Author Archive

Cultural ecology of human rights and freedoms

Wednesday, March 16th, 2022

Historically we have constructed our classrooms with the assumption that learning is a dry, staid affair best conducted in quiet tones and ruled by an unemotional consideration of the facts. The field of education, however, is beginning to see the potential power of emotions to fuel learning, informed by contributions from psychology and neuroscience. Sarah Rose Cavanagh argues in her book, The Spark of Learning, that if  educators want to capture a students’ attention, harness their working memory, bolster their long-term retention, and enhance their motivation, rhey should consider the emotional impact of their teaching materials, style and course design. To make this argument, she brings to bear a wide range of evidence from the study of education, psychology, and neuroscience, and she provides practical examples of successful classroom activities from a variety of disciplines in secondary and higher education.  With respect to human rights education there is no doubt that a photograph has this emotional power.

1 Visualising human rights

Fig 1 Ukraine 2022

Ukrainian soldiers rushed to aid a family hit by Russian mortar fire, Sunday, 6th March, but there was little to be done. Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Human rights are fundamental rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. They represent protection of our basic needs, as well as the conditions we need to flourish as human beings. These rights have corresponding responsibilities, of governments to their citizens, and of individuals to each other and to their wider communities. It is important that young people understand these rights and responsibilities. This will help to protect them, empower them and enable them to become responsible and active citizens.

When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948, photography was considered a ‘universal language’ that would communicate across barriers of race and culture.

Images are a crucial way of disseminating ideas, creating a sense of proximity between peoples across the globe, and reinforcing notions of a shared humanity. Yet visual culture can also define boundaries between people, supporting perceived hierarchies of race, gender, and culture, justifying arguments for conquest and oppression. Only in recent years have scholars begun to argue for new notions of photography and culture that turn our attention to our responsibilities as viewers, or an ethics of spectatorship.  Visualising human rights is about the diverse ways that visual images have been used to define, contest, or argue on behalf of human rights. Images are powerless in themselves but are empowered by people using them to interpret their relations to each other in specific situations. As a knowledge system within the theme of cultural ecology they bring people together to develop visual practices promoting human rights around the globe.  Such practices not only involve the use of photos but also graphic displays such as diagrams and mind maps (Figs 1-3). 

Human rights is an interdisciplinary issue and there’s an avalanche of (mis)information.  That’s why human rights barrister Adam Wagner founded EachOther (formerly called RightsInfo). He particularly wanted to make sure that complex human rights issues could be understood by anyone and to dispel many of the myths that surround it.  Beyond Words are creative pioneers in data visualization and information design for this purpose.   International Classrooms On Line has tackled this problem using mind mapping to expose the cultural ecology of human rights and freedoms.

Fig 2 Human rights explainers

Fig 3 Part of rights and freedoms mind map.  See full map at:

2 Human rights: some principles

Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. . .

Preamble Universal Declaration of Human Rights

…every individual and every organ of society. . .shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms. . .

Preamble Universal Declaration of Human Rights

This Universal Declaration of Human Rights [is] a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations . . .

Preamble Universal Declaration of Human Rights

All human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. 

World Conference on Human Rights Vienna 1993

Liberty does not consist in mere declarations of the rights of man. It consists in the translation of those declarations into definite action.

-Woodrow Wilson Address July 4, 1914

All human rights are universal, indivisible,interdependent and interrelated.

World Conference on Human Rights Vienna 1993

 Human rights are a part of British history, from the Magna Carta to the suffragettes. The Second World War was fought on these principles and since then, the UK has played a leading role in drafting and promoting human rights standards. It has chosen to ratify a number of international human rights instruments and human rights will continue to play an important role in the UK’s constitutional and domestic legal arrangements, whether it is through the Human Rights Act or a Bill of Rights. Moreover, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the UK is legally obliged to teach about children’s rights.

Jack Snyder with Robert and Renée Belfer take the view that despite current international difficulties, liberal democracy based on rule of law and the full panoply of human rights is by far the most successful form of social organisation yet invented. No democracies ever fight wars against each other, and no country other than the oil states and Singapore have reached the wealth of one-fourth US GDP, without adopting a thoroughgoing liberal order, including human rights. Snyder and the Belfers discuss the backlash against liberals who promote human rights by shaming.  Indeed, it is widely accepted that ‘naming and shaming’ is no longer an effective tool in the hands of Western governments who wish to exert pressure on governments in other parts of the world to curb abuses of rights. In the era of populist politics of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, resistance to shamers, who are seen as overbearing, alien, decadent, elitist, and cosmopolitan, is a global trend. Snyder and the Belfers make the point that shaming is a potentially very powerful weapon that can easily backfire in the hands of the wielder. Human rights are so important that they need to be promoted effectively, not jeopardized by the unintended consequences of shaming.

Jack Snyder defines shaming in the context of human rights advocacy. . Personal shame implies a defective personal trait that may be difficult to remediate. Group shame distinguishes between routine social practices with low cultural importance as opposed to expressions of culture that are important to the group’s fundamental identity.   It is emotionally charged public criticism that denounces or humiliates human rights violators and their abettors in a way that targets the essence of an individual’s identity.  Shaming normally involves verbal characterizations of behavior as ‘shameful’ or ‘inhumane’, but simply naming violations for which amnesty is legally forbidden (genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity) can be considered inherently shaming.

Human rights advocates continue to use shaming as a central tool despite recognizing its declining effectiveness. Shame is indeed a potent motivator, but its effects are often counterproductive for this purpose. Especially when wielded by cultural outsiders in ways that appear to condemn local social practices, shaming is likely to produce anger, resistance, backlash, and deviance from outgroup norms, or denial and evasion. Shaming can easily be interpreted as a show of contempt, which risks triggering fears for the autonomy and security of the group. In these circumstances, established religious and elite networks can employ traditional normative counter-narratives to recruit a popular base for resistance. If this counter-mobilization becomes entrenched in mass social movements, popular ideology, and enduring institutions, the unintended consequences of shaming may leave human rights advocates farther from their goal.

To be effective, criticism should:- 

  • be respectful; 
  • be focused on the deed rather than a possibly irremediable character flaw; 
  • be aimed at repairing the social rift;
  • be forceful reminders of principled standards; 
  •  be directed to everyone, not just those at risk of misbehavior;
  • come from insiders to the social group, or outsiders who are widely respected and seen as sympathetic;  
  • compare standards with their own prior performance, not shamed by comparison to neighbours and rivals;
  • not insist on using the language of legalism and universalism; 
  • acknowledge the validity of local normative systems;
  • use generic language of respect and fairness that travels across normative systems; 
  • reserve legal talk to subject matter where outsiders have patently legitimate standing, such as respect for legal due process as a condition of doing international business.
  • advance compliance standards not as moral or even legal imperatives but as technical advice for succeeding at a task. 

Ruling circles in developing countries who are sceptical about human rights are nonetheless keen to gain wealth, technological sophistication, advanced medical services, and other desirable trappings of modernity, many of which flow from advanced liberal democracies and the global capitalist system that liberal states run. States with rights compliance shortfalls tend to be much more enthusiastic about the looser ‘rights-based approach’ of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which loosely link good governance targets and indicators to tangible development assistance. This removes human rights advocacy from the realm of shaming and locates it nearer to management consulting.  Most violations of international law seem to stem from incapacity. Sometimes fixing organisational and technical problems can facilitate rights compliance. In cases that lack a favourable setting for human rights shaming, performance indicators might be more usefully designed as constructive diagnostics for institutional reform than as tools for shaming.

Kristen Neff believes that self-compassion has three core components—kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness—and the fierce and tender aspect of each has an important role to play in the social justice movement. Kindness provides warmth, love, and understanding when we’re hurting from the pain of injustice but also spurs us to be brave and courageous as we try to correct it. Common humanity helps us feel connected to others as we acknowledge that oppression harms everyone, and also empowers us as we bond with others in the struggle for equality. Mindfulness allows us to turn toward and be present with the pain of discrimination and also provides the clarity needed to call it out

Finally, the credibility of human rights as a standard for social behaviour depends on how attractive and dynamic the liberal international order is. It also depends in part on whether people can see themselves and their identity group fitting into that order successfully. This means that a top priority for promoting human rights is restoring the stability of the liberal order and tailoring rights initiatives to the prevailing conditions in places where abuses are occurring. The social psychology of emotion suggests that transnational shaming is unlikely to make a constructive contribution to those efforts.

3  Rights to ecosystem services

Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are key for enjoying a broad range of human rights, including those for food and health. In turn, exercising human rights, such as public participation and access to information, can foster stronger action for conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems. People in rural areas who directly depend on biodiversity for their survival are exceptionally vulnerable to limitations in access to biodiversity and biodiversity loss. Understanding and acting upon synergies between biodiversity and human rights can play a key role in the transformations required for sustainability in line with the 2030 Agenda, including achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (Fig 4).

Fig 4 Ecosystem services

The human rights based approach (HRBA) to ecosystem services provides the legal ground and principles to empower boys, girls, men and women to claim their human rights as rights holders, and to increase the capacity of those who are obliged to respect, promote, protect and fulfil those rights as duty bearers. Application of the HRBA in its development to cooperate with people living in poverty entails a focus on both what is aimed to be achieved, through standards in human rights treaties and laws, and how to do it, based on the human rights principles of non-discrimination, participation, transparency and accountability. 

States, as the main duty bearers of human rights, have the obligations to Respect (i.e. not violate the right to freedom of opinion and expression which is a challenge, for example, for rural people dependent on local biodiversity that live far away from cities and the courts); Protect (i.e. implement laws and mechanisms that prevent violations of biodiversity and ecosystem-related rights by state and non-state actors), and Fulfil (i.e. progressive measures that further the realisation of rights to education, health and culture until they become a reality, which is closely related to continued access to biodiversity for food and medicinal uses for many communities that directly depend on ecosystems for their livelihood). 

Diversity of cultures have evolved by peoples’ close interaction with the natural environment as the basic source of all sustenance: biodiversity has and is providing food, medicine, clothing, shelter, and all other material needs, as well as of physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. People have developed detailed local knowledge of plants, animals, and ecological processes, and therefore also contributed to the shaping and preservation of the cultural landscape. This is the background for why indigenous peoples and local communities often contribute effectively to the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity, and must become active defenders of environmental rights. Poor and marginalised people are often prone to be more vulnerable to the negative impacts and effects of deteriorating ecosystems in lack of alternative income, livelihoods and information. Human rights may have individual as well as collective dimensions. For example, the cultural rights of indigenous peoples entail elders transmitting ecological knowledge, including the intrinsic and cultural values, to younger generations, which in turn contribute to safeguarding the biodiversity to which their culture is linked. The universality, interrelatedness, interdependency and indivisibility of all human rights are also principles of HRBA. One of the benefits of using HRBA in policies and programmes that embrace the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services, is that they specify the rights and responsibilities of actors building on extensively agreed norms as well as interpretations of human rights systems. Many state constitutions also include human rights and relevant provisions for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems.

4  Human rights approach to governance

The Goals and visions of the 2030 Agenda are agreed at global level, but a large part of their implementation takes place locally. To make things work, we need all levels.  The bold decisions required to achieve the SDGs can only be carried through when those who are governed feel included and understood by those who govern. SDG 16 calls for effective institutions at all levels. One determinant of effectiveness is the way institutions work together across levels.

Reference sheets have been provided to facilitate coordination and integration of biodiversity conservation with key sectors at USAID by using a common format to present the interests of these sectors and opportunities for integration through collaboration, co-funding or single sector funds. These sheets are intended to be used throughout the program cycle by 

environment and non-environment officers alike (Fig. 5).

Fig 5 Biodiversity integration reference sheet

Laws and policies for conserving and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems are complementary to human rights instruments. One of the means to contribute to biodiversity protection is to provide effective mechanisms for defenders of biodiversity and ecosystems, either to individuals or collectively such as to indigenous peoples or local communities living in areas under exploitation by others, to exercise their civil and political rights without fear of persecution. Examples of these cases include the right to access biodiversity-related information as the basis for the rights of women, men, girls and boys to be able to participate meaningfully in public consultations concerning environmental impact assessments or spatial planning in rural or urban settings.  The right to freedom of opinion and expression is also exercised when denouncing cases of non-compliance with biodiversity regulations by the extractive industry (e.g. mining, forest or oil extraction). Civil society organisations play an important role in facilitating the public participation of communities as well as expressing the concerns of the affected peoples in national, regional and global fora. In practice, important challenges exist in the institutions needed for guaranteeing the rights of environmental and land rights defenders who play a key role in protecting a diverse range of biodiversity and ecosystems. Those opposing large-scale projects with significant impact on ecosystems and on-site biodiversity conservation may face risks to their personal integrity and even their lives. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has said that those working on land rights and natural resources are the second-largest group of defenders at risk of being killed. 

Besides civil and political rights, exercising economic, social and cultural rights can also benefit biodiversity and ecosystems. The customary rights of farmers and indigenous people and their traditional knowledge such as local conservation, sustainable use of plants and animals including genetic resources and natural resource management, are often overlooked and should be acknowledged in decision-making processes. Weak institutions, ineffective environmental legislation, unclear accountability, poor transparency and a lack of public access and participation are usually the main causes behind the undermining of important ecosystem services, and the inability to guarantee access to important natural resources and biodiversity. By applying the HRBA, when supporting the strengthening of institutions and governance, organisations such as Sida can actively promote the work to protect biodiversity, and to promote people’s right to healthy ecosystems and natural resources.

Human rights underpin all the SDGs and contribute to fulfilling the SDGs related to ecosystems and biodiversity, like life on land and life below water. The SDGs related to ecosystems and biodiversity, in turn, provide means to exercise the human rights related SDGs, like zero hunger, good health and wellbeing as well as clean water and sanitation. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognizes the importance of biodiversity integration in sectoral and cross-sectoral plans, programmes and policies and national decision-making, as well as the contributions of indigenous peoples and local communities and their knowledge, innovations and practices, to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Human rights is implicitly mentioned in the CBD and its protocols in relation to access, fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of genetic resources held by indigenous peoples and local communities. 

Examples of questions to improve integration of human rights and biodiversity are: 

• Is the programme or policy taking into account the opportunities and challenges for environmental and human rights defenders, both for men and women, working on biodiversity-related matters to freely exercise their rights individually and collectively without any fear? 

• Is the programme or policy identifying and supporting right holders such as local farmers, elders and women who may have a specific contribution to biodiversity and ecosystems services such as to agrobiodiversity or cultural services? 

• Are targeted measures being considered in the programme or policy to enhance the protection of marginalised people living in vulnerable situations such as those lacking formal legal land and resource rights, and those most affected by the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services owing to their direct dependence on them for their livelihoods?  The erosion of nature, the extinction of species and the loss of biological diversity at unprecedented rates severely threatens human rights for present and future generations.

The loss of global biodiversity is having and will continue to have devastating effects on a wide range of human rights for decades to come. This report is a stark reminder that we can simply not enjoy our basic human rights to life, health, food and safe water without a healthy environment.  Failing to protect biodiversity can constitute a violation of the right to a healthy environment, a right that is legally recognised by 155 States. The protection of biological diversity is indispensable to realise the right to available, accessible, sustainable and nutritious food. Industrial agriculture being one of the main culprit of biodiversity decline, it is vital to have effective and balanced policies to protect ecosystems’ health while producing sufficient nutritious food for all.

From pollination to photosynthesis, all humans depend on healthy ecosystems. But the world’s poorest communities, indigenous peoples, farmers and fishermen are particularly vulnerable to the negative impact of changes in climate, biodiversity and ecosystem functions.

As the devastating impacts of pollution and climate change accelerate, it becomes essential to use every tool available, including the effective regulation of businesses, to address these planetary challenges,” said the members of the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. However, they said, it is also vital that as urgent action is taken to protect the rest of nature, those actions respect and protect human rights.

In the past, conservation actions such as new parks and renewable energy efforts have violated the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities. Using a rights-based approach, as the IPBES report recommends, will prevent these kinds of violations in the future.  As most of the world’s biodiversity hotspots overlap with indigenous peoples’ territories, protecting their rights over these territories is an imperative.  States have already reached agreements to combat the causes of biodiversity loss, which include habitat destruction, illegal poaching, logging and fishing, over-exploitation of lands, pesticides and other agrochemicals, pollution and climate change. But now urgent action is still needed to implement legal and institutional frameworks to protect biodiversity and all of the human rights that depend on healthy ecosystems. Governments should ensure public information and participation in biodiversity-related decisions and provide access to effective remedies.

5 The Law of Help

Human rights and freedoms are guaranteed by rules, which both aim to constrain a community and provide the necessary help for society to operate within the rules of society and remain sustainable. It was in the fifth volume of Modern Painters, published in 1860, that John Ruskin identified ‘help’ as ‘the highest and first law of the universe, which expressed hospitality, altruism, compassion, kindness and charity as the other names of life.  He moved from the study of paintings to plants, animals, and humans, thereby drawing together the different objects of study with which he had been preoccupied for seventeen years, from the first to the last volume of Modern Painters.  Ruskin rationalised his actions with the concept of composition.  For him It meant simply, putting several things together so as to make one thing out of them; the nature and goodness of which they all have a share in producing.  “It is the essence of composition that everything should be in a determined place, perform an intended part, and act in that part advantageously for everything that is connected with it. Composition, understood in this pure sense, is the type, in the arts of mankind, of the Providential government of the world”.  His model was a tree. Whereas a branch can be taken away without harming a tree, a limb cannot be removed without doing harm to an animal, and so Ruskin reasoned, ‘intensity of life is also intensity of helpfulness, completeness of depending of each part on all the rest. The ceasing of this help is what we call corruption; and in proportion to the perfectness of the help, is the dreadfulness of the loss’. He positioned ‘help’ against ‘separation’ and delineated something like a social policy in which ‘government and co-operation are in all things and eternally the rights and freedoms of helpfulness, maintaining the laws of life . Anarchy and competition, eternally, and in all things, are the laws of death. If we don’t value nature, if we continue to be species-selfish, we’re almost sure to deprive future generations, and likely even our future selves, of a great good; and that good is not merely the commodity use of nature, but includes practical goods like virtue, as well as the experiences of awe and wonder arising from interacting with nature. 

6  Internet References


Human rights biodiversity and ecosystems

Why protect nature?

Backlash against rights shaming emotions

Self Compassion and mindfulness

Self Compassion and shame

Human influences on evolution

 Why do we need to protect biodiversity

Human Rights Here And Now

John Ruskin’s Politics and Natural Law

The Law of Help

Ruskin’s ecological vision (1843-1886)

Comrade Ruskin

Does Law Create Freedom

Goodnss in Nature

Place-based Self Education

Tuesday, February 8th, 2022

1 Social Equity

Fig 1 The Vitruvian man

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci (Fig 1) depicts a man in two superimposed positions, with his arms apart, and legs both together and apart. His whole body is inscribed within a circle and square. The drawing is based on the notion of ideal human proportions derived from Euclidean geometry as applied to architecture by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in Book III of his treatise, De Architectura. Vitruvius described the human figure as being the principal source of proportion within the classical geometric schematics of architecture.  In short, da Vinci showed the human male body encased in Euclidean forms: the square, the rectangle, and the circle.  It stands for the concept that the ideal human form should be the basis for scale and proportion in the buildings where humans lived and worked. Vitruvian Man’s message is that our physical animal self is the measure of the ordered world we now describe as ‘The West’.  The model draws inspiration from Renaissance polymaths like Leonardo Da Vinci, who worked across disciplinary boundaries in pursuit of deeper knowledge through self-learning. 

Western culture, or Western civilization, is a term used to refer to the cultures of people of European origin and their descendants. It comprises the broad heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs (such as religious beliefs) and specific artifacts and technologies as shared within the Western sphere of influence. The term “Western” and “The West” are often used in contrast to the East, which defines the Asian, African, Native American or Arab nations.  

Societies of The West are geared to consuming goods and services. The emphasis is laid on gratifying spontaneous desires increasing year on year, rather than fulfilling basic needs in a steady state of supply and demand. The West’s model, however, is not sustainable, and especially not when copied globally.  The East-West contrast is sometimes criticized as relativistic. In some ways it has grown out of use, or has been transformed or clarified to fit more precise uses. Though it is in direct descent from academic Orientalism and Occidentalism, the changing usage of the distinction “East-West” has come to be useful as a means to identify important cultural similarities and differences that have to be addressed.  This is because tomorrow’s adults of all nations will have to solve existential global crises: especially the precarity of life on Earth.  Radical changes in society are needed for transforming to sustainability in ways that are socially just, peaceful and ecologically sustainable. In particular, social equity has to become the central feature of a syllabus of radical hope for learning to be fair and impartial in the distribution of Earth’s resources.                                                                              . 

Regarding inequalities in wealth, the distribution in the West is not uniform (Fig 2).  Europe stands as the most equal of all regions, with the top 10% receiving 35% of income in 2019. This can be largely explained by public investments in education and health (i.e. by predistribution policies), financed by a fair amount of taxes (redistribution mechanisms).  In contrast, the share of the top 10% in the US increased from 34% to 45% between 1980 and 2019. Half of the American population was shut from pretax economic growth.  

Latin America and the Middle East stand as the world’s most unequal regions, with the top 10% of the income distribution capturing respectively 54% and 56% of the average national income.

Fig 2  Global inequalities (Inequality Transparency Index).

To be clear, “equity” and “equality” are terms that are often used interchangeably, and to a large extent, they have similar meanings. The difference is one of nuance: while equality can be converted into a mathematical measure in which equal parts are identical in size or number, equity is a more flexible measure allowing for equivalency while not demanding sameness.  Equivalency, not sameness, is the essence of individualised equitable learning and its applications. This requires education to embrace a wider equity beyond traditional ecological sustainability.  In particular it has to include issues such as gender, race discrimination and sectarianism, which are problems for everyone to work on together across cultural and ecological boundares to hit 2030 targets for social equity. 

Social equity is impartiality, fairness and justice for all people in social policy.  It takes into account systemic inequalities to ensure everyone in a community has access to the same opportunities and outcomes. Equity of all kinds acknowledges that inequalities exist and works to eliminate them.  It is therefore the task of educators at all levels to present these changes as international targets for the 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy.  In particular,  instructors and institutions have a duty to point students towards efficacious actions they can take and groups they can join.  Social equity is the starting point, which includes not just equitable access to programs and services but the unhindered ability to engage in the political process, locally, nationally and internationally.  Thinking globally is important because it exposes people to new perspectives and things they have never known.  It means realizing that there are other ways to do even everyday things.  

 At the core of place-based education is the need for more equitable learning environments for all students.  These should be environments where students are seen, valued, and heard. In  such environments learning is designed with and for students as humans and individuals. It also means arranging equitable educational and economic opportunities for every learner to create their own body of knowledge to live sustainably.  This is deep and complex work to develop a radical syllabus. but it should be at the core of why people choose to become teachers and mentors. Utilizing the community served by the school as an outdoor laboratory is one way to do this. 

The first attempt to produce an equitable bottom up learning model was ’Rescue Mission Planet Earth’.  This is a syllabus of radical hope, youth-led and published by an international group, consisting of thousands of young people, from over 100 countries, who were invited to the 1992 Rio Environment Summit.  The core element of the syllabus is its use of poster pages, each illustrating an issue addressed in Agenda 21. The production team envisaged the syllabus would develop as a youth-led global network of communities as a democratic network for self-learning.  The modern approach would be to network locally and globally using digital whiteboards to compare and contrast place-based learning.

Place-based learning,  or place-based education, is a practical pedagogy that makes ‘place’ an educational resource. The place can be anything: a playground, trees in the street, kitchen garden, museum, arboretum, science center, parks, etc. It not only involves being in the place physically, but also using the place effectively, and all its elements in the learning process. In a school context, this involves utilizing the outdoors or places in the vicinity of the school to accomplish the curriculum goals.  Acting locally begins with a survey of the good and bad things in the community. Place itself actually acquires meaning through an action plan which works to improve the bad things and celebrate the good things. Through this methodology, communities forge identity even as they mobilise against threats to their well being.  A learning model  is the Green Guide, a UK spin off from Rescue Mission.  It is an example of how young people can become leaders by engaging with local plans for sustainable economic development.  

2 The cultural ecology pedagogy

From the 1990s place-based education has developed under the headings of ‘pedagogy of place’, ‘place-based learning’, transformative place-based learning (Fig 1), ‘experiential education’, ‘’community-based education’, education for sustainability, environmental education or more rarely, service learning,  The term place-based education was coined in the early 1990s by Laurie Lane-Zucker of The Orion Society and John Elder of Middlebury College.  It refers to those forms of pedagogy that seek to connect learning to the local ecological, cultural, and historical contexts in which schooling itself takes place.  It follows that a school committed to place-based education  should provide a route for learners to have a part to play in developing the syllabus and applying it to local governance.  In  this respect place-based learning challenges all educators to reflect on the relationship between the kind of education they promote and the kind of places they inhabit and leave behind for future generations.   In particular, C.A. Bowers advocated a critical pedagogy of place that acknowledged our enmeshment in cultural ecology and the resulting need for this to figure in school curricula.  Cultural ecology is the study of the adaptation of a culture to a specific environment and how changes in that environment lead to changes in that specific culture.  Cultural ecologists study how humans in their society and through specific cultures, interact with the larger environment.

In 2003, David Greenwood (formerly Grunewald) introduced and defined the term “Critical Pedagogy of Place.” In the years since, the general ideas of critical pedagogy of place have been incorporated into many critiques of place-based, land-based, and environmental education  According to this pedagogy students often lose what place-based educators call their “sense of place” through focusing too quickly or exclusively on national or global issues. This is not to say that international and domestic issues are peripheral to place-based education, but that students should first have a grounding in the history, culture and ecology of their surrounding environment before moving on to broader subjects. The salient objective is that place-based education seeks to help communities through employing students and school staff in solving community problems. Place-based education differs from conventional text and classroom-based education in that it understands students’ local community as one of the primary resources for learning. Thus, place-based education promotes learning that is rooted in what is local.  This is the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place, that defines the students’ own “place” or immediate neighborhood, town or community, with a reference to the bigger global climate change syllabus (Fig 3).

Fig 3 Concept map of transformative place-based learning

Place-based education is always interdisciplinary. It aligns with several popular pedagogies, including thematic, hands-on, or project-based learning, and  always begins with topics or issues from the local community . In his introduction to ‘Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Community’, David Sobel describes the context within which place-based education was developed,

In an increasingly globalized world, there are often pressures for communities and regions to subordinate themselves to the dominant economic models and to devalue their local cultural identity, traditions and history in preference to a flashily marketed homogeneity. Furthermore, at a time when industrial pollution, biodiversity/habitat loss, and aquifer depletion are becoming widespread and acute, such pressures often exacerbate the problems by encouraging unsustainable patterns of consumption and land use, weakening familial and community relationships that are deeply tied to the local environment. A process of disintegration occurs as basic connections to the land and communities become less resilient and less able to deal with the dislocations that globalization and ecological deterioration bring about. A community’s health—human and more-than-human—suffers.

Sobel’s path to a sustainable existence must start with a fundamental reimagining of the ethical, economic, political and spiritual foundations upon which society is based, and this process needs to occur within the context of a deep local knowledge of place. The solutions to many of our ecological problems lie in an approach that celebrates, empowers and nurtures the cultural, artistic, historical and spiritual resources of each local community and region, and champions their ability to bring those resources to bear on the healing of nature and community.  Schools and other educational institutions can and should play a central role in this process, but for the most part they do not. Indeed, they have often contributed to the problem by educating young people to be, in David Orr’s words, ‘mobile, rootless and autistic toward their places.’ A significant transformation of education might begin with the effort to learn how events and processes close to home relate to regional, national, and global forces and events, leading to a new understanding of ecological stewardship and community. This supports the propagation of an enlightened localism—a local/global dialectic that is sensitive to broader ecological and social relationships at the same time as it strengthens and deepens people’s sense of community and land.

Place-based education might be characterized as the pedagogy of community, the reintegration of the individual into her homeground and the restoration of the essential links between a person and the place where she lives. Place-based education challenges the meaning of education by asking seemingly simple questions: Where am I? What is the nature of this place? What sustains this community? It often employs a process of re-storying, whereby students are asked to respond creatively to stories of their homeground so that, in time, they are able to position themselves, imaginatively and actually, within the continuum of nature and culture in that place. They become a part of the community, rather than a passive observer of it.

3 Ecodharma

Ecodharma is a relatively new concept in place-based education.  Its meaning is by no means fixed because the term combines some of the cultural teachings of Buddhism and related spiritual traditions (dharma) with ecology or ecological concerns (eco).  Within this Buddhist perspective ecodharma it is a subset of cultural ecology.   In this respect, the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai has adopted the framework of cultural ecology to serve Chinese socialist society.  Thereby the monks express their devotion to the living planet through charity and community service, based on the modern ideology of Humanistic Buddhism, aiding the poor, caring about the aged, helping the disabled, and so on.  Delivering Buddhist charity is the central task of the urban temple, which advocates that giving should be the everlasting theme for human society.

The Sanskrit root of dharma is drh, meaning wear, that which is worn, that which protects and lends charm and dignity to life. Therefore, ecodharma is not something outside of ourselves, something we can buy. It is an intrinsic way of being that guides us to fulfill our human potential. Perhaps the most direct approach to dharma is for a teacher to encourage students to ask themselves regularly, “Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is the reason for my existence?  When was the last time I experienced authentic connections with others, truly felt that I belonged, and was surrounded by people who really understood me?  This is a new form of teaching, ‘Mindful Teaching’, that is shaped by Buddhist philosophy and its age-old dharma practices, creating a schooling culture of ‘mindful belonging’.

Even though many of us experience the power of deep connection much less often than we would like, this sense of true belonging is always available to us, regardless of our outside circumstances. Feelings of alienation, isolation, and loneliness can be reduced by simply choosing to foster feelings of unity and connectedness. The starting point is to become one with your local ecosystem to answer the bigger questions of true belonging, ’Where am I? and What do I love about being in this place?  The hope is that seeking answers to these questions will help learners explore their interdependence with all living things, treat themselves more kindly, and create richer connections with others to build a deeper-felt sense of belonging. Using mindfulness and meditation, the aim is to find true connection with others and greater compassion toward oneself, thinking and acting supported by the three pillars of ecodharma (Fig 4).

Fig 4 Three pillars of ecodharma

Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which the focus is on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.  Resilience is the process of effectively coping with adversity.  It’s about bouncing back from difficulties and the more mindfulness meditation you practice, the more resilient your brain becomes.

Compassionate wise communities or communal “village” life empowers individuals in their personal journey and creates much needed energy for collective strategic action. Unless we are part of faith-based groups, in modern times, we usually don’t appreciate the importance of communities at all.  

Strategic collective action asks us to study and deeply investigate the external root causes of our societal injustices, distractions and arrogance as well what comes in the way of us reclaiming our collective power. Without strategic action on the part of community leaders and members, it is not possible to create spaces where inner and outer transformations can take place.  If the actions are limited to building of meditation centers, which do not pay attention to ecological footprint, racial dynamics, participation in democracy, the actions are only supporting a lop-sided individual transformation. The transformation isn’t holistic without looking at systemic and institutional causes of our pain.

For most of us, it is not possible to engage deeply in “inner” psycho-spiritual practices and “outer” strategic actions over a long-term without a community background.  We need to focus on building wise and skillful communities that enable both of our inner and outer work. This community can be the school. Teacher/trainers promoting ecodharma as an educational framework have to begin with an understanding of their personal role in its practical outcomes because we are losing environmental features and promote it as a global educational movement towards a safe, healthy and just planet. The desired outcomes are joy, harmony, kindness and justice. 

Ecodharma also advocates intergenerational justice for future human generations that will suffer because of environmental inaction of previous generations. As a holistic educational framework it also includes inter-species justice between the human and the greator -than -human natural world, as well as harmony and justice between different castes, races, classes, genders and human ideologies.

Malcolm S. Knowles identifies several key aspects of ecodharma learning that are self-directed, rather than managed by others. In this definition he argues that individuals determine their own learning needs and how to achieve their individual goals. Self-directed learners identify the resources needed to learn and be successful, and develop their own strategies for doing so. In this context, self-directed learners also evaluate the extent to which they achieved their own learning goals.  In this respect, Knowles defines self-directed learning as a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs.  They, formulate their own  learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.  They formulate their own  learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes within a well-being economy with equity   A well-being economy takes a sustainable approach to economic development that addresses the social, environmental and health needs of a population by prioritizing wellbeing over exponential growth. It values indicators of wealth beyond gross domestic product, such as equity, happiness and environmental outcomes and can provide society with a more holistic and balanced approach to development. This is the Buddhist heritage of ecodharma.

4 Caring for wildlife in communities

Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest challenges. Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. These are normal reactions to significant loss. But while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and move on with your life.  Caring for wildlife in communities is the outcome of ecological thinking to cope with the grief of the loss of species and ecosystems that enrich our world.  It is a human behavioral response to the grief of losing part of a loved environment, which is crucial for restoring human wellbeing and prosperity. The caring response is conservation: a management plan  that acknowledges the interdependence between people and nature, vital for food production, maintaining clean air and water, and sustaining biodiversity in a changing climate.

Skies darkened by smoke! Streets flooded by rain!  People are now experiencing local extremes of weather and, “eco-anxiety” or “climate dread” have entered our vernacular. But they are more than catchphrases. Climate-induced anxiety is a real set of emotions that can require attention and treatment and for some, those emotions are a call to action.  Also known as eco-distress or climate-anxiety, eco-anxiety was defined by the American Psychological Association in 2017 as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. This is a new social dimension for teaching applied ecology.

 “Ecology isn’t just about global warming, recycling, and solar power—and also not just to do with everyday relationships between humans and nonhumans. It has to do with love, loss, despair, and compassion. It has to do with depression and psychosis. It has to do with capitalism and with what might exist after capitalism. It has to do with amazement, open-mindedness, and wonder. It has to do with doubt, confusion, and skepticism. It has to do with concepts of space and time. It has to do with consciousness and awareness. It has to do with ideology and critique. It has to do with reading and writing. It has to do with race, class, and gender. It has to do with sexuality. It has to do with society. It has to do with coexistence. — Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought.

In other words an environmental interactive platform is required for communication and exchange of scientific expertise and experiences.  It is important for people to collaborate in  new research activities, combining the expertise of different stakeholders (researchers and scholars, teachers, policy officials, NGOs, etc.) in a framework to learn about environmental citizenship.

In the UK’s first Strategy for Sustainable Development, the idea of a ‘citizen’s environmental network’ was proposed as a way of helping communities make action plans and tell others about their ideas and achievements. Factors that limit action are that community-led environmental improvements are often limited by the lack of:

  • a logical management structure which links objectives with grass roots operations, particularly with regards  monitoring the success in achieving practical targets;
    • a recording system for maintaining year on year momentum, which also has an integral reporting system for  keeping all members of the community up to date;
    • access to standard methods and procedures which have proved successful in the past;
    • the inadequacies of paper systems to centralise management, recording, and communication.

To remove these limitations requires the national collection of feedback from communities who are developing ideas and methods (see case histories in the Appendix)

One of the key figures in shaping a modern educational movement to end the lonely, often desperate, isolation of Homo  sapiens from other species was the American Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1971). “We are all in this together,” he  concluded in 1949, not long after he finished writing a biography of Henry Thoreau. Once a rather melancholic humanist,  Krutch now became a kind of  pantheist or ethical mystic, caught up in the joy of belonging to “something greater than one’s self.”.  

5  Imagination in place

A UK outcome of these deliberations was the provision of opportunities to encourage the development of the cross curricular theme of imagination in place, defined as a secular breviary for meditations on ecological meanings’  The theme was actually the centerpiece of  the Going Green Directorate, which grew from a 1994 gathering of school teachers and academics in Wales who came together under the Chairmanship of Denis Bellamy, head of the Department of Zoology in the University of Wale to consider how schools could help their communities move towards sustainable development. The meeting was sponsored by the Countryside Council for Wales, Dyfed County Council,The Conservation Management System Consortium is now CMSi: Talgarth. and the local Texaco oil refinery. This partnership was based in the St Clears Teacher’s Resource Centre. From here, a successful award-winning pilot was led by Pembrokeshire schools to create and evaluate a system of neighbourhood environmental appraisals, and  network the local findings from school to school.

The scheme adopted the acronym SCAN (schools and communities Agenda 21 network). SCAN’s aim was to help teachers create systems of appraisal within the National Curriculum to evaluate ‘place’ (historical, geographical, biological, and notional). The practical objective was to address environmental issues which emerged from the appraisals in the context of their community’s Local Authority Agenda 21. Therefore the objective of the GGD was to promote environmental appraisal and the long-term management of neighbourhood historical assets, green spaces and home and community services to promulgate a sense of place, improve quality of life, reduce environmental impacts of day to day living, and enhance biodiversity.  A comprehensive mind map dealing with planning and operating appraisals and management plans was produced by the GGD.  

6 Internet References

Rescue Mission

Green Guide

Teaching for Understanding

Place-based Learning

Managing the Biosphere

ECO-learning Networks

Community Action Plans





Appendix 1

Active case studies for  place-based Learning

Weelsby (Grimsby, UK)

Garw Valley: (South Wales, UK)

Tredegar: (South Wales, UK)

Deep Place

Two Indian Towns: (Indian State of State of Gujarat)

Youth-led Rural Change

Indian State of Tamil Nadu:

Tribal Islands

Panna Biosphere Reserve: (Indian State of Madhya Pradesh)

National Green Corps

Kuala Selangor: (Malaysia)

Integrating social inclusion and sustainability science

Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve: (Borneo, Indonesia)

Natural Capital Partners

Rhos Llawr Cwrt National Nature Reserve (Wales: UK)

Brownsea Island

Skomer Island

The Levant: A Syllabus Of Radical Hope

A logic for making community action plans

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

School/Community ECO-learning Networks

Sunday, October 31st, 2021

A procedure to establish a network of school-based Eco-learning Centres to help families served by the schools meet local sustainability targets.


ECO-Learning: the system

ECO-Learning: the conservation management system

1 A Syllabus for Radical Hope

Fig 1 A young person’s syllabus of radical hope produced by ‘children of the world’. for lIving sustainably 

This project is 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 (Fig 1).  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.  These visions and skills are an expression of individualised learning, which involves providing different tasks and support for each learner at the individual level because all learners have different needs.  Therefore each learner requires a personal approach to learning so that the activities that learners undertake and the pace at which they progress through the syllabus, will be more effective.

Fig 2 The school/community elements that come together to establish a procedure for organising a local eco-learning system

In this respect, a radical hope syllabus is a living project of individualised learning, and anyone interested in adding a topic or concept can contribute to the syllabus, which is a blend of local action and reflection. In particular, instructors should be continuously reflecting on their teaching practices and using their observations to update how they engage with their students (Fig 2).  It is in this sense that eco-learning is radical, and assembling a syllabus is an act of radical hope because it is  aimed at a fundamental, root-level, transformation mindset in which a better future takes shape.   Out of the students’ critical refusal to abide by the limitations of uniform, school-based learning, which forces people out of community-thinking, comes a lifelong “learning-by-doing” experience, which utilizes communities and neighbourhoods as extensions of the classroom.  

The educational objective of Rescue Mission is to link schools with the communities they serve to help produce a local version of Agenda 21 (LA21).  LA21 was an important outcome from Rio; a voluntary process of local community consultation to produce long term action plans for sustainable development. It is about the need for local and national conservation management and encompasses awareness raising, capacity building, community participation, leadership training and the formation of local partnerships.  LA21 has now been augmented with Agenda 2030, which sets out a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

2  The Procedure to establish a school/community eco-learning system.

An eco-learning system serves as a resource for anyone interested in environmental issues and assembling a personal body of knowledge about how to live sustainably and participate in plans for the survival of future generations. It provides a new way of framing and thinking about how individuals or groups might formally or informally learn about current environmental issues and how people, collectively and/or individually, might respond to them.  From the environmentalist’s perspective, ecolearning means guiding the relations of humankind with a fast changing global environment. It surged in popular and scientific interest during the 1960-1970s, with the rising of conservation movements, but has yet to produce a matching education system.

The procedure to establish a school/community ECO-learning network is based on the Green Guide (Fig 3) produced by schools of the Garw Valley, in South Wales that was initiated by the Valley’s Community Council functioning as a social learning hub.

Fig 3 The Garw Green Guide

Each participating school has to set up an online ECO-learning centre (ELC) to display connections between culture and ecology from a local perspective.  Eco-Learning Centres are a development of the idea of community museums of culture and ecology, which originated in France, the concept being developed by Georges Henri Rivière and Hugues de Varine, who coined the term ‘ecomusée’ in 1971.  A community ELC is a voluntary organisation focusing on the identity of a place.  ELCs built on an IT platform naturally encourage social interactions of individuals, families and schools with local plans for sustainable development. 

Taking the idea of community museums, an ELC acts as a clearing house of information about global warming. Therefore clearinghouses collect, develop, and disseminate materials on climate change suitable for informing the local communities about the current state of climate change (Fig 4).  This could help provide focal points for information on issues such as energy efficiency, energy savings, forestry, agriculture, environmentally sound housing and transportation efficiency. Information exchanges would also provide a means to share technical knowledge and expertise. 

Fig 4 User-friendly graphic adapted from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Climate Change (IPCC) IPPC Special Report on Global Warming for a school/community information clearing house 

The establishment of an ELC proceeds in 4 phases.  Phase 1 is about creating a local environmental surveillance system by bringing together schools , communities, neighbouhoods and the Parish or Community Council.  In phase 2 the schools organise a good and bad sevey to articulate what people like or don’t like about where they live. Phase 3 is about what should be done to improve the bad things; who should do it and what they should do.  In other words, the objective of Phase 3 is for communities joining with their schools to participate in designing a regenerative sustainable development plan for their locality.

Phase 4 is for individuals, schools and communities to produce a radical syllabus of hope to promote lifelong learning about how individuals can create a personal body of knowledge to live sustainably.  The themes, topics and concepts of Rescue Mission, illustrated with pictures and poems produced by the Rescue mission collective, may be taken as the model of such a syllabus

These four phases define the relationship of an ELC with its community, its governance, its biophysical heritage and its plans for the future (Fig 5).

 Fig 5 The ECO-learning system

3 Focusing on local materials and colour

Through colour, emotions and senses as a whole are able to give strength and respect in the relationship between humankind and environment, proposing practical and spiritual meaning  to ‘sustainability’.  It is not by chance that the most recent planning developments on sustainability focus upon the central role of humans and their psycho-physical equilibrium with good and bad environments.The practical viewpoint is that if a place is to become attractive for settlement  care must be taken to ensure the environment is pleasant to look at, homogenous and coordinated with its ecosystem services. For example, in the post-coal mining valleys of South Wales many would say the varied greens, soft greys and russet browns, enriched with the sudden blaze of the heather and gorse in the late summer, should not be marred by the garish reds, yellows and blues found in the paintwork.  Therefore, an important outcome of Phase 2 could be a colour-based environmental appraisals; applying arts reasoning to explain sustainability.The adoption of colour to describe nature and the environment dates back to the Middle Ages, when nature was seen to be coloured like the four elements defined by the ancient Greeks: the mat black of earth, the dark blue of air, the brilliant red of fire, the greyish cobalt blue of water.  In this context, colour presents a sense of place.

Green is now always the colour of renewable energies, zero-mile food, holidays, innovation and smart technologies. Therefore, we can represent ecology with infinite colour scales and colour in the environment becomes an essential scenic element defining the local and wide meaning of place.  Green is not simply devoted to the renewal of old forms in new products, but mainly used as a pre-project element able to set a dialogue with senses and mind through the meanings of materials, culture, form and human interaction. 

4 Prosperity

Global surveys illustrate the depth of anxiety many young peop[e are now feeling about climate. change.  Today, there are 1.2 billion young people aged 15 to 24 years, accounting for 16 per cent of the global population. The active engagement of youth in sustainable development efforts is central to achieving sustainable, inclusive and stable societies by the 2030 target date.  Their participation is necessary to avert the worst threats and challenges to sustainable development, including the impacts of climate change, unemployment, poverty, gender inequality, conflict, and migration.  We know exactly how the physical limits of our planet are being reached and exactly why we cannot go on as we have before and yet, collectively, we seem unable to reach crucial decisions for our future in a timely way. It can be argued that the definition of prosperity, which we have long assimilated with the idea of material wealth, may be preventing us from imagining a future that meets essential human aspirations without straining our planet to the breaking point. In other words, redefining prosperity is a necessary and urgent task.  The need to discuss a new economic alignment is evident from surveys of well being (Fig 6) where achieving monetary affluence comes well down on the list of what makes for a good life.  

Fig 6 What Americans think of the American Dream. 

It is impossible to look at many environmental indicators without worrying that an economy measured by GDP is on borrowed time. This is why it is important for local environmental appraisals to concentrate on natural capital, the resources, systems and services nature provides for human economic activity, such as food, air purification, nutrient cycling, materials and minerals. Poorly managed natural capital is a liability in any economy. Also, the sense of social fracture in so many places, leads to questions about the stability and relevance of social capital, which depends on the accumulated trust within communities and institutions and the ability of a community to be more than the sum of its individual actions.

The manifesto of an ELC defines prosperity as something to be wished for beyond material pleasures. 

It transcends material concerns. 

It resides in the quality of our lives and in the health and happiness of our families.

It is present in the strength of our relationships and our trust in the community. 

It is evidenced by our satisfaction at work and our sense of shared meaning and purpose. 

It hangs on our potential to participate fully in the life of society because it consists in our ability to flourish as human beings within the ecological limits of a finite planet. The challenge for our society is to create the conditions under which this is possible. 

It is the most most important urgent educational task of our times.

The Green Guide system of environmental appraisal was pioneered in the South Wales Garw Valley in 1997-8.  It is now available, together with Rescue Mission, to everyone through the Green Garw Web Site managed by International Classrooms On Line,

Personal Understandings Found In Nature

Thursday, October 7th, 2021

An Integrative syllabus for learning how to live  sustainably

1 Integrative Curricula

“An integrative curriculum is intended to help young people organize and integrate their present experiences so that they might be carried forward for the benefit of both self and the common good. As such, this kind of curriculum has historically been proposed as a preferred design for a general education intended for all students, particularly in programs meant to promote democratic living and learning. An integrative curriculum involves arrangements and methods that engage students in identifying self and social issues, critiquing the status of society and the common good, planning for new learning experiences, accessing resources, researching and solving problems, communicating ideas, collaborating with others, and reflecting on the meaning and value of experiences. Crucial to the use of the term “integrative” is the idea that individuals do their own integrating. This definition distinguishes an integrative curriculum from “integrated” curriculum organizations, such as “multidisciplinary” or “interdisciplinary,” in which teachers and others correlate content and skills from two or more subject areas with the intention of illustrating connections among them or making their content more accessible and engaging for students”.

“Use of an integrative approach has a long history tied to progressive and democratic arrangements in elementary and secondary schools. These include CORE Programs, the experience-centered approach to curriculum, and many problem-centered courses. At present, some integrated approaches are enjoying popularity, as are methods like project- and problem-centered activities that are historically associated with integrative approaches. However, the student-centered, democratic philosophy that partly defines an integrative curriculum approach has waned under pressure from bureaucratic subject-based standards, tests, and prescriptive curriculum plans”.

James A. Beane

Published online: 17 December 2020.

A radical hope syllabus is an online collection of educational materials for those interested in producing a curriculum for adapting to climate change and inequalities in sharing Earth’s limited material resources.  The idea of a radical hope syllabus is the product of the two-day “Radical Hope” conference held in Germany in July 2017 by the The Rachel Carson Centre. The conference brought scholars from around the world to exchange ideas about the role of ‘hope’ in addressing environmental issues.  However, there is no generally acceptable curriculum because living sustainably is very much the application of an individual’s personal understandings found in nature.  

How do you maintain hope, in the face of extreme desperation, which is essential for indevidual human survival?.  The core idea of hope, as it applies to environmental issues, is an expansive term.    People may define it in their own way according to how they visualise ‘the good life’.  In this context, “radical hope” is a conscious effort to be informed about the environment as a personalised educational thread of life long learning.  The target is to break free from the mantra of monetary growth to build a better society that puts the wellbeing of all at its centre.  It is a bottom-up process of individualised theme-based conceptual understanding, not a top down uniform, mass produced examinable subject.

2 Theme-based Learning 

“A school using theme-based learning will make no mention of ‘math’ or ‘science’ on their daily schedule, because those skills are embedded into the themes”. Paul Romani

Research into how the brain works and the psychology of learning shows that gaining a personal understanding of a body of knowledge is a process of integration. When a student sees how facts and ideas connect with one another across subjects, they are constructing new meanings of inclusivity.  By communicating that meaning, the learning is further reinforced. This is why theme-based learning is so effective particularly to understand interactions between environment and society to answer questions such as; How do individuals and groups respond to large changes in society, like climate change, globalization, mass migration, diversity, inclusion, and ageing populations? What are effective ways to motivate people to contribute to a sustainable society? 

However there is institutional bias against thematic learning from all levels (Fig 1)

Fig 1 Six themes proposed by a UK  Labour Party minister of education for reform of primary education, but never implemented.

In education, a theme is a unit of teaching and learning at the level of pillars or principles, whereby big ideas selected from several subjects are connected together and integrated under that theme so that understanding has a real-world application in the way that it takes place.  For example, if you want to study environmental pollution, you have to consider not just scientific matters, but also social issues. Environmental pollution becomes a theme and theme-based learners are empowered to apply their personal understandings to make real-life changes to themselves, their community and perhaps even the world. 

The structure of a theme is created by assembling a layered mind map, a cluster of related ideas connected to a central overarching concept. Each layer of ideas branches out from the next. The farther from the centre you go, the more specific the ideas get. The closer to the center, the more general the ideas are.

Themes are composed of general ideas called topics.  These are the main organising principles of a theme. Pollution could be a general topic within the theme of industrialisation.  Four topics relevant to the topic of pollution are:  abandoned industrial sites, acceptable risk level, accidental release of organisms, acid rain. These particular topics are taken from a list of several hundred named topics compiled by the General Multilingual Environmental Thesaurus.  A topic is composed of a group of narrower ideas called concepts

Research into the ways in which students go about the task of reading an academic article shows the decision to seek meaning (deep learning) or to reproduce the information provided (surface learning) was a consequence of how they had interpreted the task, the context and how they viewed the content.  

The surface approach involves routine use of rote memorisation, while the deep approach makes connections with previous knowledge and carrying out logical reasoning. The main characteristic of a surface approach is not memorisation per se, but the routine and unreflective use of rote memorisation simply to reproduce the material presented by the teacher, usually for an exam.  Students being anxious are more likely to adopt a surface approach, while those who see the content as interesting adopt a deep approach to the reading. Each approach to learning and studying is associated with characteristic forms of motivation – deep with intrinsic motivation and interest in the subject matter; – surface with extrinsic motivation and fear of failure; and – strategic with achievement in exams as the motivation. Analysing students’ perceptions of the teaching-learning environment has found that a deep approach appeared to be influenced by ‘mentored teaching’ and ‘freedom in learning’, while heavy workloads and fact-based assessment procedures induced a surface approach.  Good lectures were described by students in terms of seven main categories – level, pace, structure, clarity, explanation, enthusiasm, and empathy.  Of these, it is the last three that are the most likely to evoke and support a deep approach to learning. These categories represent some of the general indicators of good teaching from the students’ perspective.

Another important aspect of thematic teaching is the generative topic.  Generative topics propose topics and concepts for discussion which invite students to relate the topic to other topics, concepts and aspects of their personal life. A good way to start a generative topic is asking a basic question. For example, “how does something in nature affect my life, and how would my life be different if it were removed?” Asking questions is key to a good generative topic. In the theme “environment and society” there are many topics connected to other disciplines that have a direct connection to the student’s life. Thought provoking questions invite deep thinking about the subject or create new patterns of thinking. 

Generative topics have several key features.  They are central to one or more themes or topics.  They are interesting to students and are accessible.  There are multiple connections between them and the students experience.  For example, “industrialisation” is a generative topic that can connect with all aspects of climate change through the concept of its cost to society. The existence of generative topic means that a theme can be entered through any one of its many topics, an opportunity that can be seen when a theme is at the head of a mind map (Figs 10 & 11),

International Classrooms On Line is testing Google Blogger as a resource for students to build and communicate personal bodies of knowledge based on interconnected themes (Fig 2).  Each theme has pages that define it and topics that amplify it (blogs). Topics are augmented with concepts (posts to the blog) and data (comments added to the posts).

Fig 2  The educational theme ‘Belonging, Place and Change’.

3 Natural Economy

“It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.

Jean-Luc Godard, film director.

The theme of ‘economy of nature’ was used for the first time in the 17th century to denote how God governed his Creation—Nature.   Linnaeus’ Oeconomia Naturae (1749) is both the culmination of a great tradition of Christian natural theology, and the starting point of a new science, the one that Ernst Haeckel named ‘ecology’ when, in 1866, he described nature as a balanced, harmonious equilibrium.  

In the 17th century the idea of nature as an economy had no particular connection with human economic practices. The theologian Thomas Burnet in ‘The Sacred Theory of the Earth, referred to the “Oeconomy of nature” as the “well ordering of the great Family of living Creatures”, an order of divine origin.  Linnaeus, in his ‘Specimen Academicum de Oeconomia Naturae., visualised this divine order as being self-organized, exhibiting a dynamic balance of births and deaths, so linking function with the purpose of living things. In this context, Linnaeus believed the application of science to nature was to understand species as resources to be used by humans as they saw fit. The first step in this direction was to classify all life forms and twelve years later he published ‘Species Plantarum’, the work which is now internationally accepted as the starting point of modern scientific nomenclature.  The classification system Linnaeus invented is important because it led to the use of an international binomial nomenclature to identify each species. Once the system was adopted, scientists could communicate about the position of individual species in the human economy without the use of misleading common names.  His Scandinavian journeys were intended to be not so much natural history forays as preliminary assessments of Swedish species as resources with potential commercial possibilities, even though they did not really produce much of value in this way. Consequently his travel journals cover a much wider field of interest than botany and zoology and are written in a simple direct way.  For example, in his journey through Lapland he reached the copper smelter at Adelfors on 23 May 1741, where he noticed that the junipers looked like “trimmed cypresses”, which he attributed to smoke from the blast furnaces. Workers and residents at Adelfors  complained about its toxicity.   Linnaeus saw the distorted growth forms of the cypresses  had commercial possibilities in gardening.

“After 1 mile we arrived at Berga. From here on the road was slightly better. Burned-out patches of woodland (Svedjor, which Smilanders call fallor or lyckor) now began to be seen on both sides of the road, mostly green with an excellent rye. We saw some of the burn-beating today, since the best time to burn is after a long drought when rain is expected, so that the wood will burn well and the ashes be retained by the rain.

It is remarkable to see how these fires can chase away clouds and rain -every child can tell that when the sky eventually becomes over-cast after a long dry period and if the farmers start to burn their lands, then the sky clears up, the clouds disappear, and torrents of rain fall in the next parish, while the burners receive nothing”.

This entry in his journal is one of the first records of chemical pollution from industrialisation and one of the last descriptions of a European closed cycle system of swidden agriculture.  Swiddening, also known as shifting cultivation, refers to a technique of rotational farming in which poor land is cleared for cultivation (normally by fire) and then left to regenerate after a few years. Governments worldwide have long sought to eradicate swidden agriculture, which is often pejoratively called ‘slash-and-burn’, due to a mistaken belief that it is a driver of deforestation.  It is now being regarded as an iconic practice of closed cycle agriculture.

In 1734, just two years after his famous Lapland journey, Carl Linnaeus took a six-week, 520-mile trip through Dalacarlia (.Dalarna). Seven students accompanied him describing the topography, botany, geology, and economic conditions of the region. The trip started in Falun and proceeded northwest to Rättvik, Boda, Orsa, Mora, Älvdalen, Särna, and Grövelsjön to Röros (in Norway) and back through Särna, Lima, Malung, Nås, and Borlänge to Falun. Linnaeus was only 27 years old at the time and had not yet completed his education. Each student was assigned tasks to perform along the way by the Societas Itineraria Reuterholmiana Club’s president, Linnaeus. It fell to Claes Sohlberg among other things to record information on the soil and mineral springs, and to Ingel Fahlstedt to describe the mineralogy. The copper mine at Falun and the limestone quarries in the vicinity of Boda were described. Oil seeps and tar deposits were noted in the Boda quarries. Near Orsa they visited the sandstone quarries where grindstones were made and he commented on the lung disease of the quarrymen. They stayed in Röros and visited the copper mines. On the way back part of the trip was by boat on the Västerdalälvaen. Linnaeus displayed his acuteness of observation of geological features along the way and was particularly aware of the economic possibilities especially for mining. He recognized the difference in topography between the glacial material and the underlying bed-rock (pre-Cambrian). Several of his ideas on geological processes were formulated while on this journey.

The Falun mine is one of the great wonders of Sweden but as horrible as hell itself… Soot and darkness surrounded them on all sides. Stones, gravel, corrosive vitriol, drips, smoke, fumes, heat, dust, were everywhere.

An understanding of the facts recorded in his diaries required cross curricular analysis.

Today, natural economy is a themed topic which defines a type of economy in which money is not used in the transfer of resources among people. It is a system of allocating resources through direct bartering, entitlement by law, or sharing out according to traditional custom. In the more complex forms of natural economy, some goods may act as a referent for fair bartering, but generally currency plays only a small role in allocating resources.  This approach to the sharing economy has come to signify exchanging services or skills. For instance, one can repair someone’s computer but instead of paying cash for this service, the payment will be an exchange, say for, some free yoga classes. Someone needing gardening advice might offer payment in painting skills, or having German lessons in exchange for surf lessons…  The possibilities are infinite.   

People have shared assets for thousands of years, but with the advent of technology and the use of big data, it is easier for asset owners and the ones seeking those assets to find each other. This concept is also referred to as the Sharing Economy, Collaborative Economy, Collaborative Consumption, or Peer Economy. Contemporary sharing economies are hybrids because they allow individuals and groups to earn money from their underused or idle assets by renting them out. These definitions point the way to a new human ordering of sharing and equalities.  Natural economy was used as the title for a new school subject in the Cambridge University International General Certificate of Education in the 1980s.   

As a corollary, the majority of goods produced in a system of natural economy may not be produced for the purpose of exchanging them, but for direct consumption by the producers (subsistence). As such, natural economies tend to be self-contained, where all the goods consumed are produced domestically.  Karl Marx described the Inca Empire as a natural economy because it was both isolated and based around exchange rather than profit.  The term has often been used in opposition to other forms of economy, most notably capitalism. For example, Rosa Luxemburg believed that the destruction of the natural economy was a necessary condition for the development of capitalism.  She taught that war, colonialism and unsustainable extraction of resources from nature are products of global capitalism. The result is the loss of irreplaceable natural wealth leaving people of the developing world struggling for food, water and shelter.  Luxemburg criticised Marx for not having paid enough attention to these external contradictions in economic growth. A socialist revolution was, for Luxemburg, the only way to stop the total assimilation of a natural economy of sharing into the polluting system of capitalism.   In Luxemburg’s world, pollution includes the genetic alteration within populations, the deterioration or modification of habitats, the spreading of pathogens and parasites, and competition with and replacement of native species. 

She also drew attention to the Great Divergence or European Economic Miracle.  This is the socioeconomic shift in which the Western world (i.e. Western Europe and the parts of the New World) where its people became the dominant populations by overcoming pre-modern growth constraints. The West emerged during the 19th century as the most powerful and wealthy world civilization, eclipsing Mughal India, Qing China, Korea, and Tokugawa Japan.

Fig 3  The Natural Economy: cooperating for the common good.

John Young in his book Natural Economy published in 1997 (Fig 3) asserts that a true grasp of how the economy should be constituted shows it to be a thing of harmony and beauty, all its parts cooperating for the common good, and its inbuilt laws distributing benefits equitably.  However, capitalism is the most prominent element in our current global economic system. Its main characteristic is that most of the means of production and property are privately owned by individuals and companies.  Western governments have a relatively small role in such an economy limited to management and control measures.  So a capitalist economy is a liberal economy. This means that only the free market will determine the supply, demand, and prices of the products. There is no direct government intervention other than to balance gross monopolistic practices in the economy, which is created and maintained by the workings of industrialism which generates monetary wealth from goods and services along with pollution. 

There is no doubt that we have to rethink economic growth to loosen the grip of capitalism on modern life exercised by competitive consumption.  It undergirds the incessant demand for expansion of human use of natural resources, an expansion that has already exceeded Earth’s capacity to regenerate. The economist, Keynes, believed that people whose basic economic needs had been satisfied would naturally gravitate to other, non-economic pursuits, perhaps embracing the arts and nature. A century of experience suggests that this was wishful thinking. As Raworth writes, “Reversing consumerism’s financial and cultural dominance in public and private life is set to be one of the twenty-first century’s most gripping psychological dramas.”  Transition towns are a pointer in this direction because they  are local communities attempting, proactively, to prepare for a sharing future in a warming world. Their strategy is to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and help mitigate climate change by re-localizing production closer to home.  The aim is to create self contained functioning communities with the idea that strong neighborhood networks will help towns to weather future energy shocks. Transition towns address the issues of decarbonising energy use, climate change and economic instability by creating a strong, connected, self-sufficient community with a strong sense of place and belonging. 

Transition initiatives can range from neighbourhoods to villages and from towns to cities.  In this grassroots movement we are seeing the regrowth of natural economy.  Ambitions for an appropriate education system are essentially captured in Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) of the 2030 Agenda, which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030. The roadmap to achieve the education goal, adopted in 2015, provides guidance to governments and partners on how to turn commitments into action (Education 2030 Framework for Action). UNESCO is responsible for coordinating the international community to achieve this goal through partnerships, policy guidance, capacity development, monitoring and advocacy.

Governments hold the main responsibility for ensuring the right to quality education for living sustainably and the 2030 Agenda is a universal and collective commitment. But it requires political will, global and regional collaboration and the engagement of all governments, civil society, the private sector, youth, UN and other multilateral agencies to tackle educational challenges.  These systems have to be thematic inclusive, equitable and relevant to all learners.  Thematic teaching is essential to cover this range of players which have to come together under the themes of culture and ecology.  Indeed, ‘cultural ecology’ is an interdisciplinary banner to unite and mobilise educationalists who share the conviction that radical and widespread cultural change is vital to combat the climate emergency.  

The phrase cultural ecology has two literal denotations:

  • culture as ecology: where culture is determined by the dynamic interaction of humans with each other and the environment.
  • ecology as culture: where ecology is determined by the ideas, customs and behaviours of humans and how they interact with the environment.

These denotations are embedded in the theme ‘personal understandings found in nature’(Fig 4).

Fig 4  Concept mind map of a textual statement of the theme ‘personal understandings found in nature’.

3 A History Of Economic Harm

The need for a thematic approach to schooling in order to understand and manage environmental concerns emerged in the 1960s and was particularly driven by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring and the publicity surrounding it.  Like other popular and scientific studies at the time, her book focused on the environmental harm caused by an economic sector of society, in this case it was agriculture.  The cross curricular educational theme is Personal Understandings Found In Nature and the topic is pollution. 

Fig 5 Opencast mining of coal in the UK (1975). Temple Newson National Trust Estate

Pollution is the outcome of any human behaviour that has an adverse impact on planetary wellbeing. It requires the highest attainable standard of wellbeing for human and all other beings, their social systems and ecologies, to manage it (Figs 5 & 6).

Fig 6 A sea of plastic waste.  Researchers at the University of Oldenburg in Germany are using satellite communications to combat the growing problem of plastic pollution in the North Sea.

In the 1970s, the Club of Rome identified the problems that societies would face when environmental resources were overused, depleted or harmed, and pointed towards the need for different types of policies to maintain and generate economic growth. 

In the 1980s, the World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland, published Our Common Future, the first serious attempt to link poverty to natural resource management and the state of the environment. It defined sustainable development as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ The concept implied both limits to growth, and the idea of different patterns of growth, as well as introducing questions of intergenerational justice. 

In 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio de Janeiro, taking forward many themes prefigured at the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972. 

The main agreement from Rio was Agenda 21, a forty-one chapter document setting out priorities, practices and costs for all economic and social sectors, and how these should relate to the environment. The principles of sustainable forms of development that encouraged minimizing harm to the environment and human health were agreed. However, progress has not been good because Agenda 21 was not a binding treaty on national governments and all are free to choose whether they adopt or ignore its principles. The Rio Summit was followed by some international successes, including the signing of the Convention on Biodiversity in 1995, the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001. Ten years after Rio, progress was scrutinised at the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002, again raising the profile of sustainability, but also failing to tie governments to clear actions and timetables  Over time, the concept of sustainability has grown from an initial focus on environmental harm to include first economic and then broader social and political dimensions.

Delegates to COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015, reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Additionally, the agreement aims to increase the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change and make finance flows consistent with low greenhouse gas emissions and a climate-resilient pathway. To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate mobilization and provision of financial resources, a new technology framework and enhanced capacity-building is to be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives. The Agreement also provides for an enhanced transparency framework for action and support.  

Despite the landmark commitments made by signatories of the Paris Agreement, emissions have continued to rise globally. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that emissions rose from 50 billion tonnes in 2015 to 55 billion tonnes in 2019. While carbon output was reduced dramatically in 2020, due mainly to the impact of COVID-19, emissions only decreased to the level that will be required every single year to achieve the Paris Agreement and that’s with transport, industry and commerce almost grinding to a halt during parts of the year. The prospect of a global green recovery from COVID-19 is not materialising across the board, with some countries pouring money into the fossil fuel economy to stave off a devastating recession.

We are now facing the climate change crisis every day in  some way or another and the silo thinking behind national curricula does not help in promoting the cross curricular thematic teaching needed for understanding world development. 


BAYWATCH was initiated by Cardiff Bay Development Corporation in the late 1990s to encourage children in the coastal communities of the City of Cardiff to work with their communities in managing regenerative development.  It was a cooperative project between the Natural Economy Research Unit, Impact Trust Wales the UK Conservation Management System Consortium and the Schools in Communities Agenda 21 Network SCAN) of the National Museum of Wales.

When Paul Sanby visited the small market town of Cardiff in 1776 seeking painterly views (Fig 7), Merthyr Tydfil was just a small Welsh farming village forty miles from Cardiff up the Taff Valley.  The valley contained all of the necessary resources for a successful iron industry, namely iron ore, limestone for lining furnaces, mountain streams to provide water power and forests to supply timber for the manufacture of charcoal.  In 1759,  ironworks were established at Dowlais, a small community at the edge of Merthyr Tydfil.  Charcoal was replaced with local coal for large scale smelting.  By the 1830s the Dowlais Ironworks was the largest in the world, employing more than 5,000 people.  With the increased size of the ironworks, the size of Merthyr Tydfil soared. In 1801 a population of 7,700 was recorded, which rose to 22,000 in 1831 and to 46,000 in 1851, establishing Merthyr as by far the largest town in Wales. 

Fig 7 Cardiff from the River Taff Estuary, looking north to the southern edge of the coalfield, (1776), Paul Sanby

In the late 18th century, Cardiff’s trade was maintained by two small sloops sailing to Bristol on alternative days. It was the growth of the iron industry in the South Wales Valleys that caused Cardiff to develop as a port. In 1794, the Glamorganshire Canal was completed, linking Cardiff with Merthyr Tydfil, and in 1798 a basin was built, connecting this canal to the sea. Cardiff’s foremost landowner, the 2nd Marquess of Bute, built West Bute Dock in 1839. Two years later, the Taff Vale Railway was opened. So what had led to this transformation?

From the 1850s, coal began to replace iron as the main export of South Wale, with yearly exports reaching 2 million tonnes in 1862.  The Cardiff Coal and Shipping Exchange was built in 1888 to be used as a market floor and office building for trading in coal.  It later became a hub of the global coal trade.  The first steamship was the ‘Llandaff’ of 1865, and she was the first of a fleet that grew rapidly in the late 19th century. By 1910, there were some 250 tramp steamers owned at Cardiff. Each day, the owners would meet to arrange cargoes of coal for their ships in their opulent Coal Exchange in Mount Stuart Square. 

The coal export industry reached its peak in 1913, when 10.7 million tonnes of coal were exported through Cardiff’s docks.  A royal commission on the coal industry reported in 1919 that: “The prosperity of south Wales is entirely dependent on the export trade in coal”  This dependency was very real. The industry relied on exporting 70% of its production. The whole area, mining settlements and the docks, depended on coal. But demand was falling because other countries had developed their own industries with lower production costs.

The 1920s and 1930s were decades of economic depression and poverty in the coalfields. There were long strikes and bitter disputes between the company owners and the miners. The companies wanted to keep up their profits but often at the expense of miners’ wages and jobs.  In 1934 unemployment rates of 60% were recorded in parts of the coalfield. People started to move away. Between 1931 and 1939, 160,000 people migrated from south Wales to look for work in the new industries being developed elsewhere. The coal industry was nationalised in 1947, but did not stop the decline.  Coal was the vital fuel of the 1800s and early 1900s. But it was  much less important and had been largely replaced by other forms of energy. To modernise the industry, machines were needed instead of manual workers and many of the coal seams in south Wales weren’t suited to the use of modern mining machinery.

The Coal Exchange finally closed in 1958 and coal exports from Cardiff ended just six years later, in 1964. The Cardiff Bay Development Corporation was set up in April 1987 to regenerate the 1,100 hectares of derelict dockland as part of the British government’s Urban Development Programme to regenerate deprived areas of inner cities.  The aim was to “put Cardiff on the international map” and boost the image and economic wellbeing of the area without coal (Fig 8)

Fig 8 Cardiff Bay: Regeneration of old dockland waterfront

At present the world is not tracking towards a Paris Agreement compatible phase-out of coal. Current and planned coal power plants globally would lead to a generation increase of 3% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. If the world follows these present trends, this would lead to cumulative emissions from coal power generation almost four times larger than what would be compatible with the Paris Agreement by 2050. 

5  Thinking Through Coal: An Integrated Syllabus

An urgent transformation is required in our values and our practices based on recognition of our global interdependence and the interconnectedness of the risks we face.  We need a new vision of cooperative and democratic action at all levels of society.  Personal understandings found in nature have to be the outcomes of a new system of thematic lifelong learning that combines planetism and wellbeing for every person on Earth.  It’s a principle that asserts that we must conserve, sustain, and make resilient the planetary and human systems on which life depends by giving priority to the wellbeing and prosperity of all.  All too often governments make commitments but fail to act on them; independent accountability is essential to ensure the monitoring and review of these commitments, together with the appropriate remedial action (Fig 9).

Fig 9 Concept diagram of 13 topics depicting the idea of transition from an expanding fossil fuel economy to one maintained by renewable energy; the target is human prosperity defined as ‘something to be wished for’.

 Children’s minds seem especially tuned to the use of metaphors and symbols. The very act of creating a work of art: a song, a play, a photograph or painting is itself a symbol of a person’s desire to capture an idea, a mood or feeling and communicate it to others. This is the essence of arts reasoning.  Graphics and artworks have the potential to increase the attractiveness, understandability, and communication power of thematic work. They can help science reach audiences that literature never will. As such, they are a tremendous asset in a time when the increased politicization of complex socio scientific issues, such as the future of food and nutrition security, necessitates the communication of science to society in ways that are accessible and engaging.  Images and symbols are used to highlight ideas and stimulate the mind to make connections.  

As an example of the power of art’s reasoning, compare Fig 5 with Fig 11.  They have the same subject matter in common i.e. large scale landscape pollution of opencast coal mining.  This is presented as a fact, e.g. the aerial photograph of part of a large rural estate (Fig 5) and an imaginative painting (Fig 10).  The latter is a monstrous, metaphorical vulture that bubbled up in the artist’s mind to explain why coal mining in India is unsustainable in a world of small-scale family farms.   

Fig 10  A Relic of Our Time: Prabhakar Pachpute (2020)

The BBC school’s digital resource package defines what is meant by the term ‘industrialisation’ and describes some of the processes involved and how it changes people’s working lives. It talks about increased food production as a prerequisite for industrialisation, and about urbanisation which usually happens alongside industrialisation. It then looks at the Industrial Revolution in Britain: how the steam engine was one key technological breakthrough leading to mass production, increased trade, better transport infrastructure and the birth of modern capitalism.  The theme Thinking Through Coal (Fig 11) is a specific local subset of the general theme of Industrialisation (Fig 12).  

Fig 11  Mind map of the theme ‘thinking through coal-Go To Interactive Map

The film touches on how industrialisation happens at different times in different parts of the world, using the countries of East Asia as an example of industrialisation due to the high tech and service industries, and countries like Brazil, Mexico and South Africa which are emerging as countries of mass production, selling to other countries.  It ends by saying industrialisation usually leads to higher wages and better living standards, but it has also been charged with causing social problems like pollution and wealth inequality. Mind maps take the story of world development, triggered by coal mining to deeper, cross curricular levels (Figs 11 &12) where they may be regarded as prototypes for art installations.

Fig 12 Mind map of ‘industrialisation-Go To Interactive Mind Map

6  Appendix

Art should be the basis of education.  No other subject is capable of giving the child not only a consciousness in which image and concept, sensation and thought, are correlated and unified, but also, at the same time, an instinctive knowledge of the laws of the universe and a habit or behavior in harmony with nature… if any type should be regarded as the ideal type, it is the artist. But there is no such thing as an artistic (aesthetic) attitude.  Every person is a special kind of artist… they are manifesting a form in which common life should take in its unfolding.”

— Education through Art, Herbart Read 

Art is a means of connecting two worlds, the visible and the invisible, the physical and the spiritual.  The area of our consciousness where culture has its roots lies in the uncontrolled mind of every individual: in the moment when it is given space to make a creative leap.  Artists, scientists and spiritual masters alike have great respect for that particular faculty of our human potential.  It is in the realization of each individuals’s intuitive creativity that everybody would agree with the statement “everyone is an artist.”

— Louwrien Wijers

7 Internet References

Escaping from Silo Thinking

Monday, September 6th, 2021

According to Dr. Gillian Tett, an anthropologist turned financial journalist, ‘silos are cultural phenomena, which arise out of the systems we use to classify and organize the world’. From this point of view, anthropology is not so much a body of knowledge as a particularly wide mindset which enables a global cultural perspective on any environmental issue. Anthropological ways of seeing ‘home’ and ‘away’ can be adopted by  anyone with an interest in unpacking the many ways in which their social universe is culturally constructed as ‘environment’.  I can trace my broad insider-outsider perspective to a childhood where I was free to play within the interface between ’home’, and ‘away’.  Home  consisted of three miles of tightly packed terraced houses, behind the fish dock, served by corner shops.  ‘Away’ was a countryside of woodland, fields, hedges, ditches and wild sandy marshes that  began about half a mile from my home. I was an insider-outsider in both environments.  In one I collected butterflies, bird’s eggs and kept nature diaries.  In the other there was the radio, ten cinemas and a music hall to help me to better understand my own life, the lives of those around me and even how society and culture operate.

At the local secondary school silo thinking was thrust upon me because the ‘ologies’ were targets for economic advancement.  In my case, living in the world’s largest fishing port, it was applied ichthyology that permeated every household.  I escaped to read biochemistry at university because I saw the subject could be an insider educational viewpoint on nature’s diversity.  Nevertheless, the ologies caught up with me, and my first academic post was in a department of zoology, a deliberate choice to follow the insider-outsider perspective.  After a decade I became more of a zoologist than the zoologists, who wanted for the most part to become biochemists!

I stayed with zoology because it is unique amongst the ologies with regards its many academic and tactical links with other subjects.  Thus, in the early 1970s I was able to convince the science and applied science faculties of my university that they should meet the growing environmental crisis by offering an honours degree in environmental studies.  The degree was based on an academic package where environmental studies was taught as a joint syllabus, produced by all departments working together, alongside a traditional subject.  For example students could graduate with honours by combining environmental studies with metallurgy or chemistry. Essentially, environmental studies was a new subject applied to conservation management.  Its outdoor laboratory for teaching and research was the derelict South Wales Coalfield and the socio ecological impacts of its decline. 

In 1987 the Brundtland Report ‘Our Common Future’ was published with its three main pillars of sustainable development: economic growth, environmental protection, and social equality  The following year there was a meeting of the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate (UCLES) to which I was invited to talk about Cardiff University’s pioneering cross departmental degree in Environmental Studies.  After my UCLES talk I had a conversation with the Duke of Edinburgh, then Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.  It was his belief that UCLES should have a new GCE subject, devised as a response to discussions about the Brundtland Report, to prepare students for a changing planet .  The report is full of paradoxes and contradictions conveying the deceptive impression that incompatible goals can be achieved simultaneously and that a consensus to the benefit of everybody is possible to establish. Clearly, a new school subject dealing with these issues of world development would have to cut across the ‘ologies’ to inform the reality of how ecosystems behave, how natural cycles work, how humanity has valued and made use of natural resources and what the consequences have been. 

We discussed the question of naming and I suggested we should adopt natural economy (Oeconomia naturae), the name that Carl Linnaeus’ gave to the ethnographic knowledge system he assembled from his 18th century study of the Lapland swidden agricultural system of low input nutrient recycling.  

There was a further meeting at Buckingham Palace, attended by top UK NGO leaders and I was tasked with heading up a small group of Cambridgeshire teachers, working with UCLES, to produce a ‘Linnaean framework’ for a new International GCE.  The aim was to set out future options for global environmental management through an understanding of the vast complexity, of the problems involved in world development and the social repercussions certain political policies might have. 

For Linnaeus and his pupils, natural economy presented the human world in terms of the social and monetary organisation of natural resources for production.  Political economy is the other side of the coin, namely the organization of people for production.  The name natural economy was chosen for the UCLES subject because Oeconomia naturae encompassed world development as the change from a rural sustainable barter economy to a national politically-managed urban monetary economy.

The content of the first syllabus produced by the Cambridge teachers is available here. and there is an early on line mind map.

Uptake of natural economy by schools was limited by the fact that it was part of UCLES’s international commercial package of subject matter with integrated assessment. Even so, teachers of many international schools were very enthused by it.  In particular, it was eagerly adopted by the Government of Namibia, where it replaced biology and/or geography at GCE level.  However, there was no possibility of it being integrated into Western national curricula, which even today are committed to a narrow pedagogy designed over a century ago to support the expansion of colonialism.  However, a version of the original syllabus, a subject now called Environmental Management, is still available commercially from Cambridge via ‘Home Education Specialists’ as a 100 hour subject for homeschooling,   This emphasizes that it is ideal for individualised lifelong or free choice learning.

Natural economy emerged as a novel cross curricular idea of Carl Linnaeus prompted by his studies of rural livelihoods, especially swidden (or slash-and-burn) agriculture, which he investigated during his expeditions through rural Sweden. With the award of a grant from the EC’s Educational Directorate in the early 1990s I was provided with funds to establish the Natural Economy Research Unit in the Zoology Department of the National Museum of Wales.  The aim was to develop the ethnographic element of natural economy in partnership with the Association of European Schools (now European School Net). Central to this, post Rio, was SCAN, the Schools in Communities Agenda 21 Network.  Schools used the community they served as an outdoor laboratory to become involved with implementing the Local Agenda 21. This initiative is now represented in the National Museum Of Wales by  Spring Bulbs For Schools, a climate change phenology network, based on Linnaeus’ 1756 floral calendar (Calendarium Florae), in which he used flowers to reflect different time periods of a calendar year. 

The academic framework of natural economy is the cultural organisation of natural resources for production, which promotes an ecology rather than an economy.  The EU project produced a broader framework by incorporating ideas of Carl Linnaeus (Oeconomia naturae), Julian Huxley (Man and he biosphere) and centred on Julian Steward’s ideas about Cultural ecology (Fig 1).   Cultural ecology explains that humans are part of their environment and both affect and are affected by the other.  There is an online version of a cultural ecology mind map and a blog

Fig 1 Ideas about cultural ecology

Regarding a syllabus, cultural ecology cannot be prescriptive because self learning is idiosyncratic.  The common targets of the pedagogy are behavioural.  In this context, teachers have to be mentors, establishing an environment  of empathy where students learn about emotional literacy, how to define their moral identity by perspective-taking, developing their moral imagination, learning how to self regulate, practice kindness and how to collaborate to develop moral courage to become a changemaker. 

These personal qualities are central to Julian Huxley’s idea of evolutionary humanism, a subset of social Darwinism.  His message is that we are part of nature in all that we do.  It is through our evolution that the cosmic process has become conscious and has begun to comprehend itself. Therefore, a supreme task of educationists is to increase that conscious comprehension and, as the most powerful agent of planetary change, humanity has to apply this understanding to manage the future course of events on Earth.  The aim of education today should be to discover and promote humanity’s destiny as planetary managers of human well being and biodiversity because these are desirable outcomes of the evolutionary process.  In this process we are part of the environment, not an outside force making impacts upon it.  

In 1992, with the advent of the first world environmental summit, I envisaged the future of natural economy was going to be bound up with digital resources available freely through the Internet for individualised life long learning about the management of change.  As the Internet consolidated, cultural ecology became an online resource for learning to live sustainably.  At first the applied focus was on the application of Agenda 21; now it is on climate change and Agenda 2030.  But, these international agendas rest on environmental hope. The big task for educationalists is to make room for environmental hope, despite near certainty that someday soon there will be no more “natural” landscapes, biodiversity, or ecosystems?

Currently cultural ecology is being developed and maintained by International Classrooms On Line, receiving hundreds of unique hits and registrations a week. The latest development is a forum and a web site to discuss how best to manage the behavioural changes necessary to educate for change.

Denis Bellamy

August, 2021

Appendix 1  

Homo sapiens as the the deadly pyrophile

The following extract from Stephen J. Pyne’s masterly book ‘Vestal Fire’, sets the scene for humans as dangerous pyrophiles.

“The conclusion of the final glacial epoch, the Wurm (the primum mobile of Europe’s Holocene history), signaled the onset of a modern climate, and the retreating ice made Europe a virtual terra nova. Old World Europe was, paradoxically, as much a new world as the Americas, and certainly newer than Australia and Africa. Considering the relative magnitude of their ice sheets and periglacial penumbras, Europe’s renewal was proportionally greater than North America’s. Released from its refugia, the biota seized the exposed lands as weeds would a plowed field. The biological recolonization of western Europe was one of the planet’s great land rushes, the prelude to a subsequent, human-assisted dispersion throughout the globe”.

“Throughout, there was one species of special note. Early on, hominids joined the boisterous throng that recolonized Europe. Homo sapiens was always and everywhere present–a forager along the ice edge, a hunter in periglacial steppes, an opportunist amid birch and pine, a resident within woodlands, a transient visitor to bog and heath and fens. Humans were seizures of disturbed sites who had the capacity to further disturb. Restlessly, compulsively, Homo reorganized the biota–adding and subtracting species, reshaping biomes as he did coarse flint into arrowheads; harvesting, pruning, plucking, draining, planting, digging, watering, and through proxy fauna, grazing, browsing, fertilizing, trampling; and above all, burning. Alone among the revanchist biota, humans manipulated fire. The rough diamond of Europe they seized, shaped, polished, and set. The fire regimes of Europe were largely the creation of this peregrinating pyrophile”.

(C) 1997 Stephen J. Pyne All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-295-97596-2

Appendix 2

Introducing a new, free, open international forum to evaluate the idea of a syllabus of radical hope with objectives to promote individualised lifelong learning about education for conservation.

Objectives (discussion threads)

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  (currently has the most hits)

9 Oats, Peas, Beans And Barley Grow

10 Awaken the Ecologist Within


International Classrooms On Line

In 2016, Amy Franceschini was shortlisted in the Artes Mundi competition at the National Museum and Galleries of Wales.  She travelled 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 installation can apply arts thinking to explain sustainability. In Wales it led to the formation of a collective linking art with science to demonstrate sustainability knowledge organised to manage environments responsibly (acronym  S.K.O.M.E.R.)  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 for lifelong learning.  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 chart the behavioural changes required to manage the flows of materials and ideas between people, ecosystems and place.  The goal is for there to be a smooth social continuity of belonging between generations. 

Skomer is also a small Welsh island nature reserve where ideas of syllabus reform first emerged and eventually led to UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme.

Education for Cultural Change

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

“Throughout 2020, our lives and communities have been turned upside down due to the challenges and disruptions surrounding COVID-19, global protests around racism and racial inequality and political polarization. All pose a direct threat to local community well-being, our wider society, and to the collective, democratic processes by which we achieve local development”.  Kate Berardi et al

Fig 1 Rebuilding  communities with empathy

1 Growing an island mentality

Culture is the fabric of work relations, dictating the rules for social interaction.  A cultural island is a portion of Earth’s biosphere occupied by a unique, permanent, human settlement. It is a landmark of community vitality with a culture that is generated from interactions with the local ecology that support human relationships to each other, to the environment and to made things.  Therefore, cultural ecology is a subset of anthropology that concentrates on relationships and patterns within the overall human/environment system where skills are learned, careers developed, ideas transferred, money flows and prosperity grows. Cultural ecology is a knowledge framework that can take into account this wide range of human activities and non-monetary values.  It is centred on the concept of biospheres as model regions for sustainable development.  In particular, biosphere reserves successfully balance the interests of the livelihoods of people with those of nature conservation, building on local initiatives to create a culture of sustainability based on applying UNESCO’s Agenda 2030 to day to day living with empathy (Fig 1).

Cultural landmarks can be either water-islands or land-islands.   A land-island culture characterises a community surrounded by people expressing a different cultural ecology. Both kinds of islands are associated with an island mentality, which is a psychological state, i.e. more than a geographic state, of a person.  It is a belief in a community’s specialness compared to other communities.  With respect to origins and development, an island’s uniqueness is the result of an historical happening where the norms, rules, interests and virtues of a culture can be suspended to try something new, because the environment is exceptional enough to allow for it.  In this connection, community vitality is defined as the collective capacity to respond to change with an enhanced level of participation and aspirations for an outcome or shared vision of success.  In this respect, ‘Radical Hope’ is an idea that helps to better understand how people can recover after a traumatic experience, such as the loss of their culture.  After the 19th Century destruction of the buffalo herds the Crow Nation was faced with the end of their traditional way of life and had to reimagine their culture. Philosopher Jonathan Lear illustrates the idea of radical hope with the leadership of the North American Crow Nation by Chief Plenty Coup.

In general, where cultural change is clearly an ecosystem-based adaptation that makes a  community largely self-sufficient with respect to its natural resources, such a community is described as an ecumene. Ecumenes are dynamic self contained space‐times of human settlement within which amity and enmity arise and identity politics are forged or falter. The prime historical examples are small coastal communities consisting of self-sufficient families dependent on low impact inshore fishing . 

History tells us that, starting from this kind of self-sufficiency baseline, industrialisation of an ecumene’s production increases jobs and local wealth until the natural resources are exhausted or production becomes uncompetitive.  Then there is a shift from the mass processing of raw materials in a monolithic manufacturing economy to a diverse services economy.  The cultural-island’s uniqueness disappears and it can become an island of cultural devastation.  Such has been the fate of fishing, mining, steelmaking, shipbuilding and motor manufacturing in the West.   With cultural dereliction exclusion and intolerance will prevent progress reaching everyone.  Intolerance of others in all its forms, legal, social or coercive, is antithetical to human development. 

Sharing the biosphere’s resources equally is becoming an imperative for human survival. It is against this backdrop that action and collaboration are imperative in achieving the global goals of sustainable development. 

2  Grimsby: a Case History of Radical Hope

Fig 2 North East corner of Lincolnshire

Grimsby is a small cultural land-island situated in the northeast corner of Lincolnshire, bounded to the North and East by the Humber estuary and to the South and West by a culture based on intense arable agriculture (Fig 2) .  Its name indicates it was the settlement of a clan of Scandinavian seafaring pirates and traders who raided and settled in many parts of north-western Europe in the 8th–11th centuries. Their Grimsby settlement site was a small tidal creek cut through an extensive salt marsh on the southern bank of the Humber estuary.  A branch, The Riverhead, was fed by fresh water from local springs, called blow wells.  The main body of the creek was the River Freshney which emerges about ten miles inland to the West, where the water table of the chalk Wolds comes up against the coastal clays at Wellbeck Springs, The Freshney Creek, a tidal feature, was developed as the Grimsby Haven Lock, which was built in 1798-9 by John Rennie, engineer, for the Grimsby Haven Company. This lock separated the tidal haven from the Humber estuary, creating Grimsby’s first community-led infrastructure. The Haven Dock initiated the building of flour mills, maltings warehouses and timber yards along its quaysides.  Economic migrants were housed in densely populated terraces built on marshland on either side of the Haven, which to this day define the distinct East and West Marsh communities.  

Fig 3  Right to left: Ivy Kemp (washerwoman) and Alice Kemp (net braider) with their husbands, Alf, a foreman lumper and Ossie, an iceman, on holiday in Yarmouth. Alice and Ivy were born in Yarmouth and migrated to the East Marsh development with their father, a master mariner in the Baltic timber trade.

Before the creation of the Haven, Grimsby was but one of many small fishing communities situated around Britain’s coastline.  It  quickly became the dominant North Sea fishing community with respect to growth and ideas about the expansion of offshore fishing, which started with the arrival of family-owned sailing trawlers from Southern ports equipped with the new ‘beam net’. Both Barking and Brixham claim the first use of the beam trawl. These Southern trawlers made Scarborough the centre of seasonal, commercial fishing taking advantage of vast fish stocks of the Dogger Bank and the Silver Pit, discovered by the Scarborough fleet. Good prices were to be had for fish in the coastal resort of Scarborough during the tourist season. The Scarborough fishing boom lasted between 1830 and 1840, after which Grimsby took the lead in developing the North Sea fishing industry using its new South and West fast railway links for the mass transport of iced fish to the Midlands.  Two new docks were quickly built, the first completed in 1856 and the second finished in 1877.  Both were built within land reclaimed from the sea. In 1934 a third fish dock was built on more reclaimed land from the Humber. Known as the Pontoon, it was manned by ‘lumpers’, the local name for dockers who handled fish.  It substantially expanded the port’s docking facility because the floating pontoon was available to land fish at any state of the tide.  The fish docks and nearby dock estate were devoted to the landing of fish, and maintenance, supply and repair of the Grimsby fishing fleet for almost a century.

In the 1930s, and for a short time after the Second World War, Grimsby maintained the largest fishing fleet in the world, having over 500 craft regularly sailing in and out of the port.  In just four days of March 1937 vessels came home to Grimsby with 6,266 tons of fish, an all-time record for the port.  In one day alone Grimsby saw a record catch landed consisting of more than 2,000 tons landed, boxes of it being stacked eight feet high in places on the dock estate.  The catch overshadowed a previous best of five years earlier, when in just three days, vessels from the port landed 4,450 tons of fish with over 100 vessels bringing in 1,600 tons in just one day.  More than 80,000 fish, mainly cod, were laid out on the pontoon, which required 400 fish wagons and 15 trains to carry them to market.  An idea of the size of the fishing industry at that time can be given by the fact that in those remarkable three days 235 trawlers landed almost 500,000 boxes of deep water fish.

Twelve years later, April 1949 saw Grimsby set up a new record, this time for the amount of fish dispatched to other parts of the country.  In just two days, nine special trains carried 1,734 tons of fish to between 3,000 and 4,000 stations in England and Wales, sufficient to feed 13,000,000 people.To clear the landings that Easter 130 dockers had to be transferred to the fish docks to help the lumpers. The Grimsby Telegraph reported that, in total, 6,180 tons of fish were landed, enough to feed 27,686,400 people, over half the UK population.

The human cost of industrial fishing is highlighted by the fact that that the main fishing ports of Grimsby, Hull, Fleetwood and Aberdeen lost 125 fishing boats between 1946 and 1975 and many hundreds of men died from collisions, fires, being swamped by stormy seas, sinking (leaking boats, (Fig 4) and vessels running aground. Perhaps the commonest cause of death is listed as “lost overboard”. This is because the nets were hauled on board where the boat had the lowest freeboard (the area between the deck and the sea) and many fishermen were vulnerable to being swept overboard. 

Fig 4 Report in the Grimsby Telegraph

Grimsby’s fishing culture at he turn of the 19th century was a male affair based on the boat owners, the skippers, the deckhands, the lumpers, the merchants, the barrow boys (who delivered the boxed fish to the trains) and the wives and daughters at home, who weaved the nets. To this list can be added the boxmakers, the boat builders, the lighterman (who delivered coal to the steam trawlers) and those involved with processing fish, namely the filliters, icemen, salters, driers and smokers, codiver oil refiners and the fishmeal makers (who converted guts, skins and bones to fertilizer).  Finally, there were the apprentice fisher-lads, many from the Midlands, who were inhabitants of Grimsby’s two institutional ‘orphan homes’.  Pauper boys as young as seven could be apprenticed as fishermen and Grimsby bound more than half of the total British sea fishing apprentices from the second half of the 19th century.  

The heart of this culture is pictured in “THREE-DAY MILLIONAIRES” a DVD story about Hull’s trawlermen, but equally applicable to Grimsby.  At home between fishing trips to the dangerous Arctic waters lucky crewmen often had lots of money to spend in a short time and lived life to the full in and around the pubs of Grimsby’s Freeman Street. After three hectic days spending their earnings they were off to sea again. Their story is based upon interviews with fishing families who vividly recall the men’s flamboyant suits, wild pranks, backhanders, taxi rides between pubs and humorous nicknames. Set against these joys are the woes of landing in debt, drunkenness, worried wives, trawler tragedies, and love-hate feelings about life at sea. Drinking was not allowed on board fishing vessels, but boats would set off to Iceland with many of the crew suffering the effects of a 3 day binge. All members of the crew were needed, and failing to turn up for a voyage was a criminal offence, the individual being described in reports of the local magistrates court as a disobedient fisherman.  It was not unknown for a vessel to sail without a cook for example, and feeding the crew was left to those who thought they could do it. Health and safety regulations in the 1950’s were rudimentary and it was only after a campaign by Hull’s ‘trawler wives’ that radio operators were made compulsory. There was no requirement for on-board doctors, a role usually provided by a skipper with a little knowledge of first aid. Crewmen often suffered grievous injuries, such as the loss of a finger, but in order to obtain a share of the settlings, the crewman would remain on board until landing in the home port, rather than be hospitalised in Iceland or Norway.   Wages were paid depending on the size of the catch, catch very little fish and hardly any or no wages, catch plenty and if other trawlers had good catches there may be a glut on the market so prices fell, the result again being a low wage. For a 120 hour week in the 1960s a fisherman would probably be paid about ten pounds. The trawlers had to self-finance, no profit, no wages, only the owners made money.  A few self-made millionaire trawler owners did exist, but most of Grimsby’s menfolk were the sons of economic migrants who flocked from the countryside and gave up being agricultural labourers to settle in the town as dock labourers and shop assistants. Their wives were homemakers who might labour part time in Tickler’s jam factory or work as home-braiders making fishing nets.

Mass fishing was ended for Grimsby in the 1970s by the loss of fishing grounds imposed by Iceland’s claim on its territorial waters. In many ways this exclusion was more about oil resources than fishing. Fishing limits followed shoreline and continental shelf “ownership” and were extended from an original 3 miles, to 12 and then to 200 to protect marine ownership. For Grimsby boats, the remaining deep sea fishing grounds were too far away and productivity was too unreliable to be commercially viable. The first quota rules were created in 1970 when the original six Common Market members realised that four countries applying to join the Common Market at that time (Britain, Ireland, Denmark including Greenland, and Norway) would control the richest fishing grounds in the world. The original six therefore drew up a Council Regulation giving all Members equal access to all fishing waters, This was adopted on the morning of 30 June 1970, a few hours before the applications to join were officially received. This ensured that the regulations were being enforced before the new members joined, obliging them to accept the regulation. In its accession negotiations, the UK at first refused to accept the rules but by the end of 1971 the UK gave way and signed the Accession Treaty on 22 January 1972, thereby bringing Grimsby into a joint quota-management system with an estimated four fifths of all the fish caught off Western Europe.

By 2013 only five trawlers remained, whereas 15 vessels were being used to maintain offshore wind farms in the North Sea. At its peak around 50,000 people were associated with fishing and its ancillary activities.  Now it is served by a tenth of that number. The town still has the largest fish market in the UK, but most of what is sold is brought overland from other ports or from Iceland by containerisation. Of the 18,000 tonnes of fresh fish sold in Grimsby fish market in 2012, almost 13,000 tonnes, mainly cod and haddock, came from Iceland. Bizarrely, it makes economic sense to send these fish to Poland for filleting and returned to Grimsby to be packaged for the supermarkets. 

Today, Grimsby is home to around 500 food-related companies, giving it one of the largest concentrations of food manufacturing, research, storage, and distribution in Europe. The local council has promoted Grimsby as Europe’s Food Town for nearly twenty years.  In 1999, the BBC reported that more pizzas were produced in the town than anywhere else in Europe, including Italy.

For a snapshot of Grimsby’s culture of devastation in the first quarter of the 21st century we can turn to Nunsthorpe, an estate with c. 2,400 households.  Following the end of the First World War decent homes were needed for the returning servicemen. House building was started by Grimsby County Borough Council in 1920 on farmland along its Western boundary. Originally called the Laceby Road Site until 1923 the new Nunsthorpe housing estate, with its modern conveniences and large gardens was known gradiosly as Garden City and sometimes in derogatory terms as ‘The Nunny’.  During the late 1920s a maternity hospital was established using converted council houses. This was incorporated into a new building which opened in 1933.  Another bout of house building was set in motion after the 2nd World War (Fig 5)

Fig 5 Semi-detached homes in Nunsthorpe, late 1940s..  Each semi housed two families

There are over 2,400 homes on the estate, mostly former council properties now owned by the Lincolnshire Housing Partnership. There is a small area belonging to the Havelok/Northern Counties housing associations and a small area of private sector housing. There are a number of privately owned former council houses purchased under the Right to Buy scheme. To the west lies the Bradley Park Estate which contains around 430 dwellings, also mostly LHP properties. The combined population of Nunsthorpe and Bradley Park is approximately 8,000.  It is situated about as far as one can get from the docks and the old town centre.

Nunsthorpe has no secondary school, and just a few shops. It’s in the top 3% for multiple deprivation and just 49% of its 16-74 year olds are employed.  Poverty has reached levels not seen for a generation due to the coronavirus pandemic.  Nurses, mechanics as well as labourers have joined struggling families queuing at food banks just to keep hunger away.

The impact of the pandemic from the lockdowns, job losses and being placed on furlough, has caused the deprivation gap to widen, and the pace is alarming health chiefs.

Regarding the old heartland of the docklands fishing culture, North East Lincolnshire Public Health has analysed the impact of the pandemic on deprived areas of Grimsby.The report shows East Marsh, West Marsh, South, Sidney Sussex and Heneage – are in the most deprived 10 percent of wards in England with East Marsh and West Marsh being in the most deprived one per cent

Figures, released by the End Child Poverty coalition in 2018, show there are six wards in North East Lincolnshire where more than a third of children are now growing up in poverty, based on the proportion living in low income households after housing costs.  Poor families are deeper in poverty than they were seven years ago, a new study suggests.

After housing costs are taken into account, poor families are now on average £73 a week below the poverty line, up from £56 in 2012/13, said the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

The number of children in poverty in households where all parents work full-time has doubled to 400,000 in the same period, according to the report. CPAG chief executive Alison Garnham said: “We know that the number of children in poverty is rising – and at risk of reaching a record high – but poor families are also deeper in poverty than they were just seven years ago.  This means families in poverty are further away from escaping it. Many of these families are living well below the poverty line.

Those whose needs are reflected in the 2030 Agenda include all children, youth, persons with disabilities (of whom more than 80% live in poverty), people living with HIV/AIDS, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees and internally displaced persons and migrants.

Regarding the East Marsh, the housing development associated with docklands,the key messages of ‘East Marsh An Integrated Impact Assessment’ published in 2018 by Sheffield Hallam University are, “Grimsby’s East Marsh neighbourhood has been caught in a vicious cycle of decline for the past 30 years”, and “The designation of a Neighbourhood Renewal Area creates an opportunity for optimising investment to enhance the social and economic life of east Marsh Residents”.

This review reflects the cultural crisis Grimsby finds itself in today and needs to be seen in the context of a world where the political and economic elite seem unwilling to overcome their addiction to fossil fuels. Coal, oil and petrol form the basis of our material life, housing, transport, food and clothing, among other things.  The economic stimulus packages being offered by various governments are geared towards rebuilding the economy on hyper-capitalistic and consumptive pre-COVID-19 lines.     

3 Incentives for a conservation culture 

After World War II, bringing up several children was encouraged in the UK to restore the birth rate and in 1945 the Family Allowance was introduced to provide benefits for second and subsequent children. This set a precedent for Government intervention in the tax system to change the behaviour of households. Between 1977 and 1979, child benefit replaced the Family Allowance and Child Tax Allowance.  In July 2020, The Green Homes Grant was announced by the Government to help kickstart the economy in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and begin to tackle the profligate use of carbon-based energy.  Up to 600,000 homes are expected to benefit from the scheme which provides a grant of up to £5,000 for homeowners and landlords in England to cover at least two-thirds of the costs of certain energy-saving improvements for the home. The poorest households could access up to £10,000 in total.   The Green Homes Grant shows how the government can make it easier for people to use energy more efficiently by applying behavioural insights to overcome barriers to being more energy efficient.  Many new approaches are required to seek rewards for individuals taking concerted action now to transfer to a zero growth economy, helping them to lower carbon emissions in the longer term.  Such actions fall into the category of biosphere allowances.

A biosphere allowance:

  • helps ensure the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of the biosphere segment occupied by the household, by reducing its use of natural and human resources.
  • provides practical ways to resolve land use conflicts and to protect biological diversity.
  • gains access to information, expertise, support and funding through national and international networks.
  • encourages diverse local economies to revitalize rural areas.

The biosphere concept can be used as a framework to guide and reinforce projects that enhance people’s livelihoods and attract academic and government research activity that addresses local issues and problems by promoting a culture based on recycling..  It serves as a learning focus to explore and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development providing lessons which can be applied elsewhere and highlights the distinctiveness of the area and help foster a sense of place amongst residents and visitors.  Overall, the allowance can raise awareness among local people, citizens, and government authorities on environmental and development issues and provides a focus for stakeholder cooperation and volunteer involvement to reduce the carbon footprint of households. 

 In 2018/19 the UK government helped fund two million trees through woodland creation schemes.  Vouchers for tree planting is a practical route for people to make a direct impact on emissions. Across the UK there were 27.2 million households in 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics. Of these 22.7 million households have a garden. If all of these households planted two trees each, this would total more than 45 million.This is about 3% of the total number of trees the Woodland Trust estimates the UK needs to plant by 2050 in order to reach net zero emissions.

Thus, a biosphere allowance is based on a recycling unit for trees and households (RUTH), backed with financial incentives designed to persuade households and waste producers to reuse and recycle more.  This helps prevent the generation of waste and can help contribute to financing waste management activities. Incentives include both rewards and charges (e.g. pay-as-you-throw PAYT, and deposit refund schemes). Rewards are given to the users to encourage people to recycle more, typically with vouchers for individuals, vouchers for communities or payments to individuals. In addition to direct incentives in the form of vouchers, an effective recycling incentive is also the reduction of waste fees for residents willing to separate more waste at source, or when waste recycling targets at local level are achieved.

4 Making  a Culture of Critical Hope

The classical nineteenth-century definition of culture by anthropologist E. B. Tylor is still being referenced as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired”. The same is true of UNESCO’s definition of culture in the Preamble to the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity as the “set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features of society or a social group… it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs.”  The features listed in both definitions are the outcomes of education in homes, communities and institutions.

In the face of such general statements, most analysts define culture in a broad and a narrow sense. Broadly, culture is a system of meaning, its social construction, articulation, and reception, including religion, ideologies, value systems, and collective identity. More narrowly, it refers to the arts. that is, what artists create and what is regarded, preserved, exchanged, and consumed as cultural artifacts. Straddling both notions are concepts such as cultural diversity, cultural expression, and the creative or cultural economy.

Cultural ecology is a practical subset of anthropology, also defined as environmental ethnography, aimed at cultivating social change from the ground up. The aim is to create an equitable society of individuals, culturally, intellectually, spiritually, and materially committed to caring for all elements of the biosphere. 

Thomashow contends that learning about ecological identity explores “how people learn about ecology, how people perceive themselves in relationship to ecosystems, how an understanding of ecology changes the way people learn about themselves, and how and ecological worldview promotes personal change”.

The practical objective of radical hope is to devise an ethical, invigorating, creative curriculum that encourages citizens everywhere to shake off the status quo and devise a more ecologically viable vision for the future.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that hope is the “expectation of something desired; desire combined with expectation….” Margaret Somerville’s view is that, “sometimes courage is necessary if we are to find hope”. Hope requires a sense of connection to the future, and if it is linked to the future, then hope is linked to potentialities and possibilities.

The idea of critical hope can be traced to the educationalist Paulo Freire in the 1980s, who, with respect to education for change, said,  “…hope is necessary, but it is not enough…We need critical hope the way a fish needs unpolluted water”.  So, the implementation of a syllabus for sustainability requires a critical view of hope to counter the despair generated by powerful hegemonic forces that maintain a global fossil fuel economy, preventing change. This means that such a syllabus for critical hope has to be outside the education system and presented in the context of life-long learning.

5  Critical Hope: A Syllabus

In early July 2017, the Rachel Carson Center, together with University of Austin, Texas 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 that renewable and essential resource: hope. A Syllabus for Hope framed by the conference consisted of 17 sections each of which was defined by an essay, with references, submitted by the conference attendees. It was presented for feedback as a global online educational resource by International Classrooms On Line.

Section 1: Listening Carefully

Section 2: Forging relationships

Section 3:  Sources of inspiration from politics to poetry

Section 4: Optimism in the Conservation Movement

Section 5: Role of Art in the Dissemination of Radical Hope

Section 6: The Art of Protest

Section 7: Recurring Earthquakes and the Rebirth of Hope

Section 8  Infrastructures of Hope

Section 9: Air Pollution: Issues and Solutions

Section 10: Thrifty Science

Section 11: Environmental Education for the Present & Future

Section 12: Environmental Security

Section 13: Phytoremediation in an Italian Steel Town

Section 14: A Syllabus of Radical Hope

Section 15: On Love and Property

Section 16: Design, Hybridity and Just Transitions

Section 17: Grassroots Technological Networks of Wind Energy

The syllabus is introduced with Alina Scott’s essay, ‘Living In Good Relation with the Environment: A Syllabus of Radical Hope’. She defined radical hope as a conscious effort to acknowledge the degradation of culture or environment, secondly, a willingness to educate oneself and others, and finally, a belief in humanity and the application of sustainable environmental practices. Radical hope requires some level of thinking beyond the present, acknowledging the failures and successes of the past, and being open to the action that knowledge demands. For Alina, Jonathan Lear’s book, Radical Hope (2006) opens the door to the discussion of vulnerability and ethics in the face of cultural devastation. The vulnerability facing the indigenous North American Crow Nation featured in Lear’s work can be applied to broader discussions of environmental degradation and change that is often accompanied by despair. Rather than dwell in despair, Carsten Wergin, who’s essay Listening Carefully defines Section1 of the syllabus,  suggests respectful and careful listening to others. Alina would like to suggest turning our ears toward the Garifuna peoples of Belize as the representation of radical hope and persistence.

6 Education For Sustainability: The French Model

The 2030 Agenda organizes action around five pillars: planet, people, prosperity, peace and partnership.  Protecting the planet is essential to address the needs of current and future generations. This requires preserving air quality, sustainable access to food and water, and rich and resourceful biodiversity. Containing climate change is necessary to achieve these goals and protect citizens from climate disasters.  The sustainable development of States relies on the principles of equality and dignity of people. Combating poverty, ensuring universal access to health care and food, and guaranteeing quality education and gender equality are prerequisites for a fair, sustainable society.  The development of States must establish inclusive, environmentally-friendly prosperity. In order to ensure peace and prosperity, science, technologies and innovation should serve everyone, for development on a human scale.  Reducing conflicts and building and consolidating peace are essential for establishing prosperous and sustainable societies, as development is impossible without security and security is impossible without development.  The fulfilment of the SDGs requires a new system of global solidarity and partnership. Inclusive partnerships, built on a common vision and shared goals focused around people and the planet, are essential at the global, regional, national and local levels. This solidarity is needed not only between nations but also with civil society, NGOs and the private sector.

Considering the involvement of civil society, the private sector and citizens to be essential for the successful achievement of the SDGs, France is working for ever more inclusive decision-making and action processes. The National Council for Development and International Solidarity (CNDSI) and the National Council for the Ecological Transition (CNTE) are the two preferred forums for liaison on the implementation of the SDGs.

The organization of a day of collaborative activities on the SDGs on 18 April 2016 also helped continue regular discussions with civil society regarding the implementation of the SDGs, with a focus on co-construction and collective intelligence for a collective mobilization to achieve the Goals.

In July 2016, France presented its report on the implementation of the SDGs (.pdf) at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), alongside 21 other volunteer States (China, Colombia, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Madagascar, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Norway, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Togo, Turkey, Uganda and Venezuela).

France’s national review was focused on climate and the Paris Agreement, women’s empowerment and education. It also highlighted the horizontal nature of the agenda, to which France is particularly sensitive, such as combating climate change, the ecological transition, and efforts in support of employment and the reduction of inequalities.

This year, 44 countries have volunteered to present their national review at the HLPF which will meet in New York in July

The new framework provided by the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs is a unique opportunity for all citizens to contribute to the creation of a sustainable world. To address the current environmental challenges, political and financial solutions are not enough. The achievement of the SDGs requires a change in our ways of life and our production and consumption patterns. That is why sustainable development education at all levels and innovation are central to development policies. The European Sustainable Development Week, from 30 May to 5 June, is a key time in the year to continue discussions and thinking around the SDGs.

7 Lessons From Small Island States

‘Islands First’ is an NGO working on behalf of the Small Island Developing States to confront the challenges of climate change, the depletion of ocean resources (including ocean acidification and biodiversity loss), and ocean level’s rise.  Small island countries have been the first to suffer the negative consequences of climate change and global warming, despite bearing little responsibility for creating the problem. (Fig 6) Islands First seeks to foster an appreciation for the need to rapidly cut carbon dioxide emissions with international policy makers.

Fig 6 The water level of Langa Langa Lagoon in the Solomon Islands’ Malaita Province almost reaches the veranda of a Busu village house on November 4, 2017. The South Pacific islands are experiencing some of the worse effects of sea level rises in the world due to climate change. Photo: Kyodo.

Islands First’s mission is to help the small island states, who represent nearly one-quarter of the votes at the United Nations.  They need to become effective and vocal advocates for change by building the capacity of their UN missions to influence environmental policy. At over 40 nations strong, the Small Island States can become a formidable political force within the UN system. Islands First will help them realize that potential.

Islands First proposes to empower the small island states to influence environmental policy through the use of some of the methods wielded so effectively by the wealthy nations. 

Islands First will assist the small island states by;

  1. Building the capacity of their UN missions by providing highly trained, professional advisors,
  2. Creating and sustaining strategic networks of scientific, environmental, and policy experts in order to share information and coordinate activities, and
  3. Devising comprehensive political strategies for advancing their environmental agenda.

As of 2020, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UNCTAD, lists 52 small island developing states. These are broken down into three geographic regions: the Caribbean;[4] the Pacific;[5] and Africa, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea (AIMS).,[6] including Associate Members of the Regional Commissions. Each of these regions has a regional cooperation body: the Caribbean Community, the Pacific Islands Forum and the Indian Ocean Commission respectively, which many SIDS are members or associate members of. In addition, most (but not all) SIDS are members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which performs lobbying and negotiating functions for the SIDS within the United Nations system. The UNCTAD website states that “the UN never established criteria to determine an official list of SIDS” but UNCTAD maintains a shorter, unofficial list on its website for analytical purposes.[7]

The COVID-19 pandemic will have profound, long-term consequences for economies and societies, including the future of work.  As part of The Great Reset needed to support the transition to a fairer, more sustainable post-COVID world.  Governments, organisations, communities and individuals have a responsibility, and a rare opportunity, to rethink their roles as core drivers of long-term resilience and future success. Leaders are now called on to build on what they have learned from the immediate crisis response to define their 2030 work agendas and lead the way towards a better and more human-centric global culture.  Every one of the following small island states has a strategy for reaching the Agenda 2030 targets.  But none of them have produced a syllabus to integrate a syllabus of critical hope into all levels of education to manage the cultural changes that are already underway.

CaribbeanPacificAfrica, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea (AIMS)
Anguilla[a][b][c] American Samoa[d][e][c] Bahrain[a][e]
Antigua and Barbuda Cook Islands[c] Cape Verde[e]
Aruba[f][g] Federated States of Micronesia Comoros[h]
Bahamas Fiji Guinea-Bissau[h][e]
Barbados French Polynesia[a][b][c] Maldives[g]
Belize Guam[d][e][c] Mauritius
British Virgin Islands[a][b][c] Kiribati[h] São Tomé and Príncipe[h][e]
Cuba[e] Marshall Islands Seychelles
Dominica Nauru Singapore[e]
Dominican Republic[g] New Caledonia[a][b][c]
Grenada Niue[c]
Guyana Northern Mariana Islands[a][e][c]
Haiti[h] Palau
Jamaica Papua New Guinea
Montserrat[a][c] Samoa
Netherlands Antilles[d][g][c] Solomon Islands[h]
Puerto Rico[a][g][c] Timor-Leste[h][a][g]
Saint Kitts and Nevis Tonga
Saint Lucia Tuvalu[h]
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Vanuatu[h]
Trinidad and Tobago
United States Virgin Islands[d][e][c]

8  Internet References

Radical hope 1 

Radical hope 2

Radical hope 3

Hope in dark times

Suffolk Kemps

Five pillars of 2030 Agenda (France)

Cultural  Education, Heritage, and Citizenship

Community fishing heritage

Belonging Together in Nature

Exploring Biosphere Sustainability with Arts Reasoning

Friday, June 18th, 2021

“Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is, humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions. (…). This virtue, one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they are extended to all sentient beings”. Charles Darwin, 1871.

1  Thinking with STEAM 

Fig 1 STEAM: the educational  integration of arts and science thinking

In the global education system ‘STEM’ represents science, technology, engineering and maths. “STEAM” represents ‘STEM’ plus the arts; i.e. painting, architecture, sculpture, literature, music, performing and cinema (Fig 1).  The arts teach creative means of reasoning such as expression of feelings, the understanding of different human perspectives, and an awareness of knowledge and emotions throughout the human social experience.  They also shape and share perceptions of the environment through artistic creation and practices. In particular, it is through the integration of arts with science thinking that sustainability as, an educational concept, enables people to envision and enact sustainable alternatives at their local level of the biosphere.  Therefore, integration of art and science is necessary to obtain the whole picture of world development because arts reasoning is typically an invitation to imagine ‘what if’?, whereas science reasoning alone gathers information about ‘what is’. Moving from what is? to what if? requires a bridge of self-learning to manage change for sustainability in the context of the cross curricular area of environmental humanities.

While there is no evidence that training in visual arts improves verbal or mathematical academic skills, correlational studies reveal that students who study the visual arts are stronger in geometrical reasoning than students who do not study the visual arts. Geometric reasoning is the use of critical thinking, logical argument and spatial reasoning to solve problems and find new relationships between data and knowledge. It facilitates students who wish to develop a personal, coherent body of knowledge and apply their reasoning skills to solve real life problems.  One experimental study found that learning to look closely at works of visual art seems to improve skills in observing and understanding scientific images – a typical instance of close skill transfer. 

Evidence of any impact of arts learning on creativity and critical thinking, or on behavioural and social skills, remains largely inconclusive, partly because of an insufficient volume of experimental research and also because of the difficulty in adequately measuring these skills  Researchers need to build stronger theoretical frameworks on why and how arts education can be hypothesised to develop certain skills, which then combine with other academic subjects. The first step is to develop a clear understanding of the kinds of skills developed by different forms of arts education, and then to determine whether these skills are specific to the arts or may also spill over to other fields. This blog references some of these skills e.g. scientific illustration,  education for empathy, art and sustainability, science in art, creativity, biospheric perception and cultural happiness.  As in other fields of education, it is also important to study how different ways of teaching the arts, particularly self-learning, foster different mixes of skills. 

2 Scientific illustration

Scientific illustrators represent aspects of science visually, particularly observations of the natural world. The emphasis in scientific illustration is on accuracy and utility, rather than on aesthetics, although scientific illustrators are skilled artists and often known for their aesthetic values (Fig 2). Scientific illustration was an indispensible part of scientific communication prior to photography. Since the development of photography, scientific illustration is particularly useful for selective renderings rather than lifelike accuracy. Examples are illustrations of stellar phenomena that are not visible to the human eye; or medical illustrations, which highlight particular parts of a complex physiological system.

Fig 2 Drawing of the head anatomy of a goat 

Captain James Cook’s voyages of exploration to the Pacific between 1768 and 1780 were the first of the great European voyages of discovery to carry professional artists with the role of making a scientific input.  Cook’s final voyages are of particular interest for their descriptions of the Pacific Northwest of America as well as Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. The book ‘The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages’ produced by Rüdiger Joppien and Bernard Smith in the 1980s defined the ways in which scientists made use of art to document and support their findings in a remarkable conjunction of scientific curiosity and aesthetic vision.  In the 1940s Bernard Smith had started his research by examining the instructions given to navigators on far voyages, and the degree to which the artists taken on such voyages succeeded in carrying them out. He concluded that as far as the documentation of plants, and the provision of coastal profiles as aids to navigation were concerned, the artists did succeed in providing the scientists with what they desired; faithful records of nature (Fig 3).

Fig 3 A Joseph Bank’s watercolour drawing, one of several hundred plants new to science discovered on Cook’s voyages. 

Am English botanical artist, collector and photographer Anna Atkins was the first person to illustrate a scientific book with photographic images.  Her nineteenth-century ‘cyanotypes’ used light exposure and a simple chemical process to create impressively detailed blueprints of botanical specimens, particularly marine algae (Fig 4). Atkins self-published her detailed and meticulous botanical images using the cyanotype photographic process in her 1843 book, ‘Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions’. With a limited number of copies, it was the first book ever to be printed and illustrated by photography. Two decades earlier Atkins’ first artistic undertaking had been to assist her father by hand-drawing more than 200 scientifically accurate illustrations for his translation of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s Genera of Shells, published in 1823 (Fig 5).

Fig 4 Example of one of Anna Atkins’ cyanotype photographs 

Fig 5 One of Anna Atkins’ illustration for Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s ‘Genera of Shells’: 1823

Worthington George Smith was one of many late 19th century UK artists with an interest in natural history and gardening who gradually developed a reputation as a botanical illustrator (Fig 6). His work appeared in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and in 1869 he became its chief illustrator, retaining this position for the next 40 years.  He also contributed illustrations to the Journal of Horticulture and other periodicals. In 1880, he co-authored Illustrations of the British Flora with the noted botanical illustrator Walter Hood Fitch.

Fig 6 Penstemons: Worthington George Smith.

Penstemons are one of the most abundant native wildflower species. There are over 250 species in North America, the greatest percentage of these are native to the American West.  They are highly praised by gardeners.  A comparison of  Worthington George Smith’s watercolour with a modern digital image  promoting plant sales (Fig 7) emphasises Smith’s artistic style and his larger than life  aesthetic bias.  

Fig 7 Digital photograph of three penstemon varieties

3  Education for empathy

The main justification for arts education is clearly the acquisition of artistic skills.  This is the current priority objective of arts education in the curricula of OECD countries. By artistic skills is meant not only the technical skills developed in different arts forms (playing an instrument, composing a piece, dancing, choreographing, painting and drawing, acting, etc.) but also the habits of mind and behaviour that are developed in the arts. 

Arts education matters because people trained in the arts play a significant role in the innovation process in OECD countries: teaching the arts should undoubtedly be one key dimension of a country’s innovation strategy. Ultimately, however, the arts are an essential part of human heritage and of what makes us human.  It is difficult to imagine a future education for better lives without an arts input.

Ultimately, even though there is some evidence of the impact of arts education on skills outside of the arts, the impact of arts education on other non-arts skills and on innovation in the labour market, is not necessarily the most important justification for arts education in today’s curricula. The arts have been in existence since the earliest humans.  They are parts of all cultures, and are a major domain of human experience, just like science, technology, mathematics, and humanities. In that respect, they are important in their own rights for education. Students who gain mastery in an art form may discover their life’s work or their life’s passion. But for all learners, the arts allow a different way of understanding than the sciences and other academic subjects. Because they are an arena without right and wrong answers, they free students to explore and experiment. They are also a place to introspect and find personal meaning.

In all dimensions of life it is time to acknowledge the intimate connectivity of humans to one another, and to the ecosystem as a whole. Arts reasoning is used for an individual to obtain a formulation of knowledge practical, productive, and theoretical of the part of the biosphere where they live, which can then be presented in the form of an artwork.  That is to say, art makes the invisible visible by the artist developing their personal notions about nature, for example in relation to sustainability.  Viewers in turn respond to these presentations in a personal way, thereby formulating their own explanation of sustainability and how they want to empathise with it.  In this connection, everything is dependent on that which came before, and everything is derived from things already there, so modern art history should be told through threads of continuity rather than tales of revolution and discovery.

Regarding the viewer’s empathy with the artist’s message, it can be overwhelming or nuanced. A giant sculpture of world leaders attending the 2021 G7 Summit appeared in Cornwall coinciding with the meeting.  The artwork was inspired by Mount Rushmore, the famous monument in America which depicts four iconic powerful presidents.  But while the US version was built in granite, this version – on display near Hayle Towans beach – is made from a mountain of discarded electronics and shows the cartoon faces of political leaders attending the Summit 2021. Its message is very clear from the title, ‘Mount Recycle: More’ (Fig 8)  A photographic image of a drowned fledgeling albatross carries a more subtle story of an environmental armageddon (Fig 9).

Fig 8 Mount Recycle More

Of 4,000 albatross autopsies by scientists in New Zealand nearly half had been killed by trawlers, The birds carried wounds of scraped away skin and feathers with exposed bones, caused by the steel wires that pull the trawl nets. Large seabirds such as albatrosses tend to be injured as a result of collisions with the wires while smaller birds are caught in nets and crushed or drowned.

Fig 9 A drowned Albatross

4 Art and sustainability

Art works remind us of our love of nature and wildlife. they enhance our respect and our empathic relationship with the natural world. They bring people together around an environmental cause.  Humanity is called on today to change many things, but most of all our understanding of the world we live in, our place in it, and our relationship to it and to one another.  To make this connection creativity and sustainability are closely linked. The aim of art for sustainability is to encourage people to make concerted efforts towards building an inclusive and resilient future for the planet.The UN’s Agenda 2030 with its 17 sustainability goals sets out the economic, social and environmental dimensions of a sustainable world. There are five areas of human behaviour that provide an educational platform to adopt the 2030 sustainability targets and they are, ” curiosity, creativity, taking initiative, multi-disciplinary thinking, and empathy

Cultural ecology defines the relationship between the use of environmental resources to make artifacts to support the establishment of social interactions in a material culture. Material culture is a term developed in the late 19th and early 20th century.  It refers to the relationship between artifacts and sociality.  A material culture is the outcome of the behaviour of people who make or build things from natural resources.  Humankind has a powerful proclivity to fashion everyday objects that are socially and culturally dependent.  Examples of artifacts fashioned in this way include clothes, magazines, newspapers, records, CDs, computer games, books, cars, houses and works of art.  Studying a culture’s relationship to materiality is a lens through which social and cultural attitudes to consumerism can be discussed.  In this plethora of innovation, the Pandemic has exposed a multitude of hidden threats to human wellbeing, which have challenged prevailing notions of security, laid bare the inadequacy of partial theories and siloed disciplines, revealing the limitations of narrowly framed top down sectoral policies and strategies.  The policies and strategies have to be implemented by specialized subjects and agencies.  They highlight fundamental questions regarding the complex, interconnected nature of the social reality on which our understanding of the world and ourselves is based.

A view of cultural production as a symbolic system with adaptive functions, varying from place to place, led anthropologists to conceive of different cultures having distinct patterns of enduring conventional sets of meaning.  Anthropologists distinguish between material culture and symbolic culture, not only because each reflects different kinds of human activity, but also because they constitute different kinds of data and require different methodologies to study them.  This view of culture, which came to dominate anthropology in the 1920s, implied that each culture was bounded and had to be understood as a whole, on its own terms. The result is a belief in cultural relativism, which suggests that there are no ‘better’ or ‘worse’ cultures, just different cultures.  The two main domains of high culture, the arts and the sciences, seem to be completely different, simply unrelated. Is there any sense then in talking about culture in the singular as a unity? A positive answer to this question presupposes that there is a single conceptual scheme.  Within such a scheme it should be possible to articulate both the underlying similarities and the basic differences between these domains.

Mitchell Thomashow’s book, ‘Bringing the biosphere home’ shows how to make global environmental problems more tangible, so that they become an integral part of everyday awareness. At its core is a simple assumption: that the best way to learn to perceive the biosphere is to pay close attention to our immediate surroundings. Through local natural history observations, imagination, memory and spiritual contemplation, we develop a place-based environmental view that can be expanded to encompass the greater biosphere, interweaving global change science, personal narrative, and commentary on a wide range of scientific and literary artifacts  In particular it provides many ideas for learning how to practice biospheric perception.  Biospheric perception is key to making a work of art that has a bearing on sustainability.  

5 Biospheric perception

The idea of biospheric perception is the theme of a collection of paintings in the Thyssen- Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, each of which has been conceived as a fragment of the biosphere to encourage wider and deeper thinking about planetary sustainability.  The works were selected based on aesthetic-experience criteria interrelating art and sustainable development.  The pictures have been brought together to be reinterpreted within a framework under which empathy with environment and sustainability may be generated. These works are not to be considered environmental art but masterpieces of art in place and time, allowing links between cultural production, society and sustainable development to be considered from a historical point of view.  The desire to achieve sustainable development is, just like producing art, inherent to human nature. An awareness that future generations will inherit the planet we leave them and of the need to act accordingly is exactly what has driven artists through time to leave a record of their world behind.  So, those born in the future can become better acquainted with the artists’ experiences, surroundings and stories and, indeed, learn about them as individuals.

Visitors to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection are able to take a tour through the museum’s permanent collections, stopping off at a number of works showing, from an aesthetic perspective, the relationship between art and the three pillars of sustainable development: the environment, society and the economy.  From Claudio de Lorena to Natalia Goncharova or from Vincent Van Gogh to Romare Beardmoveen, visitors are guided through the different styles defining the periods embodied by the artists.  The pictures show natural scenes, urban landscapes, the consequences of industrialisation, human consumption of resources and ethnic issues. Visitors are guided on a unique journey helping them to understand how the world has developed while enjoying the work of some of the most important painters of the last 500 years.  Such works reflect the protection of natural landscapes, the growth of cities, the consequences of industrialization, the emergence of women in a male dominated world and the use of resources and reuse of waste. Twelve of these pictures have been packaged as an online experience consisting of  a pdf version  and an interactive slide show.  International Classrooms On Line is developing the theme of biocentric perception as a mind map.

As one of the twelve, Mark Tobey’s painting Earth Rhythms represents the guiding theme of human population growth (Fig 10).   Earth Rhythms is painted in earthy tones, with light touches of red, blue and purplish threading their way through a number of floating white calligraphic lines that create Tobey’s personal spatial representation of the cosmos beyond the biosphere. Tobey’s guiding theme is the swarming movement of crowds on city streets.  This meditative study of ever-expanding nature goes beyond a traditional western contemplation and penetrates into biological rhythms. His feelings are centred in the aftermath of the armed conflicts that destroyed the Enlightenment values of modern Europe.  North America painting of the second half of the 20th century removed the contradictions of reality from its content and came back to abstraction in order to focus on the expression of the existential distress of the human condition. In a metaphorical sense, the universality of his themes turns this painting into an excuse to talk about the urgency of listening to the earth’s rhythms and respecting the limits of the planet in order to guarantee the the needs of future generations. 

Fig 10 Earth Rhythms Mark Tobey

A nomadic and cosmopolitan artist, Mark Tobey pioneered Abstract Expressionism in the United States.

4 Science in art

Verb: to fashion

Gerund or present participle: fashioning

  1. make into a particular form.
    “the bottles were fashioned from green glass”
  2. Use materials to produce (something).
    “the skins were fashioned into boots and shoes”
  3. Similar:

Construct; build; manufacture; make; create; fabricate; contrive; cast; frame; shape; form; mould; sculpt; forge; hew; carve; whittle; hammer; chisel;construct.

Ecology is a conceptual unifying scheme which deals with the interactions and relationships between artifacts, people and their environment.  In her Pocket Guide to Fashion Ecology, Kate Fletcher presents a topological map for ‘garment-related activities’ and ‘place’, which she devised using scientific concepts taken from biological classification.  

Here is Fletcher’s definition of a species.

A species is a clearly identifiable group, type or practice of textile and garment-related activity, e.g. cardigans, sales shopping, laundering techniques. Individual members of a species occurring in one place often look slightly different from individuals of the same species elsewhere, called ‘varieties’

Fletcher chose the fashioning of garments to exemplify a culture of making, but her definition of species can be applied to any cultural artifact, such as a work of art.  In other words, artists and scientists can come together with the same cross-cultural perspective.

Here are some more of her definitions.


A habitat is where a dress practice, garment type, colour palette, mending technique or fabric construction unfolds; i.e. its address. Each species of fashion activity needs particular conditions in order for it to survive. Its habitat is the source of these conditions.


A niche is how a species or type of fashion activity lives. It is the lifestyle or group of strategies employed by a fashion actor or practice to access the skills, resources, knowledge, styles and mythologies it needs in order to flourish.


An ecosystem is a community of dress types, garment structures and styles, fibre categories or ways of using clothes interacting as a system. These components are regarded as linked together through energy flows and the cycling of the basic elements necessary for fashion provision and expression. There is some exchange of fashion activity between ecosystems, but it is much slower than the exchange inside them. Fashion ecosystems behave in ways that cannot be predicted from knowing about their parts. Thus fashion ecologists hold the whole and explore patterns in complex webs of relationships.


An area of a place or garment differing from its surroundings is a patch. It is often the smallest distinct feature of a fashion ecosystem. Fashion ecologists are interested in how the elements that characterise patches, such as their physical form and where they are sited, affect ecological processes associated with garments, e.g. how long a piece lasts, where it is worn, how it looks, how it is valued.


Corridors are narrow patches that may act as links or barriers to a heterogeneous fashion ecosystem. Functionally important structures to an ecosystem, corridors influence the dispersal of material assets, skills and creativity in the surroundings and thus affect the persistence of a diverse set of fashion activities and processes. Things as varied as powerful business interests, preconceived ideas or celebrity endorsements of consumer culture might form barriers to conceiving of a range of other (shy? less agile? feral?) alternative fashion experiences.

Keystone Species 

A keystone species has a disproportionately large effect on its surroundings relative to its size. It plays a unique and crucial role in the way other, surrounding species function. It might be a sewing machine repair mechanic or a Mackintosh computer. Without it, other fashion species would be different or cease to exist altogether.


In the ecological world of fashion interactions, organisms – like wardrobes or brands – only grow until they reach mature size, i.e. the size that enables them to successfully occupy their niche. Few organisms expand indefinitely. To thrive in a niche, appropriate size counts, as does the flow of energy and the physical circulation of fibre, fabric and garment around the organism. Here the system develops qualitatively without an increase in quantitative size.


Extinction is the elimination of a species and with it its unique configuration code and conditions responsible for producing it. The loss of one species affects all, making for a poorer total fashion system. When one type of fashion activity or practice is in trouble, generally the whole ecosystem needs protection.

5 The creative process

Kwame Dawes, is Distinguished Poet who defines the creative process in making a work of art as a succession of thoughts and actions leading to original and ‘appropriate’ productions. He describes the creative process at two levels: a macro level, featuring all the stages of the creative process, and a micro level, which explains the mechanisms underlying the creative process itself, e.g., divergent thinking or convergent thinking. Dawes says he writes…. “in what is probably a vain effort to somehow control the world in which I live, recreating it in a manner that satisfies my sense of what the world should look like and be like”.  He tries to capture in the language of art the things that he sees and feels, as a way of recording their beauty and power and terror, so that he can return to those things and relive them. In that way, he is trying to have some sense of control in a chaotic world.  “I want to somehow communicate my sense of the world—that way of understanding, engaging, experiencing the world—to somebody else. I want them to be transported into the world that I have created with language”.

So the ultimate aim is to create an environment of empathy, where a person can seem to rise out of themselves and extend themselves into others and live within others. That has a tremendous power for the mind.

I am a tornado child

         born in the whirl of clouds; the center crumbled,

         then I came. My lovers know the blast of my chaotic giving;

         they tremble at the whip of my supple thighs;

         you cross me at your peril, I swallow light

         when the warm of anger lashes me into a spin,

         the pine trees bend to me swept in my gyrations

The main creative purpose of Dawes’ poetic abstraction is not to tell a story, but to encourage involvement and imagination. This art form is mostly about providing its viewers with an intangible and emotional experience – more often than not, the experience is completely different for every individual depending on their personality and state of mind.

Strictly speaking, the word abstract means to separate or withdraw something from something else.  Abstract painting is considered one of the purest forms of expression, as it allows its creator to freely communicate visually without the constraint of forms found in objective reality.  Arshile Gorky’s viewpoint is that abstraction allows us to see with our mind what we cannot see physically with our eyes.  “… Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.

The change, or abstraction, takes place in the mind of the artist and is communicated as a unique social artefact through the work of art.  However, the  drivers of innovation are future-oriented, consumer-centric manufacturers or retailers who run digital and agile operations at all levels.  They focus on customer data, use advanced analytics to make faster and better decisions, and win and retain digital talent. In their internal organization.  They use agile methods to react quickly to changing requirements and to pick up on trends early on. Take the production of cushions for example.

Cushions are widespread artifacts of creativity bound up with consumerism, where there are markets to satisfy rich and poor alike, making them symbols of capitalism in action and a good focus for research into the relationship between art-artifacts and sociality. Nowadays, throw or scatter cushions are everyday objects, used to bring colour and comfort to the home with a hundred fold price range set by the materials and skills used in mass/craft production and the extent to which an artist/designer is involved in their marketing.  Within the home decoration and home textiles sector, cushion covers fall under the home textiles category. A cushion cover is a fabric case that covers a cushion, like a pillowcase does. Cushion covers function primarily as decoration, providing a relatively inexpensive way for consumers to express personal styles of decorations in living rooms and bedrooms. Interactive cushions are now available to carry unambiguous text messages.  Smart interactive cushions integrate computer technology and sensors into the textile component to create interactive objects such as music cushions.

But cushions started as true luxury items, available only to the wealthiest.  The earliest known is circa 7,000 BC, in the early civilizations of Mesopotamia.  Cushions were related to status – the more you owned the more affluent you were seen to be. In a time of discomfort for the majority, to be comfortable was to be prosperous. Although no cushions survive from this period, we are able to ascertain their style and use from ancient wall art.  As dyes and fabrics were very expensive, cushions became individual pieces of art that represented the taste and wealth of the owner.

Cushions from the Egyptian period are best known for being wooden or stone headrests.  In this way, they are closer to the meaning of the word ‘pillow’ which derives from the latin word ‘pulvinus’.  ‘Pulvinus’ shares its etymology with the word ‘pulpit’ – the raised standing platform in churches.   This is, essentially, what pillows or cushions were to the Egyptians – raised platforms for the head. Most famously, these hard cushions have been found in the tombs of Egypt, supporting the heads of mummies.

In Europe, the tradition of cushion and pillow usage derived from the classical Greek and Roman usage.  These cultures, having taken a long hard look at the wooden cushions of Egyptian times and the fact they mostly seemed to support the head of dead people, decided that something more comfortable was in order.  Stuffing their cushions with straw, feathers and reeds, they created cushions akin to those we still use today.  They had large cushions for reclining on smaller cushions for chairs and cushions for sleeping.  Just like the Egyptians, they still placed cushions under the heads of the dead.

The transfer of the idea of the cushion from a fashion accessory to describe a plant form is an example of parallel or convergent evolution of shape/form, a scientific idea that emerged in the early development of plant ecology.  Species from many different plant families on different continents converged on the same evolutionary adaptations to endure harsh environmental conditions (Fig 11). Cushion plants grow very slowly and evenly. They grow rosettes of leaves all at once so that no one part of the plant is more exposed than others. The flowers are small and often massed closely nestled in the leaves for protection.  A cushion plant is compact, low-growing, with large and deep tap roots.  They have life histories adapted to slow growth in a nutrient-poor environment with delayed reproductivity and reproductive cycle adaptations. 

Fig 11 Silene acaulis (Moss campion)

Cushion plants became home fashion accessories for embellishing gardens with the craze to assemble cushion plants in stone troughs.  Modern rock gardens  are generally considered to have evolved from the landscape grottoes of the 17th and 18th centuries. The first rock garden constructed specifically for the growing of alpine cushion plants was probably created in 1774 for the Chelsea Physic Garden.

7 Cultural happiness

“The British Royal Academy mounted three exhibitions in 2017, Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932 , opened 11th February, America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, opened 25th February and Mattise in the Studio, opened 5th August.  The first presented joyful views of the construction of Stalin’s utopia.  The second was set in the time of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 with the collapse of international capitalism and the third presented a man’s dreams of sensual wellbeing and harmony, encapsulated in the title of Matisse’s first great imaginary composition, Luxe, Calme et Volupté (Luxury, Calm and Delight, 1904) – no workers, no dispossessed, no technology, just nudes, bright colours and a beautiful seaside setting”.

All three stories are relevant to tackling the global environmental crisis facing humankind today.  For the critic Nicholas Watkins, looking back over the modern period, we have every reason to think that “people have been motivated more by aspirations to happiness, personal fulfilment and pleasure than by political directives, five-year plans or invocations to national greatness”.  In this respect ‘The Joy of Life’ (fig 12) is the key work in Matisse’s creativity. In it are seen for the first time many of the poses and figure groups he was to explore over the next few years in drawings, sculptures and paintings: the reclining nude, the standing nude, the crouching nude, the twin standing nudes and the ring of dancers treading out a dance on the beach by the sea in the sheer pleasure of just being.  Can we attain this economy in the new decarbonised world of well being for 2030?  Carol Graham of the Brookings Institute says to find the answer we have to reconsider our benchmarks of progress and think deeply about the extent to which we value creative opportunities and achievements, and how much we should emphasise things such as health, leisure, and friendships over productivity and longer working hours.

Fig 12 Henri Matisse, The Joy of Life (1905).

Matisse’s thinking about well being caused his imagination to turn this (Fig 13):  

Fig 13  Matisse and his model 

Into this (Fig 14);

Fig 14 Odalisque in yellow robe: 1937

Which is more memorable?  Matisse’s dedication to articulating the inner spirituality of femalekind and nature led to a fusion of style and content that resulted in dramatic, imaginative, rhythmic, and emotional canvases that convey far more than the mere appearance of the subject.  Matisse’s works are really visual puzzles that manifest the dialectic between physical objects and pictoriality.  They refer to the “constitutive character of symbolic renderings in the making of ‘experience’.  His works are expressions of sexual dimorphism, where sexual attraction is the basis of seeing, imaging, and picturing.   Lips half open with limbs positioned to entice, the female figures of Henri Matisse’s odalisque paintings exude an undiminished sensuality. Anther interpretation is that Matisse’s picture is a powerful example of visuality, which tells a story of female sexual slavery and subjugation in modern art.  This goes to show picture making is an example of Immanuel Kant’s contention that human thought needs images.  When we speak of “visuality” rather than vision, we address the difference introduced into seeing by the cultural meanings of the time consolidated as images. In visuality, seeing becomes “viewing.” In visuality, one does not see the world; rather, one sees an image of the world, so the arts can offer important contributions to the challenge of engaging and learning about the drivers of social changes. That is to say, art has multiple potentials that can be harnessed for engaging with big social issues such as climate change education.  Pictures really do have a capacity to engage emotions and imagine the future to create hope, responsibility and care, as well as healing. With respect to all of this, art is a powerful form of cross-curricular communication; it can integrate diverse knowledge through experiential learning and it can engage young people in deeper, embodied, and potentially transformative ways with the subject. 

6  Internet References

Matisse’s Studio

Learning about climate change with art

Revisioning the Pacific

Art and Sustainability

Art and Sustainability 2

Art and Sustainability 3

Merging the Arts and Sciences

Paul Cezanne: List of Works

Belonging to the Biosphere

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

1 The biosphere

Fig 1  Different parts of planet Earth

The biosphere is made up of parts of Earth where life exists i.e. it includes all the planet’s ecosystems. The biosphere extends from the deepest root systems of trees, to the dark environments of ocean trenches, to lush rainforests, high mountaintops, and transition zones where ocean and terrestrial ecosystems meet.  The presence of living organisms of any type defines the biosphere.  Humans are an integral part of the biosphere, and human activities have important impacts on it.  The burning of fossil fuels and the growth of animal agriculture has led to the accumulation of large amounts of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the biosphere causing global warming. In turn, global warming drives climate instability.  Some of the changes humans have brought to the biosphere are extremely dangerous, such as the atmospheric build-up of carbon dioxide, and pollution of fresh and salt waters, soil and air. 

Earth’s atmosphere is wafer thin when compared with the size of the planet, with about 50% of the atmospheric mass existing in a layer which extends less than 6km out from the surface. The rest of the atmosphere stretches up to about 680km, but  gets progressively thinner as it gets further from Earth’s surface. The distance from the Earth’s core to the outer reaches of the atmosphere is 6,550km. All animal and plant life exists in a layer at most 30km thick.  This a comparatively small amount of space within which humankind has developed a diversity of cultural, socio-economic and political characteristics. Nevertheless, people wherever and however they live also have similar and specific problems that can be addressed in a common way.The ‘Man and the Biosphere’ programme  (MAB) is an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for enhancing the relationship between people and their environments. It combines the natural and social sciences with a view to improving human livelihoods and safeguarding natural and managed ecosystems.  Thus, MAB provides an international educational setting to promote innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable.  The  MAB programme was formally launched in 1971 as an intergovernmental scientific initiative to improve the relationship between people and their environment, by proposing interdisciplinary research, education and  professional training in natural resources management.  Over the years it has developed a learning platform based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals, which is a collection of 17 interlinked targets designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.  The SDGs were set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030. They are included in a UN Resolution called the 2030 Agenda or what is colloquially known as Agenda 2030. The SDGs were developed in the Post-2015 Development Agenda as the future global development framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, which ended in 2015.

No matter how it is expanded, the major pillar of cultural ecology is the biosphere and humankind’s interactions within it.  We belong to the biosphere and everything we do has an impact upon it.  Being but one product of its evolution and are absolutely dependent upon it for day to day survival.  

All cultures, especially those in the transition zones of small islands and narrow coastal strips, are highly vulnerable to climate change, the impacts of which cause poverty, natural disasters, depopulation, loss of traditional culture and the detrimental effect of invasive species. These changes alter the balance of marine and terrestrial island ecosystems and cause irreversible loss of biodiversity.  This is why communities in transition zones make good educational models for understanding how to live sustainably. 

Established in 2012, the World Network of Island and Coastal Biosphere Reserves aims to study, implement and disseminate island and coastal strategies to preserve biodiversity and heritage, promote sustainable development, and adapt to and mitigate the transition effects of climate change. Its two technical headquarters coordinate the network and work together at the global level: the office in the island of Jeju (Republic of Korea) focuses on climate change issues while the other in Menorca (Spain) specializes in sustainable development. This network is formed by the representatives of twenty islands and coastal biosphere reserves around the world and is open to all islands and coastal biosphere reserves that want to join it.  The World Biosphere Network is a potential vehicle for organising an educational democracy to implement the 2030 International agenda for sustainability.  This was the target of the young people who wrote a young person’s Agenda 21 arising from the 1992 Environment Summit.

2 The pedagogy

Fig 2 Knowledge silos

Odi Selomane, co-author of ‘Agenda 2030 Through the Complexity Lens’, says the major challenges currently facing the world, including persistent poverty, rising inequalities, biodiversity loss, and climate change, are increasingly recognized as the emergent outcomes of social and ecological interactions.  Classical learning ‘ologies’, are not suitable to handle this cross curricular complexity.  They are isolated information silos designed by examination boards for teachers to feed facts into passive learners, turning them into narrow specialists.  Silo learning is not suitable for understanding how to define, study and manage world development where the aim of education is to answer the question, How does an individual make a place in the world?.  

Actually, there are numerous opportunities for learners to build their own body of cross disciplinary knowledge as a mindset for living sustainably.  The central cross-curricular theme in education for sustainable living is cultural ecology which, as a knowledge framework, can be structured in many different ways by individuals as personal statements of how they see the cultural relationship between themselves and  the environment.  Therefore the pedagogy linking humankind with the biosphere entails the use of digital mind mapping apps with the intent of enhancing the use of mapping in both personal and collaborative settings. In this context, a mind map is a graphical learning tool that allows users to create and share visual representations of things like lectures, notes, and Internet research; in fact, assembling a representation of the individual’s mindset. The purpose is to establish an educational environment where learners can determine their own goals, learning paths, processes, and products. The learner is at the center of the learning process, rather than the teacher or the curriculum.  This has been labelled as heutagogical oriented learning.  The purpose is to establish an environment where learners can determine their own goals, learning paths, processes, and products. 

Learning is a lifelong progression.  As a process it should stretch and challenge the more able and talented learners and enable them to progress along the continuum of learning at a pace appropriate to them.  Instilling learners with passion and pride in themselves, their communities and their country is a central goal.  Learners should be grounded in an understanding of the identities, landscapes and histories that come together to form their homeland. This will allow them to develop a strong sense of their own identity and well-being, and develop an understanding of others’ identities and make connections with people, places and histories elsewhere and across the world. 

3  Progression

Fig 3 Educational progression by self directed learning

As learners progress as individuals assembling their own body of knowledge, they should become increasingly effective. This includes increasingly successful approaches to self-evaluation, identification of their next steps in learning and more effective means of self-regulation. In particular;

  • they become increasingly able to seek appropriate support and to identify sources of that support. 
  • they ask more sophisticated questions and find and evaluate answers from a range of sources.
  • they become increasingly effective at learning in a social and work-related context.  

A number of conceptual models of progression exist. The following prescription summarises the process as it is visualised in a new curriculum for Wales. 

No single model has been employed in the creation of the descriptions of learning. Instead, teachers should be mindful of a variety of ways in which learners may progress at different points in the learning journey, and over different lengths of time, as they help students to create and develop their personal curriculum.  Progression in learning is seen as a process of increasing sophistication, rather than covering a growing body of content. Progression is individual to each learner. It requires space for diversion, reinforcement and reflection as a learner’s thinking develops over time to new levels.   Learners should be able to set goals, make decisions and monitor interim results. They should be able to reflect and adapt, as well as manage time, people and resources. They should be able to check for accuracy and be able to create different types of value.

The development of these skills allows learners to work across disciplines, providing them with opportunities for both synthesis and analysis. There is particular potential for innovation in making and using connections between different disciplines and areas.  The role of the teacher is to support learners to develop as ambitious, capable learners who:

  • set themselves high standards and seek and enjoy challenge
  • are building up a body of knowledge and have the skills to connect and apply that knowledge in different contexts
  • are questioning and enjoy solving problems
  • can communicate effectively in different forms and settings, using both Welsh and English
  • can explain the ideas and concepts they are learning about
  • can use number effectively in different contexts
  • understand how to interpret data and apply mathematical concepts
  • use digital technologies creatively to communicate, find and analyse information
  • undertake research and evaluate critically what they find and are ready to learn throughout their lives to:
  • develop an appreciation of sustainable development and the challenges facing humanity
  • develop awareness of emerging technological advances
  • be supported and challenged so that they are prepared to confidently meet the demands of working in uncertain situations, as changing local, national and global contexts result in new challenges and opportunities for success
  • be afforded the space to generate creative ideas and to critically evaluate alternatives – in an ever-changing world, flexibility and the ability to develop more ideas will enable learners to consider a wider range of alternative solutions when things change
  • build their resilience and develop strategies which will help them manage their well-being – they should be encountering experiences where they can respond positively in the face of challenge, uncertainty or failure
  • learn to work effectively with others, valuing the different contributions they and others make – they should also begin to recognise the limitations of their own work and those of others as they build an understanding of how different people play different roles within a team.

4  Mind mapping

Fig 4 Advantages of mind mapping in self directed learning

Mind mapping software is a set of graphical tools for organizing and representing a body of knowledge.  It is a collection of concepts  arising from a central idea, usually enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and relationships between concepts and the central idea indicated by a connecting line linking two concepts.  The mind map represents a body of knowledge a learner is exploring.  The non-linear process of creating a mind map makes it an ideal medium for numerous creative activities that link branches of knowledge in new ways. Mind maps are especially useful to explore new concepts, record and take notes, reflect on one’s thought processes, communicate ideas quickly and collaboratively with others, and look for patterns when synthesizing information from existing knowledge frameworks.   Because mind maps reflect the structure of their author’s thought process on a given subject at a particular time, they are useful for creatively filling in “gaps” in a map as well as understanding the author’s holistic conception of a new problem domain.  Most importantly, others can interact with a map by adding branches or rearranging the entire structure.  Supporting real-time collaboration, facilitating pervasive storage of information, and affording dynamic content presentation are all features of digital mind maps that significantly improve the use of such systems to assemble a personal body of knowledge. 

To support real-time collaboration, International Classrooms Online (ICOL) is testing three web applications, Google Blogger, MindMeister and GoConqr, that provide instant feedback of user contributions and allows individuals and groups to contribute and provide feedback on mind maps more easily. The proposition is that digital mind mapping systems enable a dynamic browsing experience for the user, providing a summary of a knowledge system’s most important points and an adaptive layout that supports the user’s browsing intent.  ICOL’s goal is to build and evaluate a working implementation of the digital mind mapping experience to expand the possibilities of real-time networking of collaborative thinking about living sustainably and conservation management. The objective is to encourage the production of customized, digital versions of Agenda 2030, using online data and information about UNESCO’s Man and the Environment Programme.  

Fig 5  Mind map of ‘belonging to the biosphere

Go to the interactive version

5  Rescue Mission: Planet Earth

The starting point for ICOLs initiative is the book entitled Rescue Mission Planet Earth, an educational outcome of the Earth Summit, held in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, which was the largest meeting of world leaders ever.  Together these leaders created a document called AGENDA 21, a voluntary blueprint for saving Planet Earth.

Thousands of young people from nearly 100 countries worked together in an extraordinary effort to find out exactly what was agreed in this important document.  The highlight was the speech by 12 year old Severn Cullis-Suzuki, “Listen to the Children”.  At age 9, she founded the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO), a group of children dedicated to learning and teaching other youngsters about environmental issues.  In 1992, at age 12, Cullis-Suzuki raised money with members of ECO to attend the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Along with group members Michelle Quigg, Vanessa Suttie, and Morgan Geisler, Cullis-Suzuki presented environmental issues from a youth perspective at the summit.

Rescue Mission: Planet Earth was designed, written and illustrated by young people to inspire children all over the world to join the rescue mission “to save our planet, our only home”.

Here is an extract from the foreword written by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, then Secretary-General, United Nations.

“I sincerely hope that this book will help children from all countries better to understand and appreciate this fragile world in which we live and to  dedicate themselves to do everything possible to protect and enhance this Earth”.

On International Earth Day, 1996 the United Nations Environment Program published ‘Taking Action: An environmental Guide for You and Your Family. and ‘Rescue Mission Planet Wales’ was launched’.  This in turn promoted The Schools and Community Agenda 21 Network (SCAN) sponsored by The Countryside Council for Wales, Dyfed County Council and Texaco. 

SCAN is now being promoted by the National Museum of Wales as a network of schools dedicated to recording climate change through the timing of flowering of spring bulbs.

Further developments of rescue mission involving young people are:

1  The publication of Climate Change: Take Action Now, by UNICEF was aimed at getting young people involved with climate change, with the following introduction;

The environment is precious and we should protect it like a mother hen protects its chicks. We should prevent deforestation, find solutions through actions that will prevent air pollution, and promote awareness to the people, particularly young people, who are tomorrow’s future.” Sarah Baikame, age 17, Cameroon

2  The establishment of the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) was mandated in 2012 by the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), “The Future We Want”. The format and organizational aspects of the Forum are outlined in General Assembly resolution 67/290.

3   The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development is the central UN platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on 25 September 2015.

6 Internet References

Digital mind mapping

Agenda 2030

Heutagogy Explained

Taking Action 1

Taking Action 2

Biosphere: Encyclopedia of Earth

Cultural Ecology of Urban Cemeteries

Thursday, May 20th, 2021

Stanley Spencer; The Resurrection, Cookham, 1924-7.

‘In the four or five million years since their development, humans have colonized virtually every terrestrial environment of the planet. Humans everywhere are virtually the same biologically (in spite of visible but superficial differences) but have been able to adapt to the enormous environmental diversity of the planet through culture, an incredibly flexible and adaptive mechanism that other animals lack. Thus, humans have been a very successful species. Human activity has a wide range of impacts on the environment, however, from exceedingly minor to catastrophic. Today, human activities are having huge impacts on the very environment on which we depend, ultimately threatening our own existence. Understanding and dealing with these challenges is a daunting but essential task’

Mark Q. Sutton and E. N. Anderson

1  Garden cemeteries

There is no better place to contemplate on humanity’s unique flexible and adaptive cultural mechanism than the cultural diversity of a graveyard. Culture brings people together from varying backgrounds who all share a similar belief system. Thoughts on death and what may or may not come next have varied greatly from culture to culture, with each group expressing unique opinions. However, every individual’s belief will vary and can be on a spectrum even if they identify with a certain practice.

Urban cemeteries were conceived and designed in the 19th century as gardens of the dead and as memorials to local people. They were a major cultural adaptation in the West to urbanisation with respect to disposal of the dead. There was little dispute about the means. Burial was the norm; cremation a peculiar foreign custom. The difficulty lay in finding room in expanding cities for an ever-increasing number of corpses. The burgeoning population of cities was filling up its small churchyards, burial grounds and vaults.  This need for burial space was met by large planned graveyards combining architecture, sculpture and landscape.   It makes these cemeteries like no other place in the historic environment, where culture and ecology may be seen as one conservation management system.

Now, the inscription on memorials, the design of monuments, the choice of stones, the architecture of building and landscape design have all been adapted to shed light on past social customs and cultural events.  They combine to make a cemetery an irreplaceable historical resource and an important record of local social history.  Each cemetery is also the biography of its surrounding community. Today, they are valued as places for quiet reflection, as semi wild green spaces managed for human well being. 

The anthropologist Julian Steward (1902-1972) coined the term ‘cultural ecology’ to describe the ‘ways in which cultural change is induced by adaptation to the environment’. Developing this definition and referring more specifically to ‘culture’ as expressly manifested in artistic works, cultural ecology is an interdisciplinary educational framework to unite and mobilise people who share the conviction that radical and widespread cultural change to bring people and nature together is vital to combat the climate emergency.  

In particular, a garden cemetery is an educational example of cultural ecology.  It is a small segment of the biosphere for reflection and action.  It is part of Earth’s open system, which because it relies on outside sources such as the sun, will eventually have an end.  The big picture is that stars die because they exhaust their nuclear fuel. However, death by total obliteration of life, was not an end for the majority of Victorians, but the beginning of a new future.  As the Victorian Tennyson wrote in his poem “Crossing the Bar”:

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crossed the Bar’.

“Crossing the bar” refers to the death of a mariner.  The phrase has its origin in the fact that most rivers and bays develop a sandbar across their entrances, and ‘crossing the bar’ meant leaving the safety of the harbor for the unknown.”  The moral lesson of this poem for Victorians was that we should not fear or mourn death because when we die we are going to meet our “Pilot”, alias God, on a voyage to eternity and resurrection.  The Victorians who bought or leased plots in their local municipal graveyard believed in the biblical stories regarding the nature of resurrection, such as;

“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”

John 5:28-29

Thus, belief in bodily resurrection, which reflects the Biblical resurrection of Jesus in the flesh and bone, together with Christian belief in a ‘world without end’, are both against scientific understandings of the cosmos where matter is finite. What about the promise that death and judgement will be the final destiny of the soul and of humankind?  According to scripture, Jesus was resurrected in flesh and bone;

 “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 

The belief in resurrection and ascension to Heaven, which sustained the graveyard mourners was accompanied by a growing interest in séances and spiritualism as a way to remain in contact with the dead. 

Jesus’ tomb was found empty and the post-resurrection Jesus that was encountered was not a spiritual body but a physical ecological one. Thus, the dualism of body and soul, which allows for resurrection of the soul in popular Christianity today, counters both the Biblical and ecological narrative.

We can reflect on these contradictions whilst musing in a graveyard where, according to Nathanial Hawthorne, romance, poetry, ivy, lichens and wallflowers need ruin to make them grow.  Graveyards are a place where different human concerns about bereavement meet: sadness, loss, history, tragedy, and uncertainty for the future.

2 Making a garden cemetery

John Claudius Loudon had a major impact on the design of the cemeteries within the Victorian period. His book ‘On the laying out, planting and managing of cemeteries‘ (1843)

was the “goto manual” of the period. He reasoned that the most efficient layout of burial plots was a rectangular grid system, connected by a series of tree-lined drives and paths. Where the cemetery site was hilly, he recommended broad sweeping drives to nullify the gradients, resulting in a more undulating layout.

Loudon expected grand cemeteries to attract a ‘certain class of people’ so he recommended a boundary wall 10 to 12 feet high, in addition to a main keeper’s lodge to keep undesirables out. He also suggested a combination of chapels at the centre, including both an Anglican one and  Non-conformist one. He admired the principles of Jewish and Quaker burial practices, such as the practice of burial as soon as possible after death, and a prohibition on limited burial rights, and used them to advocate against the re-use of graves. He deplored the use of lead lined coffins, due to the problems of methane gas arising from putrefaction in a closed space. “Even in some of the public catacombs of the new London cemeteries explosions have been known to take place, and the undertaker was obliged to be sent in to resolder the coffin”.

He was a strong advocate for certain types of planting too. Concerned about the annual leaf fall of leaves from deciduous trees, he recommended pines, cypress, yew, and juniper, particularly those with “conical shapes,  Evergreen trees have been associated with places of burial from time immemorial because they symbolise notions about the ephemerality of human endeavours and the sublime power of nature.

The horrific state of parish churchyards particularly in London had led to their widescale closure in the early decades of the 19th century and the creation of a huge wave of new privately-run cemeteries outside urban boundaries. Most of these new burial grounds were being laid out in the style of parks but Loudon was highly critical of this. He argued that cemeteries should combine moods of quiet repose, solemnity and grandeur and have a mixture of architecture and landscape that was instantly recognisable, and never be mistaken for a public park or a country residence. Cemeteries should also be considered to have a moral and educational purpose, where “architecture, beauty, scale, and style were not only connected with aesthetics , but with fitness for function”.

Everything about the design of the new cemeteries, from the flora and fauna to the monuments and  pathways, was aimed at eliciting feelings, and awaken memories of the dead. Cemeteries would thus in turn encourage people to think about their own mortality and place in the world, or as Loudon himself put it, “the delight with which we recollect the traces of their lives, blends itself insensibly with the emotions which the scenery excites”. 

It was the intention of the designers that the very purpose of the cemeteries was to be an amenity for the surrounding population. Although most fell into disrepair, ironically today they are still valuable within their communities. The formation of ‘Friends’ groups and Restoration Societies has given people the chance to volunteer and contribute to their community’s use of a repurposed urban space. Most cemeteries have now been re-instated to commemorate the dead and are still religiously active. Many are maintained to support local fauna and flora, providing a haven for wildlife in the middle of a city. Above all, Rutherford cemeteries remain a valuable cross curricular educational resource for architecture, ecology, history, geology and other subjects”, which was in fact what Loudon had always envisioned.   He was also concerned that burials should be conducted;

“—– in such a manner as that their decomposition, and return to the earth from which they sprung, shall not prove injurious to the living; either by affecting their health, or shocking their feelings, opinions, or prejudices. The secondary purpose was thought, or ought to be the improvement of the moral sentiments and general taste of all classes, and more especially of the great masses of society”.

Translating this into present times, graveyards can be places where people learn to locate themselves in cultural ecology to equilibrate society with changing times.

3 Heart-ware.

Cardiff’s Cathays Cemetery, originally known as New Cemetery, occupies 30 acres of arable farmland purchased by local government on the 7th March 1859 from Wyndham William Lewis of the nearby  Heath Estate, at a cost of £4,500. The ground was laid out and chapels built during that year. The cemetery was consecrated 28th October 1859 by the Bishop of Llandaff.  As a garden cemetery, Cathays Cemetery (Fig 1) has a substantial tree collection, which began with planting in the early 1860s.

Fig 1 

Trees are an important part of a graveyard’s ecological assets.  There are also very large numbers of listed buildings in cemeteries, according to the National Monuments Records including lodges and houses, boundary walls, gates, mortuary chapels, cemetery chapels, tombs, headstones and mausoleums. Taken together these cultural assets define a community’s heart-ware and there is a strong case to be made that cemeteries have especial architectural and landscape interest because they have often been trapped in a time-warp, and have not been modified, adapted, overlaid, or even destroyed, as has so much else in the historic environment.

The spirituality pedestal that the brain currently occupies used to belong to the heart. For much of history, the heart was the seat of what made humans human.  As a mental toolkit, heart-ware enables us to reflect and think about where we are going, why we are going there and what really matters.  It allows us to explore how modernity and our constricted notions of progress have contributed to today’s crisis of values, and argues for a re-establishment and re-affirmation of self-transcending priorities, together with an ethos of moderation and sufficiency.  Heart-ware supports a wide range of human concerns, including, 

  • material culture and spiritual teachings; 
  • sustainability and the spiritual perspective;
  • traditional and indigenous knowledge; technology and spirituality; 
  • notions of meaningful design; 
  • and how particular material things can have deeper, symbolic significance. 

Heart-ware also supports reflections on cultural issues, such as the language of design and its relationship to wisdom, social disparity and traditional sacred practices.  This is why the heart is so often used metaphorically in spiritual writings to encapsulate a primary source of so much that happens in our spiritual lives. It also explains why love is associated with the heart, as authentic love comes from the “core” of our being, not something that is on the “surface”, and reintroduces us to our physical and spiritual selves..  

The path to spiritual integrity lies through the way we use material things.  Therefore, every aspect of our relation to what is around us is significant. The challenge for us as human beings is to work out how we live humanly, taking our part in a larger and more mysterious set of processes.  It’s not about trying to stand above or outside the world that makes us real.  Life is about addressing critical aspects of dominant material cultures and the associated devastating production-consumption systems. These systems offer new insights for designers to explore alternative approaches to the world of objects, including ones that can lead to human fulfillment and well being.  In this connection, economic development can lead to the loss of one’s social structure and culture causing a grief reaction, described by Eisenbruch as cultural bereavement. Detachment from nature involves the loss of the familiar, including language (especially colloquial and dialect), attitudes, values, social structures and support of migration.  Eisenbruch has defined extreme cultural bereavement as;

 “the experience of the uprooted person – or group – resulting from loss of social structures, cultural values and self-identity: the person – or group – continues to live in the past, is visited by supernatural forces from the past while asleep or awake, suffers feelings of guilt over abandoning culture and homeland, feels pain if memories of the past begin to fade, but finds constant images of the past (including traumatic images) intruding into daily life, yearns to complete obligations to the dead, and feels stricken by anxieties, morbid thoughts, and anger that mar the ability to get on with daily life

Cultural bereavement is at the centre of the loss of biodiversity so it should be an integral part of conservation management where it carries spiritual valuations of local communities into the planning process.. 

4  What now?

As beautiful as the Victorian Garden Cemeteries were, and some still are, they became a victim of changing times. More recent changes have given them another role to play – that of contributing to the recording of local social and economic history’.  This is important in the context of the need to educate for the adoption of a new economic system, which only takes from Earth what the planet can regenerate.  From this point of view, it has been argued that the range of environmental and social benefits that urban cemeteries potentially deliver might have a great educational impact on the population at large as a resource for lifelong learning. Fundamentally, graveyards now have a function as communicative symbolic places where an individual can construct and express an individual and collective ethnic and cultural identity which centers on one or more features of its heart-ware. 

Because a burial ground’s cultural assets bridge the gap between past, present and future, it is a toolkit for the construction of individual and collective identity. The deceased and the bereaved become anchored in a specific common culture, in a specific value system and world-view, which is expected to persist, regardless of the demise of its singular constituents.  Central to this argument is the graveyard’s urban location and its expression of the ecological principle that makes it imperative for humanity to operate a globally sound ecological economy.  Defined as a circular economy (Fig 2 ) it is a more natural alternative to a traditional linear economy of capitalism i.e. a sequential process of make/use/dispose.  A circular economy keeps resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use, then finally regenerating products and materials at the end of the life of each service. The educational model is the decarbonising ecosystem, which in an urbanised human culture is visible in fragmented green spaces. Cemeteries are metaphors for the linear global economy, which is causing humanity so much grief because of its emphasis on consuming fresh resources to make things that we eventually bury or burn. Managing grass above graves by hand-scything (Fig 3) as a hay meadow is a metaphorical circular economy, generating increased biodiversity and a meditative experience for the community volunteer workforce.

Fig 2 Two kinds of economy

Fig 3 Meadow scything workshop. Hampstead Graveyard.

Municipal cemeteries are fragments of the biosphere typically located within towns and cities and might be larger and older than many municipal parks. Within this urban context, cemeteries can play a key role modeling the infrastructure of cities and deliver a wide range of ecosystem services (ESs). ESs can be defined as 

  • supporting (e.g. soil formation, photosynthesis, primary production, nutrient and water cycling); 
  • provisioning (e.g. food, fibre, fuel, freshwater, genetic resources, natural pharmaceuticals and chemicals), 
  • regulating (ecosystem processes including regulation of air and water quality, climate, pest and disease) 
  • and cultural (including cognitive development, spiritual enrichment, recreation and aesthetic experiences) (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).

Climate change is challenging us to reconsider how we manage urban green spaces to deliver more robust and resilient cities. In future, lawns, which are now a major management feature of tidy graveyards, may become an unaffordable luxury (see, Webster et al., 2017) Even the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who pioneered the development of the Lawn Cemetery after the carnage of the First World War, have been experimenting in its removal as part of their climate change strategy (CWGC, 2017).  Large, urban cemeteries could therefore play an important role in helping to move public acceptance towards a less intensively managed landscape that is aesthetically more messy and less manicured. If this can be achieved within a highly invested landscape where communities have chosen to bury their dead, we might ask what contribution it could have, for example, in changing attitudes towards the acceptance of less intensively managed public parks in order to deliver greater ESs. For those who might once have chosen a traditional grave for their deceased, the presence of natural burial or scattered remains of cremations within the urban cemetery might also provide an opportunity to experience and benefit from the different spatial and temporal qualities and integration with nature that they afford.  This process of education could be promoted as part of the Local Agenda 21.

‘Local Agenda 21 (LA21) refers to the general goal set for local communities by Chapter 28 of the ‘action plan for sustainable development’ adopted at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Chapter 28 is an appeal to ‘local authorities’ to engage in a dialogue for sustainable development with the members of their constituencies.

  • Local Agenda 21 is the process that aims to involve local people and communities in the design of a way of life that can be sustained and thus protect the quality of life for future generations. It originates from the Earth Summit held in Rio in 1992 which led to the agreement of an Agenda 21 document detailing a series of strategies for action worldwide.
  • Local Agenda 21 is a process that aims to integrate the social, environmental and economic aspects of development in order that all future development is ‘sustainable’. It requires all of us to consider the effects – on the local economy, the local environment and the local community – of every policy and project and then to seek a solution that achieves a realistic balance.
  • Local Agenda 21 is a highly democratic, consensus-building and empowering process. It seeks to strengthen the role of all major groups in society, including children, youth and women. It sets out to develop and build on partnerships between groups in the local community and to make linkages between parallel processes such as Social Needs and Health for All policy work.
  • Local Agenda 21 is essentially about ‘quality of life’: which is perhaps a more friendly term to describe its primary goal. It is a process that asks those of us in local government to work in partnership with the local community to develop a strategy comprising a series of action plans which will set out how we will work together towards the goal of sustainable development in the twenty-first century and beyond.

Chapter 28 explicitly states that the whole local community should be actors in an LA21 process, including both typical citizens and major stakeholder groups. In practice, however, there are quite a lot of variations between LA21 processes. Although stakeholder groups are involved in the majority of Local Agenda 21 processes worldwide, under- or over- representation of certain groups presents a danger to the quality of decision-making. From the worldwide survey one can conclude that local government is the most important formal partner (60%), followed by individuals (57%), community groups (46%), NGOs (46%) and the business/ private sector (42%). The groups least commonly recognised as formal partners include ethnic minorities and trade unions.  

Taking this route, the Environmental Scrutiny Committee of the City and County of Cardiff produced a document in December 1999 to progress the Local Agenda 21 in Cardiff. The LA21 has now become focussed on the Local Agenda 2030, with its target set on decarbonisation of the city’s economy by 2030.  Cardiff today is a THREE planet city: If everyone in the world consumed natural resources and generated carbon dioxide at the rate people do in Cardiff, the city would need three planets to support it. This is not sustainable or equitable to those who Cardiff’s citizens share the planet with. Cardiff’s aspiration is to become a One Planet City by 2030, living and thriving within Earth’s environmental means.  Embedding Agenda 21 in the management of a municipal cemetery is an important objective for Friends groups that are important champions of their local cemeteries. Many started as pressure groups concerned about neglect or development threats. They are often involved in recording, research, producing leaflets, guided walks, fund raising, and practical conservation tasks. It is a small step to mobilise a graveyard’s heart-ware to promote cultural ecology of a small segment of the biosphere as a model of future world development.

The National Federation of Cemetery Friends (NFCF) is a support organisation for all Friends groups. They offer guidance on starting up a new group.

There is also the Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe (ASCE).

Caring for God’s Acre also provides advice on organising volunteer tasks.

Organisations like TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) can help with advice on conservation projects, tools, health and safety for volunteers, and insurance, and publish handbooks on various topics.

5  Epilogue

“It is a fine spring morning in early May. I am standing next to the largest of the veteran ash trees in Abney Park Cemetery with my camera aimed towards a “rot hole” in the hope of catching a glimpse of the rare hoverfly Pocota personata. As I lean my right hand against the tree, to steady the lens under low light conditions, I can feel the contrast between the rough texture of the exposed bark and softer patches of moss. Looking more closely at the tree trunk I can see that it is teeming with life: single files of ants snake their way across the surface, some carrying fragments of leaves or other organic matter, whilst shafts of sunlight reveal small dancing clouds of midges. This living landscape is comprised of an infinite series of intersecting micro‐realms where moss meets vision amid a jumble of rot and decay: an endless process of breaking down, circulating, and re‐emergence”.  Mathew Gandy, 2019.

These sudden eye-opening moments generate biosphere ecoscopes. (Fig 4)

Fig 4 Mind map of a collection of biosphere ecoscopes.  They are starting points for observers assembling a personal body of knowledge.