Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: February 2017

Sobering thoughts about renewable electricity

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I have a stake, as you know, in a renewable energy future.  As one of the co-owners of Semington A which contributes in a modest way to the grid's attempts to keep the lights on, I keep an eye on prices and subsidies and watch renewables hugely increase their contribution to world electricity generation – whilst remaining a pathetically small part of overall production.  And two graphs in this week's Economist are enough to sober up anyone drunk on the hope of a quick achievement of carbon-free electricity.

The article A world turned upside down explored the problems of the success of the growth in renewable use.  Currently, non-hydro renewables contribute 7% of global electricity with our old friends coal and oil contributing the most.  It was ~2% in 2005 which shows the recent rate of growth.

Here's a hint of the problem:

"In 2014 the International Energy Agency (IEA), a semi-official forecaster, predicted that decarbonising the global electricity grid will require almost $20trn in investment in the 20 years to 2035, at which point the process will still be far from finished. But an electricity industry that does not produce reliable revenues is not one that people will invest in."

... and the Economist explains in detail why reliable revenue production is now so difficult.  When revenue production proves unreliable, so surely will electricity generation.


Fox news – Fake news

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Deep in the night, a conversation about the bad press that foxes tend to get about what is claimed to be their habit of killing for the hell of it – think corpse-strewn hen houses across the land, bereft small-holders, curtailed egg supplies, and weeping infants.  But what's the (dare I say) truth about this?  We never get the fox's side of this particular story and have to rely on the "mainstream media" with all its prejudices.  Is this fake news, perhaps?  Are papers just publishing the sort of story that their readers want to hear, with the kind of editorial slant that appeals to revenue-generating prejudices?  Heaven forfend!

Well, according to the University of Bristol's mammal group, it is fake news.  When left alone in a hen house, the fox is simply taking the opportunity to lay in food for the future – rather like a trip to the supermarket.  It's an evolved survival strategy, not wanton killing, which is something we're rather good at.

You will have worked out by now that I've been reading the Fox chapter of Charles Foster's Being a Beast.  But I also recall a poster that was displayed in the History base room of Bath's PGCE course in the 1980s.  It simply displayed the African proverb:

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter."

... although I did not know its provenance at the time.  It was reading China Achebe that revealed the source and the awkward fact that it is not really about lions and big game hunting at all.


Thinking about Tbilisi

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've just written an article for NAEE's latest journal which will shortly appear – Vol 114.  It looks back to 1979 and the impact of the Tbilisi declaration on environmental education in England.  Here it is:

40 Years on from Tbilisi

Later this year, it will be the 40th anniversary of the Tbilisi conference and Declaration which offered environmental educators everywhere such hope and promise for the future. Now that the future is here, and the promise unfulfilled, a number of groups have plans to mark the 40 years in some way. What follows is a small contribution to this.

The Tbilisi Declaration was taken note of in the UK, as the December 1979 edition of Environmental Education [Volume 11] illustrated. This carried a 5-page article about a recent HMI paper: Curriculum 11-16: supplementary working papers which, as the title implied, were commentaries to sit alongside its existing work on the 11-16 curriculum. The paper focused on environmental education, outdoor education, physical education, and music, and drew on Tbilisi.  Such a report is unthinkable today, which is one illustration of the gulf in attitudes and priorities since Tbilisi. It is, however, important not to over-egg the status of what the HMI wrote. This was its first page disclaimer:

“This publication is intended to stimulate professional discussion. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily of the Inspectorate as a whole or of the Department for Education and Science. Nothing said is to be construed as implying Government commitment to the provision of additional resources.”

Reading the HMI paper again, I am struck just how pertinent it feels. The document begins by stating that environmental education …

“is to be regarded as a function of the whole curriculum, formal and informal. It is furthered both through established subjects and by courses in environmental science and environmental studies which in varying degree are interdisciplinary. There is a common purpose in these to foster an understanding of the processes and complex relationships which effect environmental patterns, together with a sensitivity to environmental quality and a concern for the wise and equitable management of the earth's resources."

HMI say that “it is desirable to identify a set of overall aims for guidance in syllabus and curriculum construction”. It then cites the Tbilisi goals:

i.     to foster clear awareness of, and concern about, economic, social, political and ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas;

ii.    to provide every person with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, commitment and skills needed to protect and improve the environment;

iii.   to create new patterns of behaviour of individuals, groups and society as a whole towards the environment.

The paper then asks how a school is to translate such goals into realistic objectives for 11-16 pupils. It outlines a “possible framework” focused around:

awareness            competence        understanding        concern

These reflect the five Tbilisi categories of environmental education objectives, which are to help social groups and individuals:

  • acquire an awareness and sensitivity to the total environment and its allied problems
  • gain a variety of experience in, and acquire a basic understanding of, the environment and its associated problems
  • acquire a set of values and feelings of concern for the environment and the motivation for actively participating in environmental improvement and protection
  • acquire the skills for identifying and solving environmental problems
  • provide social groups and individuals with an opportunity to be actively involved at all levels in working toward resolution of environmental problems

The focus on the social as well as on individuals is striking, and HMI develop their own ideas from it that are relevant today, stating:

“There is an implicit progression from learning which is mainly directed towards personal development to learning which increasingly takes into account the needs of society.”

HMI then set out a range of topics that the informed citizen could be said to need a degree of knowledge and understanding of, arguing there is good reason to try to provide as wide a range of insights as possible. They go on to say something which seems to be of the utmost importance, and which, these 40 years on, is now seen by many as far too demanding:

“What is perhaps most important is to convey the realisation that environmental systems are complex and environmental problems not easily resolved.  This cannot readily be done solely through the medium of individual subjects or without taking a synoptic view from time to time.  The proper study of environmental issues requires cooperative teaching approaches and automatically entails cross-disciplinary reference”.

This kind of orientation was notable by its absence from the Blair government’s Sustainable Schools initiative, which not only played down complexity and interconnected-ness, but actually failed to identify ecology or biodiversity as issues to be studied or cared about. The need for balance demands that I make it clear that things have not got any better in the 10 years following this.  HMI made it clear that they see that environmental education relates well to all the eight areas of experience that they identified in their publication Curriculum 11-16:

ethical                   scientific       linguistic      mathematical         physical        aesthetic     social / political      spiritual

These were a notable contribution to debates around what a broad and balanced curriculum might sensibly mean. It is clear that environmental education is seen by HMI as having something to contribute to all these areas, and that a school has something to gain across them all by having an environment focus.

I said, above, that Tbilisi was noted in the UK.  It is equally right to say that the UK’s work on EE was noted at Tbilisi.  It is clear that the 8-strong delegation we sent to the conference represented a large body of curriculum thinking and innovation across the whole of the UK. NAEE’s own 1976 statement of aims were explicitly referenced by HMI, as were influential UK documents by the Schools Council, and by authors such as Keith Wheeler and Sean Carson.   So, will remembering Tbilist be a celebration of what’s been achieved, or a wake full of regret for missed opportunities.  Whilst I lean towards the latter view, I do look forward to raising a glass to what, 40 years ago, was momentous in every sense. And either way, there is still a job for NAEE to do.


The Tbilisi Declaration can be downloaded at:  You have to negotiate a lot of turgid UN-speak before you get to the core of the issues.

There’s a 5 minute YouTube video of the conference at:  This is much better with the music and Russian commentary turned off.


The name's Bond, SDG Bond

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Bond says it is the "civil society network for global change [that] brings people together to make the international development sector more effective".

Bond hosts the Bond SDGs Group, which it says brings together 150 organisations in the UK who focus on the international development aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  It also says that it has been "working for the past four years to secure an ambitious set of new global SDGs which integrates the social, environmental and economic pillars of sustainable development", although this sounds rather like what the UN has been doing.

Anyway, there's a new report: Progressing national SDGs implementation: experiences and recommendations from 2016.

This begins:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in September 2015, represent the most ambitious sustainable development agenda ever agreed by UN Member States. This comprehensive set of 17 goals and 169 targets1 marks a new universal agenda which applies to all countries, rich and poor, who have promised to ensure no one will be left behind in the implementation of the goals.  Getting the accountability structures fit for purpose is key in ensuring this pledge is fulfilled.  The UN High- Level Political Forum (HLPF) is the key global forum in charge of monitoring the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. This report aims to contribute to ensuring this intergovernmental forum is as e ective as it can be in holding governments to account and supporting their e orts to make progress on the goals.  The first UN High Level Political Forum since the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals took place in July 2016. The forum is mandated to conduct regular State-led reviews and thematic reviews of the implementation of the Agenda, with inputs from other intergovernmental bodies, regional processes, major groups and other stakeholders.

Twenty-two countries volunteered for national review at this year’s HLPF. These countries were:

China, Colombia, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Madagascar, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Norway, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Togo, Turkey, Uganda and Venezuela.

Nothing from England, I note, which is understandable given the disinterest from those on high.  But the absence of reporting from Scotland and Wales is much harder to explain given their never knowingly undersold tendencies ...




Lies, damned lies, post-lies and mere untruths

📥  Comment, News and Updates

If there are half-truths, as there are, there must be half-lies as well.  So when is a lie not a lie?  When is it, for example, merely an untruth?  The Economist's Johnson column [ A taxonomy of dishonesty ] looked at this last week and said that the essence of a lie rests in its purpose to deceive.  Johnson noted:

"Lying requires an intent to deceive—which implies knowing that what you’re saying isn’t true."

... and that might just let a lot of politicians off the hook.

But it's not much of a relief to me as, when I make things up and publish them in this blog, or tell my grandchildren tall stories, I still seem to be lying, even though I'm only (in my view) just teasing and testing and mildly untruthing.  For example, I wrote this in 2014:


This morning's RIA news agency bulletin carries an article about a dispute in a Crimean bar over the meaning of ESD.  ...  An argument over ESD theory ended in a man being shot.  Police in the city of Simferopol, the capital of the Russian Crimean region, are quoted as saying that a fight broke out between an ethnic Russian and an ethnic Ukranian as they argued over the true meaning of ESD, and how Vladimir Putin's policies have helped shape it.  

Police spokesperson, Inspector Svetlana Samutsevich, said: "In the course of the fight, the suspect took out a pistol firing rubber bullets and aimed several shots at his opponent."  She added that one man was detained and the victim was taken to hospital, although his life was not thought to be in danger.  

A commentator on ESD in Russia and eastern Europe, who asked not to be named, said: "It seems that many Ukrainians and Russians love to discuss philosophy and history, often over a drink, but such discussions rarely end in shootings.  However, as we all know, ESD raises such passions that it's surprising that this sort of thing doesn't happen more often.  It's certainly a good thing that those attending UNECE seminars are not routinely armed, and it's a real pity that so few details of the men's discussion are known, since any contribution to ESD theory would be welcome." 

Confession time: it didn't happen – but then you might have worked that out ...


If you were an elephant ...

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've written about Charles Foster before – and shall do so again when I've slowly come to the end of his magisterial Being a Beast.  However, at the rate I'm going, I may never finish it as it's one of those books that demand a slow reading as every phrase and word counts.  Indeed, I re-read bits I've already read because it's so arresting.  As I have said before: outdoor learning will never be the same from hereon in.

If you've not yet bought Beast, just click here for a taste of what's to come.  Foster is writing in the Guardian about elephants: reverentially and without sentiment.  If you were an elephant, Foster says, the world would be a brighter, smellier, noisier place – and you would be a better, wiser, kinder person.

Here's a link to more of Foster's nature writing.


A Green Light in the South-west for a lot of presentation

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

I'm told that Green Light South-west will be holding an ESD Teachmeet next month.  I've never been to one of those (sheltered life, etc), and so I'm going along on March 2nd.  I do wonder, though, whether I'll (or anyone else) will get a chance to contribute anything.

The organisers (SWLfSC) say that the "emphasis is on sharing ideas, good practice, and pedagogy across the region", that it's "an invitation to all teachers engaged in developing teaching and learning for Sustainable Development (ESD)", and that there will be "short and lively teaching and learning inputs" on the following:

  • ESD Current context for teachers and teaching - Justin Dillon
  • Systems thinking in the classroom - Stephen Sterling
  • Free CPD programmes on sustainability education - Paul Vare
  • Recycling and resource use - ideas for the classroom - Sheila Gundry
  • Outdoor learning using the John Muir approach, reconnecting with the elements. KS 1-2 - Clare Moody
  • 5 talks from teachers
  • a plenary discussion of quality education and ESD - Mairi Kershaw

I make that 10 inputs before the plenary.  At 10 minutes each that comes to an hour and 40 minutes out of a 2 hour slot.  Then there'll be the introduction to the plenary ...

Details, if you're tempted, from ...


Wolves, Wolverhampton Trump and The Wanderers

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Now that the Trump administration has banned Wolves from entering the USA because of their plans to lay waste to native American sheep, there has been a flurry of protest on social media from #wolfactive, #letsre-wildthewolf, #wolvesagogo, #friendsofthewolf, #wolvesRus, #lawyers4wolves, etc, and from wolves themselves on Howl, their preferred communication platform.  I was surprised how many wolf, pro-wolf and go-wolf groups there are, but perhaps I should not have been.  One group that was included in the Twitterage of protest that I saw was Wolverhampton Wanderers football club: @officialwolves which was surely a link too far.


Are we as disconnected from nature as some would have us believe?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Thanks to the NAEE blog for alerting me to a piece by Rob Bushby in The Scotsman. Bushy is the awards manager for the John Muir Trust and he was writing about whether children are really as disconnected from nature as we're all supposed to believe.  His article is also placed on the Trust's website.

His article begins:

“Children are disconnected from nature” has become something of a worrying mantra. We’re told that they spend less time out of doors than prisoners.  That one in ten is obese.  But it isn’t the face value of such statements that’s the worry.  The concern is what they obscure, and that they aren’t challenged and unpacked in more constructive ways.  Is the issue really as acute as these statements suggest?  The air we breathe is ‘nature’. So too is the food we eat.  If children truly were ‘disconnected from nature’, they’d be dead.  If one in ten children is obese, nine aren’t then?  Prisons offer enlightened rehabilitation schemes, some with extensive outdoor dimensions focused on gardens, nature reserves and National Parks.

It’s not a binary thing.  We’re not either connected or disconnected.  We’re all somewhere on a spectrum that reflects our experiences, knowledge and proximity to nature, and our values in relation to it.  Research conducted by the RSPB in 2012 found that 21 per cent of 8-12 year-olds had “a level of connection to nature that is considered to be a realistic and achievable target for all children”.  Ok, not great, and plenty of scope to do lots more.  Yes, there are barriers we need to explore and address, relating to perceptions, distractions, opportunities and finances.  B ut blanket pessimism conceals three things.  First, the great work taking place on a daily basis bringing young people and nature together.  Second, that it’s those from poorest backgrounds who have least access and opportunity.  And third, the exciting potential to achieve further progress.

As you see, it's an unusual angle and one worth an second read.   This article appeared in The Scotsman newspaper, 13th January 2017


Building bridges, not walls in London

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This was the slogan of an event in London on Sunday which I missed.  It was billed as a national summit and had the title:


It was organised by NUS, SOAS student union and LIBER8 Education.  I only heard about it on Monday and it was obviously a riot (in the best progressive sense).  Speakers included Malia Bouattia, Hareem Ghani, Yasser Louatti, Waqar Hussain and Janaya Khan – and "many others tbc".  It went on for 7 hours with more workshops than you could shake a stick at.

I was, as they say: solé, and I could have gone as I was in London.  As it was I spend three of those hours in a pub in Tottenham having lunch, drinking (rather good) craft ale, and doing quizzes.  It was obvious to me afterwards that the pub was full of people who'd not heard of the event either otherwise they'd obviously have gone; we'd have been fighting our way onto the tube at Seven Sisters in our anxiety to be there on time.

I learned all about this at NUS where I went to the latest sustainability working group.  This was, of course, as stimulating as ever, and (an obviously heretical thought) was probably more entertaining than the summit.