I have been reading Richard D North's blog – once again – having been absent from it for an inexplicably long while. Whilst it is wide-ranging, it seems to me to be particularly helpful on the politics of climate change. Certainly, I find that reading about what he does and doesn't know / think / believe about carbon and climate is helpful as I (again) try to sort out what I think myself. More on this follows, I suspect, now that I've rediscovered him.
Perhaps I am the last person to become aware of this, but it strikes me as a positive move that the DfE Sustainable Development Unit has been moved within the DfE's Policy Impact Division with an objective to mainstream sustainability in policy development and impact assessment across policy areas. Time will tell, of course, just how good a move this proves to be, but I'll travel hopefully for now.
The BBC's Points West had what was billed as a good conservation story last night, and Daphne and Belinda were in the studio to tell us all about it. Belinda was an otter and Daphne was its "owner", or so the studio hosts said. Whilst coo'ing and ooh'ing, and isn't she sweet'ing, over this hapless, un-wild creature, they kept a sensible distance. Daphne finished up wearing Belinda as an on the shoulder accessory – just as my long-gone grandmother did her dead fox (head, feet, brush and all). I watched this with an emotion bordering on disgust.
Apparently there was a good news story here about otters returning to the West's rivers, but rather than go out and film (or take shots from their considerable archive), the BBC took the cheap (in both senses) option and decided on a chat show interview. There was a man there from Bristol Zoo as well, also keeping his distance from Belinda / Daphne, whilst reinforcing the positive conservation story. The irony was that some sensible and important things were said about what the public should / shouldn't do in the countryside, but why did it need a circus to get these points across?
I have just caught up with a recent story in the Times Education Supplement under the headline: "Climate change strategy falls victim to Tories' anti-centralising drive". To my bemusement, this turned out to be the Sustainable Schools Initiative. To describe this as a climate change strategy traduces its intent; its scope and ambition were always far greater than this. How disappointing the TES has been so off-hand and careless, given its earlier interest and much more nuanced coverage of the initiative. This does, however, illustrate a growing tendency to reduce the complexity and breadth of sustainability issues to a focus, one way or another, on climate, as the recent Unesco report on ESD in the UK in 2010 noted. The Department for Education was unavailable for comment, it seems. As appalled as I was, no doubt.
I have been away – two luxurious weeks with little thought of ESD. I come back to discover that I've missed a mini-drama. It seems that those well-meaning folk at the 10:10 movement thought it would be a good idea to commission Richard [ 4 weddings and a funeral in Notting Hill ] Curtis to write a short film (oddly only 4 rather than 10 minutes long) to support their campaign to have more people to commit to cutting their carbon footprint by 10% in 2010. He did this, and the film [ No Pressure ] was duly posted on the 10:10 website only for it to be pulled a few hours later, as the Guardian noted. It seems, shock / horror, some people were upset. What's not clear is whether the film was censored because 10:10 were themselves eventually upset by the film, or because they were upset because others were upset (which would never do, of course in these correct times). I suspect the latter otherwise they'd never have posted the film in the first place. Anyway, cue groveling apology from Lizzie Gillet, 10:10's global campaign director.
Who was it, I wonder, that didn't know that RC was a satirist? Who was it that was so trusting that it was only after the film was made, approved and posted that problems were perceived? Who was it that has wasted so much creative time and effort? I hope 10:10 trustees are finding out.
Meanwhile, you can watch the film here. Enjoy. I did – all 4 gloriously funny minutes of it. Perhaps it was the idea of executing children and teachers who are sufficiently strong-minded not to be pressured into doing something they don't believe in that was too close to the bone for some viewers?
PS, The Guardian says that more than 96,000 people have now signed up to the 10:10 campaign. This does not seem a lot.
… use Century Gothic, the thinnest font around. 10% ink savings guaranteed, it seems, though using fewer and shorter words might do the same thing.
The Environmental Audit Committee, chaired by Joan Walley MP, has launched an inquiry into how sustainable development can be further embedded in Government policy decision-making and operations. As part of its inquiry, the Committee will examine latest sustainable development performance data across government departments.
When I saw this in the latest SDRN mailing, I thought researchers have discovered what many already know: happiness through looking at, and using, maps. Not so. Read on, especially you iPhoners:
Researchers at the London School of Economics have created a new iPhone application intended to map happiness across the UK. Researchers will beep users once a day to ask how users are feeling, and a few basic things to control for: who they are with, where they are, what they're doing. This data gets sent back - anonymously and securely - to their data store, along with the user's approximate location from the iPhone's GPS, and a noise-level measure. The researchers are keen to understand how people's feelings are affected by features of their current environment, including factors such as air pollution, noise and green spaces.
Just how happy you'll be at being beeped every day remains to be seen (sounds a bit like voluntary stalking). I'm waiting for the movie. More at http://www.mappiness.org.uk
A good conversation with a colleague yesterday about evaluation and learning, especially about plants. Is it really enough if young people can recognise a few plants – and colour in their copybooks correctly? Shouldn't we be seeking something more sophisticated – something more connected to their lives and to the Earth? I thought of Naming of Parts and this obsession with trivial knowledge and labling.
All this took my mind to Plants Rights, and wondered if life has caught up with satire yet. It has, as the always interesting treehugger.com confirms. It reports that
the Swiss Government's Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology concludes that plants have rights, and we have to treat them appropriately. A majority of the panel concluded that "living organisms should be considered morally for their own sake because they are alive".
I'd say that it's only a matter of time before a more militant wing of the argument emerges, probably about equal opportunities. There will likely be much talk of speciesism, nativeism and a call for non-discrimination around bio-geography and time: so what that a species has been here for millenia? Such grandfather rights are always rent-seeking special pleading of one sort or another – the argument will go. It will then turn to disability and quotas. They may find a natural ally in Ofscoff.
It is widely reported that the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has now abandoned the department’s sustainable schools strategy and, hence, any active government promotion of, and support for, the idea and reality of sustainable schools. I say “widely reported” because, although I have not seen any formal announcement, and the new DfE website says nothing about sustainability or ESD, everyone seems to think it’s fait accompli. Evidence of this is the recent email petition from People and Planet where (young) people are urged to personalise the following message:
Dear Secretary of State for Education
School students are our future, and if we want a sustainable, low-carbon future we need the government to support schools in teaching these issues. A truly green government would put sustainability teaching at the heart of its education strategy.
I call on you to:
- ensure that the government creates the opportunities for all students to learn about sustainability issues
- provide all schools with access to resources and education which supports them in becoming truly sustainable schools.
Clicking SEND speeds the message to Mr Gove’s inbox. This isn’t bad as messages go, and certainly points up the contrast between this decision and the government’s claim to be the greenest ever, and an enthusiastic promoter of sustainable development. Thus, it’s hard to think that the withdrawal is ideological. So, perhaps it was simply finance-driven, in the sense that the able people within the sustainable schools unit can now be released for more important work, as the government sees it.
The sustainable schools strategy is a powerful one, not only because it has good ideas and is meaningful for schools, but also (and in large part) because it came from the DCSF. It is unusual to find this happening, as education ministries around the world do tend to leave it to others. In a review essay on sustainable schools, to be published in Environmental Education Research, I ended with this thought:
… it is appropriate and salutary to return to Mary Clark’s distinction between the dominant processes of moulding society to fit the status quo and its received wisdoms, and the enabling of a critique of beliefs and assumptions which aids the creation of new ways of thinking. Whilst a small unit within the UK’s DCSF has been doing the latter, and doing it well within large resource constraints, the DCSF mainstream has been focused on the former, and it is this, almost bi-polar, climate within which sustainable schools are struggling to evolve.
Thus, one way of reading what Mr Gove seems to have done is as a return to letting Defra, NAEE, SE-Ed, etc speak for an education focusing on environmental integrity and ecosystem quality, and DfID, DEA, TIDE~, etc speak for an education focusing on international development, global citizenship and social justice. However, whatever Mr Gove now decides to do, he cannot undo the fact that, for five years, the DCSF has stimulated the creative bringing together of these ideas across all aspects of what a school does. The challenge for all of us who think this work is vital for all our (and others’) futures is to continue this work together. In doing so, I hope the Secretary of State’s now unfunded, but very public, blessing will be ringing in our ears.
NB, This comment is to be published in the National Association for Environmental Education's journal: Environmental Education.