Sustainability by Default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education


The above illustration comes from the new Harvard MOOC on Early Childhood Development and Sustainability

This new paper will be part of a special issue on early childhood education and sustainable development. I wrote the piece  based on a keynote address presented at the 68th OMEP World Assembly and International Conference held in Seoul in July 2016. In the paper I argue that children are more in tune with sustainability than most adults and that both adults and children can benefit from intergenerational dialogue and expanded learning opportunities in so-called ecologies of learning. First the idea of growing up in the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch that is shaped by one single species, home sapiens, is introduced. What does growing up in the Anthropocene mean for today’s children? A short critique is provided of the neoliberal forces that increasingly influence what happens in education and care settings and that essentially make unsustainability the default in our society. Drawing on Martin Buber’s ideas of relational ways of being in the world; Nell Nodding’s notions of care; and George Siemen’s ideas about learning ecologies, some suggestions are offered for co-creating early childhood education and care with people and the planet in mind.

The paper ends with the following: “What seems critical is that children encounter a multiplicity of different worlds by crossing boundaries, both individually and together, and having bodily experiences that strengthen their relationality with the human, the non-human and the material. It is through these encounters that agency, care and empathy can develop. All three of these qualities are foundational for a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect.

Citation: Wals, A.E.J. (2017) Sustainability by default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education, International Journal of Early Childhood Education doi:10.1007/s13158-017-0193-5

Note that this is an open access publication that can be downloaded for free here: Sustainability by default

Using the SDGs as a catalyst for re-designing higher education in the Anthropocene


Last week (June 13-14, 2017) the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Agriculture hosted an the 2017 ICA-Edu Colloquium “Delivering graduates to meet the challenges of sustainable development goals (SDGs): embedding the development of ethical and sustainable values ​​in the curriculum.” The colloquium was organized in cooperation with ICA (the Association for European Life Science Universities) which is the umbrella network of 54 life science universities in Europe. ICA’s goal is to improve higher education and research in agronomy and related sciences.

I was one of the keynote speakers along with Prof. David A. Knauft (University of Georgia) and  Prof. Georg Gratzer (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna – BOKU). Unfortunately I could not be physically present and I had to resort to using the ‘green room’ in the Social Sciences building of Wageningen University (a studio that is used for recording, among other things, short video’s for MOOCS). The 34 minute talk with the title ‘Using the SDGs as a catalyst for re-designing higher education in the Anthropocene’ can be viewed here: Keynote Zagreb ICA Conference

New: The interplay between social learning and adaptive capacity in climate change adaptation


Pics source:

One of my PhD students, Le Thi Hong Phuong from Vietnam, just had her review article (with me and Robbert Biesbroek of Wageningen UR as humble co-authors) published in NJAS . In the paper she maintains that successful implementation climate change adaptation depends to a large extent on the capabilities of individuals, organizations, and communities to create and mobilize the adaptive capacity (AC) of their socio-ecological system. In the paper, creating and mobilizing AC is seens as a continuous process that requires social learning (SL). Although rich with empirical cases, the literature theorizing and empirically investigating the relationship between AC and SL is highly fragmented. This paper aims to critically examine the peer-reviewed literature that focusses on SL and AC in the context of climate change adaptation (CCA).

Special attention is paid to the interplay between the two. Understanding this interplay can help improve our understanding of how CCA takes place in practice and advances theoretical debates on CCA. Systematic review methods are used to analyse 43 papers (1997–2016). The findings reveal three perspectives that each play an important role in different contexts: an AC-focused perspective, a SL-focused perspective, and a hybrid perspective. These differences in conceptualizations of the relationship between SL and AC may seem trivial at first, but they have consequences for the design of learning-based interventions aimed at helping communities respond to climate change. It appears that such interventions need to be preceded by an analysis of the climate change context in order to decide whether to emphasize AC, SL or both simultaneously.

You can find the paper here: The interplay between social learning and adaptive capacity in climate change adaptation or request a copy by emailing me at The DOI is:


  • Social learning (SL) & adaptive capacity (AC) are critical in climate change adaptation.
  • Social learning does not necessarily build adaptive capacity and vice versa.
  • Three interplays between SL and AC emerge: SL-focused, AC-focused and hybrid.
  • The effectiveness of an interplay depends on the climate adaptation context.
  • This has implications for governance to help communities to adapt to climate change.