Unreasonable doubt, viral nonsense and the Post-truth Trump era – avoiding hopelessness and creating sustainability by default

 

BeyondUnreasonableDoubtInvite

On December 17th, one year ago, the warmest December 17th on record on The Netherlands, I gave my a second inaugural address at Wageningen University titled: Beyond unreasonable doubt –  education and learning for socio-ecological sustainability in the anthropocene  (link to the text) the address took place exactly 6 months after Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the USA. At that time nobody really thought he had any chance but that was then. Now that we have entered a new phase of potential depression, hopelessness, psychic numbing, withdrawal, giving up, loss of energy, it seems like the challenge of moving towards a more sustainable world has become greater than ever before which is why I am re-posting the video that Wageningen University made back then about the role of education in creating more critical, mindful, empathic and responsible citizens willing and able to turn the tide and making living lightly and equitably on the Earth the default rather than the exception.

Here is the link to the 2,5 minute video that may be more accessible than the booklet (I hope it spreads as rapidly as some of the non-sense that spreads with lightening speed these days):

Breathing sustainability

 

Transformative Learning for Sustainability: Special Issue

Ariane König and Nancy Budwig have edited a cutting edge Special Issue for the Journal Current Opinions of Environmental Sustainability on Transformative Learning for Sustainability and more specifically on ‘New requisites to universities in the 21st century’.

elseviercover_large

This Special Issue focuses on how universities engage in sustainability issues by staging transformative learning opportunities. The special issue features ten case papers from five continents illustrating the changing relationship of learning, research and practice in such programmes. The issue includes a paper on the Luxembourg Certificate in Sustainability and Social Innovation and an introductory overview by Dr König.to which I will contribute in May with a talk on “Sustainability transitions in society: changing science/citizen relations with citizen science for social learning“. The University of Luxembourg has made the entire special issue open access which means that anyone can download all the papers for free, including the one I co-authored with Heila Lotz-Sisitka, David Kronlid and Dylan McGary on Transgressive Learning which you can also download the paper here: transgressiveSocialLearning Transgressive Social Learning

Highlights from the paper are:

  • Pedagogies are required that are not constrained by current use of limited concepts, or by disciplinary decadence.
  • Concepts such as resilience are problematic if they hold unsustainable systems and patterns in place.
  • Disruptive capacity building and transgressive pedagogies are needed for a more sustainable world.
  • Transformative, transgressive forms of learning requires co-learning in multi-voiced and multi-actor formations.
  • Higher education should provide possibilities for engaged, lived experience of transformative praxis for students.

“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

The Big Tent Rio +20 Communique on Sustainability, Knowledge and Higher Education

Recently I contributed to the 5th Living Knowledge Conference which was held in Bonn, Germany with a talk on “Science as community: Sustainability- oriented trans-disciplinary research” and by providing input to a drafting process that resulted in a communique on higher education’s role in moving towards a more sustainable world. This communique is to be presented and discussed at the Sustainability Summit in Rio which will be held in June (also known as Rio +20).

The “Big Tent” Group – also known as the Higher Education Treaty Circle – is a collaboration of regional and global networks of civil society and higher education networks with a total membership of over 5,000 universities and civil society research organizations. The group was created to make a joint contribution to the RIO + 20 United Nations Sustainability Summit and the parallel Global Civil Society conference on Sustainability taking place in June in Rio de Janeiro.

Via an on-line contribution platform I was able to include a few lines myself including one that states that “Universities have a responsibility to look after the well-being of the planet, not as stand-alone beacons of knowledge, but as places where wisdom of communities, eco-systems and the academy work together in partnerships for a world that is more sustainable and just”.

The focus of the communique is on how civil society and universities can co-create radically new knowledge together.

Canada’s Budd Hall from the University of Victoria says, “This is the first statement agreed upon by so many higher education networks calling for a deep examination of the need to re-examine whose knowledge counts and how we can co-construct new disciplines for a new world”

I am pasting in the current communique for you to read, comment on and, if you like, to share with others who might be intrrested and/or might need to know.

RioCommuniqueOnSustHEI-Final-May 20

Communiqué on Sustainability, Knowledge and Democracy* (Released on May 12 in Bonn, Germany at the 5th International Conference of the Living Knowledge Network)

This statement is the product of a global dialogue and discussion process hosted by the Living Knowledge Network.

It is an initiative of the ‘Big Tent’ Group of international networks which includes: Asia Pacific University Community Engagement Network, Centro Boliviano de Estudios Multidisciplinarios, Commonwealth Universities Extension and Engagement Network, Community Campus Partnerships for Health, Global Alliance on Community Engaged Research, Global University Network for Innovation, Living Knowledge Network, PASCAL International Observatory, Participatory Research in Asia, and the Talloires Network with additional contributions participants at the 5th International Conference of the Living Knowledge Network.

We begin by expressing our deep concerns about:

The continued destruction of our common home, our planet Earth, Our over dependence on technological solutions that may result in misleading claims about positive impact on the environment, Ways that the dominant global economic system with its unitary focus on economic growth results in increased inequality, loss of jobs, alienation from both land and each other, The persistent exclusion of the dreams, potential and contributions of the socio–‐economic bottom billion people of our world, and Stressful and unhealthy lifestyles leading to physical and mental health problems;

We are witnesses to massive expressions of aspiration and deep change as seen in the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements.

We are aware and supportive of work being done to engage with civil society and its organisations in the co–‐construction of new knowledge in many spaces such as the Science in Society Programme of the European Commission, UNESCO and the Global University Network for Innovation.

We are also aware that while certain developments in science and technology have been complicit in the creation of planetary problems, evidence shows that communities and research institutions working together play a significant role in the attainment of sustainable development.

We respectfully contribute our ideas to spaces for engagement and action on issues of planetary survival, including, but not limited to the United Nations Rio + 20 events Higher Education Treaty Circle process and the Horizon 2020 programme in Europe

We call for action to:

1. Challenge existing paradigms, structures and practices, by: a) Recognizing that knowledge and expertise exists outside of the institutions of higher education. Communities and the earth itself are intellectual spaces where knowledge is created. Decolonizing our minds and our institutions is one significant step to acting on this awareness, b) Acknowledging that ‘community’ or ‘civic’ engagement, has to mean more than just people. Community includes the environment and all the rest of nature, c) Promoting the concept of an ‘Ecoversity’ whereby higher education institutions themselves are transformed into integrated holistic communities and where research, teaching and action functions are no longer separate, d) Breaking down the silos of knowledge creation and moving to co–‐creation of knowledge between the university and community–‐new approaches for a new world, e) Being open to ideas such as appointing community scholars, and creating smaller universities, and f) Increasing policy and funding for collaborative research between civil society and higher education institutions.

2. Increase the accountability of higher education by: a) Shifting accountability from authorities and funders to citizens, involving community at all levels of Higher Education governance, b) Linking our academic work with environmental social movements and to related movements against poverty, towards a solidarity economy, c) Ensuring that people have an understanding of the interdependencies between environmental, social and economic forces and the skills and abilities to meet sustainability challenges, and d) Moving beyond eco–‐branding by holding institutions accountable for the trademarks, brands and media around sustainability that they display.

3. Understand the connections of our local practices within a global framework by: a) Acknowledging that in this inter–‐connected world, ecological disturbances in one eco–‐zone can spread rapidly throughout the world, b) Promoting new mechanisms of global governance and democratic accountability with multi–‐stakeholder perspectives, and c) Supporting the development of higher education theories and practices that nurture a global public good.

In closing

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. Universities have a responsibility to look after the well–‐being of the planet, not as stand–‐alone beacons of knowledge, but as places where wisdom of communities, eco–‐ systems and the academy work together in partnerships for a world that is more sustainable and just.

Going to college with sustainability in mind – but where? Green-league rankings

A few months ago I posted this item on finding a sustainability-minded college/university. Perhaps the creation of so-called “sustainability rankings” or “green-league tables” might help prospective students find a university or college that operates with the well-being of the Planet in mind. Obviously rankings have there shortcomings but let me share this link to the UK-based green-league table with you for you to explore and scrutinize: http://www.topuniversities.com/student-survival/student-life/green-universities-higher-education-and-environmental-sustainability What is quite novel is that the creators have included examplary case-studies representing, what they consider, sustainability-oriented practices.

Anyway – here’s the original post (if you want to see some of the suggestions made, you can retreive the comments to the original post which you find in the blog’s archive):

Today I received an interesting new years message from Rolf Jucker from the CoDes project:

Dear All

I hope you have had a very good start to 2012 and wish you all the very best for it!

I have a question regarding tertiary education for my daughter. She is currently finishing her IB at the Mahindra United World College of India and she is looking around for suitable colleges to maybe go to after a gap year.

We have discussed it at length over Christmas and we find it very, very difficult to suggest anything suitable.

She has had a very special educational experience at Mahindra College and she doesn’t really want to study at a conventional university (be it as prestigious as it might be) where we have all the known problems David Orr has so succinctly spelled out years ago: i.e. highly intelligent lecturers and students doing high status degrees, but with scant respect for sustainability, for the consequences of the careers they are aspiring to, etc.

So she is looking for a college where students and staff are committed to actually practising sustainability, not just in the studies, but also in the way that they live together, act, etc. (be it through regular work at an attached farm or in the community, through the way they prepare and cook food, the way they interact with each other and staff, they way the campus is run and kept, etc. etc.).

Her interests lie in Environmental Systems Studies, Biology, and languages (particularly Spanish) and she is wondering whether first a liberal arts degree might be a good idea.

My question now is (since there is no way to find stuff like that over the internet: either you personally know about it and can vouch for it, or it’s impossible to assess):

Do you know of any colleges, degree schemes etc. which might fit this bill? They can be in the US, the UK, mainland Europe, India, Australia, wherever.

I can’t really think of any examples other than maybe Schumacher College (but that is only MA /MSc level, not BA, or is it?) or Hartland Small School (but that’s not exactly tertiary …).

I would be very, very grateful indeed for any suggestions.

With many thanks in advance and best wishes Rolf

===============

Here’s what my immediate response was:

Thanks Rolf!

What a wonderful message/question. Not an easy one… Some come to mind: The Peace University or U of the Peace in Costa Rica, Evergreen College, Prescott College en Middelbury College in the US, but let me think a little more.

I would like to use your message on my blog… To see how people from across the world respond to this question. With two children (18, 15) myself I am also interested in finding out.

Would that be alright?

Wageningen is nice, small, very international, sustainability-oriented, etc. but is still not what you two seem to be looking for.

All the best,

Arjen

=============

If you have any ideas – then please let me/us know!

Going to college with sustainability in mind – but where?

Today I received an interesting new years message from Rolf Jucker from the CoDes project:

Dear All

I hope you have had a very good start to 2012 and wish you all the very best for it!

I have a question regarding tertiary education for my daughter. She is currently finishing her IB at the Mahindra United World College of India and she is looking around for suitable colleges to maybe go to after a gap year.

We have discussed it at length over Christmas and we find it very, very difficult to suggest anything suitable.

She has had a very special educational experience at Mahindra College and she doesn’t really want to study at a conventional university (be it as prestigious as it might be) where we have all the known problems David Orr has so succinctly spelled out years ago: i.e. highly intelligent lecturers and students doing high status degrees, but with scant respect for sustainability, for the consequences of the careers they are aspiring to, etc.

So she is looking for a college where students and staff are committed to actually practising sustainability, not just in the studies, but also in the way that they live together, act, etc. (be it through regular work at an attached farm or in the community, through the way they prepare and cook food, the way they interact with each other and staff, they way the campus is run and kept, etc. etc.).

Her interests lie in Environmental Systems Studies, Biology, and languages (particularly Spanish) and she is wondering whether first a liberal arts degree might be a good idea.

My question now is (since there is no way to find stuff like that over the internet: either you personally know about it and can vouch for it, or it’s impossible to assess):

Do you know of any colleges, degree schemes etc. which might fit this bill? They can be in the US, the UK, mainland Europe, India, Australia, wherever.

I can’t really think of any examples other than maybe Schumacher College (but that is only MA /MSc level, not BA, or is it?) or Hartland Small School (but that’s not exactly tertiary …).

I would be very, very grateful indeed for any suggestions.

With many thanks in advance and best wishes Rolf

===============

Here’s what my immediate response was:

Thanks Rolf!

What a wonderful message/question. Not an easy one… Some come to mind: The Peace University or U of the Peace in Costa Rica, Evergreen College, Prescott College en Middelbury College in the US, but let me think a little more.

I would like to use your message on my blog… To see how people from across the world respond to this question. With two children (18, 15) myself I am also interested in finding out.

Would that be alright?

Wageningen is nice, small, very international, sustainability-oriented, etc. but is still not what you two seem to be looking for.

All the best,

Arjen

=============

If you have any ideas – then please let me/us know!