No. 132


Environmental Organizations in China 

Dennis Dong '18 

Dennis Dong '18 

Dennis (Danyang) Dong ’18, a double major in Environmental Studies and Biology, received a Shansi In-Asia Grant to spend ten weeks during summer 2016 in Shenzhen, China as an intern at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), better known in most other countries as the World Wildlife Fund. China’s WWF, founded in 1980, was one of the first international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) allowed to work in China. Its sole mission in the beginning was to save the giant pandas from extinction.  According to Dennis, the WWF gained the trust of the government through this important work.


Growing up in China, Dennis lived in Hohhot (in Chinese Inner Mongolia) and Shenzhen (near Hong Kong) – presenting him with two extreme examples of environmental consciousness. The area around Hohhot has experienced heavy industrialization since 1960, accompanied by grave environmental degradation.  


On the other hand, as a teen-ager, Dennis lived in Shenzhen, a very new city directly opposite Hong Kong, that has grown at light speed during China’s rapid growth over the last 25 years. Interestingly, Shenzhen has taken a leadership role in some environmental reform areas, including launching China’s first pilot carbon trading program and promoting environmental volunteerism.  


Dennis’s goal was to examine how international and Chinese NGOs were addressing China’s environmental challenges. The Chinese government’s recent decision to ratify the international agreement on greenhouse emissions reached at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference suggests this will be at the forefront of policy debates in the years to come.


Dennis’s internship took him into the policy and operations end of environmentalism through WWF, and he was involved in a number of educational events, visited a low-carbon industrial zone, and attended conferences.


Two of the conferences were of special importance. During the fourth week of his internship, he was a volunteer worker at a training organized by Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, held in Shenzhen in conjunction with WWF. The event focused on equipping community, government, and business leaders with the knowledge and “tools necessary to advocate locally for renewable energy initiatives, continue to support China’s leadership on climate action, and drive action for solutions worldwide.” The conference attracted more than 500 attendees, half of them from Chinese environmental NGOs.


Dennis also joined the China Coastal Wetland Conservation Network meeting organized by China’s State Forestry Administration and the Paulson Institute of Chicago. This meeting examined approaches for adaptive management of coastal wetlands and opportunities to sequester carbon in these areas; some of the most important environmental nongovernmental organizations in China participated.


Dennis offered some historical background and thoughts on the environmental movement in China and the role of NGOs in the process. All NGOs, whether Chinese or international, must follow strict registration procedures that have hampered their growth and effectiveness.  Dennis remarked that it is only very recently that the laws governing NGOs have started to change. From his perspective, outside of a handful of universities and NGOs, Chinese people have little consciousness around global climate change; air pollution in China is the greatest concern. He felt that people are well educated in biology and other sciences, but do not connect this to problems in real life.  


On the other hand, Dennis saw that even though there is very little public engagement with environmental issues, young people were eager to examine the issues and volunteer to work toward a cleaner environment. The people he worked with at WWF were committed, highly educated individuals, but he noted they are “the minority of the minority” in terms of their career choice. Low pay, in particular, is a daunting barrier in this profession. He is optimistic, however, and expects that over time, local environmental NGOs will take on a larger role in public education, and will soon be making significant contributions to improving China’s environmental landscape.

Sea Change

Kirk Pearson '17

Jacob (Kirk) Pearson ’17, double degree student in Cinema Studies, Geology, and Composition, spent five weeks of summer 2016 in Indonesia collecting footage and narratives for Sea Change – a documentary he hopes to complete by early 2017. Kirk’s In-Asia Grant from Oberlin Shansi helped him explore the changing ecosystem and the maritime economy of Indonesia, and examine the future of the Java Sea – one of the world’s most trafficked waterways.


Kirk worked with two colleagues on this project. Patrick Gilfether, who is currently a Shansi Fellow in Banda Aceh, served as co-Director with Kirk, and Ferry Gelluny, an Acehnese artist, handled networking and coordinated the extensive logistics for the project.


Sea Change will introduce viewers to three generations of Indonesians and how they relate to the changing maritime ecosystem and economy. The team traveled thousands of miles to capture their story, and met with dozens of individuals from all walks of life, including spear-fishing nomads, industrial crane operators, researchers, farmers, and political figures.  


They started their journey in Surabaya, Java’s second city and largest port, where they investigated three different ports— a dusty mechanical port built in the 1920s at Kalimas, a large industrial hub of shipping cranes, and Teluk Lamong, a futuristic computer-controlled cargo yard. Kirk describes seeing three generations of Indonesia’s industrial history in these ports, and the documentary will explore how Indonesia is changing with its increasing integration into global trade systems.


Their next stop found our intrepid trio shifting from ports and global economic interdependence to more intimate and local concerns. After a three-day sea voyage aboard a ferry built for 3,000 passengers, they arrived in the village of Sampela, built on stilts, totally surrounded by water, and three hours by speedboat from the nearest city. The floating village is home to the Sama people, who have lived with and on the sea for generations. Kirk and friends stayed as guests on Sampela for almost two weeks, where they filmed underwater with a spear gun fisherman. They were also fortunate to be able to celebrate Lebaran, the end of Ramadan, with the village.


In the final leg of the trip they visited Timor, spending just over a week talking to conservation managers in Indonesia's Sawu Sea. Indonesia and the larger Coral Triangle eco-region hold more than 70 percent of the world's coral. Over the last decade, political and economic pressures have undermined efforts at preservation of this ecological treasure. The Sea Change team filmed above and below the surface, and will provide a window on the challenge of conservation management in Indonesia today.


We look forward to seeing the completed Sea Change project, which promises to teach us about the connectivity that ties everyday decisions to communities around the globe. If you are interested in learning more about Sea Change or the earlier documentary Fin produced by this group, please visit their website at

The Hard Work of Being a Scientist 

Jun Takaki '17

This summer Jun Takaki ’17, double major in Biology and East Asian Studies, spent ten weeks doing research at the Graduate School of Medicine at Kyoto University in the lab of Dr. Shohab Youssefian in the Department of Molecular Biosciences.  He was investigating the interaction between two proteins, Nav 1.9 and AnkyrinG, in the process of pain perception. There are certain individuals with a genetic mutation that is believed to cause an inability to feel pain. If his experiments had worked, they would have shed light on a topic that could have led to novel therapeutic approaches to treating this condition.


Jun reports that despite not coming up the hoped-for results, he did learn a lot about the lives of researchers in Japan.  He and his colleagues worked very long hours, sometimes for 14+ hours a day. It was not uncommon to come in on weekends and it appeared to Jun that his colleagues’ lives revolved primarily around their work. He was very impressed with their work ethic but wondered if a more balanced work-life style could have actually led to increased productivity.


There were several individuals who made Jun’s time in Kyoto incredibly rewarding. Dr. Youssefian always challenged his students to ask questions, and to think critically about the research process. Since he was always quite busy, Jun worked closely with PhD student Ms. Iara from Cape Verde, who carefully guided him through each of the techniques.  According to Jun, without her, research in the lab would not have been as fun or as meaningful.


Jun’s thoughts about his summer as a researcher,

“There were nights when I was in the lab till 2am and was exhausted on many levels. While these experiences were quite challenging, I learned that lab work is a little bit of success and a lot of character building. This experience made me truly admire scientists. I learned that it takes courage to fail again and again, and yet continue to be curious and to strive to understand the issue at hand.


I hope that other Oberlin students seeking to do internships abroad will place themselves in new and challenging situations so they can learn more about themselves, and about how they can contribute to others most effectively. It was during my times of struggle that I learned how to really value the love and care of others, and to strive to support them in the ways they supported me.”