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Own Fate: Self-Managing the Future―How to Link Academic Knowledge and Local Practice

January 5, 2018
By 19685

On September 8 and 9, 2017, five Sylff fellows organized an event aimed at promoting sustainable development in Hungary: Professor Eva Kiss, Dr. Andrea Kunsagi, Dr. Viktoria Ferenc, Dr. Viktor Oliver Lorincz, and Dr. Loretta Huszak. Mari Suzuki, director for leadership development of the Tokyo Foundation, attended the two-day event as a representative of the Sylff Association secretariat to support the fellows’ initiatives. The event was significant in that many participants as well as speakers consisted of past and current Sylff fellows. This opportunity served not only to encourage cooperation between academics and local practitioners in Hungary but also to strengthen the bonds among Sylff fellows in Hungary.

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The Role of Bottom-Up Local Initiatives in Sustainable Development

A round-table discussion during the event, titled “Sustainability Initiated ‘Bottom-Up’: Is It Possible?” The participants are (from left to right): Zsolt Molnar, Andras Jakab, Balazs Hamori, Eva Deak, and Andras Takacs-Santa.

A round-table discussion during the event, titled “Sustainability Initiated ‘Bottom-Up’: Is It Possible?” The participants are (from left to right): Zsolt Molnar, Andras Jakab, Balazs Hamori, Eva Deak, and Andras Takacs-Santa.

Economically and ecologically sustainable development has become a universal concern. It merits the attention and action of all of us. Hungarian fellows of the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (Sylff) have realized that efforts are needed on a variety of fronts to promote sustainable development. Local and bottom-up initiatives have significant impact and are indispensable for sustainable development. Accordingly, more attention should be paid to them.

Post-communist civil societies, like the one in Hungary, are characterized by a lower level of participation in bottom-up initiatives by ordinary citizens.[1] Nonetheless, recent academic literature indicates that an increasing number of municipalities in Hungary possess local strategies for sustainable development or support initiatives related to sustainability.[2] These initiatives are designed to use and develop the municipalities’ own resources and internal potential to change society for the better.

The focus of the two-day Sylff event was on analyzing how imperative local bottom-up initiatives are to the economic, social, cultural, political, and legal development of modern societies and understanding how their sustainable development can be ensured and observed in Hungary. The first day was dedicated to academic analysis of the above themes, and the second day was a field trip to Szigetmonostor—one of the most active municipalities in Hungary, where the local administration is very much engaged in cooperation with grassroots initiatives. The object of the initiative was to facilitate a bottom-up dialogue between academics and local leaders and initiators. The chief patron of the event was Laszlo Lovasz, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.[3]

Conference Day at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

 The first day of the initiative was an interdisciplinary forum, which took place at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. It was dedicated to the academic analysis of sustainability and to the scientific elaboration of the role of bottom-up local initiatives in sustainable development. After the opening addresses, Andras Takacs-Santa, program director at Eötvös Loránd University Budapest, gave an opening lecture on “The need for a protective science in the light of the ecological crisis.”[4] He pointed out that the imperative of sustainable development is forcing us to think in new ways but that the way to an ecologically sustainable future is not at all yet clear. Human ecology and the sustainable way of thinking about the Earth’s resources should “run out in all directions” and find their path to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences too.

Section 1 of the forum focused on “the spatial dimensions of sustainable development” with five presentations. The well-prepared speakers approached sustainability from different aspects - environmental, economic, and social - and on diverse spatial levels. They dealt with different parts of the world, from the regional to micro level: China, the Carpathian Basin, Visegrad countries, the South-Bekes microregion, and underdeveloped regions of Hungary. Taken as a whole, the presentations significantly contributed to the success of the conference and to a better understanding of the processes of sustainability on different spatial levels. After the presentations, there was a lively discussion in which the audience raised several questions.

Section 2 analyzedthe successes and anomalies in communication and their role in community generating, business, and social life.” These aspects were investigated from psychological, marketing, management, and human-ecological collateral perspectives. The impact of people on their environment also prevails by numerous forms of manifestation in communication. Making public property from successes and anomalies in communication may help initiate more constructive societal, business, and grassroots movements and give these movements sustainability.

The human dimension of biodiversity” was studied in section 3. Biodiversity can be found in both nature and culture. Our world is a living network made up of the millions of species of plants and animals and thousands of human cultures and languages that have developed over time. Languages, cultures, and ecosystems are interdependent. For humanity at large, the loss of cultural and linguistic diversity represents a drastic reduction of our collective human heritage. In this section, Sylff fellows discussed human communities that have special attributes in ethnic, linguistic, and cultural respects and whose existence is endangered. The topic is highly relevant in Europe as well as in the Hungarian context. The objective of the panel was to shed light on the importance of maintaining these communities and to link the knowledge represented by Sylff fellows to the practice of local actors and decision makers in Hungary.

Topping the presentation part of the forum was the legal section, which focused onlaw and equity in a sustainable society.” Beyond environmental law, the question of sustainability also emerges in other domains of legal studies and political sciences, such as constitutional law, the institutional background of the protection of future generations, populism versus long-term policymaking, and the economic aspects of environmental damages and its legal consequences.

The conference day closed with a round-table discussion. Invited participants talked about the question of “sustainability initiated ‘bottom-up’: is it possible?” It was a valuable discussion, not only in that it summarized the main findings of the conference day but also because it brought together academia and municipalities with bottom-up local initiatives, as well as nongovernmental organizations, and raised expectations for the field trip that was to follow the next day. 

A key point of the conference day was that the presentations went beyond the speakers’ own research, adding aspects of sustainable economic development. They encouraged the audience to analyze the theme from broad perspectives and led to a successful forum, as audience members were able to understand the contents without specialized knowledge. The perspectives that were offered helped not only to identify research interests shared by the different disciplines but also to link academic knowledge with local practice.

Workshop Day in the Idyllic Village of Szigetmonostor

Discussion during the workshop in Szigetmonostor.

Discussion during the workshop in Szigetmonostor.

The field trip to Szigetmonostor was aimed at disseminating and applying academic knowledge to the field. To achieve these goals, academics—scientists employed by HAS (research institutions) and people employed by institutions of higher education—went to the field and experienced knowledge spillovers to the locals. Another aim was to heighten the awareness of local initiators about how academics can support and help their initiatives, thereby helping theoretical academic projects take on a more applied and realistic role; in other words, to help academic projects realize themselves in a more practical pragmatic environment.

The main reason for choosing Szigetmonostor was its isolation. Although the village is just 25 km from Budapest, it is difficult to access due to poor infrastructure; because there is no direct motorway, the only ways of reaching it are via a 50-km detour or by ferry.[5] This makes the village unique in its inhabitants’ reliance on one another. Given the natural beauty and environment of the place, which has been underdeveloped to date, it is an ideal spot to develop tourism. There is a need to create job opportunities within Szigetmonostor, as its geographic location makes it difficult for the locals to seek job opportunities in central Budapest.

Activities provided by Sylff fellows included raising awareness of the historical background of Szigetmonostor among the academic participants. Mayor Zsolt Molnar of Szigetmonostor elaborated on the current situation that the half-island was facing.[6] He gave his account at the dam, with the Danube and the city of Budapest visible in the background. This setting enhanced and inspired the visitors’ interest.

After this opening, the focus turned to local initiatives. Local initiators presented their activities and highlighted the key social challenges that they wanted to be tackled. A short group session followed, in which participants were divided into groups and had to identify possible solutions to local issues. These discussions were led by professional mediators as well as local experts. The idea was to find a common ground between the academics and locals to help with Szigetmonostor’s advancement in terms of tourism, education, local job creation, and so forth.

The group work was then followed by participants presenting new ideas and possible solutions to existing difficulties. The group activities provided a great platform for initiating future collaboration between the academics and local initiators.

Discussion during the Workshop in Szigetmonostor.

Hungarian Sylff fellows and locals in Szigetmonstor, with the newly planted Sylff tree in the background. Holding the plaque for the tree at center are Mariann Tarnoczy, who has been working with Sylff at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences since the program’s inception, and Mari Suzuki, director of leadership development at the Tokyo Foundation.

Hungarian Sylff fellows and locals in Szigetmonstor, with the newly planted Sylff tree in the background. Holding the plaque for the tree at center are Mariann Tarnoczy, who has been working with Sylff at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences since the program’s inception, and Mari Suzuki, director of leadership development at the Tokyo Foundation.

To mark Sylff’s contribution and its recognition for future collaboration, the group of workshop participants went out to a beautiful park built by the local volunteers, where they planted a South European flowering ash tree as a symbol for future collaboration. With the help of locals, the academics dug the ground and planted and watered the new tree.

Impact of the Initiative

The two-day event was well attended, which is an objective indicator of success. Eighty-one people attended the conference day, almost half of whom were Hungarian Sylff fellows. The workshop day in Szigetmonostor saw the participation of 45 academics and locals; the number of Sylff fellows was 12.

The initiative aspired to link academic knowledge and local practice. Analyzing sustainable local initiatives and their impact on society was a new activity field for most of the participants. The researchers who gave presentations had been invited to combine their actual research with this important topic. It was an experiment that made great demands of the presenters but led to unforeseen ties between researchers from different disciplines—to real-time interdisciplinary interactions. 

The initiative also had the aim of contributing to society. Understanding basic human ecology principles and the operation of local initiatives can help to map out and evaluate alternatives. The participants identified such principles and recognized new opportunities for cooperation between local initiators and academics. We hope that this future cooperation will lead to positive social change in such forms as increased citizens’ participation in local initiatives, better understanding of the significance of such initiatives among scholars, and more academic projects taking on advanced applied and realistic roles.

A well-informed public is crucial for sustainable development. The media can help reach a wider audience, inform local stakeholders, and direct attention to the role of local initiatives in Hungary’s sustainable economic development. The first report of the initiative has already been published; an article appeared in the local online newspaper of Szigetmonostor, informing local stakeholders about the event..[7]

The organizers of the initiative have prepared a special edition for Magyar Tudomany, the periodical of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. All manuscripts are completed and should be published in the coming weeks. In addition, a seven-minute video on the initiative will be published soon on social media and Internet channels (YouTube and Facebook).

The main organizers of the event (from left to right): Viktoria Ferenc, Andrea Kunsagi, Eva Kiss, Loretta Huszak, and Viktor Lorincz.

The main organizers of the event (from left to right): Viktoria Ferenc, Andrea Kunsagi, Eva Kiss, Loretta Huszak, and Viktor Lorincz.

[1] Marc Marje Howard, The Weakness of Civil Society in Post-Communist Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. i.

[2] Henrietta Nagy, Tamas Toth, and Izabella Olah, “The Role of Local Markets in the Sustainable Economic Development of Hungarian Rural Areas,” Visegrad Journal on Bioeconomy and Sustainable Development, vol. 1, no. 1 (2012): pp. 27–31. https://vua.uniag.sk/sites/default/files/27-31.pdf

[3] For a list of elected chief officers of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences see:

 http://mta.hu/english/elected-chief-officers-of-mta-106110

[4] For further information on Andras Takacs-Santa visit: http://tatk.elte.hu/en/staff/TakacsSantaAndras

[5] Official website of the municipality: http://szigetmonostor.hu/ (in Hungarian)

[6] For further information on Zsolt Molnar visit: http://szigetmonostor.hu/index.php/onkormanyzat/polgarmester (in Hungarian)

[7] Loretta Huszak, “Az MTA kutatóinak és ösztöndíjasainak látogatása Szigetmonostoron,” Ujsagolo, vol. 23, no. 10 (October 2017): pp. 1, 10. http://szigetmonostor.hu/images/dokumentumok/ujsagolo/ujsagolo_2017_10.pdf

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Environmental Geopolitics in the Anthropocene: Understanding Causes, Managing Consequences, Finding Solutions

September 28, 2017
By 19631

An SLI forum organized by University of Oregon Sylff fellow Corey Johnson, currently associate professor and head of the Department of Geography at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, brought together a group of policy-minded academics on March 22–24 at Greensboro. Experts specializing in such fields as the economy, security, geography, and energy policy discussed the best governance for sustainable development under the current circumstances, where solutions remain uncertain to the environmental challenges of global warming and the drain of natural resources. The public symposium that was conducted as part of the forum also attracted many students and citizens. A copy of the panel poster for the public discussion can be downloaded at the following link: https://geo.uncg.edu/wp-content/themes/Geo/assets/Panel-Poster.pdf.

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Background

Johnson, speaker on the left.

In recent years, the international political community has come to take more seriously the challenges of global increases in resource consumption, climate change, and sustainable development. The adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change mark important milestones in multilateral commitments to making progress on these issues. However, as Brexit in Britain and the election of a populist-nationalist president in the United States suggest, the center of gravity of leadership on the most pressing global issues of the day—foremost among them environmental change—is shifting, perhaps irrevocably, away from the transatlantic alliance. This is happening at a crucial moment in time when coordinated leadership, foresight, and evidence-based policy are required if the planet is to not only avert the profound impact that climate change will have but also manage the geopolitical upheavals that can increasingly be linked to environmental change.

The forum “Environmental Geopolitics in the Anthropocene: Understanding Causes, Managing Consequences, Finding Solutions” brought together a group of policy-minded academics to delve into the convergence of these momentous environmental and political trends. Our goal was to better understand the causes and consequences of, and possible solutions to, some of these mega-challenges in the face of much uncertainty in the spaces of governance where resolute decisions will be required.

Events Overtake Good Intentions

When I proposed this forum to the Sylff Leadership Initiatives grant program in spring 2016, the United States was in the midst of an unprecedented presidential race. It was growing clear that the nominees of the two major parties would be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Like many observers, I thought it highly unlikely that Trump—with his unorthodox views on the issues to be addressed by the forum—would actually be elected to the most powerful office in the land. My working assumption at the time was that by spring 2017, when the forum would take place, there would still be plenty of debate over the ambitions and technical details of the Paris Agreement but the United States would still be a party to it and would lead efforts to mitigate climate change as the country that has emitted more greenhouse gases to the earth’s atmosphere since 1850 than any other.

Instead, when we met in March 2017, the forum participants were faced with a confusing and deeply unsettling landscape. President Trump campaigned on a platform that included very vocally dismissing international institutions and agreements including the United Nations and the Paris Agreement. Not surprisingly, given his dismissal of climate change as a “Chinese hoax,” he has since announced the government’s intention to withdraw from Paris, effectively ceding leadership on climate change to other countries, especially China.

In proposing the forum, I noted the huge gaps between the lofty rhetoric of multinational agreements, on the one hand, and our rather thin understanding of the best governance pathways to achieve sustainable development and climate change mitigation, on the other. I also noted that not only was environmental change—which has always played a role in geopolitics—accelerating, but a number of important geopolitical developments in recent years could at least in part be tied to environmental events. The upheavals across North Africa and the Middle East since 2011 are just the most visible of what is a broader set of realities about global geopolitical dynamics, namely that there are feedback loops between human-caused environmental changes and political events, and these relationships are not particularly well understood.

The Time-Scale Problem of the Anthropocene

Even as political winds shift and policy priorities change in the short term, the longer-term challenges of the unbending curve of growing resource consumption, a hotter planet, and the unsustainability of how economic growth has historically been achieved remain as vexing as ever. It is abundantly clear that the very health of the planet and of humankind hinges on our ability to successfully address the problems of constrained natural resources in an epoch where humans are themselves a serious geophysical force. The forum was framed by considering geographic and temporal scales together, and the following assumptions informed and provided material for further discussion:

  • Humans have the now-unmistakable ability to act as a destructive geophysical force, creating what many scholars have described as a new geological era called the Anthropocene. In terms of climate change, this new era was roughly two centuries in the making; many of those who contributed to it are no longer living, and many who will face its consequences have not yet been born. Due to the complexity of earth systems and the forces that affect them, there is often a considerable time lag between the human activities that create the problem and humans’ ability to perceive the changes.
  • There is a perennially vexing governance difficulty in making hard decisions in the short term about such issues as resource consumption and models of economic growth that might be required to reduce the potentially catastrophic long-term impacts of climate change, especially when the impacts are predicted rather than occurring. The same difficulty could be said to apply to governance decisions around geo-engineered solutions, given the potential for massively screwing up earth systems through human intervention.
  • There is considerable geographic variation in the type and intensity of the effects of climate change, as well as in the types of institutions, governments, nonstate actors, and so forth that can play a role in addressing the effects. The governance landscape is highly uneven, and global regimes continue to be fragile and ill equipped.

All Doom and Gloom?

As academics we are accustomed to identifying problems, lamenting how they came to be, bemoaning how not enough is being done to address them, and then moving on. While this forum and the contributed papers had their share of this, the participants were also able to think about possibilities for future developments that give at least some cause for optimism. The Anthropocene, as Simon Dalby pointed out in his paper, is at its root the result of the “fire species” of humans manipulating, managing, and, above all, burning available resources to such an extent that any assumption of “geographic and geological stability as the background to the human story” must be discarded. Shaping the Anthropocene, which is now reality, requires a set of political choices that more intelligently seeks not just to reduce carbon combustion but also to reconfigure land use, urbanization patterns, and other aspects of human existence with changed earth conditions as the new baseline. Understanding that the global economy is a geological phenomenon requires what many, but not nearly enough, states and corporations have recognized: how capital is invested a more proactive accounting for how it contributes to environmental change.

There were numerous synergies between Simon Dalby’s intervention on the “geological turn” in Anthropocene geopolitics and Stacy VanDeveer’s governance strategies and mechanisms for reducing the material throughput of our economies. The Anthropocene, as many observers have pointed out, is an era during which the material footprint of the human species on the planet is more than appreciable to the point of being system altering. VanDeveer suggests that governance responses should seek to effect long-term reductions in consumption patterns through a variety of tools, including tax and subsidy changes, binding policies, certification and labeling, research, and normative transformation. While recent history has shown that humans are not particularly adept at sacrificing in the short term for longer-term benefits, there are examples where—given the right incentives and framing—longer-term, enlightened thinking can prevail.

Indeed, being open to the types of thinking that can “make it otherwise,” to cite participant Shannon O’Lear’s paper, will be necessary. Part of the shift in thinking that is needed among policy makers involves moving away from the assumption that isolated case studies are somehow representative and instead incorporating multiscalar analysis of connections between and among places and processes. Land acquisitions, common in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as in Middle America and elsewhere, are not just local events but rather reflect global capital flows and consumption habits. Much in line with Simon Dalby’s suggestion of laying out Anthropocene political choices much broader than simply in terms of how much CO2 we emit, O’Lear argues that knowledge production needs to take more seriously what forms of new knowledge are required to deal with Anthropocene realities. The framing questions take on additional significance in this respect.

Even before the strange turn of politics in the United States, it was clear all along that transitions of the massive energy system that fuels economic activity and daily life in much of the world would be incremental, not sudden. The case of natural gas illustrates this element of environmental geopolitics in the Anthropocene: is there a role for the lesser of fossil-fuel evils moving forward? Tim Boersma walked us through the role of gas in energy transition pathways in various parts of the world and offered his thoughts on the oft-heard trope of gas as the “bridge” or “pathway” fuel. Undoubtedly, for a variety of reasons—fracking, perceived environmental benefits vis-à-vis coal and petroleum, easier mobility of gas thanks to liquefied natural gas—natural gas has assumed a greater share of the world’s energy use in recent years, and that is expected to rise. But from an environmental perspective, the “bridge” needs policy in place for there to be an opposite side that is not simply burning more gas. In non-OECD countries, policy makers will seek a greater role for gas not only as a means of meeting climate goals but also for the shorter-term reason that gas is preferable in addressing atrocious air quality. Historically in Europe and North America, gas was first and foremost an urban fuel due to the infrastructure required to make it economically viable, and this can be expected to be the case in fast-growing places in the Global South as well.

As suggested by several authors, Anthropocene geopolitics requires an acknowledgment that change is already happening, and policy makers must incorporate adaptation strategies alongside well-intentioned efforts to mitigate further change. As a growing body of scholarship suggests, environmental governance happens in multilevel, polycentric fashion, with cities and subnational jurisdictions assuming an ever-increasing role. Eric Chu illustrates in his paper the ways in which cities can be more responsive and innovative as well as sensitive to local specificities related to the challenges of environmental change than can larger-scale governments. Through transnational municipal networks, cities can also share best practices and raise awareness. At the same time, Chu reminds us that there are some pitfalls in what he calls “methodological cityism,” in that there are substantial political, institutional, and scalar constraints to cities enacting progressive environmental policies. Facing such issues as sea level rise and climate-induced migration will require a multilevel set of responses that must include, but not be limited to, cities.

Conclusion

The Anthropocene is not an “environmental problem.” It is a human problem. It requires that we think systematically about, in the words of O’Lear, the possibilities of “otherwise.” This forum and what comes after represent a contribution to the rich debates happening in many places about what an “otherwise” might look like and how it might be achieved. This is not to understate the hurdles in the way of such change, which are substantial. But in this time of considerable political, economic, and social flux, it is entirely possible that the present is an opportunity to think outside the box and to shift our mindset into the Anthropocene.

Panelists of the Forum

The panel poster for the public discussion.

Simon Dalby, CIGI Chair in the Political Economy of Climate Change and Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University

Stacy VanDeveer, Professor in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance, McCormack Graduate School, University of Massachusetts

Shannon O’Lear, Professor of Geography and Director of the Center for Global and International Studies, University of Kansas

Eric Chu, Assistant Professor of Urban Studies in the Department of Geography, Planning, and International Development Studies, University of Amsterdam

Tim Boersma, Senior Research Scholar and Director of Global Natural Gas Markets at the Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia School of International and Public Affairs

Michael Klare, Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies and Director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies, Hampshire College

Erika Weinthal, Lee Hill Snowdon Professor of Environmental Policy and Associate Dean for International Programs, Duke University

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Environmental Geopolitics in the Anthropocene:Ominous Horizon or Breaks in the Clouds?

June 5, 2017
By null

Promoting the development and spread of renewable energy requires the balancing of policy tools and market inducements, notes Tokyo Foundation Research Fellow Hikaru Hiranuma, who participated in an SLI forum on climate change at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as an expert from Japan. The March 22–24 forum was organized by University of Oregon Sylff fellow Corey Johnson and consisted of a closed session among international experts and a public symposium. Johnson is currently associate professor and Head of the Geography Department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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A panel discussion on “Environmental Geopolitics in the Anthropocene” at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

A panel discussion on “Environmental Geopolitics in the Anthropocene” at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The early ratification of the Paris Agreement has sparked renewed worldwide interest in climate change measures. It was in this context that a public symposium was held on March 23 on the issue of “Environmental Geopolitics in the Anthropocene: Ominous Horizon or Breaks in the Clouds?” at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG).

The Paris Agreement aims to keep the rise in the global average temperature to within two degrees of preindustrial levels. Achieving this goal will require more than the fulfillment of pledges made by the signatory countries. The US administration of President Donald Trump, though, has taken a skeptical position on climate change since taking office in January 2017, and the world’s second-biggest carbon dioxide emitter seems to be shifting away from its previous commitments, putting the future of climate change countermeasures in doubt.

At the symposium, experts in such fields as environmental policy, energy, and national security came together to discuss the challenges ahead from the perspective of environmental geopolitics. This report summarizes some of the main points of interest that were raised during the discussions.

Stakeholders in Climate Change Issues

Various aspects of climate change were examined, but one recurring theme was the importance of identifying the key stakeholders. The title of the symposium itself suggested an answer. In the proposed geological era called the Anthropocene, surely every human being has a stake in finding a solution to climate change. This will require a fundamental break with existing lifestyles.

Over the course of human history, societies have developed by increasing consumption and placing an ever-heavier burden on the environment. There is a need to shift to a more sustainable model that will not place the same heavy burden on the natural environment. All of us living in the Anthropocene must first acknowledge that we ourselves are the ones who have brought about climate change and face up to the problems we have caused. Among the primary stakeholders, then, are the governments of the world that will need to enact and carry out concrete policy measures based on this shared awareness. One example of such action was the Paris Agreement, which came into force following ratification by countries around the world. Since trends and developments among the countries responsible for implementing concrete policies will have a direct impact on climate change, shifting attitudes in the United States have given rise to a sense of crisis and uncertainty regarding future climate measures.

The Influence of Major Powers

Given that countries are important stakeholders in the effort to address climate change, panelists from the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, and Japan agreed that relations between states are also extremely important—particularly those between such major emitters as China, Russia, and the United States. The United States and China alone are responsible for more than 40% of global emissions, and cooperation between them will be essential in any attempt to reduce total global emissions. A shift in US climate policy would have a huge impact on global efforts to address climate change and may require commensurate efforts by China to compensate for the change in US trajectory. Tensions between the two countries over foreign policy and national security could easily stymie negotiations on climate change, however, and the symposium served as a reminder that progress on climate change is intimately connected with trends in international relations among the major powers.

Regional Stakeholders

Other important stakeholders mentioned at the symposium included regional communities and other groups subject to common climate challenges, such as flooding and drought. Speakers suggested that such stakeholders cooperate with one another to address their concerns and to broadly share their experiences and preventive measures. Even as national policy in the United States undergoes a shift, many state governments are continuing to pursue their own measures to cope with climate change. These regional stakeholders (and others not affected by national policy) are expected to play an increasingly important role in climate change discussions in the future.

Policy and Market Receptivity

Another important point raised at the UNCG symposium was the balance between policy and the market in tackling climate change, such as in promoting the development and spread of renewable energy. One speaker mentioned that North Carolina has the second highest rate of solar power generation in the United States, a result of both market preferences and local legislative incentives known as the Renewable Portfolio Standard. When seeking to encourage private initiatives to address climate change, therefore, it is important to bear in mind that policy can crucially affect the receptivity of the market. The symposium offered important insights into how the relationship between policy and the market can have a large bearing on the effectiveness of concrete measures to address climate change.

Conclusion

The author, second from right, with other experts attending the symposium.

The author, second from right, with other experts attending the symposium.

The symposium was very timely, given the growing awareness of the Anthropocene concept and the shifting policies of the US administration. There is a tendency for climate change discussions to focus on isolated themes, such as energy mix, resource prices, and the policies of individual countries. But the UNCG symposium embraced a comprehensive perspective, viewing climate change through a broader temporal framework and the full range of the stakeholders involved, leading to many innovative suggestions for the future. Measures to address global climate change have only just begun, and it is important to maintain a broad perspective in identifying the best countermeasures through forums like the UNCG symposium. The stage where policy alone can induce market initiatives through reductions in the cost of renewable energy is drawing to an end, and there is a clear need to consider alternative approaches. It is to be hoped that this symposium will spawn may others like it to deepen future debate on climate change.

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Living with Wildfire: Voices from the Local Community

May 9, 2017
By null

Three Sylff fellows from Chiang Mai University, Thailand, organized a volunteer initiative between April and August 2016 in response to smog pollution in Northern Thailand. They led a group of local residents and students in the construction of a check dam to function as a wet firebreak minimizing fire danger and to help slow down the fast flow of the stream during the storm season. They also conducted a focus group discussion with community leaders to learn how to deal with wildfire and haze.

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Target site for check dam construction

Target site for check dam construction

Introduction

For more than 10 years, the residents of Chiang Mai and other provinces in Northern Thailand have been experiencing smog that regularly blankets the region during the dry season from February to April. The haze crisis not only reduces visibility but also causes negative health impacts and obstructs tourism activities. The sources of haze are varied, ranging from geographic features, wind direction, and wildfires to burning of agricultural waste and industrial emissions.

As smog pollution has come to affect larger communities, the government has pointed to the burning of fields and brush by local people in rural areas as a major cause. It launched an official “60-day no-burning” rule, banning burning from March to April in the hope of controlling the “serious smog situation.” Enforcing the rule is difficult, however, because people consider burning to be a “way of life.”

Brainstorming and Project Planning

In response to the smog problem, three Sylff fellows from Chiang Mai University, Thailand, initiated a community service project aimed at reducing smog pollution and developing an understanding of the ways of life of local people as it relates to myths and facts about forest fire. The project took place in Ban Huy Jo village, Chom Thong District, Chiang Mai, an area where hotspots have been occurring repeatedly. The three authors chose to work on building the ability to reduce hotspots, which is key to mitigating smog. We exchanged ideas and discussion within our working team, and we also asked for suggestions from an experienced researcher who has previously studied the problem of wildfire in this area.

The volunteers were divided into many groups. Some helped collect rocks from the ground, while others helped pass the rocks into the check dam.

The volunteers were divided into many groups. Some helped collect rocks from the ground, while others helped pass the rocks into the check dam.

The project was started in April 2016. We agreed to focus on activities that would help reduce the chances of wildfire hotspots forming. The first step was conducting a field survey in Ban Huy Jo village, the results of which suggested that check dams to serve as wet firebreaks should help in minimizing fire danger and help slow down the fast flow of streams during storm season. Check dams give the water time to soak into the dry soil and bring humidity to forests throughout the year, thereby functioning as natural firebreaks. After consulting with the community’s leaders, we decided to raise funds and solicit volunteers with the goal of building a permanent concrete check dam, as well as to conduct a focus meeting with community leaders to learn how local people cope with wildfire issues. The event was set to be held in the middle of August 2016.

Fundraising and Dam Construction

While temporary check dams made of such materials as sandbags, logs, and rocks may require lower budgets, their life spans are limited. We therefore chose to build a permanent concrete check dam that would last longer, which called for the need to raise decent funds to budget the construction. Fundraising activities included planning and preparing to ask for support (including money and in-kind donations), as well as related activities such as campaigning through social networks and personal connections. Generous supporters made donations worth a total of 16,000 baht (USD 500). All of the money has been used in the interests of the local community.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

Early in the morning on Saturday, August 20, 2016, 25 villagers and students gathered at the foothills of Doi Inthanon National Park, located next to Ban Huy Jo village. After a brief introduction, everyone was assigned a duty; this helped us finish the construction within a day. The construction method used was simple: suitably sized rocks were collected near the stream to fill in the check dam structure, and sand was dug from a dry creek to mix with cement. These were then passed along in buckets toward the dam. The volunteers kept hard at work, undeterred by the hot weather.

After half a day, we had a quick lunch together with the support of The Opium Serviced Apartment and Hotel, Drill Drop, and Lactasoy. The students and local volunteers had a chance to get to know one another over lunch. Construction was done at 3 pm.

The authors would like to thank all the donors and supporters who funded the project, and, above all, we wish to thank all the volunteers who contributed their labor to constructing the dam. The check dam was functioning in time three weeks later.

Voices from the Community

After construction, the three Sylff fellows and community leaders held a focus group meeting to exchange insights on how the local community lives with wildfires and how they manage this issue in response to the haze crisis.

Changing life of people neighboring the forest

We asked Po Long Plern, the community leader, to share with us the history and local life of people in Ban Huy Jo village. “We have lived here for eighty or ninety years, and the forest was already there,” Po Long Plern said. “Our ways of life have relied on the forest.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

“This village used to be an elephant camp catering to logging concessions. The majority of our men worked in activities related to the forest industry. When the Thai government banned logging concessions, the villagers lost their jobs. Above all, logging activities adversely impacted the natural environment, leaving only small trees. The villagers cut those small trees to make charcoal for family income, further aggravating the situation and making recovery even harder. Most of the villagers then changed their careers to become rice farmers and longan gardeners. When the rainy season comes, though, flash floods damage the paddy fields and longan gardens every year.”

Fires are set to protect local safety

Next, we moved to the topic of how the community engages in forest conservation. In the past, the community leaders told us, the villagers did not know how to care for the forest. But the Thai authorities came 10–15 years ago and instructed them on what they should do. The leaders had the chance to visit the King’s project at Huy Hong Krai and learned how local people can manage natural resources on their own, such as by making firebreaks and check dams.

“Wildfire is a part of village life, and some fires naturally occur in the deciduous dipterocarp forest,” Po Laung Plern added. “We want people in the city to understand this truth. Since the smog problem became a serious issue about ten years ago, we have been blamed for setting fires on purpose for our personal benefit. But that is only a small part of the whole story. Our local people need to maintain and use traditional fire knowledge so that they can preemptively burn forest landscapes for our personal safety. Otherwise, the fires will damage our houses and farms.”

We did it at last!

We did it at last!

Conservation must begin with mindset adjustments for both authorities and villagers

“None of the villagers want to see a dry forest; the forest is our food security.” The local community explained to the Sylff fellows that they already had fire management knowledge but lacked a management system. Three years ago a researcher came to the village and helped them deal with wildfire problems by using management procedures. “Since then, we have learned about setting planned fires to reduce leaves and waste in the forest in a proper manner. We make plans together about when to set a fire and who will be involved.”

The check dam after rainfall.

The check dam after rainfall.

Although the villagers may be willing to participate in fire control activities, these activities would not be sustainable if the villagers have nothing to gain from protecting the forest. Making profits from national conservation forests is illegal under Thai law, but local authorities have pragmatically asked the villagers to make a commitment that they will collect only enough vegetables and wild foods for family meals and not for business purposes. This is why the local community agrees to protect the forest. In some cases the authorities may allow poor villagers to cut trees for house construction, but only with restrictions. Thanks to this agreement, the villagers are happy to be forest guards and working together with the authorities.

Don’t blame us, please help us: Reflections from the local community

When talking about smog pollution, the community accepted that some of its members used to set fires for the purpose of vegetation regeneration but noted that they have since changed their beliefs. But this image still endures in people’s minds, especially among those who live in the city. “We would like the general public to hear our voices and to understand that the forests belong to every single person. Why don’t they come and help instead of blaming and leave all the problem solving on our shoulders?”

In Closing

Through the meeting, the authors learned that the enforcement of legal measures alone may be insufficient in alleviating the haze crisis. Successful efforts to control smog from forest burning requires that we understand the context surrounding this issue, how it happens, and why it has not been under control for years. We also learned that blaming does not help in dealing with wildfire and smog problems. On the contrary, it could destroy the will of local communities to protect the forest. In summary, we suggest that outsiders who have expressed their desire to see an end to this problem offer their helping hands to local communities to let them know that they are not fighting alone.

Apirada Cha-emjan received a Sylff fellowship in 2014 for her MA in Health Social Science at Chiang Mai University. Her research examines the effects of everyday violence toward the decision-making process on abortion among Burmese migrants. She is conducting her study in Mae Sot District along the Thai-Myanmar border and identifying protective factors that enhance the physical and psychological well-being of the mother who decided to abort her child.

Rapipun Maoyot received a Sylff fellowship in 2014 for her MA in Geoinformatics at Chiang Mai University. Her research focuses on the effectiveness of using market-based strategies for achieving conservation goals. Her question concerns what the advantages and disadvantages are of using Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) in Upper Watershed areas in Chiang Mai.

Kedsirin Thammachai received a Sylff fellowship in 2014 for her MA in Public Administration at Chiang Mai University. Her research aims to study the causal model and influential factors that can help to objectively analyze the effectiveness and results of training programs that the State Railway of Thailand have provided to traffic operation officers.

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Sylff@Tokyo:Vietnam Fellow Hopes to Alleviate Water Pollution in Developing Countries

December 18, 2015

On December 4, 2015, Ngo Hong Anh Thu, a 2014 Sylff fellowship recipient at Vietnam National University, Hanoi, visited the Tokyo Foundation and gave a presentation on her doctoral research.

Now a lecturer at the university, Thu was selected as an SRA awardee in the first round of 2015. Her three-month research abroad is being conducted at the Tokyo Institute of Technology through December 2015, and she is focusing on changes in membrane surfaces that may have applications in the treatment of polluted water.

The research environment in Vietnam is still beset by inadequate supplies of equipment, Thu said. The SRA award has enabled her to access the advanced equipment at Tokyo Tech and to focus on data collection and analysis. To make the most of the opportunity, she is spending from 9 am to 11 pm at the lab on weekdays. Using the findings of her research in Japan, she will concentrate on writing her dissertation next year in Vietnam.

Thu said she also enjoyed interacting with Japanese and foreign researchers at Tokyo Tech, which has given her an opportunity to broaden her cultural perspective.

After earning a doctorate, she plans to pursue her research as a postdoctoral fellow in Japan. She hopes that her research will help solve water-related issues, especially in developing countries.

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Rising India: When and How?

December 10, 2015
By null

Joyashree Roy, the Sylff Programme Director at Jadavpur University since 2003, is researching multidisciplinary approaches to understanding developmental and climate challenges, and is among the network of scientists who shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). She provides an Indian perspective on climate challenges.

* * *

I often hear debates about how India might rise over the course of the next two and half decades, by which time the country’s population growth will be peaking. Should India reinvent the wheel of progress or should it try to catch up? Thirty percent of human settlements in India have already followed the path of progress that has proved successful in improving individual quality of life and are on the way to adopting solutions for improving social and environmental quality. So the real question is about the remaining 70% of settlements, where people do not have adequate access to basic necessities like energy for cooking, lighting, cooling and heating, safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, shelter from natural calamities, access to good healthcare service, sufficient skills to participate in mainstream discourse, and so on.

Through hard work, knowledge, wisdom and scientific endeavour, humanity has made tremendous progress over the past centuries in its ability to take care of personal hygiene, health, and to protect the social and natural environment. India is already on that pathway. There is no reason why the Indian population in poor settlements will not rise, taking advantage of the proven knowledge embedded in advanced technology, infrastructure design, and the energy service supply. If we talk of equality and justice there can be no denial of progress for the rest of India, given that no difference exists in human aspiration levels. The faster we move to bridge the gap, the faster peace and harmony will arrive, along with a society that can wisely deliver environmental good. Urban green spaces, urban agriculture, and urban biodiversity are boosting the growth of a new service sector.

Millions must bathe and cook in villages with no private water access arrangements and no modern fuel and technology access due to supply constraints and poverty.

Millions must bathe and cook in villages with no private water access arrangements and no modern fuel and technology access due to supply constraints and poverty.

Political arguments and scientific literature focused exclusively on rather simplistic interdependencies like “poverty as a driver of environmental degradation” or “indoor air pollution and rural women’s health” have failed to achieve more than incremental changes over the past three or four decades. Besides some fuel subsidy programs, these political arguments could generate some philanthropic extensions, NGO activities with government support for improved cooking stove programs involving the public distribution system, and some solar lantern distribution systems, in addition now to some solar-based micro grid system demonstration projects. But no transformative change can yet be seen. The debate has been rejuvenated in the context of “energy poverty and climate change.” Now is the time for questioning the past experiments that have involved a confused search for unknown alternative growth paths which are sometimes questionable from the point of view of both efficiency and justice.

How can India deny what we know to be the most efficient examples of land use patterns in human settlement design, in which a strip of road provides space for multiple basic service delivery infrastructure, including water supply pipelines, transport and mobility, telecommunications, drainage and sewerage, a grid-based electric supply, T&D network, street lighting, and avenue plantation? How can we not keep options for vertical and horizontal living patterns for Indians, while the rest of the world is enjoying these options and not discarding them?

Typical drinking water access technology requires no electricity, but it can often deliver arsenic-laced water leading to health hazards for millions of people in Rural Bengal (Roy and Das , 2015).

Typical drinking water access technology requires no electricity, but it can often deliver arsenic-laced water leading to health hazards for millions of people in Rural Bengal (Roy and Das , 2015).

Today there is no mystery about how to effectively purify water for safe drinking. Nevertheless, people still die of water-borne diseases in 70% of settlements in India. Lack of an adequate power supply is the major reason for a lack of safe water. How can there be any debate about extending the grid to supply power to all settlements? Why should there be policies or actions taken in favor of not extending the grid-based electric supply over larger parts of India in the name of a dream of an alternative developmental trajectory? This dream involves solar lanterns, solar power–based domestic lighting systems and micro grids, but does not lead anywhere except back to the initial state of affairs. Such experiments may have satisfied some philanthropists and enriched solar technology research outcomes. But ultimately their main result has been to delay progress in the quality of life of those communities by two or three decades.

Today, when frustration is leading to social conflicts over lack of access to basic facilities and competition for better facilities in local communities, the first step to be adopted is the establishment of grid power connectivity. It is grossly wrong to say that Indians need three bulbs to light their houses and no more, on the assumption that their aspiration levels are low. Do Indians have to consume less as latecomers in development while food waste is a way of life in many rich communities and countries? These are questions of justice.

It is easy to see that lack of adequate infrastructure kills aspiration. Potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and other vegetables and fruits are left to rot in many villages because of a lack of cold storage facilities. Food-processing industries are not able to move to the point of produce because of lack of adequate power connections. Life therefore remains stuck at subsistence level, and the day ends with sunset. This has nothing to do with aspiration levels. Hot summer days of 40 degrees Celsius and 98% humidity take a toll on life and labor productivity. It is not that simple Indians do not want air-conditioned spaces. Nor can any ethical consideration be put forward to say that Indians should not aspire to have space cooling as they become affluent enough to afford it, on the grounds that it will mean increased global warming. These are the minimum aspirations for good living and for productive thinking.

It was proved fifty years ago how India can achieve food security using modern tools and techniques and scientific research. Today, thanks to improved irrigation facilities and advanced agricultural equipment, India produces no fewer than a dozen top-quality varieties of rice, cereals, mangos, and so on. If strategically managed, these resources would be able not only to feed India’s own population but also to feed large parts of the rest of the world. The much-bruited adverse impact on soil quality and water table levels are misrepresentations of the environmental concerns: they result from a lack of investment in environmental resources management and in managing these resources. Experiences in the field give grounds for hope, when orchards are seen replacing paddy cultivation in some of the degraded lands of Punjab, drip irrigation is replacing flooded irrigation, and vegetables and horticulture are bringing in more cash and adding diversity to dietary habits.

As a result of anticipated high power needs over the next twenty years, even coal use will not peak within the next decade. Even if the most ambitious targets are met and coal use declines dramatically by 2050, coal capacity will still be at 2012 levels. Carbon capture and storage technology will need serious consideration if the capacity needs to be decarbonised at that time. Solar and wind power are increasing and together are expected to account for almost 40% of total electricity generation capacity in 25 years’ time. But it will be difficult to close the door on other non-carbon power sources like nuclear and hydro once the total generation capacity reaches levels six times higher than at present. These growth rates are merely those required for providing universal access to a decent life and are far removed from a lifestyle that would change dietary habits, currently based on locally grown agricultural produce and low per capita meat consumption (approximately 5 kg per capita a year, compared to 120 kg in the United States and 80 kg in Germany).

India’s energy-intensive industries are almost on a par with the best technologies globally. Technological advancement promises to deliver efficiency and justice simultaneously. Energy-efficient home appliances can deliver the same service level for millions more with the same energy supply, and perhaps without increasing total energy use. All the air conditioners in India today can be given a five-star rating. So there is no reason why India should not succeed in bringing its masses through the mainstream developmental pathway. The work of delivering universal human wellbeing (better shelter, better workplaces, a healthier environment, and so on) should not only be maintained but pursued with all vigour. It is now or never.

India cannot afford to miss out on the demographic dividend. The youth of the country needs to innovate the path toward their future wellbeing using modern science. If humanity is to live in peace and harmony—the two best indicators of human wellbeing—let’s not delay India’s progress in the name of experimenting with romantic ideas of alternative development models or “degrowth.”

Let us remind ourselves of what India has achieved so far, even after following global developmental trends. India’s total electricity generation equals that of Russia today and is at the same level as China in 1994. Less than 10% of urban households own a car; car-sharing is a lifestyle in India, 42% still use a bicycle, motorized two-wheelers are used by 35% of urban households, per capita CO2 emissions are less than 2 metric tons, compared to 17 MT in the United States, 7 MT in the EU, and 6.7 MT in China. Industries have begun to adopt cleaner production to maintain global competitiveness. Whereas the industrial output growth rate in the 1970s was roughly equal to the energy demand growth rate, in the current decade technology growth has decoupled activity growth and energy demand growth to such an extent that a five-fold increase in energy growth can now produce twenty-fold activity growth thanks to energy-saving technology.

From an Indian perspective, growth now, with the adoption of increasingly advanced technology, means progress and justice for the masses. The search for alternative development models should and will continue, given human curiosity and imagination. But experimenting with India would be equivalent to “development delayed is development denied.” How can we ask the poor of India not to aspire for better food, better hygiene, and better health? Who has given the privileged few the right to deny them these options?

Joyashree Roy is an ICSSR National Fellow, Professor of Economics, Coordinator, Global Change Programme, JU-Sylff Programme Director, Jadavpur University. This text was originally written for the German magazine welt-sichten, and was published in German in the September issue.

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The Socioeconomic Dimension of Irrawaddy Dolphin Conservation

November 9, 2015
By 19660

Sierra Deutsch, a Sylff fellow at the University of Oregon, went to Myanmar and Cambodia to assess the two countries’ different approaches to natural resource management. In this article, she describes the preliminary findings of her research and argues that the experiences of local people affected by natural resource policies are important and may have implications for the success of those policies.

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The Mekong

The Mekong

As concern has grown over the alarming acceleration of environmental problems since the emergence of the industrial era, the science of natural resource management has evolved in an effort to confront such issues. In recent years, conservation efforts have shifted from a focus on individual species to an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach. With this change, the concept of the “human dimensions” of resource management—which emphasizes the diverse forms of knowledge and beliefs of stakeholders and their incorporation in conservation policy1—has come to the fore2,3. It is now widely recognized that natural resource management is really about the management of natural resource users 1,3,4. Taking it a step further, recent research has pointed to the importance of socioeconomic analyses in conservation research strategies 5,6.

Historically, the question “Is this conservation project working?” has often been answered without considering the perceptions and experiences of the people whose livelihoods are most directly affected by conservation policies 7,8. While biological indicators are obviously an important part of conservation work, understanding how conservation programs are perceived and experienced by the local communities most affected by them is also vital—both for the sake of the communities themselves and because support from those communities may have important implications for the long-term success of conservation efforts.

Cambodia critical dolphin habitat and research sites

Cambodia critical dolphin habitat and research sites

The Status of the Irrawaddy Dolphin

The Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) inhabits rivers throughout Southeast Asia and coastal waters in the Indian and Pacific Oceans from the Bay of Bengal to the Philippines 9. The species is listed as “threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with five sub-populations listed as “critically endangered.” Since the dolphins are not hunted directly for consumption, they are considered a “nonconsumptive” resource.

The main threats to their survival are upstream industrial pollution, accidental catches by gillnet fishing, and mortalities resulting from electro-fishing 9,10,11,12.

Myanmar: Critical dolphin habitat and research sites

Myanmar: Critical dolphin habitat and research sites

Conservation measures that seek to aid in the recovery of Irrawaddy dolphin populations must therefore address the socioeconomic factors that indirectly affect their survival, making Irrawaddy dolphin conservation projects an ideal focus for a study on the socioeconomic dimension of conservation initiatives.

Conservation measures for the Irrawaddy dolphin vary by country. They include attempts to mitigate habitat degradation, restrictions on the fishing practices and gear that endanger the dolphins, educational outreach, poverty alleviation through development, encouragement of tourism, and formation of fisher cooperatives 9,10,12. Each country has had varying success in conservation of the Irrawaddy dolphin and, because of its widespread distribution in multiple countries, the Irrawaddy dolphin is also an ideal subject for a cross-country comparison of conservation projects.

Diversification vs. Preservation: Two Contrasting Approaches

Fisherman on the Ayeyarwady River (Myanmar)

Fisherman on the Ayeyarwady River (Myanmar)

Cambodia’s approach seeks to preserve the status quo of privatized resources and focuses more on the diversification of livelihoods and the economic development of rural communities 13. Meanwhile, Myanmar has focused more on the preservation of livelihoods in rural communities 14. Cambodia’s approach seems to be failing and the imminent extinction of its dolphin population has been predicted 15, while Myanmar’s approach seems relatively successful 14. Yet the perceptions and experiences of these policies by the people that are most directly affected, while taken into consideration during planning and implementation 4,14, seem to have been largely ignored once the policies have been implemented.

Bringing Local People into the Discussion

Fisherman on the Mekong (Cambodia)

Fisherman on the Mekong (Cambodia)

I used questionnaires to gather data for the hypotheses I have about different perceptions of conservation among the participants. But I also wanted to make sure that participants were given an opportunity to highlight what was important to them. Too many well-intentioned Western researchers go to “developing”countries and make assumptions about the needs and desires of their participants without bothering to ask the local people in those countries what they think. Of course, I had to set out with at least a few questions and expectations in mind—if only because it is virtually impossible to get funding without them! But I purposely chose to carry out personal interviews and focus-group discussions—in addition to questionnaires and participant observation—to allow participants to tell me what was important to them and what they wanted foreign researchers to help with in the future.

Preliminary Findings

At the conclusion of my fieldwork, I had a total of 128 individual interviews, 275 completed questionnaires, and 25 focus-group discussions. These came from 8 riverside villages in Myanmar and another 8 in Cambodia (16 villages in total). The data are still in the preliminary stages of analysis: All of the audio recordings still need to be transcribed in Burmese and Khmer and then translated. (I felt this was a more accurate way of assessing the data, since the interpreters I used on-site may have left out some of what was said, assuming it wasn’t important enough to repeat). However, I have already seen several themes emerge and hope to confirm them once I have the full translations.

One of the research villages Myanmar

One of the research villages Myanmar

First, virtually all participants seem to think fondly of the Irrawaddy dolphin and expressed a desire to continue to protect it. Second, many participants in both countries seemed to express frustration with ongoing corruption—law enforcement often takes monetary bribes in exchange for “looking the other way” when illegal fishing gear (which unintentionally harms dolphins as well) is used in the river. Many of those participants seemed concerned for the future of the river and its ability to supply the fish that is their primary source of protein. Third, while participants in both countries seem to feel that conditions in their communities have improved over the last 10 years, I was surprised by the differences in how participants expressed that improvement.

Many of the people in Cambodia—where they have experienced a shift toward capitalism since the early 1980s—tended to emphasize the presence and role of money in their lives, often discussing improvements in terms of people having bigger houses, owning motorbikes or cars, and having more money in general (basically, the standard symbols of Western “wealth”). In contrast, participants in Myanmar—where they have just recently begun to experience a shift toward capitalism since 2010—seemed to place more emphasis on community enrichment, frequently discussing improvements in terms of things like better schools, improved medical treatment, and the construction of flood walls. While these are only preliminary findings that need to be confirmed, they are also just a few of the themes immediately obvious from the data. I am confident that many exciting and important findings remain to be made.

Encouraging the Involvement of Underrepresented Groups

Traveling has always been one of my great loves. As I spent more time traveling, particularly in developing countries, I gradually became aware of a desire to address the social and environmental problems that seemed to be everywhere. I had the opportunity to meet many people along the way from diverse geopolitical regions, cultures, ethnicities, religions, genders, and ages who were contributing to solutions for these social and environmental problems.

Around the same time, I began to become aware of my undeserved privilege as a middle-class, white North American to access resources—such as education and the ability to travel abroad—that are not available to the vast majority of the world’s population. Because of this awareness and because of these interactions with the people who inspired me, I decided that even though I enjoyed studying whales and dolphins immensely, I felt a deep responsibility to use the resources available to me to contribute to the peace and well-being of humankind and the planet.

It is my hope that the results of this study will encourage more involvement of underrepresented groups in assessing the effectiveness of environmental and other policies on a local, regional, national, and global scale. I believe that acknowledging the diverse ways in which people experience and perceive conservation initiatives is especially important where conservation policy appears to be failing. The addition of alternative worldviews to a collective analysis may ultimately lead to more effective approaches to, and better solutions for, the environmental problems that affect us all.

Literature Cited

1 Decker, Daniel J, Riley, Shawn J and Siemer, William F (2012) Human dimensions of wildlife management, JHU Press.

2 Berkes, Fikret (2012) ‘Implementing ecosystem-based management: evolution or revolution?’ Fish and Fisheries, 13(4), pp. 465–476.

3 McLeod, Karen and Leslie, Heather (2009) ‘Why ecosystem-based management’, in McLeod, K. L. and Leslie, H. M. (eds.), Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans, Washington, D.C., Island Press.

4 Beasley, Isabel (2007) ‘Conservation of the Irrawaddy dolphin, Orcaella brevirostiris (Owen in Gray, 1866) in the Mekong River: biological and social considerations influencing management.’

5 Clausen, Rebecca and York, Richard (2008) ‘Global biodiversity decline of marine and freshwater fish: a cross-national analysis of economic, demographic, and ecological influences.’ Social Science Research, 37(4), pp. 1310–1320.

6 Clausen, Rebecca and Clark, Brett (2005) ‘The metabolic rift and marine ecology: an analysis of the ocean crisis within capitalist production.’ Organization & Environment, 18(4), pp. 422–444.

7 Kellert, Stephen R, Mehta, Jai N, Ebbin, Syma A and Lichtenfeld, Laly L (2000) ‘Community natural resource management: promise, rhetoric, and reality.’ Society & Natural Resources, 13(8), pp. 705–715.

8 Moore, Kathleen Dean and Russell, Roly (2009) ‘Toward a new ethic for the oceans’, in McLeod, K. and Leslie, H. (eds.), Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans, Island Press, pp. 325–340.

9 Baird, Ian G and Beasley, Isabel L (2005) ‘Irrawaddy dolphin Orcaella brevirostris in the Cambodian Mekong River: an initial survey.’ Oryx, 39(3), pp. 301–310.

10 Smith, Brian D and Hobbs, Larry (2002) ‘Status of Irrawaddy dolphins Orcaella brevirostris in the upper reaches of the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar.’ Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 50, pp. 67–74.

11 Stacey, Pam J and Leatherwood, Stephen (1997) ‘The Irrawaddy dolphin, Orcaella brevirostris: a summary of current knowledge and recommendations for conservation action.’ Asian Marine Biology, 14, pp. 195–214.

12 Smith, Brian D, Tun, Mya Than, Chit, Aung Myo, Win, Han and Moe, Thida (2009) ‘Catch composition and conservation management of a human–dolphin cooperative cast-net fishery in the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar.’ Biological Conservation, 142(5), pp. 1042–1049.

13 Beasley, Isabel, Marsh, Helene, Jefferson, Thomas A and Arnold, Peter (2009) ‘Conserving dolphins in the Mekong River: the complex challenge of competing interests’, in The Mekong: Biophysical environment of an international river basin, Sydney, Australia, Elsevier Press, pp. 363–387.

14 Smith, Brian D and Tun, Mya Than (2007) ‘Status and conservation of Irrawaddy dolphins Orcaella brevirostris in the Ayeyarwady River of Myanmar’, in Smith, B. D., Shore, R. G., and Lopez, A. (eds.), Status and Conservation of Freshwater Populations of Irrawaddy Dolphins, WCS Working Paper Series No. 31., New York, Wildlife Conservation Society, pp. 21–40.

15 Beasley, Isabel, Pollock, K, Jefferson, T A, Arnold, P, et al. (2012) ‘Likely future extirpation of another Asian river dolphin: The critically endangered population of the Irrawaddy dolphin in the Mekong River is small and declining.’ Marine Mammal Science.

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Response of Indian Industries to Global Environmental Sustainability

April 6, 2014
By 19659

How does the response of one industrial sector affect other sectors of an economy? To gain insights into this question, Shyamasree Dasgupta, a Sylff fellow at Jadavpur University in India, has been analyzing the response over the past four decades of India’s industry to the country’s climate change action plan. In this article, she reports on her research conducted in the United States with an SRA grant has broadened her perspective.

* * *

As a student of social science I always wondered how the response of an individual decision maker shapes up in conjunction with the responses of the bigger community to which the decision maker belongs. It became more interesting to me as I initiated my doctoral research to explore the responses of Indian industries to climate change mitigation goals.

As reduction of carbon emissions is a “global goal,” the most aggregated pledges are taken at the international level (such as the Kyoto Protocol, Copenhagen Accord). Specific climate change mitigation policies are, however, mostly formulated and implemented by the national government or a set of national governments in line with such global pledges. Finally, different economic sectors take their decisions with regard to the pattern of their operations to curb energy use and emissions in line with the pledge and policies.

The response of a particular economic sector (such as the industrial sector) is not a stand-alone phenomenon. The responses are triggered by the actions of other sectors of the economy and at the same time have an impact on the rest of the economy. In fact, the aggregate impact of the decisions taken by one economic sector depends on its relation with the rest of the economy. For example, if an industry substitutes coal by electricity as an energy input, then emissions from that particular industry will come down, but from a macro perspective, aggregate emissions will be reduced only when electricity is produced with a fuel that is less carbon intensive than coal.

My doctoral research seeks to understand how Indian industries have responded during the past four decades under various domestic policy domains, with a special emphasis on the country’s recent climate change mitigation policies. Having estimated such response parameters (for example, price elasticity of energy demand—the change in industrial energy demand when energy price changes), I wanted to explore how the same industrial sector can be expected to behave in a future time horizon while interacting with other sectors in the global economy if some global emission reduction pledge becomes binding.

I got the opportunity to explore this issue with my SRA award along with mentoring and support from my home institute, Jadavpur University in India, and my SRA host institute, the Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI, a collaborative institute of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland in the United States).

An Integrated Assessment Model for India

The author working on the Global Change Assessment Model at JGCRI

The author working on the Global Change Assessment Model at JGCRI

JGCRI has developed the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM), an integrated assessment model representing the world economy that explores the links between energy, land use, water resource sectors, and a climate model. It incorporates both energy producing (such as electric power) and energy consuming sectors (such as industry). It creates a market where all the sectors are recursively solved for price and quantity, and the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted are estimated. The model could be used to explore responses of these sectors to several climate change mitigation pledges and policies.

GCAM divides the world into 14 regions, and India is one of them. The existing model employed the aggregated data for the Indian industry sector. Hence the responses towards any mitigation policy—can be so far analyzed only for the aggregate industry sector for India. My aim was to further develop the model with disaggregated industrial sectors for India, breaking up the industry sector into subsectors such as iron and steel, chemicals, and cement, along with a residual subsector named “other industries.” This would enable the user to analyze responses not only at the aggregate level but also for different subsectors in the context of Indian industry. The challenge was to break up the aggregate industry sector in an appropriate manner supported by authentic data so that the model would offer plausible solutions for years up to 2100 for all sectors and regions.

Being new to integrated assessment models, this was a true learning experience for me requiring several trials with different adjustments to obtain valid results! It was a stimulating experience solving the unforeseen errors cropping up during each trial run until I succeeded. I was greatly supported by my mentors and other colleagues at JGCRI in the process. In the course of my research, I came across fellow visiting scholars who were working on or had worked on several other sectors in other countries, including China and Brazil.

The research was greatly supported by the mentors and other colleagues at JGCRI

The research was greatly supported by the mentors and other colleagues at JGCRI

The model also used average values regarding how demand changes in response to changes in price in different industrial sectors. I substituted the average values for those specific to India that I had estimated prior to my SRA. Data were derived from the “Energy Statistics” and “Annual Survey of Industries,” published by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India. The scenario demands a sharp decline in emissions from nonenergy-intensive industries, the phasing out of coal, and a significant increase in the use of clean electricity in industrial production. The use of biofuel emerged as one of the most effective medium-term solutions for Indian industries to meet the mitigation target.

Case Study in Climate Mitigation

Another objective of my SRA was to visit an energy-intensive industrial unit in the United States in order to compare its production and mitigation practices with its Indian counterparts. I was put in touch with the US Department of Energy through my mentor at the home institution, enabling me to visit such a facility. Things shaped up well, and I got a chance to accompany members of the American Forest and Paper Association on a visit to a pulp and paper company in Virginia. The day-long visit to the paper mill and discussions with the managers provided insights into their production processes and mitigation practices.

Visiting a paper mill with the members of the American Forest and Paper Association

Visiting a paper mill with the members of the American Forest and Paper Association

The mill was established in 1914 and has gone through changes in ownership and technology. It mainly produces corrugated paper from both raw wood and recycled paper. The pattern of energy utilization became a major issue of concern, as a result of which the mill became more energy efficient with greater emphasis on recycling and enhanced use of renewable energy. Over 80% of the electricity used by the mill is generated internally using multiple fuels, including black liquor, wood waste, and sludge. According to the company, it was the rise in fuel prices, rather than any particular energy or climate policy at the federal or state level, that drove it to reduce its dependence on purchased energy.

The SRA experience was extremely enriching for me. It not only helped me to augment my doctoral dissertation, which I am aiming to finalize in the coming few months, but at the same time provided me with an opportunity to work in the multidisciplinary and multiethnic environment of my globally renowned host institution.

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A Friendly Midsummer Get-Together in Tokyo

July 29, 2013
By null

All participants of the Sylff Fellows Gathering

All participants of the Sylff Fellows Gathering

Around 20 Sylff fellows and steering committee members attended the first Sylff Fellows Gathering, a relaxed and informative midsummer evening get-together held on Wednesday, July 10, at the Tokyo Foundation.

The gathering was organized to update fellows and SSC members of recently launched Sylff support programs and to give an overview of the Tokyo Foundation, including its policy research activities, as well as to provide opportunities for visitors to ask questions, offer comments, share their own news, and, of course, to get to know one another better.

 Masahiro Akiyama

Masahiro Akiyama

The first half of the get-together featured presentations by the Foundation and two Sylff fellows: Jonathan Shalfi, a master’s degree student at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, UC San Diego; and Takehiro Kurosaki, who received a doctorate in anthropology from Waseda University and is now the deputy director of the Pacific Islands Center.

Special guests included Dr. Vladimir Bumbasirevic and Dr. Ivanka Popovic, the rector and vice-rector of the University of Belgrade—Serbia’s largest and oldest university—and Professor Edgar Porter, a member of the Sylff steering committee at the Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Japan.

Welcoming remarks were made by Tokyo Foundation President Masahiro Akiyama, who expressed his hope that the gathering would be the first of many more productive forums for the exchange of ideas, and by Tatsuya Tanami, Executive Director of the Nippon Foundation, the donor of the Sylff endowments.

Tatsuya Tanami

Tatsuya Tanami

Tanami recalled that Sylff was the brainchild of the late Ryoichi Sasakawa, who, toward the last stages of his life, realized his dream of establishing a fellowship program that would produce leaders to bring positive social change in countries around the world.

The initiative has been highly successful, Tanami noted, providing opportunities for research and social engagement for around 15,000 graduate-level students in 44 countries. He added that Sylff is one of largest of around 25 human resources development programs involving the Nippon Foundation which may total more than 30,000 people, and expressed his hope that these people could one day be integrated into a single network to facilitate communication and understanding.

One of Japan’s Leading Think Tanks

Tokyo Foundation Director for Public Communications Akiko Imai then gave an overview of the Foundation’s activities, emphasizing the unique combination of policy research and the nurturing of change-makers that makes the foundation one of Japan’s leading think tanks.

Akiko Imai

Akiko Imai

“We’re financially independent of any political or commercial interests, and this allows us to set our own goals,” she noted. “Our central location makes it easy for members of the National Diet and senior government officials to join us for both small-group workshops and public forums.”

Policy research at the foundation covers a broad range of areas, ranging from foreign, security, and trade policy and energy resources to health and nursing care, tax reform, and corporate social responsibility. “These are all interrelated,” Imai said. “Healthcare issues, for example, are closely linked to tax and social security, and could be significantly affected by the Trans-Pacific Partnership. So our research fellows work closely together in a cross-disciplinary way to ensure that our policy proposals are relevant from a cross-issue perspective, and we actively communicate those proposals through our network of leading policymakers, journalists, and scholars, and global think tanks.”

Cultivating Leaders of Tomorrow

Takashi Suzuki

Takashi Suzuki

A summary of the Sylff program and updates on additional support available for fellows from the Tokyo Foundation were provided by Director for Leadership Development Takashi Suzuki.

Sylff is one of four major leadership developments programs in which the Tokyo Foundation is engaged. The aims of Sylff, he said, are to cultivate leaders of tomorrow who will contribute to the common good of humankind while transcending national, ethnic, and other boundaries and respecting the diversity of cultures and values; and to support the education of outstanding students pursuing graduate-level study in the social sciences and humanities.

Suzuki introduced two fellows who have gone on to become outstanding leaders in their respective communities following graduation: Dejan Šoškić, a graduate of the University of Belgrade who was appointed governor of the National Bank of Serbia in July 2010; and Loukas Spanos, a Sylff fellow at the University of Athens who has played a key role in the reconstruction of the Greek economy as the director of the Minister's Office at the Greek Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

Noting that one of the Tokyo Foundation’s main tasks regarding the Sylff program is to support the activities of fellowship recipients, Suzuki provided an outline of Sylff Research Abroad (SRA), which supports fellows’ research in a foreign country for their doctoral dissertations, and Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI), aimed at encouraging Sylff fellows to address important issues through social action initiatives or workshops to bring about positive change. “In addition,” Suzuki said, “we’re planning to launch global forums for Sylff fellows on an annual basis starting from fiscal 2015.”

Integrating Renewable Energy into the Grid

Jonathan Shalfi

Jonathan Shalfi

Two fellows then made brief presentations on their recent activities. The first was Jonathan Shalfi, a master’s degree student at IR/PS at US San Diego, who is conducting research this summer at the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, on the challenges of integrating renewable energy into the electric grid.

“It’s one thing to place electric panels on rooftops and another to actually integrate solar-generated power into the grid,” Shalfi emphasized. “This is what I’m studying. There’s no question renewable energy is becoming a more important part of the energy mix, but the issue of integrating it into the grid hasn’t been studied much yet.”

He noted that Japan faces one of the toughest integration challenges, since there are 10 largely independent, investor-owned electric utilities in the country with very little transmission capacity between them. “Transmission presents great difficulties. Hokkaido has the most wind potential, for instance, but it’s isolated from the big population centers. The situation for solar is quite similar, with most of the potential being located in rural areas. Another challenge is stability, since there must be a way to meet power deficits when the sun suddenly goes away or the wind dies down.”

Looking at Japan, where the production of renewable energy has risen sharply with the introduction of the feed-in-tariff system during the administration of the Democratic Party of Japan, is very important as a test case, Shalfi added, for there are many lessons to be learned by other countries.

Close Ties with Pacific Island Countries

Takehiro Kurosaki

Takehiro Kurosaki

The second fellow to make a presentation was Takehiro Kurosaki, deputy director of the Pacific Islands Center who was a fellowship recipient in 2007 while studying cultural anthropology at Waseda University.

He recalled that the fellowship enabled him to conduct fieldwork in the Marshall Islands and neighboring countries, interviewing high-level bureaucrats, business leaders, and politicians—including the president—about the cultures and political systems of the region.

The fellowship, Kurosaki said, opened doors to his subsequent academic and professional career and to his current position at the PIC, an international organization established in October 1996 by the Japanese government and the Pacific Islands Forum—a consortium of 16 independent Pacific countries, including Australia and New Zealand—to promote the sustainable economic development of the Pacific region, encourage trade and investment from Japan, and bolster tourism.

“Japan has very close historical ties to these countries,” Kurosaki noted. “The president of Micronesia, Emanuel Mori, is the great-grandson of a Japanese samurai from Kochi Prefecture who married the daughter of a traditional chieftain. The Moris are a large clan numbering around 4,000 people in Micronesia, and they have a big impact on the country’s economy and politics.”

Diplomatically, the Pacific islands are important supporters of Japan in international forums like the United Nations, and Japan depends on the region economically for around 80% of its imports of tuna and bonito and as a sea lane for the transport of mineral and energy resources. Japan will also be a major market for the liquefied natural gas produced in Papua New Guinea beginning early next year.

“Japan is one of the top donors of development assistance to the region,” said Kurosaki. “The support has been used to build these young countries’ socioeconomic infrastructure and address challenges posed by global warming and natural disasters, such as typhoons, tsunamis, and drought.”

PIC also organizes exhibitions and stage shows in Tokyo to enhance the visibility of the Pacific countries in cooperation with the Japanese government and the Pacific Islands Forum. “The Pacific countries regard Japan as a friendly and important partner, while Japan attaches great value to them in the global community. I think we need to expand our ties, not just among governments but also in the private and nongovernment sectors.”

Following the presentations, participating Sylff fellows and administrators had an opportunity to talk with Tokyo Foundation program officers and research fellows as well as with one another at the reception, sharing ideas and deepening friendships over food and drinks.

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Nuclear Environmental Justice in Arizona and Beyond (2)

June 11, 2012
By 19636

Linda Richards, a historian of science and a Sylff fellow at Oregon State University, has been informing the public about the issue of nuclear “environmental justice” in the Navajo Nation—once the source of a quarter of the supply of uranium in the United States—for over 25 years. In April 2011 she organized a Sylff-funded workshop to address the issue of uranium mining contamination in the land of the Diné—the Navajo people in their own language (see part 1 of this article)—in Arizona. Workshops were also held in October 2011 at three Oregon campuses under the Oregon Sylff Consortia—University of Oregon, Oregon State University, and Southern Oregon University. The following notes depict the highlights of the discussion in Oregon:

 

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It is estimated that 80% of the nuclear fuel chain (the mining, milling, production, testing, and storage of nuclear materials for weapons and energy) occurs on or near remaining indigenous communities worldwide. Just one example of the consequences of this disproportionate exposure is unveiled in the history of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.

Panelists at a Sylff-sponsored workshop in Oregon on uranium mining contamination on the Navajo Nation.

Panelists at a Sylff-sponsored workshop in Oregon on uranium mining contamination on the Navajo Nation.

However, the Sylff workshops in Oregon shared the experiences of the Navajo as not only a declension tale but also as a story of empowerment that explained the efforts of the panelists (Jeff Spitz, filmmaker of The Return of Navajo Boy, http://navajoboy.com/; Elsie Mae Begay, Navajo advocate and grandmother; Perry H. Charley, Navajo scientist/educator and cultural specialist; and Oliver Tapaha, Navajo educator) to inform the public and spark an environmental cleanup on the Navajo Nation.

The audience at all three campuses were especially interested in Navajo culture, current cleanup efforts, and a recent court ruling that will allow further uranium mining in an area immediately adjacent to Navajo lands, but outside its jurisdiction, that could contaminate already scarce drinking water supplies.

Charley, a Navajo elder who co-founded Diné College’s Dine Environmental Institute and the Uranium Education Project, discussed traditional Navajo relationships with the earth and their ties to Mother Earth. These ties begin before birth and are consummated shortly after birth by the burial of their umbilical cord in the earth. The earth is not viewed as a resource to use but as a sacred gift to protect for future generations. These relationships are not discussed or considered in federal risk assessment strategies. From 2002 to 2008, Charley served on the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Improving Practices for Regulating and Managing Low-Activity Radioactive Wastes to help develop safer regulations for mining waste.

The report—which took years to draft—concluded that radiation management, handling practices, transportation, disposal, long term monitoring and safety was a patchwork of inconsistent federal, state and tribal regulations, but this never made headlines. Charley’s work, though, became part of grassroots initiatives—such as decades of effort by local organizations, the film The Return of Navajo Boy, and a 2006 in-depth report by journalist Judy Pasternak in the Los Angeles Times called “The Peril That Dwelt among the Navajos”—that eventually caused Congressional hearings to be held in 2007.

The hearings inquired why so little had been done by the responsible party—the US government, the sole purchaser of the uranium from the 1940s until the 1970s—to remedy the pollution facing the Navajo. A five-year, multiagency cleanup plan was consequently begun in 2008, but it continues to be underfunded, and the residual radioactive contamination has not been moved off the Navajo Nation but remains indiscriminately scattered throughout it.

Updates on the cleanup, which has so far removed 34 of the literally hundreds of residential structures and only 14 cubic yards, out of millions of cubic yards of radioactive waste associated with mining and milling, can be found at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, “Addressing Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation.”

Repeated requests for a comprehensive epidemiological study for the Navajo Nation have continued to be ignored, however, and the mining companies see an opportunity to come back and start mining again, even though there is a Uranium Mining Ban. The Diné College Uranium Education Program initially started the process that after many years became the essence of the Navajo Nation’s 2005 Diné Natural Resources Protection Act.

The act banned mining and processing sites on the Navajo Nation until all the contamination is removed. However, the President of the Navajo Nation recently took a special trip to Paris to look at the French nuclear and radiation safety program. The moratorium on mining may be in reality, only symbolic, subject to the whim of the leaders.

In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has awarded four in-situ uranium mining licenses to mine on what is considered by many to be Navajo land despite the ban. All federal legal avenues to stop the threatened mining have been exhausted, but the dissenting judge in the final Court ruling of March 8, 2010, said that the NRC had allowed its own limits on radioactivity for drinking water to be exceeded.

A local group, the Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining, with the help of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in May of 2011 arguing that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to grant Hydro Resources Inc. a license to mine uranium ore near Church Rock and Crown Point, New Mexico, is a violation of national and international laws, including the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People that President Barack Obama has committed the country to uphold.

The new mines, first permitted by NRC in 1999 but contested in court since then, could contaminate drinking water for 15,000 Navajo residents in and around two communities that lie just outside the Navajo Nation boundaries drawn by the federal government but are considered by members of the tribe to be part of their homeland.

”By its acts and omissions that have contaminated and will continue to contaminate natural resources in the Diné communities of Crownpoint and Church Rock,” the petition reads, “the State has violated Petitioners’ human rights and breached its obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.”

Uranium is not the only environmental health threat to the Navajo, moreover. There are rich reserves of coal, and two of the most polluting power plants in America are on the Navajo Nation. Some days the air in the Four Corners area is yellow, and the incidence of upper respiratory disease and certain kinds of cancer is present, along with the threat of high levels of mercury from the pollution. However Navajo tribal administrators approved a new super coal fired plant to also be built.

Charley, after spending all of his professional life addressing and researching the sad legacy of uranium mining, currently suffers from a form of laryngeal cancer. Despite his illness, he continues to inform and educate others. While the problems facing the Navajo are complex, the Sylff forums also raised awareness of indigenous rights on the whole, particularly in Ashland, where the program was a part of the SOU United Nations Club celebration of the 2007 Declaration of Indigenous Rights. There, after the film and question-and-answer session, Whistling Elk Drum, a local drum group of the Red Earth Descendants, performed several sacred traditional songs.

After the performance, the 2007 UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights was read in its entirety by Grandmother Agnes Baker-Pilgrim of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers (see http://www.grandmotherscouncil.org/), Jane Ayers, and Daniel Wahpepah.

The Declaration is the result of a 20-year process of negotiation and advocacy for its inclusion into the United Nation’s legal structure. Jane Ayers is a national journalist and leader who was a participant in the early discussions of the document 20 years earlier, and Daniel Wahpepah is a local leader and founder of Red Earth Descendants and the 501 C3 Natives of One Wind Indigenous Alliance. Wahpepah’s late uncle Bill Wahpepah was a national leader in the American Indian Movement who worked to protect the rights of all Native Americans.

The moving reading was followed by a panel on indigenous rights facilitated by Richards and including Pilgrim, Wahpepah, Charley, Elsie Mae Begay (who was the lead character in The Return of Navajo Boy), and Oliver Tapaha, (Diné, PhD in education). Tapaha discussed his hope to increase knowledge of the issues and his efforts to discuss and share the issues with his students on the Navajo Nation. The group shared their individual perspectives reflecting on the many issues facing indigenous and subsistence cultures worldwide, especially due to climate change. The panel reflected on how cultural, physical, and spiritual rights are strongly articulated in the document but are not guaranteed, nor made enforceable, without the help and will of civil society around the world.

The forums provided an intergenerational, interdisciplinary, and multicultural opportunity for discourse. The University of Oregon forum included many students from environmental studies courses, and at OSU nuclear scientists and engineers were in attendance. At all three venues, the audiences provided feedback in surveys that showed listening to the filmmaker, the elders, and Navajo people had impressed upon them the value of listening to other cultural perspectives, speaking out in the face of injustice, and preserving the environment.