Institute for a Sustainable Earth aims to improve planet's resilience

George Mason University has formally launched a multidisciplinary institute to tackle one of the toughest issues facing the world—its future.

More than 500 faculty members will be a part of the new Institute for a Sustainable Earth (ISE), which will address Earth’s future, including the problem of global climate change.

The institute will draw on Mason’s deep talent from a number of disciplines—including natural sciences, communications, computational and data sciences, humanities, law, engineering and social sciences—to conduct research, meet with policy makers and leverage existing university partnerships with governments, nonprofit organizations and the private sector to make change. The scholars will share the results of their work with key policy makers and decision makers in the hopes of erasing the divide often seen between academia and the real world by jointly devising lasting sustainability remedies.

Tom Lovejoy, University Professor in Mason’s Department of Environmental Science and Policy and accomplished conservation biologist, will serve as the  institute’s scientific director.

“We want to integrate with the world of policy in the Washington, D.C., area and globally,” Lovejoy said. “It’s one thing to recognize the challenges and to come up with possible solutions. It’s another thing to really make that happen.”

Mason President Ángel Cabrera said it was critical that leading research institutions like Mason play leading roles in this fight.

“We want to define our success not by what rankings say of us,” Cabrera. “It’s not [about] trying to be the best university in the world. We want to be an example of the best university for the world.”

The idea is to work in unison to bridge institutional and cultural divides and make an enduring impact on the planet’s future. Mason is investing $500,000 in seed money in the collaborative faculty-driven project.

Many scientists say the world is at a tipping point and humanity risks catastrophic consequences if things don’t change. The institute will bring together diverse members of the Mason community with policy makers, businesses and organizations to develop more sustainable ways to live on Earth.

“Science alone cannot do it,” Cabrera said.

Aurali Dade, Mason’s associate vice president for research development, integrity and assurance, will be the institute’s executive director and will lead operational strategy. An advisory council consisting of internal and external thought leaders will provide guidance and support.

Mason will start things off by funding as many as six ISE sustainability and resilience projects this spring, with each multidisciplinary team receiving $40,000 apiece. Teams that engage students will receive preference over others.

“I think we can really make a big difference locally, regionally, nationally and globally,” Dade said. “We have the potential to make change at all scales.”

Lovejoy called the challenge ahead “staggering” but said the institute was a good start.

“This is an incredibly important moment for Mason, the country and for the world,” he said.