MARI Activity Reports

Climate change is not a future to be prevented; it’s a present to be survived. Because climate change is already here.
Aaron Bady in “The Trap of Climate Optimism

We’re crossing the threshold of survivability — and there’s no going back
Umair Haque in “The Age of Extinction Is Here — Some of Us Just Don’t Know It Yet

Service Learning in Grenada

The “Sustainability Leadership” course is a service learning course that provides a reflective experiental learning environment in which the students learn by carrying out a case study for a host institution. This year, the students work on the case study “Preparing the Built Environment in Grenada for Sea-Level Rise and More Frequent Heavy Precipitation.” This case study is being carried out for the Planning and Development Authority of the Grenada government and will provide input to the 50-year strategic plan this Authority is developing to prepare Grenada for an uncertain future. The case study follow a transdisciplinary participatory template for tackling wicked problems. Six undergraduate students and one graduate student traveled to Grenada during Spring break to meet with governmental, business and non-governmental stakeholders and to get a first-hand impression of the challenges a small island state like Grenada faces due to a strong dependence on built environment in the coastal zone, the many regional and global supply chains the country depends on, as well as an economy that is in transition from agriculture to a narrow focus on tourism. During the week, the students visited several controversial hotel developments, witnessed the difficulties of maintaing and regenerating large mangroves and wetlands under pressure from developments and cultural overuse, surveyed the coastal built environment already under the threat of innudation and erosion, and saw how attempts to protect some built areas lead to increased erosion of beaches in other areas. For the students, the trip to Grenada provided a unique opportunity to realizing how the combined threats of sea-level rise, climate change, biodiversity loss, and economic pressure through foreign investors combine to create a precarious situation not only for the built environment but also for the society and the social capital in Grenada. They understood the paramount challenge the government faces in finding equitable and just pathways for the Grenadian society to a desirable future and they valued that they can make a small contribution to this effort with their case study.


Presentations at the 14th Metaphorum Conference

The Director of MARI gave a presentation at the 14th Metaphorum Conference, which took place on June 10-12, 2022 in Leuven, Belgium. The presentation was one of three related papers by Hans-Peter Plag, Barry Clemson and Jon Walker. These papers are titled:

  • Walker, J.: An Ecosystem of Myths
  • Plag, H.-P.: Humanity and the Purpose of the Earth’s Life-Support System: The Need for a Global Participatory Dialog Evolving the Ecosystem of Myths
  • Clemson, B.: Practical Steps toward a Global Citizens’ Movement

Abstracts are available on the Conference Page. The social collaboration Platform Place4Us is available at

Presentations at the @Sea Tech Week® and Workshop

Members of MARI are presenting at the Special Session on Marine Litter @Sea Tech Week® on September 27, 2022 in Brest, France. The presentations are:

  • Hans-Peter Plag, Dan Martin: Quantifying the Use Chains of Plastics and the Sources of Plastic in the Ocean
  • Hans-Peter Plag: Towards Mitigation of Marine Litter: Increasing Social Capital Through an Ecosystem of Virtual Community Centers for Marine Litter

Abstracts are available here ...

Hans-Peter Plag is on the Program Committee for the workshop titled "Marine Debris: Solutions for a Cleaner Ocean." This workshop will take place on September 28-29, 2022, in Brest, France. See for details.

Virtual Community Centers

MARI is leading the development of the concept of a Virtual Community Center (VCC). The concept is implemented on the platform. The pilot VCCs, in which MARI works together with several location-focused and topical communities, include the Hampton Road VCC, which is developed together with local NGOs and state and federal agencies, and the Marine Debris VCC, in which MARI collaborates with the IEEE/OES Plastic in the Ocean initiative. In collaboration with the Earth Viability Center, MARI is contributing to the Earth Viability VCC. Among others, the concept of VCCs was presented at the GEO Symposium 2021 (see video), and at Oceans 2021 (see abstract).

IMDOS Satellite Event to the UN Decade Lab for a Clean Ocean

MARI staff and students have contributed five posters to the Poster Hall. See the posters here or visit the Poster Hall ...

The Coastal Zone in the Anthropocene: Understanding and Reducing the Risks for the Ocean

The human presence in the coastal environment is increasing rapidly, accompanied by an equally rapid growth in the built environment and consumer goods in the coastal zone. An increasing fraction of the urban population is in megacities that are located in the coastal zone or in the flood plains of major rivers. The urbanization of the coastal zone is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. At the same time, the coastal zone is exposed to a changing spectrum of natural hazards originating in the atmosphere–ocean and terrestrial systems. The way coastal urban areas are developed today creates a risk with potentially significant harmful impacts for future generation. This risk could be reduced through new designs of the urban coasts that ensure the built environment is adapted to the changing spectrum of hazards and through international rules for the abandonment of urban coasts that can no longer be defended against sea encroachment. This would help to bring current actions in line with normative ethics and reduce threats to the marine biosphere and future human generations. We invite papers that address all aspects of the threats the urban coast might pose to the ocean, including the development of the urban coast, the changing coastal hazard spectrum, the risk of marine debris originating in the urban coast, the impacts this debris might have on the marine biosphere, alternatives for the design of the urban coast that would reduce this risk, and ethical challenges in governing risks to future generations in designing today’s urban coast.

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Climate change and sea level rise are increasingly on the agenda of the public, the media, and decision makers in the public, private and social sectors of society. Focus is almost solely on the hazards and the potential disasters we might be facing. However, other changes such as the rapid increase of species extinction rates and the fundamental changes in the physiology of the Earth's life-support system (including, but not limited to changes in the flows in the global cycles of energy, nitrogen, phosphorous, carbon, water, and plastics) pose equally important challenges to the sustainability of the global human society and even the sustainability of the planetary life-support system. MARI at Old Dominion University is therefore taking a comprehensive view on the syndrome of modern global change and is focusing on the options we have to mitigate the impacts of modern global change, to adapt to the changes, and to prepare for possible futures. Read more ...

MARI Mission Statement

Our Mission: To convene societal agents and faculty to inform and facilitate transformations towards sustainability and in preparation of deep adaptation and to further our understanding of the challenges posed by recent rapid changes, including land use changes, biodiversity loss and extinction, climate change and sea level rise, and the impacts on the Earth's life support system; ...

Read the full mission statement ...

Read the full story about MARI ...

Learning By Experience

Learning sustainability is a life-long process. Many of the sustainability-related problems in society are wicked problems. MARI promotes a transdisciplinary and participatory approach to the tackling of these wicked problems. Among others, systems thinking is a requirement for any successful approach to wicked problems.

MARI has been leading the development of educational programs that help students to develop a mindset and skills required to engage in a transdisciplinary setting. Both the mindset and the skills can only be developed by actually addressing real-world problems and by reflecting on the experience of doing this. Therefore, MARI has focused on developing the framework for a learning by experience and learning by reflecting on the doing.

The MARI Case Study Template

MARI has developed a template for case studies of wicked problems associated with aspects of the syndrome of modern global change and sustainability. This template takes a transdisciplinary approach to the system representing the wicked problem. Utilizing participatory modeling it aims for a common understanding of desirable futures and the development of a conceptual model that captures all aspects of the system's inherent vulnerabilities and the hazards and threats the system is exposed to. Using the conceptual model to develop different levels of stock-and-flow and agent-based models, the template utilizes simulation to explore the spectrum of possible futures of the system and to develop foresight. Analizing the decision space and social agents in this space, a set of viable options can be developed for interventions that would divert the system's trajectory towards desirable futures. This MARI template has been used in more than seventy case studies caried out in undergraduate and graduate research projects, and it is also utilized in international working groups.

The MARI Case Study Template is used in a number of courses mandatory for the Conservation Leadership Minor or the graduate Certificate in Conservation Leadership. A draft video is documenting “Learning through Experience” based on the service learning time of the OEAS/BIOL/IDS 467 and OEAS/BIOL 567 "Sustainability Leadership" class in Puerto Rico in June 2019. Watch the video ...


In 2015, the United Nations agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims towards seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In most countries and internationally, stakeholders at governmental, non-governmental and business levels are actively participating in implementing the 2030 Agenda. MARI is engaged in activities that supports and facilitates such transdisciplinary efforts, with a focus on participatory modeling efforts. MARI also aims to increase the number of ODU faculty supporting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda with collaborative research and there are opportunities for students to engage in activities. Interested faculty and students should contact hpplag at Read more ...


  • Virtual Community Centers: The Place4Us is a novel social collaboration platform that provides a home to Virtual Community Centers (VCCs). VCCs explore new ways for virtual community building and collaboration. Goals include to improve literacy and to learn about activities of governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as to interact with these organizations. MARI is leading several pilot VCCs, and is collaborating in these efforts among others with First Landing State Park, False Cape State Park, Lynnhaven River Now, several National Wildlife Refuges of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and high schools in the region.
  • Earth Viability Center, Inc.: The Earth Viability Center (EVC) supports the integration and dissemination of the best available scientific knowledge on the Earth’s Life Support System (ELSS). The EVC supports development of the best means of informing the general public about the long-term viability of the ELSS and the (mainly) human activities threatening this long-term viability. MARI contributes to the development of Viability Indices for the Earth Viability Dashboard of the ELSS.
  • Toward Sustainability Literacy: MARI supports the efforts made by the Initiative of the International Centre for Earth Simulation (ICES), which “is aimed at bringing Earth Sustainability Literacy elements of the Foundation’s program to the worldwide system of high schoolers and schools. In so doing, it hopes to encourage good planetary stewardship and improved public health, safety and wellbeing through student learning and engagement” There are opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to engage in activities supporting these efforts. Interested students should contact hpplag at for more information.
  • Plastics and Ocean: MARI supports the development of an international inititative addressing the growing challenge of plastics and microplastics in the ocean. Currently, a third workshop title "Marine Debris: Solutions for a Cleaner Ocean" is being organized. This workshop will take place on September 28-29, 2022 in Brest, France.
  • Role of the Ocean for SDGs: MARI is engaged in the development of a White Paper on the role of the ocean for the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) in Caribbean Small Island Developing States. A workshop on “Implementing and Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals in the Caribbean: The Role of the Ocean” was organized under the lead of MARI and took place on January 17-19, 2018 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.


  1. To consume nature’s flows while conserving the stocks (that is, live off the ‘interest’ while conserving natural capital).
  2. To increase society’s stocks (human resources, civil institutions) and limit the flow of materials and energy.

Earth Overshoot Day is the day in the year when humanity has used more from nature that the Earth can renew in a whole year. Note that for many of the developed countries, the day comes much earlier in the year than for most developing countries.

  • When will we reach Earth Overshoot Day in 2021? Will the pandemic continue to delay this day by reducing the flows?
  • In 2020, August 22 was Earth Overshoot Day. Partly, this delay in the overshoot day was due to reduced resource usage caused by the pandemic.
  • In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day was again on July 29.
  • In 2018, the Overshoot Day was on July 29. Read more, for example, in the Huffington Post ...
  • In 2017, August 2 was Earth Overshoot Day. Read more here ...

Essay on the E.S.C.A.P.E ideology: In the essay The Collapse Of Ideology And The End Of Escape, Jem Bendell explains the E.S.C.A.P.E ideology that is at the basis of modern civilization and the reason for a likely collapse of this civilization.


It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”       — Upton Sinclair, in ”I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”       James Baldwin.

We are no longer mysterious souls, we are now hackable animals. ” and “Technology is never deterministic.”       Yuval Noah Harari.


  • September 28-30, 2022: “Marine Litter: Solutions for a Cleaner Ocean”, Workshop of the IEEE/OES Plastic in the Ocean Initiative, Brest, France. See Workshop Web Site for full information.
  • September 27, 2022: The IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society is organizing a special session entitled "Marine Litter: Solutions for Monitoring, Mitigation and Prevention" taking place on Sept 27, 2022 during the Sea Tech Week® in Brest, France.

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June 23, 2021: Parallel Session at the GEO Symposium: MARI's efforts in developing a Marine Debris Virtual Community Center were presented in a parallel Session at the GEO Symposium 2021. Watch the video.
June 10-12, 2022: “Act to live! Viability in times of uncertainty” 14th Metaphorum Conference 2022, Leuven, Belgium. All problems, whether they are regarded as problems of recognition, or classification, or indeed decision, are problems about uncertainty, Stafford Beer. See for more information ... 
May 11, 2021: 2021 Orientation Workshop: The Sustainability and Conservation Leadership Orientation Workshop took place on May 11, 2021 as a virtual meeting. For more information, see here.
April 21, 2021: Service Learning Stakeholder Meeting: The students in the service learning course “Sustainability Leadership” presented their findings in a stakeholder meeting on April 21, 2021. For more information, see here ...

Leaders for a sustainable future

Engaging Students in Tackling
Wicked Real-World Problems

September 18, 2019, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm Elation Brewing, 5104 Colley Avenue, Norfolk, VA.

Right: Anthony DeSocio, a student in the 2019 cohort, talked with Hans-Peter Plag about the importance of meeting stakeholders in the real world. Eddie Hill and Tatyana Lobova are also on the stage.

Read more ...

See the Inside ODU article ...


  • Science Pub: The first Science Pub in Fall 2019 focused on on ODU's collaboration with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Read the announcement ...
  • CURE Reward: The August 2019 News blog of the Center for Faculty Development included a report of the Class-based Undergraduate Research (CURE) project that developed Version 2.0 of the MARI tool for the Case Study Template.

Scroll through the News Archive ...


Plag, H.-P., 2020. Modern Climate Change: A Symptom of a Single-Species, high energy pulse. Chapter in Miller, D. E., Egglestone, B.: Moral Theory and Climate Change: Ethical Perspectives on a Warming Planet. Taylor and Francis/Routledge, 2020, pages 6-34.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Hill, E., Zajchowski, C., Plag, H.-P., Lobova, T., DeSocio, A., 2020. Assessing High-Impact Practices: The Role of Triple Loop Learning in Fostering Future Conservation Leaders. Poster presented at the Undergraduate Research Symposum, Feb. 8, 2020, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.

DeSocio, A., DeVleeschover, A., McCann, J., Perez, A., Van Buskirk, E., Watson, L., Williams, T., 2020. Meeting the Water Needs of the People in Puerto Rico while safeguarding freshwater ecosystems: A case study. Poster presented at the Undergraduate Research Symposum, Feb. 8, 2020, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.

Hill, E., Zajchowski, C., Plag, H.-P., Lobova, T., 2020: Assessing High-Impact Practices: The Role of Tripple-Loop Learning in Fostering Future Conservation Leaders. Abstract published in Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education & Leadership, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 258–260,

[2020/01/11] Plag: Modern Climate Change: A Result and Determinant of Global Order. Invited presentation at the meeting of the World Affairs Council for Greater Hampton Roads, January 11, 2020, Virginia Beach (pptx).

Smail, E. A., DiGiacomo, P., Seeyave, S., Djavidnia, S., Celliers, L., Le Traon, P.-Y., Gault, J., Escobar-Briones, E., Plag, H.-P., Pequignet, A.-C., Bajona, L., Zhang, L., Pearlman, J., Steven, A., Hodge, J., Racault, M.-F., Storlazzi, C., Skirving, W., Hoeke, R., Marra, J., Muller-Karger, F., Cripe, D., Takaki, D., 2019. An introduction to the Oceans and Society: Blue Planet Initiative. Journal of Operational Oceanography, DOI: 10.1080/1755876X.2019.1634959, html.

Plag, H.-P., Jules-Plag, S-A., 2019. A Transformative Concept: From Data Being Passive Objects to Data Being Active Subjects. Data, 4(4), DOI: 10.3390/data4040135, html.

Plag, H.-P., Jules-Plag, S-A., 2019. A Goal-Based Approach to the Identification of Essential Transformation Variables in Support of the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. International Journal of Digital Earth, DOI: 10.1080/17538947.2018.1561761 (html).

[2019/07/17] Plag: Understanding and Adapting to Modern Climate Change and Sea Level Rise. Invited keynote, Mid Atlantic Biosolids Association 2019 Summer Symposium, July 17-18, 2019, Iselin, New Jersey (pptx)

[2019/01/17] Plag: Lecture at the Institute for Learning in Retirement, Virginia Beach on “The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (pptx).

[2018/11/2 ] Plag: Presentation at the workshop held in Brest, France, on November 26-27, 2018 on “Plastics: A rapidly growing global challenge for Earth's life-support system and humanity” (pdf).

[2018/11/08] Plag: Presentation at the workshop on “Grand Challenges in Geodesy”, East Lansing, November 8-9, 2018 on “Will the Global population Have Enough Water to Sustain Itself?” (pdf).

[2018/10/18] Plag: Lecture at the Institute for Learning in Retirement, Virginia Beach on “Modern Climate Change: A Symptom of Humanity's Evolution into a Growth-Addicted Industrialized Civilization” (pptx).

[2018/01/18] Plag: Presentation at the workshop on “Implementing and Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals in the Caribbean: The Role of the Ocean” on “Gaps in Ocean-Related Knowledge, Products, and Observations” (pdf).


The most recent column published in Autumn 2020 contemplates on how global risk perception may be changed by learning from the “stress test” of the pandemic. Read the column ...

The column published in Summer 2019 contemplates on foresight concerning global castastrophic risk and in particular Anthropocene risks, and raises the question whether the archetypal future of collapse can be avoided. Read the column ...

In his Summer 2018 column, the MARI Director asks “Can we change our priorities to reduce the mounting threats to the ocean?” Read the column ...

The Spring 2018 column identifies “Modern Climate Change — A Symptom of a Single-Species High-Energy Pulse.” Read the column ...

See all the contributions to the “On the Edge” ...


2019, Brest, France: Marine Debris Indicators: What’s Next?: This workshop further developed the road map for monitoring ocean plastics and other marine debris. Read the Workshop Summary Report or visit the Workshop Page ...

2018, Brest, France: Technologies for Observing and Monitoring Plastics in the Oceans: The workshop reviewed the observation needs and assessed the state of observation techniques for the detection and quantification of plastics in the ocean. Read more ...

Supporting The British Virgin Island in Hurricane Recovery: During the workshop on “Implementing and Monitoring the SDGs in the Caribbean: The Role of the Ocean”, which was organized as part of a NASA grant to ODU in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in January 2018, a workshop delegation was invited by Hon. Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to participate in the handing over of a first of 3,000 soursop trees the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is providing to the British Virgin Island in support of hurricane recovery. Read the Inside ODU article or visit the Workshop Page...


2021 Orientation Workshop: The 2021 Sustainability and Conservation Leadership Orientation Workshop took place on May 11, 2021 as a virtual meeting.

2021 Service Learning Stakeholder Meeting: The students in the 2021 service learning courseSustainability Leadership” presented their findings in a stakeholder meeting on April 21, 2021.

2020 Orientation Workshop: The 2020 Sustainability and Conservation Leadership Orientation Workshop had to take place as a virtual meeting. It was convened on took place on May 19, 2020.

2020 Service Learning and Sustainability Leadership: In 2020, the students in the Sustainability Leadership course taught in Spring 2020 researched the future of the Brownsville Preserve and the Virginia Coast Reserve under climate change and sea level rise. Read more ...

2019 Orientation Workshop for Interns in Conservation Leadership: On July 1-2, 2019, the orientation workshop was held for the 2019 students prior to them entering their internships. Read more ...

2019 Service Learning and Sustainability Leadership: The students in the Sustainability Leadership course taught in Summer 2019 addressed the wicked problem of meeting the water and electricity needs of the people in Puerto Rico while safeguarding the freshwater ecosystems.

2018 Orientation Workshop for Interns in Conservation Leadership: On June 28-29, 2018, the orientation workshop was held for the 2018 cohort of students in the Minor in Conservation Leadership program. These students were prepared for their internships at a facility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at the First Landing State Park and the Elizabeth River Project. Read more ...

2018 Service Learning and Sustainability Leadership: As part of the Sustainability Leadership course taught in Summer 2018, the students carried out a service learning projects for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Everglades National Park in the area of the Florida Bay near Key Largo. The students researched the impact of human pressure, sea level rise, and climate change on the American crocodile with main focus on Joe Bay and developed adaptation strategies to ensure a future of the American crocidile in a rapidly changing coastal environment. This Service Learning course is a mandatory course for the Minor in Conservation Leadership ODU offers in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Read more ...

2017 Orientation Workshop for Interns in Conservation Leadership: The first orientation workshop for the 2017 cohort of students in the Minor in Conservation Leadership program took place on July 18-19, 2017 at the headquarters of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach. Read more ...

2017 Service Learning and Sustainability Leadership: The course Sustainability Leadership was taught for the first time in Summer 2017. In the service learning in Florida, the students researched the impact of sea level rise on coastal ecosystems, considered the effects of climate change on ecosystems in several National Wildlife Refuges, and developed adaptation strategies for turtles and beach mice. See the InsideODU article or read more here ...


Resilence or Adaptation, that is the question: Kythreotis and Bristow (2016) find that in U.K. city-regions “the discourse of adaptation is giving way to resilience. This is explained by the value of resilience as a discursive construct in mobilizing and coordinating policy actions. Resilience has greater appeal as a framing device over adaptation to such actors given its potential to enable buy-in from a wider city-regional governance network.” As a result, cities fall into the 'Resilience Trap,' by “adopting short-term strategies, re-badging existing strategies and widening governance networks that obfuscate sub-national mobilization around adaptation.”

At the Opening of COP 24, David Attenborough warned of the collapse of civilization due to unprecedented climate change. Read the NPR and/or PRI stories about his remarkable speech.

Read Paul Krugman's Nov. 26, 2018 opinion piece on the depravity of climate-change denial published in the New York Times, where he reasons that those who deny the potentially civilization-threatening modern climate change and provide false information about it to the public are bad people.

Read the statement of 60 writers, politicians and academics on climate change conversations in The Guardian, who state that “We are no longer willing to lend our credibility to debates over whether or not climate change is real. It is real. We need to act now or the consequences will be catastrophic.”

See ten books about climate change that many should read here ...

Getting the Picture: A Climate Education Resource ...

See the quotes on climate change compiled at ...