Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Education for Climate Change in Vietnam

January 3, 2012

Story By Justin Burns

I’ve travelled around the world to study the impacts of climate change in Vietnam. Coming here gives me a chance to see how those who will be most affected by climate change are responding. How educated and engaged are the youth here? Is there an educational system in place to teach students at the Universities about the cause, problems, and solutions?

Our trip starts in Ho Chi Minh City where we visit with students from the first all English speaking public university in Vietnam, the International University of HCMC. To my surprise, they even have a Saigon club, and representatives are here to tell us about their efforts. The students take turns presenting on environmental issues in Vietnam, and what they are doing, bravely, to address them. They speak passionately about the air pollution in Ho Chi Minh City, caused mostly by the seven million motors spewing exhaust daily, and the students’ efforts to build a better bus transportation system. We hear about deforestation, the loss of 31,000 hectares every year, and their efforts to promote sustainable forestry through the use of fast growing bamboo. We hear about the problem of waste management, seven million tons produced per day, more than twice what the city can handle, and the students’ innovative work to turn waste into ‘green bricks’ as a source for new construction.

As the students speak, I am immediately impressed by their motivation and efforts, but also concerned that more is not being done to directly address climate change. I am well aware that the Mekong River Delta is one of the most at risk areas for climate change. A sea level rise of just one meter, will cause displacement of more than 17 million people (23% of population) and cause land loss of 40,000 km (21%) of Vietnam. According to the 2007 IPCC Report, this makes Vietnam one of the top five countries to be effected by the impacts of climate change The impacts on Vietnam will also be felt around the world given Vietnam was the largest exporter of rice in 2010, with most of that rice grown here, in the Mekong River Delta.

After our stay in Ho Chi Minh City, we travel deeper south into the Mekong River Delta to the city of Can Tho, the heart of where climate change impacts will occur in Vietnam. We again meet with students working on environmental issues, this time from Can Tho University (CTU). Students here have organized their own environmental club, called the Student Environment Network (SEN). While they are not recognized as an official club at CTU, they are working towards this. They organize every week to talk about environmental issues, both domestic and international, as well as work on their campus to bring awareness to issues like energy conservation, pollution, and waste. Their inspiring and motivating presentation ended with, “Save Can Tho, Save Vietnam, Save the World!” This infused joy in me, and showed me that there are people around the world that recognize the problems we face now and in the future.

Climate change is a problem few in America see as effecting people right now. Too often we hear, if we don’t do something today it will be a problem for our kids and grandkids. However, this is a problem of today; there are people all over the world, not just in Vietnam, who are feeling the effects of climate change. It’s a world problem that has no easy fix. It has many complications, and many different points of views. It is clear to this student that if we are going to begin to address the problem in a serious way that has serious actions and serious results, the first step needs to be education. I have little faith in successfully educating the older generations of the world; however, if we can begin with educating the younger population, we will be on the right track to fix what seems to be the unfixable right now. Save the Environment, Save the World, Save the People.

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