Threat in the tropics: Eisenhower Institute students conduct the first sustainability study in Bonaire

“Policy situations need to be seen from all viewpoints,” says environmental studies major and mathematics minor Jarred Jones ’15. “This is how thought processes can be changed.”

This year, Jones and ten other Gettysburg students in the Eisenhower Institute’s Environmental Leadership Program have taken this ethic to heart. Over the past eight months, these students have examined Bonaire’s history, economy, ecology, politics, and culture—and have even plunged into its Caribbean waters—as they conducted the island’s first-ever sustainability study.

As one of four Expert-in-Residence programs at Gettysburg’s Eisenhower Institute, the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) engages students in environmental policy and sustainability issues through hands-on research and trips to meet with policymakers, experts, stakeholders, and activists. Now in its fourth year, the program is led by Seiden-Levi Fellow of Public Policy Dr. Howard Ernst, a senior scholar at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, political science professor at the United States Naval Academy, and a widely-published expert on environmental politics and citizen influence on environmental policy.

View photos on Flickr.

During the fall semester, ELP students met with Ernst to develop an academic foundation in topics such as sustainability, environmental economics, market failure, and environmental policy. They examined case studies in sustainable economics, business practices, communities, buildings, and designs.

In the spring, they broke into small research groups to study Bonaire’s ecology, culture, economy, and political structures using a Circles of Sustainability research protocol designed by the United Nations’ Global Compact Cities Programme. Each group was also tasked with organizing interviews with local experts and stakeholders throughout the trip.

Upon arriving in Bonaire, the group met with Hendrik Wuyts, a Belgian scuba instructor, videographer, and environmental activist who has lived on the island for twenty years. Wuyts took the group to see the impact of tourist cruise ships on the waters and coral reefs and to local landfills and sewage treatment facilities to observe waste dumping and treatment practices that damage local agriculture and water quality.

Salt PlantTheir visit with Wuyts was followed by several days of interviews with industry leaders, scholars, governmental representatives, and experts from local nonprofit organizations. These interviews revealed conflicting perspectives about the island’s economy, culture, and politics, as well as tensions between environmental preservation efforts, the needs and goals of native Bonairians, and the interests of Bonaire’s various governing bodies.

Pervading the weeks’ discussions was the island’s tourism industry, which caters primarily to visitors seeking to explore its easily accessible coral reef. Environmental studies and public policy double major Kelly Gross ’15 was especially struck by an ecotourism industry that often damages the very environment it seeks to enjoy. “Often the older generation of divers are not educated about how to not harm the coral,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that those who care and admire the coral most are often the most destructive.”

ELP participants also met with representatives from nonprofit organizations that work to ensure local residents’ access to fresh food and provide after-school programming for disadvantaged local youth. They also spoke with an organization that leads cultural education and preservation efforts for residents and visitors, and discussed the linguistic barriers of an educational system that forces students to transition from their native language (Papiamentu) to Dutch upon entering high school. These visits helped students contextualize their research within the island’s history of slavery, colonialism, and poverty—as well as to consider Bonaire’s likelihood of becoming a sustainable, independent state.

Cactus Fence“More than anything, this trip reaffirmed my belief that there is no way to separate environmental issues from those of the political and social realm,” said environmental studies major and secondary education minor Autumn Arthur ’14.

Environmental studies major and business minor Jessica Zupancic ’14, agreed, highlighting the program’s impact on her as both a student and a scientist. “One of the largest ‘take home messages’ that has stuck with me,” she said, “was the idea that as a member of the science community, it is not simply enough for me to just ‘do’ science; I must work to bring greater public awareness to what I have learned.”

You can learn more about the sustainability study in Bonaire by visiting the group’s interactive Google Tour Builder or their Bonaire Wiki page. Additional information about the Eisenhower Institute’s Expert-in-Residence programs and Dr. Ernst can be found on the Eisenhower Institute’s website and in the spring issue of the Gettysburg Magazine.

For students interested in applying for the 2014-2015 Environmental Leadership program, the deadline is May 15.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Christine Shanaberger, associate director of communications/coordinator of presidential communications 717.337.6806

Posted: Wed, 30 Apr 2014

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