Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: May 2015

A Festival of disruptive Innovation – the DIF

📥  Comment, News and Updates

In case you're wondering what happened to the EMF – the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – here's an update.

You'll recall that it began in 2010 with the aim to inspire a generation to rethink, redesign and build a positive future.  The Foundation works with the idea of the circular economy which it says provides a coherent framework for systems level redesign, and as such offers us an opportunity to harness innovation and creativity to enable a positive and regenerative economy.

It still works closely with HE and business, but has largely abandoned the school sector, except for international focused work.  It is working with the informal sector through the idea of disruptive innovation.  Forget Hay, Cheltenham, Bath, Woodstock and Glastonbury, it's disruptive innovation that's the thing.  Here are details of the 2015 festival [the DIF], where you can also download details of what happened in 2014.

I am sharing a platform with EMF guru, Ken Webster, next week in Cambridge, at a Climate Histories seminar, so may well have more to report on all this.



Another view of renewable energy

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the positives of renewable energy, including the large strides that China is making.  The latest Economist adds some perspective to those figures with a story of dubious financial activity in Beijing and Hong Kong, leading to the possible / probable financial collapse of yet another Chinese Icarus, caught in a vice between regulators and short-sellers.  'T'was ever thus, perhaps, one way or another with new technologies and the need for capital.  Here's the WSJ with further detail.  Meanwhile, the sun keeps shining.


Renewables and the economy

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Here are a few factoids:

  • Rooftop solar is growing worldwide by 50% per year.
  • In 1985 solar cost $12 per watt, but today’s prices are closer to 36 cents per watt.
  • Every five hours the world adds 23 MW of solar, which was the global installed capacity in 1985.
  • In January 2014 Denmark got 62% of its electricity from wind.
  • In 2013 Ireland got 17% of its electricity from wind, and Spain and Portugal both exceeded 20% from wind.
  • Today China gets more electricity from wind (91,000 MW) than it does from nuclear reactors.
  • It plans to have  200 GW of renewable energy by 2020.
  • The United States is second in the world in installed wind turbines, with South Dakota and Iowa obtaining over 26% of their electricity from wind.

These come from The Daly News a few days ago.  The post concludes:

"Those who are serious about getting to a true–cost economy should help accelerate the renewable energy revolution as a way to achieve it."

A footnote directs us to The Great Transition by Lester Brown and colleagues at the Earth Policy Institute for "a superb account of the global renewable energy revolution that offers hope to all."  I'm pleased to say that Semington A continues to contribute to this trend.



On hearing Cetti's warbler for the first time

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The RSPB says that Cetti's warbler is a small nondescript bird which skulks around, keeping out of sight.  This may be a sound survival strategy.  It has bred here since 1973.  Gary Mantle mentioned it in one of his recent blog posts.  It has a cheery song.

I heard it the other day deep in the Wiltshire countryside.  Needless to say, I did not see it.  I did, however, see a rare bird at the same place.  Well, to be more exact, I saw (through field glasses) what might have been a bundle of beige feathers set against a similarly beige background.  It may (or may not) have moved.  I confess to being rather unmoved.  That is, I was just as happy to know that the bird was there, as I was to see it.  This probably explains why I don't dash round the West Country whenever some exotica flies in; I am as happy to know, as to see.  Anyway, I much prefer my birds to come to me, which is why we garden with birds (butterflies, etc) in mind, and why it is so wonderful when 'our' fieldfares return every year.

I do sometimes momentarily regret that I don't know many different bird calls; and, whilst I can tell a pheasant from a blackbird, differentiating, say, a chiff chaff from a willow warbler is quite beyond me.  But this is the tyranny of naming; the idea that we can only really appreciate something if we can name and categorise it.  I often think about this problem when I come across a wild flower that I admire but cannot identify, and this, in turn, usually reminds me of Henry Reed's second world war poem: Naming of Parts, even though the poem's point is quite another one ...

Today we have naming of parts.  Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning.  And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing.  But today,
Today we have naming of parts.  Japonica
Glistens like coral in all the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel.  And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings.   And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got.  The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb.  And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger.  You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb.  The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt.  The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see.  We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring.  And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have the naming of parts.

Henry Reed



Global energy subsidies – a long road back

📥  Comment, New Publications

An IMF working paperHow Large Are Global Energy Subsidies?, paints a picture of energy subsidies at global and regional levels by focusing on post-tax subsidies.  These arise when consumer prices are below supply costs plus a tax to reflect environmental damage and an additional tax applied to all consumption goods to raise government revenues.  The paper says that such post-tax energy subsidies are much higher than previously estimated and are projected to remain high.

comment in the Guardian, says that fossil fuel companies benefit from global subsidies of $5.3tn a year, because polluters are not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas.  These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.  China is the most egregious contributor to this problem through its massive use of coal.

Whilst the problem seems clear, what to do about it is less obvious in the sense that what is politically possible seems limited.  The prize is considerable though.  As the Guardian notes, "the need for subsidies for renewable energy – a relatively tiny $120bn a year – would also disappear, if fossil fuel prices reflected the full cost of their impacts."

Thus, in the UK, we might imagine an additional (and hypothecated) tax on all carbon-based fuels with the finance raised going to fund health programmes.  But who is going to vote for this?  And which party is going to propose that we do so?  Before any of that, we need an imaginative and wide-ranging educational programme that helps people understand the issues.  That doesn't seem politically possible either.  It looks as if we shall need to proceed one school and community at a time.





The end of the world is upon us (yet again)

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Have you come across Guy McPherson?  He's an academic interested in climate science / change.  I only know about him because Dave Moreman mentioned him in his encounter with "Ask Gareth" the other day.

If you decide you'd like to watch his latest video, you may want to think hard about doing so, as McPherson writes and talks about human extinction in the "near term"; this seems to be very soon – maybe even next week if the methane plumes get us before the plutonium does.  He has a very gloomy message, but his audience at York University last week seemed to like it; well, they were very polite.

If you do watch him, make sure you view this as well, for a bit of necessary balance.  Maybe we're not doomed after all – well not yet – and it may be safe to think about that September conference ...


The Forestry Commission misses an opportunity

📥  Comment, New Publications

Superworm is super-long.  Superworm is super-strong.  Watch him wiggle!  See him squirm!  Hip, hip, hooray for SUPERWORM!

"Have a forest adventure with Superworm in 2015" – says the Forestry Commission's website.  To aid this, the Commission has published a book by Julia Donaldson.  It tells the story of how a superhero worm and his mini-beast friends defeat the "villainous Wizard Lizard".  Clearly, it is playing into the Superhero trope so (currently) apparently so beloved of young children.

The purpose seems positive.  The Forestry Commission says:

From 13 March until the end of October, families can enjoy Superworm activity trails at around 20 selected sites across the country.  Each activity trail will include up to 10 stops and take around one hour to complete (distances will vary between 800 and 1,500 metres).  

At each stop, visitors will discover a panel containing activities and questions inspiring them to use the Superworm story and its characters to think about the woods and forests around them.  The trail has been designed by Forestry Commission England’s learning team to have activities suitable for children aged 3-6, as well as elements that will appeal to 6-8 year olds.  The activities will encourage children to use their ‘superhero’ senses and powers of discovery and creativity; from discovering the touch and smell of the forest to becoming nature detectives.  

Additional activities created by the Youth Sport Trust will also excite young adventurers to become super-fit like Superworm.  Special packs with additional things to do, including a sticker sheet, activity leaflet, string to make your own Superworm and a limited edition Superworm mini-book, will also be available to purchase onsite.

Although that sounds promising, I was disappointed with the booklet – and clearly mistaken in my expectations of it.  I had thought that it might be informative about worms and forests and their inter-connectivity.  Not at all.  All you learn is that: "Superworm is super-long.  Superworm is super-strong.  Watch him wiggle!  See him squirm!  Hip, hip, hooray for SUPERWORM!"

So much for environmental education, I thought.  I hope the activity trails make up for this, but you have to wonder.



What happened when Dave asked Gareth "a corker of a question"

📥  Comment, News and Updates

EAUC 's Food for Thought last Friday afternoon was about a question posed to blogger Gareth Kane ( Ask Gareth ...) by Dave Moreman, a senior lecturer at Staffordshire University.  Moreman asked:  How can I teach sustainability when I live unsustainably?

The first thing Kane did was to change the question to: "How can you ask others to behave more sustainably when your own lifestyle is far from perfect?" which is not quite what Moreman asked.  Although Kane's three main points ...

  • Actions are more potent than words
  • Don't preach
  • Don't fear the idiots

... are sound, they are not particularly focused on teaching, or working in a university, and so were not all that helpful.

I wonder what you would have said.  My first thought was to wonder whether Moreman was actually "teaching sustainability"; whatever the phrase means.  Kane assumed it was all about behaviour change, but I doubt it – Moreman is a senior lecturer in a university geography department, after all, so it might have been about students learning all sorts of things.  Anyway, he seemed happy enough with the response he got from Kane, judging by his subsequent comments.

All-in-all, rather disappointing.




Polli:Nation – nice title

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The University of Stirling has for a full-time PhD studentship that will involve evaluating and researching aspects of a school-based citizen science and environmental education project: Polli:Nation Citizen Science and Environmental Education in the School Grounds .

This involves schools in recording, conserving habitat for, and restoring the abundance and diversity of, pollinating insect species in the UK and is led by Learning Through Landscapes.  It's paid for with £1.4 M from the Heritage Lottery Fund, an outfit that everybody now seems to depend on.  Partners include Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, the Field Studies Council, and the OPAL (citizen science) network, working with The Conservations Volunteers and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

The deadline in the end of the month.  This is what they say about the evaluation vs. research issue:

The core of the work will involve the researcher in discerning the salient features of the Polli:Nation approach.  What are the effects of this approach to school-based citizen science and environmental education on pupil experience and learning?  They will seek to understand the processes that support and influence how pupils gain knowledge, skills and understanding of citizen science, habitat restoration, and conservation of biodiversity through this more expanded form of curriculum making co-produced with school and non-school partners, human, and more-than-human agencies.  They study will inform wider debates on what might count as effective education for sustainability.  For the purposes of the HLF evaluation which sits within the study, the researcher will also draw upon Polli:Nation’s analysis of survey data sources for evidence of community and organization-level supports for pupil learning and their preparedness to take action (for example, changes and development of teacher’s practice, school policy and curricular development, changes in school use of grounds, school-community links).

Given the supervisor (Greg Mannion), the student will be in very good hands.  Meanwhile, it's interesting to note the 'environmental education' badging to it, despite the EfS terminology, above.  A straw in the wind, perhaps.


New Standards in Australian HE

📥  Comment, New Publications

There are new national standards for Environment and Sustainability in higher education across Australia whose role is to "support the design and delivery of innovative higher education in the Environment and Sustainability field".  They are included in the newly published Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Statement for Environment and Sustainability.

The standards are grouped into four domains:

  1. Transdisciplinary knowledge
  2. Systemic understanding
  3. Skills for environment and sustainability
  4. Ethical practice.

They have been endorsed by the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (ACEDD) which commissioned their development.  The Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching provided grant funding for the development work.  An infographic summarising the development of the standards is available here.

It's good to see this work being done, and is something that will merit careful scrutiny, particularly in relation to the vexed question of skills.  Expect further comment about this.