are afraid they’ll get stuck without a charge driving to work.

Do you drive an EV?

We bought a used 2013 model a few years back. New, it sold for $32,000. We picked it up four years later with 25,000 miles on it for $8,000. It was an earlier model. The range was only 65 miles. The battery started to go so we eventually had to give it up but we’re looking at possibly getting another EV.

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Trojans’ business venture aims to make NFTs more accessible and sustainable

Blake Asherian realizes that most people don’t have a spare $60,000 just lying around — which is about what you’d need to buy an NFT (non-fungible token) of any real value. He also understands that at a broader level, most people don’t even know what an NFT is or how to buy one.

That’s why Asherian and three other Trojans — Gabriel Perez, Matthew Hausman and Can Toraman — have started Moonlight, a fractionalized NFT marketplace that allows users to buy, own and sell fractions of an NFT in a simple and user-friendly way.

Despite gaining significant traction within the last year, NFTs are still in their infancy, and there are financial risks involved given their uncertainty and high price tags. Moonlight hopes to remedy that, or at least help bridge the gap between most people and this emerging space.

“If the average personal income is 63K, and the average cost of a blue-chip NFT is 51K, that’s a big problem,” said Asherian, a business administration undergraduate in the USC Marshall School of Business.

“Part of the reason why people are not as prone to getting into NFTs is because there’s such a high barrier in terms of knowledge, and technology,” Asherian added. “We’re breaking down that barrier.”

How to buy NFTs: ‘Non-fungible tokens’ explained

The concept of Moonlight is simple: A group of people will choose an NFT they want to crowdfund, and once the funding goal is reached, each crowdfunder becomes a co-owner. From there, co-owners can buy and sell their fractions on Moonlight’s platform.

Though the platform might be simple — or at the least the goal is to make it as simple as possible for people — the concept of an NFT isn’t widely understood and can seem a little daunting.

Essentially, an NFT is a unique piece of digital art that is certified using blockchain, an immutable record of ownership. The non-fungible part means that no two items are alike or equal. NFTs function similarly to how people collect and sell art or trading cards. Some items are worth next to nothing, while others fetch millions of dollars.

Moonlight’s goal is for people to have the opportunity to own fractions of NFTs of real value, which is why the company focuses on “blue chip” — or most valuable — NFTs, like Bored Ape or CryptoPunks, which have the potential to provide long-term returns and can easily go for six figures.

But why would a digital image of an ape or a pixelated person be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Well, why would someone pay over $7 million for a baseball card? Or thousands for any of the “contemporary art” listed on Sotheby’s?

All are fair questions, and the answers could vary depending on the person or item. The common factor is that collectors feel that these are assets that will increase in value. NFTs are just the newest version.

I would always argue with people: What is the difference between your trading card and an NFT? They took a picture of a guy and then put it on a piece of paper, and it has value somehow.

Matthew Hausman, Moonlight co-founder

“I would always argue with people: What is the difference between your trading card and an NFT?” said Hausman, Moonlight frontend architect and 2021 USC Viterbi School of Engineering graduate.

“They took a picture of a guy and then put it on a piece of paper, and it has value somehow.”

Crowdfunding, fractionalization and reaching the 99%

For those who only read certain media accounts, it may seem like NFTs and the cryptocurrency used to buy them are a losing venture, and they might be for some. However, the creators of Moonlight were quick to point out that there are a lot of financial risks out there, and their platform’s crowdfunding feature can help eliminate some of those potential dangers.

With Moonlight, crowdfunding is key. Users select an NFT and then have a certain number of days to raise the funds. If the money is raised in time, the NFT is moved to the Moonlight platform where people can buy and sell shares. If the funds are not raised in time, then everyone who contributed gets their money back.

“No other protocol allows you to literally raise funds to buy cool stuff together,” Asherian said. “The secret sauce here is having a technology that can allow any number of people to put their money into something and as a group get anything they want.”

The next concept, fractionalization, is not necessarily new, but how Moonlight allows users to fractionalize is in direct response to a large issue within the NFT community. Right now, someone who owns an NFT can fractionalize it and sell those fractions at whatever price they see fit, regardless of the actual market value. People who are knowledgeable about and can afford a six-figure blue-chip NFT don’t have a need for fractionalization. So, the practice can take advantage of those who are new to the space — a problem that Moonlight wants to correct.

“For a bunch of people who are just entering the space of NFTs, how can they trust that that valuation is true?” Asherian said. “They don’t know enough about the protocols or the NFT collections. They’re kind of swayed in an untrue direction and it’s unfair to them.”

Asherian and his team at Moonlight emphasize that their platform is truly for everyone. NFTs — and even the cryptocurrency used to purchase them — might seem daunting for those who aren’t already in that world, but their hope is to take away some of that hesitance.

“At the end of the day, if you look at who’s into NFTs, it’s that 1%, right?” Asherian said. “We want to tap into the 99%, so we have to create a product that’s comprehensive for that group, which not too long ago included myself.”

From crypto to NFTs

The initial concept for Moonlight came to Asherian in late 2021, but his interest in NFTs started around two years ago when he was working for his cousin, Sean Rad, the founder and former CEO of the dating app Tinder. Rad — at one time at USC student — had invested in Genies, an avatar technology company, and Genies co-founder Akash Nigam started talking to Asherian about the company’s venture into NFTs. Though Asherian knew nothing about NFTs or blockchain, the concepts piqued his interest.

Soon after, he left his jobs to buy and sell NFTs full time. He admits that there were some definite growing pains early on because of the high barrier to entry, but those missteps put him in a position to succeed down the road.

He started drafting up the concept for Moonlight while studying abroad in Paris last year. He connected with fellow Trojans abroad which led to even more connections when he returned stateside. Asherian credits USC with introducing him to Perez, Hausman and Toraman, and making Moonlight what it is today.

Ever since I was a freshman, I’ve always heard that term ‘Trojan Family,’ but then I was really able to witness what it can do.

Blake Asherian, Moonlight co-founder

“I really believe in the Trojan Family and what it offers,” Asherian said. “Ever since I was a freshman, I’ve always heard that term ‘Trojan Family,’ but then I was really able to witness what it can do.”

A transfer student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Perez said his interest in NFTs has been a gradual progression since he was in high school. He started by selling stocks with his friends, and then in college he found a new interest in cryptocurrency.

“I kind of fell in love with the philosophy behind Bitcoin, which is a very anti-centralization of money, anti-central banks, power-back-to-the-people sort of thing,” said Perez, a junior economics major in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“Then I learned about Ethereum, which was the first time I realized this has a huge potential to be the currency of the internet in the future.”

Ultimately, Perez, product and community lead at Moonlight, felt that if he wanted to further his career in the crypto world, he’d have to move somewhere where he felt it was more popular and valued. He found just such an innovative environment at USC, where USC Viterbi even offers a blockchain minor.

He came to USC before the fall 2021 semester and joined Blockchain@USC — a student-run organization that engages with blockchain-related topics, develops blockchain applications, and connects with industry professionals — as the director of external relations.

We started talking about fractionalizing NFTs and the ability for smaller capital players to be able to dive into these collections, and I was hooked from there.

Gabriel Perez, Moonlight co-founder

At USC, both within his field of study and social groups, Perez surrounded himself with other like-minded people that shared his passion, which is when he first heard about NFTs and eventually met Asherian.

“We started talking about fractionalizing NFTs and the ability for smaller capital players to be able to dive into these collections, and I was hooked from there,” Perez said.

By the end of the spring 2022 semester, Perez and Asherian had formed the Moonlight team formed and started the work to launch their idea.

How to buy NFTs: trust, sustainability and the path ahead

The Moonlight crew is aware of some of the sustainability concerns with NFTs, primarily the proof-of-work blockchain system that is used by most cryptocurrencies so that transactions can be processed peer-to-peer in a secure manner without the need for a third party. Proof-of-work consumes a significant amount of energy. Rooms full of computers are needed to run complex mathematical equations, and coolers are needed to make sure those computers don’t overheat. By one estimate, mining 1 Bitcoin consumes as much electricity as a standard American home would use in nine years.

Most NFTs are part of the Ethereum blockchain, which currently uses proof-of-work. However, next month the Ethereum “Merge” will shift its blockchain to proof-of-stake, which uses 99.95% less energy by reducing the amount of computational work needed to verify the blocks and transactions that keep the blockchain secure.

“Fingers crossed that ‘Merge’ goes well because it’s a very anticipated catalyst in the crypto world,” Perez said. “If it does go correctly, NFTs are probably not going to have much of an environmental footprint at all, compared to something like a few office buildings downtown.”

But before they get to the point of using more sustainable blockchain, Asherian said they must establish their footing. Moonlight is projected to go live later this fall, and Asherian said once they’ve developed their community and built trust, they can influence people to move towards more sustainable methods.

“When you’re a huge marketplace that everyone starts suspecting has authority within the NFT space, then you’re able to sort of tell them what to do next,” Asherian said. “We really want to be able to gain that authority, and the way to do so is by being transparent, simple and fun.”

Trust and NFTs — or crypto, for that matter — might not go hand-in-hand just yet for much of the general population, but that’s exactly what Moonlight is hoping to fix. They see NFTs as an opportunity not just for those “in the know,” but for everyone.

“We believe there is power in numbers,” Asherian said. “At the end of the day, we want to give power to the people so they can own anything they want, together.”

The post Trojans’ business venture aims to make NFTs more accessible and sustainable appeared first on USC News.

Synthetic ‘forever chemical’ linked to liver cancer

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Synthetic “forever chemical” linked to liver cancer

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Exposure to a synthetic chemical found widely in the environment is linked to non-viral hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of USC and published in JHEP Reports.

The chemical, called perfluooctane sulfate or PFOS, is one of a class of man-made chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. These chemicals, which are used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products, are sometimes called forever chemicals because they break down very slowly and accumulate in the environment and human tissue, including the liver.

Prior research in animals has suggested that PFAS exposure increases the risk of liver cancer, but this is the first study to confirm an association using human samples.

“This builds on the existing research, but takes it one step further,” said Jesse Goodrich, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine. “Liver cancer is one of the most serious endpoints in liver disease and this is the first study in humans to show that PFAS are associated with this disease.”

Higher exposure, higher risk

The team at the Keck School of Medicine was able to use human samples collected as part of a large epidemiological study, a collaboration between the medical school and the University of Hawaii, called the Multiethnic Cohort Study. This project has followed more than 200,000 residents of Los Angeles and Hawaii for the development of cancer and other diseases.

This repository of human blood and tissue samples allowed the research team to find 50 participants who eventually developed liver cancer, evaluate the blood samples that were taken prior to their cancer diagnosis and compare these with 50 people who did not develop cancer from the same study.

“Part of the reason there has been few human studies is because you need the right samples,” said Veronica Wendy Setiawan, PhD, professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine. “When you are looking at an environmental exposure, you need samples from well before a diagnosis because it takes time for cancer to develop.”

Researchers found several types of PFAS in the blood samples that were taken before the participant developed liver cancer. The research revealed that the strongest association was between PFOS and liver cancer and that subjects in the top 10% of PFOS exposure were 4.5 times more likely to develop liver cancer than those with the lowest levels of PFOS in their blood.

Chemical disrupts normal liver function

The research team was also able to illuminate the possible ways in which PFOS altered the normal function of the liver. Their evaluation of the samples found evidence that PFOS appears to alter the normal process of glucose metabolism, bile acid metabolism and the metabolism of a type of amino acid called branched chain amino acids in the liver.

The disruption of normal metabolic processes in the liver can cause more fat to accumulate in the liver, a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD. There has been a dramatic and unexplained rise in NAFLD around the globe in recent years, which is concerning because people with NAFLD have a much higher risk of developing liver cancer. NAFLD is expected to affect 30% of all adults in the U.S. by 2030.

Improving knowledge of health effects of PFAS exposure
PFAS, which are used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products, were first detected in the blood of people exposed to these chemicals in the workplace in the 1970s. By the 1990s, they were found in the blood of the general population, which has led to a growing awareness of the potential health risks.

Some manufacturers have phased out the use of PFOA and PFOS, but because they are long-lasting, PFAS are in drinking water, many food products and the blood of more than 98% of adults in the U.S.

Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine, led by Leda Chatzi, MD, PhD, professor of population and public health sciences, have conducted much of the research on the links between PFAS exposure and liver damage, liver disease, and now liver cancer. They hope to further validate their findings on the link with liver cancer in a larger study later this year.

“We believe our work is providing important insights into the long-term health effects that these chemicals have on human health, especially with respect to how they can damage normal liver function,” said Chatzi. “This study fills an important gap in our understanding of the true consequences of exposure to these chemicals.”

About the study

Additional authors of the study include Hongxu Wang, Tiffany Lim, Rob Scot McConnell, MD and David V. Conti, PhD, from the Keck School of Medicine of USC; and Douglas Walker, PhD and Xiangping Lin, PhD, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The researchers would like to acknowledge the source for funding this research which was provided by the Southern California Environmental Health Science Center, supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (P30ES007048).

The post Synthetic ‘forever chemical’ linked to liver cancer appeared first on USC News.

USC Gould’s Robin Craig takes the mystery out of ocean, water law for judges, lawmakers

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Professor Robin Craig takes the mystery out of ocean, water law for judges, lawmakers
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With climate litigation becoming more complicated, the influential Environmental Law Institute turned to USC Gould School of Law Professor Robin Craig to educate judges and lawmakers as part of the institute’s Climate Judiciary Project.

Craig is also serving on the Capitol Hill Ocean Week Advisory Committee (CHOW), appointed by the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation to engage in outreach to and education of members of Congress regarding important ocean legal issues during CHOW June 7-9.

“It’s nice to have organizations with that kind of national scope reaching out to me,” Craig says.

The Climate Judiciary Project provides judges the tools they need to effectively adjudicate the thousands of climate cases sweeping the federal and state courts across the country, she says.

“The project is aimed at making judges a little less apprehensive about these cases and giving them an idea of the full range of legal possibilities they might face in climate cases and how to handle their complexities,” says Craig, who was hired by the State of Utah to train state judges on water law. “I think we can make a real difference and it’s an important service that the Environmental Law Institute is trying to provide.”

Craig is also contributing a chapter on procedural and case management issues that may come up in climate change litigation for a handbook for judges being assembled by ELI.

“The main point of my chapter is that there are a lot of procedural complications that come up in climate change litigation,” Craig says. “The same kind of issues come up in toxic tort litigation, and there’s a rich set of literature on how to manage these highly complicated cases.”

Craig is also serving remotely on the CHOW Advisory Committee, helping to craft the agenda to engage lawmakers and their legislative staffers in dialogue and debate on issues impacting oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes, and to propose innovative policies and partnerships to address these issues.

“The goal is to do a retrospective of where we’ve been but also provide information to members of Capitol Hill and the public on gaps in laws, areas that need to be better addressed, what climate change is doing to the ocean, marine spatial planning, and recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples to ocean resources,” Craig says. “There’s a whole host of issues that we’ll bring to the attention of legislators who are in a position to make changes to better protect the ocean.”

This year’s Capitol Hill Ocean Week marks the 50th anniversary of many important environmental statutes enacted in 1972. These include the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, Clean Water Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“I wanted to make time to be a part of this because it’s a way of educating people on Capitol Hill who, quite frankly, have other pressing priorities and very rarely, unless from a coastal state, think about larger coastal issues,” Craig says.

The post USC Gould’s Robin Craig takes the mystery out of ocean, water law for judges, lawmakers appeared first on USC News.

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