Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: December 2011

Global warming may be irreversible by 2006

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

This is not an example of my rather tardy New Year predictions, but the title of a recent article in the Onion – and thanks to Alan Reid for pointing it out as I've not been keeping up with the Onion's output lately – maybe because I find much American satire rather heavy-handed.

Here's a flavour of what the Onion has to say about an IPCC report that appears to have been written in the 1970s:

GENEVA—A new report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned Monday that global warming is likely to become completely irreversible if no successful effort is made to slow down the trend before 2006.  Unless greenhouse-gas emissions are drastically reduced by then, the report concludes, it will be too late to avoid inflicting a grave environmental catastrophe upon future generations.

“We have absolutely no time to waste," said Dr. William Tumminelli, lead author of the report, which stresses it is utterly crucial the world cut its carbon footprint in half by the year 2000. "If we wait until 1998 or even 1995 to really start doing something about climate change, our planet's rising temperature will already have set in motion a series of devastating and irreparable long-term consequences. We need to have strict international rules in place well ahead of 2006 or, to be blunt, many of the earth's inhabitants will be doomed.”

The Onion goes on to note that the IPCC report estimates that the failure to address global warming could result in sea levels rising 6 inches by the end of the 20th century, with 2000-2009 being the hottest decade ever recorded, and roughly half the Arctic ice cap melting by 2011.  Even before 2006, the Onion indicates that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will reach "entirely unmanageable levels," with scientists confirming the likelihood of an alarming increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and droughts, which could lead to death tolls in the hundreds of thousands.  It quotes Brookings Institution political analyst Gloria Leting as saying:

"Climate change is the deadliest crisis currently facing humanity, so needless to say, we can expect it to be the dominant issue of the 2000 presidential election.  It stands to reason that, as the world's foremost producer of greenhouse gases, the United States will want to take the lead in preventing this disaster while we still have time."

Quite so.  But as I read on, I did wonder just which of the Onion's many possible targets are being satarised.  Probably them all, I suppose – in its typically heavy-handed fashion.



📥  News and Updates

0.679 (don’t you just love this precision) is Environmental Education Research’s impact factor in the education & educational research category of the Social Science Citation index which gives it a ranking of 88/184 – not bad for a new-comer, and a niche one at that, I'd say.  Although, of course, I don't really believe in such league tables, as an ex-editor, I do admit to some pleasure at it all.

See EER's website for more detail about this, and about the significant changes to the journal's structure and contents for 2012 as the editor takes the journal south.


Double science

📥  Comment

I watched both Brian Cox and Bruce Hood on BBC 4 last night, with the promise of the best double science lesson for many years, if not ever.   As usual in these programmes, Cox flew round the world to exotic locations – this time trying to explain gravity, whilst Hood was rooted to the Royal Institution spot illustrating aspects of the functioning of the human brain in the RI's latest Christmas lectures.

At least I think that's what Cox was doing, though it was hard to tell as he shifted so quickly across high mountain ridges, deep waterfalls, deserts, a 'Comet Vomit' flight to experience what looked like an uncomfortable weightlessness, and time in a Swedish centrifuge where 5 g (the sort you find on planet Splot), looked the sort of environment to avoid at all costs; it even managed the almost impossible, and wiped the smile off Cox's face.  Whilst it's good that someone endures all these hardships on our behalf, whilst providing graphic and colourful inter-galactic images (black hole anyone?), I did wonder what was the point when the ostensible purpose – bringing an understanding of the gravitational force – seemed so secondary to our being amused.  Anyway, I am tired of the BBC's default assumptions about what's necessary to teach about science as these seem to be more about collecting frequent flier points than about carefully structuring learning experiences.

How refreshing, then, to watch the first two Royal Academy 'lectures' about the brain.  Not only was Hood forced to be in one place, but there was a demanding audience to be engaged as well.  I've watched these lectures over the years to mixed feelings, but this series seemed to hit the button: articulate, witty, and informative, with clever experiments and a lot of meaningful audience participation – and you could join in at home.  It all seemed very well thought through from a pedagogical perspective – with the audience and understanding firmly in mind.

Sadly, this was not something that troubled Cox's producers who never really allowed their boy to get to grips with the reality of gravity.

Post-script, 24 hours on:  I had another dose of double science again last night – same settings; same story: Cox clutching an airline ticket whilst Hood engaged his audience – and I awake to Cox on Desert Island Discs.  Now, there's an idea ...


ESD is ...

📥  Comment

Just what, exactly?  Well, I read a comment recently that ...

ESD is education that addresses the inter-relatedness of social justice, ecological integrity and economics

Oh, how I wish it did, but the sort of ESD that I usually come across (or read and hear about) never seems to do this.  Rather, most of those who espouse or promote ESD know little about economics, and teach less.   If it is there at all, economics usually comes to the party dressed as politics, and then is often just a caricature that's positive (usually socialist – huzzar!), or negative (usually neoliberal – boo!), according to taste.

And anyway, the phrase doesn't really work: social justice and ecological integrity are values and desired universal global social outcomes, whereas economics is a discipline and a process – often, it should be said, quite a political one.  However, if education actually did set out to explore ...

"the inter-relatedness of social justice and ecological integrity through economics"

then we might be getting somewhere, especially as the exploring of the inter-relatedness of these issues through economics is exactly the process of everyday politics and government — and hence is citizenly.  This seems much needed when the continuing existences of poverty and the processes of ecological disintegration are fundamentally political (policy) choices that we make – using economics to bring them about.  As Steve Gough once said, there seems nothing more sustainable than poverty.


New kid on the blog

📥  New Publications

Terrible pun, but a very warm welcome, anyway, to Arjen Wals's new blog: Transformative Learning.  Arjen writes:

Ultimately, sustainability needs to emerge in the everyday fabric of life – in the minds of people and in the values they live by.  Such emergence depends on how and what people learn, both individually and collectively.  A central question in my work is how to create conditions that support new forms of learning that take full advantage of the diversity, creativity and resourcefulness which is all around us, but so far remains largely untapped in our search for a more sustainable world.

Hard to disagree, so read and learn ...


Last snowdrops of the year

📥  Comment, News and Updates

These should more properly be the first snowdrops of 2012, I suppose, but given that they are in bloom at the University in December, that seems premature – or precocious, maybe – possibly like the snowdrops themselves.  Some will cite this as more evidence of global warming; others, likely university managers, will see it as a metaphor for the institution's hothouse atmosphere.  But careful observation over some years reveals that, come snow, frost, or balmy south westerlies, these particular snowdrops always bloom in December: more nature than nurture, then.  Just goes to show the value of a bit of empirical evidence.


Plan A: the learning store

📥  News and Updates

I'm grateful to Nick Jones for the news that M&S has opened its first international sustainable learning store.  Sadly, this is in India, so I'll not be popping along any time soon, but I would were it a bit nearer – and there is one in Sheffield it seems, so ... .

As M&S makes clear:

Planned and built with sustainability in mind, the learning stores provide an opportunity for the company to further develop its knowledge of sustainable construction, with the aim of eventually creating a zero carbon store built with 100 per cent recycled materials

... the point here is for the company to learn rather than its customers.  I'd not want to sniff at this, far from it, but it would be good if M&S could share its learning with shoppers, if only to encourage others.


Before the big bang

📥  Comment

I watched an engaging BBC4 Horizon programme last night which mostly involved theoretical cosmologists putting forward their own ideas and a few arcane diagrams, and being just ever so slightly, but fairly nicely, dismissive of those of others.  Not all the ideas on offer seemed sensible, but I remember someone (who seemed to know what they were talking about) once saying that the right question in the quantum world was not "is this a crazy idea?", but "is this idea crazy enough to be right?".

The focus of the programme was whether it was sensible to think of what happened before the big bang — or not.  Some thought yes, and others no, and some like Roger Penrose had changed their mind, and said how exhilarating it was to do this — but I knew that, in my much more modest way.  It was a bit like ESD argumentation, though on a slightly grander scale and with much better pictures.


Transformative learning – or is it transformative teaching?

📥  Comment, New Publications

In a discussion paper for the HEA, ESD and Inter-disciplinarity: focus and trajectories, written in preparation for yesterday's seminar: Inter-disciplinary Sustainability Education: Insights, Momentum and Futures, Alex Ryan writes:

Following the work of Mezirow and developments by other educationalists, transformative learning processes generate shifts in the perspectives and frames of reference of learners, as well as their beliefs, attitudes and reactions, through the use of critical reflection, challenges to existing assumptions and the creation of alternative meaning schemes ... .

I was hoping to attend this seminar, virtually at least from my desk, but delayed travel home from an overnight event got in the way, so the brief comment that follows isn't informed or qualified by any of the discussion.

To me, Alex's text sounds like a descriptor of transformative teaching processes (or pedagogical contexts perhaps), rather than learning.  That is, what a teacher plans and sets up and hopes to achieve.  I say this because whilst teachers may propose, it is always potential learners who dispose.  In other words, all there ever are, are experiences, some of which give rise to learning, with some of these, in turn, transpiring to be transformative to one extent or another, perhaps in the way outlined above – and by no means all such experiences are found in formal education.   Liberal educators know all this in the very quickness of their being, and tend to be clear about the distinctiveness of preferred pedagogical means and possible learning ends.

Mezirow, J (1991) Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass


The road out of Durban

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I posted recently on Saudi attempts to get hold of some of the green cash that's to be given to countries that are adversely affected by the world's carbon-reduction efforts.  This, in the House of Saud's case, is to compensate them when no one's buying their oil any more.  The clever money was always that this was merely a negotiating position.  Not so, it seems, as a thoughtful piece on the Economist blog makes clear:

“I’M SORRY,” said the UN bureaucrat, a flush of emotion flickering across his perspiring face.  “I’m sorry, but this is something that bothers me a lot.”  He paused to compose himself.

The problem was the Saudi Arabians, who the previous night had threatened to block the passage of a parcel of agreements at the ongoing UN climate change summit in Durban.  They were demanding an addition to it—a commitment to look into ways to compensate oil producers for the losses they would suffer if the world stopped burning fossil fuels. If this did not happen, the oil sheikhs would withhold their support from the entire package, of finance, forestry, technology and other climate-friendly measures.

Most of the scores of diplomats present were appalled. Not least those from small island nations, like Kiribati and Tuvalu, which are likely to disappear beneath the rising seas long before the Saudis have drained their last well. But it mattered naught.  Agreements can only be reached at the UN climate summit — properly known as the 17th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (or COP 17) — through a consensus of the 200-odd countries represented at it. After a fraught few hours of bickering, the Saudis got their wretched commitment.

The rest of the Economist's posting is worth a read for the insight it provides into the COP process.  As is the piece in the Telegraph today from Geoffrey Lean who sees hope in a new alliance between the EU and a range of developing countries, pitting themselves against India and China, and successfully painting them into the big polluters corner along with the USA.

As for me, well, too much of the noise from Durban sounds like cans being kicked down the road.  No doubt this is buying time in the hope that another and very much better deal can be done, but as the Guardian's report suggests, it all depends on what the agreed form of words: "an agreed outcome with legal force", is taken to mean.  Some will likely be hoping that very long grass will soon be coming into view.