Shenandoah University professor looks to answer looming questions on climate change
When it comes to global issues like climate change, it makes sense for the globe itself—or at least a part of it—to become a living laboratory. Shenandoah University business professor Giles Jackson has done just that with his Bidoup Field School launched earlier this year at Bidoup Nui Ba National Park (BDNP), a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve located in the central highlands of Vietnam. The program is aimed at increasing the understanding of endangered tropical environments threatened by climate change.
Jackson is also coordinating directly with the Sullivan Foundation, using Foundation grants to expand his knowledge in the area of environmental management of international tourism development at Harvard University. He’ll also be producing a case study about the field school for Sullivan so that students of social entrepreneurship may benefit from the lessons learned.
The program empowers teams of students, under the direction of four Columbia University professors and their counterparts around the world, to explore ecological responses to past and present climate change and seek answers to questions with far-reaching global implications, such as:
- How will climate change impact seasonal temperature or rainfall patterns, and forest health and integrity?
- What will be the effects of rising competition among species for light, water, or nutrients?
- How will biodiversity be impacted and what will the consequences of biodiversity loss be?
- What will such changes mean for the local indigenous populations who depend upon these ecosystems for their survival?
- How does one build science-based policies to mitigate or adapt to these environmental changes?
Brendan Buckley, Ph.D., co-founder of the Bidoup Field School, began a program of climate research in the region several years ago, with support from the National Science Foundation.
“There is so much that we don’t currently know about these endangered environments and here we had a natural laboratory to study,” says Buckley. “Bringing in researchers and students, both graduate and undergraduate, to collect and analyze as much data as humanly possible became our driving force. Many are likely to develop into full time researchers who may wish to continue research in the park, thus ensuring the future of this vital research program.”
Jackson reached out to Buckley last fall while he and his Shenandoah students were conducting research for a nascent science-ecotourism project in the West Indies.
“We hit it off, and he invited me to join the scientists for the inaugural event, which I attended thanks to support from Shenandoah University,” says Jackson. “He needed someone to manage the business side, so he could focus on the science. Also, he wanted to explore how we might leverage tourism to sustain the science program — generating funds to purchase field and lab equipment, subsidize Vietnamese students, offset operational expenses and save for a dedicated field school facility.”
Jackson built the field school website and set up a secure payments system during the summer of 2015.
A tourism component has already been built into the January 2016 field school program. After completing field and laboratory work, students will pay a visit to K’Ho Coffee, a socially responsible coffee growing cooperative composed of dozens of indigenous ‘K’ho’ families living at the foot of Lang Biang Mountain, as well as Dabla Village, which has revived ancient weaving traditions with the help of the Japanese government.
“Done right, tourism can be a powerful vehicle for fostering international understanding and alleviating poverty,” says Jackson.
Future plans include a multi-day trekking trail system to connect BDNP with neighboring national parks, Chu Yang Sin to the north and Phuoc Binh to the south, expanding the field school in both directions.
“We lost 52% of the global wildlife population between 1970 and 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund,” says Jackson. “Everything I’m hearing is telling me that these are not problems that may or may not happen sometime in the future. They’re happening right now, which is why we need more initiatives like the Bidoup Field School to figure out what’s going on and how we might best plan for the future.”
This story was adapted from a story originally appearing on the website of Shenandoah University. For the original piece, visit su.edu/blog.