Conference assesses health of world’s resources

By Sarah Yang, Public Affairs

10 July 2002 | Dozens of environmentalists from El Salvador to China are wrapping up a unique, three-week program on the Berkeley campus this week to explore global perspectives on sustaining natural resources.

Thirty-seven international visitors have been tackling a variety of problems, from deforestation and acute energy shortages in some countries to the control of invasive pests and plants in others, as part of the second annual summer course of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program, which continues through July 13.

The Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program was established by the Center for Sustainable Resource Development with a $1 million gift from Berkeley alumni Richard and Carolyn Beahrs. Additional funding has been provided by grants from various foundations and some private donations.

The mission of the program is ambitious. “Many of the natural resource problems we have today are international in scope, so what’s important in sustainability are global solutions,” said David Zilberman, co-director of Berkeley’s Center for Sustainable Resource Development at the College of Natural Resources. “We’re fostering international collaboration through this program in an effort to help people from different regions reach some sort of common ground in the way they think about environmental issues.”

China’s challenge
In China, the government is coping with managing natural resources while staying on track with the country’s fast-paced development goals, said Ming Jie Huang, director of the Guizhou International Cooperation Centre for Environment Protection, and one of this year’s participants. Huang said the key to success is motivating local residents to become directly involved in environmental programs, a challenge in a country accustomed to “operating in a top-down system.”

Huang said that through the Beahrs program, he is learning from the experiences of other participants who have organized community-based groups in their own countries. “When I go back, I want to help form community-based organizations as part of my job,” he said. “It will be important for me to stay connected to classmates from other countries.”

The summer certificate course includes six workshops, each taught by an interdisciplinary team of faculty from Berkeley and other experts, educational field trips that illustrate natural resource management issues in this state, and interactive panels and case study exercises. Participants have been practicing diplomacy skills through mock treaty negotiations, including one for the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations treaty that sought to rein in global warming.

“These workshops and classes are giving us a forum for interacting with each other and for learning together,” said Stephanie Hodge, a facilitator at the United Nations Development Programme in New York and another 2002 participant. “We’re all stakeholders in this issue of global climate change, so the dynamics of our interactions are important.”

Mid-career professionals
The Beahrs program is geared towards mid-career professionals in the field of environmental management. Participants were chosen this year from about 100 applicants. “We looked for people who would be able to translate what they learned here into effective policies,” said Robin Marsh, who directs the Beahrs program with Zilberman. “These participants come to UC Berkeley, where they have access to top-of-the line researchers in natural resource management. They receive training, improve their skills and then go back to their countries stimulated to do better work.”

Marsh said that by the end of the year, those who have completed the summer certificate course will have a chance to submit proposals for grants of up to $8,000 to help establish innovative conservation projects. The Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation have provided $130,000 for the new small grants initiative.

Vince Resh, professor of insect biology in Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, said the diverse background of the scientists and policy makers in the program enriches the course. He pointed out that they have often had to operate in very difficult economic conditions and have come up with innovative solutions to manage natural resources.

“The program is a fantastic experience for those of us who teach in it and for the participants,” said Resh, who is heading a workshop on Natural Resources and Ecosystem Management for the program. “It’s fascinating to see how people interact in problem-solving with each other. Africans, Asians, Eastern Europeans — they all bring their experiences and share their expertise in developing solutions to environmental problems.”

Participants from last year’s summer course have kept in contact with each other through an active alumni network set up through the Beahrs program.

“Through this program, we generate a worldwide network for the next generation of environmental leaders,” said Zilberman. “They are not people who run ministries now, but people who will run ministries in the future.”


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