Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: April 2017

SDGs for the UK?

📥  Comment, New Publications

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has produced a report on the SDGs.  This is the summary:

By adopting Agenda 2030 the Government has committed itself to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals - or the Global Goals - in the UK as well as overseas.  However, the Government’s doughnut-shaped approach - which is to see the Goals as something for the UK to help other countries do, rather than drawing on other countries’ experiences in implementing the goals here at home- suggests that it has little interest in, or enthusiasm for, maximising the opportunities and benefits presented by the Goals.  Successful implementation would not only encourage greater cross-departmental collaboration and policy coherence in Government, it would bring economic, social and environmental benefits to the UK.  The Business & Sustainable Development Commission have estimated that the economic prize to business of implementing the Goals could be worth up to US$12 trillion by 2030.  As the UK leaves the EU, the Government has a once in a generation opportunity to form a cross-party consensus about the direction of travel of the UK.  The Goals should form the basis of that new consensus and this should be enshrined into law.  All new government policies should be assessed for how they contribute towards achieving the Goals so that Britain in 2030 is a stronger, fairer, healthier society in which no one is left behind.

Raising awareness and encouraging engagement with the Global Goals will increase the number of people and organisations able to contribute towards meeting the Goals.  But today few people in the UK know about them.  The Prime Minister’s recent statement in response to an open letter from leading businesses ‘that we, as governments, international institutions, businesses and individuals, need to do more to respond to the concerns of those who feel that the modern world has left them behind’ is a good start.  However, the Government seems more concerned with promoting the Goals abroad, and has undertaken no substantive work to promote the Goals domestically or encourage businesses, the public sector and civil society to engage with the Goals and work towards meeting them.  The Government should work with the BBC and other national media to launch a national campaign to raise public awareness of the Goals.  It should also support initiatives designed to encourage businesses and others to contribute towards meeting the Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals represent a positive and ambitious commitment to develop sustainably from this generation to the next.  We will only achieve the Goals if the Government provides strong leadership and a high level of ambition from the very top - something which has been lacking.  There is no voice at the top of Government speaking for the long-term aspirations embodied in the Goals and the interests of future generations.  In order to address this accountability gap the Government should appoint a Cabinet-level Minister in the Cabinet Office with strategic responsibility for implementing sustainable development, including the Goals, across Government.  The Government should also publish an implementation report and commit to participate in a voluntary national review by 2018, and every three years after.  We are concerned that the Government appears to have changed its mind about the ONS developing a set of national indicators.  This suggests an attempt to bury data which will be seen by the public - and us - as going against the spirit of the Goals.

You can see the whole thing here.

It's instructive to note the witnesses that were called:

  • Abigail Self, Head of Sustainable Development Goals, Office for National Statistics,
  • Dr Graham Long, Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University,
  • Elizabeth Stuart, Head of Programme, Sustainable Development Goals, Overseas Development Institute
  • Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer, Aviva,
  • Geoff Lane, Senior Partner, UK Sustainability and Climate Change Team, PwC,
  • Dr Christine Chow, Associate Director, Hermes Investment Management
  • Dominic White, Head of International Development Policy, WWF,
  • Stefano D’Errico, Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning Manager (IIED)
  • Nienke Palstra, Policy and Advocacy Adviser, UNICEF UK
  • Dr Carl Wright, Secretary-General Emeritus, Commonwealth Local Government Forum
  • Dr David Pencheon, Director, Sustainable Development Unit for NHS England and Public Health England
  • Catherine Pearce, Director of Future Justice, World Future Council
  • James Wharton MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development,
  • Chris Skidmore MP, Minister for the Constitution, Cabinet Office,
  • Gwen Hines, Director, International Relations Division, DFID
  • Richard Curtis and Kate Garvey, co-founders of Project Everyone

Given their complaints about the lack of awareness and engagement within the UK, it's odd, perhaps, that there were no witnesses from educational programmes that focus on global learning (etc), or that Global Pearson wasn't called.  Similarly, where was the input from Wales where ESDGC has been the spirit of the land for many years now.  No sign of UNESCO UK either.

Their suggestion that:

"The Government should look at possible changes to the national curriculum to provide ways for young people to become agents of change and engage with the Goals. This would form part of a national conversation about the Goals with a view to enshrining them in law, so that future Governments put sustainable development at the heart of every new legislative proposal."

... suggests that the committee never got to hear about DfID's Global Learning Programme which has spread across schools despite DfE indifference.  The bloke from DfID didn't seem to mention it in his evidence.

This issue of how the SDGs should apply within the UK is an interesting question, however.  There's one approach which might focus minds: identifying within-UK targets for the goals; that is, replacing / reformulating the 176 existing targets with UK ones – or maybe English / Northern Irish / Scotland / Wales targets; or maybe ones particularly pertinent to communities.  Maybe Manchester would need different targets than Maidenhead.  Glasgow than Galashiels. Bangor than Brecon.  Etc.

It strikes me that the process of agreeing such goals would be a worthwhile exercise and might provide much needed clarity about the differences across these lands.


Meanwhile, I see that DfID has produced into own report on the goals: Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals.  More on this later – maybe ...


Hail, Shakira

📥  Comment, New Publications

Goodbye, then, Malia; absolutely no one will miss you.

In a bold move, the NUS has bundled its terrible President off the stage after only a year in office.  Malia B was challenged by Shakira Martin whom I know as she was a member of the NUS Sustainability Advisory group upon which I have the honour to sit.  As I'm out of touch with day-by-day events at NUS I didn't know that Shakira was standing.  She'd have had my vote had I known (and had I got one) as she will bring a welcome interest in student welfare (as well as sustainability) to the office.

Congratulations, Shakira.  Much deserved.  Well done, NUS.


EAUC reaches parts others can only dream of

📥  Comment, News and Updates

EAUC has made what must have been a hurried submission to the government's 'Building our Industrial Strategy' green paper.  I say this because it seems the only way to explain this sentence:

"The combined budget of our members is some £25 billion, with responsibility for the education and training of over 2 million students supported by half a billion staff."

If this isn't an egregious typo, the sector must have expanded since I retired.  Still, it's only a response to government ...

I'm sure EAUC will let you see the whole thing if you ask nicely – then you'll be able to play that much-practised game, Count the Cliché.


BBC nature programmes on TV are good for you

📥  Comment, News and Updates

So says a less than critical article on the Mother Nature Network [MNN].

Well, to be picky, it actually says that "Watching nature documentaries boosts happiness.  Anxiety and fear give way to joy and awe when we tune into scenes of the natural world", but given that the study was commissioned by the BBC, it amounts to much the same thing.  The article starts:

"Need a mood boost, but don't have time to hit the great outdoors? Try the next best thing and turn on a nature documentary.  A recent study has found that tuning into nature documentaries can have an immediate impact on increasing happiness and reducing overall stress. The study was commissioned by the BBC to mark the launch of its new critically-acclaimed nature series "Planet Earth II."

There you are.  Could it be that it's the happier people who tend to watch nature programmes?  MNN goes on:

"Using special facial recognition software fed by webcams, the research team analyzed the expressions in real-time of 7,500 participants from the U.S., UK, South Africa and Australia.  Before and after watching clips from the series, the volunteers were also asked to complete short surveys on their emotional well-being.  According to the study results, those engaged in watching nature programming had significant increases in feelings of awe, amazement, wonder; curiosity, interest and wanting to explore.  Conversely, feelings of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and low energy were significantly lowered."

You can read the report all this is based on here.  I wonder if people get the same reaction from watching those meerkat TV adverts.

Remembering Henry Hobhouse

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I mentioned Henry Hobhouse's Seeds of Change: The 6 plants that transformed mankind the other day.  I read this many years ago now, along with his  Seeds of Wealth: 5 plants that made men rich.  I read his Forces of Change: an unorthodox view of history relatively recently.

It was my desire to be sure of the full wording of these titles that led me to the Guardian obituary (April 2016) and to the knowledge of his death.  Given that Hobhouse was a conservative economic historian (with no academic training), the Guardian obit was generous:

"Where Hobhouse succeeded lay in inventing the form and mixing meticulous research with the brio of a feature writer on deadline. He was no botanist, economist or academic, but he had a voluminous capacity for facts, loved an argument, knew instinctively what was interesting and, above all, how to tell a dramatic story.

So it was that he unearthed arresting facts such as the practice of giving coca leaves every 45 minutes to the impoverished workers in Bolivian tin mines, not only to ward off altitude sickness but also to reduce the appetite. He discovered how the Jesuits exploited the antimalarial properties of quinine, that HMS Victory was made largely from American wood and that the British drank more wine in the middle ages than they do today. These and a thousand other observations made for intensely readable history and gained the respect of academic historians."

At his funeral, Jacob Rees-Mogg said:

"Once people read it, they saw history in a new way.  He discovered relationships that nobody else had thought about, but once he had they were stunned that they had not managed to think of them before.”

I think that's spot on.  My favourite insight is his notion that the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century CE meant that much intellectual talent was released into secular life to the significant and lasting benefit of civil society.  Rather obvious when you think about it.  I hadn't but Hothouse had.  His are three of the best books I have ever read; as they are all about the ups and downs and ebbs and flows of globalisation, they remain pertinent today.

If you read them, you will likely be informed, astonished and (if you're a Guardian reader) probably annoyed every 6 pages.  This will be good for you.


Who needs satire any more?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

A few years ago, The Onion ran a story about the growth of teen suicides in the USA.  They reported that the large numbers involved were seen as less of a problem than the evidence of (il)literacy in their suicide notes.  Judging by a recent 'Staff Editorial' in the Wellesley College Student Newspaper (essential reading), the literacy problem has not gone away.

Here's the editorial ...

Many members of our community, including students, alumnae and faculty, have criticized the Wellesley community for becoming an environment where free speech is not allowed or is a violated right. Many outside sources have painted us as a bunch of hot house flowers who cannot exist in the real world. However, we fundamentally disagree with that characterization, and we disagree with the idea that free speech is infringed upon at Wellesley. Rather, our Wellesley community will not stand for hate speech, and will call it out when possible.

Wellesley students are generally correct in their attempts to differentiate what is viable discourse from what is just hate speech. Wellesley is certainly not a place for racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia or any other type of discriminatory speech. Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech. The founding fathers put free speech in the Constitution as a way to protect the disenfranchised and to protect individual citizens from the power of the government. The spirit of free speech is to protect the suppressed, not to protect a free-for-all where anything is acceptable, no matter how hateful and damaging.

This being said, the tone surrounding the current discourse is becoming increasingly hostile. Wellesley College is an institution whose aim is to educate. Students who come to Wellesley hail from a variety of diverse backgrounds. With this diversity comes previously-held biases that are in part the products of home environments. Wellesley forces us to both recognize and grow from these beliefs, as is the mark of a good college education. However, as students, it is important to recognize that this process does not occur without bumps along the way. It is inevitable that there will be moments in this growth process where mistakes will happen and controversial statements will be said. However, we argue that these questionable claims should be mitigated by education as opposed to personal attacks.

We have all said problematic claims, the origins of which were ingrained in us by our discriminatory and biased society. Luckily, most of us have been taught by our peers and mentors at Wellesley in a productive way. It is vital that we encourage people to correct and learn from their mistakes rather than berate them for a lack of education they could not control.  While it is expected that these lessons will be difficult and often personal, holding difficult conversations for the sake of educating is very different from shaming on the basis of ignorance.

This being said, if people are given the resources to learn and either continue to speak hate speech or refuse to adapt their beliefs, then hostility may be warranted. If people continue to support racist politicians or pay for speakers that prop up speech that will lead to the harm of others, then it is critical to take the appropriate measures to hold them accountable for their actions. It is important to note that our preference for education over beration regards students who may have not been given the chance to learn. Rather, we are not referring to those who have already had the incentive to learn and should have taken the opportunities to do so. Paid professional lecturers and politicians are among those who should know better.

We at The Wellesley News, are not interested in any type of tone policing. The emotional labor required to educate people is immense and is additional weight that is put on those who are already forced to defend their human rights. There is no denying that problematic opinions need to be addressed in order to stop Wellesley from becoming a place where hate speech and casual discrimination is okay. However, as a community we need to make an effort to have this dialogue in a constructive and educational way in order to build our community up. Talk-back, protest videos and personal correspondences are also ways to have a constructive dialogue. Let us first bridge the gap between students in our community before we resort to personal attacks. Our student body is not only smart, it is also kind. Let us demonstrate that through productive dialogue.

The context of all this is the denial of platforms at the college to those whom the student elite disapprove of because of their opinions, and it was the sentence: "Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech" that got commentators excited – along with muddled thinking about what the Founding Fathers were up to when the constitution was constructed.

Maybe it (the editorial, that is) was all written in a hurry ...



Keeping sugar producers sweet

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Economist has a lengthy article on the economics of sugar production – as controlled by the EU's complex set of regulations and rules.  It's worth a read for an insight into how complicated the production of a simple product (with a terrible history) is.  Both cane producers and beet producers seem unhappy, and both are looking to Brexit to make life better for them.  Their ideal outcome, of course, is for consumers to eat more of the poisonous stuff – a result that will mean more NHS resources being spooned into combatting its effects.  The article ends:

"The EU’s cane refiners—which, according to the European Commission, are based in nine member states—will find their margins squeezed as white-sugar prices fall but imported raw-sugar costs stay high. Tate & Lyle Sugars ran a €25m loss in the year to September 2015, for which it blames import restrictions. This is why the company came out in favour of a British departure from the EU: Mr Mason views Brexit as a “golden opportunity” to establish rules that treat cane and beet as equals in the British market. Beet producers have a different notion of fairness: for them, a level playing-field is one that takes into account the state support other producers receive. Precisely how the British government will keep both sides sweet is anyone’s guess."

There is a chapter on Sugar in the late Henry Hobhouse's magisterial Seeds of Change: The 6 plants that transformed mankind.  Read it for the detail of how much human misery has been bound up with the white stuff over many years.


Babble or something worse?

📥  Comment, New Publications

I got this the other day about a special issue of EER: New Materialisms and Environmental Education

This is part of what it said:

In New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency & Politics, Coole and Frost (2010) argue that contemporary environmental, economic, geopolitical, and technological developments require novel articulations of nature, agency, and social and political relationships, and that means of inquiry that privilege consciousness and subjectivity are not sufficient for the task.

New materialisms, a term that covers diverse theories, generally posit that the social sciences in the last several decades have paid particular attention to subjectivity at the expense of considering matter due to a perceived inaccessibility of the material world.  New materialist theories attempt to take up the ostensibly neglected philosophy of matter by finding new means to express the ways in which the world relates to itself.  New materialisms, for example, ask questions about what agency is and where it is located; the relationship between matter and discourse; the axiomatic distinctions between what is ‘natural’ and what is human or human derived; as well as the possibilities of expanding the concept of ‘life’ beyond the solely organic, as in Jane Bennett’s (2009) vibrant materialism and materially informed contemporary animism (Harvey, 2013).

The notion of troubling established dualisms, particularly nature/culture, will appear familiar to environmental education theorists.  For instance, there may be a general troubling of the concepts that are often taken, ontologically, as relatively stable in developing policy, theory and research approaches.  However, new materialisms attempt to move past negative critique of dualisms, essentialism and transcendence to posit new ways of envisioning reality and matter, often as vibrant, animate, creative, immanent and connectable and conceivable in new ways.  This move often calls for attention to metaphysics, with theorists articulating forms of protean monism, speculative and agential realisms and ontologies of becoming (e.g. Barad, 2007; Bryant, Srnicek & Harman, 2011; Connolly, 2013).

However, the taking up of new materialisms is not merely a retreat into obscure philosophy. The diverse and divergent theoretical approaches that may be called new materialist often seek to explore the political effects of problematising the matter of fact ways in which we think of the world; troubling our pregiven ontologies. This process of critically considering established assumptions, modes of thought and methods of inquiry against ‘new’ theory has been characterized as an essential task in the face of driving ethical imperatives related to social and environmental justice and the commodification of research methods (St Pierre, Jackson & Mazzei, 2016).

Subsequently, new materialist theory has been identified as an emerging ‘route’ for environmental education. In Environmental Education Research, for instance Van Poeck and Lysgaard (2016, p.314) articulate how, amongst other approaches, claims of new materialists to operate beyond the strictly discursive may ‘offer relevant and inspiring ideas, concepts, frameworks and findings to ESE policy research as well as the broader field of educational research’.  Concurrently the new materialisms have been characterised as a new ‘movement of thought’ for outdoor environmental education research (Gough, 2016) as well as a theoretical area that might hold potential for interrogating various ‘absences and silences’ within environmental education research (Payne, 2016).

We see an emerging focus on the new materialisms in environmental education scholarship, putting diverse theory to work in consideration of prevailing educational practices and research (e.g.: Adsit-Morris, 2017; Clarke, 2017; Clarke & Mcphie, 2014, 2016; Gannon, 2017; Lynch & Mannion, 2016; Lysgaard & Fjeldsted, 2015; Malone, 2016; Mannion, Fenwick & Lynch, 2013; Mcphie & Clarke, 2015; McKenzie & Bieler, 2016; Rautio, 2014; Ross & Mannion, 2012; Sonu & Snaza, 2015). This Special Issue will take up some of the themes explored by these authors and encourage new work that focuses on the potential of new materialisms and materially informed research approaches for contributing to discussions of theory and research in environmental education.

We are aware of the broad perspectives within the new materialisms and see this Special Issue as appealing to diverse approaches and theory. It provides an opportunity to discuss the relevance of new materialisms to environmental education research and practice and to begin to articulate what environmental education inquiry and theory may in turn contribute to materially concerned thought in broader educational fields and beyond. Thus through this Special Issue, we hope to encourage engagement with these stimulating theories and that the SI acts as a confluence and catalyst for discussion and the further seeking of critical and ethical approaches to research and practice in environmental education.

[ there's a lot more like this ... ]


There's no question that this is babble, but is it more (ie, worse) than that?  The "the taking up of new materialisms is not merely a retreat into obscure philosophy" point suggests that the editors understand the problems of communicating these ideas, even if they can do nothing about it.


Is it time for Tom Harwood?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I see that a reasonably normal person is standing for NUS President.  That's Tom Harwood.  You can see him here.

Tom says that "Together we can make the NUS more inclusive, moderate, and credible".  You can see more at:

If I had one, he'd have my vote – probably – although I have a long-held and deep scepticism of anyone who stands for NUS office.


Geography for geographers

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

Last year, the Commission on Geographical Education (CGE) published an International  Charter on Geographical Education.  This imposing tome fails the real-world test at the first hurdle.  Despite this being a 2016 publication, there is only one reference to the SDGs.  This is in a section saying that the Charter is "supportive of the principles" set out in:

  •  the Charter of the United Nations
  • the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • the Constitution of UNESCO
  • the UNESCO Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Cooperation and Peace
  • the Declaration on the Rights of the Child
  •  the UN Sustainable Development Goals; and
  • many national curricula and statements on geographical education.

There are affirmations and proclamations galore, and an action plan, but just one mention of the SDGs.  To me, this illustrates the un-worldliness of the thing: written by international geographers for international geographers.  How are we supposed to take this seriously when it’s clearly about geography, rather than the state of the world?  Try looking up “poverty” or “justice” and see what you get. I’ll spare you the trouble: one mention and zero mentions, respectively.

Wake up geographers; there's a whole world out there not waiting for you to see your relevance to it.