Reorienting Education Toward Sustainability

The greatest dilemma that humanity faces today is an unprecedented need for large scale and rapid change.  Our situation is urgent, as the environmental and social challenges before us indicate.  We face a convergence of crises, from climate change and global warming, to the increasing number of environmental refugees and the effects of rampant consumerism.  All of which urgently call for action.  Although there is no universal solution to our vast array of problems, it is quite clear that we must change the ways by which we think, act, consume and waste, collectively.

Ultimately, many of the problems that face us today are the result of yesterday’s solutions.  We have arrived at our current situation only because we have been so successful.  Industrial and consumer outlooks have increasingly dominated our ways of thinking over the last two hundred years.  These ways of thinking have brought forth extraordinary successes beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

This is, in part, what makes our challenge so daunting.  We are faced with the reality that our old ways of doing things will no longer serve us, and yet they have been so astonishingly successful in the past.  What needs to change is an established norm, and such changes do not come about easily.  In his book, The Necessary Revolution, Peter Senge writes that the Industrial Revolution “did not simply change the way we worked; it transformed the way we lived, the way we thought about ourselves, and the way we viewed the world.  Nothing like it had ever occurred before” (2008, p. 14).  This is the magnitude of change that is needed today.

The impacts the Industrial Revolution had on quality of life were undeniable.  As industrial expansion continued into the twentieth century, life expectancy in the industrial world roughly doubled, literacy jumped from 20 percent to over 90 percent, and benefits hitherto unimaginable sprang up in the form of products (from private cars to iPods), services (from air travel to eBay), and astounding advances in medicine, communication, education, and entertainment.  With this kind of success, it is little wonder that the side effects of the Industrial Age success story went largely ignored. (Senge, 2008, p. 15)

The dominant modes of thinking of the Industrial Age have produced astounding progress and success, but also severe side effects.  The very advances that have enabled such perceived increases in quality of life are also the causes of critical imbalances in the natural orders of things.  Advances in industrial production and consumption of goods, among other advances, have contributed to several unsustainable crisis situations, both socially and ecologically.

Although the concept of sustainability is not new, it is being discussed more frequently.  In a recent guide, the steering committee for the Saskatchewan Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Network (2009) notes that “calls for sustainability date back to the 1970s, when the combined effects of human population growth and resource consumption started to appear at the global level” (p. 4).  As the discourse around the concept of sustainability develops, it is becoming increasingly clear that in order for significant change to take place, a shift in the role of education is necessary.  “It is also clear that sustainability is ultimately about transforming the values, beliefs, and attitudes that support, and are reinforced by Western industrialized cultures” (SaskESD Network, 2009).  Dr. Glenn Sutter, curator of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, and chair of the Saskatchewan ESD Network has written that in order “to foster a culture of sustainability, we need to develop appropriate technologies, policies, and regulations at various scales, but these need to be supported by a fundamental shift in our thinking and actions, ostensibly through education” (2005, p. iv).

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Arts & Society Presentation is Completed!

My presentation, “Arts & Society: An Exploration of Historically Significant Communities of Artists and Their Ability to Spark Social Change,” is finally completed.  It is on-line and can be viewed below.  Patience is needed, as the file is quite massive and will take several minutes to load.  The PREZI presentation contains hundreds of images and even a few video clips.

The Necessary Revolution Hits Milestone

This is just a quick post to celebrate a small milestone.  Today, The Necessary Revolution blog has reached the milestone of 10,000 hits! Hooray.  I am quite impressed.  Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to browse, read, and respond to the posts on this site.  The ClustrMap shows the traffic from the last two weeks, and shows that there have been visitors from many and varied countries.  Click the ClustrMap in the right side-bar to see this traffic map enlarged.  Much of this success is due to the popularity of a couple of frequently hit ‘top posts’.  My top four posts bring in several hundred hits to this site every day.  If you haven’t already checked them out, please do [and don’t be shy, let me know what you think].

Help make this site even better by subscribing to this blog.  Use the subscribe button on the right side bar, or the RSS feeds button at the top of the page.  Again, the site will be more interesting if you share your thoughts, so join the discussion by submitting your comments at the bottom of each post.

Hope in Corporate Partnerships? … 3,986

Gaia at Night … Mother is Sick …. 2,142

Trees, I’ve Got Trees… 1,234

The Necessary Revolution… 954

The Power of Money… It is Your Vote

In my last post [Capitalism Reigns … True Democracy is Dead] I discussed my lack of faith in our political system and its leaders to do the right thing.  The world leaders of our most developed nations are far more concerned with issues relating to their economy than about anything else, including the global climate crisis.  Many world leaders have accepted that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and yet they are not willing or able to create significant change in this regard.  Many of our world leaders view global climate and environmental issues as separate or ‘external’ to their more pressing economical issues.  The truth is that the environment is not an externality,  climate change is not separate.  Without a healthy, sustainable planet, there will be NO economy.

Alright, so what do we do with this knowledge?  We need to understand the power of our vote.  And by that I do not mean our vote in our systems of Democratic government – as I’ve said – true democracy is dead.  We need to realize the power of our vote in the reigning system of Capitalism.  In this system we vote virtually every day, but with a different ballet known as the dollar.  We vote every time we exchange capital.  Every time that we hand over money or credit, we are voting for that product.  We are saying that we want that product, that we support that company, or that we support that industry.  We need to think very carefully about how we spend our money.  Many of us are simply voting too much, on things that we don’t need or really even want.  We are often voting for things that do not even make us feel good about ourselves.  This is rampant consumersism, this is capitalism.  This is the power of our vote.  The system of capitalism is more powerful than our systems of government.

Again, what can we do with this knowledge?  We need to accept that quick and important changes are needed for our survival.   And we need to accept that we are in control.  We are in control of what we spend, what we buy, as well as what we do not buy.  We are in control of the decisions we make.  We are in control of what industries we choose to support.  We are in control of our vote.  And all of the little things matter.  The little things add up, especially in a world in which millions upon millions of people are consuming little things every day.  Buy a reusable water bottle, buy a Brita water filter, and save hundreds of plastic bottles every year.  Make that choice.  Choose to support reusable products and don’t vote to support the bottled water industry.   Buy reusable shopping bags [the ones made from recycled plastic] and avoid using plastic or paper bags.  Replace old incandescent light bulbs with compact florescents; vote to support the more sustainable products.  Support local produce growers.  Spend the extra dollar to buy free-range chickens and eggs.  Cut down on fast food.  Every time that you buy fast-food, you are supporting the industry of factory farmed animals and contributing to the poisoning of our food supply.  Yes, indeed the little things matter.  The little things are your vote.  Vote less often, and vote to support organic and sustainable products whenever it is possible.

Further Reading:

Everything From Here to There: How To Put Your Anger to Use Pt. 1 by William Patrick Corgan
Everything From Here to There: How To Put Your Anger to Use Pt. 2 by William Patrick Corgan
Everything From Here to There: How To Put Your Anger to Use Pt. 3 by William Patrick Corgan
Everything From Here to There: How To Put Your Anger to Use Pt. 4 by William Patrick Corgan

Capitalism Reigns … True Democracy is Dead

Democracy is dead.  Capitalism reigns.

This has never been more clear than it is today.  For those of you who followed the Copenhagen summit for global climate change, I’m sure you’ll understand what I’m saying.  Last December, the Presidents, Prime-Ministers, and dignitaries from 192 of the world’s 197 countries met in Copenhagen, Denmark to discuss the global climate crisis.  [Ministers of five developing nations boycotted knowing full-well the resulting actions from developed nation’s leaders.]  As predicted, no substantial agreements were made at these very important meetings.  Nothing substantial enough to counter the the effects of climate change.  Nothing substantial enough for us to feel any pride for our leaders.  Instead, the leaders of developed nations did exactly what many would expect they would do.  

Stephen Harper, Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and many other leaders put more effort into protecting their economies than in becoming leaders of significant and necessary change.   They sought for agreements in 2020, well into the distant future, and well past their reign of power.

The summit has resulted in the Copenhagen Accord, in which the leaders who have signed have recognized climate change to be one of the greatest challenges faced in our time. Unfortunately, recognition is not enough.  We are way past the time for recognition.  This is a time for action, as quick and drastic changes are needed.  The Copenhagen Accord document that resulted from the summit outlines 12 proposed actions as set out in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change report (unfccc.int).  However, this Accord is considered by many to be a rather vague document in which there is no accountability for any real or immediate actions.   For many climate change activists, what is outlined in the Copenhagen accord is simply not enough, and many still consider Copenhagen to have been a failed opportunity that could cost the planet and its inhabitants dearly.

We cannot rely on our systems of government to make change.  They do not represent the people, they do not look out for the needs of the people.  Democracy has been hijacked.  We can not rely on our elected leaders to create the changes that are needed in order to protect ourselves from climate change.
Below is the tag cloud from a blog post that asked for the public’s reflections and perceptions of the COP15 summit and its resulting Accord.

Trees . . . I’ve Got Trees!

In much of my reading and viewing of information about the Necessary Revolution, I’ve been affected by the power of trees.  In Suzuki Speaks, David Suzuki talks quite inspiringly about the importance of trees on our planet, as do many important scientists in the film The 11th Hour.  At some point, through discussions with co-workers (namely Dylan Johns) I came up with the idea of getting trees for the students at our school. 

sustainabilityI have two tree planting projects in mind, one smaller, and one quite large (from my perspective).  I would like to plant trees indoor (inside our classroom) as soon as possible with my homeroom and with a couple of other teacher’s homeroom classrooms in the school as well.  The idea here is to have students take care of the tree seedlings for the rest of the school year, and at the end of the year, they will take them home to plant in their yard. 

The larger project that I have in mind is to provide one tree seedling to each of our students in the school – we have about 500 students and about 50 staff members at Martin Collegiate.  I would think that this would work best in the spring time – likely March or April.  Each student will take home a seedling to plant in their yard, or to plant in a place that they can be attached to.

ChariTree2Originally, I had attempted to get trees from our provincial crown power corporation.  That was a process that just didn’t feel quite right.  This corporation uses the waste heat produced by one of its power plants aid in growing over 500,000 seedlings each year which are ChariTreegiven away for various reasons and projects.   After finding the proper contact person, I was directed to some extensive paper-work.  Unfortunately, the application is somewhat of a lottery, through which I will have to wait until April to find out whether or not I will receive any of the requested tree seedlings.  I completed the application, but as I have stated, that just did not feel quite right. 

Shortly after, I found the Love Trees web-site of Andrea Koehle Jones.  Andrea is Executive Director of Love Trees as well as the ChariTree Foundation.  What a godsend!  She responded promptly, agreed that she thought my projects were great, and said that she was happy to provide trees for both of my projects as LoveTrees.cawell as shipping (so there will be no cost to me or our school).  After receiving such an exceptional response from Andrea, I did a little searching, and found out that she is also the author of the children’s environmental picture book The Wish Trees.  I bought the book as a gift for my girls (along with Suzuki’s Tree: A Life Story for me).The Wish Trees

“If children are going to make a lifelong commitment to protect the environment for themselves and future generations, they first need time to explore the wonders of nature,” said Andrea Koehle Jones, Executive Director of Love Trees.  She says one of the best ways to learn about the environment is to plant, care for and watch a seedling grow into a magnificent tree.

 I couldn’t agree with her more.  I know first hand how this has helped me.  Planting a tree from a seedling has made that tree special to me, and I still have the tree that I planted as a child.  This is exactly what I hope to see take place with this project. 

Andrea has notified me that Love Trees is a member of the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign.  The trees that we are planting will help the UN reach this very substantial goal.  I feel pretty good about that.

Gaia at Night . . . Mother is Sick

earthriseEarthrise is the name given to this photograph of the Earth taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission.  In Life‘s 100 Photographs that Changed the World, it was called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”  Photos of the Earth from space are so striking because they show how beautiful the planet is when viewed from a distance.  Such photos of Earth allow us to view our planet as one singular system, which we are a part of.  They remind us that we only have one Earth to work with, and that we depend on it for our survival.  Against the inky blackness of space, our home appears small and fragile, a living miracle of air, water, soil, and vegetation.

Such a worldview is particularly important in light of our growing human disconnect from nature.  As our smaller worlds have become more industrial and our lives have become more dependent on technology, we have begun to lose our essential connection to the natural world of which we are a part.  Most of the human beings on this planet live in cities and a great number of us spend most of our time wrapped in technology and manufactured goods.  Although it is of course true that humans are animals, we do not often like to be reminded of it.  Indeed most of us know that we are mammals, however, we think it an insult to be called an animal, be it a pig, a dog, monkey, what have-you.  Calling someone an animal is deemed as a derogatory statement.Gaia - Embrace - Banner

Of course there are some extremely significant factors that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.  We are after-all, or so we hope to think, the most developed communicators on the planet.  And of course we cannot overlook our mastery of tool making and technology.  However, although these factors do make us stand out from the other organisms that we share our home with, they do not separate us from nature.  We must not forget that we are nature.  This is why it is so important to spend time outdoors, in nature, and with wildlife.  This time allows us to reconnect with who we actually are.

The first photos of the Earth from space are very powerful because they remind us that our planet is alive – she is Gaia, Mother Earth, she is life – and because of her, we have life.  More recently a variety of photos [composites or collages more-so than actual photographs] have become very popular on-line.  These are the views of the Earth at night.  These assembled photos also provide us with very powerful perspectives of our home.  They allow us to visualize mankind’s extreme impact on the Earth.  From these composite images, we can clearly see densely populated areas of the Earth lit brightly.  We can clearly see the industrialized parts of the planet.  That is to say that we can see were the natural Earth has been converted into cities.  We can see where the natural Earth has been converted to man-made structures of concrete, wood, and steel.  That is to say that we can clearly see where non-renewable fossil fuels are being converted and used as electricity.  We can see where we live, and the impact we have made to our planet.

View The Earth at Night 2400x1200 NASAWhen I first looked at images of the Earth at night, I remember being struck by their power.  They are immediately grasping in their ability to communicate visually.  If we go by the old rule that every picture is worth a thousand words, then these collages of images certainly have something interesting to say.  As I have spent more time looking at these images, I am struck by the notion that the Earth looks sick.  The lights are symptoms of the spreading illness.  Man-kind’s current ways of thinking are destroying our planet.

Simulation of Earth at Night 410x410Now, this all seems very depressing, in a doom and gloom sort of manner.  There is however a positive spin that can be taken from these visuals.  That of course would be to understand the size and scope of impact that we have had in transforming our planet in such a small amount of time.  This is important only because there is still hope.  There is still time to reverse our effects.  Man-kind is not necessarily the cause of Earth’s sickness, but rather man-kind’s current ways of thinking.  We need to change the ways in which we think, consume, and pollute.  If we get the ball rolling towards new ways of thinking, we can have massive impact in very little time.  Our objective is to work towards a sustainable, healthy relationship with our home, Gaia, Mother Earth.

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UPDATE:

This post is receiving significant traffic, often in the amount of several hundred reads each week.   Do me a favour.  Just leave a quick response, and let me know who you are and how you came across this article.  I’m curious to know who’s reading.  If you’d like to share your thoughts about the article, that would be great.

Thanks for reading,

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Ryan