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Dean’s blog: Research and decision making to address the global climate crisis

FMW in Italy with group from The Nature Conservancy
Dean Miralles-Wilhelm in Italy with group from The Nature Conservancy

From November 30 to December 12, an anticipated 70,000 representatives from nearly 200 countries around the world convene in Dubai, United Arab Emirates at the United Nation’s 28th Conference of the Parties or COP28. Those country delegations attending discuss strategies, bring forth Nationally Determined Contributions (national climate plans due by 2025), and describe paths forward regarding sustainability issues caused by or related to global climate change. 

As the Dean of George Mason University’s College of Science, you might imagine I am following the COP28 proceedings very closely. My research foci include hydrology, water resource engineering, water-climate-vegetation modeling, and the water-energy-food-nexus. These meetings will bring forth ideas, research opportunities, and problems for scientists to pursue. 

I am also serving as Lead Scientist focusing on Global Water for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a global environmental nonprofit working to ‘create a world where people and nature can thrive.’ The last week in November, I joined many of my colleagues at TNC and the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) for a working meeting in Rome, where the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is headquartered. Our goal: to develop a research agenda for the future of food systems. At the end of the 3-day meeting, we were asked to ad-lib a :30 second pitch on the spot describing this agenda.  I came up with this pitch (unedited):

“You want to fix the world? Fix food! Producing our food is the way we humans impact our environment the most. We are losing soil, water, and biodiversity to produce our food. Climate change is accelerating these detrimental impacts. It is high time to fix food and make food production nature- and human-positive.”

According to a recent article from, the role of food systems in the climate crisis will get more attention than ever. My recent paper, Nature-based solutions in agricultural landscapes for reducing tradeoffs between food production, climate change and conservation objectives drops soon on to present a synthesis of evidence and implementation gaps in nature-based solutions (NbS efforts). 

By far, producing our food is the way humans impact the most our surrounding environment. We have gone about producing our food in ways that have degraded soils, polluted our waters, and destroyed vast ecosystems and biodiversity. However, food is a basic human need, so producing it in ways that are sustainable for our planet and for future generations has become an existential challenge.

And these discussions don’t just happen halfway around the globe. Our Mason Science students and programs can offer NbS that positively impact the local communities as well. In November, we celebrated the opening of Mason’s Forager’s Forest. Mason students, faculty, and staff are breaking new ground on a natural living lab space that will provide the university and surrounding community free and accessible native foods and safe foraging opportunities. Aptly named the “Foragers’ Forest,” this area offers visitors access to a number of safe-to-eat resources, while also serving as a wildlife habitat, providing climate benefits and restored ecosystem services. This is an inspiring example of our forward-looking approach to fixing food.    

I look forward to seeing and being part of what our scientists continue to explore and how the collaborations and research we pursue can positively impact our world and our local communities. Now is the time to fix it.