Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Topic: New Publications

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.


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.


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.

New ESD Case Studies from UNESCO UK

📥  Comment, New Publications

The UK's National Commission for UNESCO has published a series of case studies on ESD:  Good practice in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in the UK: Case Studies.

The Introduction says:

"Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is described by UNESCO as enabling us to address present and future global challenges and create more sustainable and resilient societies by changing the way we think and act.  This requires quality education and learning for sustainable development at all levels and in all social contexts.  This report provides a series of case studies from across the UK that illustrates how ESD has been used to influence the people and communities involved.  The studies are drawn from formal education, community engagement and the private sector.  Each case study provides a brief description of the activity and, where possible, draws lessons and identifies opportunities for scaling up the approach to a regional or national level."


"This policy brief seeks to showcase good practice in ESD from across the UK.  The case studies are offered as examples to the UNESCO Secretariat, other Member States and ESD practitioners of approaches to ESD which can be applied in different educational and social contexts."

The Cases focus on:

  1. Engaging schools in sustainability: Eco-Schools, England
  2. Learning for sustainability and teacher training: The General Teaching Council for Scotland’s professional standards
  3. Students as change agents: National Union of Students UK
  4. Institutional change programmes in higher education: the UK’s Green Academy change programme
  5. International education through distance learning: the post-graduate Education for Sustainability programme at London South Bank University
  6. [i] Disadvantage and ESD: Down to Earth Project in Wales; [ii] St James’s Community Forum, Belfast
  7. Education business partnership and professional practice: Bulmer Foundation and Heineken
  8. Aligning Welsh business and sustainability: Cynnal Cymru- Sustain Wales

I should declare an interest in that I wrote the first draft of Case 3, although I don't really see it as ESD.

You will find it all here.  When you read it, you might wonder whether it's long enough.  That is: are these the only examples that could be found?  Or might more have been made of the contexts that are explored?  Or could each have been just a bit more analytical.  Then you might wonder if they are really about ESD, as opposed to education more generally.

My own view is that publications like this, no matter how useful, are no substitute for the form and structure of the two in-depth studies that UNESCO UK published in the years before the 2010 election, or even for the Policy Brief written in 2013.  Again, I've an interest to declare in all these).  That said, it's good to see something published on education by UNESCO in the UK.


More on UNESCO competencies

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote the other day about UNESCOs latest and rather surreal publication on learning outcomes.

The whole thing is couched in the language of competencies, as is rather too-Germanic for my taste (that is not a political judgement).  This seems a key passage:

There is general agreement that sustainability citizens need to have certain key competencies that allow them to engage constructively and responsibly with today’s world.  Competencies describe the specific attributes individuals need for action and self-organization in various complex contexts and situations. They include cognitive, affective, volitional and motivational elements; hence they are an interplay of knowledge, capacities and skills, motives and affective dispositions. Competencies cannot be taught, but have to be developed by the learners themselves. They are acquired during action, on the basis of experience and reflection (UNESCO, 2015; Weinert, 2001).  Key competencies represent cross-cutting competencies that are necessary for all learners of all ages worldwide (developed at different age-appropriate levels).  Key competencies can be understood as transversal, multifunctional and context-independent. They do not replace specific competencies necessary for successful action in certain situations and contexts, but they encompass these and are more broadly focused (Rychen, 2003; Weinert, 2001).  The following key competencies are generally seen as crucial to advance sustainable development (see de Haan, 2010; Rieckmann, 2012; Wiek et al., 2011).

  • Systems thinking competency
  • Anticipatory competency
  • Normative competency
  • Strategic competency
  • Collaboration competency
  • Critical thinking competency
  • Self-awareness competency
  • Integrated problem-solving competency

Whilst I wonder what happened to bildungs kompetence which seemed all the rage a few years ago, this exhausting list also misses out what, for me, has to be the most important  competency: Competency competency, without which you cannot be competent at handling competency – if you see what I mean.


Tedious Learning Objectives from UNESCO

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been trying to take seriously UNESCO's latest output on the Sustainable Development Goals, but it's hard going.

UNESCO says that its new publication, "Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives, targets policy-makers, curriculum developers and educators, and that it contains learning objectives and suggestions for classroom activities to address each of the SDGs as well as guidance on how to integrate ESD into policies and teaching. You can download it here if you really want to.

In a Foreword, UNESCO's Deputy Director writes:

"... This publication is designed as a guide for education professionals on the use of ESD in learning for the SDGs, and consequently to contribute to achieving the SDGs.  The guide identifies indicative learning objectives and suggests topics and learning activities for each SDG. It also presents implementation methods at different levels, from course design to national strategies.  The guide does not aim to be prescriptive in any way, but to provide guidance and suggestions that educators can select and adapt to fit concrete learning contexts.  ..."

This ends:

"I am confident that this guide will help to develop sustainability competencies for all learners and empower everyone to contribute to achieving our ambitious and crucial global agenda."

Well, I suppose someone has to be.  I'm not, as I doubt that many not on the UNESCO payroll will read it; indeed, those millions who take UNESCO's shilling but who know that ESD is a dead-end, won't be reading it either.  All this might well have a greater impact had it focused on 'education' rather than 'ESD', as it then would have had an appropriate audience in mind – that is, all those involved in education across the world – as opposed to the pitiful few who know anything about ESD.

But even so, it's doubtful that they'd take much notice as what's set out here is clearly written by insiders for insiders, and done so with an astonishingly uncritical eye.  Here's one example.  It's in Table 1.2.2. and sets out the cognitive learning objectives for Goal 2 “Zero Hunger”:

The Learner:

  1. knows about hunger and malnutrition and their main physical and psychological effects on human life, and about specific vulnerable groups.
  2. knows about the amount and distribution of hunger and malnutrition locally, nationally and globally, currently as well as historically.
  3. knows the main drivers and root causes for hunger at the individual, local, national and global level.
  4. knows principles of sustainable agriculture and understands the need for legal rights to have land and property as necessary conditions to promote it.
  5. understands the need for sustainable agriculture to combat hunger and malnutrition worldwide and knows about other strategies to combat hunger, malnutrition and poor diets.

There are also 5 socio-emotional learning objectives and 5 behavioural learning objectives about this Goal as well.

You really do have to ask: which learner is this?  Is it a 16 month old toddler in a Koln nursery school?  A 7 year old in a New York elementary school?  A benighted teenager in a Lahore madrassa?  A masters student in politics at Sciences Po?  A trainee teacher in Durban?  A student in a Sydney grammar school?  An undergraduate in Milan on an Italian Fine Art degree?  A vocational education track student in a Stockholm high school? ...

It is of course Everylearner, and therefore none.  My favourite among all the 255 [17 x 3 x 5] learning objectives is this:

"The learner is able to understand that with changing resource availability (e. g. peak oil, peak everything) and other external shocks and stresses (e. g. natural hazards, conflicts) their own perspective and demands on infrastructure may need to shift radically regarding availability of renewable energy for ICT, transport options, sanitation options, etc."

But it was a hard choice ...



Paul Kingsnorth argues for a defence of loved things

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading a piece by Paul Kingsnorth in The Guardian.  It's a reflection on environmentalism in an age of globalisation, and begins thus:

"Last June, I voted to leave the European Union. I wasn’t an anti-EU fanatic but I was, despite my advancing years, still something of a green idealist. I had always believed that small was beautiful, that people should govern themselves and that power should be reclaimed and localised whenever possible. I didn’t think that throwing the people of Greece, Spain and Ireland to the wolves in order to keep bankers happy looked like the kind of right-on progressive justice that some of the EU’s supporters were claiming it represented. ... .

Some people, when I told them that I’d voted to leave, looked at me as if I’d just owned up to a criminal record. Why would I do that? Was I a racist? A fascist? Did I hate foreigners? Did I hate Europe? I must hate something. Did I know how irresponsible I had just been? Had I changed my mind yet? I needed to go away and check my privilege.

The eruption of anger that followed the vote, on all sides, was surprising enough. But what was also surprising to me was the uniformity of opinion among people I had thought I shared a worldview with. Most people in the leftish, green-tinged world in which I had spent probably too much time over the years seemed to be lining up behind the EU.  The public intellectuals, the Green party, the big NGOs: all these people, from a tradition founded on localisation, degrowth, bioregionalism and a fierce critique of industrial capitalism, were on board with a multinational trading bloc backed by the world’s banks, corporations and neoliberal politicians.  Something smelt fishy. ..."

I have also noted all this for some time, and have put it down to solidarity with people (the toiling downtrodden masses across the globe) trumping – to coin a phrase – solidarity with the rest of nature – some of which also increasingly toils.  Sustainability is supposed to mean that such things cannot be separated.

So, when Kingnorth wrote this:

"Green spokespeople and activists rarely come from the classes of people who have been hit hardest by globalisation.  The greens have shifted firmly into the camp of the globalist left.  Now, as the blowback gathers steam, they find themselves on the wrong side of the divide."

... he is spot on.  This is how his (surprisingly hopeful) article ends as he draws culture back to centre stage where environmentalism is waiting:

"... any attempt to protect nature from the worst human depredation has to speak to people where they are. It has to make us all feel that the natural world, the non-human realm, is not an obstacle in the way of our progress but a part of our community that we should nurture; a part of our birthright. In other words, we need to tie our ecological identity in with our cultural identity.

In the age of drones and robots, this notion might sound airy or even ridiculous, but it has been the default way of seeing for most indigenous cultures throughout history. In the resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline, recently given the go-ahead by Trump, where the Standing Rock Sioux and thousands of supporters continue to resist the construction of an oil pipeline across Native American land, we perhaps see some indication of what this fusing of human and non-human belonging could look like today; a defence of both territory and culture, in the name of nature, rooted in love.

Globalism is the rootless ideology of the fossil fuel age, and it will fade with it. But the angry nationalisms that currently challenge it offer us no better answers about how to live well with a natural world that we have made into an enemy.  Our oldest identity is one that stills holds us in its grip, whether we know it or not. Like the fox in the garden or the bird in the tree, we are all animals in a place.  If we have a future, cultural or ecological – and they are the same thing, in the end – it will begin with a quality of attention and a defence of loved things.  All else is for the birds, and the foxes too."

There is undoubtedly something in this.


Kingsnorth’s new book, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, is published by Faber which days this about the book:

Paul Kingsnorth was once an activist, an ardent environmentalist. He fought against rampant development and the depredations of a corporate world that seemed hell-bent on ignoring a looming climate crisis in its relentless pursuit of profit. But as the environmental movement began to focus on 'sustainability' rather than the defence of wild places for their own sake and as global conditions worsened, he grew disenchanted with the movement that he once embraced. He gave up what he saw as the false hope that residents of the First World would ever make the kind of sacrifices that might avert the severe consequences of climate change.

Full of grief and fury as well as passionate, lyrical evocations of nature and the wild, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist gathers the wave-making essays that have charted the change in Kingsnorth’s thinking. In them he articulates a new vision that he calls 'dark ecology,' which stands firmly in opposition to the belief that technology can save us, and he argues for a renewed balance between the human and nonhuman worlds.

Provocative and urgent, iconoclastic and fearless, this ultimately hopeful book poses hard questions about how we have lived and should live.

Five final thoughts – though not from me

📥  Comment, New Publications

Hans Rosling died earlier this year.  He was the statistician who brought world population (and other) data to life, especially through his TED talks and YouTube videos.

He was the co-founder of, which continues his work.  In his final BBC interview, Rosling highlighted five key ways that demographics are shaping the world around us.  You can read about it here.  There are data on...

  • fertility rates from 1917 projected to 2099 when Ghana's rate (1.9) is lower than that of France (2.0).
  • population by continent from 1950 projected to 2100 when Europe will have 6% and Africa 39%.  These were 22% & 9% respectively in 1950.
  • life expectancy from 1917 projected to 2099 when that in the USA (88.9) will only just be longer than that in Bangladesh (87.5)

There are also a lot of ifs and buts, of course, and much discussion.  Hans Rosling: his data live on.


Measuring Business Impacts on People’s Well-being

📥  Comment, New Publications

OECD had a workshop in Paris the other week on Measuring Business Impacts on People’s Well-being.  Here's the webpage.

The workshop

"discussed the foundations to measuring business impacts on well-being through the creation of new measurement standards in close collaboration with the business sector, and as part of existing reporting practices that already transcend economic performance."

You can read the speaker blogs here, read the session notes here, and find links to the presentations here.  My sources say that the one from Hunter Lovins is the one to watch.  It's here.  All rather North American.