In this course, we will examine how political actions and decisions affect the natural environment, and vice versa. Issues to be addressed include the environmental impacts of different kinds of societies (developed vs. less-developed, capitalist vs. socialist, authoritarian vs. democratic), the roots of conflict in environmental degradation and resource distribution, the socio-economic causes and consequences of global climate change, the collective human impact on ecosystems and other species, the relationship between the domination of nature and the domination of people, and the requirements of environmental justice.
Field WorkCountry: Vietnam
Day: 6 - Ho Chi Minh City - 19 February
Like many developing countries, Viet Nam is experiencing conflicts between economic development and environmental protection. One such conflict concerns wetlands: should they be legally protected, in recognition of the ecosystem services that they provide, or should they be opened up to commercial activity? In the company of a researcher from the College of Environmental Science, we will travel by motorcoach to an eco-tourist venue, the Can Gio Biosphere. Counted among Viet Nam’s most diverse natural habitats, the Biosphere is under threat from the country’s lucrative shrimp farming industry. Current methods of shrimp farming compete with agricultural and other uses of the watershed, and impose substantial externalities on other parties. After lunch we will visit a working shrimp farm and assess the degree to which this form of aquaculture represents a beneficial and sustainable use of the wetland ecosystem. A 3 to 4 page essay describing and evaluating your experience in light of what you have learned in the course is due at the beginning of class on day A13. This report will be worth 10% of your final grade. In preparing your report, you should think about the following issues: How, and to what extent, did the field lab advance your understanding of the themes of this course? How can you connect it to the assigned readings? To what extent did it help you establish links between this course and the others you are taking? Did you experience things that puzzled or surprised you, or led you to alter your views? Academic objectives:
- To learn about the challenges of environmental protection in low-income countries.
- To visit wetlands and find out: why they are ecologically important and, what the government of Viet Nam is doing to preserve them.
- To gain a deeper understanding of the apparent conflict between development and environmental protection.
- To investigate current shrimp farming practices and discuss how they can be made more sustainable.