Re-orienting, re-connecting and re-imagining – learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change goes open-access!

There may be trouble ahead,
……Before they ask us to pay the bill,
And while we still have the chance,
Let’s face the music and dance

Irvine Berlin, 1936

“There are three people in a vehicle. In this story, they all seem to have a foot on the accelerator. Not too far in the distance, and clearly coming into view, there is a noticeboard. It reads: ‘Brake hard or change direction! – Abyss ahead!’.  As the vehicle continues speeding forward, the occupants react differently to the noticeboard.  One has seen it coming for some time; in fact, she anticipated it. Her optician told her she had good foresight. ‘For goodness sake’, she says, ‘we must slow down and change direction while we can’. A second one, who has also been aware of the notice for some time, says ‘It’s certainly an interesting notice. Let’s deconstruct its meaning exactly, then we can develop our critical awareness and understanding, and decide what to do.’ The third person, who was much later in recognising the sign than the other two says, I don’t think there’s any danger ahead, and if there is – which I doubt – we’ll deal with it  then’.   Meantime, the vehicle is still getting closer to the notice, and stays on track….”

A metaphor of course, but perhaps illustrative of our collective predicament.  We all – or nearly all – have a bit of our foot on the accelerator, whilst at the same time, increasing numbers are aware that braking, changing direction, and learning ‘our way out’ is critically important. At the same time, a significant proportion of the population and vested interests drive forward regardless, albeit with a growing suspicion that, in the words of the old Irvine Berlin song, ‘there may be trouble ahead’.”(Sterling, 2012 p. 511)

The above excerpt is the opening of Stephen Sterling’s wonderful Afterword to “Learning for Sustainability in Times of Accelerating Change”. The Afterword is one of the contributions that has been made open-access via Wageningen Academic Publisher’s website. Along with Juliet Schor’s Foreword and the Introductory Chapter to the book, some authors have paid the publisher a fee to unlock their chapter to allow everybody with access to the Internet download it for free for their own use. You can find the full pdf of the Introductory Chapter here: Introduction to L4S in Times of Change Wals&Corcoran

On the publisher’s website the book is introduced as follows: We live in turbulent times, our world is changing at accelerating speed. Information is everywhere, but wisdom appears in short supply when trying to address key inter-related challenges of our time such as; runaway climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources, the on-going homogenization of culture, and rising inequity. Living in such times has implications for education and learning.  This book explores the possibilities of designing and facilitating learning-based change and transitions towards sustainability. In 31 chapters contributors from across the world discuss (re)emerging forms of learning that not only assist in breaking down unsustainable routines, forms of governance, production and consumption, but also can help create ones that are more sustainable. The book has been divided into three parts: re-orienting science and society, re-connecting people and planet and re-imagining education and learning. This is essential reading for educators, educational designers, change agents, researchers, students, policymakers and entrepreneurs alike, concerned about the well-being of the planet and convinced of our ability to do better. (click on the book’s cover if you wish to go to the publishers web-page about the book)

The book can be ordered at a discount when going to ‘books’ in the menu bar on top of this page.

Just out: The Oxford Handbook of Environmental and Conservation Psychology

About two years ago Susan Clayton invited me to contribute to a major handbook on environmental and conservation psychology (33 chapters, 780 pages!). She felt it was important to also have a chapter on the role of education and learning in connecting people with ‘nature’, ‘place’ and ‘environment’ but also in engaging them with ‘sustainability’ issues. It gave me the opportunity to write a, hopefully somewhat accessible and compehensive, introduction to the field of environmental education and the related emerging field of education and learning for sustainability. At the end of this post there is a link to the proofs of this chapter.

Environmental psychology studies the ways in which people perceive and respond to the physical environment, whereas conservation psychology  tends to refer to psychological research on the need and ways to protect the natural environment. What is conservation psychology, and what is its relationship to environmental psychology? This new Handbook answers those questions. From the Oxford University Press website:

“The Oxford Handbook of Environmental and Conservation Psychology includes basic research on environmental perceptions, attitudes, and values; research on specific environments, such as therapeutic settings, schools, and prisons; environmental impacts on human well-being; and ways to promote a more sustainable relationship between people and the natural environment. By presenting an extensive review of current research, the handbook serves as a thorough guide to the state of knowledge about a wide range of topics at the intersection of psychology and the physical environment. Beyond this, it provides a better understanding of the relationship between environmental and conservation psychology, and some sense of the directions in which these interdependent areas of study are heading. Research on the human-environment relationship is increasingly relevant to understanding and addressing the environmental challenges society is facing. This handbook should serve as a resource for professionals both within and outside of psychology who are trying to comprehend the human implications of environments, and to design programs, policies, and environments that are cognizant of human psychology.”

Here’s some background inforrmation about the chapter I contributed (for a full Table of Contents please go to the publisher’s website).

Wals, A.E.J. (2012) Learning our way out of un-sustainability: the role of environmental education. In: Clayton, S. (Ed.) Handbook on Environmental and Conservation Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 628-644. (by clicking on the title you can get to the proofs of the chapter).


In this chapter the role of education in creating a planet that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect will be discussed from two vantage points: an instrumental one and an emancipatory one. The instrumental perspective emphasizes the potential of education in changing human environmental behavior in predetermined and more or less agreed upon directions. The emancipatory perspective, on the other hand, emphasizes the potential of education in strengthening people’s capacities and confidence to enable them to help determine how to live together in ways that do not further undermine the carrying capacity of the earth. Whereas the former, more behaviourist vantage point tends to have more support among environmentalists with a strong concern about the rapid loss of biodiversity, climate change, depletion of natural resources, and so on, the latter, more human development–oriented vantage point, tends to have more support among educators with a strong concern for self-determination, agency, and democracy. The chapter ends with the introduction of “post-normal” environmental education.

Key Words

environmental education, sustainable development, nature conservation education, emancipatory learning, instrumental learning, agency, participation, post-normal science