Sam Young – Environment, Energy and Economics Fellow – Master of Environmental Science and Management, University of California – Santa Barbara –Earthmind Intern
The Environment, Energy, and Economics course was not a course in the traditional sense where there was information to be memorized and tested with a written exam. It was more an intensive exercise in networking – you needed to be up on the information in order to engage the speakers more effectively in discussion and set the stage for future meetings with those whose work interested you. Each speaker presented an overview of their organization, and current projects they were working on. The test was how prepared you were to ask critical questions on the information presented. In this way the course provides you with as much as you put into it: you will learn very little without doing your homework; if you put in the outside effort, there is tremendous opportunity to learn and impress potential future employers. From these interactions I was invited to sit in on the 65th Meeting of the Standing Parties to the Convention on Illegal Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). I made numerous contacts at this meeting including the CITES Secretary General, Director of Social Responsibility for Gucci and Prada, a Louisiana lobbyist for Alligator farming, and several members of the International Trade Centre. I was able to cultivate these contacts for work I was performing with my internship, and potentially for future employment.
The week started off with an overview of environmental policy in the international arena. I was already somewhat familiar with this from my internship, but it was good to get the academic perspective to complement the practitioner perspective. Perhaps what I struggled with the most was how international guidelines and recommendations translated into national policy. Having just finished a United States Environmental Law course, the problem of enforcement baffled me. The organizations that appear to have real international power are the World Trade Organization (WTO), and CITES which functions in an analogous fashion – violations are sanctioned through trade restrictions. Yet even these only have power because governments willingly submit to them. There is a network effect, where if enough nations withdraw the organizations cease to have any power. The concept of social enforcement was not new, as I had seen this applied on the ground to foster participation in community composting programs, however it was the first time it had been presented to me for use national governments rather than individuals.
Through the week we visited many organizations, some where several program participants worked (including me!). I found the discussions extremely interesting as similar questions were posed to different organizations, with very different answers given. The WTO was especially fascinating as we gained a glimpse into how they manage to hold so much power as an international organization. I experienced a mix of amusement and disgust as our speaker played down the problem of genetically modified crops and down played the WTO’s role in forcing them on developing countries. However, there was some solace in learning that trade rules which currently prevent forward integration for industry and community reinvestment requirements in developing countries are currently being revisited…but only some solace.
The course ended with a discussion and reflection on what each of us had drawn out of the week’s activities. Dr. Meyer was an excellent moderator and kept us on time. Just as the course is titled the varied backgrounds in environment, energy, and economics were represented in the discussion – I found this especially valuable as my experience was dominated by field work, and benefited greatly from the perspectives of those who had spent more time studying policy. Overall it was a tremendous bonding experience with the other students and Dr. Meyer. Moving forward the class might benefit through a stronger exploration of issues which span environment, economics, and policy especially as this “nexus” issue is rapidly growing as a topic of interest for the United Nations and Non-government organizations.