Archive for November, 2021

Managing the Biosphere

Wednesday, November 17th, 2021

“biosphere community reserves

Radical changes in society are needed for responding to climate change, and for transforming to sustainability. It is increasingly clear that people everywhere will need to learn to transform to sustainability in ways that are socially just, peaceful and ecologically sustainable.  ‘T-learning’ refers to transformative, transgressive learning in times of climate change.  Yet, we know little about the type of transformative, transgressive learning (t-learning) that enables such change

1 Conserving the human condition

Fig 1 Conserving the human condition for political involvement in combating climate change.

In her book The Human Condition in 1958, Hannah Arendt wrote of how humanity had become alienated from ancient Greek understandings of the human condition (vita activa).  For the Greeks, a democratic culture was based on three kinds of activity: labour (animal laborans), work (homo faber), and politics (zoon politikos). Arendt believed the modern understanding of the human condition had become stranded on, and oriented towards, only one kind of activity, namely, labour and its instrumental reasoning.  In philosophy, instrumental rationality refers to the pursuit of a particular end goal, by any means necessary.  For example, the most efficient or economical approach to achieve a goal might also be an approach that causes environmental degradation or could be detrimental to human life.

The Greeks understood all matters of biological life and death to abide in the realm of labour. In this framework, labour is the relationship a person has to her body and the bodily functions of others. It is “the activity which corresponds to the biological process of the human body, whose spontaneous growth, metabolism, and eventual decay are bound to the vital necessities produced and fed into the human life process by labour.”  Labouring is simply what we do to survive.

Labour operates on and addresses the world of animal needs: placenta, shit, food, drink, shelter, pleasure, productivity, and abundance.  

Arendt calls these needs the “burden of biological life, weighing down and eventually consuming the specifically human life-span between birth and death” on Earth.  Labour is what humans do to maintain, enhance, and reproduce life. 

This natality is its key action, whether represented via Mother Earth nurturing life or animal mothers relentlessly pushing out their offspring.  Labour operates in the realm of intimate biological functions and family relations.

In contrast, work begins with an idea and the worker attempts to materialize it, in a durable form. In doing so the worker assembles an ‘artificial’ world of things, distinctly different from all natural surroundings.  Labour makes biological beings whereas work is based on creativity of objects.  It fabricates the world within which the products of workers are used by the so-called working class. The ultimate purpose of work is to offer mortals a dwelling place more permanent and more stable than themselves.  Work gives collective meaning to what we do. When we work to produce something we both put something into, and leave something lasting, in the world. Already in the 1950s, Arendt was worried that capitalist consumption would transform work into sheer labour. If we all make only to consume, we leave nothing in the world, and we lose that shared sense of the world. 

But neither labour nor work defines the full human condition. They are the grounds on which humans can express their presence through a third form of activity, namely, political action in the public sphere.  Political action is the opposite of labour. Labour focuses on the inner necessities of biological life and its intimate desires and passion.  its sphere of action is the home.  Politics defines the public sphere of action which operates openly in a shared common world where the exchange of ideas occurs directly between people without the intermediary of made things.  Political activity is valued not because it may lead to agreement or to a shared conception of the good, but because it promotes the idea of active citizenship, based on the value and importance of civic engagement and collective deliberation about all matters affecting the community. 

Labour, work and politics come together to define humanity as the manager of the biosphere, where the objectives are to to create a democratically organised dwelling place for living sustainably in the biosphere.  Therefore, the three categories of behaviour that define the human condition are the core elements of a balanced pedagogy to conserve the human condition for political action from an educational baseline where everyone is a global citizen (Fig 1 ). 

2 Biosphere Reserves

The term ‘biosphere’ was invented by geologist Eduard Suess in 1875, which he defined as “the place on Earth’s surface where life dwells”. Therefore the concept has a geological origin.  The biosphere’s ecological context comes from the 1920s, preceding the 1935 introduction of the term “ecosystem” by Arthur Tansley (see ecology history). Vladimir Vernadsky defined ecology as the science of the biosphere. As a part of nature in all that we do, we are managers of the biosphere, from clearing a forest to grow a field of beans, to building an apartment block to house people migrating from countryside to city (Fig 2). 

Fig 2  The biosphere as a managed ecosystem.

The concept of ‘biosphere reserve’ emerged from the programme of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) of which it constitutes an essential part. Biosphere reserves are ‘learning places for sustainable development’.  Each site promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located.

The primary function of Biosphere Reserves (BRs) is the conservation of plant and animal genetic resources, which involves research on ecosystem management for conservation, the training of specialists, and environmental education. ‘Biosphere Reserve’ is an interdisciplinary concept for integrating astronomy, geophysics, meteorology, biogeography, evolution, geology, geochemistry and hydrology.  BRs are being progressively integrated into a world-wide network of ‘representative ecological areas’ that is intended to cover all major representative natural and semi-natural ecosystems.

Some argue that BRs hold the key to a much needed paradigm shift toward education for sustainability.   At a minimum, they begin to address some of the concerns listed in Agenda 21.  These concerns include “the deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being […], social and political tension, [and] a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations”  

The flexibility and versatility of BRs is that they essentially incubators for sustainable development and scientific research into the natural world.  When the Canadian Tsá Tué Biosphere Reserve was established in 2016, covering a total surface area of about 9.3 million hectares, it became the first BR to be completely managed by Indigenous people.  In fact, the direct involvement of the local population in the management of BRs, together with the maintenance of research and monitoring activities in them, constitute the best guarantee for long-term conservation of genetic resources on a world-wide basis.  

3  Transboundary BRs 

Transboundary BRs have been established to recognize and strengthen coordinated management of socio-ecosystems across borders: political, organizational, linguistic, cultural breaks, and removal of barriers to the management of shared ecosystems and the economic development of indigenous populations. They promote the coordinated management of these ecosystems and define their place in a common history and culture. 

A Transboundary BR is first and foremost a cooperation between established Biosphere Reserves.  UNESCO formally designates it as a Transboundary BR if certain conditions are met: a political agreement between the states concerned, a common zoning that promotes the spatialization of conservation and development issues, the identification of local and national partners and the establishment of a governance mechanism.  One of the strengths of the Transboundary Biosphere Reserve is that it provides a flexible and adaptive conservation working environment.

There are currently 727 biosphere reserves in 131 countries, including 22 transboundary sites, that belong to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. There is no legal basis underpinning these designations but they are a way to increase collaboration among governments to advance conservation efforts and associated sustainable practices.

4  Biosphere Community Reserves

Biosphere Community Reserves are places where local residents and businesses have joined forces to;

  • Help to conserve the natural resources of their community
  • Support the economy to benefit local people and nature
  • Promote cultural heritage and local products
  • Contribute to the health and well being of the community
  • Develop knowledge and understanding 
  • Promote research.
  • Establish an ECO-learning centre

They conform to community boundaries and are overseen by locally elected councils. Biosphere community learning includes a range of community place-based and outreach learning opportunities, managed and delivered by local people to define scenescapes. Scenescapes are:

… shared activities, 

…features that define a neighbourhood or place

…the presentations of locally generated aesthetics of a place.  

Development of scenescapes was an aim, emanating from the UK sustainable development plan, to bring together people of different ages and backgrounds to tackle community issues and communicate ideas and achievements in citizen’s environmental networks.

The UK Government bases its vision of sustainable development on four broad objectives:

  • Social progress which recognises the needs of everyone;
  • Effective protection of the environment;
  • Prudent use of natural resources; and
  • Maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.

The UK Sustainable Development Strategy recognises that everybody has the right to a healthy, clean and safe environment. This can be achieved by reducing pollution, poverty, poor housing and unemployment. These are local issues that fall within Biosphere Community Reserves and by tackling them locally, a Biosphere Community Reserve contributes to the alleviation of global environmental threats, such as climate change and poor air quality, which must be reduced to protect human and environmental health. 

The UK Strategy is a catalyst for change. Its ten guiding principles are summarised as:

  • putting people at the centre;
  • taking a long term perspective;
  • taking account of costs and benefits;
  • creating an open and supportive economic system;
  • combating poverty and social exclusion;
  • respecting environmental limits;
  • the precautionary principle;
  • using scientific knowledge;
  • participation and access to justice;
  • making the polluter pay.

In respect of all these matters they function as systems for handling data and information to produce knowledge about the development of the local community.  The objective is to enhance the human condition by providing opportunities to integrate labour with work and politics in a Biosphere Community Reserve System  (Fig 3).

Fig 3  The main elements in a Biosphere Community

There are six main elements in a Biosphere Community Reserve System.  These are:

(i)  Biosphere Community Reserve

A Biosphere Community Reserve is a delineable area of the earth’s terrestrial surface.  It  can encompass all attributes of the biosphere immediately above or below this surface. including the near-surface climate, the soil, terrain forms and the surface hydrology.

(ii)  Public sphere

The public sphere is an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action for the public good.  In this context, a community council is a voluntary organisation run by local residents to act on behalf of an area of land which they occupy. As the most local tier of elected representation, community councils play an important role in local democracy.  They are composed of people who care about their community and want to make it a better place to live.  As well as representing the community to the local authority, community councils facilitate a wide range of activities which promote the well-being of their communities. They bring local people together to help make things happen, and protect and promote the identity of their community. They advise, petition, influence and advocate numerous causes and cases of concern on behalf of their communities. In other words the objectives of a community council are to devise or promote projects, such as economic development and environmental improvements that enhance the human condition.

(iii)  Conservation management hub

A conservation management hub is a local organisation, such as a country park or a nature reserve that ECO-learning centres can turn to for examples of professional conservation planning, where the community can see a plan in action. The management hub is a template for learning about the principles of conservation management that can be applied through ECO-learning Centres to ensure that the Biosphere Community Reserve  is managed wisely by focussing key actions, to protect and where possible enhance the environment and facilities.  In this respect the plan chosen as an exemplar should have been produced following a number of site surveys; a review of available ecological, historical and other information; and liaison with appropriate bodies. It should focus upon achieving a realistic balance, between a range of issues that include:  nature conservation, maintaining and enhancing the historical landscape and its cultural value, providing appropriate facilities for public recreation and enjoyment and encouraging opportunities for education in all aspects of the site’s ecology, history, culture and landscape. 

(iv) Local History Hub

In the United Kingdom (and particularly in England and Wales) the term ‘county record office’ usually refers to a local authority repository, also called county archives.  Such repositories employ specialist staff to administer and conserve the historic and the semi-current records of the parent body. They usually also preserve written materials from a great variety of independent local organisations, churches and schools, prominent families and their estates, businesses, solicitors’ offices and ordinary private individuals.

(v)  ECO-learning Centre

An Eco-learning centre is a growing phenomenon, which encourages young people to engage with their local environment by allowing them the opportunity to actively protect it. The activities begin in the classroom, expand to the school and eventually foster change in the community at large. It is a practical expression of the Earth Charter, an international declaration of fundamental values and principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. The Charter seeks to inspire in all peoples a sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family, the greater community of life, and future generations It calls upon humanity to help create a global partnership at a critical juncture in history. 

The Earth Charter’s ethical vision proposes that environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development, and peace are interdependent and indivisible. The Charter attempts to provide a new framework for thinking about and addressing these issues in schools and the communities they serve.

(vi)  Scenescapes

According to Daniel Silver and Terry Clark, “scenes” can be defined in three ways: 

  • a shared activity, such as a city’s “jazz scene” or “coffee scene”; 
  • features that define a neighborhood or place, such as the “SoHo scene” (in many large cities) or the “San Francisco scene”; 
  • “the aesthetic meaning of a place”, which has more to do with personal and social sense of place and place attachment as seen in how people activate places and assign meaning to them. They are therefore places of learning about place differentiation, place making, and landscape studies (Fig 4).

Fig 4 Recording theKing Edward Street Scenescape: Green Garw Project

5 Green Garw

In 1993, Groundwork Bridgend in South Wales was commissioned by the Garw Valley Community Council, with the support of the Local Authority, (then Ogwr Borough Council and now Bridgend County Borough Council) to produce a strategy for environmental improvement in the Garw Valley. After consultation with the community, the Garw Valley Green Strategy was formulated.  This is an early example of regenerative thinking and an effort to shape an equitable future in a former coalfield community.  Green Garw was new way of imagining our place within a rapidly changing world. The aim was to produce a Valley wide ‘regenerative’ mindset that understands the world as a series of reciprocal relationships, where humans and ecosystems rely on one another for health, and shape their connections with one another.

Groundwork Bridgend and its Garw Valley Partners secured over £2 million from the European Regional Development Fund and from the Millennium Commission to fund the Strategy’s programme of improvements. These are the Community Route linking the valley to Bridgend County Borough’s Access-for-All network of routes, the installation of a valley passenger line and the improvement of eight sites in the villages of Blaengarw, Pontycymer, Pontyrhyl, Llangeinor and Betws.

In 1997 eight schools in the Garw Valley, and 15 teachers, participated in Green Garw, a project initiated by the Garw Community Council in partnership with Groundwork Bridgend,  to engage schools and the families they served with local plans for sustainable development. 

This emerged in schools as a standardised procedure to set up eco-learning centres to collect information about what is good and bad about the local environment and what should be done to improve the bad things.  

The other dimension of these, bottom up  local environmental appraisals was to carry out a  colour survey of the valley. 

Colours have a most profound influence on the way we perceive the world. Different colors are connected to different feelings and emotions.They present a meaning beyond language and logic. Using colors is a remarkable way to alert the sense of our inner world.  The imaginative experience of artistic reality, which is acquired in seeking aesthetic value, is no less concrete or less conclusive than that which is acquired in scientific research.  

Vision is the first sense that we use to obtain a perception of space.  It affects the observer’s state of mind, as well as the understanding of the place from where the observation is made. Colour is present in each and every one of the elements of a landscape, contributing, on the one hand, to give it a particular character, and on the other, to establish the chromatic synthesis of a landscape image.  

The outcomes of both kinds of appraisal were published as the Garw Green Guide. The Guide is intended to be a useful data reference to assist the community and its organisations in a unique environmental improvement programme.  It is an important milestone in the history of school/community interactions, a demonstration showing how schools can assist the community they serve in a unique programme of environmental improvements.  

At the time of the Garw appraisals, the Natural Economy Research Unit (NERU) was set up in the National Museum at Cardiff with EU funding to pilot the idea of establishing school/ community ECO-centres throughout Wales.  NERU incorporated the Green Guide into this programme of work, known as SCAN, the Schools and Communities Agenda 21 Network, which was created and evaluated by Pembrokeshire schools

6 Youth-led environmental appraisals

The concept of Biosphere Communify Reserves, with its emphasis on conservation management after grassroots environmental appraisals, is an example of transformative, transgressive learning to support global citizenship. A global citizen is someone who is aware of and understands the wider world and their place in it. They take an active role in their community and work with others to make our planet more peaceful, sustainable and fairer. Global citizenship helps young people to build their own understanding of world events and encourages them to become involved in acting locally.  This was the goal of the first youth-led conservation management project that was a response to ’Rescue Mission Planet Earth’,a radical syllabus for hope  published by an international group, consisting of thousands of young people, from over 100 countries, who were invited to the 1992 Rio Environment Summit.  They envisaged a global network of schools and the communities they served as a democratic eco-learning system. The objective was for them, as members of local communities, to participate in the management of relationships between culture and ecology, according to their skills and vision of the future, in order to live sustainably.  Its latest manifestation is the programme adopted by the The Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace (MGIEP) and Sustainable Development[1], UNESCO’s category-1 research institute.  This is a youth-led, technology-enabled, crowdsourced Global Monitoring Framework for any community-centered issue and learning (which can also be in line with any of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

The project, which aligns with the ‘Rethinking Youth’ programme at MGIEP, is in partnership with 4th Wheel Social Impact, a youth-led organization working towards strategizing, monitoring and evaluating social programs across India. This is also a collaborative effort with the T-Learning network, a collective of initiatives world-wide exploring the modes of learning for sustainability.

Like Green Garw, the Indian project is structured in three phases: Phase 1 involves understanding the existing context; Phase 2 consists of consultations and workshops for a preliminary data collection to understand the population and community issues; and Phase 3 involves using the insights gained to build a technological platform (or app) for sustained monitoring of management and learning.  The Rethinking Youth programme  is represented as a system (Fig 5) and Green Garw as a common protocol (Fig 6). 

Fig 5 Crowd sourcing system

Fig 6 Global model for community/youth-led environmental appraisals.

“Global bad things you can become aware of but can do nothing about.  Local bad things you can become aware of and can do something about”.

7 Internet References

Social change in rural Gujarat

Local Crowd Sourcing Campaign 1

Local crowd sourcing campaign 2

Mother Earth

The human condition

New Beginnings

 The Human Condition; Magritte

Colout in the Forest

Reshaping the Human Condition

Colour Picker

Digital bridge

Global Citizenship