Hanoi, Vietnam

Several weeks ago I was in Hanoi, Vietnam on the first leg of my ‘Asian Tour’ (will write about the second leg – Beijing – soon after). I was there very much on a fact finding mission, to learn about what some of the institutions in Hanoi are doing. Any apprehensions I had about whether there would be any common ground between Vietnam and north-east Scotland were blown away when I bought my first meal and got given these two banknotes as change:

Energy on banknotes

Energy on banknotes

Oil and gas in the built environment is something that is very familiar to me in Aberdeen (I think Scotland may at one point even have had banknotes with oil platforms on them too, but I may be wrong). However, with most of the production in Scotland being by private sector companies, we don’t have the same need for oil and gas propaganda – this postcard is going up in my office as soon as I get back in:

Oil and gas propaganda poster

Oil and gas propaganda poster

Oil and gas is big business in Vietnam, but there is also an acute awareness of the problems climate change will pose for the country – especially in coastal regions. With over 3,000km of coastline, I was repeatedly told that coastal areas in Vietnam in particular are at risk from flooding and rising sea levels, and also that Vietnam is ranked within the top five countries at risk from climate change (indeed, during the following two weeks in Beijing, I saw slides backing this up, and also heard news stories about flooding across SE Asia caused by heavy rains). Effects of and responding to climate change featured heavily in the journals I was given by the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, and I found it rather sobering to see a part of the world where the effects of climate change – caused quite frankly by people like me living far away – are already starting to hit home:

Human Geography journals

Human Geography journals

Climate change is not the only environmental issue Vietnam is wrestling with at the moment, though. Industrialisation has brought with it air pollution and toxicity (much more about that when I post about Beijing…), which the School of Environmental Science and Technology at Hanoi University of Science and Technology is investigating. At HUST I was also fortunate enough to be able to meet some final year students, who very impressively were in university over summer working away on air pollution monitoring experiments. The contrast between the subject matter of the research – toxicity and pollution – and the airy, green nature of the campus did not escape my attention:

Hanoi University of Science and Technology

Hanoi University of Science and Technology

Perhaps what I found most stimulating during my time in Vietnam was the strong awareness in everyone I met of the need for truly interdisciplinary research to tackle environmental issues. This was especially true at the Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies at Vietnam National University, where the emphasis was on applied and policy-relevant (yet theoretically-grounded) research stretching across both the physical and social sciences. Given our obsession with ‘impact’ in the UK, it was refreshing and encouraging to hear about research that took into account not only high-level policymaking, but also the effects of and benefits to local communities:

Vietnam National University

Vietnam National University

For the research component of my Hanoi week, ‘interdisciplinarity’ was very much the key word – however, such interdisciplinarity doesn’t just mean physical scientists paying attention to the more social aspects of environmental issues. Equally, I am coming to realise it is absolutely vital for social scientists to at least understand the logic behind modeling, quantitative analysis and the physical dimensions of climate change. This is something I’m going to be occupying myself with over the coming months – one quite often hears of physical scientists turning towards the social sciences, but how many folk go the other way? Any suggestions for reading material to help me along the way greatly appreciated!

Next up, Beijing…

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