Studying Climate Change in Germany Brings Subject to Life

Students at Schlossdyck
Students gather in a garden at a 17th century monastery, their German lodging during the course.

Cory Kalm (`14) and Sunny Liu had never met before deciding to learn about carbon and its continuing role in the future of the planet. The UNM students traveled to Germany's picturesque Rhine country to do so last summer. For Kalm, a first-year UNM law student, it was his first trip abroad.

For Professor Denise Fort, it was the first time she had taught a course at the Schloss Dyck Castle through UNM's Summer in Germany program, presented by the International Studies Institute.

Eleven students, including two UNM law students, signed up for "Carbon and the Future of the World," a four-week course, taught in two segments by Fort and Professor Tobias Fischer of UNM's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

For her portion of the class, Fort discussed the regulatory framework of carbon throughout all levels of government, including at the international level. Students also explored how environmental problems can be approached at different levels of governance.

"The course not only enlightened me on the pressing issue of climate change from both a scientific and law perspective but also inspired me to focus my studies on environmental protection," said Liu, who is an undergraduate student studying accounting at the UNM Anderson School of Management. "The program truly brings a topic to life and a group of individuals toward a common interest and focus."

Carbon dioxide sequestration plant in Potsdam, Germany.
A field trip to a carbon dioxide sequestration plant in Potsdam, Germany.

In addition to classroom sessions, the students visited a coal mine and a facility that was removing carbon from the atmosphere in a process called carbon sequestration. They also spent a long day in Amsterdam, where they were the guests of Kristin Casper (`09), who is legal counsel for Greenpeace International Netherlands.

Casper arranged for the students to meet with a number of Greenpeace officials, along with a boat ride through the canals of Amsterdam. "It was an honor to host students from UNM and give them a taste of the international environmental and legal arena," she said. "This was one way for me to give back to UNM School of Law for the wonderful education I received."

Since graduating, Casper has been involved in a number of groundbreaking cases, including one in which she has been working with a Czechoslovakian legal organization and a small island nation called the Federated States of Micronesia on the first-ever transboundary environmental impact assessment of a coal-fired power station. In May she presented a poster of this work at a Columbia Law School conference.

Fort's students also visited The Hague, where they attended the war crimes trial of Radovan Karadzic, who was defending himself in a case in which the former Bosnian Serb leader has been charged with 11 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Kalm and Liu are now back in the classroom at UNM – Kalm in law school and Liu at Anderson – enriched by their summer study in Germany.

"I made very close friends from an initial group of strangers who all wanted to learn more about the environment. These individuals made the program an interdisciplinary and holistic study and now provide me with a network of support for my future career goals," said Liu. "If I could relive that summer in Germany once again, I would do it in a heartbeat."

August 26, 2011