Last week, the 5th International Conference of the Living Knowledge Network issued a Communiqué on Sustainability, Knowledge and Democracy – an initiative of the 'Big Tent' Group of international networks. Some have lauded this, but I fear it's not for me.
It's heady stuff in a right on, fashionably progressive, 1970s, paradigm-challenging, sort of way. Eventually, after I'd waded through its turgid prose and cliché, I did find myself nodding at points, particularly about universities and community. But, oh for a decent editor who understood about understatement – and about brevity being the soul of wit. The trouble is, I suppose, when you have so many groups involved, everyone want their points in there. Here's an extract ...
We begin by expressing our deep concerns about:
The continued destruction of our common home, our planet Earth, Our over dependence on technological solutions that may result in misleading claims about positive impact on the environment, Ways that the dominant global economic system with its unitary focus on economic growth results in increased inequality, loss of jobs, alienation from both land and each other, The persistent exclusion of the dreams, potential and contributions of the socio-economic bottom billion people of our world, ... .
We are ... aware that universities are complicit in the creation of our planetary problems but we also believe that knowing that communities and higher education institutions working together can play a significant role in the attainment of sustainable development.
We call for action to:
1. Challenge existing paradigms, structures and practices, by:
a) Recognizing that knowledge and expertise exists outside of the institutions of higher education. Communities and the earth itself are intellectual spaces where knowledge is created. Decolonizing our minds and our institutions is one significant step to acting on this awareness,
b) Acknowledging that 'community' or 'civic' engagement, has to mean more than just people. Community includes the environment and all the rest of nature,
c) Promoting the concept of an 'Ecoversity' whereby higher education institutions themselves are transformed into integrated holistic communities and where research, teaching and action functions are no longer separate
d) Breaking down the silos of knowledge creation and moving to co-creation of knowledge between the university and community,
e) Being open to ideas such as appointing community scholars, and creating smaller universities, and
f) Working towards new disciplines for a new world.
2. Increase the accountability of higher education by:
a) Shifting accountability from authorities and funders to citizens, involving community at all levels of Higher Education governance,
b) Linking our academic work with environmental social movements and to related movements against poverty, towards a solidarity economy,
c) Ensuring that people have an understanding of the interdependencies between environmental, social and economic forces and the skills and abilities to meet sustainability challenges, and
d) Moving beyond eco-branding by holding institutions accountable for the trademarks, brands and media around sustainability that they display.
3. Understand the connections of our local practices within a global framework ...
It ended ...
We live in turbulent times; our world is changing at accelerating speed. Information is everywhere, but wisdom appears in short supply when trying to address key inter-related challenges of our time such as; runaway climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources, the on-going homogenization of culture, and rising inequity. Universities have a responsibility to look after the well-being of the planet, not as stand-alone beacons of knowledge, but as places where wisdom of communities, eco-systems and the academy work together in partnerships for a world that is more sustainable and just.
Well, all the right words are there, but there are just far too many of them. We can expect even more as Rio approaches.