Applied Zooetics

An Online Customisable Syllabus Of Radical Hope

1 Zooetics

Zoe and bios both mean life in Greek, but they are not synonymous.  Zoe… refers to life in general, without characterization. Bios characterizes a specific life, the outlines that distinguish one living thing from another. Bios is the Greek root for ‘biography,’ zoe for ‘zoology.

Zooetic, or zoetic, means living or vital. It is in use today to address the paradigm shift in science, culture and society expressed in the concept  of the Anthropocene.  The Anthropocene Project is a multidisciplinary body of work combining fine art photography, film, virtual reality, augmented reality, and scientific research to investigate human influence on the state, dynamic, and future of Earth.  It is a quest  to explore new ways of engaging human knowledge and research for humankind to exist along with the rights and freedoms of other forms of life and to imagine designs, prototypes and interfaces to apply artistic reasoning for the conservation management of future interspecies ecosystems. 

Applied Zooetics can be understood as “Framing the Anthropocene in Art”.  Once an impaired ecological interface of the transition/contact zone between humans and ‘nature’ is framed as art, a work of art emerges. The process never leaves the viewer unaffected  Understandings of the meeting place and its cultural value are consolidated and expressed in love, respect and care.

In his book, The Silent Earth, Dave Goulson, writing about the cultural value of insects says:

“For me, the economic value of insects is just a tool with which to bash politicians over the head. They only seem to value money, so I point out to them that insects contribute to the economy. But if I’m honest, their economic worth has nothing whatsoever to do with why I try to champion their cause. I do it because I think they are wonderful. The sight of the first brimstone butterfly of the year, a flash of golden yellow wings in my garden on the first warm day in late winter, brings joy to my heart. Similarly, the chirrup of bush crickets on a summer’s eve, or the sound of clumsy bumble-bees buzzing among the flowers, or the sight of a painted lady butterfly basking in the spring sunshine after her long migration from the Mediterranean — they all soothe my soul. I cannot imagine how desolate the world would be without them. These little marvels remind me what a wonderful and fascinating world we have inherited. Are we really willing to condemn our grandchildren to live in a world where such delights are denied them?”

A special feature of zooetics is that the concept engages with shifts in contemporary understandings of nature by applying arts reasoning to express sustainability.  Works of art are not merely representations of the way things are seen but function to reveal and evolve a community’s shared understanding of its environment. Each time a new artwork is added to any culture, the meaning of what it is to exist in that culture is inherently changed.  From this point of view all art is ecological.  While borders draw divisive lines, frontiers are ecosystem transitions and contact zones.  Diversity is always richest in areas where different ecosystems meet: This is the edge effect which attracts artists. 

An example of applied zooetics is the pioneering project launched in 2016 by the UK National Trust and the GoldenTree production company to express the impact of coastal erosion on the loss of landscape heritage along the Cornish Coast.  It demonstrates the application of arts reasoning to express a complex system of conservation management  Five artists worked at three different harbours and beaches that are protected by the National Trust – Penberth, Mullion Cove (Fig 1) and Godrevy. Each artist’s residency produced a performance or installation that became part of a program of public activities during the final weekend of October. It costs the National Trust around £3,000 per mile along the coast to care and maintain these outstanding coastal areas for the benefit of people and wildlife. It is thanks to membership, donations and volunteers that the charity is able to attempt this. Their message to the public was; complete protection is desirable, but beyond their financial resources. They are in retreat.

Fig 1  Mullion Cove

The objective was to offer people a chance to experience the outdoors in a different way, beginning with art, to deepen their understanding and value of the science of care and conservation that goes into preserving the outdoors and the future these coastlines might have.  

Introducing the project, Ian Marsh, general manager for West Cornwall said: “The National Trust’s core purpose as a charity is to look after special places for ever, for everyone. But under the influence of the sea many places along the Cornish coast are crumbling, shifting and falling away and we need to be able to understand this and respond to the challenges this poses to us”.

“With climate change and rising sea-levels the issues of erosion are becoming increasingly stringent. Perpetually reinforcing harbour walls and cliff faces has proven to be unsustainable. So, as part of caring for a place we sometimes have to let nature take its course. As part of this process we have commissioned GoldenTree to start communicating with local communities, exploring the changes we can expect to see in the long-term.

Penberth Cove saw the creation of a film by renowned Cornish filmmaker Mark Jenkin and Interviews with local people. Images of the cove were captured on a clockwork camera, and the black and white film was hand-processed and set to an original soundtrack by a local musician, Rick Williams.

At Mullion Cove performance-maker Louise Ann Wilson  transposed ideas of palliative care of people onto this ‘dying’ harbour. Learning from a palliative nurse and engaging local residents by creating ‘rituals of retreat’, she created a walking performance.  Called Mulliontide,  it was based on a walk from Poldhu Cove to Mullion Cove that focused on a much-loved landscape and explored the places where land, sea and people met. The performance noticed the effects of tide and time, acknowledged deep feelings for place and recognised the challenges of change – personal and topographical. Mulliontide was created by Wilson in collaboration with residents of Mullion who also performed the work. Moving from station to station along the coastal path, the performance invited participants to notice specific landscape features and layered them with memories, photos, songs and actions in order to think about belonging, loss and repair.  

At Godrevy, Dutch artist Titia Bouwmeester made a work that responded to and worked with the tide and sea. For more than a month Bouwmeester filmed the coastal landscape of Godrevy, capturing how the tide drew patterns on the beach, the daily choreography of hikers, surfers and farmers and the moon’s arc across the sky. Monumental projections were screened in the closed setting of a barn where 24 hours became 24 minutes. The audience witnessed how the landscape changed from dawn till dusk. A specially composed soundtrack completed the cinematic experience, immersing the audience in a hypnotic flow of image and music.

The natural environment is under pressure, and the thinking behind Mulliontide was that artists would be able to tell these stories and the story of the Trust’s part in sustainable conservation care, that will bring a new experience and understanding to people who visit these places. All events became part of a three-day programme, subtitled ‘Miss You Already’ assembled, around the theme of coastal change. People were able to visit the installation at Godrevy and join the performance at Mullion, enjoying the artwork and reflect on questions such as what is the best way to retreat? What will we lose when? What does change look like exactly? How can one reduce the pain that comes with losing something that is loved?  The message was that the intellectual content of art is altogether different from the intellectual content of science.  

Addressing the problem of defining art and science the 19th century the zoologist Thomas Henry Huxley said   “The subjects of all knowledge are divisible into the two groups, matters of science and matters of art; for all things with which the reasoning faculty alone is occupied, come under the province of science, all things which stir our emotions, come under the term of art.”

However, the pleasures one receives from the application of either art or science, have a common source. These pleasures arise from the satisfaction received in tracing the central theme of whatever a person is interested in at the moment in all its endless variations.  They demonstrate the truth of unity in variety. The process of comprehending the symbols used to express an idea of the moment is both intellectual and aesthetic.  It is intellectual because it is the mental picture which comprehends the laws governing any particular science or art; and it is esthetic because it is the feelings which determine the amount of emotional pleasure one can derive from them. But the ends are different. Scientific reasoning has as its end in the attainment of truth. Artistic reasoning has for its end the attainment of pleasure. 

2  Education  in the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene (Fig 2) is a proposed geological epoch dating from the commencement of the significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, human induced climate change.

Fig 2 A landscape of the Anthropocene

The UNESCO publication ‘Rethinking Education Towards A Global Common Good (2015), asks three questions relevant to education in the Anthropocene.  What education do we need?   What is the purpose of education in the current context of societal transformation? How should learning be organized?

UNESCO’s answers are :

Question 1  Education should  be  constructed  on  four pillars: 

  • learning to know, 
  • learning to do; 
  • learning to be 
  • and learning to  live  together.  

The belief is that giving  equal  attention  to  each  of  these  four  pillars will ultimately enrich all the facets of education, including those that are more narrowly professional.

Question 2  The one continuing purpose of education, since ancient times, has been to bring people to as full a realization as possible of what it is to be human. Other statements of educational purpose have also been widely accepted, namely: 

  • to develop the intellect;
  • to serve social needs;
  • to contribute to the economy;
  • to create an effective work force;
  •  to prepare students for a job or career;
  •  to promote a particular social or political system. 

The broader humanistic purpose of education includes all of the above to encompass every dimension of human experience and take every opportunity in curricula to connect with the targets of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy

Question 3  Let students lead the learning because learning takes place best in environments where students feel empowered to learn. Effective teachers are more like moderators/mentors, offering inspiration and guiding students to discover for themselves. Giving students the opportunity to be self-learners guarantees lifelong learning.

Question 4  Create an inquiry-based classroom environment.  If students are to lead the way to learning, they need to be able to ask questions – and then find the means to answer them. Students (and teachers) need to “wonder out loud” as they reflect on their learning, answering questions such as What do you Know? What do you Want to know? What have you Learned?, which can guide students toward true self-motivated learning.  

Question 5  Encourage collaboration because we are greater than the sum of our parts. An effective classroom is a sharing classroom. Students are social beings.  Find every opportunity to allow students to form pairs and small groups. Not only does this encourage the development of speaking and listening skills, but it also teaches students how to effectively achieve goals together.

Fig 3 Curriculum development in the Anthropocene

At a basic level, the pedagogy for curriculum development in the Anthropocene is founded on assembling and distributing authored information packages (AIPs), each consisting of a picture/graphic with a legend, which can be assembled as zooetic mind maps about how to live sustainably (Fig 3).    An IT slideshow is a collection of virtual AIPs.  A ‘flash card’, a ‘tweet’ and a postcard are also AIPs. They can all be traced back to Orbis Pictus, or Orbis Sensualium Pictus (Visible World in Pictures), a book for children written by Moravian-German educator John Amos Comenius and published in 1658. It was the first widely used children’s textbook with pictures, published first in Latin and German and later republished in many European languages. The revolutionary book quickly spread around Europe and became the defining children’s textbook, imparting life skills, for centuries.  

All kinds of AIPs can support classroom and distance learning about how to live sustainably.  The differences between them are the systems of delivery.  In this context, AIPs can be assembled as narratives delineating learning pathways to engage practically with the United Nation’s 2030 sustainable development strategy.  This puts nature first in all that we do and and orientates civilization toward non material ends.  It is a new  life skills  package of ecocacy,  to be taught alongside literacy and numeracy for people to prosper within an overcrowded planet. Life skills are essentially those abilities that help promote mental well-being and competence in young people as they face the realities of life.  

Most development professionals agree that life skills are generally applied in the context of health and social events. They can be utilized in many content areas: prevention of drug use, sexual violence, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS prevention and suicide prevention. The definition extends into consumer education, environmental education, peace education or education for development, livelihood and income generation, among others. In short, life skills empower young people to take positive action to protect themselves and promote health and positive social relationships across cultural divides. 

William Ophuls calls the picture/graphic a ‘pattern’ and a collection of AIPs is a mind map delivering knowledge in ‘pattern language’.   A pattern language is needed  to make ecology the master science of our age.  We need to stop thinking of ourselves as somehow above or outside the natural systems that support us.

3  Hope, ecology and art

In 2016, Amy Franceschini was shortlisted in the Artes Mundi competition at the National Museum and Galleries of Wales.  She traveled to Cardiff from Oslo by boat, retracing the migratory journey of seeds, to explore the politics of food production and the countries that our foods originate from. Her legacy was the idea that an art installation can apply arts thinking to explain sustainability. In Wales it led to the formation of the S.K.O.M.E.R Collective, linking art with science to demonstrate sustainability knowledge organised to manage environments responsibly.  Inspired by Futurefarmers and the Flatbread Society the S.K.O.M.E.R Collective is centred on a free forum entitled ‘Educating for Change’ allowing people to freely participate in creating a syllabus of radical hope .The knowledge framework is cultural ecology,  an interdisciplinary, social concept (blog).  It contrasts the old sustainable relations of people to the land with the present-day worldwide scramble for scarce natural resources and the global environmental damage of unsustainable mass production. These days, everyone has their own mind map of cultural ecology. These personal projects, under the acronym S.K.O.M.E.R, chart the behavioural changes required to manage the flows of materials and ideas between people, ecosystems and place for a smooth social continuity of belonging between generations. Skomer is also a small Welsh island nature reserve where ideas of syllabus reform first emerged in the 1950s and eventually led to UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme

In early July 2017, the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, together with University of Texas, Austin hosted a two-day workshop on “Radical Hope.”  It brought together 21 people from a variety of continents and disciplinary perspectives to explore and exchange ideas on ‘hope’ as a renewable and essential educational resource in an age of change.. Their proposition put to an abused world was that it…..”is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.  In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope”.  

Ultimately we cannot rely solely on a science-dominated syllabus to provide intellectual content for human survival. In science, intellectual content is truth to fact and the deductions and generalizations which can be made from facts. Science has little to say about meaning, love and hope.  The intellectual content of art is truth to nature. But this truth is relative for it depends entirely upon the intellectual culture of the artist and the person to whom art is addressed. A syllabus of hope for life post 2030 requires a flexible curriculum that integrates art and science, alias culture and ecology, in equal measure.

Fig 4  Reflecting and developing empathetic practices in a post fossil fuel world

Four years before the  radical hope workshop, ‘Frontiers in Retreat’ (Fig 4) had begun as a five-year long collaborative inquiry, funded by the European Commission, into the educational  intersections of art and ecology.  It was a collaborative enquiry involving 25 artists working between nations’ frontiers and network of arts residencies.  Their aim was to generate an understanding of the connections between local ecological concerns and processes of global warming. The proposition was that ecological concerns cannot be considered as purely environmental concerns, but should be understood as complex problems that transgress the borders/frontiers of disciplines and nations. The assumption was that artists uniquely have an innate ability to develop modes of knowledge for the understanding of complex co-dependencies between ecological, social, economic, and political phenomena. This ability to cross frontiers between long established subject disciplines is required in general for humankind to adapt to climate change, harnessing the richness in artistic reasoning as a critical form of engagement with people, places and change.  Indeed, we might hope to find the three activities‒art, science, politics‒triangulated in a syllabus of radical hope through our lives.”

In this context, Ann P. Kahn, Former President of The National PTA, wrote, “The creative arts are the measure and reflection of our civilization. They offer many children the opportunity to see life with a larger perspective… The moral values we treasure are reflected in the beauty and truth that is emotionally transmitted through the arts.”  Furthermore, Shawn Ginwright, an national international expert on youth development, has pinpointed the crucial role of hope and healing in achieving positive youth outcomes.  He says, “Youth development and civic engagement strategies designed to engage America’s most disconnected young people will only be successful to the extent that they address hopelessness and create opportunities to heal from socially toxic environments and structural violence. Success is dependent upon healing from these issues.”

Arts education is uniquely effective at meeting this need because it is a natural source of healing, hope, imagination and agency.  Learning how to identify and creatively address the effects of psychological, physical, emotional and historical trauma is becoming a critical aspect of the work of art educators, both in and out of school.  Imagining, but also having a space to create, is essential to adapt to social change and understand civics. Community art-based educational programs that express sustainability sow the seeds of social change, progressive ideas, and a sustainable future.  Therefore, art instruction integrated with science provides more to communities than just the art itself: it is the key ingredient to a better world.  In this context, prosperity is gaining something that was hoped for and is not focussed on accumulating monetary wealth.

4 A provisional syllabus of radical hope

The world is changing rapidly at the speed of Arctic’s melting ice – education must also change to keep up with global warming. Societies everywhere are undergoing deep environmental transformation, and this calls for new forms of learning to foster the competencies that societies and economies need, today and tomorrow. This means moving beyond literacy and numeracy, to focus on ecosacy to gain competence or knowledge in conservation management of ecosystems and take new approaches to learning for greater justice, social equity and global solidarity. 

Education in the post 2030 Anthropocene will need to be interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary cross-disciplinary, intersectional, ecofeminist/posthumanist, indigenous, and participatory. Participatory approaches are needed because people have to learn to work together and live with climate change and the other local features of the environmental crises, as well as working across cultures and genders in addressing environmental issues.  In particular, any kind of syllabus has to be unified by the theory of evolution with its roots in human ecology.  The idea that human activities have launched Earth into a new geologic epoch is an attempt to encourage a deep view of the coevolution of life and planet, as well taking a long systemic view of the future, which requires calling for a fundamental rethinking of human-habitat relationships.

Broadly speaking a syllabus of radical hope is defined in relation to two biochemical categories of Earth’s life forms, autotrophs and heterotrophs, separated by the way in which they feed on carbon compounds (Fig 5). Autotrophs are organisms that synthesize their own carbonaceous food from carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis.  Heterotrophs are not capable of photosynthesis and so have to obtain food by eating autotrophs or other heterotrophs. All heterotrophs are animals, including humans, and all plants are autotrophs.  This is the modern biochemical knowledge framework for living sustainably.  It recognises human heterotrophy is a cultural adaptation that taps into Earth’s ecosystems, competing with other animals and plants for space. Humankind is winning the competition and  species extinction is now unfolding because of it.  We are witnessing the sixth such event of mass extinction in Earth’s history and humankind, which is just one among millions of “cousin species”, has initiated the die-off heralding the age of the Anthropocene.  To survive, humankind has to define and manage an interspecies democracy in solidarity with non-human “people”.  

Fig 5  Autotrophs and heterotrophs; humankind’s cousins

More and more we are hearing that we have to find new ways to become sustainable and the Anthropocene debate is behind one of the most ambitious global scientific programmes of the past two decades. The main argument is that, from a geological point of view, humans are considered the major force of nature, thus implying that our current geological epoch is dominated by human activity. New cross curricular knowledge frameworks that transcend 19th century single subject curricula are needed to help people find a meaningful life in decarbonised economies.  Education in the Anthropocene requires examples of participatory, collaborative approaches to cultural ecology for living with global warming.  Routes for out of school individualised learning are urgently needed now for people to cross cultures and genders, assembling their own personal body of knowledge, through lifelong learning, as they go.  Earth has already reached its first tipping points like the Antarctic glacier melt and each of us has to adopt a unique way to manage our way out of the crisis within the targets of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. 

 Wolfgang. Haber, reflecting in 2007 on economy and competition as general driving forces of human social evolution, framed the issue of human survival as follows:

“Energy, food and land are the principal, closely interrelated traps; but the absolutely decisive resource in question is land whose increasing scarcity is totally underrated. Land is needed for fulfilling growing food demands, for producing renewable energy in the post-fossil and post-nuclear era, for maintaining other ecosystem services, for urban-industrial uses, transport, material extraction, refuse deposition, but also for leisure, recreation, and nature conservation. All these needs compete for land, food and non-food biomass production moreover for good soils that are scarcer than ever. We are preoccupied with fighting climate change and loss of biodiversity; but these are minor problems we could adapt to, albeit painfully, and their solution will fail if we are caught in the interrelated traps of energy, food, and land scarcity. Land and soils, finite and irreproducible resources, are the key issues we have to devote our work to, based on careful ecological information, planning and design for proper uses and purposes.

Conservation management is the activity that binds planning and design to the targets of the 2030 Agenda.  A conservation management system (CMS) is simply a recording and filing tool that aids and improves the way in which heritage assets are managed and kept in a favourable condition (Fig 6).   Its prime function is to keep track of the inputs, outputs and outcomes of projects to meet measurable objectives. The aim is to promote efficient and effective operations, and allow recording of the work that was done and reporting on whether or not the objective was achieved. A CMS also enables the exchange of information about methods and achievements within and between organisations. These are essential components of a CMS of any scale, whether a national park, or a village pond.

Fig 6  The UK conservation management system: the planning cycle

5  Personalised learning

Twenty-first century students at all levels live in an interconnected, diverse and rapidly changing world. Emerging economic, digital, cultural, demographic and environmental forces are shaping young people’s lives globally, increasing their intercultural encounters on a daily basis. This complex environment presents an opportunity and a challenge. Young people today must not only learn to participate in a more interconnected world but also appreciate and benefit from cultural differences. Developing a global and intercultural outlook is a process – a lifelong process – that education can shape.  Also, education must now be about learning to live on a planet under pressure. It must be about cultural literacy, on the basis of respect and equal dignity, helping to weave together the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. This is a humanist vision of education as an essential common good inspired by the UNESCO Constitution, agreed 70 years ago.  Education is key to the global integrated framework of sustainable development goals. Education in environmental management is at the heart of our efforts both to adapt to change and to transform the world within which we live. Indeed, a quality basic education within the logic of environmental management is the necessary foundation for learning throughout life in a complex and rapidly changing world.  

David Greenwood, in 2014, voiced the question: “Are schools relevant to the complex realities of a changing planet? Or, do they mainly serve an outdated vision of an industrial society that is turning rapidly into a complex mix of decline and transformation?”  They are probably irrelevant with respect to the way they operate.  Technology, screens, devices and the internet have become almost ubiquitous in our lives, and that is as true for infants as it is for adults. Students feel comfortable interacting online with others and often see it as a similar experience to being in-person interaction. While it is impossible to recreate the entire in-person learning experience online, advances in technology and the comfort level of students and teachers in using these technologies make it more likely that online learning will continue to spread.

Changes in curricula are defined by the speed of internationalism.   New knowledge is being produced ever more rapidly year on year, and there is continuous pressure to turn that knowledge into new skills, new career paths, new business models and new lifestyles.  The big issue is that students are spending too much time in classes that will get them nowhere and not enough time in classes that will actually help them in life and their careers.  Personalized learning addresses the latter issue by tailoring pedagogy, syllabus, curriculum and learning environments to meet the needs and learning styles of individual learners. Personalization is broader than just individualization or differentiation in that it affords the learner a degree of choice about what is learned, when it is learned and how it is learned.  Therefore students should be able to choose their own classes because it would prepare them better for the real world. Students would have more motivation to learn and come to school if they were given the opportunity to choose their own classes instead of being required to take certain classes in order to graduate.  When students have the ability to choose what they would like to learn about, it makes them more eager to engage with the material.  To take a military metaphor, schooling prepare learners for the review rather than the battle.  In essence, personalized eLearning enables students to customize a variety of the knowledge elements involved in the online education process. This means that they are asked to set their own goals, go at their own pace, and communicate with instructors and other students to personalize the learning process. Ideally, the student is placed in charge of managing his/her own learning and is able to customize the experience by having a direct say in the processes and content that is being provided.  Mind mapping is vital to making a personal understanding.

The following five provisional pillars of an international democratic syllabus of radical hope were produced by a group of international students sponsored by International Classrooms On Line.  They can be customised by individuals to assemble personal pedagogies and curricula for lifelong learning to live sustainably (Fig 7).

Fig 7.   Mind map of a syllabus of hope


(i) In Wales, Personal and Social Education (PSE) is a school subject that helps children develop:

  • as individuals;
  • as members of families; 
  • as members communities.

(ii) PSE is the foundation and thread of a learning framework together with  ‘Rights and Freedoms’, Learning To Be Inclusive, ‘Managing Global Warming‘, the Application of Arts Reasoning to Express Sustainability. A Curriculum Relating to Environment and Sustainability

In order to obtain information on the variety of curricula that might emerge for individualised learning a polled forum was created which listed the following ten themes.

1 Become a citizen managing change

2 Redefine Economic Growth

3 Learn To Be Inclusive

4 Link Culture With Education (currently has the least hits)

5 Create New Knowledge Frameworks

6 Learn About Empathy

7 Promote Education For Change

8 Apply Arts Reasoning To Explain Sustainability (most hits)

9 Oats, Peas, Beans And Barley Grow

10 Awaken the Ecologist Within

6  Internet references

Rethinking Education

Education in the Anthropocene

Global Competency for an Inclusive World

Artists to Interpret the Impact of Coastal Erosion

Why Students Should Chose Their Own Classes

Photos of the Anthropocene

Radical Hope Syllabus

Embedding Sustainable Development

Educating for Change Forum

Orbis sensualium pictus

Making a CommunityAction Plan

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