“Beyond unreasonable doubt – learning for socio-ecological sustainability…”

InauguralInvitationcomplete

As my ‘special professorship’ has been converted into a ‘personal professorship,’ (I know this is confusing to academics from around the world but I don’t want to use up valuable blog-space to explain it) I was invited to give a second inaugural address titled: Beyond unreasonable doubt –  education and learning for socio-ecological sustainability in the anthropocene in the Aula of the Wageningen University on December 17th 

The special day happened to be the warmest December 17th on record… quite fitting for the talk and the cover of the accompanying booklet (with people sitting on an terrace a cold Fall evening in Gothenburg under so-called ‘space heaters’).

A short introduction to the new Chair has been placed on youtube:

Transformative Learning for Socio-ecological Sustainability in less than 3 minutes

Here’s the back flap text of the booklet is now available:

‘For the first time in history one single species has succeeded in living in a way on planet Earth that disrupts major natural systems and forces in such a way that our survival is at stake. A transition is needed to break with resilient unsustainable systems and practices. Such a transition requires active civic engagement in sustainability. New forms of education and learning, including ‘disruptive capacity building’ and ‘transgressive’ pedagogies are urgently needed to foster such engagement.’

 

If you want to receive the booklet containing the accompanying text to the lecture then send an email to office.ecs@wur.nl with unreasonable doubt in the ‘subject’ and put your name and address in the body of the message and we will post you one.
 If you wish you can still attend, sort of,  the event by going to:
Here you can see the entire ceremony which starts at minute 9 with an introduction by our Vice-Chancellor (Rector Magnificus) Arthur Mol and with me starting the speech (battling the flu but hanging in there – I think/hope) at minute 15. Sometimes the animations I used do not fly-in on WURTV for some reason but fortunately they did in the auditorium). But it’s of good quality and you can advance the timer if you wish to.

 

Focus of the new Chair in transformative learning for socio-ecological sustainability

In short the new Chair in transformative learning for socio-ecological sustainability explores three important questions: 1) What sustain’abilities’ and responsibilities we need to develop in learners? 2) What learning spaces or ecologies of learning are most suitable in developing those abilities? and 3) How can the cultivation of these abilities, responsibilities and spaces be designed and supported? In other words, the main focus of the chair lies on understanding, designing and supporting learning processes that can help citizens understand complex socio-ecological issues through meaningful engagement and interactions with and within the social, physical and virtual realities of which people are part and the development of the capacities they need to contribute to their resolution.

The addition of ‘socio-ecological’ to sustainability is intentional, as much work done on sustainability nowadays tends to focus on economic sustainability, often without people and planet in mind. In a way sustainability has lost its transformative edge ‘sustainability’ during the last decade as the much of the private sector embraced it as a marketing opportunity. Adrian Parr (2009) even suggests that sustainability has been hijacked and neutered. While economics inevitably is part of the sustainability puzzle, the need to (re)turn to the ecological boundaries in which we have to learn to live together, as well as to the well-being and meaning of life issues for all, has prompted me to make the social-ecological more prominent in the description of this Chair. Therefore, I am particularly interested in understanding and supporting forms of learning that can lead to the engagement of seemingly unrelated actors and organizations in making new knowledge and in taking the actions necessary to address socio-ecological challenges.
Note 1: The booklet containing the inaugural address will be posted to you for free (as long as supplies last) when you email office.ecs@wur.nl with “Unreasonable doubt” in the subject area and your name and postal address in the body of the text).
Note 2: The inaugural address can be followed live via WURTV where it will also be archived: https://wurtv.wur.nl/P2G/cataloguepage.aspx

 

Sustainability in higher education in the context of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development

Sustainability in higher education in the context of the UN DESD: a review of learning and institutionalization processes” is a paper that was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Cleaner Production Volume 62, Pages 1-138, January 2014) as a part of a theme issue on:

“Higher Education for Sustainable Development: Emerging Areas”. This special issue is edited by Maik Adomßent, Daniel Fischer, Jasmin Godemann, Christian Herzig, Insa Otte, Marco Rieckmann and Jana Timm of Leuphana University in Germany.

The paper I contributed is grounded empirically in a review of UN’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UN DESD) I was commissioned to carry out by UNESCO. The review’s section on the learning processes taking place in the higher education arena forms the basis of this article. Particular attention is paid to the role of UNESCO ESD Chairs in advancing sustainability-oriented learning and competences in higher education.

The main conclusion that can be drawn is that Higher Education Institutions are beginning to make more systemic changes towards sustainability by re-orienting their education, research, operations and community outreach activities all simultaneously or, which is more often the case, a subset thereof. They are doing so amidst educational reforms towards efficiency, accountability, privatization, management and control that are not always conducive for such a re-orientation. Some universities see in sustainability a new way of organizing and profiling themselves. The UNESCO ESD Chairs mainly play a role in conceptualizing learning, competence and systems change.

The full reference is: Wals, A.E.J. (2013). Sustainability in higher education in the context of the UN DESD : a review of learning and institutionalization processes, Journal of Cleaner Production (www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652613003880). A preview can be found here! SustainabilityinHigherEducationWalsJournalCleanerProduction13

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.

Fifty Shades of Green – why the Green Economy cannot be business as usual and ESD cannot be education as usual…

The novel ‘Fifty shades of grey’ by British author E.L. James Critical has sold over 30 million copies since it appeared in 2011. The book went ‘viral,’ as they say, at least in part because of its sexual content. Reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey have been mixed to negative, with most reviews noting poor literary qualities of the work. Princeton professor April Alliston wrote, “Though no literary masterpiece, Fifty Shades is more than parasitic fan fiction based on the recent Twilight vampire series”. [1] Jenny Colgan of The Guardian wrote “It is jolly, eminently readable and as sweet and safe as BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) erotica can be without contravening the trade descriptions act” and also praised the book for being “more enjoyable” than other “literary erotic books”.[2] However, The Telegraph criticised the book as “treacly cliché” but also wrote that the sexual politics in Fifty Shades of Grey will have female readers “discussing it for years to come.” [3]

Admittedly I have not read the book but the title, and the fact it went viral, might inspire: “Fifty shades of green”. This book – which also was part of a conversation at the last Frankfurt Book Fair between a representative of Wageningen Academic Publishers (publisher of Learning for Sustainability in Times of Accelerating change – see below – and a representative of KNNV-publishers, a Dutch nature publisher) – would critically analyse the green-inflation, green populism and green rhetoric that is going on. It also, perhaps more importantly, would help people differentiate between what might be called deep green (suggesting a genuine transition to a more sustainable world built on principles, values, lifestyles and systems that are more sustainable than the ones currently demanded by the current dominant economic thinking) and shallow green (more of the same but with a nice green gloss that will make every-body feel good but doesn’t fundamentally change anything in the end and, in fact, amplifies unsustainability in disguise).

“Fifty shades of grey” apparently succeeds in what seems to be somewhat of a taboo, accessible to a huge audience and leads, in some ways, to a different conversation. Perhaps “Fifty shades of green” could accomplish that as well.

This morning, in a Skype meeting with Swedish Education for Sustainable Development teachers, I suggested such a book and people immediately seemed to start thinking about what such a book could be about. Please submit any ideas you may have about this in the comment box at the end of this post!

Below a wonderful cartoon by Singer that illustrates what might be called shallow green.

Green energy, green incinerators, green cars, green growth, green airplanes, green nuclear, green economy, plant bottles… , green growth, green mind-sets?

For those of you who are a bit concerned or skeptical about the green economy (a wolf in sheeps clothes?) and wonder whether education, learning and capacity building should be re-oriented towards such an economy – as if education only serves the economy… – I am inserting a link to a talk that was pre-recorded recently which was shown at The Swiss Sustainable Development Forum. Here’s the link which works with all main browsers I’m told. If it works well you can see both the talk and the slides used.

For those of you who would like to read about this I can refer to “Learning for Sustainability in Times of Accelerating Change” – of which some chapters are now open-source including the introductory chapter co-authored with Peter Blaze Corcoran. You can click on the picture below – offering another peak into the green economy –  to get to the book.

Green Economy for All? (Source: google images)

“Learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change” presented to Gro Brundtland at Rio +20

Just in time for Rio +20 we were able to finish a wonderful book project that involved many authors from four continents. The book, learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change, was presented at Rio +20 to former Norwegian Prime Minister and Chair of the infamous Brundtland Commission which made a first attempt to define “Sustainable Development” in the 1987 report “Our Common Future”.

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland receives the first copy at Rio +20. Brundtland Chaired the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) that wrote “Our Common Future”, a report that introduced the term “sustainable development” well before the first Earth Summit was held in 1992.

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)

Here are some nice words from some good people about the book:

We are living in times of incertitude, complexity, and contestation, but also of connectivity, responsibility, and new opportunities. This book analyses the consequences of these times for learning in formal, non-formal, and informal education. It explores the possibilities offered by the concept of sustainability as a central category of a holistic paradigm which harmonizes human beings with Earth. To change people and to change the world are interdependent processes—this book contributes to both. (Moacir Gadotti, Director of Paulo Freire Institute, São Paulo, Brazil).

Moacir Gadotti of the Paulo Freire Institute receives a copy of the book at Rio +20 during the Earth Charter event

I hope you share my excitement about the innovations for sustainability that this book catalogues and analyses. While the ecological news is grim, the human news is not. Even in a time of accelerating change, people are showing their enormous capacities to learn, adapt, restore and protect. (From the Foreword by Juliet Schor, author of True Wealth: how and why millions of Americans are creating a time-rich, ecologically-light, small-scale high-satisfaction economy).

Instead of educational thinking and practice that tacitly assumes that the future is some kind of linear extension of the past, we need anticipative education, recognising the new conditions and discontinuities which face present generations, let alone future ones… This implies a ‘culture of critical commitment’ in educational thinking and practice – engaged enough to make a real difference to social-ecological resilience and sustainability but reflexively critical enough to learn constantly from experience and to keep options open in working for a sustainability transformation. (From the Afterword by Stephen Sterling, Professor of Sustainability Education, Centre for Sustainable Futures, Plymouth University, United Kingdom).

In the coming months this blog will be used to share some main ideas expressed by the authors that are a part of this volume. 

The table of contents can be found here (click on the hypertext)learn4

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

‘Science as community — Sustainability-oriented trans-disciplinary research’

Recently I contributed to the 5th Living Knowledge Conference which was held in Bonn, Germany last May with a talk on “Science as community: Sustainability- oriented trans-disciplinary research”. The entire talk has now been uploaded on youtube as have been several of the other talks held at this energizing event. The talk can be found here. Since the slides I used are not always (clearly) visible you can find the slides I used here: WalsBonnLivingKnowledge.

The conference covered the following teams: 

A. Setting shared research agendas by CSOs and Research Institutes 

B. The role of Higher Education in creating knowledge with communities
C. Communities and students learning together
D. Evaluation and quality improvement: New lessons learned on measuring   the value of community engagement and  collaborative research
E. Developing  partnership working for research – civil society engagement
F. Policies to support collaborative research relationships

My talk related mostly to theme B which is described on the conference website as follows: Research and education are going to play a central role during the transformation process towards a knowledge society, as the realisation of the necessity for restructuring the world economy has been triggered mainly by scientific knowledge. Society should therefore decide on actions that are not a direct response to recently experienced events, but motivated by foresight and precaution. For this purpose, the debate between science, politics and society should be far more structured, more obligatory, and livelier, to ensure a constructive discourse about the best ways to achieve sustainability.

Key questions:

  • How can problem-based approaches and transdisciplinarity be encouraged?
  • How can a relation of mutual trust between researchers and CSOs be developed?
  • How can career opportunities for young researchers engaging with communities be improved?
  • How can universities and research institutions give researchers and students more opportunities to reflect about the societal consequences of their work?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3cda8qyiuI&feature=relmfu