Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: June 2015

Weecly Update 1

📥  Comment, News and Updates, Talks and Presentations

If so minded, you can follow the official outpourings of WEEC 8 on Twitter: @WEEC2015  – but you really should be outside.  Here are a few of the highlights so far (and my indented comments ...)

Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson talks about the importance of education for all when it comes to EE and ESD

Maybe.  But ESD / EE / EFS / LSD / SDE / etc / etc have never been of any importance to those within UNESCO who are focused on EFA

Irina Bokova "ESD must stand at the heart of the new Post 2015 development agenda."

This is not what UNESCO's new report on Global Citizenship Education [GCE] says – where there is no emphasis on ESD; indeed, hardly a mention.

Job Bickling Resistance to Cartesian thinking: "To understand differently we need to be in the world differently in the world differently ... less separation through abstract thinking and walls."

Is this statement so utterly profound as to shake neo-liberal capitalism's very foundations, or has careless proof-reading reduced it to nonsense?  My money's on the latter given that JB has form.

Arjen Wals "Critical thinking (e.g. questioning taken-for-granted values, behaviours and systems) and disrupting unsustainable systems / routines is critical."

Well, up to a point, because that's what IS / ISIS / ISIL / whatever thinks as well.  They have infantry and tanks, and we only have UNESCO, which doesn't seem fair.  The point is that such critical thinking has to have a value base that takes people and planet, and their inter-relationship, seriously.

Mirian Vilela says that the peace agenda is part of the sustainability agenda

Indeed, who's against peace, you might wonder?  Me for one, if the cost is too high.  Odd, isn't it that a sustainable world always seems to have to be a peaceful one.  But suppose that sustainability needs protecting against the intolerant?   I think it's time to reach for the Belloc:

Pale Ebeneezer thought it wrong to fight,

But Roaring Bill, who killed him, thought it right.


Introducing, momentarily, the 'Amazon Second'

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Amazon, in addition to selling stuff, is now in the time-shifting business.  From 1200 today, 30th June, to 1200 on 1 July, the universal second, according to Amazon, will be slightly longer than seconds everywhere else.  This is because of the need to add in a leap second at the end of June owing to the slowing of the earth's rotation.  You can read much more about this on the Science Geek's informative blog.

It is to be hoped that this will not result in the earth's shifting on its axis, or purchases via Amazon's going astray.  The first of these would be unfortunate; the second, cataclysmic.


Another WEEC, another two conferences

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Three conferences in one WEEC – and what to do?

There's WEEC 8 in Göteborg at the start of the weec, but enough's been said for now about that.  Then there's the National Sustainable Schools conference in Bristol, and the International Outdoor Learning Conference in London, which are on at the end.  I'm going to the last of these whose strap line is Lessons from Near & Far: Research & Policy.  Here's the morning programme:

Opening Address: Andy Clements defines the Issues

Session 1: 3 inputs – Comparing responses: How do different countries achieve benefits using research and policy?

  • School-based learning in Natural Environments: Lessons for policy and research from the Natural Connections Demonstration Project in England
  • Outdoor Learning in Singapore: Past, Present and Future
  • Why Denmark is Investing in Outdoor Learning

Session 2: 2 inputs – Examples of UK Research / Policy Interface Interaction

  • Uncertainty, agency, authenticity: Learning in Natural Environments and purposeful real life learning for resilient youth
  • The impact of residential experiences on pupils’ health and learning

In the afternoon there are four small groups to choose one from – more presentations.  These notionally focus on place, curriculum, methodology and policy, but there are papers on 'place' in the curriculum and policy sessions as well.  All very confusing, but it'll be ok on the night, I guess.  In the final session, Karen Malone talks about bringing together key lessons emerging from the conference about how policy and research might be better linked to support delivery and add value to practice in this area.

As ever with these events, there will be a lot of sitting and listening.  Even the pre-lunch session [Reflections from the Floor] will be a panel discussion & questions where Karen Malone (again) will "sum up themes emerging from morning session and set up afternoon sessions."

Why do organisers seem to think that this is what people want?  Apprehensive, I suppose, of letting us loose to raise own own issues.



On Care for Our Common Home

📥  Comment, New Publications

This is my first comment on the Pope's encyclical: On Care for Our Common Home.  In a sense, it is much too soon to prejudge it.  I have, however, been impressed by the range of commentators.

There's George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, who says that the encyclical is a “potential turning point [as it argues] that not only the physical survival of the poor, but also our spiritual welfare depends on the protection of the natural world."  Monbiot asks why the defenders of the living world are so ineffective, and his response is that we are all complicit.

We have all been swept off our feet by the tide of hyperconsumption, our natural greed excited, corporate propaganda chiming with a will to believe that there is no cost.”

Thursday morning's Daly News covered it as well.  Here's a flavour:

"He skates fairly close to the idea of steady-state economics, of qualitative development without quantitative growth in scale, although this concept is not specifically considered. Consider his paragraph 193:

In any event, if in some cases sustainable development were to involve new forms of growth, then in other cases, given the insatiable and irresponsible growth produced over many decades, we need also to think of containing growth by setting some reasonable limits and even retracing our steps before it is too late. We know how unsustainable is the behaviour of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity. That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth.

In the last sentence “decreased growth” seems an inexact English translation from the Spanish version “decrecimiento,” or the Italian version “decrescita” (likely the original languages of the document), which should be translated as “degrowth” or negative growth, which is of course stronger than “decreased growth.”

Yesterday's Reuters UK Blog by Edward Hadas Unforgiving pope is right on money, was a thoughtful piece on what the encyclical has to say about debt and poverty.  Worth reading twice, I thought as I read it for the first time.  It ends:

"As Francis points out, poor lands suffer most from non-payment of ecological debts. Many of them are plagued with dirty water, toxic wastes, blighted cities and destructive mines. The rich suffer relatively little, but their “throwaway culture”, as the pope calls it, is a big part of the problem. Manmade global warming, accepted by Francis as scientifically demonstrated, fits right in. The rich are largely responsible but they expect the poor to take a disproportionate share of the pain required to reverse the trend.

Those prone to righteousness might expect careless miners, farmers and industrialists, as well as insatiably greedy consumers, to get their comeuppance in desolation and misery. Mercifully, nature has up to now been a generous creditor. It is slow to punish and fast to reconcile. But the largest ecological debtors – everyone in industrial economies – should not use this forbearance to excuse inaction, any more than they should ignore the obligation to the poor because they are too weak to cause much trouble.  Justice, as the pope says, requires unceasing attention to 'both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.'  Some debts last forever."

In contrast, there's Mark Lynas who (with Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger) took a critical turn.  The headline was: A Pope Against Progress.  Here's the drift:

Rising Freedom vs. Sinful Fall

The story told by the Pope in the encyclical stands in striking contrast to the one told by 18 leading environmental scientists, scholars and activists, including ourselves, in “An Ecomodernist Manifesto,” released in April.  Where our manifesto argues that big environmental problems like climate change and species extinction are unintended consequences of prosperity — of people trying to improve their lives and the lives of their children — the Pope argues that they are the result of sin, specifically greed, and irresponsibility.

Let's end, for now, with the NAEE blogA strong voice sounds against the denial of climate change.  It said: "... a new voice has been added to the arguments – and it’s a considerable one.  At the very least, the encyclical adds to the resources we have in our work to educate each other about the endangered world we live in, and, one way or another, which we cherish."

Read on, I say, to all of this, and more ...


More on GM and that Panorama programme

📥  Comment, New Publications

I feel, in that sense of balance that seizes me now and again, to refer you to Guy Watson, an organic farmer, who has written an article for the Telegraph's Food 'n' Drink page.  Its focus is the BBC Panorama programme on GM that I wrote about the other week.  The Soil Association, amongst others, is keen to set the record straight on matters such as aubergines in Bangladesh.  The headline of the article is clear enough: Why did BBC's Panorama fall for pro-GM propaganda?

You should read it – for balance.  For me, it tends to follow the NGO's self-serving line: 'No GM till it's proven to be safe", but it does end with this:

"We need ... a cool headed evaluation of the scientific evidence, tempered by transparency around the commercial interests at play."

Well, I agree with that, but would add that it's not just "commercial" interests that are in play here.  NGOs have their interests as well, as do farmers of all kinds.  Not to mention consumers, everywhere, especially the poor and malnourished.





More about UNESCO's forthcoming GCE Decade

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote the other day about UNESCO's latest enthusiasm: Global Citizenship Education [ GCE ].  I've read the report: tedious stuff, mostly; full of long lists of things like:

1. Key Learner Attributes

Informed and critically literate

  • Know about local, national and global issues, governance systems and structures
  • Understand the interdependence and connections of global and local concerns
  • Develop skills for critical inquiry and analysis

Socially connected and respectful of diversity

  • Cultivate and manage identities, relationships and feeling of belongingness
  • Share values and responsibilities based on human rights
  • Develop attitudes to appreciate and respect differences and diversity

Ethically responsible and engaged

  • Enact appropriate skills, values, beliefs and attitudes
  • Demonstrate personal and social responsibility for a peaceful and sustainable world
  • Develop motivation and willingness to care for the common good

2. Key learning outcomes


  • Learners acquire knowledge and understanding of local, national and global issues and the interconnectedness and interdependency of different countries and populations
  • Learners develop skills for critical thinking and analysis


  • Learners experience a sense of belonging to a common humanity, sharing values and responsibilities, based on human rights
  • Learners develop attitudes of empathy, solidarity and respect for differences and diversity


  • Learners act effectively and responsibly at local, national and global levels for a more peaceful and sustainable world
  • Learners develop motivation and willingness to take necessary actions

3. Aims

GCE aims to enable learners to:

  • develop an understanding of global governance structures, rights and responsibilities, global issues and connections between global, national and local systems and processes;
  • recognise and appreciate difference and multiple identities, e.g. culture, language, religion, gender and our common humanity, and develop skills for living in an increasingly diverse world;
  • develop and apply critical skills for civic literacy, e.g. critical inquiry, information technology, media literacy, critical thinking, decision-making, problem solving, negotiation, peace building and personal and social responsibility;
  • recognise and examine beliefs and values and how they influence political and social decision-making, perceptions about social justice and civic engagement;
  • develop attitudes of care and empathy for others and the environment and respect for diversity;
  • develop values of fairness and social justice, and skills to critically analyse inequalities based on gender, socio-economic status, culture, religion, age and other issues;
  • participate in, and contribute to, contemporary global issues at local, national and global levels as informed, engaged, responsible and responsive global citizens.

4. Learning Objectives

As you will find these (in small print) across 10 pages (31 to 40 if you're interested), I'll not trouble to add them here, save to mention the page of 'key words':

"This table presents an indicative list of key words that can be used as a basis for discussion and activities related to the learning objectives outlined above. They are thematically organized in an indicative manner.  Many of these issues are interconnected and relate to more than one of the topics and learning objectives presented earlier. Other global issues and issues relevant to specific contexts can also be added to the list as necessary."

I'm afraid that it goes on and on and on like this.  No doubt much time was spend in hotels working all these out, many AirMiles were squirrelled away, and solidarity was cemented, but really to what end?



Less than a WEEC to go

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I wrote a while back about the best conference I have ever attended as far as keynote addresses were concerned.  There were 3 stunning ones.  I won't repeat any of the detail – but it's here.  Most of the rest have been forgettable.  There was a spectacular prelude to keynotes at the Durban WEEC in 2007.  The bigwig  – the Deputy State President, indeed – who'd been rolled in to say a word of welcome from the authorities, began the conference by saying that she'd found environmental education "boring" at school.  This, whilst honest, was not the endorsement the organisers had hoped for.  She did not hang around to have her mind changed, and so missed my own keynote which was a shame.

But back to those 69 keynotes at next WEEC's conference in Göteborg.  I thought I should read the blurbs to see what I'd be missing.  Here they are:

1. Early Childhood Care and Education for Sustainable Development (ECCESD)

Examples of Early Childhood Care and Education for Sustainable Development (ECCESD) from around the world will be presented as both a celebration, and as a challenge to educators who may often underestimate the capability of their students to reflect and take action upon the world in order to transform it. The need to consider progression in pedagogy at all levels of education will be highlighted. Integrated approaches to Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) are increasingly being developed in response to a growing recognition of the potential of early childhood interventions in reducing poverty and countering inequality. Research evidence, and practical examples from initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and the Caribbean will be provided to show the considerable contribution that can be made by ECCESD. We know, we have all the evidence that we need to show that we ECCESD can make a difference yet tragically, through an accident of birth, crisis, or natural disaster, many children’s lives continue to be under threat of insecurity, disease or disadvantage.   The relevance of Amartyn Sen’s ‘capability’ centered approach to sustainable development is possibly clearer in the context of ECCE than anywhere else in education, this is an approach that  aims to “integrate the idea of sustainability with the perspective of freedom, so that we see human beings not merely as creatures who have needs but primarily as people whose freedoms really matter”.  ECCE begins at birth, and the educational provisions within ECCE are mostly inter-generational, informal, and/or non-formal in nature. It will be argued that ECCESD provides important opportunities for the development of more integrated approaches to ESD across the life course.

2. The role of Universities in the transition towards sustainability

Two key words can be distinguished in the UN Post-2015 process: transformation and integration. Transformation, because marginal changes will not be enough in scale and in speed. Integration, since we can no longer work in silos with one issue at a time. The talk will be about the role of universities in dealing with these challenges. I will talk from three perspectives: my role as an expert in the Post-2015 process at the UN HQ; my role as rapporteur for higher education in the UNESCO’s world conference on ESD in Nagoya 2014; and my role as vice president of Chalmers University of Technology.

3. Turning Waste into Treasure: A Child’s Perspective on Looking after Planet Earth

When we look at the world, we see such a huge divide between those who have practically nothing and those who have too much. In amongst all this is the issue of waste; not only the amount of waste created but the attitude that people have towards it. This presentation draws on personal experiences and case studies from very contrasting scenarios; from the dump sites in Jakarta to the rapidly expanding city of Dubai, and how waste is generated, perceived and managed. This leads onto the connections between these situations and how intrinsically linked they are to the Child’s Right to a Voice as well as the Right to a Healthy Environment, which, as of 2012, 177 of the world’s 193 UN member nations recognize through their constitution, environmental legislation, court decisions, or ratification of an international agreement. However, having a voice as a child and being listened to can only evolve through the opportunities in school and at home to learn and do something about environmental issues, such as waste impacts, as well as the ability and the motivation for adults and societies in general to teach and to listen. The integration of all these comes from a whole school community approach, from a personal to global perspective, so that children are able to understand that whatever we do has an impact on the one place we all call home: Planet Earth.

4. Transformative Learning in Vital Coalitions for Socio-Ecological Sustainability

Let us first recognize that a continuous and inevitable problem for both educators and policy-makers is that although we have quite a good sense of what is ‘unsustainable’, we have little certainty about what in the end will proof to be sustainable. Perhaps a key lesson from the UN DESD that ended in 2014 is that we have come to realise that sustainability as such is not a destiny or a way of behaving that can be transferred or trained but rather represents our capacity for critical thinking, reflexivity and transformation.  Our societies, including our schools and universities, by and large fail to develop this capacity and as a result replicate systems and lifestyles that are inherently unsustainable. One way out of this trap is the creation of spaces for so-called hybrid learning. Such learning refers to hybridized environments in which people are  learning in new and more meaningful ways (involving different societal groups, perspectives, etc.) in unconventional localities (often outside of institutional boundaries) focusing on everyday local issues that have global connections. Only then can we begin to engage in the sustainability challenges of our time (e.g. climate change, malnutrition, continued inequality, loss of food security and biodiversity). This ‘hybridization’ also calls for a culture that embraces the authenticity of multiple voices and cultural and theoretical perspectives, new forms of representation, and more change-oriented and community-based approaches. This perspective connects well with emergent forms of ICT-supported Citizen Science or Civic Science which emphasise the active involvement of citizens, young and old, in the monitoring of local socio-ecological issues by collecting real data and sharing those data with others doing the same elsewhere through social media and on-line platforms. The talk will highly critical perspectives, transitional learning, sense of place, agency and value-based change using exemplary cases to illustrate the transformative power of environmental and sustainability education.

5. Can People and the Planet Develop Together?

For the majority of us around the world, any experiences we have with nature occur in cities. Does this mean that the richness of our life experiences is diminished? Are we victims of an “extinction of experience?” Drawing on work in civic ecology, and on my own experiences ranging from wilderness mountaineering instructor to visiting community gardens in New York, Soweto, and other cities around the world, I will attempt to answer—and to provoke a discussion—about questions related to extinction and richness of experience in today’s world. What is the “nature of our nature experiences” in an urbanizing world? Does our increasing ability to interact with individuals from a diversity of cultures in urban settings compensate for any diminished wilderness experiences? In short, in 15 minutes, I will attempt to answer in the context of today’s experiences:  How Can the People and the Planet Develop Together?

6. The power of Dialogue, Visioning and Collaboration: an Earth Charter experience of Teaching and Learning

This presentation will look at the power of shared vision and dialogue to foster collaboration and sustainability, through the experience of the Earth Charter Initiative.  It will reflect on the importance of building a shared vision of common good that supersedes cultural differences and self-interest and the challenges for that. It will delve on the value of intergenerational, intercultural and multisectoral dialogue and collaboration as pedagogical instrument to move beyond the tension between diversity and unity and celebrate a sense of human family and Earth Community. The talk will reflect on how values based education programmes, informed by the Earth Charter, have helped learners to understand the systemic nature of the challenges and critical choices that humanity faces and appreciate the interconnections between them. And how it can also help the process of comprehending the meaning of sustainability and the values necessary for such awakening.

What a lot of words!  The speakers are: Mirian Vilela – Marianne Krasny – John Holmberg – Arjen Wals – Pete Milne – John Siraj-Blatchford, though not necessarily in that oder.  However, if it's a really top notch keynote you should be able to work out who's talking about what.

See if you can.  There are no prizes ...





Another Unesco report – another acronym – another decade?

📥  Comment, New Publications

UNESCO has published a new report: Global Citizenship Education: Topics and learning objectives.  This promotion of GCE begins:

 This publication ... is the first pedagogical guidance from UNESCO on global citizenship education.  It is the result of an extensive research and consultation process with experts from different parts of the world.  This guidance draws on the UNESCO publication Global Citizenship Education: Preparing learners for the challenges of the 21st century and the outcomes of three key UNESCO events on global citizenship education: the Technical Consultation on Global Citizenship Education (September 2013), as well as the First and Second UNESCO Fora on Global Citizenship Education, organized in December 2013 and January 2015 respectively. Before it was finalized, the guidance was field-tested by education stakeholders in selected countries in all regions to ensure its relevance in different geographical and socio-cultural contexts.

A whole page of acronyms follows, which is never good news.  My favourites were:

  • OSCE/ODIHR Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
  • GIZ Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH – and
  • ESD – you know what that is.

Curiously, the last acronym is never used in the report.  Even more curiouser, the phrase 'education for sustainable development' is only used 4 times:

  1. in the list of acronyms (p.11), which hardly counts
  2. on p. 15 in a list of other education 'for's
  3. ditto on p. 18
  4. on page 54 as "one of the targets of the education goal in the post-2015 development agenda."

Can this really be the same UNESCO that spent 10+ years promoting ESD as the thing the world needed most?  Has there been a Paris coup that I missed?   Surely another Decade cannot be far off.



Walking the walk

📥  News and Updates

Those readers concerned that business is not taking climate change seriously enough might find some (probably small) encouragement from an article [ Walking the walk ] in the Economist which looks at European business and climate change.  It begins:

"SIX big European oil and gas firms called on June 1st for a globally co-ordinated price on carbon-dioxide emissions, to restrain the impact on the climate of burning fossil fuels.  It was a bombshell, in its way.  Five years ago no one would have expected the move: as producers of much of the world’s dirty fuels, their industry was disinclined to join forces and advocate accelerating the switch to cleaner ones.  'It is a sort of revolution,' says Patrick Pouyanné, the boss of one of the six, Total.  And it is not just the energy firms.  As world leaders prepare to meet in Paris in December to produce an agreement on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, attitudes towards climate change have altered profoundly among businesses of all kinds."

And the reason?  "The cost of not doing things is starting to be higher than the cost of doing them,” says Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch consumer-products maker. “Our motives are not exactly altruistic,” admits another European boss. “Our clients and stakeholders demand such initiatives.

The article then goes through a range of Europe's finest companies giving examples of initiatives and steps taken.  It ends with this, which given some clue as to what's going on:

"Green because good, not vice versa

However, it could just as well be that green firms are more profitable not because they are green, but because they happen to be better run; and that their shares perform better because investors see greenness simply as a proxy for good management. The six European energy firms calling for an effective carbon price acknowledge that if the Paris conference succeeds in agreeing on one, it will add to their costs.

But at least, they said, it would provide a “clear road map” for their future investment. The six are heavy on gas—it now accounts for around half of Total’s output, for example, up from 35% ten years ago. So they are hoping that carbon-pricing would lead to a switch from coal to gas—which they say produces half as much CO{-2} as coal, for each unit of electricity generated from burning it. The overall impact of all this on profits would not be known for years, says Mr Pouyanné. But, like others in Europe’s boardrooms, he has concluded there is no choice in the matter."

However, least we all get carried away, on the next page of the print edition, there is a sobering article on coal: Black moods.  It shows no sign of vanishing any time soon.  As I write this, UK coal burning for electricity is generating 1,555 kg of carbon dioxide every second.


Paris UN conference text update

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I noted back in February that UN negotiators had produced "an early draft" of the text for the climate deal in Paris next December.  Their initial text had been 38 pages long, but negotiators managed to whittle it down to 86 pages to make sure the document reflected every country's wishes.

The Guardian reported at the end of last week that further progress has been made.  It noted:

"Slow progress was made until the final hours, as nations wrangled over the wording of an 89 page draft text, intending to cut it down to a more manageable size. After two weeks, the text had been cut by just four pages to 85."

Somehow, I had managed to miss the fact that the 86 page draft (referred to above) had become an 89 page one.  But, that's ok because it's now 85.  In this way progress is made. One page fewer in 4 months.  Happily,  there was a last-minute development that observers hope will put the talks back on track.  Countries have agreed that the co-chairs of the negotiations should be allowed to make their own alterations to the text, and present it to all countries for approval, probably in late July.  The Guardian notes that "this should be a quicker process, though there is no guarantee that countries will not try to re-draw the new draft when it becomes available."  Indeed.

The piece does provide insight into the sort of arcane discussions that go on.  Here's the G again about what hangs on the little word "action":

At one point, the discussion was divided over whether to use the terms “differentiated commitments/contributions”, referring to targets on cutting emissions, or the term “commitments/contributions/action”. The former was preferred by China, the latter by the US.  The distinction may seem trivial, but it points to some of the entrenched attitudes that have dogged the talks over more than two decades.

“Differentiated” comes from a term used in the original UN treaties, as “common but differentiated responsibilities” was used as the way of encoding the fact that all countries, developed and developing, have an interest in alleviating climate change, but that their responsibilities varied based on historical emissions and economic development.

China is adamant that the phrase, known as CBDR in the UN jargon, is core to any existing or potential new agreement, but the US – though it accepts the principle – is wary of the phrase because it believes it has been used in the past to draw a clear dividing line between developed and developing countries. These categories are no longer so clear-cut, according to the US, because of the rapid progress of emerging economies. China, for instance, is now the world’s biggest emitter and second biggest economic power.

How many pages will it be in the end?  Who knows; but it's what they say that matters, and whether anyone will take much notice.  As Tom Burke, environmental advisor to Shell, Rio Tinto and Unilever, said about a related issue:

“Everyone gets over focused on what the text of the treaty is. What really matters is what gets done in the real economy and the extent that the players in the real economy react to this signal."