Mason’s Climate Change Commitment

Until very recently at the “Let’s Talk About Climate Change” event, I had no idea that so many of Mason’s sustainability programs stemmed from the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment signed in 2007. I was aware that this commitment hoped to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, but its tangible impacts are far more impressive.

These commitments include all Mason buildings meeting the silver standard of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. This includes extensive recycling practices, cleaner air filtration systems, and energy-efficient design. The Cue bus and Mason shuttles also sprung from this commitment, in addition to other incentives for students and faculty to utilize  alternative transportation. Mason also participates in mandatory reporting every two years to measure Mason’s emissions, but also access academic programs that discuss sustainability.

The Office of Sustainability was established as part of this commitment. According to our dear friend Roger, the Office of Sustainability serves as a “bridge between facilities, so what’s happening on the operational side of campus, and the student life aspect.” This office works to host events, work with sustainable academic programs and create internship opportunities.Without Mason’s formal commitment to climate neutrality, our LLC, Earth Month events, and other outreach programs may not have existed.

The Patriot Green Fund (PGF) was also created as a result of Mason’s commitment to climate neutrality. This program allocates $100,000 for research and infrastructure projects on campus. Projects that I had previously assumed were sponsored by Mason itself were actually projects through the PGF. These include the Innovation Food Forest, Piedmont Rain Garden (shout-out to Julie), eWaste Collection in the Johnson Center and the Hydroponic Greenhouse at President’s Park.

Though we have been lucky enough to enjoy these programs all year, past Mason students have not. It is amazing what Mason and its students have been able to accomplish in less than a decade.

Find Your Tribe: Community is Key

Some of you may or may not realize, but this is my 18th reflection written for the Sustainability LLC class. Now that’s a lot of reflecting over my past 3 years of major sustainability-themed events/learning that has happened in my time at Mason thus far. But recently, I have been considering more so what sustainability is in the broader scheme of things. How does it come to be? What are the best methods in which it can be attained? Because throughout my 3 years of taking the LLC class along with other environmentally themed classes, you kinda get the gist of how humans are destroying a lot of the planet’s resources, health, and well-being. But now I’d rather think of solutions and hope rather than the negativity that surrounds the field of environmental work.

Which brings me to the impact that the Sustainability LLC has brought me. I think in a lot of ways, we are part of that solution. When you live in a community that has so much passion towards helping the planet and the exchange of knowledge in how to do so is frequent, one can’t help but start to engrain these ideas into your mind and soon implement them into your life. Humans are such social beings, and community based learning is the fastest and most effective way to learn and adopt lifestyle changes. I found a home within the Sustainability LLC my freshmen year and coming from a school that didn’t have that kind of community concerned about the environment, it’s completely refreshing to find my tribe through the LLC.

By having a community like the LLC, I have become so much more aware of how I can make a greater impact on campus. This is through the semester-long projects, the guest speakers, and the service trips that we have taken. I have become knowledgeable about so many entities that incorporate sustainability on campus and in the NOVA/DC region. While I already have stretched my efforts thin in what I can personally be involved in through sustainability on campus, I enjoy telling others how they can simply reduce their impact or get involved on campus. I often wonder what people are really doing in their daily lives to make a difference. You know the cheesy saying “Be the change you wish to see in the world”? Well how many people can really say that they are contributing to that goal each day or each week? I think the members of the Sustainability LLC are those change-makers by educating themselves on these issues and taking what they know into the broader community. And knowing that your tribe has your back, supports your goals, or even joins you in creating that change, allows you the confidence to move forward and thrive.

So I thank all the Sustainability LLC members, past, present, and future for the inspiration they have given me through their passion, the knowledge they have bestowed me, and the wonderful memories we have spent together on and off Piedmont 2nd. We are/can be the change-makers of this campus and beyond. Go out and make a difference together.

Earth Day Activities

As Earth Day approaches, we become more aware as to our purpose as environmentalists. Hopefully, those around us do, as well. As you all know, our fight is far from over. We still have progress to make in climate change and in other issues. There are many environmental activities going on around campus and the nation in preparation for this momentous occasion! One of which is taking place back home. In Marion, volunteers are going to work on cleaning up Downtown Marion in an effort to boost the image of our city! There is also a collection taking place for hazardous materials and electronic devices in Marion and Morrow Counties.

The highlight of the month’s activities is an event in which Kelsey, Roger, MacKenzie, and I have been working very diligently on since the beginning of the year. It is this Thursday, and is called “That’s A Rapp!”. This event is the culmination of every student’s hard work throughout the year as we draw to a close. We celebrate in our achievements, while also reminding everyone of the effects that Mason itself contributes toward environmental issues. This event is moreso gearing toward a general sustainability theme, while also incorporating aspects of other fields of sustainability, mostly energy conservation. I talk about this, because it is something that is very near and dear to my heart. I never thought that we would get to this point. I never thought that we would be ready. This event will feature a Kahoot! trivia session, documentary viewing, craft-making sessions, a relay race, item raffles, and so much more!

As Earth Day quickly approaches, let us continue to spread our message of sustainable lifestyles and inspire others to live as we do. It is our time! We will change the world with our continued efforts! Events like these have been known to change lives! Let us continue to do so! May God bless you all!

 

Big Cat Geneology

The exact progression of evolution for big cat species is widely contested, although the Clouded Leopard seems to be the agreed upon common ancestor for todays big cats. The panthera sub family includes the Clouded leopard, Snow Leopard, Leopard, Jaguar, Tiger, Lion, and recently discovered Sunda Clouded Leopard. Recently new ancient species of the panthera suggests speciation in the felidae family began much earlier than originally thought. Originally big cats were thought to have begun to diversify 3 million years ago. Now with the discovery of several more species there is evidence that by 6 million years ago at least three different groups of cats including the Clouded Leopard, Snow Leopard, and a branch leading to the Tiger. This speciation would have occurred during the last ice age when the Himalayas were being formed. There is skepticism due to only three individual’s fragments being found in the Zanda Basin in the Tibetan Plateau. DNA has also suggested earlier than previously though speciation of the panthera tree. The DNA and skeletal analysis has pushed back the beginning of panthera speciation to 16 million years, with large room for error.

Roughly 10 million years ago the puma lineage diverged from the panthera. The panthera are the “true” big cats which have the ability to roar, but cannot purr. The puma sub family is the reverse. Recently there have been a vast increases in the amount of crossbreeding between members of the panthera. This has been a viable business for collectors of exotic animals. Crossbreeding panthera species like lions and tigers are largely illegal because they become main tourists attractions. Ligers, cubs with a lion father and tiger mother, grow to become the largest big cat in the world. Tigons, a cub with a Tiger father and Lion mother, have become rarer than the Liger and much smaller than both their parents. The earliest known record of a Liger was 1798 on a color plate by St. Hilaire. They were a known and well recorded novelty item in the 1800s.

In 1977 at Southam Zoo in Warwickshire, UK a tigress mated with a black panther and produced a cub, which was dubbed by the media Pantig although technically it is called a Leoger. This cub was the only of such a mating to survive. When the reverse happens the cubs are still born, as it places too much strain on the smaller leopard mother. The cub was sold to an American Zoo when it matured. In 2009 the first ever Tiger Jaguar hybrid was born at the Altoplano Zoo in San Pablo, Mexico. This cub was born to a Amur Tiger father and Jaguar mother. This cross is known as a Tiguar. These types of breedings can endanger the mother if she is the smaller of the two cats.

Cubs born from these cross breedings are unable to further breed to develop a new species. All male cubs that have been born have been infertile, the females however usually can have cubs, although any male cubs born are sterile as well.

Recently smaller puma species have been bred with house cats, creating not only behavioral problems with these unfit “house pets”, but on the feral cats problem as well. Hybrid cats are becoming an out of hand problem as shelters that take these animals are running out of room. Current laws are also vague on the amount of “wild blood” allowed in house pets. Hybrid cats are also more adept hunters and damage local wildlife populations more so then the collection of local feral cats. As they are larger they also require more food and are more likely to hunt for food.

 

<Panthera

Ancient Cat May Reshape Feline Family Tree by Kelly Servick Nov. 12. 2013 Sciencemag.org

I would just like to take a moment to recognize that Sunday was National Sibling Day and I really appreciate my sister. On Sunday she sent me a nice message and some pictures of us that had been taken over the years. I really wish I could see her more often. She has such a positive role in my life, and we get along so well. We are like marshmallows and chocolate; they are both good on their own, but WAYYY better when they are together. Over this past weekend I went on the Sustaining the Sustainer Retreat; while we were there we took some time to reflect on what things in our lives are stressful and what things are nurturing to us. I would have to say that my relationship with my sister is something that nurtures a spirit of well being inside of me. I try to surround myself with things and relationships that build me up instead of bringing me down (trying to keep the personal pollution to a minimum). I encourage you to take a moment to look at the components of your life right now. Maybe that includes work, hobbies, relationships, school, health, or other things and figure out what is nurturing you. Try to focus on those positive things and somehow incorporate them into your daily life more. For me one thing I will try to do more is talk to my sister until I can see her over the summer.

If you don’t have a sibling don’t feel left out because of National Sibling Day because today is NATIONAL ONLY CHILD DAY!!!!

Solar Roadways

Solar Roadways is a company that was started in 2006 by Julie Brusaw. They are creating what they call solar roadways, these are modular systems of specifically engineered solar panels that can be walked and driven upon. They include LED lights in them to create lines without painting the roads. The solar roadways are made with a special type of glass that are specifically formulated tempered glass. This specifically formulated tempered glass can support the weight of semi-trucks. It also has a tractioned surface equivalent to that of asphalt.

Solar Roadways is still an up and coming project that is still in the early phases of development. They want to get solar roads onto the highways eventually,  but first they will be incorporating it in driveways and parking lots. Their goal is to improve the infrastructure of roads and also create renewable clean energy for homes and businesses.

I believe that solar roadways are a brilliant idea. As they will create clean and renewable energy for people, while also having a practical use in being roads. With this technology the world can become a more sustainable place. The one problem I see is removing the current roads made out of asphalt and putting in the solar roadways as this will be time consuming, costly, and will affect the traffic greatly.  Overall though it is a good idea that still needs some work done to make it as beneficial as possible.

“People feel good about donating to Greenpeace.” This is a quote by Paul Watson who is an environmentalist and co-founder of Greenpeace. I am sure some of you have donated to this organization and know what he is talking about. However, do we completely know how this donation is used? Not really.

In one of my classes, we were discussing how Greenpeace and other nonprofits working for a more sustainable Earth are not always straightforward and so I decided to research more about it since I have been donating 20$ every month for the last two years.
Greenpeace fundraises through different means. According to Greenpeace 2014 financial report which was accessed on October 24, 2015, Greenpeace has earned around 7million dollars through fundraising and donations. There are a lot of different ways to collect donations so I will going over a few of them.
The first one is street fundraising. Those are the people in the street or on campus trying to stop you and get you to donate. I interviewed one of them when he was trying to persuade me to donate. His name was Peter, he had been standing in that street for about three hours and he was happy to take a break for a while. They are trained to be educated about whichever campaign Greenpeace is working on to be able to answer any question you may have but also to fill their quota. Peter mentioned that when the street fundraisers do not reach their monthly quota, they get fired. This makes for an efficient way to get donations
The second way is table fundraising. This is when someone holds a table at an event catered to environmentally conscious people that are usually already interested. The public is more receptive to this according to an article from the French magazine “Figaro” . People who engage themselves to monthly donations get stickers and other to thank them for their donations.
The last method I will be talking about is phone fundraising. This is usually done when someone donated in the past and cancelled their subscription or made a one-time donation instead of a monthly one. According to Gail Perry, who writes the internet blog “Fired Up Fundraising,” this is one of the most efficient fundraising method along with face-to-face fundraising but a bit tricky. People do not want BAD phone calls so Greenpeace gives intensive training to their employee to increase their chances.
Last month, I tried cancelling my subscription and asked the person on the phone to tell me where my money is going. My donations are used on lobbying, renting a boat if the activists are protesting against overfishing (for example), organizing protests, and also marketing and advertising which helps with fundraising as well. 18% go to encourage donor relations so that they will keep helping Greenpeace and to keep them informed as to what is going on. 9% is organizational support which is designed to help employees be committed to the organization and perform well. The last 4% goes toward administration which is management and other functions that keep the organization running.

Greenpeace uses a lot of different means to fundraise and uses the money earned in many ways across the whole organization. This is important to know since a lot of people choose to donate to more well-known organizations such as Greenpeace or WWF but don’t get informed about what happens behind the scenes! So get informed and support an organization focused on an issue you see as a problem!

Avengers, “The Savage Land”, and Sustainability

As everyone knows, I am a big Avengers fan. Over the summer, I was on Netflix watching Avengers Assemble, which was a cartoon show that capitalized on the success of The Avengers movie. It had a very interesting plotline and it divulged apart from the live-action movies. The show had 26 episodes in its first season, and there was one episode that stood out to me the most. It was called “Savages.”

In the episode, Captain America challenging Tony Stark/Iron Man to give up technology for 24 hours. Along with Falcon and Hawkeye, they travel to a place known as the “Savage Land,” where they will try to survive without any technology. Cap, Falcon, and Hawkeye seemed like they were fine without technology, but Tony was clearly struggling. However, they discovered that Justin Hammer, Stark’s rival, was on the land to dig up the vibranium that was in the mines of the land. Cap, Falcon, and Hawkeye were able to defend themselves briefly before being captured, while Stark used his intelligence to convince a pacifist group of rock people to help stop Hammer and rescue his friends. At the end of the episode, everyone has their access to technology back. However, since Tony lost the bet for not using technology for a whole day (he only lasted 96 minutes), he goes to have basic training lesson with Captain America.

This episode really shows how much mankind has evolved–we started off as people living in caves, cooking everything on a bonfire by using objects around them, to relying heavily on various technological innovations for survival. In the long-term, this is not good for our health. This episode proves that you CAN survive without technology–all you need is your natural ability.

Lastly, if you ever feel the need to rely on tech while you’re in danger during a camping trip here’s a quote from Captain America: “Don’t adapt to the situation, adapt the situation to fit you!”

Here’s the episode that you can watch for free (I promise this works!):

Avengers Assemble- Savages

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Empathy in Environmental Work

In my STEM for Solar class near the beginning of the year, we read an article about empathy and design thinking.  One segment of the article mentioned the rotation of nurse shifts in Kaiser Permanente and how they could improve those shifts in order to maximize the care for the patients.  A study conducted beforehand demonstrated that the nurse would debrief the incoming staff on the status of the patients for 45 minutes, and that despite this debriefing, they would miss some of the most important aspects of the patients conditions.  Wanting to rectify this problem, they developed a piece of computer software that enable the previous nurses to jot down notes about the patients throughout the shift, rather than debriefing the incoming nurses at the end of the shift.  As a result, not only did their productivity increase, but the interconnectivity between nurses and patients increased.

I mention this article because understanding where the problem originates is the key to developing a solution.  It’s easy to state that there is a problem that needs to be fixed.  The true challenge is finding out what exactly causes the problem in the first place, and taking the steps to fix it.

This is why what we do in this class is crucial.  With guest speakers and peer teaching, our understanding of the matters at hand increases, and we use this knowledge to develop potential solutions.  Through the year-round projects, not only can we put our empathy to work, but we are able to gain a better understanding of the process of a large-scale project, which we can take into our lives in environmental work.

Organic Labeling: USDA Stickers

I used to work at Sprout’s Farmers Market. Unfortunately, although expanding, these stores have not reached Virginia. However, it was in their 5 year plan as of July 2015. Sprout’s Farmers Market as a company prided itself in being “organic” and “sustainable”. Yet, in reality the staff coined the phrase “Welcome to Sprout’s – Where your food may or may not be organic!”. In this job, staff had to learn about Organic Labeling to be able to help customers who didn’t understand it. What I’ve found is that not many people truly do understand it at all – wether self-proclaimed health nuts or sustainable shoppers . That’s why today I am going to go over it. One of the lowest forms of Organic labeling is “Made with Organic Products”. You can usually find this in the ingredient labels as it is not usually something that companies boast about. This means that in all of the ingredients used, only the items labeled as such are actually organic. Usually about 70-94% of this product is actually organic. These products often do not bear the USDA symbol.  The next level up in organic labeling is the term “organic”. Usually this is listed in the name like “organic crackers” or “organic watermelons”. These products are allowed to use the USDA label. However, not even this product is entirely organic. Usually “organic” products have 95-99% organic ingredients. The only way to know you are eating 100% organic food is if it says it on the front. This is the highest level or organic labeling. However, this type of food may use the USDA symbol just like “organic watermelons” may use the symbol only being 95% organic. Or on the contrary, just because the food is organic does not mean that the company must label it as such. Further, the USDA sticker has enough corruption in distributing the labels that even the symbol is under scrutiny. At the end of the day, what is important is that you should know what is going into you body. Labels can’t always do that for you. I think in this day and age, it is truly important to do you homework and know what the labels actually mean.