Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Topic: New Publications

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.


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.


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.


Being a Beast

📥  Comment, New Publications

I am reading (slowly) Charles Foster's Being a Beast published by Profile Books 2016, ISBN 978-1781255346

It's a book where the being (as opposed to being with has to be taken seriously.  I suppose a more apt title might have been Trying to be a Beast, given that Foster never quite escapes his human-ness, but that's to nit pick.   Anyway, if you've not read it, I can only say that you are missing an essential dimension to outdoor learning.  I, for one, shall never think about otters or foxes in the same way again.  Do read it, and maybe you will wonder with me how he kept his lucky children out of the clutches of the guardians of public morality and safety.

Quite understandably, Being a Beast won an IgNobel prize.  The citation was: Awarded jointly to Charles Foster, for living in the wild as, at different times, a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox, and a bird; and to Thomas Thwaites, for creating prosthetic extensions of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of, and spend time roaming hills in the company of, goats.  All part of life ...




Sterling on the SDGs

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading Stephen Sterling's recent piece in the Journal of Education for Sustainable Development (Vol 10.2).  It's here, and downloadable.  This is the Abstract:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are viewed in the context of Johan Rockström’s work on planetary boundaries at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. This work sets a double challenge to educational policy and practice: to embrace and help achieve the Goals, but also to work towards a deeper change in consciousness which can reconcile people and planet.  The role of education is more profound and comprehensive than is recognized in the text of the SDGs as regards its potential to address their implementation.  Education requires a re-invention, and re-purposing so that it can assume the responsibility these challenges require, and develop the agency that is needed for transformative progress to be made.

In many ways it's familiar stuff, but because it's written in the context of the SDGs, it's a new take on an old theme.  It complains about the goals, especially the education one saying, rightly, that this has little to do with sustainability in the sustainable development sense.  This is unsurprising as that goal and the myriad targets it embodies were written by those in UNESCO who are focused on education for all (EFA).  That is, by the 99% of the education staff within UNESCO.  The 1% who think about ESD hardly got a sniff.  That's because the 99% know that what they're doing is what really matters, both to UNESCO and the future.  The leaders of the 99% (NB, I concede that this number might be too high: more like 97%) don't believe that "Education requires a re-invention, and re-purposing so that it can assume the responsibility these challenges require, and develop the agency that is needed for transformative progress to be made".  They never have, which is why EFA has always had the lion's share of the cash.  They have never been swayed by transformation rhetoric, or seduced by talk of paradigm shifts.  Their's is the slow incremental grind of making progress at the margins in difficult places and trying to consolidate it.  My Tuesday blog about indicators show what their priorities are.  You only have to read these, and then compare it to the struggle they have when it comes to ESD.  I'll have more to say on their attempts to address this gap next week.

Sterling's article ends:

 "... There are only 15 short years to make a significant difference.  We are faced with an unprecedented and huge learning challenge at every level, in which educational policy and practice need to play a pivotal role.  How do we ‘reorient our systems of knowledge creation and education’?. ... How do we ensure that education for these extraordinary times can manifest a culture of critical commitment — engaged enough to make a real difference to social-ecological resilience and sustainability but reflexively critical enough to learn from experience and to keep options open into the future? ..."

Indeed.  Well, almost.  But how?  Given that society changes education and its emphases faster than society is changed by education, all this will not be achieved from within slow-shifting, bureaucratic education systems, but, if at all, in the political sphere.  And the more we delude ourselves with talk of a "burgeoning consciousness oriented towards local and planetary well-being and the public good" – a phrase Sterling quotes – the less likely we are to understand this.


The Path Ahead is surely a rocky one

📥  Comment, New Publications

At the end (page 122) of WWF's 2016 Living Planet report we find this:

The Path Ahead

The facts and figures in this report tend to paint a challenging picture, yet there is still considerable room for optimism.  If we manage to carry out critically needed transitions, the rewards will be immense.  Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch.  There are several countries that have managed to raise the standards of living for their populations with much lower resource intensity than industrial countries . Furthermore, the world is reaching a consensus regarding the direction we must take.  In 2015, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted.  And at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries adopted a global agreement to combat climate change, and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low-carbon future.  Furthermore, we have never before had such an understanding of the scale of our impact on the planet, the way the key environmental systems interact or the way in which we can manage them.

Ultimately, addressing social inequality and environmental degradation will require a global paradigm shift toward living within safe Planetary Boundaries.  We must create a new economic system that enhances and supports the natural capital upon which it relies.  Earlier in this chapter, leverage points were identified to support the necessary transitions.  These were mainly focused on changing societal patterns and systemic structures either by implementing incremental changes or by supporting the development of niche innovations.  Changing mental models, societal attitudes and values underlying the current structures and patterns of our global economy is a more challenging course of action.  How can we “repurpose” businesses so that they are not just focusing on short-term profit but are also expected to be accountable for social and environmental benefits? Or how should we redefine what desirable economic development looks like?  And how can we reduce the emphasis on material wealth, confront consumerism and the throw-away culture, and promote the desirability of more sustainable diets?  These kinds of changes to societal values are likely to be achievable only over the long term and in ways that we have not yet imagined.

Still, the speed at which we transition to a sustainable society is a key factor for determining our future.  Allowing and fostering important innovations and enabling them to undergo rapid adoption in a wider arena is critical.  Sustainability and resilience will be achieved much faster if the majority of the Earth’s population understand the value and needs of our increasingly fragile Earth.  A shared understanding of the link between humanity and nature could induce a profound change that will allow all life to thrive in the Anthropocene.

This sentence: "Sustainability and resilience will be achieved much faster if the majority of the Earth’s population understand the value and needs of our increasingly fragile Earth" shows the problems to be overcome and the limitations in our abilities to do this.  It also shows why optimism (it'll all likely turn out ok ...) is not enough.  Some will say it shows the need for environmental education (though this hasn't been all that successful over the past 60 years); others will see that it's education itself that needs to be re-oriented (given that it's been part of the problem for far longer than 60 years).  Meanwhile, others who ought to know better, will babble on about paradigm shifts.


It's almost enough to allow gloom to take over and hope to be extinguished ...


ENSI Update

📥  Comment, New Publications

The venerable ENSI programme seems to have taken on the role of cheerleader (in the nicest way) for the SDGs.  Its latest newsletter shows the range of its new focus.  There's

  • a first Report on the SDG’s 2016 with a quote from Ban ki-Moon.
  • TVET at the centre stage of the new sustainable development agenda (greening TVET)
  • a gender equality Project for the Goals
  • New publications from UNESCO

  Action for Climate Empowerment, guidelines for accelerating solutions through education, training and public awareness

  Planet: Education for environmental sustainability and green growth/

  Not just hot air - putting climate change into practice

... and a feature on indicators for the Goals that I've already written about.  All this seems a long way from the original ENSI, but that's all to the good, especially as the UK's allowed to take part.



Emphasising learning rather than behaviour

📥  Comment, New Publications

Just before Christmas, I was asked if I'd write 400 words on "the link between education for sustainable development and behavior" for an "an international education for sustainable development project".  This is not the sort of invitation I get all that often, and the 400 words (max) was a worthy challenge.  So I gave it a go.  Here it is:

Education for sustainable development: putting learning before behaviour

It’s now clear that we shall need to learn how to live differently if the Earth is to enable everyone to live a life that, as Amartya Sen put it, they have reason to value.  Optimists may think we have made a good start, pointing to the steady shift to renewable energy, the decoupling of economic growth from carbon emissions, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the adoption of the sustainable development goals.  Meanwhile, those of a more pessimistic (they’d say realistic) turn of mind shake their heads and say: too little; too late.

Whether we’ll be able to change how we live through conventional socio-political processes characterised by consent and participation, or whether we shall be forced to change, will depend on how well and quickly we keep promises made on carbon and climate.  Given that these are government commitments, what can individuals and families do?

The need for such involvement has been acknowledged for over 40 years, usually in terms of behaviour change.  In 1970, IUCN called for codes of behaviour about issues concerning environmental quality.  In 1990, we were told that the ultimate aim of education was shaping human behaviour, and that the strategies were known and the tools available.  Fifteen years on, the ESD Decade encouraged changes in behaviour to create a more sustainable future.

All this is well and good, but it privatises the problem by putting the onus on the individual, and there is much that individuals cannot achieve.  Recycling illustrates the difficulties.  If there are no local facilities for recycling the plastic packaging we’re now surrounded by, what can we do?  Acting individually to try to persuade a local council or supermarket to change their policies is useless, as social action and campaigning are needed.  People need to learn to work together to effect change so that everyone can participate.  Thus it’s fine if schools encourage students to create less waste, or get involved with fair trade, provided learning is prioritised.

WWF’s 2016 Living Planet report surely gets it right when it says:

“Sustainability and resilience will be achieved much faster if the majority of the Earth’s population understand the value and needs of our increasingly fragile Earth.  A shared understanding of the link between humanity and nature could induce a profound change that will allow all life to thrive in the Anthropocene.”

That is, learning needs to come before behaviour.


It remains to be seen whether it gets published.  I'll report back.