Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Topic: News and Updates

Did everyone get a prize?

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After the exhausting gloom of the planning enquiry that I wrote about recently, we set off for the Home Counties and the RHS's Hampton Court Flower Show.  We stayed in a hotel of decaying splendour which was once a fine place to stay – though not recently.  The day at the Show was wonderful: such beauty – and a pleasure mixing with people whose working lives are dedicated to it.  I was particularly taken with the bonsai, one of which was about 100 years older than me – and, it should be said, in better shape.

One thing perturbed me; in the long tent filled with stands every one seemed to have a prize.  Is there grade inflation amongst the peonies, I wondered.

And there was no litter.  Why was this?  Was it because of the sort of people who went there?  Or that, unlike, other events – Glastonbury comes to mind – were there just a lot of convenient bins?  Well, there were bins – but there were at Glastonbury as well.  I came away not thinking about the bins or non-litter, but about the flowers.

 

All those declarations

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I wrote about Tbilisi about 6 months ago, wondering how that eponymous declaration would be celebrated, 40 years on.  And, about 5 years ago, I set out a list of the significant EE world conferences etc.  This was thanks to Alan Reid's very helpful posting to the EE Mailbase: making links to EE declarations / resolutions / reports / charters / strategies /  from 1972 onwards.  For the record, here they are:

The Stockholm Declaration 1972

The Belgrade Charter 1975

The Tbilisi Declaration Report 1977

The Moscow Strategy 1987

The Rio Declaration 1992

The Thessaloniki Declaration 1997

The Johannesburg Declaration 2002

United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014

UNECE Strategy for ESD

The Ahmedabad Declaration 2007

The Bonn Declaration 2009

This is not as long a list as some would like, and the world is full of folk who want to add their own immodest efforts to what's here.  Nothing here either about WEEC or UNECE, for example (whatever happened to UNECE by the way?), or the various COPs or the widening GAP.  I commented at the time I compiled this list: Reading the early [reports] reminds us how little progress we have made, suggesting that we read Tbilisi, and weep.  If only we'd done what we said we would.  If only different factions hadn't been so certain.  If only we hadn't attacked each other so much.  If only, ... .

I note, as the conference season looms, that various groups are out to celebrate the legacy of Tbilisi.  You know how the argument will go: There's a direct line of successful activism from Tbilisi to Paris.  This is another way of saving that if it hadn't been for environmental education, the Paris Agreement would not have happened.  But it's nonsense, and there’s a lot to be said for due modesty.  How about this as an account of how it works:

  1. Effective environmental education (etc) informs and enriches the school experience ...
  2. Resulting in both child and and family learning about sustainability ...
  3. Leading to a higher proportion of people who are aware, informed and concerned about the issues we face ...
  4. Who (can then) bring influence and pressure to bear, as consumers and citizens, on business and government ...
  5. Leading to informed shifts in policy and practice, locally, nationally and globally ...
  6. Resulting in improved socio-economic and environmental conditions – including ...
  7. An education system where environmental education (etc) are no longer needed because they are part of the mainstream.

This is not good enough, in part because it fails the dog-training test, so expect more about this.

 

Is 'circular' really just a bit less linear?

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This is a complement to my post the other day.  The title question is not mine but one recently asked by Ronald Rovers in three blogs:

[1] CIRCULAR IN CIRCULAR ECONOMY IS MISSING… ITS ABOUT LINEAR SLOW-DOWN

[2] CIRCULAR PART 2: RESOURCE RACISM

[3] CIRCULAR PART 3: “RESTORE”: CIRCULAR ENERGY

This is how the first begins:

"Circular is “hot”.  But the interpretation of ‘circular’ is crippled.  As I can conclude after reading some recent reports on the topic.  For sure when its coupled to economy, its more about business as about closing cycles or circularity.  And money as a reference, is a artificial measuring unit, in its current form designed for making more money, create growth, and not designed to reduce emissions, or less resource use. Its no wonder that the motor behind circular economy is the MacArthur foundation, financed by many commercial multinationals.  Unfortunately many international reports take the MacArthur approach for granted and use these as starting points{1,2,3].  Even governments and their advisory institutes.  That's worrying, at the least.

Circular as a result is not well defined, and is stuck to some adaptations of the linear process.

Let me try to specify this.   To start with where we came from: A paradise world without people. After billions of years there is a balance in what the earth generates, driven by solar energy, and what all species, plants and animals consume.  The resource flow of resources, food water energy, materials are constant, they are balanced.  Next thing mankind turns up.  Until the industrial revolution, mankind , with max 2 billion people, adapts to the flows as all the other species.  The balance remains.  At some moments things tend to go wrong, but the system corrects this, cultures die out, plagues interfere, dirty cities create many deaths, and the system restarts.  Flows are used, and wasted, but at a speed that the system can handle, like waste water from cities flowing to the seas , cleaned up and via rain replenishing the system.  The same for food: its grown, eaten and defecated, and in may cultures used again as nutrients.  In some regions in China you were supposed, after having dinner at someones place, to not leave until going to the toilet, to leave the nutrients behind. ..."

The second post starts:

"Circular, is about closing cycles, isn’t it?  So its restoring the original stock.  Otherwise its depleted, and we run out of stock.  Yes?  But thats precisely what is kept silent in the circular economy approach.  No wonder, since its quit disrupting. But its by no means circular what is advocated so far.  Which does not say its wrong what is done under circular economy, but its not circular, thats misleading. Its linear slow down. As argued previously.  What happens is not closing the cycle, but slow down degradation of of resources in its way to equilibrium, diluted in the environment. Since thats the natural Faith of all resources. (unless substantial energy is added, but thats for later)

It only becomes circular is you take responsibility for restoring the original stock.  Closing the cycles, so that future generations have the same options, and do not have to live from our waste.  And since the future will be even more people as now…"

And the third:

"So how could you do that, restoring minerals or metals?"

This is challenging stuff for those who think (and teach) that a circular economy is the way forward for 9 billion people.  I'll be watching how this debate develops.

 

Sachs at the T20

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I listened to Jeffrey Sachs (Director, Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University) the other day (on YouTube) speaking at the T20 Summit in Berlin: Global Solutions.  Mercifully, it was only 22 minutes long.  The first 14 minutes were gloomy stuff, and, if I'd taken it totally seriously, I'd have popped outside and slit my wrists in desperation.  He also mentioned "Trump" and "Danger" far too often, and failed to rise above being an American talking about the problems of America, especially the problems of Trump.  It was a tedious nostra-culpa.  The last part was better when he turned to the issues we ought to be thinking about, and there was no mention of Trump or China or the Kochs or the Republicans for at least a minute, although he did at the end say we ought really to stop thinking about Trump.  Indeed, I thought; you might lead the way on this.

I asked myself what was new in what he said.  It was that Think Tanks ought to Think and engage with the important questions.  Well, Huzzah! to that.

 

 

Highlights from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

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If you click here, you'll find the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's 2017 Summit highlights playlist, and see designer & sociologist Leyla Acaroglu, IDEO's Tim Brown, The Sustainable Food Trust's Patrick Holden, and other 'thought leaders' (a phrase I dislike), "discussing shifting mindsets, design, the bio-economy and new prosperity".

There's also Redesigning Plastics, a new lesson plan written by the Foundation's Schools and Colleges team as part of the World's Largest Lesson 2017.  This new two part lesson is aimed at students aged 12+.  It introduces key facts about plastics, what could be done to make them fit in a circular economy, and encourages students to take on a creative design challenge of their own.  As part of Global Goal 12 - Responsible Consumption & Production, the lesson can be linked to the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize to provide students with an insight into what is currently being done to improve the global plastics economy.  Curated by Project Everyone in support of the United Nation's Global Goals for Sustainable Development, the World's Largest Lesson aims to bring the goals to children and young people, and unite them in action.

Then there's the Circulate newsletter which has sections on cities, energy and material flows, food, business, and people and society.

Finally, this is a good point to mention Circular by design - Products in the circular economy that was published in June by the European Environment Agency [EEA].  It's Report No 6/2017.

The EEA is an agency of the European Union. Its task is to provide sound, independent information on the environment, and it is a major information source for those involved in developing, adopting, implementing and evaluating environmental policy.  It began work in 1994.  The EEA says that this report

"explores the circular economy from a product perspective, applying a systemic approach and transition theory. Drivers of product design and usage are discussed in the context of emerging consumption trends and business models. For governance to be effective, it has to address the product life-cycle and the societal context determining it. Indicators and assessment tools are proposed that can help fill the current data and knowledge gaps."

Reading the report shows both the potential that thinking in a circular way has for how we all might live well, indicates the progress made thus far, and shows how much more there is to do.

Later this week I'll also feature some questions posed by Ronald Rovers about just how circular the circular economy really is.

 

Will recyclers inherit the earth?

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I see that one of the behemoths of the corporate world has, at last, been shamed [well done Greenpeace] into doing something about the waste it creates through the consumption of its products.  Its solution is to re-invent the idea of the reward scheme so beloved of small boys (of all genders) who were always a bit short of ready cash.

Coca-Cola is funding trials after admitting that it needs to take responsibility for the zillions of tonnes of litter its bottles create.  The trials will focus on bottles up to half a litre, and people will be offered either cash or shopping vouchers to return empty bottles of any brand to collection points.  The company said the scheme could go national if the trials showed that it improved recycling rates and reduced litter.  That will, of course, depend on incentives and the (in)convenience.  Set the first too low and the latter too high, and it won't work and we'll all get the blame.

In respect of all this, The Times reported last week that more than 13 billion single-use plastic bottles are sold in Britain each year.  This is a staggering average of 200 per person (that is, ~4 a week – a norm I'm simply not keeping up with).  57% are recycled, with the rest sent to landfill, incinerated or left as litter.  Millions end up on beaches and in the sea.  Coca-Cola sells (only) 1.5 billion of these bottles.  Jon Woods, Great Britain manager for C-C, said that it would spend "several million pounds a year" on the trials and also on doubling the amount of recycled plastic in its bottles from 25 to 50% by 2020.

It's instructive to see how the Germans do all this.  When I'm visiting Mrs M all I have to do is to take my plastic detritus to the local supermarket and pop it into a machine.  This clever device weighs up what's what and, as soon as Mrs M [*] has given the green light, issues a voucher for use in the store.  It is so remarkably simple and convenient that there is probably no chance of its being introduced here.

................................

* Modern German proverb:

No dove flies across Alexanderplaz without a flight plan approved by Mrs Merkel.

 

EE and the SDGs

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I was asked the other day for a comment on this: "EE can help achieve the SDGs”.  This is obviously an important idea, but for me it begs a prior question: how can (and does) education (broadly conceived) help achieve the Goals?

Here are a few thoughts:

  • Given that (up to now) EE remains (at best) a subset of education more generally, it seems a logical necessity to address the broader question first before saying anything about the (inevitably) narrower one.
  • Education, like EE, has both formal and informal aspects to it and the two intertwine.  Education and EE are available both to young and old(er) people; most tax-payer money is spent on the former.
  • Education (in schools, etc) is a social strategy that has lots of socio-economic goals to its name; not all these outputs obviously focus on sustainability, though most might conceivably contribute to it.
  • EE (etc) is a broad church with disparate dogmas and multiple highways to salvation in this life.
  • Crucially, the need for formal education programmes, and equitable and prolonged access to them, are convincing components of the SDGs.
  • It’s hard to write the last sentence with EE as the focus in a convincing manner

Thus, if I were answering this question, I’d want to begin with Education and work towards EE (etc).  I’m wondering if that case has been made by anyone.

 

Doing less with less

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I got this the other day from the local Community Policing Team:

There has been a significant shift in the way we manage our demand within the Police Service. The Community Policing Model recognises that the Police service is being asked to do more with less and helps to address this fact by resolving the problem at the first point of contract, whilst assessing the Threat, Harm and Risk associated with the contact without necessarily tasking an officer to attend in the first instance.  The adage they work to in our Communication Centre is to get it right first time.  Consequently, by doing more initially, this has seen an increase in waiting times for people to be answered.  There are several factors that need to be considered here.

The first point is that under the CPT Model, calls for immediate help have seen an improvement.  If calls were answered quicker and pushed through the system, this would not be the case.  I hope this point is accepted as being the right stance.

The second point is that we have gone through, and continue to go through, a significant recruitment phase for many roles within the CPT.  Police Officers, PCSO, Local Crime Investigators and Prisoner Transport Team members have all been recruited.  Where do we find people with the right skills to do these roles?  One area is our Communication Centre.  These are members of Police Staff who have been trained in aspects of law and have good communication skills.  It is not surprising that they then wish to use their training and continue to develop.  Consequently recruitment and retention of staff is a significant factor, however to reassure you our Communication Centre Leadership team have a well-established rolling recruitment programme in place.

We are aware of the issue and exploring solutions including on-line reporting of crime, a more informative website and on-line chat and hope this different access channels will start to be available late summer 2017.  We will not solve this issue overnight but are aware of our failings and are working hard to resolve them in order to deliver the best possible service to those who contact us

This is the police force that continues to devote huge resources to the prosecution of Sir Edward Heath – who died some years ago – for abusing small boys.  Sustainability-speaking, I think it is a good job that I live in a low crime area.

 

The role and responsibility of education ...

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I had an email from Transformative Learning the other day.  It said:

What is the role and responsibility of education to not only respond to sustainability problems, but also to prevent them and create more sustainable futures? 

This (which isn't quite a question) is at the core of the web-based course in Education for Sustainable Development, and so, presumably, are the answers.  The organisers say this:

"In this 15 credit MSc-level Master’s course you will critically and actively explore central concepts and perspectives in the field of education for sustainable development.  The course content will be related to your own interests and prior experiences.  You will be among other Master students from different parts of the world with different backgrounds (e.g. environmental sciences, social sciences, economics, arts and humanities).

They added, the course is of interest if you:

  • Want to work for increased public awareness, knowledge and action competence in sustainable development and responding to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
  • Are interested in supporting learning for sustainable development among diverse groups;
  • Are involved in social movements for people, animals, and the environment, and want to learn more about the role of education in creating a more equitable, peaceful, and ecologically viable world;
  • Are a teacher/educator looking for ideas and strategies to better integrate education for sustainable development in your classrooms or in community settings."

All this raises an issue as to why the question (above) which was about what education can do suddenly becomes focused what ESD can do.  Given that these are not the same, why not focus on the former (which everyone experiences, more or less) rather that the latter which hardly exists outwith the interests of its supporters.

 

A labourer and his hire

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I had a nice email the other day offering me some work.  Maybe you did too.  It was from EditSprings "where you can make use of your scholarly attainments and English skill for paper editing with payment in your spare time".

EditSprings is an "academic service provider" established in China in 2010 which says that it has helped "more than 10,000 Chinese researchers to publish their papers in English academic journals".   The email added:

"Over 200 scientists, reviewers and editors from famous institutions cross the U.S., Britain, Canada, and so on are working with us to help increasing researchers overcome the language barrier." [sic]

They offered me three roles:

  • Language editing – modify the papers only for language such as grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation, sentence structures and other mechanics of style
  • Academic editing – revise the manuscript in terms of academic logicality, content organization, results analysis, and language; make sure the manuscript is appropriate to be published
  • Journal recommendation – assess the manuscript based on research significance, novelty, preciseness and language; recommend three journals that are most suited to the manuscript

The rates of remuneration are infinitely more than journals pay for often doing quite similar work.  I'm not tempted though, as I've toiled in that particular vineyard long enough.  If you are, you might drop them a line (and CV) to recruitment@editsprings.com