Rescue Mission: Agenda 21

The Schools and Communities Agenda21 Network

SCAN (1996-2016)

Denis Bellamy

First SCAN Coordinator


Produced by International Classrooms on Line

1  Rescue Mission: Planet Earth.

Earth Day Earth Day is an annual event, celebrated on April 22, on which day events worldwide are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970, and is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network and celebrated in more than 193 countries each year.

On Earth Day 1996 a committee of Welsh teachers and advisors was established in the St Clears Teacher’s Resource Centre to respond to a manifesto produced by an international group of young people.  The aim of the latter was to set up a global democracy of young people for action on  matters related to environment and development.  The group was funded by the United Nations to produce and publish ‘Rescue Mission Planet Earth’ (also known as ‘The Children’s Agenda 21’), a user friendly version of the Rio 1992 global strategy for sustainable development, enlivened with personal poems and art.  The St Clears Committee was sponsored by the Texaco Pembroke Refinery, and the Countryside Council for Wales with administrative support from Dyfed County Council to establish a Welsh Rescue Mission under the name of SCAN, the ‘Schools and Communities Agenda 21 Network’.  This was a Welsh contribution to the Rescue Mission initiative.  The objectives of SCAN were in line with the 1996 UN vision of  educating for a sustainable future within a transdisciplinary vision for concerted action. In its early days, the SCAN HQ was based in the Department of Zoology at the National Museum of Wales.  The SCAN network of schools is still run from the museum helping schools promote Education for Sustainable Development by enabling students to take part in investigations and access free sustainability resources.  The Museum network now concentrates on supporting and promoting a project to use the experimental  flowering of spring bulbs as an indicator of climate change.  

SCAN spread from Wales into England, where it encountered Halesworth Middle School and a teacher, Jill Pirrie, who had demonstrated that. poets can be eloquent tour guides on the journey to sharpen our awareness of nature, connect with our planet and take action on its behalf. Poetry distills the essence of things, invites us to inspect the details of our lives and helps us see what we might not otherwise see. Combine environmental poetry with children’s sense of wonder and natural delight in language and you have a powerful and joyful way to nurture ecological values in young people.  Halesworth was keen to demonstrate that quite ordinary young people can condense their environmental experiences into words and pictures and they produced a digitised version of their poems as models for other young people to emulate.

SCAN’s international presence is now coordinated by  International Classrooms on Line (ICOL) which maintains promotes the making of local action plans for sustainability with a collection of web sites, wikis mindmaps  produced by teachers to promote education for sustainability.  A selection of the digital resources are included in this document, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of Rescue Mission.  It has been produced as a summary of the Rescue Mission pedagogy and curriculum.

Regarding pedagogy, it is expected that students will explore the impact of humankind on Earth’s natural resources.  They will place themselves in the bigger planetary picture. They will integrate skills in language, arts, social studies and science while working through this quest to build their own personal body of knowledge to help improve their local environment and also make practical contributions to the well-being of future generations. This body of knowledge with its ideas and achievements will be reported using web-based presentation media. 

2 Objectives

The educational aim of SCAN is to understand and publicize why and how we have to solve problems of living sustainably. The process of learning is based on three objectives of action-education.   The objectives are presented below as an integrated process in eight steps,aimed at gathering, understanding and presenting information about current environmental problems that confront everyone and which have to be solved with action plans to ensure the well being of future generations.

Objective 1. Understand we are part of nature in everything we do by undertaking actions to live sustainably. 

By adopting Agenda 21 in 1992 the international community recognized that by making plans for economic development, all countries are inevitably coupled to the ecosystems of all other nations.  In particular, supermarket shopping knows no national boundaries.  Agenda 21 calls on governments to adopt national strategies for implementing Agenda 21 at all levels of society by promoting the use of renewable resources.  The UK has adopted Agenda 21 and it is the duty of local authorities to promote a Local Agenda 21 in which communities contribute to produce and operate neighbourhood action plans.  In this connection it was the conclusion of the UN’s Rescue Mission team that it is important to enable communities to lead local renewal projects with a neighbourhood-scale approach.  This is the most cost-effective way to ensure our neighbourhoods, villages, towns and cities are fit for future well-being and create the conditions for people to thrive. Through empowering community groups to come together to tackle issues of local priority, and to work in co-production partnership with local government  and businesses, multiple benefits can be delivered. Upgrades to our physical infrastructure together with behaviour change to consume less, are appropriate responses to climate change.  The outcomes to make our communities safer, more cohesive and resilient, are the delivery of reliable and efficient transport networks, improvements in health, security of self-sustaining ecosystems, commitments to the long-term supply of  housing and maximum employment opportunities. Schools have a role to play here by using the community served by the school as an outdoor laboratory to teach students how to plan local environmental improvements.

All these benefits require changes in our day to day behavior as consumers, which can be used as indicators of an understanding that we are an integral part of nature, limited by Earth’s ecological capacity to support Homo sapiens as just one species among many..

Objective 2  Understand the connections between global warming, climate change and economic inequalities .

A major transnational theme for living sustainably is the need to find ways of  turning strategies of Agenda 21 into action plans on the ground in order to eradicate inequalities.  Poor people need more access to the resources they require to live sustainably. In this respect, the richer nations are a source of funding to help less rich nations develop in ways that have lower environmental impacts.

Beyond monetary aid, rich nations can help to build the expertise— the capacity— to plan and carry out sustainable development decisions in poor nations. This will require the transfer of information and skills to developing peoples, as the prime objectives of international aid programmes.  We can measure our understanding of the connections between global warming, climate change and inequalities  by how much we give to aid programmes to combat the effects of climate change.  The role of Welsh schools is to make links with schools in the developing world to help them implement the Agenda 21 strategy, sharing ideas and achievements.  

Objective 3  Make an updated local version of Rescue Mission Planet Earth

The young people who produced the 1994 Rescue Mission had the objective of creating a global democracy of children to make their voices heard  in an adult world.  They proposed to do this by networking individual and group action plans for living sustainably.  Their vehicle was to be a citizen’s environmental network.  The latter was actually  envisaged in the British plans for sustainable development and biodiversity.   They failed in this task because the Internet was in its infancy.  Now, social media is available freely to everyone to spread ideas and achievements and create a digital democracy against poverty and environmental protection.  

3  Routes to living sustainably

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As an educational process the creation of a digital democracy involves 

meeting three objectives in six steps

Objective 1: Understand we are part of nature in everything we do

   Step 1  Study the resources

First, read the blog ‘Learning for the future’, which introduces the ideas of ‘action education’, and has  links to Rescue Mission Planet Earth and to ‘Cultural Ecology’, which provide  a bigger cross curricular framework of worlds within worlds connecting people with environment.

Second, read the progress report on the implementation of Agenda 21, published in 2012

   Step 2  You will calculate your carbon footprint after interviewing everyone in your household.

Then answer the following questions to design an action plan to live more sustainably, which is to be implemented in your house.

WHERE AM I NOW? This is where you, along with your family members, review your carbon footprint together.

WHERE DO I WANT TO BE? This is where you decide what your specific actions are for reducing your negative impact on the environment. You must be honest and realistic in this step so that your objectives are achievable. We all want to make our impact zero, but we have to start small and gradually improve.

HOW DO I GET THERE? This is where you make a plan to schedule the work needed, step by step, to achieve your objectives . It is important to have some indicators by which the plan’s outcome can be monitored.

HOW DO I COMMUNICATE ACHIEVEMENTS  You will make an advertisement- a brochure, poster, Facebook page or other advertising medium- that will convince your neighbours and  people from all over the world that your solutions are doable and necessary.

Objective 2:  Understand the connections between global warming,climate change, and economic inequalities.

Since the Rio Summit, global warming has been singled out as the world’s most important threat to sustainable development.  It is important to understand global warming because it is the outcome of the production of greenhouse gas emissions from mass production that have global consequences for climate stability, regardless of where they come from. Tackling climate change therefore requires coordinated action by nations around the world and all nations are party to international legislation that aims to achieve this by:

  • Adapting to climate change   
  • Mitigation (i.e. reduction) of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Technology development and transfer to move away from the use of carbon energy.

   Step  3   Visit the following web site which gives answers to 16 questions about ‘climate change’.

    Step 4  Read through Ramez Naam’s blog

Make a comparison between the issues Naam has highlighted with those in Rescue Mission.  

Objective 3: Make an updated version of ‘Rescue Mission Planet Earth’

    Step 5  Go to the following website for ideas about the logic of writing action plans

    Step 6

From the ideas and information you have encountered in Steps 2-7, work individually or in a group, and choose 3  environmental issues that you feel are the most severe and/or urgent for the world community to tackle.  Make a Rescue Mission presentation using: typed text and visuals (either saved pictures from web sites, google images or clip art) created slides, that demonstrate your knowledge of these issues and the severity of the situation.  Read the anthology of poetry produced by the young people of Halesworth School to focus international environmental issues.

Use Rescue Mission Planet Earth as a template.

Your advertising needs to be well written and include at least a paragraph of information about each solution. You should also include at least two visual representations about each of the 3 solutions you present in your advertising medium.  The more creative and convincing the better and remember your global audience!

This presentation of the Rescue Mission/SCAN project celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the work of the original Rescue Mission team, who were united in the aim of galvanising young people throughout the world to take action and help maintain the resources of our planet for the well-being of future generations.  The educational goal of this WebQuest is for individuals and groups to produce their own updated Rescue Missions, act upon them locally and communicate their ideas and achievements using the Internet.

4 An international framework for action

While sustainability is a long-term goal for human society and a process which will necessarily need to take place over time, there is a sense of urgency to make progress quickly before ‘time runs out’. We are therefore faced with a tremendous challenge, a challenge of unprecedented scope, scale and complexity. We are pressed to act even as we are still working out new concepts and new methodologies. We are pushed to change structures and mindsets, yet there is no obvious path, no model which shows the way. Experimentation and innovation are the watchwords, as we search – often simply through trial and error – for adequate solutions. And we must do all this in a climate of sweeping economic, social and political change, while being exhorted to ‘do more with less’.

We do have an internationally negotiated framework for action which has been hammered out during the series of United Nations conferences dealing with different aspects of sustainable development, beginning in 1992 with Rio (environment and development), and followed in 1994 by Cairo (population), in 1995 by Copenhagen (social development) and Beijing (women), and in 1996 by Istanbul (human settlements). Each of these conferences, as well as the three conventions on biological diversity, climate change, and desertification, contain explicit recommendations or whole chapters devoted to education and public awareness. The international consensus which these agreements represent is a solid and comprehensive basis for moving forward.

At the heart of this new international consensus is a new vision of education, public awareness and training as the essential underpinning for sustainable development, a linchpin to support advances in other spheres, such as science, technology, legislation, and production. Within the action plans, education is no longer seen as an end in itself, but as a means to:

  • bring about the changes in values, behaviour and lifestyle that are needed to achieve sustainable development, and ultimately democracy, human security and peace;
  • disseminate knowledge, know-how and skills that are needed to bring about sustainable production and consumption patterns and to improve the management of natural resources, agriculture, energy and industrial production;
  • ensure an informed populace that is prepared to support changes towards sustainability emerging from other sectors.

These action plans have to be implemented not only for international institutions such as the United Nations system, but also and most importantly, by national and local entities. A range of ‘major groups’ – including women, youth, farmers, parliamentarians, scientists, business and industry and others – are called upon to participate, as well as governments and non-governmental organizations at all levels.

5 Social Context

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Cultural ecology

Ecological resilience is defined as the amount of disturbance that an ecosystem could withstand without it slipping into a new irreversible state.  As nations strive to improve economic welfare, human consumption patterns are triggering unprecedented disturbances in ecosystem services.  These disturbances are now exceeding Earth’s renewal capacity.  About a quarter of the Earth’s land area is now highly degraded.  Rivers and lakes are drying up, groundwater aquifers are getting depleted, oceans are becoming acidified, and more than a third of global fisheries are overfished . Over a quarter of the world’s reef-building corals have been listed as threatened and biodiversity is declining at rates not seen since the last mass extinction 65 million years ago, which saw the end of the age of dinosaurs.

In fact, the current environmental crisis emerged as an issue of cultural five decades ago when it was highlighted by Barry Commoner in his book ‘The Politics of Energy’, published in 1979.   Commoner called for a national U.S. policy for the transition to a culture based on renewable energy .  He wanted Americans to use solar rather than conventional power, trains rather than automobiles, and methane, rather than petrol.  These proposals ran up against powerful vested interests and basic American habits and preferences.

The Road to Rio

Nevertheless, Commoner’s views on the relationship between culture and ecology were endorsed by the international community in the 1987 Brundtland Commission’s report entitled ‘Our Common Future’. Five years later the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) brought 179 heads of governments together in Rio de Janeiro. This 1992 world summit created a plan, called Agenda 21,  to implement the agreements of Rio and guide business and government policies into the 21st century. It identifies population, habits of consumption and technology as the primary cultural driving forces of uncontrolled environmental change.  It proposes what needs to be done to reduce wasteful and inefficient patterns of human consumption, while carefully managing ecological resources to ensure their availability for future generations.  This is known as the principle of sustainable development.  The UK was one of the first nations to endorse Agenda 21, publishing the UK Sustainable Development Strategy in January 1994.

Living sustainably

Agenda 21 is an optional strategy for organisations and individuals to take up the challenges of living sustainably. The common objective is to reconcile different and sometimes opposing values and goals toward what ecosystems can provide and what people desire from them; i.e. it says there has to be a new balance between ecosystems and culture.  This requires coordination of mutual action to achieve multiple values, simultaneously and even synergistically. However, as real-world experience since 1992 has shown, achieving agreement on sustainability values, goals, and actions is often difficult and painful work.  

Criticism of the Agenda

 Diverse stakeholder values are forced to the surface, compared and contrasted, criticized and debated. Sometimes individual stakeholders find the Rio strategy too difficult or too threatening to their own values and either reject the process entirely to pursue their own narrow goals or critique it ideologically, without engaging in the hard work of negotiation and compromise that is needed to accommodate scientific realities. Most of the attacks on Agenda 21 come from libertarians and other political conservatives who do not like being told how to behave for the good of the planet.   Instead of negotiating over those policies and trying to make them more subject to free-market principles, they have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science.  The most extreme version of denialism is to claim that scientists, supported by the United Nations, are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public so that governments can gain greater control over people’s lives.  

Imagine the future

Critique is nonetheless a vital part of the conscious evolution of sustainable development.  Living sustainably is a concept that, in the end, represents diverse local through global efforts to imagine and enact a positive vision of a future in which basic human needs are met without destroying, or irrevocably degrading, the  ecosystem services on which we all depend.

6  Teacher’s Notes

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A culture of despair

Educators in the mid 1990s  were shocked by the results of a Gallup Poll taken a few years after the Rio Environment Summit, which  reported that 70 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds believed the world was a better place when their parents were their age, and 56 percent said it would be worse for their own children. Many said that they live for today and see no hope for their future.  This  educational mismatch between classroom and reality still exists.  In 2016, the Gallup CEO, Jim Clifton, argued that the well-being stakes are higher than they were for previous generations because for many young people, the notion of a good job now represents far more than financial security and the ability to support a family. ‘Millennials’, in particular, are searching for jobs that also serve as a source of fulfillment and self-expression: “If your job doesn’t have meaning, your life doesn’t have meaning,” Clifton said. “So if employers are not dealing with purpose, they’re not dealing with the whole individual.”

The need for a new alignment of education

In the mid 1980s,  I was part of a team in the University of Cambridge producing a subject for living in an overcrowded world . Called ‘natural economy’ the new subject was designed to position humanity in the education system as only one of a myriad of living beings on a small planet with finite natural resources. In other words, the study of natural economy was needed to inculcate the reality that from now on we have to remain in balance with Earth’s ecological productivity and teach the principles and practice of living sustainably.  The Cambridge subject was designed to replace geography and biology in the GCSE syllabus.  

This educational specification stresses the fact that the natural economy curriculum was inevitably a cross curricular one. Sadly, natural economy failed to root in the face of the creation of a UK-wide national curriculum which was created by single subject teachers, politicians and their specialist advisors. Nevertheless, natural economy continues as a very successful on line educational framework entitled ‘cultural ecology.  Cultural ecology is based on the idea that a human culture for living sustainably has to be maintained by the coupling of capital entrepreneurship with social entrepreneurship; the former is focused on the market to generate monetary capital which the latter taps into in order to increase human well-being.     

The problem is that teachers are generally reluctant to teach through broad, interdisciplinary projects, preferring smaller, discrete, “testable” facts. Interdisciplinary projects require collaboration with other teachers and departments, which, in turn, requires resources, skills, and time not readily available in many schools today. Also, cross curricular topics are difficult to examine because the complexity of the knowledge framework means that each student given the opportunity will take an idiosyncratic approach to mind mapping, concentrating on those topics from a huge menu  that interest them.  Also, very little research has been undertaken to identify effective methodologies to teach within this educational framework for attaining specific goals and monitoring outcomes.  Such data would substantially increase the credibility of the efforts of educators committed to educating youth to have the knowledge, skills, and values to succeed from an employability perspective in an ever-changing world. Most reforms in this direction have concentrated on narrow windows of scope and sequence with little regard for a unified vision of higher social purpose..

Looking to the future

As individuals in a rapidly changing society, our greatest challenge is to ensure a high quality of life for our children and grandchildren.  The costs of taking a despairing view of an education system inherited from a past culture aimed at  producing specialists to exploit natural resources, with no regard to the needs of future generations, are high; such pessimism results in many youth never reaching their potential.   Future historians will be amazed at the way we will have squandered our plentiful resources because we have an out of date education system that is failing to create an equitable, intelligent cosmopolitan society that could have been sustained for eons. 

Education for sustainability is about learning to make and understand the connections and interactions between complex systems. Therefore, an education system fit for purpose in the 21st century should  engage successfully in sustainable development, by training students to think holistically.  But students also need to understand how forces external to their lives affect the outcome of their desired futures and how their actions have an influence beyond their immediate day to day sphere. Many  efforts for curriculum reform are underway to help students understand and value the place where they live. Many local environmental and historical groups offer interdisciplinary curricula that celebrate and inform about local ecology, heritage, and culture.  Students exposed to these local schemes should be able to compose a full view of sustainability, leading to enlightened personal action at the individual, neighbourhood and global levels. In this respect it is important for  the school to use the community it serves as an outdoor laboratory to meet the following educational objectives:

  •  deep understanding of complex environmental, economic, and social systems
  •  recognition of the interconnectedness of these -systems in a sustainable world
  • respect for diverse points of view from cultural, racial, religious, ethnic, regional, and intergenerational perspectives.

The concept and practice of designing sustainable communities is very important in moving toward a sustainable world. Good community design accounts for environmental and social attributes and is bound by economic reality. Many initiatives for social improvements and future well-being focus on community because it is the largest organizing scale appropriate for engaging a student because “ It is where I live”. “It is where I derive my sense of place”. And it is a good point from which to move from abstract classroom ideas to reality.

Routes to the future

No one knows in detail what the future holds or what will work best.  For this reason we should think not of a single massive reorganization or of a single revolutionary, cataclysmic change imposed from the top, but of thousands of conscious, decentralized experiments from grass roots that permit testing new models of political decision making at local and regional levels in advance of their application to the national and transnational level.  Education has a role to play in all age groups.  At primary level, an awareness of local environmental deficiencies can be revealed by a class answering the questions; What is good and bad about where we live?   What should be done to make improvements?   How can young people do their bit and urge adults to action?   Issues can be reviewed and improvements monitored as the students pass through their local school system to the higher grades.   These questions were the basis of the Schools in Communities Agenda 21 Network (SCAN) that was set up in the Welsh county of Dyfed in response the Rescue Mission Planet Earth.  Sadly, it failed to root because of the embryonic state of the Internet and the break-up of Dyfed as a unitary local authority.From this point of view the Rescue Mission WebQuest revisits SCAN as a matter of learning lessons from a past initiative of Welsh teachers and encouraging others to use the Internet and follow a similar route.  

This route can start with a postcard database communicating what primary children think about where they live; i.e.what they like or don’t like and what should be done about the bad things .  At a higher level a class could work with its community to produce a rescue mission to manage its ecosystem services into the future


YPPG’s  serve as a beacon of empowerment, offering young individuals the opportunity to participate in discussions, debates, and policy formulation on issues that impact their well-being. By encouraging active involvement in decision-making processes, these groups instill a sense of ownership and responsibility among children, fostering a deeper connection with their communities and society at large. Through meaningful participation, children develop critical thinking skills, empathy, and a heightened awareness of social issues, equipping them with the tools necessary to become informed and engaged citizens.

Fostering Democratic Values:

At the heart of Children’s Parliament Groups lies the promotion of democratic values and principles. By creating a space where every voice is heard and valued, regardless of age or background, these groups cultivate a culture of inclusivity, respect, and tolerance. Through democratic practices such as elections, debates, and consensus-building exercises, children learn the importance of cooperation, compromise, and respecting diverse perspectives. This experiential learning not only strengthens their understanding of democratic processes but also imbues them with a sense of civic duty and responsibility towards shaping a fair and just society.

Building Leadership Skills:

Children’s Parliament Groups serve as incubators for leadership development, nurturing the next generation of visionary leaders and change-makers. Through opportunities to hold leadership positions, organize events, and initiate projects, children learn to harness their leadership potential and drive positive change within their communities. These experiences help them develop essential leadership qualities such as communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and resilience, laying the foundation for future success in both personal and professional endeavors. Moreover, by empowering children to lead, Children’s Parliament Groups challenge traditional notions of leadership and inspire a new generation of inclusive and empathetic leaders who prioritize the collective well-being of society.

Promoting Social Justice and Advocacy:

YPPGs play a crucial role in promoting social justice and advocacy by providing a platform for marginalized voices to be heard and amplified. Through discussions on topics such as child rights, education, health care, and environmental sustainability, children learn to advocate for issues that affect their peers and communities. By raising awareness, lobbying policymakers, and organizing campaigns, they become agents of change, driving forward agendas for a more equitable and just society. In doing so, YPPGs empower children to become advocates for themselves and others, ensuring that their voices are not only heard but also acted upon.

8  A selection of Learning resources


‘Rescue Mission: publication’

Rescue mission: webquest

One Wales now

SCAN resources2

Notions about nature

Nature quest

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