A Book Review

A book review by Dr. Curt Gervich, of R. Edward Grumbine’s Where the Dragon Meets the Angry River: nature and power in the People’s Republic of China (Island Press, 2010).

“When an untamed river encounters a dragon, what happens next?”


Caption: Dragons and Rivers in Yunnan Province, China.

That’s my favorite quote from R. Edward Grumbine’s Where the Dragon Meets the Angry River: nature and power in the People’s Republic of China (Island Press, 2010). The Angry River digs deep into the central questions that haunt conservation efforts in China and that form the central themes of the Middlebury School of the Environment’s curriculum in China. With years of experience in Yunnan, Grumbine explores topics such as how Yunnan is balancing the need for conservation with energy development; how rural communities in Yunnan are keeping pace with economic development in China while retaining rural character and culture; and how conservation efforts and policies can be effective in China against the backdrop of a wickedly complex bureaucratic governance structure that prioritizes economic development and centralized decision making above all else.

“China has never had a Henry David Thoreau, John Muir or Terry Tempest Williams. The country was shut off by the party from most international influences during the formative decades of the U.S. wilderness movement. Nature protection in China is rooted in a different soil.”
(Ed Grumbine, Where the Dragon Meets the Angry River: nature and power in the People’s Republic of China. Page 34.)

Not only does The Angry Dragon offer an in-depth perspective on environmental conservation in Yunnan Province, China– it also features many places students aboard the Middlebury School of the Environment may have the opportunity to experience in summer 2018. For example, Grumbine examines the urban development strategies of several communities in Yunnan, including Dali, Liejang and Kunming.

The Linden Centre, where MSoE is based when in Dali, is a 20 minute taxi ride from Dali’s historic old town. Here are some pictures of Dali’s historic centre from our recent planning trip:


Caption: Day and night in Dali.

Liejang is about 120 minutes north west of Dali and also has a preserved old town, though it’s quite different from Dali. Kunming is about six hour south, and is home to six million people. It will be fun for students to experience the social-ecological systems of all three places.

In Angry River Grumbine details the role of The Nature Conservancy in biodiversity conservation in Yunnan. Middlebury School of the Environment is in the process of developing a multi-day conservation boot camp with The Nature Conservancy in Yunnan. This experience will take place at TNC’s migratory waterfowl and wetland conservation project at West Caohai. Our collaboration will focus on TNC’s conservation planning process from start to finish. It will include problem identification and scoping, data collection and analysis, education and policy development. Here’s the link to TNC’s China website.

And a few pictures of our trip to the West Caihai wetland site:


Caption: Middlebury and TNC staffers developing conservation boot camp at West Caohai.

Having returned from Yunnan in October and seen the sites and issues Grumbine details first hand, I have a few observations that I am excited to continue exploring with MSoE students in 2018. First, western China may be among the most under-appreciated and least well known biodiversity hotspots in the world. The eastern Himalayas contain an astounding array of ecosystems, rare and endemic species, and other gems. As Grumbine notes, the rivers that begin in this region drain an enormous percentage of Asia’s landmass, and are used by billions of people. That’s billions with a B. The geographic, social and economic scales of this place are of such a magnitude that they are difficult to comprehend. Second, Yunnan both reflects and rejects many of our assumptions about life in China, and the ways that social life is intertwined and dependent upon the environment. Finally, environmental professions and efforts in China are as varied and lively as anywhere. For example, environmental work in China is not only about biodiversity and energy– the functional areas we often hear about in the news. Environmental art, and sustainable food systems work are abundant and innovative. Here are some pics from a farm-to-table project we visited outside Dali:


Caption: Food systems innovations are as hot in Yunnan as in Middlebury Vermont. Farm-to-table experiments!

Environmental work is a grand experiment anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Vermont, on a college campus, or in China’s hinterlands. Yunnan province offers a new take on this experiment and is contributing to our growing body of knowledge in unique ways. Grumbine’s book has a lot to teach about conservation with Chinese characteristics.

R. Edward Grumbine is a professor of conservation biology at Prescott College. He also serves on the Middlebury School of the Environment advisory board.

No. This “shared space” won’t work. And well designed road signs don’t suck

As an Urban and Transportation Geographer/Planner, I really don’t think this “shared space” thing is a good idea:
1. There are many other ways to slow down cars than the stress from the presence of people and non-existence of signs/lights.
2. The decreased fatality data could be more contributed by fewer people/cars going through that shared space than the effectiveness of the design.
3. Believe me when I say I grew up in this kind of “shared space”. We called it “chaos” and I saw enough accidents. This is still true in many developing countries and they are striving to move towards less chaos. Why is Europe going backward?
4. I don’t have to repeat how dangerous it is for disabled or older/younger people.
5. Rather, widen the sidewalks, narrow the lanes, put up a reasonable amount of big signs and lights, the cars WILL slow down. And people will be safer.
What do you think?

Application for MSoE Summer 2018 is live!

The Middlebury School of the Environment (MSoE) begins a new chapter in Summer 2018, moving its successful six-week, living and learning pedagogy in environmental problem solving and leadership from Middlebury’s campus in Vermont to Yunnan province, China. Yunnan boasts rich biodiversity, historical legacy, cultural diversity, pressing environmental issues and emerging environmental solutions and leadership.

The MSoE pedagogy is problem-based. In this six-week program, students work alongside faculty and practitioners to tackle significant environmental problems that stretch beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. This interdisciplinary approach is especially valuable considering the complexity of China’s environment. Our faculty represent fields as diverse as geology and chemistry, religious studies, geography, planning, filmmaking, and biodiversity conservation.

For students studying with MSoE in Yunnan, courses will occur in forests, wetlands and mountains; temples, kitchens, and homes; shops, alleys, and markets; laboratories, libraries and museums. Courses in the 2018 program include: Understanding Place, Sustainability Leadership Seminar, and Environmental Analysis.

Course Descriptions (students enroll in three, 300 level courses)

Understanding Place (3 credits)
Manifesting solutions to environmental challenges requires a deep understanding of “place,” by which we mean a sense of the history, culture, economy, and ecology of a location. Facing environmental challenges cannot be divorced from understanding either the people or the ecological realities of the location where the challenge is situated or from where the solution is to emerge. This is best understood by focusing first on a single place, and then examining that place in its global context. This course will explore a specific place through both ecological and cultural narratives (in other words, through geography, history, biology, literature, geology, and political science) to understand how this place came to be in the condition it is today; its global connections on multiple temporal and spatial scales; and how to improve conditions for both itself and the human communities associated with it.

Sustainability Leadership Seminar (3 credits)Governance and administration in China. Wicked problems. Sustainable communities. Spatial and systems thinking. Structured decision making. Persuasive communication. These are just a few of the topics this course will cover. Through a series of field-based exercises intended to hone your observational and analytical skills, and workshops from environmental leaders and practitioners based in the US and China, such as The Nature Conservancy, this course will enhance, amplify and elevate your sustainability leadership skills.

Environmental Analysis (3 credits)
Using a case study method, students in this course will use an interdisciplinary lens to explore critical environmental issues from both scientific and humanitarian perspectives. The class will explore pollution monitoring and management, and biodiversity conservation in the field and in the lab. Students will also learn the art of storytelling and filmmaking, while exploring the role of the arts in communicating about environmental problems and solutions, especially in a history and culture-rich local context. Students will come away from this course with a solid background in the physical and natural sciences, as well as appreciating the role of environmental ethics and arts in problem solving.

Please forward to interested students and faculty. The student application is here.
Visit the website for the Middlebury School of the Environment (http://www.middlebury.edu/environment) for more details about the program.

 

 

Meet the new directors of the MSoE!

The Middlebury School of the Environment (MSoE) begins a new chapter in Summer 2018.  After four successful years developing its program in environmental learning and engagement on the main campus of Middlebury College in Vermont, we’re ready to launch the next step in our long-term development plan: developing an international dimension to its program.

This coming summer, the MSoE will be held in and around Kunming, China!  The program will retain its traditional emphasis on interdisciplinarity, hands-on engagement, and leadership training.  But now it will be focusing on the application of that emphasis in an international setting.

This represents a major leap forward for the MSoE, both in terms of its reach and its curricular focus.  Much more can and will be written about the MSoE China curriculum in the coming weeks.  But we want to first announce an important change in the program’s leadership.

A transition as momentous as the internationalization of the program and a move to China demands a transition in leadership that has expertise in the environmental issues and culture of China.  We are extremely fortunate to have hired two environmental scholars as co-directors for the MSoE: Drs. Curt Gervich and Liou Xie, both on the faculty at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Plattsburgh.

Friends and alumni of the MSoE know Curt well, as he has been on the faculty of the MSoE since 2015, teaching both the Systems Thinking Practicum and Wicked Environmental Problems courses.  He is an Associate Professor in the of the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at SUNY Plattsburgh where he teaches courses in environmental leadership, law and policy and sustainability, among others. Curt is trained as an environmental planner, with expertise in decision-making and leadership. His professional background includes developing habitat conservation plans in collaboration with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, training community involvement specialists at the Environmental Protection Agency in best practices for participatory planning, and serving as a researcher and planner for the International Joint Commission for Great Lakes Management’s Social, Political and Economics technical advisory group. His current research focuses on the use of games and simulations in professional and informal adult educational settings, environmental decision making and leadership in municipal policy networks; and best practices for experiential and applied learning environments. Curt has studied, lived, and worked across the United States and in Australia, Canada, China, and Mongolia.

Joining him as co-director is Liou Xie.  Liou is an Assistant Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at SUNY Plattsburgh where she teaches courses and conducts research in the fields of urban and economic geography, planning, sustainable transportation systems and communities, among other urban sustainability issues and solutions. Born and raised in China, she obtained her degrees from Beijing Normal University, the University of Hong Kong, and Arizona State University. Besides working in over a dozen cities in China, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Kunming, she applies her expertise in the local region by engaging in projects like writing comprehensive plans for Schuyler Falls, surveying service insufficiency and redevelopment potential around the Plattsburgh train station, and exploring employment challenges in the North Country. Liou is trained to use analytical and data visualization tools, such as GIS, CorelDraw, Photoshop and Sketchup in her research and teaching. She has several years of experience working with college students in international settings. She assisted a study abroad program at HKU which brought students to a rural area in Hunan province. She regularly takes her planning classes on a one-day field trip to Montreal. She teaches intensive courses on environmental management at a sister university in China.

We’re excited about what Liou and Curt will bring to the next phase of MSoE development, and we hope you’ll continue to check in on The Stream to read about what they have in store!!

Understanding Place Week 5: Cultural views of place

This week we have discussed multiple cultural views of place, and how recognizing those views can help us care for places, and in turn, work towards positive social and environmental change. Students of the Understanding Place class should post a comment here reflecting on the importance of cultural lenses in their understanding of that place.

Sustainability Practicum Essay 4

In a later chapter in his book Flourishing, John Ehrenfeld says that the question of whether one is optimistic or pessimistic about the future is the wrong question. The right question about the future, he says, is, “Are you hopeful?” Why might that be an important question to ask if you are thinking about engaging with issues of sustainability as a young adult?

And what is your personal response to that question? Are you hopeful? If so, why? From what source or feeling do you manufacture your hope? And if not, what motivates you to pursue an educational path that includes an emphasis on a study of the environment even though you are not hopeful for the future?  The best answers will be ones that draw specific information or support from the readings, interviews, and/or case studies we have engaged with throughout our time in the SoE this year, including our week in Washington, DC, with Planet Forward.

Post your essay as a comment to the relevant post of the MSoE’s blog, The Stream, by Friday, July 28th, by 5:00 pm.

Understanding Place Week 3: Non-Human Others and Relational Shaping of Place

This week we have examined several lenses and perspectives helping to make visible (or audible, or tactile…) the influences of non-human others in shaping places. These lenses have included acoustic ecology, highlighting the importance of attending to biophony, geophony, and anthrophony in shaping a multi-species inclusive sense of place, as well as kincentric ecology, a specific cultural lens into traditional foodways. Students in Understanding Place should comment here, reflecting on the influences of non-human others on their chosen places. Don’t forget to also upload your comment through the appropriate link on Canvas.

Sustainability Practicum Essay 3

Reflect on how your exploration of “place” in your other core course, Understanding Place, influences your thinking about the scale, scope, or nature of the system that you are considering for the challenge in the Sustainability Practicum.

Post your essay as a comment to the relevant post of the MSoE’s blog, The Stream, by Monday, June 17th, by 9:00 pm (although you’ll probably want to complete this before we leave for Washington, DC, on Sunday so you don’t have to deal with it while we are traveling).

Understanding Place Week 2: Spatial Scales and Local-Global Connections

This week we have thought about how observing and experiencing place through different spatial scales can help us care for places, and in turn, work towards positive social and environmental change. Students of the Understanding Place class should post a comment here reflecting on the importance of spatial scales in their understanding of that place.

Sustainability Practicum Essay 2

We have progressed in this course from discussing sustainability in broad conceptual terms to working on specific planning and facilitation skills, such as systems mapping, scenario planning, and creative ideation.

Reflect – using at least one specific example from the readings, your experience, or general knowledge – on your views of how such skills can contribute – or not – to developing practical strategies to promote sustainability.

Post your essay as a comment to the relevant post of the MSoE’s blog, The Stream, by Monday, June 10th, at 9:00 am.

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