With my usual heavy (but ever-hopeful) heart, I have been reading some UNECE text in preparation for a meeting on the "green economy". In the Introduction to a discussion paper on the role of education for sustainable development in shifting to a green economy, UNECE notes:
Phase III of the UNECE Strategy for ESD strives to closely link the regional ESD process to other major sustainable development processes in order to facilitate the creation of synergies. By doing so, it aims to effectively promote sustainable development. In order to discuss the potential role of ESD for greening the economy, the Bureau of the UNECE Steering Committee for ESD agreed to organize a panel discussion during the sixth meeting of the Committee to address the potential role of ESD for shifting to a green economy.
In order to facilitate the discussion, this paper outlines the green economy approach to sustainable development. It shows how ESD and green economy are really two sides of the same coin: prominent green economy concepts focus mainly on top-down policies while ESD can contribute significantly to greening the economy from the bottom up because it has the ability to equip people with the values, competences, knowledge and skills that are necessary for them to put the green economy concept into practice.
However, if ESD and green economy really are "two sides of the same coin", what sort of coinage is this?
According to the UNECE text, UNEP’s working definition of a green economy describes it as:
“one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities... [A] green economy can be thought of as one ... [whose] growth in income and employment should be driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.”
UNECE then says that a similar, but "broader definition" is provided by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP):
“a green economy can be defined as an economy where economic prosperity can go hand-in-hand with ecological sustainability”
... which takes us back to Brundtland, if not to much earlier texts around environmental education. All this is helpful, as is the emphasis on economic growth, but it doesn't shed any light on the nature of the coin question. However, if we read on, we find:
ESD is embedded in the main principles that inform the concept of sustainable development: it engages with the three interlinked pillars of economy, environment, society and environment and moreover with the relation between the local and the global and ultimately aims to foster sustainable development. The concepts of green economy and ESD are therefore rooted in the same school of thought and serve the same goal; however, while they are conceptualized as different approaches for achieving sustainability, they are inherently interlinked.
Another paragraph, another metaphor. Not coinage this time, but something at the same time more ecological and philosophical: ESD and the green economy are "rooted in the same school of thought", and "serve the same goal".
This seems to lay bare the narrowness of much UN thinking about education (and learning) which encodes as disempowering an instrumentalism as does Thomas Gradgrind. Look at this text again:
ESD can contribute significantly to greening the economy from the bottom up because it has the ability to equip people with the values, competences, knowledge and skills that are necessary for them to put the green economy concept into practice.
"equip"? "EQUIP"? Whatever sort of verb this is, it's certainly not a "bottom-up" one, and owes more to the socially dismissive tabula rasa notion than to a sophisticated understanding of individual and social learning processes – or to how people construct knowledge together and develop skills. It also suggests that the "values, competences, knowledge and skills" that we shall need already exist, rather than there being in a constant state of becoming through people's interaction in a wide range of social contexts, including formal education ones. After all, people, even very young ones, come to learning processes with their own experiences, understandings, confusions, interests, values, and learning needs, even if these can not always be clearly or coherently articulated. And they are unlikely to want to be told what to think, or to be told how to think about the world, because they will have their own interests and learning needs that will likely be highly personal and contextual. Thus, if it is to be successful, ESD has to attend to people’s learning interests and needs, as well as to its own values and ideas, if it is to be successful and make a difference.
Of course, it could just be poor drafting, where "equip" actually means "work with people's own interests and ideas to develop ...", with all the caveats set out in the paragraph above.
But if it does, why not say so? Otherwise there's the temptation to think that UNECE's coinage (or do I mean ESD's?) is so much base metal.