Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: September 2014

Let's hear it for the Ebola virus

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote recently about a dire presentation at the recent ECER conference where ESD was taken to task for being overly-anthropocentric.  The speaker, Helen Kopnina of the University of Amsterdam and the Hague University of Applied Science, spoke up for the downtrodden masses of the world (that is, the ants, termites, bacteria and viruses, etc) whose story is never told in conventional ESD narratives – nor, of course, do they usually get their say in journals, and so it is good that brave academics speak up for them.

It turns out that this presentation bears an uncanny resemblance to her paper in the Chinese Journal of Population Resources and Environment, with the title: "Debating ecological justice: implications for critical environmental education".  Details here.

Here's the Abstract:

This article will briefly discuss the implications of recognition of ecological justice in relation to environmental education (EE) and education for sustainable development (ESD).  It is argued that the present conception of environment taught through EE and ESD negates the subjectivity of non-human species and ignores the ethical imperatives of ecological justice.  Evocating environmental ethics, major directions integrating ecological justice into EE and ESD are proposed.

I hear that the Ebola virus's social media are all a twitter at this development.


Cheap at half the price

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Plymouth Herald – essential reading, I find – recently reported that the city's University had splashed out a sum not unadjacent to £150k on 7 Chairs.   "Gosh", that's cheap, I thought.  I know professors are poorly paid, but really, are things so bad down on the peninsular?

It turns out, however, that these are actual chairs (not Chairs), and of a carefully-crafted, designer nature that befits an institution on the Up.  Good for grandee bottoms at Graduation, it seems.  Not everyone is thrilled.   The story is here, and has nothing, we're told, to do with the VC's extended gardening leave.


Fairness and Physics

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

Peter Harper, variously of the Centre for Alternative Technology, Schumacher College, and the University of Bath is presenting a lecture tonight at BRLSI on Energy: Fairness, Physics and Sustainability.  This is the blurb:

The atmosphere is a shared resource.  Therefore the Climate Change problem cannot be solved by any nation on its own.   National programmes have to fit together into a global process, and have to be fair or no global agreement is possible.  Most of the problem is about energy supply, and understandably UK energy policies tend to focus on what is politically realistic, hoping that this will meet the requirements of fairness and physics.   So far, it doesn't even come close.  The lecture proposes an alternative approach, to ask first what kinds of UK policies are both fair and physically adequate, and then what political and economic policies might be needed to deliver them.  This follows a venerable principle explored by Canute the Great a thousand years ago: 

I guess, given the reference to Canute, this must be all about tidal power.

Harper notes that, "In the end, Physics trumps Politics".  This will be so, if we wait long enough; in the meanwhile, however, politics is having a good run for its money.  And what happened to justice in all this?  Consumed by fairness, I guess – not the same thing at all.


The most terrifying video you'll ever see

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

This is how this YouTube clip is introduced.  Really, I thought – has no one seen this YouTube gem which I defy anyone to watch without reaching for the valium.

No matter how often I watch the "most terrifying" YouTube video, it just seems to be a restatement of the precautionary principle – without taking into account the need to apply the precautionary principle to the application of the precautionary principle; and therein lies its problem.

The issues inherent in the other video are, by contrast, completely insurmountable and no recourse to principle of any sort will help.






What is ESD? And why is it important to your students?

📥  New Publications

This is the title of a paper that Paul Vare and I have written for the Teachers: Agents of Change project, funded by the EU, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, and the Czech Development Agency.

This project aims to strengthen competence of pre-graduate and in-service teachers in the Czech Republic and Poland through the introduction of courses in development education at universities so that teachers can effectively integrate development education into their teaching in accordance with the new core curricula.  One of the activities of the project is to create a collection of articles on development topics to help teachers gain a greater understanding of the issues.

The article begins ...

The origins of ESD (education for sustainable development) lie in environmental education and development education / global learning.  ESD brings together a wide variety of educational strategies which examine how living things relate to each other and depend on the biosphere, and on how quality of life is increasingly imperilled by how we now live.  It focuses on the increasing degradation of the global natural environment, and on the widespread lack of social justice and human fulfilment across the world.  These are inter-related issues and must be addressed together if students are to understand them.  In summary, then, ESD addresses this dilemma: How can we all live well, without compromising the planet’s ability to enable us all to live well?  This links people’s lives, the economic and political systems these are embedded in, and the continuing supply of goods and services from the biosphere that underpin and drive such systems.   Teachers across many subjects find much of value here, and students clearly find ESD interesting, motivating, and helpful – largely because they can see its relevance to the world and to their future lives.



Vare P & Scott W (2014) What is ESD? And why is it important to your students? Teachers: Agents of Change project, funded by the European Union, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, and the Czech Development Agency


Nimbyism is taken to new heights in Wiltshire

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Wiltshire has an explorer – David Hempleman-Adams – who seems to do most of his exploring out of the county.

Hempleman-Adams has made an intervention into the local solar PV politics (ie, should Wiltshire Council encourage or discourage it?).  The Council's policy is not to have a coherent policy, and so applications get turned down just because loud and well-connected (in a non-electric sense) folk with nice views object.  Needless to say, planning appeals inspectors tend to take a dim view of all this.

Hempleman-Adams has now written to Wiltshire Council objecting to the latest PV application on the grounds that solar farms spoil the view from his hot-air balloon.  The Wiltshire Times reports his saying:

They frankly look appalling from the air, a large black blot on an otherwise green landscape, and the cumulative effect of so many in one area is very striking and detrimental, potentially damaging the very reason people chose to visit the area.”

And, in what is sure to be the killer argument, he says puts moral pressure on the Council with this cri de coeur ...

"On a much smaller objection, I ride my horse, Mr Spot, past this very site and already have been nearly mowed down on several occasions.  Given that I have climbed Everest twice and reached both the North and South Poles and have lived to tell the tale, I think it would be very embarrassing for you if I get mowed down by an articulated lorry in my own back yard.”

My sympathy is entirely with Mr Spot.





There but for the grace ...

📥  Comment, News and Updates

... of ??

Well, you can complete the sentence for yourself, but my money's on the last two lines of Hilaire Belloc's 'Jim' (one of his cautionary tales for children) which were never far from the surface of things, even if they remained unsaid.

I struggled to find many references to (long-devolved) education in the great debate; no doubt the Scots still feel it's ok, and better than in the rest of the UK.  They might be right in terms of their schools – although PISA scores don't show all that great a difference between the disparate bits of the UK – apart from Wales that it which brings up the rear.

It's surely a different matter when it comes to higher education, where the Scots can hardly claim any kind of pre-eminence, and the university sector did feature in the campaign – or at least in the reporting of it south of the English Marches.  The part that sticks in the memory was the report , following an FOI request, of an attempt back in March to get the principle of a Scottish university to withdraw comments that the sector might well fare better, in research funding terms, under the Union than with independence.  This was refused, as was the subsequent opportunity to say how good Scotland's HE policies were.  Some of the FOI emails, and the back story, are here.



Intangible Cultural Heritage? Let's grab it with both hands

📥  Comment, News and Updates

On Saturday, there's a conference on Intangible Cultural Heritage in the UK: promoting and safeguarding our diverse living cultures.  It's at the Museum of London Docklands, West India Quay.  It's about time.

The 2003 UNESCO Convention defines Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) as: oral traditions and expressions, traditional craftsmanship, performing arts, rituals and festivals, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe and social practices.  So far, and quite shamefully, the UK (like North Korea) has not signed up to the convention (160 countries have).  I blame those Defra civil servants and Tory MPs who abhor Morris Dancing, May Poles and cheese rolling to equal degrees.

I'm a huge fan of the idea of Intangible Cultural Heritage which I first came across in Hong Kong's New Territories at its rather wonderful museum of that name.  I spend hours there.  How can you have a museum devoted to the intangible, do you say?  Well, quite easily, if you have culture, heritage and imagination.  Maybe that's where we go wrong ...


George Monbiot and Brian Wilson disagree on progress, and what's progressive

📥  Comment, News and Updates

George M’s latest dyspeptic vision of the future – at least for benighted folk north of the Wall –  has been seen off by Brian Wilson for the “patronizing rubbish” it clearly is.  Wilson asks where are the progressive ideas in nationalist politics, claiming never to have found one.

Sceptics of this view might point to free university tuition, except that this is as clear a middle-class subsidy as you'd want to find: all those rich folk who've lavished many years of private education on their bairns suddenly finding there's no more to pay thanks to tax-payer largesse.  Joy, rapture and bliss unconfined.  Meanwhile, the working poor in Glasgow and Dundee are still paying taxes to fund all this.  Not only that, they find that the state funding for the further education their own children use has been slashed to shore up the subsidy.  Quite a few people, it seems, want more of this sort of thing.

Linking Thinking – but never enough

📥  Comment, New Publications

You can access WWF Scotland's ageing, but still rather fine, Linking Thinking report here.  It was written by Stephen Sterling, Paul Maiteny, Deryck Irving and John Salter.  Is it for you?  Well, the authors say that if you, or your institution or organisation are:

  • interested in thinking skills but think the debate so far is ‘missing something’
  • perplexed or overwhelmed by complexity in our lives
  • interested in developing understanding about how things interrelate
  • concerned by too much fragmentation and segregation in educational structures, knowledge, or policy making
  • interested in the sort of thinking skills, values and concepts that might be needed in the transition towards a more sustainable society,

... then it is.  Such a pity not enough people took any notice of this the first time around.

It's not too late though ...