Town Hall Meeting


This lesson uses group problem solving and role-playing to teach students about environmental crises and the problem-solving skills needed to deal with them. Students look at four cases of decline in China, related to forestry, water management, desertification, and sewage management in urban areas. Students apply their own critical thinking skills and debating efforts to EcoTipping Point case studies and then learn about the actual strategies that turned the tide in each case.  The four cases used can be found on the EcoTipping Points website at:

Suggested Procedure:

  1. Show students the Apo Island Video to introduce them to the idea of a case study involving a shift from decline to restoration.
  2. Place students in small problem solving groups. Each group is given a case study worksheet (below) with a short description of a place, and the problems their community is facing. There will be two groups doing each case study.
  3. After locating the region being studied on a map, students discuss the set of problems and brainstorm solutions to keep the community from further decline. They must agree upon a strategy, and write two paragraphs defining the strategy and their justification for choosing that route. Before they begin their work, it should be stressed that a solution is only practical if it addresses the needs of both nature and the local people.
  4. When students are done with one case study, they switch stories with another group, and start over. Each member of the group should be assigned one case study to present to the class at the town hall meeting.
  5. When all groups have completed the four case studies, the class convenes as a town hall meeting. Students can choose a foreman, and each group can assign one student as the spokesperson for each case. The class should debate one case study at a time. For each case study, rotate through the groups to hear their proposal, and then open the discussion to the general forum to decide which strategy is most likely to be effective and practical.
  6. After all four cases have been debated, students are presented with the actual strategies employed by those communities (below). Very short capsules of those stories (approx 1 page each) can be found at this EcoTipping Points link:

As a whole class, students can contribute to making a list of what successful methods were employed to tip the balance.

Below you will find brief descriptions of the problems in the four case studies The solutions actually implemented can be found at

Case Study #1: China – Sichuan Province

The Qiang people live in an area important for its mountain forests, a major source of water for the massive Yangtze River—what happens here has downstream implications for villages, cities, and agricultural areas throughout a large region of China. Deforestation and population growth over four decades has caused forests to shrink by up to 40 percent! In addition, biodiversity has been lost, as many plant and animal species could not survive these trends. As the situation worsened, the government began to recognize the importance of the region and that something had to be done. Traditionally, reforestation efforts in China involved banning all locals from entering the forest, so that regrowth could take place, but the Qiang people traditionally cultivate medicinal plants as one of their most important sources of income. This has always been done in the common woodlands around their houses—the same areas that need to be reforested. What should be done?

Case Study #2: China – Gansu

The Gansu province of China is one of the driest and poorest areas in the mountainous area of Northwest China. The rivers are too saline (salty) for either drinking or irrigating crops, the groundwater is minimal and of bad quality, and there was significant soil erosion. Agriculture is largely rain-fed. The community members, particularly women and children, spent a great deal of their time going to fetch water, and the community suffered from poverty and constant insecurity about their food supply. After a period of significant drought, the provincial government realized it must take action. What should they do?

Case Study #3: China – Southern Taklimakan Desert

Villages in Taklimakan are threatened by mobile sand dunes caused by overgrazing, salinized (salty) soil from irrigated farming (the area is flat and has poor drainage) and overexploitation of fuelwood. Natives of the targeted region – four counties in Hotan Prefecture – are chiefly farmers and herders. However, their strategies for farming, herding, and collecting fuel are destroying their homes and land which are literally swept away by dunes. What should they do?

Case Study #4: China – Fuzhou

Fuzhou is a crowded city of 2.5 million people in the southwest of China, on the Bamai Canal, that had 100 miles of open sewer running through their city, alongside temples, restaurants, and schools, and into the Ming River. The canal, which had wastewater running directly into it, was grey, laden with sewage and garbage, and emitted a powerful stench. This pollution was not only unpleasant to the eyes and nose, but was a health hazard, and prevented basic animal life—fish, birds, and butterflies—from inhabiting the area. What should they do?

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