Students depart to Cuba to study environmental sustainability

Students depart to Cuba to study environmental sustainability

May 28
10:21 2014

Steven James / Staff Writer 

Representatives from UNT’s biology, geography, RTVF and English departments will travel to Cuba to learn environmental sustainability techniques that could be beneficial to environmental conditions in the U.S.

As part of the inaugural study abroad project “Cuba and the Complexities of Sustainability,” UNT students will attend the University of Havana from May 28 until June 11, where they will learn environmental sustainability practices and policies. After each class, the students will conduct research with their professors and document their activities through journals or videos.

Last fall, the professors leading the project established contact with the University of Havana. Cuba is trying to increase tourism, which could affect the nation’s environmental sustainability. After navigating through all the political obstacles between the U.S. and Cuba, they were finally able to create a study abroad agreement for students to study changing sustainability efforts.

Other than conducting research, students and professors will also visit many historical landmarks and national parks.

English lecturer David Taylor, who will be supervising the English students on the trip, believes the humanities are just as important as the sciences when dealing with environmental care.

“The goal isn’t just to explore Cuba,” Taylor said. “The goal is to take back this question of, ‘What is a sustainable lifestyle?’ It’s not always an easy thing to ask.”

He also said environmental sustainability requires the work of many different disciplines to succeed.

“What I want my students to see is the intricate connection between culture, arts and environmental sustainability, which requires understanding of science, which requires knowing, scientifically, the best choices to make,” Taylor said. “But, in some ways, as we know, as a community or as a society, we make choices based on a concept of culture as much as we make choices based on reason.”

Geography professor Bruce Hunter will work with his students to study the effects of watersheds, which are smaller bodies of water that drain to larger bodies of water, and how water is used in Cuban farming techniques.

Most of Hunter’s research will be conducted at the Almendares River, a major water source for Havana.

“There’s concern about contamination in that river from different sources, perhaps agricultural, or factories, or just litter,” Hunter said. “It’s the same things we deal with here, such as with the Trinity River. It was called ‘the river of death’ one time.”

He also said after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuban farmers were no longer getting the chemicals and pesticides needed to grow their crops. Since most of Cuba’s food was grown domestically, the country fell into a food crisis.

Farmers then had to return to older styles of farming, only using seeds that could be grown without the need for artificial chemicals.

“I’m interested to know what is happening in the rivers around Havana, or out in the country when we go, because they don’t use herbs or pesticides in the way we do, because they don’t have access to it,” Hunter said. “It’s a very hip thing right now to have locally grown food.”

RTVF professor Melinda Levin will lead the RTVF students.

They will document Cuban farmers while they farm, as well as Cuban architecture and landscape.

“We are going to tell the story of organic gardens in Cuba,” Levin said. “Cuba is obviously a very special place, from the people to the old cars in the streets.”

She also said that one of the best things students can do is travel outside the U.S. to get introduced to cultures different than their own, possibly changing who they are.

“Making the film is not the most important thing, but coming back and being better citizens is the most important thing,” she said. “I want each student to be a better person coming back than when they left.”

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