Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tar Sands, Pipelines, and Our Changing Climate

In an effort to raise awareness and encourage the Mason community to stand against the proposed construction of the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline, George Mason’s Environmental Action Group shifted the agenda of their November 2nd meeting to devote the entirety of their evening to host a discussion on how the implementation of the proposed Keystone XL Tar Sands oil pipeline would lead to catastrophic and perilous consequences for both the natural environment and humanity. Yiming, an organizer with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Sieren, an environmental consultant who specializes in carbon emissions reduction, led the discussion. Both Yiming and Sieren have been at the forefront of the movement to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. In fact, after meeting at a Tar Sands related action, Yiming and Sieren decided to stay in contact. After much discussion, they decided to work together to develop a presentation that would cover highlight the overarching issues and conflicts surrounding the debate over the implementation of the Keystone XL.

What resulted from this collaboration was a 45-minute presentation entitled “Being the Change We Hope For,” a compelling and thoroughly researched overview of the inherently unsafe nature of the Keystone XL pipeline. In the course of the evening, Yiming and Sieren discussed how the installation of the pipeline and subsequent extraction of tar sands oil would adversely affect the Canadian Boreal Forest, one of the world’s largest intact ecosystems in the world. While Yiming and Sieren highlighted the regional environmental problems the pipeline would produce, the majority of their talk laid stress on the pipeline’s adverse contributions to the global environment and TransCanada’s misrepresentation of the pipeline’s economic benefits. To emphasize the severity of the situation, Sieren explained how the burning of tar sands oil would lead to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which would in turn result in increased ocean acidification and rising sea levels. Audience members dryly noted that this was hardly a recipe for stability in these trying economic times.To wrap up their talk, Yiming and Sieren urged the roughly 30 members of the Mason community in attendance to come to the November 6th Circle of Hope action.

With the conclusion of the talk, members stuck around to watch the film “H2Oil,” a documentary about the war waging between water and oil in the middle of Canada’s boreal forests. While many members left the screening feeling shocked and horrified about the extent of tar sands expansion in Canada, Jason Von-Kundra, a member of the Environmental Action Group’s Steering Committee stated, “While this was hard to watch, I want everyone to know that we’re going to win this fight. This documentary was released a few years ago and since then, our numbers have grown. We will continue to fight this fight, and we can do this.”

Von-Kundra had a point. When a member of the group asked how many people would be attending on Sunday, more than two-thirds of the audience raised their hands.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mason's Green Plan Slated in Gold: $100,000 sustainability fund established

Mason wasn’t kidding when it said it was committed to becoming more sustainable. Recently, university administration approved the Patriot Green Fund (PGF), an innovative student-led initiative to accelerate George Mason University’s sustainability transformation and commitment to climate neutrality via the Presidents’ Climate Commitment. The fund was established to foster an environment where Mason can flourish academically through the practice of environmental, social, and economic stewardship. Beginning in the fall of 2011, the PGF will provide $100,000 annually to finance projects that have a high value in all three of these areas of sustainability. The fund will also work to raise awareness of and support for building a culture of sustainability on campus and in our communities. The PGF will empower students by providing them with an unprecedented opportunity to lead and direct projects that will create positive change.
Lenna Storm, University Sustainability Manager, is excited about the new program, “This is an unprecedented opportunity for students to make a visible and direct impact on sustainability at Mason, and it would not have happened without the dedication of the campus’ environmentally-minded students.” Students, faculty, and staff will be able to submit applications for funding starting in fall 2011. For the Mason community that was involved in this effort to get the green fund passed, the significance of the achievement can’t be understated.
In 2008, members of the Environmental Action Group (EAG) developed a strong desire to raise additional funds to speed up Mason’s commitment to advancing sustainability and achieving climate neutrality. “In spring 2009, our group had a frank discussion, and realized that if we were really going to walk the walk, we’d have to do more than host a few campus cleanups a semester. Then we got to work, and haven’t slowed down since,” said Alexandra Tyson, a rising senior involved with the PGF campaign since her freshman year.
According to Jason Von-Kundra, who became involved with the PGF campaign in 2009, what really stirred him up about the campaign was how innovative it is. “This fund will give students the opportunity to design projects that will create positive environmental, social, and economic impacts. For example, a student could conduct an original research project, or create a program to increase composting on campus. This will enhance student research and engagement throughout campus, which in turn, will help Mason fulfill our commitment to achieve climate neutrality” said Von-Kundra, referring to Mason’s pledge to emit net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050.
Over the course of the campaign, the EAG collected 2,012 signatures from members of the student body who pledged to support the fund. The symbolism of the number isn’t lost on the group. “It’s pretty funny. A lot of people have been speculating that in 2012, the earth is supposed to undergo a new beginning. Well, we see the PGF as part of this shift; it’s a stepping stone in the path to a clean energy future,” said Anartia Gamboa, one of the PGF campaign’s coordinator.
Presently, the Office of Sustainability (OoS) and PGF Committee are working to develop the governing documents for the PGF, as well as the PGF application forms, application guidelines, and samples. The OoS is planning to promote the PGF heavily. Ce Garrison, an intern at the Office of Sustainability, is planning to hit the streets. “We believe people are more inclined to remember a face than an email. PGF projects will require working with a diverse group of people throughout Mason, and we want to show students that they’ll have a ton of support if they decide to get involved.”
For more information on the PGF, application deadlines and how to apply for funding please go to pgf.gmu.edu.
GMU Student Lauren Peery showing her support for the Patriot Green Fund. Photo Credit: Colin Bennett

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sustainability Heroes: July

    Jason Von Kundra, Sustainability Intern

    by Alex Tyson

    July 2011

    For many young activists, the environmental movement is something they get involved with in their late teens. While they may have joined environmental groups in high school, the transition to becoming a full-fledged environmentalist usually doesn’t occur until college. This was not the case for Jason Von-Kundra.

    Jason was born on a fall day in Fairfax, Virginia to a mother who currently teaches classes in Southwest Virginia about Permaculture, a principled design system for ecological living which strives to integrate ecologically sustainable qualities into our individual lives and communities. To say Jason was conscious of the environment at a young age would be something of an understatement. In fact, Jason credits childhood experiences for leading him to his current work. While other kids traveled outside armed with their My Little Pony or Power Rangers backpacks, Jason brought a different kind of bag: a recycling one. As Jason put it, “I was raised to recycle. Whenever we went to the mall, my mom would make us take our recycling bags. We would just carry them around.” And carry he did. No matter whether Jason was in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where he attended high school, or back in Fairfax, Jason has always been passionate about environmental protection.

    When Jason arrived at Mason after transferring from Northern Virginia Community College, Jason initially thought he would major in physics After some time he considered geology. Yet, his zeal for environmental protection couldn’t be satiated. As Jason noted, “My background is looking at the science of the issue.” Jason felt that his penchant for logical reasoning would be advantageous when studying environmental science. His sharply analytical mind was noticed; Jason was elected co-chair of the Environmental Action Group (EAG) after just one semester in Fall 2009. Within his first week in the club, Jason jumped at the opportunity to help organize Virginia Powershift, a conference for students and youth that informed students about pressing environmental and social justice issues. Since then, Jason has hardly slowed down. After Powershift, Jason helped lead a sustainable food campaign on campus. As part of the campaign, Jason met with dining staff and personnel, and lobbied dining services to include more vegetarian and vegan options on campus. His efforts on behalf of the EAG have helped steer dining services to lay groundwork for the establishment a new vegetarian restaurant on campus.

    In addition to his previous achievements, Jason’s biggest accomplishment has just been made public. After lobbying the administration for nearly three years, the EAG helped pass the Patriot Green Fund. The Patriot Green Fund came about after students at Mason began to develop a strong interest in raising additional funds to enable Mason to move ahead in executing projects to reduce Mason’ greenhouse gas emissions. Students proposed the Patriot Green Fund, which was to assess a small fee per student to support this desire. The administration agreed with the students that more funding was needed, and requested the creation of a pilot for the Patriot Green Fund. As of July 1, 2011, the Budget and Planning Committee will provide $100,000 per year to accelerate our ability to achieve our goals outlined in CAP. This fund will significantly expand efforts to bring Mason into the sustainable future that faculty, students and President Merten are calling for, while allowing students to play a direct and important role in deciding which projects will be funded.

    To Jason, the establishment of the fund signifies coming a step closer to his vision of Mason in the future. According to Jason, “ My favorite things about Mason are the incredible community of passionate students, faculty, and staff that are working hard to create positive social change, for the environment and other issues.” To him, the PGF and the community that helped pass it are integral to helping create a sustainable Mason. Jason states, “ I want to make Mason sustainable in a way where we have a close-loop system. {By} actually using the gardens on campus. Providing the food in cafeterias. Composting it down, using the soil to fertilize plants so we can provide our needs on our own.”

    As a full-time student who has consistently worked throughout college (presently at the Office of Sustainability), one might wonder how Jason manages to do so much. Jason asserts that his tireless work ethic comes from an intrinsic force within, and a particular visit to coalfields in Appalachia. When defining the moment in his life that changed his outlook most significantly, Jason quips “One of the most important moments of my life was going out to climate ground zero, the Appalachian coal fields plagued with mountaintop removal. There I made the decision that I will do whatever it takes to protect our planet and its inhabitants.” This shocking vision of environmental degradation fueled Jason’s fire. Jason states, “I’m motivated to preserve the planet for future generations. We’re taught to pick up after ourselves. But we haven’t been doing that. We’re handing a planet to the next generation that isn’t in the same condition it is now. Why I do what I do is to enable future generations to have an inhabitable, clean, safe planet to live on. Your family is the most important thing in the world. I want to have kids one day. I think they deserve the same things what I was given.”

Friday, April 29, 2011

Farmers market future in question

By Jeffrey Giorgi / Asst. News Editor

While the farmer’s market is not currently going to appear at Mason, there is a possibilty that it will return in the future. File photo

On Earth Day 2009, amidst blue skies, rain and even hail, the farmers market made its debut at George Mason University. Students and faculty were able to buy organic fruits, vegetables and various all-natural foods. Since then, the market has moved around campus, but now, they may be without a home for the future.

“We were only active for about a month before the students left,” said Jean Janssen, president of Smart Markets Inc. of the farmers market’s first appearance at Mason. “They put us in Lot K for the summer where we did very, very poorly. We didn’t have any way of letting the community know we were there because they wouldn’t let us put any signs up.”

For Mark Kraner, executive director of retail operations at Mason, the handling of the farmers market was a matter of logistics.

“One of the things we asked was for it to be focused toward the people on our campus. Trying to bring more bodies onto our campus that are not a part of [the Mason community] is not always the best thing to do,” Kraner said. “We weren’t trying to get the neighborhood to come in, especially since there are two farmers markets in Fairfax.”

Many of the vendors were hesitant to come back after the initial outing because of poor profits. But in fall 2009, the farmers market reappeared on the North Plaza, a spot that, while better, still had problems.

“Almost every week when we arrived, there was something set up,” Janssen said. “We weren’t plugged into the life of the university enough to know what was happening in the plaza.”

The market left Mason in October 2009 after a successful and stressful two months.

“Everyone could see the potential to do well,” Janssen said. “It was just a matter of managing it. Those two months all the vendors could see a potential profit.”

The market was supposed to reappear in spring 2010 but more issues arose and the re-opening was delayed.

“We decided not to open until last fall and then it would be a year-round market,” Janssen said.

So the market made its return, this time just outside of Southside. With a plan to remain on campus year round, things looked bright for the future of the market.

“We came to an agreement and came up with a space-use agreement for this year,” Kraner said. “[Janssen’s] request was thatthey not be located on the plaza and we worked out a space for it, and it was by Southside. It was a mutual agreement as to location. She chose the day and time which she thought would be best.”

However, what looked good on paper did not pan out, and a drop in profits ultimately caused the market to close again.

“We just didn’t get the foot traffic,” Janssen said. “On this campus you don’t have students crossing through large parts of the campus throughout the day. They park and go straight to their classes, and foot traffic was so bad that all our vendors dropped out.”

Janssen added that the process was part of the problem.

“If we were a part of the university where we worked with a committee, or a working group, we would be hearing the voices that tell us that location is a bad idea,” Janssen said.

Only speaking with one part of a community can make planning difficult and a lack of community can create problems where there might not otherwise be any if multiple factions were involved, Janssen said.

“That is why I’ve always felt we lost the opportunity to do on this campus what other markets are doing on other college campuses,” Janssen said.
On Thursday at 1 p.m. a meeting will be held to discuss the farmer’s market at Mason.

“We’re going to be looking at the market in general,” said Dan Waxman, professional and alumni development manager. “Things like a desire to have a market here on campus and if the community will want it because there is an express interest from people on campus.”

Whether the farmers market will return remains undetermined.

“Why [Janssen] hasn’t come back this spring, I’ll be honest,” Kraner said. “I have sent her a letter asking when she’s going to return and she has not replied so I can’t answer the question, because she hasn’t communicated that to me.”

The Prince William campus hosts a successful farmers market on Thursdays. Prince William focuses on attracting the surrounding communities, and Mason focuses solely on drawing its students and staff.

“When you think about it logically, it may not be the best thing for a farmers market,” Kraner said. “That’s what we think is happening, but we don’t know for a fact.”

But according to Janssen, the potential for return still remains, under the right circumstances.

“We wouldn’t try to come back in the summer unless … you actually get the Skins here,” Janssen said. “And if the traffic circle is no longer in need of construction … I don’t see why we can’t just set up for three hours a day.”

Some feel the market has provided the opportunity for students to have a healthier diet and to help the community.

“Our farmers market has provided a great addition for university life here at Mason and served as another resource for learning about the planet and the value of food,” Waxman said.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bike to Mason Day a success

Bike to Mason Day a success

By Nathan Dorfman / Staff Writer

Mason has hosted a 5k for Victims’ Rights Week for the past 15 years. Photo by Gregory Connolly

About 100 students, faculty, staff and community members traveled via bicycle to George Mason University in celebration of Bike to Mason Day on Thursday.

Participants biked to Mason for numerous reasons.

“It’s a great stress relief,” said Nancy Bagwell of Arlington. “I’ve been on a bike since I was 6 and I’ve never stopped riding. My 68th birthday is coming up next month.”

For others, money played into their decision.

“Gas is almost $4 a gallon, but it didn’t cost me anything to get here today,” said Rick Holt, a human resources trainer at Mason and member of the Mason Bike Advocate Council. “I get my workout right there in two hours and have more energy.”

By biking, you save money and help the environment at the same time, Holt said.

“I support the campus efforts for this,” said Bethany Usher, associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Mason. “We biked on a multi-use path from Burke Centre.”

The Washington region hosted a Bike to Work Day for a long time, but it always fell on Mason’s commencement weekend, said Josh Cantor, director of Mason Parking and Transportation. For this reason, Mason started its own Bike to Mason Day in 2007.

The League of American Bicyclists has named Mason a bicycle-friendly university. Mason earned this status through five E’s: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation, Holt said.

Cantor said he seeks to make biking a more accessible means of commuting to Mason, by adding bike lanes, racks and shelters around campus.

Students interested in biking can get involved with the on-campus Bike Village program, which repairs bicycles and provides bicycles at a reasonable price.
“I hardly ever bike on the road with cars,” said Bagwell, who primarily cycles on trails and sidewalks. “There are plenty of trails around here.”

Commuters can also use a multi-modal approach by biking part of the way and then taking a shuttle or the Metro.

A lot of people think they cannot bike to campus, but doing it once a week, or even once a month, is more reasonable and more impactful than people realize, Cantor said.

“It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition,” Cantor said.

The transportation office is also looking for a bike intern, Cantor said.

Faculty and staff interested in biking can join the Bicycle Commuter Benefit Program. Members of the program can earn two free parking passes from the transportation office and a $20 voucher for use at local bike shops.

The Bicycle Commuter Benefit Program may be available to students in the future.

“Biking is a continual effort and part of a larger transportation program,” Cantor said.

The transportation program at Mason, which also incorporates shuttles, carpooling and walking, discourages driving alone.
“We’re always open to feedback,” Cantor said.

For more information, you can visit transportation.gmu.edu