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Dean's Blog: Mason’s Climate Change Expertise – Let’s do what we can

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

“Luck (or fortune) favors only the prepared mind.” These words, shared by esteemed scientist, Louis Pasteur more than a century ago, reference preparation’s important role in one’s success. This adage may hold true right now for one of our college’s flagship areas of expertise—climate change and its impacts.

You've seen the headlines and heard the back and forth for years...shifting from "is climate change real?" to “Is it caused by human activity?” to "how do we prepare and save our planet?" And throughout it all, Mason's scientists with climate expertise have been valued and respected partners, researching and teaching the historical and current situations, influencing policy, opinion, preparation, and operational decision making. I am myself engaged in these activities, teaching our undergraduate class in Physical Climatogology (CLIM312/GGS312), and recently published a short research perspective paper in the journal Nature Climate Change.  

On Thursday, October 7, 2021, the White House released federal climate adaptation and resilience plans detailing the steps 23 U.S. agencies will take to prepare and monitor operations, facilities, and their people and programs for climate change impacts. Those who already collaborate with these agencies should familiarize themselves with the plans from their federal partners in this group which include the Departments of Energy, Education, Defense, Agriculture, Justice, Transportation, and Homeland Security, as well as NASA, EPA, and the Smithsonian Institution.

In addition, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) seek public input on these agency climate plans from now until November 6, 2021.

During October, Mason celebrates Campus Sustainability Month, encouraging involvement in the Project Green Challenge and Global Climate Change Week (October 18 to 24) both of which provide inspiration to engage in climate change awareness, ideation, and partnership cultivation. I’m suggesting we each embrace our climate change homework; familiarize yourself with to learn how the U.S. government and your federal partners plan to address and monitor this challenge, consider how Mason scientists can participate, and enter the conversation to share your ideas and concerns.

How does this affect you? A recent Washington Post front page story by Annabelle Timsit and Sarah Kaplan cited global research published in the journal Nature Climate Change, “at least 85% of the global population has experienced weather events made worse by climate change.” The study also identified, “an ‘attribution gap’, where a lack of papers and data from low-income countries makes it harder to understand climate impacts in these areas, despite observed changes in global climate models.”

Fortunately, Mason scientists can help. Our Mason science faculty and students are working together to study the dangers posed by a warming planet to a variety of aspects of human, animal, and plant life, and the challenges posed to our global society as we cope with those threats. We have many climate impact experts within our research centers and departments including Atmospheric Oceanic and Earth Science and Environmental Science and Policy. Over the past few weeks alone, during the Mason Vision Series, we’ve heard Mason Professor and COLA Managing Director, Jagadish Shukla address the climate challenge. Our Mason Science Series featured our ESP faculty and Mason’s Institute for a Sustainable Earth Scientific Director, Thomas Lovejoy and the nation’s foremost climate communicator, Mason’s Ed Maibach who discussed what’s needed to sustain the planet for our children and grandchildren. Interested in impact close to home? Mason AOES professor, Jim Kinter will discuss how to prepare for the new climate change normal in northern VA on October 18.                                    

During my State of the College address, I highlighted our aspirations over the next four to five years, including growing our research portfolio by more than $10 million. Climate change touches us all in some way. As the world positions itself for the future and these reports are released, being prepared and engaged in moments like this may be one avenue to help us achieve this goal. Years from now, as we reflect on our efforts at this pivotal time, we may also recount Pasteur’s last words-- “One must work; one must work, I have done what I could.”