Michigan State University students visit EIA

Michigan State University visit

The following post is written by seven Michigan State University students who recently visited EIA while participating in a study abroad program in the UK.

Environmental Science, Policy, and Criminology in Scotland and England

In a university that prides itself on having among the largest offering of study abroad courses in the U.S., our study abroad program is very unique in that it is composed of students from three different Colleges within MSU: Fisheries and Wildlife, Criminal Justice, and James Madison College (essentially Public Affairs). Our course is structured around site visits and discussions with conservation leaders in the UK. Our topics range from study of the physical and biological dimensions of the many different ecosystems, the criminality side with the prevention and persecution of offenders featuring heavily, the policy being enacted by the EU, UK and Scottish governments and how that is actually being carried out in the field and finally, the conservation and sustainability of ecosystems. We spent three days in London, meeting with the EIA and Chris Smith from the Environment Agency. From there we traveled up the coast to spend a week in Hull. While in Hull we spent the majority of the time focusing on the conservation, sustainability and restoration elements. We met with many different scientists and fishermen on these controversial topics. We continued this trend up on the shores of Loch Lomond as we spent a ten days at the Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment. We’ll be ending the trip in Edinburgh as we switch over to the policy side and begin to take a closer look at how the Parliaments and EU work on these issues.

Greg Brown, International Relations, 2014

Why Visit EIA?

Because our program has a multi-tiered approach in its study of Environmental Policy, Science, and Criminology, our visit with EIA fit in very nicely. Because of their efforts to expose the environmental dangers resulting from environmental crimes, EIA needs to work with policymakers and criminal authorities. Since we first visited EIA early on in our trip, we have heard many of the foundations to the organization echoed across the United Kingdom. The need for cooperating between governing bodies is particularly important. This is because some organizations, like EIA, can do things that other organizations, like the EA, are unable to do. When these groups work together it makes attempts to expose and punish environmental crimes much easier. Still, EIA also played a strong role in relaying the frustrations that are associated with thwarting environmental crimes. Even when environmental criminals are exposed, their punishments are often weak given the nature of their crimes. We have explored this idea throughout our program; many times, judgments against environmental crimes are difficult to rule on, and when they are, the consequences are minimal.

During our visit, we discussed the following EIA campaigns: Illegal Logging, Tiger Trade, Intelligence Led Enforcement (I2 software), Ivory Trade, and E-waste.

Jonathan Dworin, Environmental Policy, 2012

Illegal Logging

When we visited EIA, they discussed with us their current campaign to help expose and stop illegal logging in Indonesia. Illegal logging causes deforestation, which has major negative impacts on numerous species of wildlife as well as the surrounding people. The trade in illegal timber is large scale and controlled by powerful people, who often have the power to influence officials to avoid enforcement of logging regulations. Indonesia in particular experiences extensive illegal logging, and so as part of their campaign against illegal logging EIA investigated illegal logging in Indonesia. In order to expose how illegal timber is harvested and sold in Indonesia, EIA undertook an investigation in which they documented with film every step of the process in harvesting and trading illegal logs in one national park in Indonesia. With this evidence, they can incite action against illegal logging and help direct enforcement efforts. This campaign has helped expose corruption, has helped support communities in Indonesia to take action to protect their forests, and has helped provide evidence to pressure governments to respond to the illegal timber trade.

Whitney Belaski, Fisheries and Wildlife, 2012

Tiger Trade

“If India didn’t want wild tigers, there wouldn’t be any wild tigers left.” This is the quote that really resonated inside of me as we learned about the various environmental issues EIA tackles on a daily basis. It shows that there are groups of people, like EIA, all over the world willing to fight for the environment. It seems as though the ongoing battle to protect the tiger is always a case of the few versus the many. The many are the people fueled by greed and corruption. They profit from the illegal trade of tiger fur and tiger body parts. Tiger populations across Asia are decimated by this drive for profit. EIA represents the few and are determined to stand up for the wild tiger. Although they do not necessarily have the resources to match those who make millions from dead tigers, EIA’s ability to inform is the ultimate weapon. As the EIA continues to raise awareness about the illegal tiger trade market and dwindling populations, the pressure placed on governments and people mounts. Awareness can turn the few into the many and give the wild tiger a fighting chance.

Michael Petlak, Political Theory, 2012

Intelligence Led Enforcement (I2 software)

Please click on image to see a larger version

When we visited EIA, we learned that by being intelligence led EIA is able to step back and see the “big” picture. Being intelligence led assists in producing their order of priorities, ensures their resources are used efficiently and allows them to understand the size and scale of the problem from start to finish. This intelligence is not information, but rather information that has been checked and compared with other information and can then be used in decision making. The I2 software helps the agency with this goal of being intelligence led, by using source data in a web-based collaborative framework to help analyze the data, and by using server side analytics to unleash the potential of the data. After seeing how the I2 software works first hand, I think it makes so much sense to use this intelligence software, in order to help stop environmental crime.

Erin Smith, Criminal Justice and Psychology, 2014

Ivory Trade

While we are at the height of the global ivory trade, it is important to expose the growing industry and reduce future poaching through increased enforcement. The vulnerability of African elephant populations combined with the lack of enforcement across Central and Western Africa foster the illegal ivory trade. EIA’s work to uncover raw data and images of elephant killings provide first-hand accounts of the atrocity to the outside world; bringing the crime to everyone’s attention. The indiscriminate act of poaching targets both genders and elephants of all ages. Working hand-in-hand with NGOs and lobbying for the protection of elephants, they pressure governments to better regulate and persecute ivory traffickers. EIA also works to expose those not only poaching the elephants, but also those selling the ivory. From this approach, EIA can try to reduce the demand by targeting the suppliers and breaking off their business. Using their extensive intelligence software, EIA can target the central figure within the operation which is crucial to dissolving the operation. All in all, EIA is an important tool in education, the collection of first-hand data and the exposure of central figures within the operation. They have been successful in many operations and there is no reason why EIA cannot successfully tackle the challenge of the illegal ivory trade.

Amy Lueken, International Relations, 2011


In learning about the EIA electronic waste (e-waste) campaign, we learned how sophisticated their program has quickly become. They explained in detail how old television sets are being exported to countries in Africa where they are broken down, exposing the people of Africa to hazardous chemicals both directly and indirectly. We learned that electronic waste exportation from the UK is such a problem because people in Africa are willing to pay for used electronics whether they are working or not which has created a market for such products. It was wonderful to see that EIA now has some funding to place GPS trackers in old televisions to follow their path. This has given EIA definitive information that companies who are responsible for the safe disposal of electronic equipment are actually exporting the electronic waste to Africa which contradicts company reports. This is very detrimental to not only the people of Africa but to the environment as well. Therefore, even though electronic waste may not be directly affecting the environment of the UK at the moment, it is wonderful to see that non-governmental organizations, such as EIA, are actively involved in trying to reduce the UK’s contribution to this growing, global problem.

The staff members at EIA are extremely knowledgeable, passionate, and dedicated to their work and I would recommend visiting their facility to anyone who is interested in learning about, protecting, and conserving the environment.

Katie Kelel, Social Relations and Policy, 2014

Environmental Science, Policy, and Criminology in Scotland and England Program Instructors: William Taylor, Ed McGarrell, Norm Graham, Abigail Lynch (program assistant)