Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

The Path Ahead is surely a rocky one

📥  Comment, New Publications

At the end (page 122) of WWF's 2016 Living Planet report we find this:

The Path Ahead

The facts and figures in this report tend to paint a challenging picture, yet there is still considerable room for optimism.  If we manage to carry out critically needed transitions, the rewards will be immense.  Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch.  There are several countries that have managed to raise the standards of living for their populations with much lower resource intensity than industrial countries . Furthermore, the world is reaching a consensus regarding the direction we must take.  In 2015, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted.  And at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries adopted a global agreement to combat climate change, and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low-carbon future.  Furthermore, we have never before had such an understanding of the scale of our impact on the planet, the way the key environmental systems interact or the way in which we can manage them.

Ultimately, addressing social inequality and environmental degradation will require a global paradigm shift toward living within safe Planetary Boundaries.  We must create a new economic system that enhances and supports the natural capital upon which it relies.  Earlier in this chapter, leverage points were identified to support the necessary transitions.  These were mainly focused on changing societal patterns and systemic structures either by implementing incremental changes or by supporting the development of niche innovations.  Changing mental models, societal attitudes and values underlying the current structures and patterns of our global economy is a more challenging course of action.  How can we “repurpose” businesses so that they are not just focusing on short-term profit but are also expected to be accountable for social and environmental benefits? Or how should we redefine what desirable economic development looks like?  And how can we reduce the emphasis on material wealth, confront consumerism and the throw-away culture, and promote the desirability of more sustainable diets?  These kinds of changes to societal values are likely to be achievable only over the long term and in ways that we have not yet imagined.

Still, the speed at which we transition to a sustainable society is a key factor for determining our future.  Allowing and fostering important innovations and enabling them to undergo rapid adoption in a wider arena is critical.  Sustainability and resilience will be achieved much faster if the majority of the Earth’s population understand the value and needs of our increasingly fragile Earth.  A shared understanding of the link between humanity and nature could induce a profound change that will allow all life to thrive in the Anthropocene.

This sentence: "Sustainability and resilience will be achieved much faster if the majority of the Earth’s population understand the value and needs of our increasingly fragile Earth" shows the problems to be overcome and the limitations in our abilities to do this.  It also shows why optimism (it'll all likely turn out ok ...) is not enough.  Some will say it shows the need for environmental education (though this hasn't been all that successful over the past 60 years); others will see that it's education itself that needs to be re-oriented (given that it's been part of the problem for far longer than 60 years).  Meanwhile, others who ought to know better, will babble on about paradigm shifts.


It's almost enough to allow gloom to take over and hope to be extinguished ...


Do ministers really plan to give Britain’s natural assets monetary value?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There was a report very late last year (ie, 31st December) that the government plans to give Britain’s natural assets monetary value and include them in the national accounts.  This is, it's said, to be part of the 25-year plan for Nature which is being steered by the natural capital committee (NCC) that is chaired by Dieter Helm, professor of economics at Oxford.  The object of the plan (I'd missed this) is "to reverse 60 years of environmental decline".

Some scepticism is due but you could likely sell tickets for the squabbles to come.



ENSI Update

📥  Comment, New Publications

The venerable ENSI programme seems to have taken on the role of cheerleader (in the nicest way) for the SDGs.  Its latest newsletter shows the range of its new focus.  There's

  • a first Report on the SDG’s 2016 with a quote from Ban ki-Moon.
  • TVET at the centre stage of the new sustainable development agenda (greening TVET)
  • a gender equality Project for the Goals
  • New publications from UNESCO

  Action for Climate Empowerment, guidelines for accelerating solutions through education, training and public awareness

  Planet: Education for environmental sustainability and green growth/

  Not just hot air - putting climate change into practice

... and a feature on indicators for the Goals that I've already written about.  All this seems a long way from the original ENSI, but that's all to the good, especially as the UK's allowed to take part.



The EAC has the Treasury in its sights

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Thanks to Steve Martin for his post to SHED-SHARE just before Christmas about the EAC's comments on UK efforts at sustainable development.  Here it is:

"You might like to read the recent, highly critical report from the Environment Audit Committee, on the role of HM Treasury in Sustainable Development: Its introduction states:

1.Our remit includes a responsibility to audit the Government’s performance against sustainable development and environmental protection targets.1 Our predecessor Committee carried out this function through a series of ‘sustainability audits’ of government departments.  This is something we have continued in this Parliament. This report contains the findings of our audit of HM Treasury.

2.We recognise that the Treasury, and indeed the whole Government, has undergone significant change over the past few months. Since our inquiry started, a new Prime Minister has appointed a new Chancellor and a new ministerial team, and the Government has developed a new focus on industrial strategy. This report aims to learn lessons from the past and provide proposals that we hope will be useful to Treasury in the future. In Chapter two we look at the role and influence of the Treasury. In Chapter three we explore how the Treasury takes account of the environment. In Chapter four we assess the Treasury’s track record to date and focus on a number of specific policy areas. In Chapter five we identify areas where it might improve its performance in the future.

3.To support our work we asked the National Audit Office (NAO) to investigate whether the 2015 Spending Review process led to well-informed decision-making in relation to environmental protection and sustainable development (referred to as ‘the report’).  Separately we asked them to look at whether the Government was meeting its recycling and waste diversion targets and the extent to which the cancellation of PFI credits may have impacted its performance in this area.4 We are very grateful to the NAO for their help and support throughout this inquiry. In addition, we issued two calls for evidence and received 68 written submissions. We held three public evidence sessions with a range of stakeholders including Treasury Ministers and officials. All written and oral evidence can be found on our website. We are grateful to all those who contributed and to Dr Martin Hurst, our Specialist Adviser during the inquiry.

Defining sustainability
4.There are three pillars of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. These pillars of sustainability were brought together in the 1987 ‘Brundtland report’ which set out a definition for ‘sustainable development’:

Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The concept of sustainable development does imply limits - not absolute limits but limitations imposed by the present state of technology and social organization on environmental resources and by the ability of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities.

5.The Treasury most frequently uses the term sustainability in the context of economic growth. Its departmental objectives include placing the public finances on a sustainable footing and ensuring the stability of the macro-economic environment and financial system, enabling strong, sustainable and balanced growth.  Jane Ellison, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, told us that the Treasury “takes sustainability very seriously” and that “sustainable economic growth is absolutely key”.  However, it was not clear whether the Treasury’s use of the term sustainability aligns with the concept of sustainable development.

6.The Treasury acknowledged the relationship between the economy and the environment stating in written evidence that, ‘there is a complex relationship between the natural environment and economic growth.  Environmental capital plays a valuable role in supporting our economy’.  This was reflected in the views of a large number of respondents to this inquiry.  Karen Ellis, Chief Adviser on Economics and Development at WWF, told us for example that the, “environment completely underpins the economy and the economy has a huge impact on the environment”.   In this report we focus on environmental sustainability.

There's more from this here, including this conclusion:

  • The Treasury’s technical and political framework for assessing environmental interventions is geared towards favouring short-term priorities at the expense of long-term environmental sustainability, even when it could lead to higher costs to the economy in the future.  In part, this is because its framework does not take account of long-term benefits adequately.  Ministers cannot make well-informed decisions unless they have access to all relevant information including long-term costs and benefits. (Paragraph 31)
  • The Treasury needs to improve the way it captures and takes account of long-term environmental costs and benefits.  It must ensure that it has the best available evidence when making decisions about specific interventions, for example, by including wider costs and benefits and establishing a consistent framework with which departments can provide supplementary evidence in addition to NPV calculations.  It should also make more use of relevant independent advisory bodies during spending reviews to scrutinise bids and green-check – asystematic environmental stress test – initial high-level assessments prepared for Ministers to inform their decision-making.  The Treasury should, after a spending review, make public who it has consulted with and how they incorporated any feedback into their decision-making. (Paragraph 32)
  • We welcome the Treasury’s work to incorporate new evidence on natural capital into its decision-making processes.  A natural capital approach has the potential to help account for the long-term environmental risks.  However, we want to see evidence of how the Treasury will take this work forward.  In its response to this report, the Treasury should set out concrete proposals about how, and by when, it intends to take forward and incorporate new evidence on natural capital into its policy appraisal process. (Paragraph 33)


The key phrase for me in all this was:

"... it was not clear whether the Treasury’s use of the term sustainability aligns with the concept of sustainable development."

What the EAC means is that it's blindingly obvious that they don't align.  In other parts of government, sustainable development can mean what you want it to; that is, whatever makes your policy likely to be achieved.  House building is probably the best (ie, worst) example of this.  It will be the case until sustainable development is the beating heart of government.  Or do I mean until government is the beating heart of sustainable development?  A question for 2017.



Is there too much escapist wildlife fantasy at the BBC?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

As I've long held the view that the BBC's flagship nature documentaries, particularly those coming out of the Natural History unit in Bristol, were uninterested in the relationship between humans and the rest of nature, it's good to see that some parts of the BBC are also now taking that view.  In a Comment piece for the Guardian, Martin Hughes-Games, a presenter of the BBC’s Springwatch describes Planet Earth II as "escapist wildlife fantasy".   I might well have agreed with that view had I watched it, but I'd given up on the BBC wildlife programmes long before PE II.  I'm not even sure I watched PE I, or Blue Planet, etc.

Producers claim such series encourage conservation, Hughes-Games writes, but in fact, he says, "their brilliance and beauty breeds complacency about our destruction of the planet".  He goes further, saying:

"I fear this series, and others like it, have become a disaster for the world’s wildlife.  These programmes are pure entertainment, brilliantly executed but ultimately a significant contributor to the planet-wide extinction of wildlife we’re presiding over."

The programmes, Hughes-Games says, ignore the worldwide mass extinction that are happening, and by fostering that lie they are lulling the huge worldwide audience into a false sense of security.  I should say, of course, that I am writing all this because the article appealed to my deep-seated prejudices.  I don't normally read the comments under Guardian articles as they are usually too much for my snowflake-like sensibilities, but I did this time.  My favourite was:

"Surely the essence of a nature show is to present me some nature.  Not the bit we've destroyed.  That's for other documentaries."

Just so.  You wouldn't want a whole evening of extinctions.  These are the sorts of claims that might well get Hughes-Games cold-shouldered in the tea room, but if you think about the programme in educational terms, and look at what the messages are, you can see he must have a point.  He goes on:

"The justification, say the programme makers, is that if people (the audience) become interested in the natural world they will start to care about the natural world, and will be more likely to want to get involved in trying to conserve it. Unfortunately the scientific evidence shows this is nonsense."

Environmental educators might be sitting up here and looking around nervously as, although they cannot be accused of ignoring these problems, the rather flawed argument that awareness leads to concern which leads to involvement that results in change is rather beloved of them.

Emphasising learning rather than behaviour

📥  Comment, New Publications

Just before Christmas, I was asked if I'd write 400 words on "the link between education for sustainable development and behavior" for an "an international education for sustainable development project".  This is not the sort of invitation I get all that often, and the 400 words (max) was a worthy challenge.  So I gave it a go.  Here it is:

Education for sustainable development: putting learning before behaviour

It’s now clear that we shall need to learn how to live differently if the Earth is to enable everyone to live a life that, as Amartya Sen put it, they have reason to value.  Optimists may think we have made a good start, pointing to the steady shift to renewable energy, the decoupling of economic growth from carbon emissions, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the adoption of the sustainable development goals.  Meanwhile, those of a more pessimistic (they’d say realistic) turn of mind shake their heads and say: too little; too late.

Whether we’ll be able to change how we live through conventional socio-political processes characterised by consent and participation, or whether we shall be forced to change, will depend on how well and quickly we keep promises made on carbon and climate.  Given that these are government commitments, what can individuals and families do?

The need for such involvement has been acknowledged for over 40 years, usually in terms of behaviour change.  In 1970, IUCN called for codes of behaviour about issues concerning environmental quality.  In 1990, we were told that the ultimate aim of education was shaping human behaviour, and that the strategies were known and the tools available.  Fifteen years on, the ESD Decade encouraged changes in behaviour to create a more sustainable future.

All this is well and good, but it privatises the problem by putting the onus on the individual, and there is much that individuals cannot achieve.  Recycling illustrates the difficulties.  If there are no local facilities for recycling the plastic packaging we’re now surrounded by, what can we do?  Acting individually to try to persuade a local council or supermarket to change their policies is useless, as social action and campaigning are needed.  People need to learn to work together to effect change so that everyone can participate.  Thus it’s fine if schools encourage students to create less waste, or get involved with fair trade, provided learning is prioritised.

WWF’s 2016 Living Planet report surely gets it right when it says:

“Sustainability and resilience will be achieved much faster if the majority of the Earth’s population understand the value and needs of our increasingly fragile Earth.  A shared understanding of the link between humanity and nature could induce a profound change that will allow all life to thrive in the Anthropocene.”

That is, learning needs to come before behaviour.


It remains to be seen whether it gets published.  I'll report back.



📥  Comment, News and Updates

Animality was an exhibition at the Marian Goodman Gallery in Soho that might be seen as a complement to the Wellcome exhibition which I mentioned recently.  You can see a slideshow of the images here.  This is how their press release about the exhibition began:

‘The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.’
George Orwell

The very earliest cave paintings reveal that humans have cohabitated with animals for millennia.  Yet the relationship is fraught and contradictory: we simultaneously mythologize, venerate, sacrifice, and exploit those who are not of our species.  This paradox suggests that our connection with animals might be more complicated, and far richer, than commonly thought, and that the distinction between human and animal is not at all clear-cut.  If animals have been the protagonists of innumerable myths, subject to countless scientific studies, and featured in some of our most extraordinary works of art and literature, why have they not been more central to the way we humans study our own relation to the world?

Taking this question as its premise, Animality lays down a novel artistic and theoretical framework for interrogating our relationship to animals. It proposes six interrelated themes — Origins, Markings, Crossings, Variations, Traces, Extinctions—and involves more than seventy participants, mostly from the discipline of art but also from film, literature, philosophy, and science.  Its spirited structure juxtaposes artworks and artifacts new and old, high and low, allowing relationships between art and non-art materials to emerge, and creating links between historical and contemporary social and political realities.  While in large part playful and humorous, Animality also stresses the importance of addressing ethical issues, and thinking beyond one’s own values and beliefs, to question accepted assumptions about our relationship to nonhuman creatures.  It suggests that while many distinctions between humans and animals are valid, the two groups are more productively imagined as parts of an ontological whole.

Animality connects to a larger debate around the so-called animal question that has involved such iconic thinkers as Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Georges Bataille, Emmanuel Levinas, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault. Their interrogations around the relationship between animals and humans have inspired a growing contemporary discourse. Animality is conceived in part as a visual contribution to that conversation while also paying, of course, tribute to the diversity and beauty of the animal kingdom.

And this is a link to a review in the Guardian.  Odd to find two exhibitions in London about the human-animal connection; something in the waters, perhaps.  Although Animality has ended, the Wellcome exhibition continues into the new year.  You really should go to see it.  Maybe if you're spending precious carbon going to that celebratory bash on the South Bank next week, think again.  Stay on the Euston Road and go to the Wellcome Collection.  It will be good for you!   And the coffee will be much better.


What's the collective noun for UNESCO Chairs?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Alas, this is one of the many unknowns about UNESCO – but at least it's a known unknown.  Perhaps it's a Stack.  One known known about it all is that those who don't know are precisely matched by those who don't care all that much.

Anyway, the UK Chairs and UNTWIN co-ordinators all met in colloquium late last year to chew the fat.  Here's what UNESCO UK had to say about it all.  Reflecting on the meeting, UKNC Chair Dr Beth Taylor said:

“I am hugely impressed by the range and quality of expertise embodied in the UK’s UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks – an impression that was reinforced by our discussions at the Colloquium. One of my personal objectives as Chair of the National Commission will be to raise the profile of UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks, and to ensure that the meaning and value of their UNESCO accreditation is even more widely recognised both by their peers and the general public.”

But who are these people?  Do you know?  Here's a link to the Chairs.  Those directly focused on education are the Chairs in:

  • HIV AIDS Education and Health Security in Africa (Aberystwyth)
  • Globalising a shared education model for improving relations in divided societies (Queens Belfast)
  • Higher Education Management (Bath)
  • Intercultural Studies and Teacher Education (London)
  • Political Economy of Education (Nottingham)
  • Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy (Ulster)

You will have spotted the obvious missing Chair – the elephant not in the room as it were.  How curious, the credulous will think.

There's a chance to put this right as there's a call for new applicants.  There's still time ...


WEEC 2017 Re-interconnecting the separated inseparables

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There was an almost plangent tone to the message to the EE Mailbase back in December about WEEC 2017, an event, I readily confess, I'd been trying to ignore.  The message title was:

Perspectives, Challenges and Innovation in Research – WEEC2017

It began ...

Dear Colleagues, on behalf of the Socio-Scientific Committee of the World Environmental Education Congress, we invite you to submit an Abstract that addresses the Congress Theme: Perspectives, Challenges and Innovation in Research.

This innovative, interactive and international event is scheduled for September 9-15, 2017, in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Presenters and participants are encouraged to share, reflect on and discuss the(ir) researching of environmental and sustainability education (ESE).  A critical review of the focus, design and outcomes of research – what has worked and what not, on what grounds, and with what implications for the field of ESE research – is strongly encouraged.  Please note that the wider list of congress themes, listed below, separates what is inseparable, and the congress themes need to be considered as interconnected.  Wherever possible, abstracts (300 words or less (sic)) should aim to create links among strands.  Proposals can also be directed towards a teacher/educator or researcher audience (or both).

Are you tempted by this?  Is it enough to overcome your reservations about the WEEC franchise?  Does it (as I may have mentioned before, and indeed more than once) make you go WEEC at the knees?

Are you thrilled at the prospect of re-interconnecting the separated inseparables?

Or do you think that the august team behind all this [ Alan Reid, Nicole Ardoin, David Zandvliet ] might just have been blinded by opportunity?

I'll not be going, but I'm already looking forward to commenting as the jamboree unfolds.


Slow going at Longleat

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The lone cheetah we saw at Longleat over Christmas looked in better fettle than the Rhinos that were relentlessly pacing round their enclosure, but it wasn't exactly behaving like a cheetah.  It wasn't, for example, travelling at 29m / second chasing after prey.  This was, in part, because there wasn't any prey, but also because the fences would ensure that such high-speed cheetahing would soon result in high-impact crashes.  Longleat, meanwhile, just wanted us to know about the two cheetah cubs recently born there and its strong conservation credentials.

I was reminded of all this when I read two articles in the Times (also over Christmas).  Both were about our human determination to do the cheetah down – and how well we are managing it.  One began:

"Snares that rip off limbs, poachers trading in skins, wealthy Middle Eastern collectors who pay handsomely for cubs as vanity pets and farmers putting up fences have put at risk the survivial of the world’s fastest animal, the cheetah, a study has found.  The cat has been driven out of 91 per cent of its historic territories and only 7,100 individuals at most remain in the world, according to research led by the Zoological Society of London, Panthera, a charity, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. ..."

The feature contained this information:

  • Zimbabwe used to be home to a third of all cheetahs, but the population has dropped from 1,200 to 170 in 16 years.
  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) grants Zimbabwe 50 licences a year for the export of live cheetahs or hunting trophies. ** Can this really be the case? **
  • Cheetah cubs are popular pets in the Gulf states.
  • Hunters pay a trophy fee of between $3,000 and $6,000 to hunt one of the animals.

Inevitably, also, anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism (and feminism, maybe) were never far away at Longleat.  My favourite was the stereotype description of male lions as "lazy", and even a well-known wildlife presenter (on our complimentary CD) was heard to talk of the bullying behaviour of male lions.  Thus I was in despair long before I saw the pathetic cheetah.  Before that, what I'd mostly seen, of course, were lines of cars.

Happy New Year!