Monday, October 19, 2015

Bringing the world of sustainability into the classroom

Regina Ostergaard-Klem, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environmental Science, continues with a busy year. She travelled to China for a seminar focusing on sustainability. She also continues to prepare for a major international conservation gathering in Hawaii next year. This week, she is among the experts delivering talks at Sustainability Week at Aloha Tower Marketplace.

Her time in China was eye-opening. She was among 20 participants from a wide range of disciplines — including environmental studies, geography, politics and women's studies — at a CIEE International Faculty Development seminar in the summer.

Regina Ostergaard-Klem, fourth from right in back row, was part of a faculty development seminar in China.
"They're all coming at sustainability from a different aspect, which is really refreshing. Sustainability is a trans-disciplinary field. It was good to have other people's perspectives."

Those perspectives became valuable, as they moved beyond the city and seminars, exploring rural areas. There's a "stark contrast in the new and the old," Ostergaard-Klem said.

"You'll be riding through the countryside and you would see wind turbines all over the hillside. Just below it, you would see these small villages without running water or sanitation," she said. "You see the newest technology in renewable energy, up against what's been there for thousands and thousands of years."

When word got around that there were foreigners around, another curious thing happened. The villagers took pictures of the visitors with their cell phones. "They had no indoor plumbing or sanitation inside their homes, but they had cell phones. In some places, they had satellite TV."

Those experiences are directly related to what she teaches in class about development versus sustainability. As China grows and continues to produce, "what is it doing to the quality of people's lives? Is it much better that they have a cell phone but not necessarily plumbing or sanitation?"

Ostergaard-Klem saw new tech in rural China.
Then there's the rising middle class in China, adding many more millions of consumers at a high rate. People worry about how that impacts the rest of the world, she said.

"That's a lesson to look at our own consumption patterns because the equity issue comes in. Why is it we're able to consume what we consume and China's not allowed to have a rising middle class with the same level of consumption we would have? It raises a lot of issues. It's good examples for our students."

Being able to provide firsthand observations for her students was a valuable outcome of the seminar. However, she also wants her students to learn beyond the classroom, in urban, agricultural and rural settings. "I encourage students to work in projects out in the community."

Her students have been involved with a diverse array of organizations, including the Hawaii Green Growth Initiative, the Trust for Public Land, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and more.

Ostergaard-Klem is helping prepare students for IUCN's World Conservation Congress (WCC) in Honolulu next year, the first time this international event has been held in the U.S. The IUCN is the oldest and largest international environmental organization and WCC is expected to draw eight and 10 thousand participants.

For students, the opportunity to be among many environmental professionals, natural resource management managers and conservationists in one place is a "unique opportunity that you don't get very often," she said. She hopes to see students in the field with conference attendees. She is also working to have attendees in the classroom to teach students.

Ostergaard-Klem is also speaking at Sustainability Week at Aloha Tower Marketplace. On Tuesday, Oct. 20, Ostergaard-Klem shares about her Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) research. GPI is a measure of negative and positive effects of economic activity. There will also be a presentation from HPU Professor Jon Davidann, Ph.D., on energy and oil, on Oct. 22. For more information, see

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