Archive for February, 2016

Monteverde Institute

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Professor Tom Simon (who teaches International Law at HNC, including a course covering Environmental Justice last semester) visited the Monteverde Institute (MVI) about a year ago…. and was quite emphatic that I shouldn’t even consider making a visit to Costa Rica without a comparable stopover.

MVI is located in Monteverde, one of the major eco-tourism sites in the world (home to the Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, among others) and the last twenty kilometers of roadway to get there is unpaved…. making sure that you really want to visit! The Institute offers academic, research and community programs – and they arranged an agenda for my visit that definitely covered all of those bases. First up was a trip to a nearby family-operated plantation growing organic ‘shade’ coffee…. and I can attest that their ‘Bella Tica’ coffee is absolutely delicious! (especially in early-morning balcony-sitting sessions overlooking the Pacific; please note posting below).

With Manolo & Fern in the cloud forest

Next up was a tour of the famed Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, and MVI arranged for an expert guide, Manolo, to lead our way. I’ve worked on environmental issues for more than four decades now, but it was really quite humbling to realize how little I knew about such fundamental ecological matters. Everything – and I mean everything! – just seemed very, very green to me…. but he was able to pick out birds nests and spider webs and tree growth patterns and butterflies, and honed in with his telescope to make it all readily evident. Fern Perkins, who runs MVI’s International Programs, added her own observations about lichens along the forested pathway – a subject area that I [formerly!] knew absolutely nothing about, but is Fern’s special area of expertise.

After lunch & discussions with Debra Hamilton (who runs the Institute), I gave a presentation entitled ‘China and Post-Paris Carbon Markets’ to the MVI students, faculty and staff. Costa Rica made a commitment many years ago to become carbon-neutral, and its INDC for the Paris meeting was one of the few deemed “sufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker. It was also one of the very first countries to explore carbon trading, issuing ‘certified tradable offsets’ (CTOs) for forestry projects in the mid-1990s, and participating in early AIJ (Activities Implemented Jointly) efforts under the Kyoto Protocol. We certainly hope to continue (and expand!) HNC linkages with MVI in the future.

Costa Rica

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Those who follow these postings know that we usually go to visit our daughter & her family in California around mid-winter…. but this year she was in Costa Rica, visiting her in-laws. That, of course, presented a wonderful opportunity instead of a problem – and so thanks to a very kind invitation from Rose & Michele Capasso, we too were able to join them there…. missing a major (i.e., 20 inch) winter snowstorm in New Jersey!

We hadn’t been to CR in more than a decade…. & the pictures taken on that earlier visit [found in ‘Bonus Attractions’] have generated more comments — by far!! — than anything else on my website.

6:20 a.m., Punta Leona

This visit was a lot more relaxed (and sane!)…. and you can see my feet up, on the balcony overlooking the Pacific, early in our visit. Truthfully, I was still a bit jet-lagged, and was grading exams from my HNC energy course…. but I had a nice strong cup of Costa Rican coffee by my side, and the skies were definitely an improvement over those in Nanjing.

You can see that we even had a rainbow a few days later, after the grading was completed, and I had caught up with my sleep (after numerous siestas!). Such a life, huh??

Antithesis of Milton’s epic poem?


Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

January was a busy month, since we had a senior SAIS group visiting Nanjing for the annual Joint Academic Committee (JAC) meeting between Johns Hopkins U. and Nanjing U. Yours truly once again represented the HNC international faculty, and the visit of such distinguished persons offered an opportunity for other academic venues – such as Prof. Lampton’s presentation about China-U.S. relations at the Hopkins China Forum in Shanghai.

I was pleased to be able to attend, since I was also in Shanghai for UBS’ Greater China Conference 2016. Simon Powell organized a panel session addressing ‘Pollution Pains: China’s Ongoing Battle to Improve Its Environment,’ and I served with two very knowledgeable environmental specialists: Debra Tan, who runs China Water Risk, an NGO which is the most effective voice about China’s other (and she believes more critical!) significant environmental problem; and Yuan Yan, a Project Manager at the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE), the well-known NGO founded by environmentalist Ma Jun (who publicizes information about polluters to bring about change, and similarly has had an important impact on water pollution control efforts). China Water Risk was actually a spin-off of IPE, & I had met Debra a number of years ago in Beijing; I hadn’t met Yan, so that was a definite plus. We did an electronic before-and-after Q&A, and our session didn’t change too many minds…. but those we did influence became slightly more pessimistic, as the nature and scale of environmental problems the country faces became even more evident.

I was in Shanghai once more just a few days later, this time heading home… and took the opportunity to use the magnetic levitation (maglev) system that connects the city with its airport. We picked up the Maglev at the Longyang Road Station in Pudong – and were whisked to the airport at more than 300 km/hour (i.e., 187 mph). Having taken the high-speed train from Nanjing to Shanghai, & then the Maglev to the airport, it was disappointing to get to Newark Airport… and then have to queue with our luggage to use the AirTrain elevator, because the escalator was broken. [AirTrain itself was shut down for repairs for several months in 2014, and moves are now underway to replace it completely.]