The Environment and Sustainability in China Study Tour 2015 is an ongoing collaborative venture between the La Trobe University Department of Politics and Philosophy, CERES Global, and La Trobe Asia, led by Dr Benjamin Habib from La Trobe University and Ben Walta from CERES Global. Funding for this project was provided through the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade via a New Colombo Plan mobility grant. Student participants were selected on a competitive basis from across the university to take part in this tour, which counts as a credit-bearing elective subject in their undergraduate degree programs.
Objectives of the Study Tour
The Environment and Sustainability in China Study Tour 2015 had a number of key objectives:
Build the understanding of student participants of key environmental issues affecting China. Engaging with the urban environments of Shanghai and Beijing as our field study, the tour focused on China’s response to transnational environmental problems, particularly relating to water and food security, energy generation, and urban planning. We recognise that China is a world leader in addressing environmental degradation through innovative political, economic and technological strategies. We are interested in learning more about these innovations from representatives of government, business and academia who are working in the environment and sustainability sphere at international, domestic and local levels.
Engage with local host organisations in Shanghai and Beijing. Recognising the value of direct learning through experience, the tour participants engaged with the following organisations…
- Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE), Shanghai.
- Sprout Lifestyle, Shanghai.
- Green Initiatives, Shanghai.
- Hangzhou Permaculture Educational and Research Center, Hangzhou.
- Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), Beijing.
- Beijing Food Sovereignty Alliance and GMO researcher Chen I-Wan.
To increase the China-literacy of student participants. The students learned a great deal about Chinese cultural, social and governance practices through pre-departure workshops and direct immersion in urban Chinese life.
Establish ongoing, mutually beneficial collaborative relationships with host organisations and peers within the traveling party. In addition to information exchange and friendship-building, through this study tour we would like to establish a network of professional contacts between Australia and China that leads to long-term benefits and collaboration between our student participants and our new friends in China. Internal networking within the tour party was also a design feature of this project. Our tour party was comprised of ten La Trobe University students and ten professionals engaged in environment and sustainability-related practice, allowing space for professional relationship-building within the group.
In addition to the instrumental objectives of the tour listed above, student participants were able to build their build their personal resilience in a challenging cultural environment, further develop their critical analysis skills through research and field experience, and develop greater self-awareness of their own sustainability practice through reflection and comparison with the Chinese case.
The Tour as a Learning Experience
Our tour group participated in three workshops prior to departure, including a Chinese travel and culture session with La Trobe University China experts Professor James Leibold and Angela Fennell, as well as an urban agriculture and renewable energy workshop at CERES Community Environment Park, led by Ben Walta. The tour itself took place from 13th-23rd July 2015.
The primary theme with which the tour group grappled with in-country was the question of how to live sustainably in a society and culture that is inherently unsustainable. The ecological contradictions of China’s rapid economic growth model are starkly noticeable and well-documented. However, by experiencing Chinese urban pollution first-hand, members of our tour group were able to become more cognisant of instances of poor environmental practice in their home communities back in Australia and reflect on their own sustainability practices, both as visitors in China and in their normal lives back home.
After returning to Melbourne, student participants in the tour completed a short video assignment documenting their learnings from the trip. Student videos were showcased at a gala movie screening evening at La Trobe University on Friday 14th July 2015. Student video presentations can be accessed here…
On behalf of Ben Walta from CERES Global and myself, I would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to all the people who made the Environment and Sustainability in China Study Tour 2015 a success and congratulate the students for all their hard work since their selection into the program in April. The represented La Trobe University and CERES Global with distinction in China and I have no doubt will become community leaders in environment and sustainability practice in the years to come.