SUSTAINABILITY IN CHINA: an interdisciplinary study abroad/travel experience
(Students will apply through the UD China Institute website at go.udayton.edu/china)
Since antiquity, China has faced sustainability crises. In pre-modern times, emperors could lose the mandate of heaven (the right to rule) if natural disasters or unsustainable land use practices endangered its growing population. Today, China’s compromised environmental quality threatens to destabilize the current Communist Party regime and interrupt its unprecedented record of poverty alleviation.
Parts of China experience sufficient, even excessive rainfall and flooding, while other regions confront exacerbating desertification. And everywhere, as rapid growth increases the demand for water, metals, minerals and energy—for consumption, agriculture, industry, transportation—China’s development agenda is undermined by its abuse of the environment as a source of resources and a sink for wastes. Reduced air quality now threatens to reverse the upward trend in life expectancy made possible by rapid growth.
There is a growing literature arguing that the planet’s poorest persons are the least adaptive, the most vulnerable to environmental degradation & climate change. But no nation is immune from the consequences of environmental degradation in China: The negative externalities of rapid export-led growth endanger the climate of the entire planet. At the same time, China’s creative and prodigious responses to its environmental crisis also promise positive spillover. In the words of the Asian correspondent Jonathan Watts, “When a billion Chinese jump,” the planet cannot but change its trajectory: “China will either save mankind or destroy it.”
This unique study abroad opportunity considers the tectonics involved when human economic & environmental priorities collide. Students will travel throughout China in order to better appreciate the diversity of its economy & environment.
Students first fly into Hong Kong, a paradigmatic example of an ‘environmental deficit’: its ecological footprint exceeds its biocapacity. The issues that confront Hong Kong epitomize the challenges facing the mainland. A finite supply of viable land & an increasing population translate into a rising population density that manates that HK ‘grow up’: build ever higher buildings. Its water supply—both as a source & as a sink—is endangered. HK is already using salt water to move sewage, and the Victoria harbor is narrowing due to accumulating sediment. Air quality is also deteriorating, less because of its vast transportation network, more because HK is resorting to disposing of its prodigious solid wastes by incinerating! This is the more ironic, since China’s use of ‘night soil’ has been celebrated as a model for organic agricultural enterprises.
The group will then move northwest to Guilin in Guangxi province--home to Dragon Rice terraces, bamboo boats, & stunning karst limestone formations and caves. After a week of classes on site in Guilin, the group will cruise the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang) from Chongqing to Yichang (3 nights, 4 days) past the controversial Three Gorges Dam.
After the cruise on the Yangtze, the group will stop off in Chengdu in Sichuan province, near China’s oldest extant irrigation project—the UNESCO site in Dujiangyan (constructed around 256 BC by the State of Qin as an irrigation & flood control project)—& of course visit the pandas!
After appraising the competing claims on water of consumption, industry (agriculture & manufacturing), transport, & energy generation & the geological risk entailed in large dam construction, the group will set up shop in Xi’an (Chang-an) in Shaanxi province. Home to the famed Terra Cotta warriors & eastern departure point of the Silk Road, this diverse city now suffers more from drought than from flooding by the Yellow River (Huang He), the River of Sorrow. Nearby, China’s efforts to deliver the loess plateau from desertification, even as the Yellow River carries its fertile silt to the sea, are meeting with some success (in part because climate change has increased rainfall in this region). In Shaanxi, we will also visit Hukou Falls & Ya’nan (the legendary caves where Mao & other Communist leaders settled after the Long Walk).
The group will then trek westward into Gansu Province—following the legendary Silk Road—to where the desertification process is more unrelenting. We will float on goat skin rafts in the Yellow River near Lanzhou & view expanses of desert, now home to massive solar & wind installations. We will hike among the Rainbow Rocks in the Geopark in Zhangye, explore the Great Wall fortress in Jiayuguan, & spend an evening in the desert (& riding on camels) in Dunhuang, the western gateway to the Central Asian steppes. It is in Gansu that the impact of China’s disappearing glaciers promises to interrupt expansion: The impending water scarcity in the west cannot solaced by the huge south-north channels being erected to reallocate water from south to north in the eastern part of the country.
After our desert trek, we will retrace our steps to Shanghai, where the Yangtze River flows into the East China Sea. A day trip to Suzhou in Jiangsu province will permit the group to visit one of China’s oldest waterways, the Grand Canal, now being retrofit to supply water to the parched north as well as UD’s China Institute. Our last stop will be Beijing, where compromised air quality & water shortages provide a constant reminder to policy makers that sustainable development is a necessity not a luxury.
List of Courses:
Students may choose two or three of the courses below:
Environmental History, which satisfies CAP Advanced History, CAP Integrative and SEE minor requirements
Environmental Geology, which satisfies CAP natural science, CAP inquiry and SEE minor requirements
Environmental Economics, which satisfies the upper economics elective requirement for all SBA students and SEE minor requirements
List of Faculty:
Director of the International Studies Program: firstname.lastname@example.org
Shuang Ye Wu
, Geology: email@example.com
Barbara Heroy John
, Economics: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information and to apply, visit: go.udayton.edu/china