Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

New life in Paris

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I was surprised at the positive tone of the Economist's December 14th articleNew life for the Paris climate deal – A flurry of meetings should help curb greenhouse-gas emissions. But the global agreement is still essential.   I felt like that because of how gloomy the paper had been a couple of weeks earlier about the chances of getting enough CO2 out of the atmosphere to limit climate change and keep the temperature rise to ~1.5 degrees above historic levels.  As the paper noted, because we are already at +1.0 degrees ±x (where x might be around 25%) and the excess carbon in the system will just keep adding to that, it's not just a question of stopping adding carbon, but of removing some of what's already there.  We have no idea how to do that.

There were, of course new pledges.  The Economist said that these, and ...

"the pomp, were intended to breathe new life into the Paris deal.  America’s planned departure did not strike it a mortal blow, as some greens feared it would. It may even have nudged the last two holdouts, Nicaragua and Syria, to sign up in November.  But the pledges made so far are inadequate, and many are conditional on other countries keeping their side of the bargain.  Fresh momentum is sorely needed."

The paper remains hopeful despite writing this:

"This year’s “Emissions Gap” report from the UN, published in October, shows that the first set of climate pledges submitted by 164 countries corresponds to barely a third of the cut in emissions needed to keep warming below 2°C (see chart).  Studies suggest that these “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) would probably result in temperatures 2.9-3.4°C higher than in pre-industrial times—and that only if they are fully implemented, which seems unlikely."

In order to get a lot of governments on board, the Paris Agreement was vague about how its goal was to be reached.  For example, by 2018, countries are supposed to agree how to [i] calculate, [ii] review and [iii] increase their NDCs.  The Economist noted that:

"Reaching consensus on what counts as a reduction in emissions, and who should monitor progress, will be delicate, admits Patricia Espinosa, the head of the UN climate secretariat.  In Bonn (at CIP23), striking a tentative agreement on something as basic as deciding what to discuss during the coming year counted as a coup."

To add to the gloom, COP24 will be in Poland in the heart of the coal district.  This is how the article ended:

"Don’t forget Paris

But for all the importance of subnational green efforts, the UN climate process is still essential. It is the only mechanism available for chivvying stragglers to do more. And if global warming is to be kept within reasonable bounds, action will be needed not just by the most committed, but also from those currently doing little or nothing. The Paris deal’s voluntary, flexible nature means that it is national pledges, backed by legislation, that collectively add up to global climate governance. Mr Macron’s summit can be judged a success if it reminds the world of this fact."

As I said at the outset, I was surprised by the positive tone of all this.  For a contrary view, go here.



Suspected as a bot

📥  Comment, New Publications

This is a first for me: I have been suspected as a bot by WordPress as I tried to post a response on my friend Richard Jurin's new blog.

Richard's first post was:

As my first blog post, I will present my simple definition of sustainability as: Living within the limits of nature’s ecosystem services. And to live together in communities that are equitable, regenerative, resilient and adaptive.  That opens up a lot of questions before we start and I intend to get there as the blog proceeds.  I am not naive and clearly recognize that some big changes are needed before we land in some future Eden (we should not think paradise, although compared to today, it may seem so when we get there).  Notice I said ‘get there.’  In all my talks I start out with “I’m often asked: “Will we ever become a Sustainable Society?” I always answer: “Without a doubt.”  Then I get the wistful smiles waiting for the magic bullet answer.  Sorry there isn’t one, but there are a set of principles that can guide us down that path – or should I say rabbit hole, because we have to get dirty before we can realize the truths that exist all around us that we blatantly ignore.  So if you want to climb down this rabbit hole, give me a response and let’s begin!  

Peace and Love   Richard

And I responded:

It's good to see this beginning, Richard.  I shall follow your thinking with great interest.  I appreciate seeing your definition of sustainability, even though I find it wanting.  I've taken to expressing the core dilemma of our time in this way:

How can we all live well, now and in the future, without compromising the ability of the planet to enable us all to live well?

Some call this the 'sustainability problématique', and for me, the key words in this are "all" and "all".  That is, it's communities everywhere that need to be "equitable, regenerative, resilient and adaptive" if we are to see sustainability.  I am, it should be said, much less hopeful than you are than humanity will be able to rise above its manifest self-interest to get anywhere near this.

But, being a bot in the WordPress view, this did not make the cut.  Whilst it is really good to see social media companies cracking down (and not before time) on injurious text, little did I think I'd be on the front line.  Maybe it was those two French words – scare bleu! ...



NAAEE looks ahead to 2018

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I was pleased to get a mention in NAEE's end-0f-year message of appreciation of effort and achievement, and hope for 2018 and beyond.  This came from Judy Braus, the NAAEE Executive Director.  You will find it here, and it's certainly worth a read.

On balance, Winston Churchill gets more mentions than I do, but there is no one who could begrudge that (not even me on my very best days).  Judy's theme was optimism and perseverance, and so you can see why Churchill is a good model for benighted folk everywhere.  Although not an optimist (see this), I do believe in persevering.



A Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This, as you probably know, is not Mr Gove's latest plan to square the post-Brexit farming–environment circle.  Rather, it's the name of France's energy / environment ministry which is now located in an 18th century mansion close to the Elysée Palace.

It's easy to scoff – Wikipedia has the history of title changes of this ministry – and France also has a Ministry for Solidarity and Health, but there is something in the combination of words: Ecological and Inclusive Transition that is key to understanding sustainability; something about the umbilical link between people and nature, and between people in nature, and people as part of nature.  I hope this embodiment finds its way from the title to the ministry's actual practice.  I note, however, that there's a separate ministry of agriculture and food which, I guess, must be 100% focused on keeping the CAP focused on French interests.


OECD debases its currency

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I see that the OECD Directorate of Education and Skills has launched its new PISA Global Competence Framework.  This is to be the basis for the 2018 PISA assessment.

OECD (that should really now be OECDGC) says:

Learning to participate in interconnected, complex and diverse societies is no longer a luxury but a pressing necessity. Recognising the unique roles that schools play in preparing our youth to participate in our world, PISA has developed a framework to explain, foster and assess adolescents’ global competence.  The framework is designed as a tool for policy makers, leaders, and teachers interested in nurturing global competence among young people world wide.

Good luck, I'd say.  OECDGC defines global competence like this:

Global competence is the capacity to examine local, global and intercultural issues, to understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures, and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development.

And it has a yingy-yangy sort of model to go with this balcony.  And why do we need all this?  Well, OECDGC says it's because we need to ...

  • live harmoniously in multicultural communities
  • thrive in a changing labour market
  • use media platforms effectively and responsibly
  • support the Sustainable Development Goals

What a dog's breakfast of a rationale.  I was surprised not to see 'dispose of waste responsibly', 'drive carefully', and 'drink sensibly' in there.  Andreas Schleicher, OECDGC Director for Education and Skills tries to explain it all (away) in a blog.

My real concern, however, in all this nonsense is that in order to get a good PISA grade from now on it will not be enough to give a good answer; rather, you'll have to know what OCEDGC wants the answer to be, which is a different thing altogether.  I fear it can only give aid and comfort to those governments who have been looking for ways to boost their PISA scores without actually bothering to teach children anything useful.

Unhappy New Year.


The Office for Students

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Office for Students [OfS] opened for business on New Year's Day, and so let me offer a belated and partial (in every sense) welcome.  It promises to be highly contentious; indeed it is so already – see this stout defence of a prominent Board member.  I've been trying to find the OfS website, but I mostly get links to Microsoft's 'office for students'.  Did no one notice that this might be a problem?

Looking more closely at the OfS Board membership, it seems that the student in question is Ruth Carlson.  DfE says that she ...

"is a current student at Surrey University, where she is a Student Ambassador for civil engineering. She has experience as a course representative, as a former president of the Surrey University Women’s Football Team and has also worked in other institutional and regional representative forums."

There is a large burden resting on her (no doubt very capable) shoulders as the one student member of a 15 strong Board comprising a selection of the great 'n' good.  But you do have to wonder how, from the countless zillions of students, Carlson was selected?   Maybe it was the football that swung it for Jo Johnson ...

Happy New Year.


Farewell to the HEA

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) has agreed to merge with the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE).  This follows the recommendations of the Bell review that there be one agency for learning and teaching, equality and diversity, and leadership and governance in higher education.  Professor Rama Thirunamachandran, Chair of the HEA Board and Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Canterbury Christ Church University, said,

“The [HEA] Board fully supports the merger of the three agencies which we believe will be stronger together, offering a single channel to focus on teaching and learning, equality and diversity, and leadership and governance. We are pleased that HEA Fellowships and the HEA post-nominals will be retained, given that they are widely known both in the UK and internationally.”

That will be a relief to many, especially post-nominals.  The new agency has no name at present, so here's festive competition (to fit with the HEA ethos, there are no prizes):  Name the new agency.  Answers on a postcard to Alison Johns, CEO of the LFHE.

My contributions, always seeking after a good acronym, are:

Student Equality and Leadership Foundation for Higher Education Academic Life  – SELF HEAL

Student Equality and Leadership Foundation for Higher Academic Research and Management – SELF HARM

On balance, I think the second is more appropriate.

Happy Christmas!


The UK Green Alliance and the Goals II

📥  Comment, News and Updates

So what does the UK Green Alliance have to say about education the young and about the sustainable development goals.

The Alliance had a lot to say about the goals in 2013.  See this. There is also this joint paper, written with Christian Aid, Greenpeace, RSPB and WWF under the Alliance's NGO engagement theme: Eradicating poverty through environmentally resilient development.  This admirably brings the goals together, and it sets out four tests for environmental resilience, which are essential for the post-2015 development framework to eradicate poverty and deliver long term sustainable development.  They are:

  • Support environmentally resilient poverty reduction, by building national and community capacity to respond to climate impacts and natural resource constraints.
  • Deliver resource efficiency and security, by building good resource management and sustainable resource use into national growth models, as well as increased transparency, access and rights for local communities.
  • Enable access to sustainable, secure, clean energy for all, through economic growth models built on low carbon, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.
  • Reduce vulnerability to, and the impact of, disasters and, in turn, reduce the need for humanitarian aid, while protecting lives, livelihoods and economic investments.

The Alliance argues that this holistic framework must apply to both developed and developing countries, enabling all nations to live within the planetary and social boundaries which are essential to long term global sustainability.  It seems to have had much less to say in recent times, although there are not enough dates on their web articles to be sure about when something was published.

The Alliance has less to say about education, but it seems hard to believe that the four tests (they are really policy emphases) will be effective without education and learning.  For example, if we are to build "national and community capacity to climate impacts and natural resource constraints" (as bullet 1 contends), this suggests education of one sort or another is required as 'build' implies learning.  The word build also features in #2 and #3 and is implied in #4.

Thus, the Alliance seems to will the end without thinking about the means.  I say this because the word learn does not appear in this report, and schools are only mentioned as places where there must be decentralised (renewable) energy systems.  Universities get no mention at all.  This is obviously a blind spot.  Happily, however, it's not too late to address this by focusing on the goals.


A new book, The World We'll Leave Behind (which I've co-written with Paul Vare), directly addresses these issues.

The UK Green Alliance and the Goals I

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I ended yesterday's post like this:

"It is no small wonder that those interested in social justice find it easier to bend the ear of those with money and clout."

The "this" in question was the vast array of environmental NGOs that represent isolated and sometimes overlapping parts of the biosphere (or natural capital, as I put it).

Well, did you read this and say to yourself, "but what about the Green Alliance?"  Well, I did (eventually) and some of the larger of the organisations I listed are members.  The Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on achieving ambitious leadership for the environment.  It says:

"Since 1979, we have been working with a growing network of influential leaders in business, NGOs and politics to stimulate new thinking and dialogue on environmental policy, and increase political action and support for environmental solutions in the UK.  Our projects involve in depth research and advocacy by our experts, often in partnership with other organisations and interests.  Our high profile events and specialist seminars provide important opportunities for dialogue with key decision makers.   We host Inside Track as a home for debate on UK environmental policy and politics.  As well as providing our own views, this is a popular platform for perspectives from other leading commentators."

Their Annual Report is here.  Some, no doubt, (though not me) will deprecate the fact that industrial companies are heavily involved in the Alliance.  Or maybe, again like me, you said, "but what about Greener UK" which is a coalition of 13 environment organisations which was set up to respond to Brexit.

Neither of these groups is obviously focused on education of the young, but more on that tomorrow.


A new book, The World We'll Leave Behind (which I've co-written with Paul Vare), directly addresses these issues.


A fragmented natural capital picture

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I wrote yesterday about the usefulness of NGOs interested in global learning / social justice talking with NGOs that are interested in (or which should be interested in) education related to the goals that have a natural capital grounding.  The NGOs I listed under the latter heading were:

  • the Wildlife Trusts
  • the British Trust for Ornithology
  • RSPB
  • the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust
  • the Marine Conservation Society

I might have added:

  • the National Biodiversity Network
  • Plantlife
  • the Woodland Trust
  • Butterfly Conservation
  • the British Dragonfly Society
  • National Trust
  • Shark Conservation Society
  • the Bat Conservation Trust
  • Buglife
  • WWF
  • Whale and Dolphin Conservation

... and many, many more.  See here.

The fact that this list seems endless shows how fragmented what I have called (no doubt inexactly and perhaps controversially) the natural capital side of things.  And I've not mentioned any overtly educational organisations (NAEE / SEEd / GA / ASE / FACE / CLOtC / FSC / LTL / etc / etc., or charities such as Friends of the Earth / Client Earth / E3G / Greenpeace / CPRE, etc., or any of the quasi-governmental bodies: Natural England / Forestry Commission / Environment Agency / Environment and Heritage service /  English Heritage / Heritage England / etc / etc.

It is no small wonder that those interested in social justice find it easier to bend the ear of those with money and clout.


A new book, The World We'll Leave Behind (which I've co-written with Paul Vare), directly addresses these issues.