George Mason University: Mason team tackles climate change in Virginia counties through new three-step initiative

Solving climate change is a grand challenge facing the planet. As more individuals and leaders are recognizing the need to switch to environmentally friendly practices, George Mason University’s Local Climate Change Planning Initiative (LCCPI) is helping make that a reality for counties across Virginia.

“Our vision is to have Mason be the lead university in helping counties that lack the resources and expertise in [addressing climate change] get this done,” said Paul Bubbosh, a 1988 Mason alumnus and adjunct professor at the Schar School and College of Science.

Wealthier counties have funding to mitigate environmental issues, said Bubbosh, who started LCCPI with Schar School adjunct professor Joel Hicks in Fall 2021. Many smaller jurisdictions do not, he said, and they may not have staff for these initiatives.

LCCPI, housed within the Center for Energy Science and Policy, allows Mason to bring in its resources and expertise in modeling, engineering, environmental science, policy law, and more, to provide pro bono services to these counties, Bubbosh said.

Students will play an active role in the initiative’s three-stage process, which the Mason team is piloting in Manassas City.

The first stage, which Bubbosh said takes four to six months, is about gathering data on the county’s emissions footprint and having students conduct inventory modeling.

The next stage involves working with community leaders for a year to develop goals, such as changing streetlights to LEDs or reducing emissions, he said.

“In that process, which involves students leading community meetings with faculty, we begin to educate members of the public about the things they desire,” Bubbosh said. “It’s moving them toward understanding what makes the best, most economical, most practical sense for the community.”

Working at the local level is where critical change can happen, said Bubbosh, who said LCCPI was inspired by his time as a Peace Corps volunteer, when he saw how local communities are impacted by climate change.

That’s why stage three provides heightened value.

“Any contractor you hire to do this leaves at stage two,” Bubbosh said. “We want to embed students in internships with the local county to help them implement what they found in stage two.”

“Being in the forefront and crafting creative solutions that could ripple through other communities is really inspiring,” said Hanna Metuda, a senior studying government and international politics. “That Mason is allowing students to be a part of that is exciting…and it gives me hope for our environment.”

Metuda is one of two undergraduates volunteering with LCCPI. She said growing up in the Philippines with the effects of pollution and climate change inspired her environmental drive. While she said she’s excited to apply what she’s learned in the classroom, she understands challenges could arise.

“Students will discover hurdles along the way that no classroom will ever be able to prepare a student for,” Bubbosh said, suggesting some challenges may be insurmountable. “However, that learning experience, even at a loss, is a win for students in terms of practical work experience.”

“It’s about seeing results—not academic exercises—and actually making a difference in someone’s life,” he said.

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