Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Faith, finance and ecology

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There was a seminar in Zug the other day organised by ARC**, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation; sadly, I wasn't invited.  It was a meeting of the great, the good, and the ugly.  The Economist reported it: Green investors and right-wing sceptics clash on the meaning of scripture – faith and investment seek a new partnership

The article began:

"In the Swiss town of Zug, a high-powered gathering of faith leaders, investment gurus and environmentalists met to consider how bodies with ample funds at their disposal, including religious organisations, could use that wealth for the benefit of life on earth. One of the star speakers was Cardinal Peter Turkson, a Ghanaian who was recently put in charge of a powerful new Vatican agency (an amalgamation of four others) that is charged with “promoting integral human development".  The agency's job, he explained, covers human rights, development, the environment and the economy. It aims to put into practice the social teachings of the last three popes."

The cardinal insisted that businessmen who were believers could not fence off their faith from their professional activities, and Gunnela Hahn, head of “responsible investment” at the Swedish Lutheran Church, agreed.  It seems that there was much concord on all this.

A counter point was put by Scott Pruitt, head of the USA's the Environment Protection Agency which now (I had missed this) declines to take advice from anyone who has received funding from the EPA.  You'll not be the first to note that this gives undue influence to outfits that the EPA is supposed to regulate.  Pruitt cited a passage from the Book of Joshua, in which pagans were instructed to “choose this day whom you will serve”: the old deities or the new one.  Indeed; a choice we all make every morning.

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**ARC is a secular body founded by Prince Philip.  It helps the major religions of the world to develop their own environmental programmes, based on their own core teachings, beliefs and practices. It is the main partner for the UN in working with faith outfits on the SDGs.

 

 

 

There's nowt so queer as EE folk

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Joshua Russell (Canisius College, Buffalo) is seeking contributions to a book called Queer EcoPedagogies: Explorations in Sexuality, Nature, and Education.  His call begins:

In 2002, Constance Russell, Tema Sarick, and Jacqueline Kennelly wrote what was arguably the first foray into queer theory in environmental education (EE) research, drawing scholarly attention to the potential “in explicitly and actively ‘queering’ environmental education” (2002, p. 55). Shortly thereafter, Gough, Gough, Applebaum, Doll, and Sellers, invited environmental educators to walk the difficult path of exposing and “queer(y)ing” the field’s “heteronormative constructedness” by visiting the imaginary Camp Wilde (Gough et al., 2003, pp. 44-45). However, a period of silence followed these important calls for applying and performing queer theory within environmental education research and scholarship.  ..."

How I remember the wearisome seminars on all this at the time, with their attempts to shock us out of our liberal certainties.  How I welcomed the silence.

Russell's suggestions [**] for potential themes and topics for the book include:

  • What are the potential connections to be made between queer ecology and environmental education research and practice?
  • In what ways might queer theory contribute to various educational commitments seeking to unsettle anthropocentrism, heterosexism, and other oppressive views of human-environment relationships?
  • In what ways can queer educators trouble the categories of “human,” “nonhuman,” and “nature” in ways that promote the enactment of more just, caring, and diverse multi-species communities and societies?
  • What are the various tensions surrounding gender and sexuality within environmental education scholarship and practice?  What new paths might we seek in addressing these tensions?
  • To what extent is "keep buggering on" an adequate or appropriate strategy for environmental educators to adopt given the existential threats we face?
  • In what curricular “spaces” do environmental educators apply, practice, or perform queer pedagogies?
  • What are the challenges and possibilities for emphasizing queerness in the various existing or established educational frameworks addressing humananimal-nature concerns (e.g., humane education, conservation education, education for sustainability/sustainable development, outdoor education, environmental education)?

Those interested should contact the editor: russellj@canisius.edu

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** I need to say that only six of these suggestions are Russell's.  One is mine.  But which one?  Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

 

GEEP and the sustainable development goals

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I wrote about GEEP yesterday and its call to action.

GEEP's mission and goals are:

"to build capacity to advance policy, governance, and practice in environmental education around the world, including at the local, regional, national and international levels, foster strategic partnerships to create a vibrant "network for networks" resulting in a stronger global environmental education community, and promote and encourage innovation in environmental education on a global scale.

Whilst these are ok as far as they go, they largely miss the point I made yesterday which is that we need to restate the case robustly for the importance of a well-functioning biosphere to all life on Earth. Whilst reducing inequalities is important, doing so in a way that doesn't completely mess up the planet is more important.

The call for action invites you to say what the most important action for the (immediate) future was.  I chose #9:

Strengthen Environmental Education's Role in Achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals.

I said this because the Sustainable Development Goals have both global significance and immediacy and environmental educators have to be able to show the relevance of their work to them (and vice versa).  We can't afford to leave the goals to global learning advocates.

My recommendation for a next step we could take in relation to these is to promote and encourage a critical consideration of the goals by young people in and out of school.  This was my priority because I fear that much of what is happening in relation to them is not at all critical.  For example, there needs to be a prioritisation of the goals as some of the 17 are more important (in the short term) than others.  And that applies to the 169 target outcomes as well, not all of which are coherent, let along sensible: more like a grab-bag of consciousness that reflects how they were put together by activists all of whom had to have their say.

When I first drafted this, there were 37 responses to the call for action, with <10% highlighting the goals.  Although the numbers are rising, a focus on the goals remains a minority interest.  Why? ...

 

GEEPing along

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Looking at the NAEE website on Friday, I was moved to look again at the GEEP call to action.  You'll find it here.

This is the rationale:

As environmental educators, we know that what we do informs, inspires, and enlightens.  It builds human capacity, provokes questions, enhances skills and shapes values and attitudes.  It galvanizes individuals, families and communities to make informed decisions about the environment that lead to a sustainable society.  Even more, it helps people connect deeply with each other, their communities, and the natural world.

Given the unprecedented challenges we face as a global society—from climate change and biodiversity loss to decreasing access to nature and a growing gap between the rich and poor—there has never been a more important time to scale up our environmental education efforts. Global leaders must make better use of education and capacity-building as strategies to improve the environment, along with tools of governance, regulation, economic and community incentives, and technology.

The Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP) is focused on building capacity for environmental education and sustainability around the world and using the power of education to help address global environmental and social problems.  Its advisors are made up of researchers, policymakers, education practitioners, and others who represent government and nongovernmental sectors from more than 20 countries and regions.  GEEP believes that national and international professional networks are essential to ensuring the quality of education in, about, and for the environment.  These networks need support from a wide range of stakeholders.  As a network of networks, GEEP brings together partners who are committed to helping global citizens address environmental and social challenges by developing and strengthening environmental education worldwide.  This Call for Action is asking the international environmental education community to take stock of where we are as a field and think ahead to the future.  It includes ten draft actions, crafted with input from GEEP leaders from around the world, and is designed to get input from educators working in this field about our key priorities for the next decade.

And as NAEE noted, we can all go to ActNowForEE.org and make a contribution to the discussion and action.  I've done so using my University of Bath identity but I'm tempted to have another go just as myself.

Personally, I think that GEEP is a good idea at this time as it is important to continue to stress the 'environmental' as it's this that, ultimately, keeps us all (and I mean all life) alive; of course, it's the economy and society that does this in the here and now, which is why environment, society and economy always have to be taken together.  In recent times, however, there has been a significant change to our circumstances.  Whilst social and environmental injustice has been with us (almost) forever, and while humans have always had a tendency to local environmental damage, it's only recently that we've been buggering up the biosphere on a global scale.  The actual and possible consequences of this need stating amid all the focus on genocide, discrimination, wealth and health disparity, exclusion, etc, as it will do us little good in the end if, once we've eliminated poverty, racism, misogyny, trans (and all the other) phobias, etc, we find there's no longer any possibility of clean water.

 

 

Outdoor learning, learning in natural environments, etc – part 2

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Yesterday, I wrote about this minute from a strategic research group meeting:

"Group agreed that there was no meaningful way to delineate between outdoor learning, environmental education and learning in natural environments, and that all were relevant and useful ways of teaching and learning to support wider Education for Sustainable Development."

... and I persuaded myself that it could be meaningful to delineate between outdoor learning / learning in natural environments (on the one hand) and environmental education (on the other).  This was because environmental education had, one way or another, a purpose relating to the environment and / or nature.  In other words, it's inherently teleological whereas the other two are not.

So far, so good (I think), but what about the rest of the statement which I'm summarising as:

" ... outdoor learning, environmental education and learning in natural environments ... [are all] relevant and useful ways of teaching and learning to support wider Education for Sustainable Development."

Well, I suppose my first objection is that there's no need to introduce a piece of contested jargon into this debate.  Secondly, and much more significantly, it's not Education for Sustainable Development that is being supported by all this; rather it's learners and their learning.  Thus we might write"

" ... outdoor learning, environmental education and learning in natural environments ... [are all] relevant and useful ways of helping people learn about the natural world and people's relationships with it and with each other."

Although I think I'd rewrite this as:

"In their different ways, environmental education, outdoor learning, learning in natural environments, global learning, etc are all relevant and useful ways of helping people learn about the natural world, people's dependency on it, their troubled relationships with it, and with each other."

Not everyone would include the last of these – but I would as it seems to me that human disputes have grave social and environmental consequences.

There's more on all this next week as my thoughts turn to GEEP.

 

 

Outdoor learning, learning in natural environments, etc – part 1

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I came across this in the minutes of a strategic research group meeting that I missed:

"Group agreed that there was no meaningful way to delineate between outdoor learning, environmental education and learning in natural environments, and that all were relevant and useful ways of teaching and learning to support wider Education for Sustainable Development."

Prima facie, I can understand anyone being confused by all the terms that swirl about with deliberately loose definitions and which can mean what you want them to mean at the time, but this is an expert group that is supposed to think beyond what things seem to be on the surface.

The first thing to note is that there are two terms here that include "learning" and two which include "education" (and there's also a "teaching".  So, as learning, teaching and education are not the same, there's an immediate delineation which renders the minute contentious.  With this in mind, would it have been better expressed as:

"... there was no meaningful way to delineate between outdoor learning, environmental learning and learning in natural environments, and that all were relevant and useful ways of ... ."

or ...

"... there was no meaningful way to delineate between outdoor education, environmental education and education in natural environments, and that all were relevant and useful ways of ... ."

Well, not really, as to argue this is really only to be pedantic.  Whereas we all have a good approximate feel for what "outdoor learning, environmental education and learning in natural environments" must mean, it's exploring these meanings in some depth where the problems begin.

Let's start with outdoor learning and learning in natural environments.  The first of these can just mean learning outside which really means learning outside the classroom, hall, studio, workshop or lab.  Thus learning some trigonometry, dance, history, or a poem under the shade of a tree are classic examples of this view of outdoor learning.  We encourage this for its immediacy, its health-inducing possibilities (assuming clean air) and for its enjoyment and stimulation of well-being.  It's also possible to view outdoor learning in terms of learning about the outdoors; that is, about the environment or about nature.  This takes us to field studies and practical work of all kinds from young children on a nature walk to PhD studies in ecology.  Somewhere in all this sit Forest schools.

The only possible difference that learning in natural environments brings is whatever is conjured up by the word "natural" and I've written a lot about this which I won't repeat here.  So, with the exception of outdoor learning in an open-topped concrete tank, there wouldn't seem to be much difference between the two, and the no meaningful way to delineate point (above) would seem to hold.

What, then, about environmental education?  Well, I think you have to argue against the no meaningful way to delineate point because it's environmental education.  If it were education in the outdoor environment, say, then there could be no delineation (other than the point that "the environment" and "nature" are clearly not the same thing).  The adjectival phrase environmental education implies that the education on offer is qualified.  It's either about the environment, or in support of it in some fashion (and usually both, one way or another) – to use what seems like very dated terminology.  I'd say that neither outdoor learning nor learning in natural environments necessarily imply any of this.  Thus, I'd say (and I would, wouldn't I?) [i] that there are meaningful ways to delineate between environmental education on the one hand and outdoor learning and learning in natural environments on the other, and that [ii] it sells environmental education short to imply otherwise.

More tomorrow ...

Prepare to bend the knee to Commissar Barber

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Sir Michael Barber has come a long way: ex school teacher / ex NUT officer / ex Labour Party candidate / ex No 10 Policy Unit / ex Pearson / ex McKinsey /  ex ... .  He is the chair of the Orwellian, Office for Students,  the government-approved regulatory and competition authority for HE in England which begins work next year.  Although it sounds like a piece of software Bill Gates sells, OfS replaces HEFCE and OFA.

But Barber seems to think his remit extended well beyond students, telling The Times the other day:

“Exceptional pay should be for exceptional performance.  I don’t want to comment on individuals but where you haven’t got the track record and where your pay sticks out like a sore thumb, then you should be asking yourselves questions and we will regulate that.”

There we are: the promise of government control of Vice-Chancellor's salaries.  Will universities put up with this?  Or will some of them revolt?  My breath is not being held, but I hope some do as I think it's an abuse of the supposedly hands-off relationship between politicians and universities.  Where, we should ask, will this end?

Equally significantly, in all this rush to be the champion of the student experience, I hope OfS remembers that universities also have responsibilities towards society and the future and that they are not just there for here today and gone tomorrow students.

 

Eat more children to combat climate change

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

For those unwilling to face difficult ideas – even when expressed satirically – it's probably best to put the bag back over your head now rather than read on.

The following are facts, according to a study of 39 peer-reviewed papers by Seth Wynes, from the University of British Columbia, and Kimberly Nicholas, from Lund University.  Their work, The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions, is published in Environmental Research Letters [**].

  • Vegetarianism saves 0.8 tonnes of CO2 a year.  This is four times more effective at reducing emissions than recycling and eight times more effective than changing to energy-efficient lightbulbs.
  • One person living without a car would reduce carbon output by 2.4 tonnes a year
  • Avoiding one transatlantic flight would save 1.6 tonnes of carbon every year.  This is the same saving as an individual makes recycling waste for 20 years
  • One child results in up to 59 tonnes of CO2 a year
  • Having one child fewer is better for the environment than 700 teenagers dedicating themselves to recycling for the rest of their lives.

The researchers end their paper like this:

“We have identified four recommended actions which we believe to be especially effective in reducing an individual's greenhouse gas emissions: having one fewer child, living car-free, avoiding airplane travel, and eating a plant-based diet.  These suggestions contrast with other top recommendations found in the literature such as hang-drying clothing or driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle.  Our results show that education and government documents do not focus on high-impact actions for reducing emissions, creating a mitigation gap between official recommendations and individuals willing to align their behaviour with climate targets.  Focusing on high-impact actions (through providing accurate guidance and information, especially to 'catalytic' individuals such as adolescents) could be an important dimension of scaling bottom-up action to the transformative decarbonisation implied by the 2 °C climate target, and starting to close this gap."

However, an alternative – if somewhat unpalatable (in every sense) – conclusion from all this would seem to be to eat more children – preferably other people's of course.  I need to say that this is not a conclusion that the researchers include in their paper.

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[**] Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas 2017 Environ. Res. Lett. 12 074024

Facebook Facts

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Which of these causes you most anxiety?

  1. At the end of June 2017, the number of active Facebook users (visiting the site at least once a month) passed 2,000,000,000
  2. WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — all owned by Facebook — have 3,000,000,000 users
  3. 66% of American adults are on Facebook
  4. 45% of them get their news from it
  5. >50% of the UK population access Facebook at least once a month
  6. The average Facebook user is on site for 90 minutes every day
  7. In mobile social networking, Facebook and its subsidiaries control 75 % of the American market
  8. Amazon controls 65 % of all online new book sales
  9. Google’s market share of USA online searches is 87 %

Who can now seriously doubt that Facebook is a publisher as opposed to what it likes to say it is: a tech platform?  Niall Fergusson writes:

"According to Zuckerberg, Facebook is ‘a tech company, not a media company… We build the tools; we do not produce any content’. Yet in practice, according to a recent Reuters investigation, ‘an elite group of at least five senior executives regularly directs content policy and makes editorial judgment calls.’ In the words of Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief of the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, Zuckerberg is now ‘the world’s most powerful editor’."

My answer to my original question it's that fully 30% of American adults get their news from Facebook.  That's mind-numbing in more senses than one.  As Robert Harris recently said about 1930s Germany:

"You got spoon-fed the news that you wanted and it was all very comforting.  One gets that now: everyone can get the news they want.  They don’t have to think: they are just comforted in their prejudices, and there is a totalitarian vibe in the air."

For more on all this, read Niall Fergusson whose new book, The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power (Allen Lane) – and Sam Leith (talking to Robert Harris about his new book, Munich, Hutchinson).

 

 

Keep Britain Untidy does the Hokey Cokey

📥  Comment, News and Updates

As I noted earlier this year, 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.

Alongside this, it has now announced a partnership with Keep Britain Untidy.  This is an extract from the latter's 17th October press release:

We are delighted to work with Coca-Cola to boost litter prevention and support our country’s #LitterHeroes.  Coca-Cola will be a key partner in next year’s 2018 Great British Spring Clean, helping to support a network of #litterheroes to get outdoors and active cleaning up the country.  Working together, we want to inspire volunteers to clean up not only our villages, towns and cities but also our rivers and beaches, creating a chain of litter picking activity from #Street2Sea.  With 80% of marine litter originating from land, everybody can play their part in preventing littering not only in their local area but also in our rivers, beaches and seas.  Alongside this,  Coca-Cola is also supporting our award-winning Centre for Social Innovation to research beach litter and littering behaviour around the country.  The research will help develop new solutions to the problem, which can be scaled up around the country, changing the behaviour of the small minority who enjoy visiting the beach but think nothing of leaving their rubbish behind

Alongside all this there was mutual corporate brown-nosing with Keep Britain Untidy Chief Executive Allison Ogden-Newton saying:

“We are thrilled that Coca-Cola Great Britain is giving the Great British Spring Clean a helping hand so that we can realise our ambition to mobilise up to half a million people next year.  Littering blights every corner of our country and the help of partners is vital if we are to support all the #LitterHeroes who are willing to get out and clean up after those who still think it is OK to drop their rubbish on the ground.”

And Jon Woods, General Manager at Coca-Cola Great Britain responding:

“Our partnership with Keep Britain Untidy is one of the many actions we are taking to reduce littering and highlight the importance of recycling in the UK. We look forward to raising awareness of an important environmental issue and helping to clean up British beaches.”

Personally, I think that this will prove just as successful as Keep Britain Untidy's partnership with Wrigleys from 20 years ago (or so) to keep chewing gum off our streets, or its promotion of smutty cartoons in engaging littering small boys of all ages.

But what a great deal for Coco-Cola in getting its products in front of countless children with official endorsement – cheap at twice the price.