Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

The Greener Jobs Alliance

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Greener Jobs Alliance has published its top 10 Election Demands:

  1. Keep the Climate Change Act 2008. Stick to the UK’s legally binding commitments to cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 as a minimum. Ensure that UK energy and industrial policy is effectively aligned with the Committee on Climate Change projections and carbon budgets.
  2. Trust the people with a massive boost to energy democracy.  Support a new wave of community based solar and onshore wind projects with ambitious feed-in tariffs wherever there is local support. Lift the ban on onshore wind projects. Support for local authorities to set up municipal energy supply companies.
  3. Ban fracking and respect local democracy wherever fracking applications are opposed by local communities.
  4. Cut energy bills and carbon emissions with a nationwide home insulation programme.  ‘Retrofit’ poorly insulated homes and build new, low energy social housing, using as far as possible direct labour, and supported by high quality vocational education and training. Make ‘Energy efficiency’ a national infrastructure priority to create decent jobs, reduce fuel poverty and reduce fuel bills
  5. Make education for sustainable development a core priority across the education system. Prioritise research funding that will promote the implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
  6. Create a million skilled climate jobs: invest in all forms of renewable energy, low carbon jobs and skills, including electric vehicle manufacture, rail investment, and build a full supply chain to make and supply renewable energy technologies in the UK.
  7. Create a new Green Investment Bank in public ownership and with full accountability. Use the green bank to support Regional Development Board investment in green energy and transport infrastructure projects.
  8. Create a National Climate Service to oversee the transition to a low carbon economy. This to include a Ministry for Climate Jobs, Skills and Social Protection’ to equip the UK to a transformation of the world of work working across all Government departments and industrial sectors.
  9. Introduce an Environment Protection Act to incorporate vital European directives into UK law. Commit the UK to retain membership of the European Court of Justice to ensure that our citizens have the same environmental protection rights as all EU citizens, wherever environmental standards are at risk.
  10. Introduce a Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution once and for all. Place a clear legal responsibility on employers and businesses to address air quality and develop a network of low emission zones in pollution hot spots.

As far as I can see there are no figures attached to these proposals, and so it's unclear how much it would all cost.  Clearly, some are not expensive, but others seem to demand a blank cheque: "ambitious feed-in tariffs", for example.  And some make no sense at all: "invest in all forms of renewable energy", given that some forms (I'm thinking biomass) seem an environmental catastrophe.  I note there's no mention of nuclear power or tackling energy poverty.  The first is tricky; the second surely should be a priority.

There are some oddities.  Take No. 3: [a] Ban fracking and [b] respect local democracy wherever fracking applications are opposed by local communities.  If you do [a], there's no need for [b].  But suppose fracking applications are supported by local communities?  Where does that leave No. 2: Trust the people ... energy democracy?

Where indeed.  Still; these are much more coherent than some of the demands I've seen.


The week before WEEC in Canada

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The programme for the WEEC event in Vancouver in September is becoming clearer, and credit is obviously due to the organisers for taking Canada's rich cultural heritage seriously – at least as far as keynote speakers are concerned.  You can see the detail here.  It will be more of a challenge to ensure that participation in the rest of the programme reflects the breadth of Canada's communities, but then it always is.  I thought that the Durban WEEC was the most successful in doing this, but this WEEC might run it close.  Earlybird registration ends on May 31st.

As it happens, the other day I received an invitation to attend a two-day workshop in the week before WEEC that "will bring together international experts on sustainability competencies in higher education", although it's not yet clear what the purpose of the event is: maybe it will be a freewheeling kind of affair where streams of consciousness eddy, swirl and conflueure [sic].  I hope not.  Anyway, nice to be asked, but as I'll not be at WEEC, I'll not be going to this either.  Anyway, I've never considered myself an expert on such things – just too sceptical of the idea of competence / competency, I think.

Meanwhile, on this Canadian theme, a feature in the Economist caught my eye about how a liberal country with impeccable toleration policies struggles to cope with polygamy.  The story was about a Jack Morman with a lot of wives and over a hundred children.  It's not the man – women – children that Canada struggles to cope with, but the fact that the women are wives (though they may not so, fully legally).  This is how the article ends:

"Still, there is virtually no tolerance for multiple marriages within the boundaries of a single democratic state across the Western world.  It remains axiomatic that a person who enters a marriage ceremony while still legally wedded to somebody else is a bigamist. That rule invalidates the second marriage and renders the bigamist liable to prosecution.

Yet even that simple-sounding principle is not easy to apply.  What if the “ceremony “ is some new-fangled rite which has been dreamed up by a recently constituted community, with no real social or legal standing?  Does that make the situation better or worse than simply living with multiple partners, which is not illegal?  Such questions will remain hotly contested through this trial and beyond.

A hot topic for WEEC, maybe, though probably not for the competencies seminar.


Australia, education and the SDGs

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I mentioned the other day that the Australians had had an SDG summit last year.  Here are some of things the report had to say about education:

Page 5
Universities and the academic sector have a role to play through their teaching, research and organisational leadership roles. Young people, who are often excluded from the discussions, bring unique skills that are essential to addressing the challenges of the agenda.

Page 18  Academia

Universities and the academic sector have a critical role to play in achieving the SDGs through teaching, research and organisational leadership.

  • Through teaching and knowledge outreach they will equip both the current and next generation of leaders, innovators and decision makers with the knowledge and skills to needed to address the SDG challenges
  • Through their in-depth knowledge and expertise in every area of the SDGs – as well as capabilities such as research, monitoring, analysis, technology, data – they are well placed to identify what is needed to address the SDGs and contribute to the development of practical solutions
  • Through their organisational leadership, they can set an example to other sectors by supporting the goals in their own operations, governance and community leadership

Addressing the SDGs will require the research sector to put more focus on a partnership approach to research – within and among universities and with other sectors.  Achieving this will require addressing barriers in the current system, such as a narrow definition of academic impact, issues around intellectual property, and the highly competitive funding environment.

Page 19  Youth

Young people are critical to SDG implementation, both because the SDGs are their future and because they bring unique skills that are critical to addressing the challenges of the agenda.

Half the world’s population is under 30, and everyone must be on board to achieve the SDGs.

Young people are creative, energetic, idealistic and optimistic about the future.  They are global citizens and want to make global, challenging and meaningful contributions.  These are unique and essential qualities for tackling the challenges of the SDGs, and can complement the knowledge and expertise of older people.

Many young Australians are doing great work, but they are often shut out of mainstream discussions.  We cannot afford to keep doing this.  We need to engage with young people and give them opportunities to be heard and participate.

The importance of embedding sustainable development and SDGs in education and supporting programs that help students to become global citizens was emphasised several times.


There's much to agree with here, and a few cliches to sigh at.  Some things to note:

  1. Whilst universities might begin the process of equipping "both the current and next generation of leaders, innovators and decision makers with the knowledge and skills to needed to address the SDG challenges", this is only an initial step and graduates do not leave universities as a finished product with nothing more to learn.  It's a pity that this is not acknowledged more widely as it might lead to a more realistic debate abound competencies.
  2. No mention of schools.  Why is this?  They cannot be dismissed as "and the academic sector".
  3. Is it inevitable that a focus on youth has to be vague and clichéd?  Compared to page 18, page 19 says little of substance.  Is this because there is nothing to say?


The first global citizens?

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading the latest report from the Varkey Foundation on what Generation Z thinks about life, the universe, Brexit, etc.  It's here.

Some of it is concerning:

  • only 17% of young people report good overall physical wellbeing
  • in 16 out of 20 countries, more young people believe the world is becoming a worse place to live than believe it is becoming a better place to live
  • only 89% of young people believe men and women should be treated equally

And some seems reassuring:

  • 68% of young people across the world say they’re happy
  • 84% of young people say that technical advancements make them hopeful for the future
  • only 42% of young people say that religious faith is an important part of their lives with 39% claiming that religion is of no significance to them at all
  • at least 89% of young people believe men and women should be treated equally

The Introduction to the report, by Vikas Pota the Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation, ends like this:

The future of global citizenship

The conclusion of this survey is therefore cause for cautious optimism. The ingredients are there for global progress.  It shows that young people everywhere largely agree on the threats and the opportunities the world faces, and are impatient for Governments to solve problems.  Most already have close friends from other religions.  The clearest division evident is between the optimism of the developing world and the pessimism of the developed world.  And despite the political turn inwards in many developed countries, young people everywhere place great faith in both technological advance and increased communication – which they hope will promote greater cooperation between peoples over the longer term.

Though many negative assumptions are often made about Generation Z – the first generation of ‘digital natives’ – this survey suggests, with hard evidence, that such assumptions are unfounded.  The generation now coming of age was born at a time when technology was shrinking the world.  They are more likely to travel, to migrate across borders, and to forge friendships in other countries than any previous generation.  They could become the first truly global generation for whom divisions across countries, cultures and faiths are not important.  In this darkening political landscape, where international institutions are under greater pressure than at any time since the end of the Second World War, it is reassuring to know that, in the minds of young people, global citizenship is not dead: it could just be getting started.

Whilst I acknowledge that there are some problems that only governments can address, I do hope that today's youth also thinks that it has a role in working together and with others to solve problems, and to prevent them.  It can't be all down to government.


Don't ask WWF or the Guardian how to grow food

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There was a picture in a recent Guardian of a boy with two potatoes firmly impaled on a garden fork.  The caption is:

"A pupil at Coastlands Community primary school in Pembrokeshire shows there’s a real appetite for growing food.  Schools are leading the way in promoting healthy eating, with 77% of children saying that they learn the most about food at school, according to a 2016 WWF survey of 500 UK parents and their children aged 7-12 years."

Whilst I don't really know what "learn the most about food at school" means – compared to where?  home, presumably.  One thing is clear, this hapless pupil doesn't know enough to avoid sticking his fork through the potato crop and hence reducing its quality and value.  Does The Guardian, I wonder?

Or was this a bright idea from WWF for a photoshoot?  If so, it makes you wonder how little WWF knows about food growing and harvesting.


Learning and education after sustainability

📥  Comment, New Publications

A rare event these days; I've had a new paper published – on Taylor & Francis Online in a special issue of the journal Global Discourse, edited by John Foster.  It's in response to a paper by Steve Gough in the special issue which is, itself, a review of John Foster's book After sustainability: denial, hope, retrieval.  All rather involved, but it worked as a process and it made me think about sustainability.  Of course, to make complete sense of what I write, you'll have to read Steve's paper, and John's book, and ...

This link will take you to the article.  To whet your appetite, this is how it ends:

My final point is to note that I read [Gough's] paper with the Abstract in mind because the last part of this holds out a particular promise for the paper.  It says:

The paper … identifies education as a common denominator; itself both a long term characteristic of evolved social behaviour and a short term social preoccupation.  It suggests that, when both these aspects are considered simultaneously, education has considerable unexplored potential for the reflective, iterative management of interactions between humans and the rest of nature, under uncertainty.“

At the end of the paper I asked myself whether it had done justice to that idea, and to that potential.  And I don’t think it quite does as much as it might have.  I thought about this as I read the last part of the paper, starting from “Modern Institutionalism …”.   I think that the way that Gough deals with Hodgson’s work (particularly through the 2007 quote) is valuable here.  It seems to me that the “people” that Hodgson was writing about must include the young, but I wonder if young people are sufficiently of a special case to warrant a separate comment.  They are, after all, subject to two forms of influence that most other people are not, both of which involve a moral guardianship: the home and family, and the school.  Both these institutions are intent on inculcating good habits, often under the general heading of educating, and sometimes are in sharp opposition to each other.  Think, for example, of Jamie Oliver’s school food trials and the Yorkshire mothers who thrust burgers through school railings to ensure that their children got, what was in their view, proper food.  Inevitably, they got little thanks for taking an active interest in their children’s welfare.

In the end, the most important of Gough’s points might just be this:

Education seems attractive as a solution because it offers the hope that people might come to make better choices for themselves, rather than be in any way compelled.”

Oh, if only all environmental educators saw things so clearly.


The Inaugural UK SDG Summit

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Here's an extract from the report of the inaugural UK SDGs Summit that was held last autumn.

The Inaugural UK SDGs Summit

The new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which came into effect on 1 January 2016, are a landmark agreement by all countries on a blueprint for a better future.   The inaugural UK SDG Summit was the UK's first high-level multi-stakeholder forum to advance national implementation of the SDGs.  The Summit, convened on 7 September 2016 in London, brought together 150 leaders and decision-makers from government, business, civil society and academia to explore what the SDGs mean for the UK, showcase existing commitments and implementation efforts, and identify what actions need to be taken collaboratively and by different sectors to achieve the goals.

Key discussion points

The SDGs provide a fundamentally new approach for addressing the social, environmental and governance challenges facing the UK and the world.  The SDGs framework provides a new way of articulating what a prosperous future looks like which is positive, comprehensive, tangible, measurable and relevant to the UK both domestically and internationally.  As such it provides opportunities for new conversations, partnerships and actions to help realise such a future.  We need to build on the growing momentum for action on the SDGs across all sectors.  There is already broad support and significant momentum for the SDGs from across all sectors in the UK, with a number of companies and other organisations already demonstrating the agenda’s practical uses and benefits.  This momentum was further demonstrated by the four sectoral statements of support for the SDGs launched at the Summit.

A way forward

Important starting points for taking implementation of the SDGs forward in the UK include:

  • Using the SDGs to build a vision for the UK's future and a plan to get us there.
  • Mapping how the UK is already performing against the SDGs – particularly to identify areas where we are not doing well.
  • Mapping existing activities from across sectors which are contributing to the SDGs, on which to build.
  • Developing the economic and strategic case to quantify a range of strategic, social, environmental and economic benefits in working towards and achieving the SDGs.
  • Developing tools, case studies and other resources to assist UK organisations in engaging with and contributing to the SDGs.

Collaboration and partnerships are critical to addressing the complexity of the SDGs.  Although partnerships can be challenging to build and maintain, they provide a range of opportunities.  To help forge strong partnerships, the SDGs should be used as a common starting point for discussion.  Communication and awareness raising is key to ensuring meaningful impact towards the SDGs.  It is important that a wide range of actors are engaged in addressing them – including government at all levels, business, civil society, academia and the broader public.  Currently the SDGs are neither well known nor well understood in the UK, so raising broad awareness of them is important.  To engage these actors, a positive vision of the SDGs should be articulated and an emotional connection built through stories showing what the agenda means for people’s own lives. ...

Interesting, you might say; promising even.  But why didn't I know about this meeting, you might add – or, if you're that way inclined: why wasn't I invited!

Well, that's because the summit took place in Sydney, and was about Australia.  This is the report.  We're still waiting for our summit to be even proposed, let alone held.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values was finally published in 1974 after being turned down by 121 publishers.  This remains a record for a successful book.

I have read it at least twice.  The first time was in 1976 after discovering that it had little to do with either Zen, motorcycles or maintenance.  Rather, as only perceptive reviewers discovered, it was about quality.  The Times obituary put it like this:

"... this idiosyncratic work can be construed as a far-reaching dissertation on the relationship between science and mysticism; mind versus machine; the western idea of enlightenment through reason versus the eastern idea of enlightenment through mystical experience.  At the heart of the book is the meaning and concept of “quality”."

I'm writing this now because Robert Pirsig, its author, died on April 24.  I have the copy on my desk as I write this: so creased and bruised with detached pages that I suspect I may have read it more than twice.  It was one of the great books of my life.

The last time I read it (I think) was around 2002 when the university sector was being hammered into line by the ludicrously-named Quality Assurance Agency.  Its hit squads toured campuses ensuring that universities conformed to its norms and standards in terms of teaching.  As Kipling so nearly put it:

England's on the anvil from the severn to the Tyne.

We're being hammered, hammered, hammered; hammered into line.

Pirsig helped me through what was the lowest ebb of my long university career.  It also regularly came to mind during those dark days when the HEA and QAA got together to try to set standards for ESD in universities.  QAA didn't understand sustainability and the HEA didn't understand quality; neither seemed to really understand what universities were for in a free society.  Whatever became of all those ideas, I wonder ...

The front cover of my copy of the Corgi paperback says: "This book will change the way you think and feel about your life."  It did.  And on the inside, just before Part 1 begins, there is this:

And what is good, Phaedrus,

And what is not good– 

Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

RIP QAA.  No one will miss you.


SDGs for the UK?

📥  Comment, New Publications

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has produced a report on the SDGs.  This is the summary:

By adopting Agenda 2030 the Government has committed itself to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals - or the Global Goals - in the UK as well as overseas.  However, the Government’s doughnut-shaped approach - which is to see the Goals as something for the UK to help other countries do, rather than drawing on other countries’ experiences in implementing the goals here at home- suggests that it has little interest in, or enthusiasm for, maximising the opportunities and benefits presented by the Goals.  Successful implementation would not only encourage greater cross-departmental collaboration and policy coherence in Government, it would bring economic, social and environmental benefits to the UK.  The Business & Sustainable Development Commission have estimated that the economic prize to business of implementing the Goals could be worth up to US$12 trillion by 2030.  As the UK leaves the EU, the Government has a once in a generation opportunity to form a cross-party consensus about the direction of travel of the UK.  The Goals should form the basis of that new consensus and this should be enshrined into law.  All new government policies should be assessed for how they contribute towards achieving the Goals so that Britain in 2030 is a stronger, fairer, healthier society in which no one is left behind.

Raising awareness and encouraging engagement with the Global Goals will increase the number of people and organisations able to contribute towards meeting the Goals.  But today few people in the UK know about them.  The Prime Minister’s recent statement in response to an open letter from leading businesses ‘that we, as governments, international institutions, businesses and individuals, need to do more to respond to the concerns of those who feel that the modern world has left them behind’ is a good start.  However, the Government seems more concerned with promoting the Goals abroad, and has undertaken no substantive work to promote the Goals domestically or encourage businesses, the public sector and civil society to engage with the Goals and work towards meeting them.  The Government should work with the BBC and other national media to launch a national campaign to raise public awareness of the Goals.  It should also support initiatives designed to encourage businesses and others to contribute towards meeting the Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals represent a positive and ambitious commitment to develop sustainably from this generation to the next.  We will only achieve the Goals if the Government provides strong leadership and a high level of ambition from the very top - something which has been lacking.  There is no voice at the top of Government speaking for the long-term aspirations embodied in the Goals and the interests of future generations.  In order to address this accountability gap the Government should appoint a Cabinet-level Minister in the Cabinet Office with strategic responsibility for implementing sustainable development, including the Goals, across Government.  The Government should also publish an implementation report and commit to participate in a voluntary national review by 2018, and every three years after.  We are concerned that the Government appears to have changed its mind about the ONS developing a set of national indicators.  This suggests an attempt to bury data which will be seen by the public - and us - as going against the spirit of the Goals.

You can see the whole thing here.

It's instructive to note the witnesses that were called:

  • Abigail Self, Head of Sustainable Development Goals, Office for National Statistics,
  • Dr Graham Long, Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University,
  • Elizabeth Stuart, Head of Programme, Sustainable Development Goals, Overseas Development Institute
  • Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer, Aviva,
  • Geoff Lane, Senior Partner, UK Sustainability and Climate Change Team, PwC,
  • Dr Christine Chow, Associate Director, Hermes Investment Management
  • Dominic White, Head of International Development Policy, WWF,
  • Stefano D’Errico, Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning Manager (IIED)
  • Nienke Palstra, Policy and Advocacy Adviser, UNICEF UK
  • Dr Carl Wright, Secretary-General Emeritus, Commonwealth Local Government Forum
  • Dr David Pencheon, Director, Sustainable Development Unit for NHS England and Public Health England
  • Catherine Pearce, Director of Future Justice, World Future Council
  • James Wharton MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development,
  • Chris Skidmore MP, Minister for the Constitution, Cabinet Office,
  • Gwen Hines, Director, International Relations Division, DFID
  • Richard Curtis and Kate Garvey, co-founders of Project Everyone

Given their complaints about the lack of awareness and engagement within the UK, it's odd, perhaps, that there were no witnesses from educational programmes that focus on global learning (etc), or that Global Pearson wasn't called.  Similarly, where was the input from Wales where ESDGC has been the spirit of the land for many years now.  No sign of UNESCO UK either.

Their suggestion that:

"The Government should look at possible changes to the national curriculum to provide ways for young people to become agents of change and engage with the Goals. This would form part of a national conversation about the Goals with a view to enshrining them in law, so that future Governments put sustainable development at the heart of every new legislative proposal."

... suggests that the committee never got to hear about DfID's Global Learning Programme which has spread across schools despite DfE indifference.  The bloke from DfID didn't seem to mention it in his evidence.

This issue of how the SDGs should apply within the UK is an interesting question, however.  There's one approach which might focus minds: identifying within-UK targets for the goals; that is, replacing / reformulating the 176 existing targets with UK ones – or maybe English / Northern Irish / Scotland / Wales targets; or maybe ones particularly pertinent to communities.  Maybe Manchester would need different targets than Maidenhead.  Glasgow than Galashiels. Bangor than Brecon.  Etc.

It strikes me that the process of agreeing such goals would be a worthwhile exercise and might provide much needed clarity about the differences across these lands.


Meanwhile, I see that DfID has produced into own report on the goals: Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals.  More on this later – maybe ...


Hail, Shakira

📥  Comment, New Publications

Goodbye, then, Malia; absolutely no one will miss you.

In a bold move, the NUS has bundled its terrible President off the stage after only a year in office.  Malia B was challenged by Shakira Martin whom I know as she was a member of the NUS Sustainability Advisory group upon which I have the honour to sit.  As I'm out of touch with day-by-day events at NUS I didn't know that Shakira was standing.  She'd have had my vote had I known (and had I got one) as she will bring a welcome interest in student welfare (as well as sustainability) to the office.

Congratulations, Shakira.  Much deserved.  Well done, NUS.