NU to offer environmental study abroad option in China

Nathalie Tadena

Starting in Fall Quarter 2009, a new Northwestern study abroad program will allow students to explore environmental practices in three major Chinese cities.

The program is organized by NU political science Prof. Gordon Davis, who was an environmental policy consultant in China for 20 years and is the first study abroad opportunity offered by the environmental policy and culture program.

In a presentation at the Students for Ecological and Environmental Development meeting on Tuesday, Davis told students that the “relative importance and impact of China will explode.”

Davis and 12 to 15 NU students will visit both Shanghai and Hong Kong for five weeks each, taking classes about the country’s economic growth, environmental policy and cultural history. While in Hong Kong, students will participate in a field research class, evaluating the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department’s programs in the Pearl River Delta region.

There are no language prerequisites for the program, but students will be required to study Mandarin during their 11-week stay in China. The group will also spend a week in Beijing visiting cultural landmarks, such as the Great Wall.

“Students will learn how China measures up environmentally and put it into a broader cultural experience,” he said. “In the end, they’ll have a personal insight into how this country is moving and organizing its policy.”

Gordon, an environmental lawyer, said the U.S. can learn a lot about the environmental pressures facing China, which has a population of more than 1.3 billion.

“The challenge China represents is very real,” he said. “Of the five basic natural resources, China now consumes more (of each) than the U.S. except for oil.”

SEED co-chair Emily Wright said she is excited about the university’s expansion of academic opportunities within the environmental policy minor.

“China is the future; everything they do has such a huge effect on the rest of the world,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “This is the perfect place to start an environmental study abroad program. and I hope it can expand enough to sustain itself in future years.”

SESP freshman Elan Siedband said he is interested in participating in the new program.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to become engrossed in the situation and have the situation right in front of you,” he said.

In the long-term effort to combat environmental issues, Davis said that an understanding of China’s policies is necessary.

“China may not and cannot be kept out of the attempts to find solutions to the pressing global issues that affect us all,” he said. “It’s an absolutely indispensable player to the solution such as regional wars, food and product safety, international public health and certainly the international financial crisis we’re experiencing right now.”

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