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.

 

 

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