Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: February 2016

Even UNESCO now talks about education, not ESD

📥  Comment, News and Updates

UNESCO is sidelining its flagging ESD project.  Although its website recently had this headline:

Education for Sustainable Development placed firmly on the COP21 map

... it was followed by this:

"The critical role of education in climate change was given the stamp of approval at the Paris climate conference COP21."

The full text is set out below.  In it, despite the headline, the emphasis is on education, not ESD.  In fact ESD is only mentioned twice: [i] in the context of the GAP, and right at the end by a "youth ESD leader" who has a vested interest in  doing so.

See for yourself ...

In negotiations to draft the climate agreement involving delegates from 195 countries, Article 8bis on education was the first agreed upon stating that “parties shall cooperate in taking measures…to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information.”

Education for sustainable development, both formal and non-formal, was afforded an entire thematic day as part of the conference on December 4 when numerous UNESCO-supported events including discussions and interviews took place in a dedicated exhibition space.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, speaking at the event organized by French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, in the presence of Ségolène Royal, French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, stressed there could be no sustainable development without education and called for reinforced mobilization to transform education systems.

"At the opening of COP21, 150 heads of state rang the alarm on the state of our planet. This must be translated into political decisions, into financial investments, and calls for a deep change in mentalities, in behaviours,” said the Director-General. “This change happens through education, because education brings the skills and values that youth need to successfully manage the energy and climate revolution.”

The Director-General also participated in the UN side event organized by UNESCO and other UN agencies entitled “Learning to live with climate change  –  Accelerating climate change education and awareness-raising.”  She said that education was the red thread tying together the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and climate change action. “To succeed, we need greener societies, and fundamentally, we need green citizens.”

She laid out three crucial actions to move forward: integrating sustainable development more deeply into national education systems; giving teachers the knowledge, resources and skills to fulfill their role as change agents; and creating stronger and more innovative partnerships, including with the private sector. She explained that UNESCO works with 13 UN agencies to promote climate change education; leads advocacy at global and regional levels, assists countries to integrate climate change issues in their education systems, and provides technical guidance, training and resources such as online training courses.

As part of the day UNESCO organized five discussion rounds of 45 minutes each touching on the five priority action areas of the Global Action Programme on ESD (GAP): policy actors, whole-institution approaches, educators, youth and local communities. These were animated by UNESCO partners – experts, practitioners and youth representatives – from around the world with many visitors stopping by the UNESCO pavilion to engage in animated, interactive debates.

The UN Alliance Side Event on Non-Formal Education and Innovative Approaches for Climate Change stressed the important of the generation born this century in effecting a major shift in thinking to make the transition to low emission, climate resilient development.

Education is crucial in promoting the change in lifestyle, attitude and behaviour needed to and the side event showcased alternative approaches for climate change learning such as music, video games and social media.

Nick Nuttall, Spokesperson for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said: “The number one weapon in delivering climate change is education.”

Tariq Al-Olaimy, Co-founder of strategy consultancy 3BL Associates and youth ESD leader also praised the effectiveness of education for sustainable development (ESD) in changing people’s minds and behaviour towards more sustainable ones.


UNESCO is clearly now trying its best to focus on changing the nature of education across the world, rather than "introducing ESD".  About time, you might think; Fat chance, might be another response.

Sadly, it's stuck with ESD as an idea that's now just getting in the way.  It's also stuck with well-meaning folk who still think that ESD is the answer – although they have lost sight of the question.  Such folk all know, of course, that trying to change education systems is a thankless task, and just prefer to do what they enjoy – even though it will make little difference.  T'was ever thus, of course.


How can we make UK higher education sustainable?

📥  Comment, New Publications

This is not my question.  It's a headline in today's Times Higher [THE].

Needless to say, it's got nothing to do with the sort of sustainability that usually features in this blog.  Rather, it's about the financial viability of higher education in the UK and argues that ...

"Universities need a new funding model"

The postscript was ...

"We can't go on like this"

Indeed.  "sustainable" in this instance means financially viable in the years to come, but it can mean almost what you want it to.  For example, where I live, quartered safely out here in the countryside, the bus services are not sustainable.  No wonder people are confused.



The Kaya Identity

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

One of the issues that Michael Finus discussed last Tuesday night in his I-SEE seminar was the Kaya Identity, which is an equation relating to human impact on climate.  I had not come across it before – such a sheltered life!

The idea is that total emission levels can be set out as the product of four inputs: population, GDP per capita, energy intensity (per unit of GDP), and carbon intensity (emissions per unit of energy).  It's a version of the I = PAT equation (which I had heard of).

It can be written:   F = x  G/P  x  E/ x  F/E   where:

  • F is CO2 emissions
  • P is population
  • G is GDP, and
  • E is energy consumption

and where

  • G/P is a measure of affluence
  • E/G is energy intensity, and
  • F/E is carbon intensity

It can apply to nations and globally, and I wrote about carbon intensity last October.  This was one of the less gloomy parts of the talk.


UNESCO's badly-run lottery

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Flush from the triumph of its first UNESCO-Japan Prize on ESD, UNESCO has issued a second call for nominations for the next round (2016) where three lucky winners will receive $US 50,000.  It was awarded for the first time in November 2015 to organizations from Germany, Indonesia and Guatemala, and El Salvador.

UNESCO is inviting the permanent delegations of all UN member states, as well as NGOs in official partnership with, it to submit up to three nominations. The deadline for submission is 30 April 2016 (midnight Paris time).

A few thoughts on something that looks increasingly like a badly-run lottery ...

  • Is this really the best way to spend $150,000 + the considerable organisational on-costs?
  • Why only 3 prizes?  Why not 5 prizes of $30,000, or 10 of $15,000, or 15 of $10,000, or ...
  • Do the winners, who must be quite good at ESD, really need such large sums?
  • Why not regional winners – which would avoid the scandal in 2015 of nobody in Africa even getting a mention
  •  ...

All too radical, maybe.  This time, however, it would be good to have a 'highly commended' category, even if there's no cash involved.



The inclosure acts and environmental education

📥  Comment, New Publications

The NAEE blog recently carried a guest posting from Geoffrey Guy who lectures at Reaseheath College, and is the Director of Education for Bushcraft Education Ltd, and founder of the Bushcraft Education blog.  It was about the enclosure of land and its recent liberation by legislation granting open-access – well, up to a point – and the benefit this has had for environmental education, and outdoor education more generally.

I take much of my understanding about enclosures from ‘Forces of Change’ by Henry Hobhouse.  Hobhouse says that the first enclosures took place after the Black Death when empty villages were just swallowed up by adjacent estates and the land was used to rear sheep.  He says that it was in later periods that open field systems of common usage were enclosed and that this took place at a variety of speeds which seem to be linked to the price of wheat.  That is: higher wheat prices = a call for more efficient agricultural land = enclosures.  It was only after 1800, Hobhouse says, that the fens, moorland and hills became systematically enclosed.  With the final repeal of the Corn laws in 1845, the pressure on agricultural land became less, and most of the enclosures took place around town and cities. Hobhouse says that they came to an abrupt end in 1869 following attempts to enclose Wimbledon and Clapham Commons, and the Epsom Downs, but there do seem to have been acts of parliament after that time.

NAEE also mentioned A Short History of Enclosure in Britain recently.  This is by Simon Fairlie, and is published in the Land magazine.  It describes in a lively fashion how enclosure of common land over the centuries deprived most of the British people of access to agricultural land.  This added considerable richness to my knowledge, and I recommend all three readings about this complex and compelling subject which remains alive today.


Sustainable Schools Alliance case study

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The February edition of SEEd's newsletter contains what it says is a case study of the sustainable schools alliance [SSA].  It begins ...

"This case study is not a single initiative nor a one organisation programme. Rather is has been a journey since the early 1990s.   As such this case study represents a systems approach and a scaling up through:

  • creating some niches of innovative practice;
  • using a patchwork of regimes/levers that existed at different times;
  • exploring the potential of a change in the landscape of sustainability in the formal education system of the UK;
  • reviewing and evaluating.

This journey also represents the stages and approaches to scaling up that were beginning to be seen in 2010 across the whole of the English school system, but have since been slowed down due to changes in government focus.  ..."

But the case hardly mentions the SSA, having more to say about SEEd and WWF(UK) than the Alliance.  How peculiar.



Will the Brexodus be going through the Brexit?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Environmentalists whom I know tend to want to claim that much of the UK's recent pro-environment legislation 'n' regulation stems from the EU rather than from our own parliaments.  I don't know enough to adjudicate on that view, but it sounds plausible, prima facie.  Of course, not everyone thinks that all such law is wholly positive – think the EU's anti-science and anti-humanist biases evident in its prejudices against genetic modification.  Anyway, ...

There wasn't much, if anything, about all this in the documentation emerging last night after the 30 hours of faux EU-drama in Brussels.  I read it this morning over a large cup of tea.  Here it is.  It is, of course, largely a comma-free zone and so is hard to read, and it has too much of that scream-inducing tendency to begin non-sentences with present participles:

"Desiring to settle, in conformity with the Treaties, certain issues raised by the United Kingdom ..."

You should read it in all it's glory, and share my pain.


The contribution of economics to the gloomy debate about climate change

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

Another day; another seminar – it's just the hectic life of a retiring academic.

This time, it was a trip to Bath to listen to Michael Finus, who has a Chair in Environmental Economics, give an I-SEE seminar on the contribution of economics to the debate about climate change.  The pre-blurb for the event, said that Finus would ...

"review possible contributions of economics to the climate change debate [,] aim to point out the deficiency of some approaches in economics which have been very influential in the policy debate [and] then discuss a couple of issues to which economics can contribute something meaningful to the discussion about addressing the climate change problem."

I went along all enthused as I hoped that, in addition to talking about the the contribution of economics to the debate about climate change, he might also touch on the contribution of climate change to the debate about economics.  But he didn't.  There were some fine graphs and tables, however.  His final slide was this cartoon from the Economist in 2009:


I'll say some more later on about the actual discussion, but the cartoon shows that, in Finus's capable hands, economics lived up to its reputation as the gloomy science.



AUDE forgets about learning

📥  Comment, News and Updates

AUDE, the Association for University Directors of Estates, has launched a HE Sector Sustainability Evaluating Methodology  – known colloquially as the Green Scorecard.

AUDE says that the intention of the scorecard is to "improve and promote sustainability, reflecting and demonstrating progress and improvement".  The aim is that it will be ...

  •  Relevant to and focussing on sustainability in terms of the remit of estates and facilities
  •  Independent and apolitical
  •  Credible within and outside the sector
  •  Based on robust data that is simple to collate
  •  Useful as a tool for Estates Functions to prioritise efforts and benchmark against others

The scorecard set out eight sustainability categories:

  1.  Energy & Emissions
  2.  Transport
  3.  Water
  4.  Waste
  5.  Adaptation
  6.  Procurement
  7.  Biodiversity & Landscape, and
  8.  Overall

I've read the report setting all this out and could find no mention of learning.  There is one mention of education as a procurement indicator: "Sustainable construction - education and environment" – although it's hard to see what this means.  This deliberate omission is justified in this statement:

"It is the intention is for this methodology to only cover aspects controlled by the Estates function, with the intention that EAUC are to produce a complementary methodology.  The scope of the methodoloy was explored in the consultation workshops. During the workshops, aspects such as the social impacts (including the living wage) and student engagement, although considered important, were rejected from being including in the scorecard as [they] were out of the scope of issues that could be influenced by Estates and would be more suited to the wider university policy issues."

Here we have AUDE's thinking set out clearly: those who work in Estates cannot have any influence on what happens in the rest of the university, especially on its core functions of teaching and research.

How, after the very many years of working on sustainability in higher education, has it come to this?



Learning in the Mesolithic

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

The Stonehenge seminar on Monday night was a great evening with 6 varied presentations, as I outlined the other day, and a tribute to Buckingham's approach to their MA.

I thought the best piece of work was that outlined by Nick Jones with his exploration of the environmental (and sustainability) implications of house building on the Plain in Neolithic times, especially the transition from large long houses to smaller circular ones – from more communal to family-sized living.  Was this, Nick asked, forced on them by the exigencies of the availability of timber and other building materials, and the ways that these made some sort of houses more sustainable, and others less so?  It was a question which finds echoes in our own times.

The most interesting, methodologically-speaking, was the work of Pauline Wilson:

Towards a methodological framework for identifying the presence of and analysing the child in the archaeological record, using the case of Mesolithic children in post-glacial Northern Europe.

That is: how can we shed light on what kids got up to?  Children there were, of course, but they are mostly absent from accounts of meso- and neolithic times.

Maybe they were out there learning, Pauline suggested – preparing for their economic roles in later life – acquiring skills and competencies.  How very like us it all seemed.  Maybe these were the first forest schools and the outdoor classroom.  Perhaps it was learning through play.  I asked whether there might have been a curriculum.  Of course, no one can know.  However, if there were valuable skills and dispositions to be learned, then that might suggest, one way or another, an organisational conceptual frame, outline schemes of work, and favoured pedagogies.  I hope  they were spared quality assurance.  Pauline suggested that there might have been a sort of monitorial system where those children who knew more instructed the others.

Inevitably, this brought the Sabre-tooth curriculum to mind:

Benjamin HRW (1939) Saber‐tooth Curriculum, Including Other Lectures in the History of Paleolithic Education. McGraw‐Hill

You can find it here in all its sad wisdom.  Time for another version: the Auroch-tooth curriculum.