At Bard College’s conference on Water, Forests, and Communities in Asia, we welcomed speakers from three Asian countries. Over the span of three days, from January 31 to February 2, each of them presented topics to the audience on an interesting and wide array of topics.
Dr T.J Lah from Yonsei University in Korea talked about environmental views in his country. We learned that while the country is openly committed to developing a “green economy,” the emphasis to date has so far been more about economy and a little less about being green. This was evident in the story he told about the Four Major Rivers Project. The idea came from President Lee, formerly the CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction Ltd., and nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for his reputation of pushing projects through. The project reached completion in October of 2011. It consisted of large scale engineering of four major rivers in Korea, allegedly for flood control. However, it was clear that the project was too ambitious, and that the backers of the project ought to have listened to citizens’ protests. Though it was completed relatively recently, there are already problems with the foundations of the structures. The weirs that were installed for flood control are showing signs of stress, and the massive dredging has been linked to bridge collapse.
Dr Machiko Nishino from Biwako Seikei Sport College in Japan, contributed her knowledge and experience in lake management. She played a major part in management activities at Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake. Much of the focus rested on the restoration of fish populations. The relationship the fish and the rice paddies around the lake was most interesting. They evolved alongside each other during Japan’s long history. In the 20th century the people around the lake upgraded the paddies, to the exclusion of the fish. Once the lake managers realized that this led to a decline in fish populations, they began to create “fishways” for the fish to get into their preferred spawning areas. Unfortunately this is a slow and expensive process, but has met with success where it is implemented.
Two Chinese speakers informed us about two very different topics. Dr Hu Tao, an executive at the World Resources Institute, gave a presentation on air quality in China. He suggested that China is going through a phase similar to what the U.S. and Europe went through in the 1960s and 1970s. Air is an immediate, visible problem, which may serve as an impetus for stricter and more effective pollution controls in China. Pollution control measures have had mixed results throughout China, and with good reason, since it is still undergoing immense industrialization and economic development.
Dr Hu did tell give us a positive example of one measure that worked in Urumqi. Urumqi is in the far west of China, but has suffered from severe smog. They put in place economic incentives to encourage the use of a cleaner burning fuel, and so far it has worked.
The second speaker, Scholar Minhua Chen of Nanchang University, gave us an entertaining and informative presentation on Poyang Lake in Jianxi Province. Anyone who had read about the lake previously would have thought that, while it had once been the largest freshwater lake in China, its size had been greatly diminished due to infrastructure along the majority of its tributaries. However, the water body is more of a lagoon, and its volume naturally fluctuates significantly throughout the year. As the water goes out, the fish migrate out, and vice versa. Minhua Chen asserted that there were more birds and fish in the lake than ever before, and that the water is clean enough to drink.
In between presentations at the conference, there were also panel discussions on environmental management, including one from the Bard CEP graduate students on lakes. It was encouraging to have representatives from Korea, Japan, and China talk together about environmental issues.
By the end of the conference, audience members came away with a good understanding of a number of things, including:
- Asian governance structures and politics;
- methods of effective environmental management – particularly with lakes; and
- the extent to which environmental issues are global.
It is increasingly important to collaborate across borders through both dialogue and research. Learning another person’s stories, or hearing questions from someone in a different field, is beneficial in widening our perspective. From hearing the stories about Korea, Japan, and China, we all learned something new about how environmental agendas can be set and implemented, and also learned how alike the challenges are in addressing environmental problems.
Written by Alicia Caruso, MS Environmental Policy ’14.
Alicia is a student in Environmental Policy at Bard College. You can learn more about her background from her LinkedIn Site. She studied Environmental Chemistry and Chinese at Binghamton University. Her interests include travel, languages, and sustainability initiatives.