United to Protect the Environment: University of Redlands & Salzburg Kick Off a Summer Program on Environmental Policy

bridges vol. 13, April 2007 / Institutions & Organizations

View of Salzburg's Altstadt (Old City) and the famous Festung (fortress) on the Mönchsberg.

At a recent convocation speech at the University of Redlands, in California, former Vice President Al Gore spoke to a spellbound audience about the realities of Global Warming. With rapid-fire PowerPoint images from his recent book and documentary movie, An Inconvenient Truth, he graphically illustrated past and present images of retreating glaciers and melting ice sheets around the world, and the potential consequences of rapid climate change. One of the most striking images was of the Grossglockner Glacier in Hohe Tauern National Park.

The Franz Josefs Höhe, built in 1906 on what was then the edge of the Pasterze Glacier, now sits perched on the edge of the steep U-shaped valley that the glacier once carved. From the Franz Josefs Höhe Glacierhaus one sees what appear to be ants walking across the toe of the glacier, only to realize that those are people, with a roaring river of melt water pouring out from under them.

Students in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Redlands in Southern California are excitedly planning on coming to Austria to see the Grossglockner Glacier firsthand, and learning more about the many Austrian environmental programs that may represent ways to avoid the impending climate crisis.

This Summer Program is the brainchild of Dr. Tim Krantz, a professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Redlands, and Dale Medearis, an alumnus of the university ('86). Medearis studied in Vienna (1985) during his junior year at the University of Redlands. "My time and experiences in Austria as a student were profound," said Medearis. It was there that Medearis developed an appreciation for the value of sustainable land use and urban environments, as well as becoming aware of the importance of applying the lessons from other countries in the United States. "I hope that the seminar that Tim and I have created kicks off a long-term effort to identify, understand, and transfer sustainable development practices from Salzburg to cities and regions in the US."

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Students will have the opportunity to explore the surrounding native beech forest and pedestrian trails.

The six-week intensive course, lasting from April 30 through May 19, 2007, begins in Redlands where students will become familiar with the physical and historical geography of Austria using the textbook, Austria: Society and Regions, by Elisabeth Lichtenberger. The topics of the textbook will be reinforced through incorporation of a Geographic Information System (GIS) of Austria developed by graduate students at the University of Salzburg, in which various environmental data can be viewed as thematic overlays on a base map for the country. Redlands is the "home" of GIS, the base for one of the leading GIS software developers in the world, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) . "The GIS enables us to view environmental data, such as the extent of alpine glaciers, over time and over the landscape," explains Tim Krantz. "We can ‘see' the Grossglockner Glacier where it was 100 years ago, and animate its retreat to the present, and even project the retreat of the glacier over the next few decades until it will be no more. Seeing is believing when one views these things with real data on real terrain models; and this visualization of the Alps without any glaciers in the near future is very sobering indeed."

The program collaborates closely with ESRI, which began in 1969 as a small consulting firm and later turned into a large research and development company for GIS technology. Due to a joint curriculum development project and teaching a course in Redlands International Masters Program in GIS, Dr. Josef Strobl, director of the Center for Geoinformatics Information at Salzburg (Z_GIS) was able to get in touch with faculty at Redlands.

As luck would have it, Redlands owned a house on the Mönchsberg in Salzburg City - the university has had a long-standing music and liberal arts education program in Salzburg since 1960 where over 3,000 students have participated in a semester-long study abroad program - and further contacts could be made there to aid in the development of the program.

Bavarian Alps

Redlands describes its Salzburg facility as "the little castle," saying: "Marketenderschlössl [is] a 450-year-old Renaissance building that traces its history back over 2,000 years and is set among forests and meadows overlooking the ancient heart of Salzburg. Beyond the trees in the near distance, one can see the snow-capped peaks of the Austrian and Bavarian Alps." The facility, though rich in history and in years, is updated to modern standards and conveniences.

After the three-week immersion and orientation in Redlands, students will visit the Mönchsberg facility for two weeks, with daily lectures by prominent environmental scientists and policy makers, and field trips to see the topics firsthand. Lectures have been arranged with the help of Dr. Gunter Sperka, chair of the Sustainability Coordinators of Austria.

Some of the program's confirmed guests include Werner Wutscher, secretary general of the Ministry of Environment; Elisabeth Freytag, the head of the EU-Environmental Policies Unit, Ministry of Environment, Vienna; Christoph Braumann, head of the Land-use-planning Unit, Land Salzburg; and Gerhard Löffler, from the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Land Salzburg.

The students' final week in Austria will include a trip to Hohe Tauern National Park and hiking in the Tyrolean Alps, where the magnificence and enormous scale of the Grossglockner Glacier belies the very scary reality that is Global Warming.

"From recycling programs to farm practices, from public transportation alternatives to principles of sustainable development, we have much to learn from the Austrian government and its people with regard to environmental policy and practice," Tim Krantz is convinced. "This is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing collaboration between US and Austrian environmental scientists and policy makers. For my students, many of whom have never traveled outside of the United States, they will see that there are alternatives to the way of life in the US."