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‘Place & Change’: something to blog about

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

“It’s almost 11 years since I first began blogging! Who would have thought that simple decision to begin a blog would have led to so many fantastic outcomes for me, for my students, and for my community?  This post unpacks 18 benefits of blogging for teachers and students. But first, let’s explore why blogging has lasted while other tools have come and gone.  The simple reason is, a blog is more than a tool. It’s anything you want it to be. A blog is a blank canvas and a virtual home for you to set up however you like.”

Kathleen Morris (2019), Primary School Teacher.

1 Evolution is progress?

After the First World War, the British Zoologist, Julian Huxley, was occupied with the long term questions raised for the future of humanity by Darwin’s theory of evolution. The central problem in determining whether evolution manifests progress concerns the identification and justification of a standard according to which improvement can be measured. As might be expected, much of the debate over evolutionary progress has focused on this problem.  In fact, Darwin’s first reflections on impediments to human progress were prompted by his experiences of savage qualities in the slave-owning colony of Brazil, and by his encounters with the Yahgan peoples of Tierra del Fuego.  There he saw first hand that harsh conditions, privation, poor climate, bondage and servitude, are impediments to human progress.

Eight decades later, after the First World War, Huxley wrote,

 “Is it possible to speak of progress when at this present moment there are vast poverty-stricken and slum populations with all the great nations, and when these same great nations have just been engaged in the most appalling war in history?”.  

Huxley had argued, even then, that progress, defined as an improvement in the well-being of human beings through social evolution, was indeed possible. After another world war had produced not only greater carnage but also the means of humanity’s own self-destruction, Huxley still hung on to his belief in evolutionary progress.  Indeed, in 1945 he was briefly associated with plans to use Skomer, a small offshore island in South West Wales, as an educational field station for students to set up their own projects to highlight progressive evolution. By “progress,” he meant the tendency of all life forms to grow better equipped over evolutionary time to carry on the business of existence and survival. 

“Biology,” he wrote, “presents us with the spectacle of an evolution in which the main direction is the raising of the maximum level of certain qualities of living beings, such as efficiency of organs, size, accuracy and range of senses coordinating a capacity for knowledge, memory, educability and acting with emotional intensity”.  

“These are all qualities which in one way or another lead to a more efficient control by living things over the external world, leading to their greater independence of environment.  Huxley’s summary of this argument was, “Animal types have limited possibilities, and sooner or later exhaust them: humanity has an unlimited field of possibilities, and can never realize all of them”.  

In this connection no doubt Huxley was reflecting on the powers of social evolution to benefit human well being.

2 One-World: a political conservation target

At the end of World War II Julian Huxley was firmly associated with the concept of  the social evolution of cosmopolitanism connected with internationalism and the origins of UNESCO. In the first few years of UNESCO’s operation, delegates and functionaries portrayed “world citizenship” as the path to permanent world peace and self well being.  It is a necessary social target arising from the evolution of diversity in human society, from tribes to nations, from national consciousness to “one world” living.  Huxley, as UNESCO’s first director-general, was a key figure in that history. His conception of cosmopolitan internationalism provides an important link between the history of postwar international organizations and a long nineteenth-century vision of historical and political progress leading to the abolition of imperial policies and practices, notably the end of slavery.

In this history Huxley found profound, long range consequences. Human beings, diverse in their capacities and self-awareness, were not compelled to pursue solely their individual self -interest. They could also cooperate to achieve the common needs of society. More importantly, human self consciousness made possible “not only innumerable single changes, but a change in the very method of change itself”.  The change was a transition from evolution by blind processes operating on the opportunities, provided by blind chance, to humankind’s deliberate choices for living peaceably in the long term.   

Nature conservation was one of these choices which Huxley, with his UK contemporaries Max Nicholson and Peter Scott, promoted on an international scale.  He conceded that we had so far not used our capacities very wisely to shape the world; and he allowed that savage qualities were still to be found in a deplorably large number of human beings. “Our feet still drag in the biological mud,” he wrote, “even when we lift our heads into the conscious air.” Still, he found a certain comfort in the belief that evolution had continually raised the upper levels of biological organisms; and further comfort in the recognition that humankind, so far existing for only a moment in evolutionary time, still had future generations to work out its problems and realize its possibilities. 

Julian Huxley used the genetics of heredity to argue against any biological foundations for antidemocratic ideologies, be it Nazism, Stalinism, or the British laissez-faire and class system. He presented genetics itself as inherently democratic. Arguing from genetics, he developed an understanding of diversity that cuts across divisions of race, class, or gender. Human diversity rightly understood was advantageous for societal progress and in recognising this he pressed for the concept of ethnicity to replace that of race in discussions of human diversity.  Huxley argued for democratic reforms and increased planning geared toward greater social equality. He took issue with the notion that evolutionary history does not carry any moral lessons for human societies. Rather than being its antithesis, evolution is the basis of human sociality. In fact, the entire future progress of individuals and communities toward a democratic world was founded on the principles of social evolution at a parochial level.

Huxley summarily declared, 

“In the light of evolutionary biology man can now see himself as the sole agent of further evolutionary advance on this planet, and one of the few possible instruments of progress in the universe at large. He finds himself in the unexpected position of business manager for the cosmic process of evolution”.

At our present point in time we need to revisit Huxley’s idea of evolutionary humanism, which he defined as the scientific management of the great challenges facing the progress of future generations.  Today, this challenge is to curb global warming and distribute Earth’s limited resources equitably whilst celebrating human equality in diversity. For Huxley, humanism was about establishing a cognitive pedagogy to develop a learner’s unique individuality, understanding who we are and what we stand for. No one person is the same. Evolutionary  humanism encourages young people to explore their own selfhood and well-being, while also gaining a better understanding and greater respect for the identities of others, all through self learning (Fig 1). 

Fig1 Conditions for progressing individual wellbeing through evolutionary humanism.

Before Huxley disengaged from the Pembrokeshire islands he selected the Skomer Vole, an isolated subspecies of the mainland vole, as the icon for his idea of evolutionary humanism.

3 Practical, humanistic geography

The new National Curriculum for Wales has just been launched and one of its six pillars of learning and experience is the Humanities Area.  The humanities can play a number of roles in a person’s life, including providing greater insight into the world, helping to better understand both the past and the future and fostering a wide sense of empathy. One of the most important outcomes of the Humanities Area in the Welsh syllabus is preparing students to fulfill their civic and cultural responsibilities.  The aim is for them to become informed, conscientious, engaged, critical citizens fostering social justice and equality.  In Wales the Area encompasses the classical subjects of geography; history; religion; values and ethics, enhanced with the contemporary subjects of business studies and social studies. These disciplines share many common themes, concepts and transferable skills, while each having its own discrete body of knowledge and skills.  Regarding geography, people may think that it is about capitals, land forms, and other material features. But it is also about projecting emotional tone and social meaning.  The latter defines humanistic geography, which emphasises people’s perceptions, creativity, personal beliefs and sharing ideas and achievements with other cultures. 

Humanistic geographers study topics such as the cultural construction of place and landscape. These topics determine the cartography of everyday life, using the power of language and meaning to create and transform environments, place and identity for the better.  They are concerned with religious symbolism and geographical myths and narratives. Common to all of these expressions of cultural ecology is a concern with understanding meaningful, humanly constructed worlds.  Students who are beginning to study these as isolated topics may wonder why they have not been taught about the unifying power of humanistic geography. How could a geographical orientation that has been associated with so many cross subject themes of current interest be largely ignored.  This relative neglect is difficult to understand when the cartography of everyday life can be easily charted in the humanistic geography of gardens, roadside verges and cracks in the pavement; all features that bind people imaginatory to place from an early age.  In this context, the real practical task in developing a humanistic pedagogy centred on place and change is to harness love of place for individuals to present their own body of knowledge and share it, for feedback from others.  Sense of place is increasingly recognized as key to human wellbeing in social- ecological systems. Yet there is a limited understanding about how to define and evaluate it for conservation.

This is where curricular blogging comes in (Fig 2). 

4 Blogging for self learners

Fig 2 A circular cosmopolitan network of educational bloggers

Place & Change’ is a project in humanistic geography, promoted by ICOL (International Classrooms Online), to evaluate the use of Google Blogger for motivating students  to create personal pages and posts presenting their understanding of the topic of ‘place and change’. 

From a practical point of view, by blogging students are exploring the blending of ancient and modern ways of presenting knowledge i.e. using deep text with pictures (the blogged pages), and using pictures with shallow text, but linked to deeper levels of information (the blogged posts).  The task of a blogger in a syllabus of humanistic geography is to integrate pages and posts to unify a personal body of knowledge about a feature in a particular locality they feel passionately about, making their blog a contribution to cultural wellbeing.

Therefore, ‘Place & Change’ is a focus for place-based, cross curricular, environmental education using outdoor classrooms to integrate the science of sustainability with the conceptual ideational framework of cultural ecology.  Place can be an actual island surrounded by water, or any space, isolated by natural or artificial means, where a distinctive element exists amidst a larger differing ‘social sea’.  For example, a knowledge island can be a potted plant, a grassy patch or a local mainland nature reserve.  As a spatial arrangement each space can be described as a cosm, from Greek, where it has the meaning “world, universe; order, arrangement.” This meaning is found in such words as: cosmic, cosmopolitan, cosmos,and microcosm.

Thus the world is viewed as a vast, diverse mosaic of cosms large and small.  Each offers the inquiring mind a menu for self-learning; a knowledge structure for individuals to come to their own understanding of the world around them.   Their personal body of knowledge, encapsulated in a blog, is passed on to others for feedback in a creative, global learning community.  This is the essence of humanistic education where students have a unique opportunity to develop self understandings to position themselves as caring citizens in Earth’s future diverse social order.  In this process teachers are facilitators to draw out human wellbeing in every student.  

For most people nature reserves, as cosms of diversity, are more than a calculation of economic advantage. Only by spending time in places because they deliver biodiversity as a public good do we have a sense of how rich in birds, flowers and insects our surroundings could be.  Without such benchmarks, we lose all sense of what we should expect, and what we can cherish. We lose all sense of the wild, and our evolutionary connection to it. 

Some who regard nature reserves as a parochial irrelevance, when the stressed Earth is facing a perfect storm of climate change, overconsumption and rising population, should travel to the Welsh national nature reserve of Skomer Island and breathe in a world where colour comes from a different palette.  Or they could read Patrick Kavanagh, the Irish poet. 

All great civilisations are based on parochialism.  To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields – these are as much as a man can fully experience.

These are the cosmopolitan truths to blog about (Fig 3), not what the blogger had for breakfast this morning!

Fig 3 A post from the demonstration educational blog: ‘Islands and Evolution’.

5  Internet references

Pages and posts in a ‘Place & Change’’ blog

Notions about natureMicrocosms and macrocosms in art

Minimum age for blogging

Using blogs in the classroom

Personalising knowledge with hyperbooks

Sunday, May 24th, 2020

“How about the American classroom? Our method of teaching hasn’t radically changed over the past century. It’s stuck, it’s dated, and it’s in need of radical transformation. While there are bright spots in the private school system, the public education system–where the vast majority of our children are being taught, guided, and motivated–is a dated, bloated, inefficient, bureaucratic dinosaur. It lost sight and understanding of its consumer a long, long time ago.”

Shawn Parr

1 Historical context

Our current education system, built on the Industrial Revolution model, focuses on IQ, in particular memorization and standardization, skills that will be easily and efficiently supplanted by artificial and augmented intelligence (AI), where IQ alone isn’t sufficient. A good blend of IQ (intelligence) + EQ (emotional intelligence) + RQ (resilience) is critical to unleashing a student’s potential.  The latter is particularly relevant to the uptake of individualised distance learning. 

In 1979 Professor Denis Bellamy, a UK advocate for educational reform, created a network of educators and organisations who were exploring new ways of handling and communicating cross-subject knowledge about the use of natural resources for human production (natural economy). This developed during the 1980s in the Natural Economy Research Unit (NERU) within the Department of Zoology of the National Museum of Wales, which was funded by the education directorate of the EU.  One of NERU’s first contracts was a consultancy to help produce a new examination syllabus about world development for the Cambridge University Local Examinations Syndicate.  It was promoted as the subject natural economy within the Syndicate’s International GCSE.

From 1992 NERU’s educational projects focused on new opportunities arising from the Rio Environment Summit to work with Welsh and English schools and their communities to create citizen’s environmental networks for democratic participation in local economic development. This work was centred on the use of educational IT tools to promote systems thinking about ‘sustainability’. The belief was that a new hybrid model of education would eventually emerge, for individualised collaborative learning with significant benefits to society.   

An important practical outcome was the Schools in Communities Agenda 21 Network (SCAN), which is now an integral part of the education/ interpretation work of the National Museum and Galleries of Wales. Current projects are concerned with packaging classroom resources, which have been produced and tested by teachers, to embed environmental education in the Local Agenda 21. SCAN makes the resources freely available on-line to help bring the study of systems for resource management off the sidelines of the National Curriculum.

The Cambridge natural economy project led to the production and testing of an self-navigating cross curricular knowledge system. This is applied as a text-based computer format for voyaging the global issues, problems and challenges of population, business, and natural resources. Formatted on Longman-Logotron’s pioneering ‘Hyperbook’ software, it was used in 1994-96 as a basis for groups of teachers, and their sixth form pupils, to begin producing educational models of the relationships of jobs to local resources. 

The hyperbook system for localised learning germinated  from a discussion between Colin Tubbs (English Nature), Denis Bellamy (National Museum of Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales), and Emma Wrigglesworth (the New Forest Committee/New Forest Museum). The idea was  to produce interactive computer resources for schools focused on the New Forest as an ecological island in an ‘urban sea’. Colin Tubbs agreed to the use of the text of his book, ‘The New Forest; An ecological history’, for this purpose. The aim was for it to be formatted by NERU as a self-indexing programme, and made freely available within the SCAN schools as a cross-curricular exemplar of environmental management. The idea was that Tubb’s text should be cross-referenced by students with hypertext to other relevant materials, particularly with regard to updating.  It became a hyperbook, which at the moment is hosted in a basic format as The New Forest Flip Book by Publitas.

2 What is a hyperbook

A hyperbook is a digital app designed to be strongly related to the book metaphor. Books are the traditional repositories of information and knowledge. People know how to read them, how to use a Table of Contents, how to use an index, etc. By maintaining the same model on screen, people’s access to electronic information can be a representation of the book itself, which can be consulted like a physical book. This approach helps to overcome some of the limitations inherent in reading through a computer screen.

In 2003 Gilles Falquet and Jean-Claude Ziswiler published a paper entitled ‘A Virtual Hyperbooks Model to Support Collaborative Learning’.  It was a report on several pedagogical projects exploring the collaborative construction of a scientific hyperbook. They established that the core of a hyperbook is an exposition of a distinct subject presented in a document format as a pdf file’  This core file is freely available and can be customised with annotations, and links made from it, to extension/updating material.  Thus, people can personalise the file without modifying its original content.  Hyperbooks, together with mind maps, wikis, blogs and personal websites comprise the infrastructure for self-learning. As such they are important resources for a humanistic education where the pedagogy is focused on facilitated learning to guide students to create their own personal body of knowledge.  A hyperbook allows each learner to build this unique understanding using hypermedia elements (texts, images, audio, video, animations) which are stored in a modularized way.

In making a linear document (article or book) a single desired reading order is predefined. Readers always know where they are. When authors are writing a book, and are adding pages, they always know what they may expect the reader to have read when that reader reaches the page being written. However, in hyper documents this assumption is no longer valid. Given a rich link structure there are so many ways to navigate through a hyperdocument that it is impossible for an author to foresee which pages a user will have read when jumping to a certain page. Hyperbooks are a prime example of a type of hyperdocument that is written in such a way that the user can jump to any page, understand the information on that page and see links to other related pages that can also be understood. Users are also compilers so building a hyperbook is a good example of what has been called ‘fingerprint self learning’. 

The teaching objectives of making a hyperbook are:

• to help the students see the relationships that exists between the different concepts presented during a course, hence the hypertextual nature of the book; 

• to give students the opportunity to participate in the collaborative writing of a large electronic document;

• to show that the same subject matter can be seen from different points of view expressed as expressions of multi author creativity;

• to provide an individual with tools to assemble a personal body of knowledge about a subject they are really interested in and communicate it online.

3 An example of how a hyperbook is made?

In 1946, a year-long project was launched by the West Wales Field Society to investigate the wildlife of the small Welsh offshore island of Skomer.  The report on the expedition was compiled by Ronald Lockley and his brother in law, John Buxton, from the field notes of academics and local naturalists who took part in the island expedition.  These notes were the basis of the book ‘Island of Skomer’ edited by Buxton and Lockley, published by Staples Press in 1950.  This book is the core of a Skomer Hyperbook and illustrates problems of assembling an electronic version of a paper book..  

Estimated costs of the island survey amounted to about £3,000, a third of which was to come from grants and the balance from members of the WWFS. There is no information about the circumstances of the publication of ‘Island of Skomer’.  The book carries a notice saying that copyright is reserved.  This is a formality indicating that the copyright holder reserves, or holds for its own use, all the rights provided by copyright law.  However, no individual or organisation has ever claimed copyright of Island of Skomer.  Considering the way in which the Skomer field survey was carried out by a large body of volunteers, in a modern context, ‘Island of Skomer’ would be an item in a commons media file repository.  It  would be available to everyone in the public domain as freely-licensed educational media content (te.g.text, images, sound and video clips).  It is in this spirit, after  extensive and fruitless searching for a copyright holder, that Denis Bellamy and Mike Alexander, a former Warden of the island, launched the Skomer Hyperbook in 2020 as a free educational online resource.

From this point, the core document of The Skomer Hyperbook is a digitised version of ‘Island of Skomer’. It provides a holistic menu and topic scaffold for individuals or groups to express their understanding of the island as a humanistic model of cultural ecology. Indeed, the Skomer Hyperbook emerged as an exposition of evolutionary humanism.  The essence of a humanistic education is to facilitate individuals to build a personal body of knowledge.   

3 Evolutionary humanism

There is no doubt that the pioneer conservationist and President of the WWFS, Julian Huxley, was the driving force behind the 1946 Skomer field survey and its publication.  His vision for the island was an educational resource for the promotion of ‘evolutionary humanism’ by personalising kowledge about the connections between culture and ecology.  He defined this concept in his introduction to the 1961 anthology ‘The Humanist Frame’, as:

“…  a new idea-system, whose birth we of the mid-twentieth century are witnessing, I shall simply call Humanism, because it can only be based on our understanding of man and his relations with the rest of his environment. It must be focused on man as an organism, though one with unique properties. It must be organized round the facts and ideas of evolution, taking account of the discovery that man is part of a comprehensive evolutionary process, and cannot avoid playing a decisive role in it”.

In other words, if you are a Humanist, then accepting Darwin’s theory of evolution as the font of humanity comes with the territory.  Science, not religion, affirms that the human species is an emergence from natural evolutionary forces with no supernatural input into its workings or ethics.  It was with this in mind that Huxley promoted the use of Skomer island for outdoor learning adventures into evolutionary humanism. The current quest is to resolve how the evolution of ethics comes to be at the heart of humanity’s response to global warming.  Hypermedia resources, such as a hyperbook, provide the necessary tools to span these two topics that are central to the future of humanity on Earth. 

Unfortunately, Huxley’s vision of Skomer as a cross curricular study centre to promote evolutionary humanism was not realised. He moved on into the international conservation arena as a founder of UNESCO.  Skomer was eventually declared a national nature reserve in 1959, largely because of its crucial position in the survival of the vast numbers of seabirds that nest there.  Now, Skomer is a first class illustration of the current trend of conservationism, where the aim is  to protect the environment for future generations using scientific data backed up with legislation.  Its wider and deeper potential as a holistic focus for educational reform, linking culture with ecology, was largely forgotten until Huxley’s vision for Skomer was revisited by Denis Bellamy and his students who began using the island for place-based learning through adventure in the early 1970s.

It is significant that the first page of ‘Island of Skomer’ is given over to a drawing of the Skomer Vole by the Welsh wildlife artist Charles Tunnicliffe.  This animal is a distinct subspecies of the mainland vole, which evolved on the island, probably after being introduced by the first human settlers.  In this context, the Skomer Vole can be said to stand as an icon, or emblem, of evolutionary humanism and wildlife protection.  

4 Reverence for life

In Huxley’s mind, the core of evolutionary humanism is that religion is a tool invented to enforce a system of ethics that was already established.  He argued that the direction of moral progress was toward greater human fulfillment and the realization of values that had “intrinsic worth” i.e. the value that something has “in itself,” or “for its own sake”. Only a society that respected individual rights, stressed education, encouraged responsibility, and promoted the arts, could realize those values. In this respect, we have barely scratched the surface to understand how notions of intrinsic value should affect public attitudes toward conservation.  Rather than being a “flimsy notion” that distracts from the development of sound conservation measures, Huxley took the view that the intrinsic value of nature provides a robust and necessary basis for developing a conservation-based relationship with nature.  This expression of reverence for life in all its diversity had emerged in the interwar period.  For example, writing in 1924, Albert Schweitzer summarised the ethics of wildlife conservation as follows; 

“Ethics in our Western world has hitherto been largely limited to the relations of man to man. But that is a limited ethics. We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also.… The time is coming when people will be amazed that the human race existed so long before it recognized that thoughtless injury to life is incompatible with real ethics. Ethics is in its unqualified form extended responsibility to everything that has life”.

Therefore, one of the key papers to be attached to the Skomer Hyperbook was a biography of Schweitzer feely available in the World Heritage Encyclopedia.

Schweitzer’s theme of ‘reverence for life’ was picked up by Rachel Carson in 1962.  She was the ecologist and science writer who campaigned in America against the flagrant use of chemical pesticides. She prefaced her book, ‘Silent Spring’ with a quotation from a letter Schweitzer had written to a beekeeper whose bees had been destroyed by pesticides: 

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the Earth”.  

Through Carson, and others following her path, Schweitzer’s most positive legacy infiltrated the Western ecological movement from the 1960s.  Indeed, Skomer played a role in tracing fatal pesticide residues into food chains.

Julian Huxley’s internationalist and conservation interests led him to choose humanism as being more directed to supplying a basis for the ethics of wildlife conservation.  He traced his decision to embrace humanism to the evolutionary underpinnings of the early primates, who developed ideas about what was good and bad as it pertained to their flourishing as a species. Morality was birthed in humans from these biological intuitions, and as populations increased, they could no longer depend on smaller communities to govern moral standards. Religion solved this problem, proving to be a successful tool in policing large groups on what was moral and immoral. This goes to show that morality transcends religion as its point of origin. 

Huxley believed that our faculties are capable of deciphering good from evil  but our relationship with religion is such that we misattribute our moral foundations to the divine.  Religions make claims about how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, and which actions are right or wrong.  These normative statements and behavioral norms, as well as their meanings, would have been an integral part of social life as experienced by Skomer’s prehistoric farmers.  The norms are an adaptation that evolved in connection with social coordination, cooperation and stability. This capacity involves being in the state of accepting a norm, which we should thus expect to be a standard part of human moral behaviour.

It is relatively easy to see how evolutionary humanism gave meaning to Huxley’s life.  It helped him to engage with the self-questioning, common to all humanity seeking connections between culture and ecology: Who am I? What is my purpose?  What is our place in existence?”

“[Evolutionary humanism] has enabled me to see this strange universe into which we are born as a proper object both of awe and wondering love and of intellectual curiosity. More, it has made me realize that both my wonder and curiosity can be of significance and value in that universe. It has enabled me to relate my experiences of the world’s delights and satisfactions, and those of its horrors and its miseries to the idea of fulfillment, positive or negative. In the concept of increased realization of possibilities, it provides a common measuring rod for all kinds of directional processes, from the development of personal ethics to large-scale evolution, and gives solid ground for maintaining an affirmative attitude and faith, as against that insidious enemy … the spirit of negation and despair. It affirms the positive significance of effort and creative activity and enjoyment. In some ways most important of all, it has brought back intellectual speculation and spiritual aspiration out of the abstract and isolated spheres they once seemed to me to inhabit, to a meaningful place in concrete reality; and so has restored my sense of unity with nature”

There are many institutes devoted to the study of ethics and studies of current ethical issues that range from labour-management relations to human trafficking. We need the arena of cultural ecology to explore ethical issues that may arise in the future at the interface between people and Nature, which are not well understood today. These issues have to be resolved to fully assess and address the 2050 plans for human survival. Hyperbooks are tools for learners to take early steps in that process.

Appendix.  Five simple steps to make a hyperbook

1 Each page of a paper book is scanned to produce a collection of jpeg files, one file per page.  

2 Each jpeg picture file is inserted, in sequence, into the pages of a word processor document using an app such as Word or Google Docs.

3 The document is saved as a pdf file that can be opened in a pdf viewer, such as Adobe Acrobat, and navigated by scrolling the pages up and down. 

4 The pdf file is opened in a pdf editor, such as Pdf Elements, where text, pictures and hotspot links can be added to customise it.

5 Finally, the modified pdf file may be converted to a flip book, using an app such as FlipPDF, which can be navigated by turning pages horizontally left to right and right to left.

Place-based adventure classrooms

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

“We’ve all experienced the power of place: those moments when we’re immersed deeply in experiencing the world around us and what’s happening there is real and meaningful. Learning in these moments is organic and visceral. There’s much to learn from the places we inhabit — from traveling across the globe to getting out into our own communities. Yet, formal learning experiences, that leverage the power of place, remain the exception and not the rule.”

1 Adventure-education

Adventure is typically defined as an event involving risk, challenge, and excitement as an out-of-the-ordinary experience.  

Education is a group process of imparting knowledge, values, skills and attitudes to a group, which can be beneficial to an individual.  

Learning is a personal process of self discovery adopting systems, values and  skills to assemble a personal body of knowledge. 

In summary, education is knowledge imparted to a group by a teacher, whereas learning is personal knowledge gained through experience aided by a facilitator.

Therefore there are two kinds of adventure classrooms.  The first kind has a framework to educate by helping people to learn how to do things.  The second kind of adventure classroom supports people to think about what they need to learn as individuals to find their identity in a bigger scheme of things.

2 Education through adventure (ETA)

ETA has taken the form of team/trust building, cooperative games, physical education, and outdoor risk challenges (e.g., high ropes courses, nature and wilderness team activities, expeditionary pursuits). Education through adventure typically occurs within small-group settings, with the learning and experience limited to the small group. While ETA is not restricted to outdoor pursuits, it is often associated with the outdoors and environmental and sustainability education, and is typically employed in formal or informal settings.

In ETA programs, participants are physically or psychologically challenged, with a focus on risk-taking, group problem solving, and individual psychological growth and development . Six specific outcome areas for adventure education are: 

  • leadership, 
  • self awareness, 
  •  interpersonal skills, 
  • and adventuresomeness. 

Formal processing or reflection activities are incorporated into some, but not all, adventure education programs.

3 Learning through adventure (LTA)

LTA  provides a framework for the design of learning experiences that allow individual learners to explore real-world issues through authentic, field-based narratives. Nowadays this takes place within an interactive personalised online learning environment. LTA blends experiential, inquiry-based, and authentic learning, and synchronizes an online learning environment with teacher-led schooling activities.

It is grounded in eight core principles: 

  • a defined issue in a geographical place; 
  • an authentic narrative; 
  • a sound curriculum grounded in inquiry;
  • collaboration and interaction opportunities between learners, experts, teachers, and content; 
  • synchronized learning opportunities that tie together what is learned with a wider curriculum; 
  • an online venue to deliver content; 
  • multiple media that enhance the curriculum; 
  • scaffolding for the facilitators as well as the explorers.

Within an LTA program, a team engages in an exploration centered on a specific location and a menu of social or environmental issues. Individuals choose which issue they would like to research. The team travels out into the field, actually or virtually, to capture authentic data and narratives.  These narratives may be synchronised with a predesigned inquiry-based curriculum tied to that expedition, issue, and location. The field experiences, data, media assets, and observations of individuals are shared online. It is an environment in which learners are able to actively participate and collaborate with the explorers, their peers around the world, their facilitator(s), and a variety of field experts. These online collaboration and interaction opportunities allow learners to form connections between what is happening in the real world and their studies. Learners complete activities related to the real-world events, engage in online and face-to-face discussions encomposing them, and present potential solutions to issues that are raised.

 Fig 1 Learning through adventure as a project-based process

Learning through adventure is a process (Fig 1).  It involves:

  • A facilitator and and a small group of explorers
  • An adventure learning classroom, indoor, outdoor or virtual
  • A menu of issues from which individuals can make a free choice
  • A database
  • An individual’s research plan
  • An online office toolkit
  • A personal website for reporting content and learning outcomes.

4 Examples of place-based adventure learning classrooms

4.1 Place based learning: Skomer Island

Skomer, a small offshore island in South West Wales, played a significant historical role in the development of LTA because it was a focus of Julian Huxley’s idea of evolutionary humanism in the 1930s.  Huxley moved on to become a founder member of UNESCO.  His idea was applied by Denis Bellamy to establish a succession of field courses on Skomer and the adjacent  island of Skokholm, organised on humanistic principles, in the 1970s with university staff facilitators and small groups of students. 

The small group tutorial is one of the cornerstones of adventure learning. By implication then, the role of the tutor/facilitator is of pivotal importance.  This is because student learning depends on the facilitator’s understanding and appreciation of his/her responsibilities to bring out individual needs and leanings for each student.  Student explorers are then left to make a plan for their investigation.  Progress is shared with the group.   Just as the finer details of the implementation of any LTA programme are unique to each institution, so will be the precise expectations of the facilitator. It is therefore necessary to make the expectations of facilitators explicit to staff and students from the outset.

In an ideal situation, where classes are small, the facilitator’s primary role is to ensure there is student learning and interaction during small group sessions. Prior to embracing facilitation, facilitators need to understand and accept the philosophy that underpins project-based learning. Each educator must therefore believe in the benefits of individualised, active, constructive learning and be able to relinquish teaching control. Historically, for the good teacher, this meant explaining such that all students took away the same body of fixed, examinable knowledge, that was really the property of the teacher. So, for many academics, project based learning, as an educational philosophy, questions many of the epistemologies underlying their previous activities in a traditional didactic curriculum.  Therefore, LTA may be met with some resistance. The transition from teacher to facilitator requires faculty to develop staff skills through workshops and perhaps staff incentives.

There are five basic principles of humanistic education which make it particularly suitable for online classrooms and lifelong, place-based learning:

  • Students should be able to choose what they want to learn. Humanistic teachers are facilitators, not disseminators of knowledge. They believe that students will be motivated to learn a subject if it’s something they need and want to know.
  • The goal of education should be to foster students’ desire to learn and teach them how to learn. Students should be self-motivated in their studies with a desire to build a personal body of knowledge on their own and communicate it to their peers.
  • Humanistic educators believe that grades are irrelevant and that only self-evaluation is meaningful because grading encourages students to work for a grade and not for personal satisfaction. In addition, humanistic educators are opposed to objective tests because they test a student’s ability to memorize and do not provide sufficient tutorial feedback to the teacher and student as a learning unit.
  • Humanistic educators believe that both feelings and knowledge are important to the learning process. Unlike traditional educators, humanistic facilitators do not separate the cognitive (knowledge) and affective (attitudes) domains.
  • Humanistic educators insist that classrooms need to provide students with non threatening environments so that they will feel secure to learn. Once students feel secure, learning becomes easier and more meaningful. 

The five basic principles of humanistic education can be summarized as:

1) Students’ learning should be self-directed.

2) Classrooms should produce students who want and know how to learn.

3) The only form of meaningful evaluation is self-evaluation.

4) Feelings, as well as knowledge, are important in the learning process.

5) Students learn best in a non threatening environment.

IT practical work in the context of a humanistic education involves each learner assembling a personal body of knowledge about a particular feature of the local environment backed up with a digital library.  The outcome of the investigation is then presented online as a mindmap delineating connections with, and dependencies on, other features and a wider curriculum. These individual digital presentations thereby become information packages for others to build upon.  An example is the educational framework proposed by Julian Huxley for Skomer. The features contributing to a holistic view of the island are listed in the contents of the book ‘Island of Skomer’ (Table 1), published in 1950 as the report on the first field survey of the island in 1946.

Table 1 Features of Skomer Island suitable for humanistic education projects


The Flora

Spring Migration


The Petrels

The Auks

Gulls and Cormorants

Small Mammals

The Atlantic Seal

Marine Biology

Autumn Migration

The Rock Types 

This list can be regarded as the holistic catalogue of a Skomer digital library from which a student can select a feature of its social history, biodiversity, geology or archaeology to assemble a personal body of knowledge that can be displayed on line (Fig 2; Table 2).

Fig 2 A humanistic mind map for navigating from a personal body of knowledge about Skomer’s  Puffins to enter the wider context of a syllabus about global warming

Table 2  Four examples of websites created collaboratively by Skomer explorers. 

Skomer: a Mind Map

Skomer: a Knowledge Island

Rescue Mission Planet Wales

Global Warming

International Classrooms Online

The nearest that current formal education comes to Julian Huxley’s ecological humanism is the Engaged Ecology MA at Schumacher College.  This is a radical experiment in embodied learning. The programme invests learning with a deeply immersive connection to place, to give students the tools they need to take meaningful action in the world. By taking first-hand authentic experience as the very foundation for learning, and enriching it with more traditional academic reflection, engaged ecology encourages students to develop solutions-based practices to discover for themselves how best to approach the world’s seemingly intractable ecological and social challenges.  Engaged ecology asks three fundamental questions to be answered by all place based learning activities : What is place? Who are we? And, what, then, can we do?

4.2 Place based learning: extreme rurality

At the turn of the present century, Mark K Smith,writing for the website INFED explored the significance of ‘association’.  He defined association as joining together in companionship to undertake some task using the educative power of volunteering to play one’s part in a group or association. He drew upon the work of Konrad Elsdon and his colleagues, who in the early 1990s, undertook a large scale survey of British local voluntary organizations. They highlighted the sheer scale of commitment. Around 12 million women and men were involved in running 1.3 million bodies.  These were what we might describe as, ‘small democracies’ with tremendous educational potential.

There was a “… great range of learning, change and satisfaction over and above those which are deliberate, inherent in the organization’s objectives, and expected by their members. The one which was given priority almost universally, and reported as being of greater importance than the content objective of the organization, is quite simply growth in confidence, and its ramifications and secondary effects of self-discovery, freedom in forging relationships and undertaking tasks, belief in oneself and in one’s potential as a human being and an agent, and ability to learn and change both in the context of the organization’s objectives and in others.”

On the other hand R. D. Putnam, in his 1990’s book , ‘Bowling Alone’, marshalls groundbreaking evidence to argue there has been a decline in ‘social capital’ in the USA.  He charts a drop in associational activity and a growing distance from neighbours, friends and family. Crucially he explores some of the possibilities that exist for rebuilding social capital to develop a sense of identity and  belonging. This need is particularly acute in rural communities, exhibiting extreme rurality. It relates primarily to areas that have a very low population density, where monoculture agriculture and related activities usually dominate the landscape and economy, and places where transport and communications need to cover very large distances making travel and service provision relatively difficult and costly.  Low associational activity fuels outward migration.

The rebuilding of rural social capital was the goal of an EC funded project of the 1980s called BIOPLEX.  This was based in the small Suffolk village of Chediston, which in those days, despite its extreme rurality, was a significant centre for local agricultural innovations to increase farm efficiency and minimise pollution. The project was mostly concerned with the economics of farm anaerobic digesters and the final report is now regarded as a classic milestone in this research area. However, a particular section of the EC’s protocol was to make a preliminary assessment of the future role of PC technology in the home-to-home networking of innovation within and between village communities. But before that could happen there had to be a process of place-shaping in order for people to become as one with their environment. Although the project was managed from the University of Wales, a local genealogist, living in Chediston volunteered to spread the word and organise digital resources and PC training to order.  Otherwise, the villagers were left to their own devices to produce local stories in the context of agreeing some common threads of social history that unified the villages. 

The first work produced was ‘Blything.  Blything is an ancient division of the county of Suffolk called a hundred. Some historians believe that Blything denotes ‘the people of the Blyth’, a tribal grouping of the Iceni, one of the first gatherings of pre-Roman families that colonised the valleys of the River Blyth.   The aim was to assemble a living history of the people of the Blyth in terms of past and present land management, the patterns of work and settlement and their hopes for the future.  Later, nine villages in the adjacent hundred of Wangford joined the project, now known as Blything and Nine Parishes (BANP). Above all, BANP was a bottom-up general model for people everywhere to attain a sense of place. The outcome is a collection of web sites which have long been available online as an international education resource in cultural ecology, receiving thousands of unique visitors a year. 

Smith’s INFED essay highlighted the factors limiting the take up of self education which were certainly revealed in the BANP project.  BANP was set in the informal learning of everyday life in contrast to the specified curriculum objectives of the life of a school or college. This distinction between ‘natural societal setting’ and ‘formal instructional setting’ is expressed as the everyday world of individual experience  in the family, at work, at play.  Formal education an ‘educational agent’ takes on responsibility for planning and managing instruction so that the learner achieves some previously specified objective. Smith feels that we have to be careful with the idea of ‘educational agents’. On a narrow definition they could be considered to be people only in the employ or under the jurisdiction of recognized educational institutions, who have as their prime task enabling people to assimilate an imposed body of knowledge. This would seem to be an unnecessarily restrictive definition given the sort of situations where people do much of their BANP type learning. We know for example that this leads to failure when local authority planners drive community development from the top down.  

Smith thinks it is probably more productive to take ‘educational agents’ to be anyone who consciously helps another person to learn – whether that help is given directly or takes the form of creating an appropriate environment to facilitate personal learning.

The Parham Millennium Parish SCAN is an example of how small rural communities can be left alone to develop an idea bottom up, which puts their village on the map. It was an ‘overspill’ from BANP. Parham village is only a few miles from Chediston.

This is how the project was seen by Parham’s villagers.

“… the Parish Council invited Professor Denis Bellamy, Ruth Downing (Prof. Bellamy’s Local Assistant) and Trevor Gibson (Suffolk Coastal District Council’s representative) to an open meeting held on 3rd February 1998 to explain the principles of producing a Parish Scan. We hoped that as many people as possible in the village would be able to contribute information for the project. A specially formed ‘Millennium Committee’ would be responsible for the organising, formatting and publication of material. It was to be a pioneering exercise as we were the first village nationally to undertake such a project.” 

BANP had shown that there must be strong local leadership and a widespread feeling feeling that the goal is worth attaining.  For Parham, leadership came from the Parish Clerk and the generally accepted goal was to produce a book as a celebration of the Millennium.  The book positioned the village as it was in the year 2000 in relation to its long, exceptionally rich, historical heritage and its hopes for the future.  Parham’s success came because the village was the agency that selected the project and fuelled it to completion.

Here then are two place-based adventure classrooms for others to develop:

Go to:- Community learning

Go to:- Ecological learning

5 Internet references

Place based learning


Francis Bacon

Probono economics

Adventure learning 1

Experiential learning

Adventure learning 2

Rural resilience

Du Fu: a poet of place


Community learning

Community and culture

Scenic amenity value

Life satisfaction

Amenity migration

Science of scenery

Ancestry in perspective



Skomer an island for playful learning

Mapping identity and a sense of belonging

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

Whoever defines India, whoever speaks to and for its people and whoever imagines its destiny with the hope of determining its future…can stake their claim to ownership of India by the very act of writing about it.  Teresa Hubel: Whose India? (1996).

1 Space, place and identity

In humanistic geography, space and place are important concepts. Space is something abstract, without any substantial meaning.  It is a location which has no social connections for a human being. It has observable boundaries but no meaning has been ascribed to it.  Space constitutes a simple geographic reference point. It is by having cultural significance that space becomes place; a human resource on its own.  It becomes valued visually in memory and is thereby protected as landscapes. (Figs 1, 2 & 3)

Place refers to how people are attracted to a certain space and endow it with a sense of belonging rather than merely passing through. In this connection, a place can be seen as space that has been given a cultural meaning. In other words, ‘Place’ is a location created by human experiences. It  exists as space that is filled with meanings that come from what people appreciate and value about it. Their ‘place’ is personal and multi-dimensional. It is temporal as well as spatial, because it thickens with the addition of physical elements, personal memories, local stories, history and archaeology. It is not just a question of how things look, but of how things feel to those who know a place well.  

Spaces are turned into places through human settlement. Place becomes central to the settlers identity.  In this context, identity is an even bigger issue than race, filling our imagination and requiring careful attention. Indeed, identity is a major preoccupation of our times.  Many people are on a quest to determine who they are, how they belong and where they fit in. Refugees are searching for roots in distant and foreign lands. Indeed, within the great scheme of things humanity has always been on the move, fitting in where it can find a more lasting identity, something above and beyond the mere physical and material to give meaning to their lives. People begin this search from being somewhere in nowhere land, wanting to belong.  Identity won’t happen on its own, you have to give birth to it, work at it and create it through an act of will.

This attachment is defined as landscape, i.e. a “place” with its meanings and contributions to societal identity. Places are mapped and landscapes are pictured.  A map is a symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. A landscape is the visible features of an area of land, its landforms, and how they integrate with natural or man-made features. Places are mapped and landscapes are pictured. A landscape is the visible features of an area of land, its landforms, and how they integrate with natural or man-made features.

First and foremost, landscapes are perceived as a physical space, covering topics such as environmental preference and the evolution of the psychological processes through which preferences arise. Second, landscape is perceived as place within concepts such as “sense of place” and “place identity”.  Place identity is a particular element contributing to sense of place. Third, landscapes have a role in psychological wellbeing.  

Numerous studies have shown that participation in leisure activities out of doors not only prevents disease and improves physical health but also benefits mental health by reducing anxiety. Psychological restoration bridges the approaches that treat landscape as space and those which treat it as place.  Actually, the European Landscape Convention (2000) conceptualises ‘Landscape’ as being made up of both space and place. Advocates of place-based education can accommodate public participation and negotiation to identify local knowledge and sense-making practices. This process is particularly important in local planning to support sustainable development.

How do practices on the ground transform; what motivates people to transform (needs); what should be changed or transformed (challenges); how to transform these via innovations and through which practices transformation can be achieved.

If communities are to fully embrace the ethic of landscape sustainability, they must be the primary agents for change in that landscape, not simply the beneficiaries of changes originated or mandated by others. This agency is expressed and actions on the ground accomplished through local organizations that can channel and interpret local needs and demands into effective collective action. However, community organizations such as cooperatives, advocacy groups, church groups, and self-help groups, will pursue sustainable management of their place and its resources only if the benefits of doing so enhance the economic and social wellbeing of the people who belong to these groups. Community groups must own the process of place planning and management if it is to be sustainable. This ownership is built when these groups decide for themselves the social, economic, and ecological objectives of landscape management, the modes of implementation, the indicators of success, and the lessons learned. By reflecting on the decisions they have made in implementing their own initiatives, local groups build their capacities to continuously adapt to ecological, economic, and social challenges and opportunities.

2 Parish SCAN 

Local government planning exists to solve community problems.  People need to bother with environmental appraisal because any inadequacies of community life will only be overcome by the community itself. There is no doubt that any community has the skills to do this, by recognising that things can be changed for the better, and that each individual contribution brings satisfaction to the individual, as well as benefit to the community. 

It was only in 1969 that central government recommended setting up machinery for the public to participate in planning. From this time it became urgent to find methods to involve people actively, from grass roots, in the problems, issues and challenges of managing local change. In the 1980s attempts were made to formalise ‘village appraisals’. The aim was to encourage communities to map their neighbourhood; its character, history and social needs. However, the original flexibility of approaches and methods was quickly lost when the system was hijacked by organisations requiring specific information from communities to direct their top down funding. ‘Form-filling’ turns most people off, particularly when the subject matter does not act as a conduit for their particular local passion. 

Parish SCAN was a reaction to official form-driven environmental appraisal. It was actually invented, in 1995, by Welsh teachers responding to Rescue Mission Planet Earth, a summary made by young people of the Rio action plan known as Agenda 21.  SCAN is a voluntary process, originating in the outcomes of the 1992 Rio Environment Summit aimed at creating local policies and programs that work towards achieving sustainable development. SCAN, as originally envisaged, encompasses awareness raising, capacity building, community participation and the formation of partnerships.  The objective was to bring children into the appraisal system by creating social links with communities served by their school to boost information gathering and databasing. Its advantage to the school is that the neighbourhood where a child actually lives becomes its outdoor classroom. For the community, the school becomes an information technology centre for long-term recording, and citizen networking.  SCAN is therefore a flexible holistic system. It can begin, either in a school (School SCAN), or in one of its communities, (Parish SCAN), with the aim of eventually uniting both bodies to make, and manage, environmental improvements. 

Parish SCAN was the option chosen by the village of Parham in Suffolk as its contribution to the millennium celebration.The Parham Parish SCAN is a detailed record of the village as it was at the beginning of the 21st century, with a browse through its history and a tentative look into its future. It was prepared by village people, for village people and is a comprehensive record of the life in their village. The data was organised in three chapters;  a glance at the past; aspects of the present and an appraisal of the future. The final publication was the result of many hours of dedicated research by parishioners who hoped that it may be a testament to life in Parham as it was seen by its 113 households in 2000, as well as a fitting tribute with which to mark the millennium. It is important to stress that SCAN was a grassroots initiative driven by the Parish Council under their tireless Clerk. In this context, Blything and Nine Parishes was brought to fruition by a resident historian with ancestral roots in Suffolk going back to the 16th century and beyond. In other words, local residents have to ‘step up to the plate’ to make things happen. 

 Like all villages, most of Parham’s parishioners commute to earn a living. With no shop or school Parham has to cope with the common problems of rural placelessness. It is significant that SCAN was adopted after the village had carried out an appraisal and was awarded Suffolk’s Village of the Year. The aim was to sustain the momentum and tap the wider community. Although not a tourist centre, Parham has plenty for its inhabitants to become passionate about. Set in a classic glacial landscape, it has a rich social heritage; a centre of Saxon local government; a power base for Tudor politics; a front-line airfield during the Second World War.  A store of wildlife is embedded in its woodlands, ponds and field boundaries. However, the SCAN published as a 170 page professionally bound book, shows what any community can do to develop social roots, and the organisation required to bring such a project to fruition. The vision of the parishioners was that the Parham story would continue to be developed by its 300 parishioners as their contribution to a local Agenda 21 Citizen’s Environmental Network, incorporating year-on-year checks to measure change, and ensure things change for the better. 

3 Cultivating the ‘background hum’

Because of increasing geographical mobility, economic change and the rise of an individualist culture in the UK there has been a loosening of close ties in communities. Indeed, today’s dynamic, rootless communities need to evolve, to reconnect, so that people cultivate the background hum of sociability that has long been associated with neighbourliness.  The giving and receiving of help within communities is an aspect of social life that is taken for granted, yet it is little researched or understood. It was the subject of research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, entitled Landscapes of Helping: Kindliness in neighbourhoods and communities (2015).  

Social connectivity increases the likelihood that people will be known to one another, have their needs recognised and have people to draw on for support. Therefore, in identifying mechanisms which foster kindliness we also describe those which simultaneously build neighbourliness and sociality as the foundations of place. It’s premise was that kindliness cannot be considered apart from wider processes of individualisation which are often perceived as threatening social bonds. The belief is that, given certain conditions, cultures of kindliness can still be developed; based on emotional attachments, shared values and social forms that actively sustain relationships of trust and mutuality. 

This Rowntree study explored ‘kindliness’, or informal helping, in Hebden, a semi-rural location in West Yorkshire, in order to understand how it can be fostered in communities. In particular it identified the following conditions that may help kindliness to flourish in communities.

Making kindliness palatable – it was important that kindliness was facilitated in ways which were sensitive to language and presentation. If people retained a sense of personal independence and dignity they were more likely to ask for and accept help. Non-help-focused conversations and activities could help people express their needs indirectly. 

Nurturing bonders and bridgers – Hebden had many people who worked to strengthen the bonds between individual members within communities or ‘bonders’, as well as people who worked across different sections of the community or ‘bridgers’. These people were important in facilitating one-to-one kindliness and also creating connections between different sections of the community. 

Building common cause – it was important that people had opportunities to come together to articulate experiences. In Hebden, communities expressed these shared values when uniting to defend common values and build ‘common cause’ because this offered a means to break down barriers and mis-perceptions, enabling people to appreciate that they have similar values and experience the landscape or by coming together through shared interests. Hubs of helping to create a sense of community can be more easily developed when there is an identified focal point for people to share information and make contact with others. The erosion of such facilities as shops or Post Offices has been detrimental in many neighbourhoods and this research highlighted how important it is to develop ways of connecting communities. In Hebden this had taken the form of ‘virtual hubs’ such as Google groups or Facebook pages and the creation of a wealth of formal, group based associations. In addition, the idea of community-run shops, pubs and other local facilities offer promising new possibilities. 

Third Spaces – a conscious attempt to create public spaces where people could come into daily informal contact was key in promoting sociability and trust. Public space has long been an essential feature of urban housing design, yet it is not always ‘owned’ by people locally. It was important that the development of space tapped into the emotional connections people had with their neighbourhood. Creating kinder economies – social enterprises whose business aims were about more than the ‘bottomline’ worked to support local networks and facilitate helping. In Hebden this relied on people having the resources and time to develop alternative business models, as well as resist threats such as the encroachment of big corporations.

Creating a shared myth (a story) – it seems important that people feel a strong sense of attachment to the place where they live because if they value a place they are prepared to invest in it and in the people who live there. In Hebden this was built around its positive unifying features and expressed through community-wide events, communicated in local media and through newsletters and joint ventures around common interests. 

Of these mechanisms creating a shared myth (a story) is the most fundamental condition because without it individuals cannot fully define their presence in space as having a continuity with the past and an identity with those who have come before.

4 Place ambassadors 

The designation ‘place ambassador’ was created in the SUSPLACE programme (2015-19), a European Marie Curie funding scheme aimed at training early stage researchers in innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to study sustainable place-shaping practices. With the motto, ‘Shaping better places to live and visit’ SUSPLACE involved two community engagement projects in two distinct locations: the Portuguese village of Carvalhal de Vermilhas and the Brecon Beacons, a National Park in Wales. In both places documentaries were produced together with residents, which helped them become place ambassadors.  They became confident in promoting their attachment to the cultural heritage expressed as landscapes imbued with valued elements, such as footpaths and ways of life, expressing the slower pace of a preindustrial economy. Their stories were valued by urban dwellers seeking respite from the stresses of consumerism. 

Carvalhal de Vermilhas has around 200 inhabitants. It faces depopulation, an ageing population and lack of employment, but has the potential to develop sustainable practices in tourism. Brecon Beacons is in a somewhat better economic situation, but suffers from similar issues. Being a national park, tourism is already one of its main activities. In both places, the researcher worked together with residents to test a new conceptual framework and to develop a co-produced documentary. The projects are an example of collaborative and inclusive strategies of place branding. By participating in the projects, the residents had a say in how they would like to shape their place with regard to tourism policies and development. The resulting documentaries show the intangible heritage of the places and communities. They are also used as a tool to allow residents to reclaim their right and power as citizens to shape their place according to their needs and place values. Ownership and responsibility as well as shared power over the visual narratives mobilise participants to take action for their place. Co-producing the documentary also motivated residents to be more effective and become collective ambassadors of their place. Moreover, the two documentaries can now be used to promote the places more effectively to visitors, and potentially also to new residents and young people. 

5 Know your place

‘Know Your Place-West of England’ was a top down local authority initiative to support individuals who wished to explore their neighbourhood online through historic maps, collections and linked information. It was established in 2015 and ran until 2017 as a digital heritage resource to help people have online access to a range of local historic data.   But more importantly it provided an online heritage hub where people could add information about their local area, building a rich and diverse community map of local heritage for everyone. It was free to use and anyone could add to the shared map.

Know Your Place achieved the following Approved Purposes:

  • To scan, digitise and geo-reference historical maps from Gloucestershire, South Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset, North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset and Devon. 
  • To recruit and train volunteers. The project recruited c.100 individuals and 70 went on to volunteer for the project, giving 4946 hours’ work to the project.
  • To deliver basic conservation of fragile maps. Maps were stabilised for safe digitisation and their access online is reducing physical handling and wear and tear of the original documents.
  • To create a mobile app. Know Your Place has been designed to be compatible for use by smartphones, tablets and other devices while on the move.
  • To create an exhibition to be toured to six venues. The exhibition toured 12 venues, and remains available online.
  • To deliver a range of heritage learning activities including talks and presentations, a blog, heritage walks, school resource packs and oral histories. The events programme ran 98 events reaching 2689 people and has now ended.
  • To upload condition surveys of heritage assets to the website. By July 2017, 1197 public contributions had been added to the Community Layer, at an average rate of 180 per month.

6 “Blything and Nine Parishes”

‘Blything’and Nine Parishes’ was an EC funded project launched in the 1990s.  The aim was to evaluate IT methodologies for individuals and communities to collect data about places and create knowledge about the long-term changes in cultural spaces. SCAN ( Schools in Communities Agenda 21 Network) was the practical element of ‘Blything and Nine Parishes’.  It was associated with the creation of a new school subject about world development called natural economy, produced by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate. This initiative was aimed at embedding the United Nations Charter in the education system, particularly with respect to practice, tolerance and living together in peace with one another as good neighbours.

Blything and Nine Parishes models two of the ancient groupings of Suffolk villages into divisions called hundreds.  They were chosen to model neighbourliness because they have survived as social units of local government for over a millennium and today they are examples of extreme rurality.  This blog revisits Blything and Nine Parishes with a new collection of websites presenting notes on landscape elements in the hundreds, culled from maps art and writings, exploring how people can shape more sustainable places together. In this blog, Blything Nine Parishes is compared and contrasted with four other similar community initiatives aimed at strengthening the capacities and autonomy of people in places to take a grip on the uncertain future.

The Blything/Nine Parishes project was designed to test an innovative methodological procedure at the dawn of IT and the Internet, which would involve residents with personal computers networking to reclaim their sense of place in modern processes of rurality.  The objective was to gain an understanding of the long-term development and transformation of rural life, drawing on insights from topography, archaeology, geography and historical ecology. This ‘background hum’ is characterised by people’s awareness of each other, by a respect for each other’s privacy and by a readiness to take action if help is needed. The central question is can kindliness be defined as ‘neighbourliness-enacted’?  Also, can kindliness describe the process of reconnection within communities as the ‘reinvention of sociality’ ?

In contrast to Know Your Place, Blything and Nine Parishes was a bottom up initiative. Its philosophy was that a community’s past is stamped into the land by the people who first decided to settle there and negotiated  boundaries to ensure its sociopolitical and and resource sustainability. Such was the origin of two places in the UK county of Suffolk named ‘Blything’ and ‘Wangford’. These places are examples of ancient administrative divisions, called ‘Hundreds’.  Geographically, each is part of a larger division.   The term “hundred” is first recorded in the Saxon laws of King Edmund I (939–46).  Here it is presented as a measure of land defining the area served by a Hundred Court.  The origin of the division of lands into hundreds is obscure. It may once have referred to an area of 100 hides. In the early Anglo-Saxon period a hide was the amount of land farmed by and required to support a peasant family.  Alternatively the hundred may have been an area originally settled by one “hundred” men at arms, or the area liable to provide one “hundred” men under arms. 

In the Domesday Book Blything Hundred comprised 56 named places with around 2000 households.  The Hundred was aligned with the watershed of the River Blyth which reached the sea at Dunwich.  In Anglo Saxon times Dunwich was by far the largest of the coastal havens situated between the North and South Hundred Rivers.  These two rivers marked the northern and southern coastal boundaries of Blything Hundred . The name Blything suggests that it was an ancient place occupied by a group of self-governing farmers known as ‘people of the Blyth’.  Land divisions are often older than we think and from this point of view there has been speculation that Blything could be a British tribal area predating the Roman occupation. Without doubt this makes Blything a good place to develop a shared myth amongst its inhabitants.

Regarding Wangford Hundred, this hundred is written in Domesday Book as Wanneforda and Waineforda.  Some historians believe this derives from an alternative name for the River Waveney, Wangford’s northern boundary, and thus it meant “ford for wagons across the Waveney”.  However, British History On Line believes the hundred takes its name from the village of Wangford, which is actually within Blything. The community of Wangford within Blything is named after the ford which was a major road crossing of the River Wang, a tributary of the River Blyth.  There were 24 places in the hundred of Wangford in Domesday Book. Nine of its present parishes were selected for comparison with twenty three selected from Blything, which are on its boundary.

This blog revisits Blything Nine Parishes with new websites presenting notes on landscape elements, from maps art and writings involved exploring how people can shape more sustainable places together.

Taking a long view of Suffolk places there was certainly human occupation in the area we now know as East Anglia before the great Anglian Glaciation around 450,000 years ago, but most traces of it have been obliterated by scouring ice.  On this human time scale people first arrived in Britain at least 780 000 years ago and have recolonised East Anglia after several major glaciations to leave an archeological pattern of occupation closely related to the shifting climate. Pakefield, at the mouth of the North Hundred River, is the site of one of the earliest known areas of human habitation in the United Kingdom. In 2005 flint tools, and teeth from the water vole Mimomys savini, a key dating species, were found in the eroding cliffs. These are the markers for the earliest hominins in England about 700,000 years ago, potentially a cross between Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis. Of all the glacial periods Britain went through in the last million years, the Anglian glaciation was the most extreme. Human survival in Britain became impossible. The absence of humans lasted for many millennia.  After the glaciers finally retreated, somewhere between 10,000 and 8,000 BC, the waters of the Atlantic spilled over into the North Sea as the ice-sheet melted. Gushing melt waters carved out the valleys of Suffolk’s rivers, which today cut through the clay plateau. These valleys are very large in relation to the actual size of the streams that flow in them. With this warmer phase, the tundra, an expanse of frozen subsoil, gave way to birch and the willow scrub, which was eventually followed by forest with pines and oaks. In the open grasslands the bison, mammoth and hippopotamus lived, and as the reindeer herds gradually moved north, the woods were once more inhabited by red deer, pigs and auroch cattle.  

Around 7,000 years ago the coastline of Suffolk lay some 7 km to the east of its present location, and the land was forested with oak, elm, lime and alder. This space became the hunting ground of nomadic Mesolithic hunter gatherers whose flint tools have been found on the southern bank of the River Blyth at Halesworth.  At the small Halesworth encampment, scrapers, burins (a kind of flint chisel) and borers were found. Also excavated were several potboilers, pieces of flint which were heated in a fire, then dropped into a water-filled skin bag in order to cook meat. 

The history of Britain’s population is all about arriving, staying and settling, or leaving, moving and settling elsewhere. Farmers from continental Europe began to settle in different parts of Britain after the last Ice Age, around 12,000 years ago. Ever since, these islands have been continuously occupied as new arrivals mixed with existing residents.  Neolithic farmers settled along the fringes of the glacial clay plateau, where the slopes of the river valleys were easier to drain and cultivate than the central claylands. The latter had developed a thick tree cover, but spaces were becoming places as people began to carve out farmlands from the primary woodlands. For example, at Henham on the Blyth estuary, groups of Beaker flat graves have been excavated together with extensive Iron Age remains of clay-lined pits and part of a large circular building. Elsewhere, in Suffolk extensive prehistoric coaxial field systems have survived. 

By the 1st century human settlement was expanding into the central wooded areas, and at the end of the Roman occupation a network of dispersed Saxon settlements spread across the area.  At the time of the Norman Conquest, the present villages and many isolated farmsteads and hamlets had been established and Suffolk was one of the most densely populated in England.

Names of some villages we have today come from the Anglo-Saxon settlers. Some were named after the chieftain (leader) and end with ‘ham’ or ‘ing’. Today’s parish boundaries originated in the territorial divisions of these families.  Beating the bounds is an ancient custom still observed in some English and Welsh parishes. Under the name of the Gangdays, the custom of going a-ganging was kept before the Notman Conquest.  A group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, usually led by the parish priest and church officials, to share the knowledge of their community’s space, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands.

Culture and space are now mapped into parish boundaries that can redefine:

  • the notion of place;
  • the production of creative goods and services;
  • the importance of history;
  •  the intrinsic value of what is local and unique.
  • the ethic of landscape sustainability

Therefore a parish can be interpreted as a socially constructed narrative, locking people into their environment.  As a narrative it can be understood in two ways: as a means to make sense of the world (a way of knowing) and as a practice (a way of doing),  Language is used to build ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ into local knowledge via storytelling. Places are reproduced and communicated by telling stories.  Indeed this process of creating environmental knowledge starts with an exploration of people’s sense of place, which governs their attachment to their environment and their desire to protect it. 

Fig 1 Hundreds of Suffolk (a SPACE in SuffolkSpaces)

Fig 2 Map of Benacre Parish, Suffolk (a PLACE in Blything Hundred); boundary in red

Fig 3 Lock’s Lane, Benacre (A LANDSCAPE in Benacre)

7  Postscript

The value of cultural heritage is generally recognized as being an important factor in creating sustainable and resilient human settlements   In particular, the local evaluation of heritage underlines the importance of protecting and enhancing the identity values of places. The objective is to guarantee an inclusive and fair human-centered community development. Heritage interacts actively with people, bringing them together reinforcing and blending the sense of identity and belonging.  Taking all of this into account, the future of sustainable communities lies with IT as a collection of tools for gathering and disseminating information and knowledge about the past, present and future of ‘place’. IT has not killed physical space. Instead, the digital, the physical and the cultural can be recombined in new updated versions of place. Here the internet has entered physical space becoming the Internet of Things (IoT) and it is changing the way we interface with the space around us.  Communities are at the center of place-innovation that is unfolding across all geographic, industrial and technological borders. It is not so much devices that are being linked together but the “connected person.” At the center is a person who is making use of the IT applications and services that are enabled by the devices, i.e. the things, and their unprecedented integration. The things express good human behaviours such as thinking of others, considering the impact of one’s actions and being kind. 

People in every community will always have to face challenges and will need to find new ways to stay connected and check in on one another to maintain physical and mental wellbeing and share accurate information and advice e.g. for conservation and medical wellbeing. This is the lesson of COVID 19.  IoT enables keeping up to date, sharing information and being a positive part of the local community conversations. Different elements and groups will be at increased risk. Social isolation and loneliness are key concerns for all ages. With respect to bringing people together to advocate for community action, neighbourly support can make a huge difference in a world fraught with global challenges. The current threats of global warming and disease pandemics are set to impact all of us in one form or another.  With respect to their role as active citizens stronger local connections of people with their community places are vital to see future environmental crises out. Personal IT tools are going to be essential in order to fully participate in one’s community . Already, many people maintain personal web pages to express their opinions on issues ranging from news and politics to movies, or to serve as a showcase for their creative endeavors related to place-making through writing, poetry or music. A personal web page gives the owner generally more control on his or her presence in search results and how they wish to be viewed online. It also allows more freedom in types and quantity of content than a social network profile can offer. They also provide a link from the local world to the individual, and from the individual to the wider word, putting what really matters into a clearer light.

Having a website allows a person to have full control over his or her ‘brand’. They have complete ownership over it.  How it looks and what it says are entirely up to the writer, making it the ultimate platform to reflect exactly who they are, why they do what they do, what makes them different and the value they provide.  Further to this, having a website gives security and certainty when it comes to the owner as an individual. There are no terms and conditions they need to follow, nor do they have to worry about it shutting down. Many sites, such as Google, are easy to make and free.  Having a personal domain also means that the owner can produce content that is exclusive to his or her brand. For example, content in the form of blogs can only be found on that particular website, giving an opportunity to rank in search engines with specific keywords that relate to the impact of the owner on their neighbours and making a difference in the wider world. 

In summary, having your own website means building a presence in a village appraisal on your own terms, the way you want it to be.  How much more could be incorporated in the Parham Parish SCAN if every family in the village could network its own website?

8 Internet references

SCAN for Suffolk Places

Beating the bounds


Tides of change

The dimensions of place meanings



Its not easy to make a landscape

Archaeology of the Suffolk coast

Old maps

Rural Settlement Changes


Wangford Hundred

Good neighbourliness

Know your place

Pevsner in Suffolk

Place ambassadors

Our place in the future

Magnetic Fields

Pace of change

Preparing for a post growth future

Friday, March 20th, 2020

Incompatibility of ‘sustainable’ and ‘growth’

In 1960, Article 1 of the Convention of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) included the specific aim of achieving “the highest sustainable economic growth”.  Only in subsequent decades did enlightenment filter through to some corporate and political mind-sets, which acknowledged the mutual incompatibility of “sustainable” and “growth”. Ultimately we all need to believe that bringing together the understanding, intelligence, compassion, and concern for one’s descendants, that nearly every human being is capable of demonstrating, will ultimately lead to a vision of sustainability as the only viable future.

The starting point for this discourse is that humanity is taking from Earth more than it can regenerate and is producing more waste than it can assimilate.  Therefore we have to change our behaviour to bring our demands on the planetary ecosystem in line with its limits.  In this respect we have to decide to go either for a culture of harmony, based on sharing public goods, or for a culture of continuing discord based on unequal distribution of individual wealth. To help us make this choice a new body of knowledge linking culture with ecology is needed.  It is required to promote a process of citizens’ involvement in transition from a technological culture to an ecological one based on renewable energy.  The political dimension of cultural ecology includes some bold ideas such as an equal education budget for every citizen, to be invested as they choose.  But it mostly rests on old ideas of participatory governance, progressive taxation, and income guarantees, underpinned by a culture of sharing ecological resources equality within and between countries.

The Bassey model

Whilst contending that societies need to move from economic growth to cultural growth, Michael Bassey, in his book “Convivial Policies for the Inevitable; (2012)”  acknowledges that such a massive shift in day to day living will be a very tall order, whether amongst world leaders or the burgeoning millions of individuals aspiring to greater material wealth. We get an inkling of  how difficult such a global change would be in the isolationist responses of countries to protect their monetary wealth in response to the corona virus pandemic (COVID-19; 2020).  

In reaching a condition of cultural growth we need to appreciate and value what we have. We need to create things without damaging our planet, and learn how to live convivially. Bassey warns we may be forced to start relating to each other in long-forgotten ways, because there is no alternative. What is meant by “convivial” in this context?  Bassey believes it is a “way of living, through which people gain quality of life and enjoy happiness by striving to be in harmony with themselves, and with their social, cultural and natural environments”. Taking the UK economy as a starting point, he suggests there should be a minimum living wage, maximum take-home pay, and acceptance that as unemployment is inevitable, our society should be re-orientated so that unpaid work at home or in the community is recognised for its intrinsic value through support via a “universal citizen’s income”.  

Those people inextricably bound up in the values and validations of typical growth- orientated, oil-based economies are characterised by Bassey as “wealthists”, whose pursuit of affluence brings about an “acne of over-consumption”. Wealthist politicians rise and fall on their ability to grow the GDP. It doesn’t matter what it takes, whether it’s ripping up environmental protections, gutting labour laws, or fracking for cheap oil: if you achieve growth, you win. Citizens of green, no-growth economies are dubbed “convivialists”.  Prosperity for convivialists consists in their ability to flourish as human beings within the ecological limits of a finite planet. This was the view of the UK Sustainable Development Commission as far back as 2009 when it promoted “Prosperity Without Growth”. The challenge for our society now is to create the conditions under which this is possible”. In response to global environmental degradation and human poverty we need to learn how to create sustainable societies which do not depend for their survival on a wealthist worldview.  Indeed, the convivial discourse takes a quite different perspective. While the poorer countries need to sustain development, ie economic growth, in order to achieve convivial joy for their peoples, the richer countries need to develop stable economies. i.e. zero growth, in order to achieve harmony with the environment. In particular, Bassey argues that convivial education is the foundation for the four pillars of sustainability: namely ‘social justice’, ‘environmental responsibility’, ‘economic viability’ and ‘cultural development’. Further, he suggests that adult education rather than schooling needs to be the present focus and that a powerful stimulus to this would be non-mandatory referenda posing significant, if difficult, questions arising from adopting the four pillars of sustainability. 

In the convivial discourse, education is the route into conviviality and it happens within the family, community and workplace as well as in schools, colleges and universities. The educational goal is learning to live a convivial life in terms of coming to understand oneself, other people, one’s natural environment and one’s cultural world and growing in harmony with these. Through this way of living one learns a measure of self-sufficiency. It is a life-long and holistic process embracing both formal and informal learning.

From the convivial perspective of creating cultural harmony, ultimately it must be the case that the economy of every country and the joyfulness of its people will depend primarily on what they make of their own territory. It will depend on soil, on climate, on the technology they use in relation to soil and climate, on how they conserve the land, and on how they organise their affairs to provide social justice and cultural development for all.  Bassey believes that in the past all communities were like this and often they suffered extreme privitation: but a modern sustainable society would not be primitive. Creating it puts the clock forward, not back. Drawing on scientific and technological developments within a steady state economy there would be convivial work opportunities for all to achieve a high quality of life and non monetary prosperity. To develop a democratic culture of harmony requires creative interaction between education and society. Ideas of progress need to be unshackled from the creation of wealth. Political courage is needed to stand firm against the critics who lack the imagination to see it as ultimately being the only way for succeeding generations throughout the world to enjoy satisfying and high quality lives.

The Piketty model

Thomas Piketty in his book ‘Capital and Ideology (2020)’ retells a global history with a scathing critique of contemporary politics and a bold proposal for a new and fairer economic system. Piketty challenges us to revolutionize how we think about politics, ideology, and history and galvanize a global debate about inequality. He exposes the ideas that have sustained inequality for the past millennium, reveals why the shallow politics of right and left are failing us today, and outlines the structure of a fairer economic system.  

Piketty argues for a new “participatory” socialism, a system founded on an ideology of equality, the production of public goods, and education for the democratic sharing of knowledge and power.  Our economy, he observes, is not a natural fact. Markets, profits, and capital are all historical constructs that depend on past choices. Piketty explores the material and ideological interactions of conflicting social groups that have given us slavery, serfdom, colonialism, communism, and hypercapitalism, shaping the lives of billions. He concludes that the great driver of human progress over the centuries has been the struggle for equality and education and not, as often argued, the assertion of property rights or the pursuit of social stability. He says the new era of extreme inequality that has derailed that progress since the 1980s, is partly a reaction against communism, but it is also the fruit of ignorance, intellectual specialization, and our drift toward the dead-end politics of national identity.

Once we understand this, we can begin to envision a more balanced approach to economics politics and environment. Here, Piketty argues for a new “participatory” socialism, a system founded on an ideology of equality, social property, education, and the sharing of knowledge and power. His standpoint is simply a moral one: inequality is illegitimate, and therefore requires ideologies in order to be justified and moderated.  

“All history shows that the search for a distribution of wealth acceptable to the majority of people is a recurrent theme in all periods and all cultures”.  

Piketty’s core political and methodological belief is in the emancipatory power of public data: that when people are given sufficient evidence about the structures of society, they will insist on greater equality until they are granted it.  However, Western democracies are currently dominated by two rival elites, reflected in many two-party electoral systems: a financial elite (or “merchant right”) that favours open markets, and an educational elite (or “Brahmin left”) that stands for cultural diversity, but has lost faith in progressive taxation as a basis for social justice. With these as the principal democratic options, nativist parties prosper, opposing educational and economic inequality, but only on the basis of tighter national borders. Pikettty’s message is that there is a vacancy for parties willing to defend internationalism and redistribution simultaneously.  His vision is of future generations sharing the public good of a bountiful Earth equitably with maximum opportunities for joyful lives


Michael Bassey has suggested that a stimulus to wide-spread learning about how to develop a post growth culture would be if the government held a referendum on the issues involved. Instead of an opinion poll based on a sample of perhaps a thousand people, suppose that all adults are expected to cast votes expressing their views in a national ballot along the same lines as a general election.  The kind of questions that might be asked are displayed below. 

Suppose that the ballot paper included the area (not the local) postal code. This would mean that local authorities and the people themselves became aware of what each area thought. Suppose that such a referendum was seen as not binding a government (ie non-mandatory) but as indicating a direction that the community expects its policies to take. And suppose that such a referendum was repeated every three years – so that people would have the chance to rethink their position and continue the debate.

Asking good questions is central to learning and sometimes can be more important than getting the answers, particularly when the questions encourage people to think critically.  

The following questionnaire is an example to guide the production of a democratic educational scaffold for lifelong learning about the links between ecology and culture. In particular it probes respondents’ opinions about the  limits to Earth’s carrying capacity; the limits to economic growth; the limits to waste emissions; the need for a new relationship between culture and ecosystems and an education system for living sustainably. 

An interactive version of the questionnaire produced by International Classrooms On LIne (ICOL) is available HERE.  

As followers of this blog ICOL invites you to fill in the interactive questionnaire that will help ICOL to plan an education pathway for sustainability.

The results will be presented at

You are asked to select one of the answers to each question to indicate the response that is nearest to your present opinion. If none reflects your opinion, or if you feel you know too little about it, use the response ‘Cannot answer this question’. Many people will say, ‘I can’t answer these questions’. Not knowing is the beginning of the path to wisdom. You may simply start to realise that in a strong democracy each and every one of us has a part to play in determining what the future will look like. This is more than enough.

The questionnaire will take 10-15 minutes to fill in and may stimulate you to think differently   about the topic.

1 Limits to Earth’s carrying capacity

Are we facing limits to Earth’s carrying capacity for human life? 

(a) No because we can engineer our environments more productively to serve human needs as we have done in the past

(b) No because affluence and modernisation is bringing falling fertility rates so reducing human demands on the environment

(c) Yes because we have already exceeded key planetary boundaries, with visible consequences of deforestation, biodiversity collapse, resource wars and climate change.

(d) Cannot answer this question.

Is it time for a post-growth economy?

(a) No because economists and politicians tell us that we need growth in order to boost people out of poverty.

(b) No because if the economy doesn’t keep expanding by at least 2% or 3 % a year in developed countries, it collapses into crisis.

(c) Yes because we can choose to replace GDP with more holistic measures, like the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI)

(d) Cannot answer this question.

 2 Limits to economic growth

 Are there limits to economic growth?

(a) No, because it is unlikely that the limits to economic growth will ever be reached.

(b) Yes because economic growth will eventually cease but there is no need to take action now.

(c) Yes because economic growth cannot be maintained within Earth’s limits..

(d) Cannot answer this question.

How can malnutrition and starvation be eliminated across the world?

(a) By free trade which ensures economic growth for all countries, rich and so lifts the poor out of poverty.

(b) By rich countries providing aid and intermediate technology which ensures that people can maintain themselves from the resources of their own territory.

(c)  By global food aid, whereby food is grown in donor countries for distribution or sale abroad.

(d) Cannot answer this question.

How serious (life threatening) are the changes in the global environment that are being made by humankind?

(a) Very serious for us and needing urgent action now.

(b) Quite serious for us and needing action in the foreseeable future.

(c) Not serious for us in the foreseeable future and not requiring action

(d) Cannot answer this question

3 Limits to waste emissions

What is the most important action to bring consumption in line with Earth’s ecological productivity?

(a) Consume less goods and services

(b) Plant trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

(c) Increase the efficiency of  production of goods and services

(d) Cannot answer this question

Which of the following themes is most important when you buy things?

(a) It has to be up to date

(b) It has to have a long lifespan

(c) It has to be part of a circular economy where all wastes and discards are recycled.

(d) Cannot answer this question

4 Need for a new relationship between culture and ecology

What is the best interpretation of sustainable development? 

(a) Sustaining economic growth year by year, while trying to alleviate poverty and protect the environment.

(b) Aiming for no economic growth in order to create sustainable societies that alleviate poverty and protect the environment.

(c) Aiming for a steady state economy with international policies of trade and aid that promote the sharing of Earth’s resources equitably

(d) Cannot answer this question.

 What would be an appropriate definition of prosperity in a steady state economy?

(a) An appropriate definition of prosperity would be the hope that world leaders would address global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.

(b) An appropriate definition of prosperity would be the commitment of people to voluntary altruistic actions

(c) An appropriate definition of prosperity would be the year on year accumulation of monetary capital 

(d) Cannot answer this question

Where survival is reasonably assured and basic needs are met, what kind of culture will give the better quality and meaning to individuals’ lives?

(a) A culture of wealth creation will give the better quality of life

(b) A culture of harmony through sharing will give the better quality of life.

(c) A culture of creativity as an enabler of economic development will give the better quality of life

(d) Cannot answer this question

5 Need for a new education system

Should we educate young and adult people in order that they learn of the socio-ecological predicaments of the Earth?

(a) Yes.Involve young people in designing and co-producing educational materials

(b) No. Adult education should focus on learning the skills needed to train for the new jobs that economic growth demands.

(c) Yes. Train educators as facilitators to help learners assemble a personal body of knowledge to live sustainably 

(d) Cannot answer this question.

What kind of pedagogy is needed to cope with the socio-ecological predicaments of Earth?

(a) One that produces specialists because the predicaments of Earth require technical fixes.

(b) One that produces generalists because the predicaments of Earth require cross disciplinary fixes. 

(c) One that produces humanists because the predicaments of Earth require a different kind of thinking from that which we used to create them

(d) Cannot answer this question


Coping with our planet’s inevitable decline

Sunday, March 1st, 2020

1 More Planes

Plans for a third runway at UK’s Heathrow airport have been ruled illegal by the Court of Appeal because ministers did not adequately take into account the government’s commitments to a target in law of net zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement.  Heathrow is already one of the busiest airports in the world, with 80 million passengers a year. The £14bn third runway could be built by 2028 and would bring 700 more planes per day and a big rise in carbon emissions.  Also, the go-ahead for a third runway would support the creation of circa 8,000 new jobs in Wales because greener trains and a direct rail-air link to Wales via Reading are among a raft of transport improvements being outlined alongside the plans for the third runway.

The ruling comes at a time when the public are hoping that atmospheric CO2 will become stabilised by 2050. In this respect, the Court’s decision could indicate a tipping point towards a zero growth economy.

2 The question 

From Paul, 42, London.

I recently watched an interview with David Attenborough, in which he was asked whether there is hope that things can get better for our planet. He replied that we can only slow down the rate at which things get worse. It seems to me that this is the first time in history we have known things will get worse for the foreseeable future. How do you live in the shadow of such rapid and inevitable decline? And how can you cope with the guilt? “

3 The answer 

From Neil Levy, Senior Research Fellow, Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford.

“I agree that we live in a unique moment in history. This isn’t like a war or an economic recession, where you know things will be bad for a few years but eventually improve. Never before have we known that the deterioration of not just our countries, but our entire planet, will continue for the foreseeable future – no matter what we do. As Attenborough says, we can (and should) fight to slow the rate at which things get worse, even though we can’t realistically hope for improvement”.

“We can’t hide from the fact that Attenborough’s opinion reflects mainstream science. Even if we halted carbon emissions tomorrow, a significant degree of future warming is already baked in. Under the most likely scenarios, we’re set for warming of 1.5℃ or much more.

The consequences are dire. If we succeed in limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, we will still have sea level rises of around half a metre, killer heatwaves and drought in many parts of the world – leading to a decrease in agricultural productivity. We can expect mass migrations, death and destruction as a result, with many parts of the world becoming uninhabitable”.

English broadcaster and natural historian David Attenborough at Great Barrier Reef. wikipedia, CC BY-SA

“So how do you cope with this knowledge? The question is all the more difficult when we confront the inevitable guilt: we are all complicit with the sclerotic political system that has failed to address the crisis, and we all contribute to carbon emissions. Few of us can say that we have risen to these challenges”.

4 From doomism to altruism

“Weirdly, the knowledge of decline may help some people to cope with the guilt. If things will get worse no matter what we do, then why do anything? This “doomism” may be promoted by fossil fuel interests, to limit real action. Given that what we do today can make a difference to what happens in 2100 or later, though, we shouldn’t give in to this temptation.

Another source of resignation might be that many people who try to fight climate change have rather selfish reasons for caring. Some may only care for their own children, or how the problems will affect their own country. But the climate crisis requires true altruism and real sacrifices. Are we even capable of that?”

“It is fashionable in some circles to deny that genuine altruism exists. Whether based on the perception that selfless behaviour is selected against by evolution, or merely cynicism, many thinkers have argued that all our actions are motivated by self-interest. Perhaps we give to charity because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Perhaps we recycle for social status”.

“But your question shows the problem with such arguments. Like you, many of us feel desolate about the inevitable harms the world will face when we are gone – suggesting that we care for future generations for their sake and not just for our own”.

“I have no personal stake in the world after my death. I don’t have children and I don’t have hopes of leaving a legacy. If I’m lucky, I may live out my life in middle-class comfort, relatively untouched by the upheavals that are guaranteed already to be underway elsewhere. When they hit closer to home, I may already be dead. So why should I care? But I do care, and so do you”.

“The philosopher Samuel Scheffler has argued that if we were told that humanity would become extinct immediately after our own deaths – but without affecting the quality or duration of our life – we would be devastated and our lives would lose meaning.

For example, imagine living in the world of PD James’ dystopian novel, The Children of Men. Here, mass infertility means the last children have been born and the human race faces extinction as the population gradually ages and diminishes. It’s a thought experiment, considering what society would look like if there were no generations to follow us and no future – and it’s a vision of despair”.

5 Long-term thinking

“Contemplating inevitable decline reveals that we care not only that humanity continues to exist long after we are gone, but that we care about whether it flourishes – even in the far future”.

We need cathedral thinking to deal with climate change. Gary Campbell-Hall/Flickr, CC BY-SA

“Consider those behind the construction of the towering cathedrals of the medieval age. They were often built over more than a generation, so many of those who began work on them never survived to see their project completed. But that didn’t stop them drawing the plans, laying the foundations or labouring over their walls. The cathedrals were for the future, not just the now. Dealing with the climate crisis may require similar long-term thinking”.

“So while the knowledge of climate destruction may sap motivation and induce anxiety, a long-term perspective could also turn out to be motivating. With a firmer grasp of what’s at stake, it is possible that we will be energised to do what we can to ensure that life a century – or more – from now is better than it might otherwise have been”.

“Because one thing is given. If you are locked in a state of guilt, shame and depression, you may be incapable of mustering motivation. Sure, the Antarctic ice sheets won’t melt any slower because you recycle. But consider this: if you can inspire just a few people to lead greener lives, they may, in turn, inspire others – and so forth”.

“People are capable of caring and billions of caring people together can make a difference, as we have seen with the huge climate strikes all over the world. Together, we can force governments and corporations to make the changes needed to slow the rate at which things get worse”.

“Whether we are going to be able to shed as many selfish desires as necessary to even just slow global warming remains to be seen. Perhaps it takes a unique moment in history just as this to work out how far humans are capable of going for the greater good. The answer may surprise us”.

]This article is part of Life’s Big Questions  The Conversation’s new series, co-published with BBC Future, seeks to answer readers’ nagging questions about life, love, death and the universe. ‘Conversations’ works with professional researchers who have dedicated their lives to uncovering new perspectives on the questions that shape our lives.

Republished from The Conversation  for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

Knowledge as Prosperity

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Aeonium arborescens; Dyffryn Gardens

1 Questions of prosperity

Consumer cultures, prosperous in terms of monetary wealth, generated by capitalist economics, continue to fuel unsustainable patterns of consumption, which yield poor returns of human well-being and environmental sustainability.  In a discussion paper redefining prosperity the Club of Rome posed questions, such as ‘What is a robust definition of prosperity in our times within the construct of humanity in service to a healthy planet?’ ‘What research challenges do we need to address in order to rethink the goal of economics for the rest of the 21st century.  In this connection, humanity has to find ways for people to become one with nature, replace gross domestic product as the main indicator of national success, and promote new measures of social progress driven by collaborating citizens in a culture of global ecology. Three concepts are fundamental to the success of such long term policies. 

First, the creation of well-being requires more than the remediation of problems, because this merely reduces ill-being. The whole global population has to shift towards new ways of flourishing by constructing institutions for the public good that are not dominated by capitalist economics or extreme left wing thinking.

Second, sustainable happiness results from what we do, not what we have.  Therefore we need to be able to create our own well-being and contribute to that of others without drowning in a sea of personal stuff. 

Third, we must expand non-capitalist institutions bit by bit, committed to rigorous evaluation of a socialism that is democratic and consensual to find out what works, for whom, for how long, for which outcomes and in what contexts. 

Fast-forward, ready-to-go solutions and consensus about the best pathway to take, do not currently exist to build robust human societies where equitable wellbeing and a healthy biosphere are two sides of the same coin. Robust means resilient, tested against experimentation, and actionable. A robust definition of cultural ecology will only come through a process of mutual learning.  This starts by asking better questions and kick starting an experimentation phase to even out the spread of Earth’s finite resources within and between nations. In this context, the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) invites us to consider experimenting with the role of arts in culture, not simply as a tool for communicating sustainability, or as a way of envisioning the good life, but as an inherent component of individual creative prosperity.  Such national experiments integrating arts in culture may be seen in the two international expositions held in Paris in 1925 and 1928, which defined Art Deco.  

Advert for one of the delights of leisure spent at the seaside resort of New Brighton, travelling by train

The Art Deco Style was a global movement integrating contemporary living with art and turning life into art.  It was against those consciously working for the undoing of art. Its purpose was mass enjoyment and it featured prominently in the architecture and interior design of cinemas and everyday objects such as toasters and radio sets. In the late 1930s, during the Great Depression, it featured prominently in the architecture of the immense public works projects mounted in the United States, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam. 

The “Art Deco”, period lasted from the 1920s through the 1930s, but the term came from ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes’, an exhibition of decorative arts, held in Paris in 1925. By the 1920s, industrialisation had made rapidly expanding cities the hubs of commerce, residence and entertainment. Buildings within these cities served not just as physical structures to house people and businesses, but also as monolithic symbols of progress, promising that the future was something to look forward to, especially in the aftermath of the First World War.  Art Deco sold that vision in all its splendour and promise. It was the theme of an exhibition mounted by the UK Sainsbury Centre in 2020 to celebrate iconic seaside architecture, from hotels and apartment blocks, to piers, cinemas and lidos. It showcased Art Deco as a style synonymous with pleasure, leisure and entertainment. The exhibition demonstrated that art and culture facilitate participation in the life of society and contribute to a creative and fulfilling quality of life in the context of life-long learning.

The style came to an abrupt end in 1939 with the beginning of World War II but was rediscovered in the 1960s, and many of the original buildings have since been restored and defined as cultural heritage.  CUSP’s arts theme develops the conceptual framework for this approach and explores the complex interaction between cultural prosperity, place, the quality (and availability) of employment, leisure, and the rights to creative self-expression.  All outcomes fall into the category of non-material prosperity.  

The aim of the Paris Exposition des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in 1928 was to bring together original artistic and industrial practices, thereby showing the ways in which artistic creativity could impact on all aspects of modern life.  Less ambitious than the 1925 Art Deco exhibition, and acknowledging a society of inequalities, the 1928 fair did not promote the French luxury trades, but rather focused on France’s place in the modern world as reflected through the country’s achievements in science and technology, whilst unconsciously marking the end of the Art Deco era.  What could be the art form of today to signify urbanised humankind’s new journey into a carbon free economy?  

If a new version of “Prosperity” has to be crafted to reorient public policies and action, what are the research challenges this process implies? Our knowledge about what produces individual and collective wellbeing, and how to achieve it at the lowest levels of ecological footprints, is still limited. What kind of meaningful metrics are needed for achieving “prosperity” in balance with the biosphere, for it to ĺbecome a new compass of economic policies? More generally, how do we ensure that research at large contributes to “Prosperity”? Should investments be linked to non-monetary prosperity outcomes and if so, how?  How do we ensure that the complex dynamics of research and innovation shift fast enough towards the desirable futures envisioned in this redefined “Prosperity”, which an increasing number of people view as participating in a global steady state economy? . 

2 Art Florensis

Dickson Despommier’s answer to questions of lifestyle and economics is essentially a high-rise series of ecosystems. The various greenbelts, horticultural features, gardens and farms located within the buildings double as public spaces. Despommier is the leader behind the “Vertical Farming” initiative, which argues for the creation of high-rise agricultural structures, that can grow and distribute food in urban areas. So we move into a new era of art and architecture that could be described as Art Florensis, acknowledging the important role that gardens and gardening play in the social evolution of Homo sapiens.

The importance of gardens and gardening for the general public was revealed in a poll for the UK National Trust carried out by Ipsos MORI in 2009.   Amongst the general public, over 7 in 10 thought that it was important to their quality of life to spend time in gardens. Gardens provide the public with opportunities to unwind and relax. This is the most frequently mentioned response (68%) when people are asked why spending time in gardens is important to them. It is important to people irrespective of their age or life stage. The majority of the public (80%) think that all children should learn about gardening including growing food at school; 38% of people strongly agree with this statement. Just over half the general public agree that the British are a nation of gardeners (53%); 12% of people strongly agree with this statement and the agreement increases with age; from 31% of 15-24 year olds to 66% of people aged 65+.  Out of those who believe spending time in gardens is of some importance to their quality of life, just under half (48%) feel it is on balance a more enjoyable activity than watching TV (33%), and shopping (14% ).

One of the unique characteristics of gardening is that it has an esthetic component, revealed in the direct use of plants alone and in groups as pleasing visual objects, and the use of gardening objects as a basic component of artistic expression. Art in gardening revolves around plants as beautiful objects, individually and en masse. This concept has generated distinct disciplines such as flower arranging and the floral arts, garden design and development as art installations, and landscape design and architecture.  Gardening in art, refers to the depiction of plants in connection with various manifestations of the visual arts such as sculpture and mosaics, drawings and painting, and embroidery and tapestry. The depiction of plants is one of the great themes in artistic expression as exemplified in their widespread use in decorative patterns in the design of innumerable objects, from floor and ceiling patterns, silverware, pottery and ceramics, coins and banknotes, to heraldry. 

The invention the urban skyfarm reinforces the idea that education is prosperity because knowledge can lead to big dreams and the likelihood to accomplish them.  Our whole life is really about increasing prosperity in the form of knowledge to keep up with the world that continues to change with new information. Educational prosperity is a lifetime investment.

“Urban Skyfarm” could turn a city’s high rise buildings into lush ecosystems.

3 The Oceanic feeling

The European Union considers that a planet rich in biodiversity is a prosperous planet, so the conservation of biological diversity is seen as key element in the fight against poverty.  Therefore, local communities, particularly those in developing countries, can benefit from the sustainable management of natural resources. The European Union is determined to halt and reverse current loss of natural resources and biodiversity by 2015 and manage natural resources in a sustainable and integrated manner. However, a rethink of capitalism which is wedded to the goal of year-on-year monetary growth is required to bring well-being in tune with Earth’s ecology as a public good.  In this context, knowledge of our place in a web of life represents individuals being endowed with wealth and prosperity measured by one’s knowledge about species richness and our involvement in it being maintained. So, it is important to find ways of feeling that we share a common ancestry with all living beings, a feeling which can aid both the quests for personal well-being and environmental sustainability. In this connection, in 1927, after having read Spinoza and the eastern mystics, Romain Rolland wrote a letter to Sigmund Freud where he, for the first time, used the term ‘oceanic feeling’, to describe an existential feeling of the self dissolving into the world, in a moment, without boundaries.  Oceanic as an adjective refers to a situation of enormous size or extent; huge; vast, a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling of “being one with the external world as a whole”. Rolland regarded oceanic feeling as the source of the mental energy that permeates various spiritual systems. He describes “oceanic feeling” as a mystical mindset that enables one to commune with the universe on equal terms. For Rolland, the “oceanic” was the affective state underlying all spiritual experience, so one may justifiably call oneself religious on the basis of experiencing oceanic feeling alone, even if one renounces every supernatural belief and every illusion. When feeling this way Nature is not an abstract amoral entity, it is a living presence, the fundamental matrix through which all beings are interconnected.  Freud discusses oceanic feeling in his Future of an Illusion (1927) and Civilization and Its Discontents (1929). There he deems it a fragmentary vestige of a kind of consciousness possessed by an infant who has not yet differentiated itself from other people and things.  In the same vein, the artist Michael Krausz has noted how the oceanic experience can be “an ingredient of a creative life journey, a part of a larger project of self transformation.” He elaborates: 

“As a consequence of my non dualistic experience… I now experience more clearly, more expansively, more richly, more perspicuously. Such changes in my ways of experiencing in turn affect what I produce. What I produce has affected my ways of experiencing. I think of my artmaking as a process in which who I am is enriched and transformed. In short, my art production fosters my self-transformation, and my self-transformation fosters my art production.”

Similarly, It appears to the philosopher, Jussi A. Saarinen, that oceanic feelings can play an important role in enhancing artistic , and in a more general sense, creative living. He presumes this is largely due to the  ability of oceanic feelings to emancipate us from habitual, common sense ways of experiencing dualistic boundaries between ‘self’ and ‘other’. Moreover, they may provide us with a brief yet alluring glimpse into a more flexible reality, and thus confront us with fundamental existential questions of what is inner/outer, self/not-self, and body/world. Embracing these questions creatively may well become the focus for lifelong inquiry-based learning, generating a wealth of knowledge in a post-capitalist world.  Interactions between science and culture in an oceanic state can therefore generate non-material prosperity.  

‘Oceanic’ can also refer to the seas in which life began and points to our biochemical connectedness with all non-human life forms with which we share a common, cellular plan.  Regarding ‘ocean’ as a noun, after working for decades on the Law of the Sea, Elisabeth Mann Borgese observed: “the ocean is a medium different from the earth . . . it forces us to think differently. The medium itself, where everything flows and everything is interconnected, forces us to “unfocus,” to shed our old concepts and paradigms, to refocus on a new paradigm”.

Therefore there are geopolitical, biopolitical, environmental, and evolutionary dimensions to this oceanic turn. 

4 Evolutionary progress

Some texts figure the ocean as a space for contemplating human origins and destiny. For instance, the marine explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau in The Perils and Potentials of a Watery Planet, explains “our flesh is composed of myriads of cells, each one of which contains a miniature ocean . . . comprising all the salts of the sea, probably the built-in heritage of our distant ancestry”. Elisabeth Mann Borgese, one of the founding members of the Club of Rome and the first Convention on the Sea, writes that “every human . . . is a good bit of planet ocean: 71 percent of his/her substance consists of salty water”.  In conclusion, an oceanic feeling appears to be a planetary feeling where the boundaries between self and the rest of nature are obliterated and a deep sense of peace and evolutionary connectedness pervades consciousness.

Proceeding from the redefined natural concepts of the 19th century, the philosopher Gunter Scholtz in his book ‘The Philosophy of the Sea’, traces the creation of modern criteria of ethical behavior to its culmination in a new bioethics. In the process he delves into aesthetics (the sea as the symbol of the sublime) and modern self-discovery (the sea as a mirror of the soul), drawing enlightening interdisciplinary connections between Antiquity and Modernity, moral philosophy, modern psychological research and contemporary environmentalism. All in all he makes an appeal for a contemporary environmental ethics that draws from the ancient enthusiasm for the teeming life of the oceans from which humanity evolved. This was the starting point for Julian Huxley’s idea of evolutionary humanism, now regarded as an educational system to support a “minimum sufficiency” lifestyle, which is based on a dramatic, poetic rendering of the human condition and its connections with other life forms. Especially valuable is Huxley’s analysis of evolutionary trends and his appraisal of evolutionary progress. 

Progress, as Huxley defines it, is not the same as specialization, nor does it rely upon any assumption that man is necessarily an “improvement” over earlier forms of life. Attainment of “greater control over the environment” and “greater independent of the environment [sic] . . . may provisionally be taken as the criterion of biological progress.” The latest advances in the progress of life have resulted from the attainment of conceptual thought found exclusively in humankind; indeed, “it would not have been evolved on earth except in man.”  As a result of this new power, man substitutes for the satisfaction of a few instincts “new and more complex satisfactions, in the realm of morality, pure intellect, aesthetics, and creative activity.” The introduction of criteria based upon values alters the direction of progress, or “it might be preferable to say that it alters the level on which progress occurs. True human progress consists in increases of aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual experience and satisfaction.” This progress is something to be hoped for and therefore a measure of mental prosperity.

It is through the successful combination of living, work, and recreation, that most people find meaning in life and experience the greatest personal growth, development, and sense of wellbeing. Recreation and leisure activities should provide a return to the person that is greater than mere entertainment; that is, recreation and leisure activities should improve the person’s social, emotional, and physical well-being and have a spillover effect on the other domains of living and work. Indeed, recreation and leisure should be viewed and approached from the larger holistic perspective of wellness, which emphasizes physical fitness, nutrition, healthy life-styles, and stress management. To do otherwise would do an injustice to the concept of recreation for all persons, and to overlook the significant trend in our current society toward health promotion and management.

5 Hotspots of knowledge about evolution

Hotspots of evolution are regional concentrations of species that have been of interest to biogeographers since the early 1800s. They are also of interest to conservationists because of their potential to provide easy identification of sites for preservation of plant-dependent biodiversity.  The cultural needs of humanity have endowed plants with anthropogenic concepts that give clues to the evolution of the human mind and continuously add new dimensions to the history of humankind and plants. For example, it has been proposed that to qualify as a hotspot of evolution a region must meet two strict criteria.  It must have at least 1,500 vascular plants as endemics, which is to say, it must have a high percentage of plant life found nowhere else on the planet. A hotspot, in other words, is irreplaceable. Also, it must have 30% or less of its original natural vegetation. In other words, it must be threatened.

The study of past and contemporary symbolic uses of plants reveals elaborate forms of representation and communication, as well as refined conceptions of comic order, religious beliefs, and artistic codes. Such an interdisciplinary perspective of botanical knowledge gives structure to the biological and cultural environments experienced by humans, whereby plants take on symbolic roles reflecting cultural needs. Their biological and physical properties, forms, and life cycles lend themselves as materials for earthly manifestations of primeval and divine forces.  These forces used plants to interact and communicate with humans. Although plants had a plethora of symbolic meanings, they frequently embody positive achievements, virtues, and abstract concepts that revealed the best of humanity’s place in nature. So, traditionally, gardens have been seen as very special places where plants are contained or enclosed for human enjoyment. Plants kept inside a walled container are protected as paradises, where people can enjoy sounds of water and birds, can rest their eyes on green grass and bright flowers and delight in the fragrance.  At the same time gardens are places of botanical practices and symbolic narratives of philosophy, art and history. Whether the container is a walled garden, a greenhouse or a pot, they are places where Nature can be seen to meet Art.  They are hotspots of knowledge and metaphors about biodiversity.

Most of us can agree that plants are good and fundamental to our existence somehow, though often the benefits are subjective.  In other words plants provide an ecosystem service with an economic return. Indoor environments are important sources of biodiversity that people experience in their day-to-day lives.  According to the Flowers & Plants Association, the UK’s flower and indoor plant market is worth £2.2bn. According to Royal FloraHolland, a large Dutch flower marketplace, Europeans spent €35.9bn on houseplants and flowers in 2016,  Through a detailed examination of each of the sectors in which they operate, Oxford Economics estimate the ornamental horticulture industries directly added £12.6 billion to the UK’s GDP in 2017. According to the UK’s national accounts, this is greater than the direct Gross Value Added from contributions of the aerospace manufacturing industry in the same year, 

6 Selected succulents

The idea for the project ‘Selected Succulents’ as an evolutionary educational framework, came from a slide show produced by Donna Kuroda of the Washington DC Cactus Society, 16 October 2011, entitled “A Journey to Travel the Wide World of Aeoniums”.  Donna Kuroda was aiming at persuading people in Washington DC to build personal bodies of practical knowledge about ‘tree houseleeks’ (e.g. Aeonium arborescens). ‘Selected Succulents’ develops this idea to channel the art or practice of garden cultivation and management into an online framework for humanistic education focused on the topic of ‘population displacement’.  In this context, displacement is defined as the action of moving a living entity from its accustomed place to a new position. The educational objective is to help people make a domestic phytarium consisting of a collection of potted succulents and use it to develop the idea that we are embodied in Nature with respect to all that we do, from painting a house to managing a potted plant. Within this perspective the pot is a metaphor of ‘place’. Also a plant can be the metaphor for an ‘invader’ searching for a better life.  An “invasive species” is defined as a species that is non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration, and whose introduction causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. Such was the response in 2015, when the succulent ‘Jade Plant’, Crassula ovata, was reported as a new alien species for mainland China. Two small populations had been discovered in the city centre of Chengdu (Sichuan Province, western China). One was a small colony of a dozen vegetative individuals on a small roof at a building façade (accompanied by Kalanchoe daigremontiana, also a common invader).  The second one consisted of just 4–5 vegetative individuals (stems) also on a small roof at a building façade. The ability to predict patterns of vegetation responses to invasion is hampered by a poor understanding of which functional traits make some resident plants more or less vulnerable to invader impacts. After it was discovered the Jade plant was transferred to pots for research into its invasiveness . 

Regarding  humans, culture, politics, religion and educational systems are all forms of pots in which people find themselves. In most cases, these pots are forced upon people through a process of displacement. Like the Jade plant you do not choose and neither can you easily refuse the particular pot in which you find yourself. George W. G. a refugee who teaches English at ‘The Sanctuary’, a project for integrating refugees and asylum seekers into the community of Newport, South Wales, articulated this metaphor, which he called a ‘song of a plant in a pot’.   Ordinarily, a plant in a pot is a species displaced from its habitat. A displaced person is, like a potted plant, confined and dependent on carers to grow in an alien environment. George says:

“How dare a potted plant put out roots; reach out for air, water and the minerals required for its growth? The flowers and fruits a plant in a pot can bear are restricted according to the size and shape and location of the pot itself. The truth is that any plant can be kept in a pot, separated from its native species. Plants in pots live in a world of conformity and oppression; a situation of standing choked, feeling trapped, or living only in part. This is the song of a potted plant”.

The International Organisation for Migration defines environmental migrants as “persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reason of sudden or progressive change in the environment that adversely affects their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad”. 

Displacement was the theme of Patti Ortz’s art performance “I Am Here” in 2018 at the Luminaria Arts Festival in San Antonio, Texas. Ortiz employed ten young (all under 30), unofficial migrants to the US whose undocumented status often forces them into legal and social obscurity.  They were willing to share their experiences by providing oral testimonies while also performing during the art installation’s debut. Ortiz constructed a video montage of their testimonies that included scenes of a plant being ripped from its roots. To accompany the street performance on opening night, the performers and Ortiz also potted three hundred small plants, placing one tiny light inside of each pot that they then inscribed with the words “Take care of me/us.”   The lights illuminated the street performers whose testimonies filled the background soundscape bestowing radical visibility upon the ten young, rootless individuals.  

The performers spent hours rearranging the pots randomly, tending to them, and once in a while deciding to walk into the audience to hand them out. The performers were always seen as busy, always “working,” productively, but being unproductive, in a dignified way.  Some broke their silence while handing out plants, asking particular audience members if they would “Take care of me/us,” and handing them a plant only when they heard a “yes” from their lips. The plant then becomes a caring metaphor to activate the audience. 

From the sociological point of view of George W G and Patti Ortz, plants in pots are like asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants.  They are not a homogenous group; they come from a wide range of countries, in different circumstances, and have diverse abilities to adapt to  life in new pots. Providing good quality ‘pot care’ hinges on positive regard for cultural identity, the diverse experiences of migration, and the capacity of carers to translate this principle into practical action to allow them to thrive.  This opens up the human needs for self-care, which involves lots of different, smaller processes, like enough sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, spirituality, connections with others, and activities for relaxation that bring joy. The people-plants stand in need of nourishment with plenty of fertile soil and regular watering and require a place in the best possible environment for health with sunlight away from toxins.

A potted plant as a displaced lifeform chimes with ‘The Global Report on Internal Displacement’, which presents the latest information on displaced people worldwide caused by conflict, violence and disasters.   Nearly 66 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2016. The total number of people seeking safety across international borders as refugees reached 22.5 million, with more than half of all refugees worldwide coming from only three countries: Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Syria. In 2016, the largest numbers of refugees came from countries in Asia and Africa, and most of them selected countries that were also in Africa and Asia.  Germany was the only European country high on the list.  

There were 28 million new displacements associated with conflict and disasters across 148 countries and territories in 2018.  The rate that will increase year on year as climate instability becomes the norm. As climate change impacts take greater hold people may well move more often and so your products and services may need to adapt to suit this. For example, people may own fewer material possessions and need more temporary housing.

From the point of view of plants, displacement is a fact of life. Over the past two centuries many plant species in the UK have been displaced from their natural ranges or enabled to arrive for the first time on UK shores because of deliberate introduction or climate change.  In the long march of evolution, ecological displacement refers to the process by which natural selection drives new arrivals, as competing species into different patterns of resource use or different niches. This is how the concept of resource partitioning relates to evolutionary change.  Colonisation and displacement are integral concepts of biological and social evolution. Succulents are good at this because they are able to survive for days without roots, drawing upon their water reserves in leaves and stems.

Against this interdisciplinary background, caring for a potted plant now becomes, metaphorically, a reminder of the importance of caring for places so that living things can  thrive there. Describing a plant and its pot and defining the conditions for its continued growth and reproduction develops the basic educational models for human selection and settlement and nature conservation management of threatened species under a single educational heading.  The project, ‘Selected Succulents’ uses European house leeks (Sempervivum) and other succulents, as experimental material to develop these interrelated ideas about displacement as a humanistic theme of people, plants, place and change.

7  Go with the flow

Indian residents queue with plastic containers to get drinking water from a tanker in the outskirts of Chennai, May 29, 2019. An unrelenting heat wave triggered warnings of water shortages and heatstroke in India on June 1.

FILE – Indian residents line up with plastic containers to get drinking water from a tanker in the outskirts of Chennai, May 29, 2019.

Plants with pronounced succulent tissues have different origins but have common ecological strategies. Two of these strategies are drought avoidance and salt tolerance. Drought- avoiding succulence typically involves high-capacitance water storage tissues, which buffer the transpiration stream and extend carbon uptake during drought. In contrast, water storage in salt-tolerant succulence is thought to be largely a by-product of massive salt accumulation in leaf vacuoles.

The Succulent Karoo, an arid zone in southwestern Namibia and South Africa, possesses the highest plant diversity of any desert biome in the world, with more than 6000 species in an area of approximately 103,000km². There are approximately 1700 species of leaf succulents, and this dominance is unique among the world’s deserts.  It is the only arid ecosystem to be recognized as a global biodiversity hotspot. Like the Karoo, all deserts are extending and getting hotter and the interrelationships of organisms with each other and their environment  are changing. For example, in the Mojave Desert 29 percent of the 135 bird species that were present 100 years ago are less common and less widespread today and a likely cause is heat stress on predators and prey associated with climate change.  Data for the Sonoran Desert in the United States has extended the length of the frost free season therein increasing climatically suitable ranges for its cold-intolerant inhabitants.

 Warming across the Southwest US over the 20th century (Sonoran Desert)

Under the scenarios postulated for Karoo’s future by the National Botanical Institute Climate Change Group, it appears that a number of key generalizations can be made with regard to future patterns of plant distribution and diversity. Firstly, the bioclimate of the Karoo shows warming and aridification trends, which are sufficient to decrease the area amenable to the country’s biomes to between 38 and 55% of their current combined area. This includes the virtual complete loss or displacement of the existing Succulent Karoo Biome along the west coast and interior coastal plain.  Water scarcity is a major factor of change. Future climate change scenarios suggest that over the next 100 years the winter-rainfall region of the Karoo, including the Succulent Karoo Biome, will experience hotter and drier conditions than those experienced in the 20th century. Once again, plants are metaphors for humans. In 2019, several Karoo towns in the Eastern Cape ran out of water. Boreholes and dams dried up, taps ran dry, reducing farms to dust and threatening the future of local communities and the extinction of small family farms.  Therefore succulents are indicators of the loss of human monetary prosperity; a consequence of global warming.  

Taking this global perspective, water scarcity is one factor driving millions of people from their homes each year.  It exacerbates other economic and social problems like conflict, corruption or a lack of jobs that contribute to the decision to leave. Many of those who do move, at least partly because of water-related pressures such as floods, droughts and pollution, may not travel far.  International migration of families is expensive and very risky. It lies beyond the reach of many of the poorest people who are most vulnerable to water security and drought. Those who suffer water-related shocks to their livelihoods, losing animals or crops, are less likely to have the funds to start again in a new country.  Conversely, people who have better access to secure, affordable water are more likely to have enough financial resources to migrate. Although much is made of international migration, most movement related to water is inside countries, often from one rural place to another. Three out of four of the world’s poor live in rural areas and rely heavily on agricultural production, with food insecurity, water contamination and drought forcing people from their homes. Efforts are being stepped up to prevent water scarcity and make it profitable for young people to stay on rural land.  One commercial response is the enclosure of farms for game-hunting as a recreational activity: displacing animals into pots! 

But if people do leave, it is not necessarily a negative phenomenon. Humans have always moved in search of a better life.  It is an important factor of social evolution. In evolution, migration enables the movement of genes from one population into another.  Migration is an important source of genetic variation that can also change gene frequencies and result in evolution. When organisms join a population and interbreed with residents, the subsequent generation will exhibit gene frequencies that differ from those in the population prior to the arrival of the migrants.  Migration will generally unify gene frequencies among populations rapidly in evolutionary time. In this connection, a windowsill collection of succulents is a knowledge hotspot linking plants and people through the evolutionary concept of migration; a reminder that migration is the movement of populations, groups or individuals, plants animals and microbes.

8  Internet References


Cause of succulents in plants

Politics of happiness

Evolution of Crassulaceae

Interaction with indoor plants

Economic impact of ornamental horticulture

Evolution of Crassulacea

Plant animal relationships

Symbolic uses of plants

Oceanic state

Jade plant

Submarine futures

 Phylosophy of the ocean

Biodiversity and prosperity

Wonderful things

Escape from reality

Get google

Create an artwork collection


Google slide virtual gallery

Tweet gallery

Art Steps




Three extinctions

Sempervivum: Rhine Gorge

Dealing with dry days

Succulents: a primer

Rosette formation

Measuring prosperity

Leisure spending growth

Recreation wellness and leisure

Art Deco Era

Art in the Anthropocene

Gardens in the Sky

Appendix 1 The Sempervivum story

Sempervivum cultivars from the Wills National UK Collection

By far  the easiest of all succulents to grow are the Sempervivums.  Their name means ”always alive’: semper = always; vivo = to live)  They are members of the family Crassulaceae and are commonly known as Houseleeks. The genus is generally considered to contain about 50 species and there are also a huge number of names applied to plants in cultivation (5000 on the list in 2008), but the nomenclature is not clearly defined. Sempervivums change colour and shape with the seasons and the weather conditions from one year to the next and most species show a wide range of variation especially under different cultivation conditions, so it is often difficult to identify an individual plant, Most of these are variants of Sempervivum tectorum that are characterised as cultivars, easily maintained with minimum watering and are readily reproduced from offsets.  Sempervivums are commonly known as Hens and Chicks. The mother plant (hen) during the growing season will give off offsets (chicks) that one can see tucked under the lower leaves or on the end of a stolon depending on the cultivar.

Charlemagne, first Holy Roman Emperor and unifier of a large part of northern Europe, issued the following decree (circa 795) to all villagers on his Crown lands “Et ille hortulanus habeat super domum suam Iovis barbam” , which is translated as; ‘and the gardener shall have Jove’s Beard growing on the roof of his house’.  Jove’s beard refers to the common houseleek, Sempervivum tectorum. This plant is native to the Alps, the Rhine Gorge and the Pyrenees. The name Jove’s beard reflects the plant’s ancient association with the Roman bearded God Jupiter. Hence names such as “Jupiter’s beard” and the German Donnerbart (“thunder beard”),  the latter a reminder that there was a cultural shift in mythology from the Roman pantheon to that of the Nordic peoples.  Although the reasoning behind Charlemagne’s decree is not known it is taken as evidence for peasant’s roof gardens being the precursors of contemporary green roofs movement. 

The earliest documented roof gardens were the hanging gardens of Semiramis in what is now Syria, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Today, similarly elaborate roof-garden projects are designed for high-profile international hotels, business centers, and private homes. These green roofs, known for their deep substrates and variety of plantings as “intensive” green roofs, have the appearance of conventional ground-level gardens, and they can augment living and recreation space in densely populated urban areas. Intensive green roofs typically require substantial investments in plant care. Furthermore, they emphasize the active use of space and carry higher aesthetic expectations than “extensive” green roofs, which generally have shallower soil and low-growing ground cover.  Sempervivums are commonly planted in extensive green roofs.

The Rock Garden Plant Trials Subcommittee of the Royal Horticultural Society inspected the a trial of Sempervivum cultivars at Wisley over a period of three years (2005-2008), assessing the entries at each season. They recommend the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) to 23 cultivars, four of which were reconfirmations of previous awards using the following criteria: attractiveness of rosettes throughout the year : impact : health : vigour : hardiness : reliability : nomenclature.

Appendix 2 Why succulents?

The word “succulent” comes from the Latin word sucus, meaning juice, or sap. Succulent plants may store water in various structures, such as leaves and stems. Some definitions also include roots, thus geophytes that survive unfavourable periods by dying back to underground storage organs may be regarded as succulents.  This puts succulents in the front line of climate change science and biodiversity management, particularly as the arid landscapes where they evolved are warming up faster than the global average.

Many plant families have multiple succulent species found within them (over 25 plant families). In some families, such as Aizoaceae, Cactaceae, and Crassulaceae, most species are succulents. The habitats of these water preserving plants are often in areas with high temperatures and low rainfall, such as deserts. Succulents have the ability to thrive on limited water sources, such as mist and dew, which makes them equipped to survive in an ecosystem which contains scarce water sources.

In horticultural use, the term “succulent” is sometimes used in a way which excludes plants that botanists would regard as succulents, such as cacti. Succulents are often grown as ornamental plants because of their striking and unusual appearance, as well as their ability to thrive with relatively minimal care.

The Crassulaceae or Stonecrop Family  worldwide, has 35 genera and 1,500 species, including 9 genera in North America. Many are cultivated as ornamentals, including: Aeonium, Cotyledon, Crassula, Dudleya, Echeveria, Kalanchoe, Sedum and Sempervivum

Crassulaceae has about 30 genera of perennial herbs or low shrubs, in the order Saxifragales, native to warm, dry regions of the world. Many species are grown as pot plants or cultivated in rock gardens and borders. They have thick leaves and red, yellow, or white flower clusters. Sedum (stonecrop), Sempervivum (houseleek), Kalanchoë, Monanthes, Umbilicus (pennywort), Bryophyllum, Echeveria, Crassula, and Cotyledon are well-known members of the family. The family includes approximately 1400 species and 34 or 35 genera, although the number of genera is disputed and depends strongly on the circumscription of Sedum (stonecrop).

Aeonium, the tree houseleek, is a genus of about 35 species of succulent, subtropical plants of the family Crassulaceae. Many species are popular in horticulture. The genus name comes from the ancient Greek “aionos” (ageless).  While most of them are native to the Canary Islands ) a hotspot of biodiversity) some are found in Madeira, Morocco, and in East Africa (for example in the Semien Mountains of Ethiopia.

This windowsill collection of succulents is a knowledge hotspot linking plants and people

Google Sites: a reporting system for inquiry-based learning

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

“Mind mapping is not the center of the universe as some would have us believe… The center of the universe is ‘data’ which becomes ‘information’ which then can become knowledge.”

John England (MindSystems)

1 Bodies of knowledge

Fig 1 The inquiry (enquiry) learning cycle

Stephen Rowland ran a classroom inquiry course for school teachers in the University of Sheffield  during the Spring Term 1986. The aim was to develop skills of observation and interpretation of children’s learning by integrating the roles of teacher and researcher. The course was one of six optional courses which, together with a dissertation, made up the requirement for an M.Ed at Sheffield University. Being part time, the course sessions at the University were held after school, for about two hours, on ten occasions during the term. There were eight course members excluding Stephen Rowland, the course tutor. They were in their first or second year of the three year part time M.Ed and taught in a very wide range of institutions from a primary special school to a College of Higher Education. 

Reflecting on his tutoring Rowland highlighted the following comment made by  Margaret, one of the course participants.

 ‘I learnt my body of knowledge, not someone else’s’. 

He said Margaret’s comment “raised so many questions about the work we had been doing”. Such as: 

“How does the ‘my body of knowledge’ relate to the knowledge of others? Wasn’t the ‘course’ supposed to be about sharing in the knowledge of other participants as well?  How does this relate to the external knowledge as represented in research literature? How can such learning effect change in the classroom if we never get outside our own body of knowledge and view things from a different perspective”. 

“ls this learning of one’s own body of knowledge part of a continuing process, or is it a result of a brief period of reflection and introspection, a kind of therapeutic interlude?

In reflecting upon the course he said “ I shall consider these four themes because I think their exploration is important if we are to empower teachers to make their own enquiries into the learning which they facilitate”.  In fact Margaret had entered a personal learning cycle to build her own body of knowledge (Fig 1) in which asking questions was central to understanding her environment.  It reminds us that the learning cycle is entered at any age through seeing and wondering. Each question leads to another and the outcome is action for change in the enquirer’s  relationship to their environment.

A body of knowledge comprises the complete set of concepts, terms and activities that make up a mental domain, as defined by a  learned society, a professional association, a group or an individual. Rowland’s students were actually creating their individual and group bodies of knowledge in a pre-IT, paper world.  Now the medium of choice for assembling data and information, and presenting the knowledge would be a wiki.  

 A wiki is a server programme that allows users to collaborate in forming the content (body of knowledge) of a Web site. Wikis are websites where communities of users can collaborate online to build content and discuss progress. Google Sites is a structured wiki/integral Web page-creation tool offered free by Google. The declared goal of Google Sites is for anyone to be able to create simple web sites that support collaboration between different editors.

A wiki provides a simplified IT interface with a body of knowledge.  At any time, contributors can review the history of the page they are working on or preview the Web page before publishing it. A wiki website operates on a principle of collaborative trust. The simplest wiki programs allow users to create and edit content. More advanced wikis have a management component that allow a designated person to accept or reject changes. The best known example of a wikiweb site is Wikipedia.  Google Sites is missing two key features for an effective collaborative knowledge sharing platform (aka a wiki). First, users cannot subscribe to page changes. This means that if the content of the wiki that the user is interested in is updated, the user will not know unless they visit the site to check. Second, and a much bigger issue, is that Google Sites has no revision history. If someone edits or deletes a page, the previous state is unrecoverable. Many would say the ability to see the history of a page, and recover from deletions is central to the functioning of a wiki.  Nevertheless, regarding its simple structure and ease of creation a Google wiki is ideal for facilitating archiving a small group inquiry online.

2 Comparisons

Traditional education generally relies on a teacher presenting data, information and his or her knowledge about the subject. All learners receive the same data, information and pre-formed knowledge. Students are also required to memorize information from instructional materials.  In contrast, inquiry-based learning is assisted by a facilitator rather than a teacher or lecturer. Stephen Rowland was facilitating a non traditional, inquiry-based learning classroom. A facilitator is someone who engages in any activity that makes a social process easy or easier. Also, a facilitator helps a group of people or an individual to understand their common objectives and assists them to plan how to achieve these objectives; in doing so, the facilitator remains “neutral”, meaning he/she does not take a particular position in the discussion.

Each student-inquirer, helped by a facilitator, will identify, and research, issues of particular interest to them and pose questions to develop knowledge or solutions. inquiry-based learning includes problem-based learning.  This is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject through the experience of solving an open-ended problem found in trigger material and is generally used in small scale investigations and projects, as well as research.  It is principally very closely related to the development and practice of thinking and problem solving skills.  In particular, the ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information or new understandings indicates a high level of thinking.  Facilitators should be encouraging divergent thinking and allowing students the freedom to ask their own questions and to learn the effective strategies for discovering the answers. The higher order thinking skills that students have the opportunity to develop during inquiry activities will assist in the critical thinking skills that they will be able to transfer to other subjects.

inquiry based learning is an individual or small group process by which ‘data’ becomes ‘information’ which then can become a body of knowledge meaningful to the group or to an individual.  In this sense it can be said that the outcome is knowledge owned by a group or an individual.

3 Inquiry based learning

Inquiry based learning has been used as a teaching and learning tool for thousands of years, however, the use of inquiry within public education has a much shorter history.   Ancient Greek and Roman educational philosophies focused much more on the art of agricultural and domestic skills for the middle class and oratory for the wealthy upper class. It was not until the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, during the late 17th and 18th century that the subject of science was considered worthy of academic study.  Until the 1900s the study of science within education had a primary focus on memorizing and organizing facts. inquiry-based learning is primarily a pedagogical method developed within the learning-by-discovery movement of the 1960s.

While some see inquiry-based teaching as increasingly mainstream, it can be perceived as in conflict with standardized testing common in standards-based assessment systems, which emphasise the measurement of student knowledge and meeting of pre-defined criteria.

4 Methods

There is a spectrum of inquiry-based teaching methods available.  Specific learning processes that people engage in during inquiry-learning include, 

  •  creating questions of their own;
  • obtaining supporting evidence to answer the questions;
  • explaining the evidence collected,
  • connecting the explanation to the knowledge obtained from the investigative process;
  • creating an argument and justification for the explanation.

inquiry learning involves developing questions, making observations, doing research to find out what information is already recorded, developing methods for experiments, developing instruments for data collection, collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data, outlining possible explanations and creating predictions for future study.

There are many different explanations for inquiry teaching and learning and the various levels of inquiry that can exist within those contexts. 

Level 1: Confirmation inquiry

The teacher has taught a particular science theme or topic. The teacher then develops questions and a procedure that guides students through an activity where the results are already known. This method reinforces concepts taught and shows students how to follow procedures, collect and record data correctly and to confirm and deepen understandings.

Level 2: Structured inquiry

The teacher provides the initial question and an outline of the procedure. Students are to formulate explanations of their findings through evaluating and analyzing the data that they collect.

Level 3: Guided inquiry

The teacher provides only the research question for the students. The students are responsible for designing and following their own procedures to test that question and then communicate their results and findings.

Level 4: Open/True inquiry

Students formulate their own research question(s), design and follow through with a developed procedure, and communicate their findings and results. This type of inquiry is often seen in science fair contexts where students drive their own investigative questions.

Teachers should begin their inquiry instruction at the lower levels and work their way to open inquiry in order to effectively develop students’ inquiry skills. Open inquiry activities are only successful if students are motivated by intrinsic interests and if they are equipped with the skills to conduct their own research study.

An important aspect of inquiry-based learning is the use of open learning, because evidence suggests that utilizing lower level inquiry is not enough to develop critical and scientific thinking to the full potential.  Open learning has no prescribed target or result that people have to achieve. There is an emphasis on the individual manipulating information and creating meaning from a set of given materials or circumstances. In many conventional and structured learning environments, people are told what the outcome is expected to be, and then they are simply expected to ‘confirm’ or show evidence that this is the case.

Open learning has many benefits.  It means students do not simply perform investigations in a routine like fashion, but actually think about the results they collect and what they mean. With traditional non-open lessons there is a tendency for students to say that the experiment ‘went wrong’ when they collect results contrary to what they are told to expect. In open learning there are no wrong results, and students have to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the results they collect themselves and decide their value.

Open learning has been developed by a number of science educators including the American John Dewey and the German Martin Wagenschein.   Wagenschein emphasized that students should not be taught bald facts, but should understand and explain what they are learning. His most famous example of this was when he asked physics students to tell him what the speed of a falling object was. Nearly all students would produce an equation, but no students could explain what this equation meant.  Wagenschein used this example to show the importance of understanding over knowledge.  

Phillip Brown defined inquisitive learning as learning that is intrinsically motivated (e.g. by curiosity and interest in knowledge for its own sake), as opposed to acquisitive learning that is extrinsically motivated (e.g. by acquiring high scores on examinations to earn credentials). However,  occasionally the term inquisitive learning is simply used as a synonym for inquiry-based learning.

5 A way of thinking

Dewey’s experiential learning pedagogy is a form of inquiry based learning known as learning through experiences.  It comprises the learner actively participating in personal or authentic experiences to make meaning from it, which include engaging with the content/material in questioning, as well as investigating and collaborating to make meaning. The meaning constructed from an experience can be concluded as an individual or within a group.  In particular, Dewey proposed that science should be taught as a process and way of thinking and not as a subject with facts to be memorized. While Dewey was the first to draw attention to this issue, much of the reform within science education followed the lifelong work and efforts of Joseph Schwab. Schwab was an educator who proposed that science did not need to be a process for identifying stable truths about the world that we live in, but rather science could be a flexible and multi-directional inquiry driven process of thinking and learning. He believed that science in the classroom should more closely reflect the work of practicing scientists. Schwab developed three levels of open inquiry that align with the breakdown of inquiry processes that we see today.

  1. Students are provided with questions, methods and materials and are challenged to discover relationships between variables
  2. Students are provided with a question, however, the method for research is up to the students to develop
  3. Phenomena are proposed but students must develop their own questions and method for research to discover relationships among variables

Today, we know that students at all levels of education can successfully experience and develop deeper level thinking skills through scientific inquiry.   The graduated levels of scientific inquiry outlined by Schwab demonstrate that students need to develop thinking skills and strategies prior to being exposed to higher levels of inquiry.  Effectively, these skills need to be scaffolded by a facilitator until inquierers are able to develop questions, methods, and conclusions on their own. America’s National Science Education Standards (1996) outlines six important aspects pivotal to inquiry learning in science education.

  1. Students should be able to recognize that science is more than memorizing and knowing facts.
  2. Students should have the opportunity to develop new knowledge that builds on their prior knowledge and scientific ideas.
  3. Students will develop new knowledge by restructuring their previous understandings of scientific concepts and adding new information learned.
  4. Learning is influenced by students’ social environment whereby they have an opportunity to learn from each other.
  5. Students will take control of their learning.
  6. The extent to which students are able to learn with deep understanding will influence how transferable their new knowledge is to real life contexts.

Social studies education focuses on the practice of inquiry, emphasizing “the disciplinary concepts and practices that support students as they develop the capacity to know, analyze, explain, and argue about interdisciplinary challenges in our social world.   The C3 Framework recommends an “inquiry Arc” incorporating four dimensions: 

1. developing questions and planning inquiries; 

2. applying disciplinary concepts and tools; 

3. evaluating primary sources and using evidence; 

and 4. communicating conclusions and taking informed action. 

 For example, a theme for this approach could be an exploration of etiquette today and in the past. Students might formulate their own questions or begin with an essential question such as “Why are men and women expected to follow different codes of etiquette?” Students explore change and continuity of manners over time and the perspectives of different cultures and groups of people. They analyze primary source documents such as books of etiquette from different time periods and form conclusions that answer the inquiry questions. Students finally communicate their conclusions in formal essays or creative projects. They may also take action by recommending solutions for improving the school’s social climate.  Through the application of inquiry mode education each student develops their ability to confront complex problems and to create solutions to those problems. These are the two most important outcomes to turn student enquirers into leaders.

6 Misconceptions about ‘inquiry’.

There are several common misconceptions regarding inquiry-based learning, the first being that inquiry science is simply instruction that teaches students to follow the scientific method. Many teachers had the opportunity to work within the constraints of the scientific method as students themselves and figure inquiry learning must be the same. inquiry science is not just about solving problems in six simple steps but much more broadly focused on the intellectual problem-solving skills developed throughout a scientific process.  Additionally, not every hands-on lesson can be considered inquiry.

Some educators believe that there is only one true method of inquiry, which would be described as the level four: Open inquiry.  While open inquiry may be the most authentic form of inquiry, there are many skills and a level of conceptual understanding that students must have developed before they can be successful at this high level of inquiry. While inquiry-based science is considered to be a teaching strategy that fosters higher order thinking in students, it should be one of several methods used. A multifaceted approach to science keeps students engaged and learning.

Not every student is going to learn the same amount from an inquiry lesson; students must be invested in the topic of study to authentically reach the set learning goals. Teachers must be prepared to ask students questions to probe their thinking processes in order to assess accurately. inquiry-science requires a lot of time, effort, and expertise, however, the benefits outweigh the cost when true authentic learning can take place.

Inquiry-based learning is fundamental for the development of higher order thinking skills. It  can be done in multiple formats, including:

  • field-work;
  • case studies;
  • investigations;
  • individual and group projects;
  • research projects.

7 Authentic inquiry

Authentic inquiry is the ultimate expression of inquiry-based learning.   It is an approach to learning which begins with the learner’s interest and experience, rooted in concrete place object or artefact  and moves from there through a process of facilitated knowledge construction, to a particular negotiated outcome which meets publicly agreed assessment criteria.  It’s bottom up, rather than top down. It’s authentic because it is ‘authored’ by the learner and because it is ‘real and genuine’ in their life story. A special issue of the Curriculum Journal was dedicated to this approach in 2009.

Authentic inquiry offers a way of framing an inquiry – whether formal, informal or problem solving in the workplace. It can be led by an individual or participated in by a team. The purpose of the inquiry provides the energy for the journey.  Learning power is how that energy is regulated over time and how the learner approaches the identification, collection, curation, mapping, re-structuring and presenting the data and information needed to achieve a purpose. Authentic inquiry is a procedure with nine iterative processes.

First, the student is encouraged to choose an object or place that fascinates her. Careful, ‘hands-off’ prompting and guidance may be needed from the teacher, to ensure that personal interest is strong and authentic. The rest of the process will be highly influenced by the integrity of this choosing process. Sometimes the ‘object’ turns out to be a person, or event; it is its susceptibility to observation and the strength of the student’s interest and engagement that are important.

Second, she observes and analyses the chosen object/place, both as a separate, objective entity and in relation to her own interest and reasons for choosing it. In this, she is developing her sense of personal responsibility. This initiates the cycles of a personal development process which is recorded in a workbook and in which the student, tutor and later others participate. It requires the student to develop the critical curiosity and strategic awareness necessary for independent learning, in the context of effective learning relationships. She is also developing a sense of herself as a learner who can change and grow over time.

Third, she starts asking questions: obvious, but open ones, such as: How did it get there? What was there before? Why is it how it is? Who uses it? How and why did they get involved? She is initiating and conducting a process of inquiry and investigation, driven by personal interest and shaped in turn by the answers to her own questions. She is exercising and developing critical curiosity. All the time, the student is encouraged to reflect on her motivation, reasoning and identity as a motivator of her own learning.

Fourth, the questioning leads to a sense of narrative, both around the chosen object and in the unfolding of new learning. Historical and present realities lead to a sense of ‘what might be’ both for the object/place and for the learner and her learning. She is becoming the author of her own ‘learning story’ or journey.

Fifth, the learner begins to discern that this ‘ad-hoc’, subjective narrative leads in turn to new, objective facts and knowledge. Subjective learning starts to be related to a wider, objective awareness. The learning becomes a ‘knowledge map’ which can be used to make sense of the journey and of new learning as it comes into view. She is ‘making meaning’ by connecting new learning to the ‘story so far’.

Sixth, with informed guidance and support from the teacher, the student’s widening ‘map’ of knowledge can be related to existing maps or models of the world: scientific, historical, social, psychological, theological, philosophical… This is where awareness of the diversity of possible ‘avenues of learning’ becomes useful. It requires the teacher to act as supporter, encourager and ‘tour guide’ in the student’s encounter with established and specialist sources and forms of knowledge

Seventh, the student arrives at the interface between her personal inquiry and the specialist requirements of curriculum, course, examination or accreditation.   Her development as learner enables her to encounter specialist knowledge and make sense of it, in relation to what she already knows and in the way she already learns, interrogating it and interacting with it, instead of simply ‘receiving’ it, using the model of learning :and ‘knowledge mapping’ skills she has developed through the inquiry. This is where the resilience will be tested, that will have started to grow through the responsibility and challenge of a self-motivated inquiry.

Eighth, the student can forge links between what she now knows and institutional and social structures receptive to it: qualifications, job opportunities, learning opportunities, needs, initiatives, outlets, relationships, accreditation, publication… Initially, this takes the form of a portfolio or presentation, based on the workbook, making explicit both process and outcomes of the inquiry. Her learning has met its communicative purpose. She has created a pathway from subjective response and observation towards the interface with established knowledge.

Ninth In doing so, she has also achieved life-enhancing personal development by asking and answering such questions as: Who am I? What is my pathway? How did I get there? Where does it lead me? What were the alternatives? Who helped me and how? The outcome of this learning facilitates a sense of vocational identity – how I can make a difference in the world.

This highlights authentic inquiry as a process, summarized in a sequence as: pose real questions, find resources; interpret information; report findings as new knowledge (Fig 2).

Fig 2 Organising the inquiry process 

Authentic inquiry is planned, constructed and enacted in accordance with the following design principles:

It is reflexive.

It is rigorous in integrating and assessing outcomes.

It is in community.

It is collaborative and conversational.

It is Integrative.

It is person-centred/personal.

7  Learning for effective leadership

The art of inquiry is at the heart of effective leadership as it enables leaders to remain curious and unlock the ideas, perspectives and strengths of those they are seeking to inspire and influence. Without engaging people in genuine two-way conversation, leaders run the risk of paying attention only to their own thoughts and perspectives. They also stop growing as they incorrectly assume they are ‘experts’ who haven’t got anything more to learn. This is likely to limit their effectiveness as co-workers and other stakeholders will start seeing them as forceful, arrogant and autocratic, behaviours that will ultimately derail their career if left unchecked

Leading management author and business psychologist, Edgar Schein, who wrote a book entitled “Humble Inquiry”, defined inquiry as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” . This underscores the importance of drawing out others’ ideas and perspectives and asking open-ended questions to help tackle organisational challenges and create a learning, growth mindset where making ethical changes by making ethical choices are features of effective  leadership, which are also central to building a personal body of knowledge by applying the outcomes of inquiry based learning.  

Marilee Adams, president and founder of The Inquiry Institute states that, “Inquiring leaders operate inside a self-learner mindset.” which serves as a guide for all leaders in the inquiry process.  In addition, she has identified the following as characteristics of Inquiring leaders who:

  1. understand that the quantity, quality, and intention of people’s questions largely determines their ability to learn, think critically and strategically, build and maintain relationships, gather information, make decisions, solve problems, manage conflict, and drive positive change and effective results.
  2.  recognize that “great results begin with great questions” and that “every question missed is a potential crisis waiting to happen.”
  3. ask questions of themselves and others in ways that are constructive rather than critical, that seek to uncover and challenge assumptions, and that promote new thinking and possibility as well as responsibility and accountability.
  4. listen carefully and respectfully (especially when not agreeing with what they hear). This listening is focused by solution-seeking questions such as,” What can I learn?” “What’s useful about this?” and “What are our goals?” They do not listen with problem-oriented, blaming questions such as, “Whose fault is it?”
  5. solicit honest feedback, comprehensive facts, and multiple perspectives.
  6. create an inquiring culture in their organizations and on their teams by encouraging people to ask questions of them, each other, customers, and stakeholders.
  7. are comfortable with “not knowing” and “not being right;” they have humility.
  8. have high emotional, social, and moral intelligence, are proactive and responsive rather than reactive, and are skillful with self-management.
  9. see the “big picture’ and think short-term, long-term, and systemically.

Accordingly, inquiring leaders: are self-reflective, self-correcting, and committed to learning from mistakes and failures. They value change, continuous learning, growth, and development for themselves and others.  (Fig 3).

Fig 3 Creativity and the inquiry mind set.

These features of leadership are going to be of great importance in education for life in a zero carbon economy particularly in promoting the liberal arts. A liberal education is not about developing professional or entrepreneurial skills, although it may well promote them. Nor is it for everyone; we need pilots, farmers, and hairdressers as well as managers, artists, doctors, and engineers. But we all need to be well-informed, critical citizens adapting to new ways of measuring prosperity.  Liberal arts in an inquiry based pedagogy prepare students for citizenship in all three senses—civic, economic, and cultural.

8 Internet references

Critical thinking and the liberal arts

Inquiry Institute

Choice Map

The inquiry process diagram

Inquiry as a process

Authentic  inquiry


Appendix 1

The following list is an archive of Google Sites each of which presents a body of knowledge developing an aspect of the cross curricular concept of cultural ecology.  They are the outcomes of an authentic inquiry pedagogy produced by facilitators and student enquirers in Welsh schools participating in a research programme coordinated by International Classrooms On Line. 

Classic Format

New Format

Ecopoetics in Conservation

Sunday, January 12th, 2020

Education for conservation targets people’s attitudes, emotions, knowledge and behaviours about wildlife and wild places.  The aim is to apply new skills and patterns of behavior of individuals, groups, and society to protect and improve biodiversity.  Fundamentally, education for conservation is about making plans for environmental protection within a conservation management system (CMS). The planning logic is the same whether one is planting a tree in the garden or controlling biodiversity in a national nature reserve.

1 The Big Picture

There are between 30 and 50 trillion stars spread between 80 and 140 billion galaxies, but Earth is the only place we call home. It’s all we have for life to survive and thrive and we need to understand that we are all part of one natural world.  Without fresh air, water, seas, fertile soils, forests, animals and plants, we humans couldn’t survive. Everything, even the smallest has a role to play, and. You are part of your local environment. Everything is connected – from the deepest ocean to outer space – and what we do as individuals, does make a difference.

The Big Picture values are exemplified by the environmental values of indigenous peoples as universal human values, and so are beliefs that guide a community’s understanding of how the natural world should be viewed and treated by humans.  For example the following Māori perspective of the natural world can be adopted as a starting point to explore anyone’s values about the natural world.

  • Aroha means ‘love’ but it actually refers to a lot more than that. It is about compassion for the environment and understanding the environment. We are all connected to the natural world.
  • Manaaki means ‘to look after and to care for’. It is our responsibility to be good kaitiaki/guardians for the natural world. If we don’t look after and care for the resources, then we will not have them in the future. It is part of our responsibility to manaaki everything within the natural world.
  • Wairua means ‘spirit’. Everything within the Māori world has a spirit. Wairua is mainly associated with living things, with people, and humans. Wairua is about feeling and hearing the essence that is around us in the natural world.
  • Tapu means sacred. Every part of the natural world, including ourselves has tapu. Some places have a tapu placed on them if they are sacred or for spiritual reasons.
  • Mauri means the life force or life essence. All things are united through mauri. People are part of the natural world and connected through mauri. The mauri of the natural world has been weakened by pests and habitat destruction, but we can restore mauri by looking after our environment.
  • Mana means respect, power, authority, and relates to dignity. From the Māori world view, everything has mana within the natural world.

2 The Big Picture ideas

For a Maori-

i Everything is connected (Ko au ko te taiao, ko te taiao ko au)

I am the environment, the environment is me

  • The planet is made up of many interconnected systems.
  • Everything in an ecosystem has a role to play.
  • Changing anything in an ecosystem impacts on everything else. It is often difficult to predict what the consequences of any change might be.

ii The planet’s diversity is critical to our survival (Toitū te marae a Tāne, Toitū te marae a

Tangaroa, Toitū te Tangata)

If we care for the resources of the land and the sea, we, the people, will survive.  

  • The health, well-being, and survival of humans depends on the health, well-being and survival of our planet’s ecosystems.

iii People are part of the natural world (He nohonga ngātahitanga ahau me te taiāo)

We live as one with our natural world

  • People’s actions can impact both negatively and positively on the environment.
  • Individuals, especially young people, can make a positive difference to ecosystems.

The poet Muriel Rukeyser writes, ‘The universe is made of stories, not atoms.’ There is more to the world than what happens; there are the ways we make sense of it by telling its story. The vocabulary we use is not handed to us from outside; it’s ultimately a matter of our choice.”

3 Ecopoetics

There are many poets today doing vital work to actively confront unsettling questions about our impact on other species and on the climate.  Ecopoetics is about shifting modes of thinking around our place in evolution. For some, ecopoetics is the making and study of pastoral poetry, or poetry of wilderness and deep ecology, or poetry that explores the human capacity for becoming animal, as well as humanity’s ethically challenged relation to other animals. For others, ecopoetics is poetry that confronts disasters and environmental injustices, including the difficulties and opportunities of living in urban environments. For yet others, ecopoetics is not a matter of theme, but of how certain poetic methods model ecological processes like complexity, non-linearity, feedback loops, and recycling, or how “slow poetry” can join in the same kind of push for a sustainable, regional economy that “eating locally” does.

Ecopoetics may be defined in many ways.  It can be the poetry of wilderness and deep ecology or poetry that explores the human capacity for becoming animal, as well as humanity’s ethically challenged relation to other animals and what it means to be human..  Humanism is a belief system that focuses on human agency, self-actualization, rational thinking, and attention to human life. This is to be understood as a shift in focus from religion to individuality, or from institutional agency to human agency, carried by what Anne Cluysenaar calls the subject matter of natural languages bridging art and science.  Humanists can and do weave lives that are rich tapestries of morality, purpose, awe and wonder. From this point of view, poetics in conservation expresses emotions about being an element of evolution in a sensitive or moving way. These emotions arise from our concerns as individuals about our impact on the natural world. Poets today are serving as witnesses to climate change while bringing attention to important environmental issues and advocating for preservation of biodiversity. 

Ecopoetics in conservation is the practical expression of evolutionary humanism, a division of environmental humanities.  It is an outcome of the motivation to manage biodiversity with the objective of protecting nature, as it is thought to be, or as it ought to be.  We protect species, their habitats, and ecosystems from erosion and extinction because we are a part of evolution in everything we do. We are as one with nature,  Biodiversity in this sense generates a poetical input to human non-monetary prosperity and its loss affects human wellbeing and individuals in many ways, regarding zero growth economics, food security, nutrition and  health. It is linked to social issues such as equity and rights to resources, which demands good governance and well functioning institutions. Thus, conservation management plans can be viewed as the humanistic interface between poetry and science, which can share the values of a common natural language.  There is a heart felt role for each and every one of us as managers of evolution, The linguist and poet Anne Cluysenaar challenged poets to engage strongly with science so as to stimulate their imaginations by freeing them from inadequate interpretations of the world. Her poetry exemplifies how, through serious study and interaction with scientists, a poet can appropriate science with intensity and discernment such that it becomes an integral part of our awareness of the world. 

“The world of science is colourless, soundless, tasteless, and if it even makes sense to say so, emotionless . . . this nature leaves something important unaccounted for . . . only natural language can deal with this central area . . . the sciences cannot . . . yet if the wisdom we derive from science is to be of any value, it must be of value to us, and our values and perceptions form the privileged subject matter of natural languages”.   

Anne Cluysenaar  

In an effort to establish a practical interdisciplinary baseline, Susanna Lidström and Greg Garrard develop an understanding of the relationship between poetry, ecology and environment.  In particular they trace the development of the idea of ‘ecopoetry’ from the Romantic and deep ecological traditions in the 1980s to the complex environmental concerns in the 2010s. They distinguish between poems that heighten readers’ awareness of their ecological surroundings on the one hand, and those that engage with difficult and complex environmental questions involving scale, justice, and politics on the other. They suggest that recognising this difference could improve cross-disciplinary discussions between ecocritical studies of poetry specifically, and environmental humanities more broadly. 

Their analysis is centred on differences between the work of Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes that illustrate the two poles of their argument. What they define as an eco-phenomenological poem starts from the experience of the individual (Hughes), while what we call environmental poems tend to start from the points of view of societies and their environments (Heaney)   

Hughes’s ecological view connects us to nature, rather than sets us apart from other species.  It is illustrated in the poem. “Brambles” which describes a flock of jackdaws, comparing them first to a set of bramblecbriars, then to the poet himself. The poem begins by describing the jackdaws’ complex social behaviour.

The whole air, the whole day

Swirls with the calls of jackdaws. The baby jackdaw

Generation is being initiated

Into jackdawdom – that complicated

Court-world of etiquette

And precedence, jingoism and law.

The speaker then shifts his attention to a set of bramble briars, wondering if they too have their own agency: “So craftsmanlike, / Their reachings so deliberate, are they awake?” Next, however, the question is turned around and instead of affirming the briars’ agency, the speaker wonders about his own agency:

Surely they [the briars] aren’t just numb,

A blind groping. Yet why not?

Aren’t my blood-cells the same?

What do even brain-cells fear or feel

Of the scalpel, or the accident?

They too crown a plant

Of peculiar numbness.

Heaney’s view of the environment is focused on the poem “Canopy,”54 from his last collection, Human Chain. “Canopy” describes how the trees in a yard at Harvard through which the speaker is walking resonate with voices from ‘everywhere.’ This is not a metaphorical description, but actually the result of amplifiers hidden in the trees:

It was the month of May,

Trees in Harvard Yard

Were turning a young green.

There was whispering everywhere.

David Ward had installed

Voice-boxes in the branches,

Speakers wrapped in sacking

Looking like old wasps’ nests

Hush and backwash and echo.

It was like a recording

Of antiphonal responses

In the congregation of leaves.

 4 Poetical Puffins

The following two paragraphs open  the open Roseanne Alexander’s ecopoetical story of the life of a Puffin on Skomer National Nature Reserve, just one outcome of a decade of her day-to-day life on a small seabird island off the South West coast of Wales.  It follows the science precisely.

“It was an exceptional day, hovering uncertainly between spring and summer.  For the first time in over a week the heavy mist that clung to the island had melted away.  The sun burnt down with a harshness that was disguised by the cool clarity of the air. It glared against the sea which reflected its light as smoothly as rippled silk.  On the cliff top above a puffin stared out into the stillness, to where the sea met the sky. There was an intensity in her stare, a longing perhaps, but she did not respond to the lure of that endless freedom.  She was tied to the island by a bond that even she did not fully understand. 

The damp air had held back the drying effects of the sun, and now the cliffs of North Haven where the puffin stood were vibrant with colour.  The turf, close-cropped by rabbits, was strewn with the shimmering pink and white of thrift and sea campion. It was afternoon and the bay was peaceful, awaiting the evening in-rush of birds.  The puffin unfolded her short wings and beat against the invisible resistance of the air, but she did not rise away from the unyielding cliff. She simply folded her wings across her back and shuddered her feathers into place.  Once or twice she flicked her head nervously from side to side as though wary of some unseen predator. Then, crouching low, she scuttled the few feet to her burrow entrance and ducked below ground”

Life itself could never have been sustainable without seabirds and they provide many poetic metaphors bearing on human survival.  As Adam Nicolson writes: “They are bringers of fertility, the deliverers of life from ocean to land.” But a global tragedy is unfolding.  Even as we are coming to understand them, the number of seabirds on our planet is in freefall, dropping by nearly 70% in the last sixty years, a billion fewer now than there were in 1950. Extinction stalks the ocean and there is a danger that the grand cry of the seabird colony, rolling around the bays and headlands of the high latitude Atlantic, will this century become little but a memory.  

Seabirds have always entranced the human imagination and Adam Nicolson has been in love with them all his life: for their mastery of wind and ocean, their aerial beauty and the unmatched wildness of the coasts and islands where every summer they return to breed. His book, The Seabird’s Cry, comes from an elemental layer in the story of evolution and we revel in the way the avian lifeforms  “float like beings from the otherworld” 

Over the last couple of decades, modern science has begun to understand their epic voyages, their astonishing abilities to navigate for tens of thousands of miles on featureless seas, their ability to smell their way towards fish and home. Only the poets in the past would have thought of seabirds as creatures riding the ripples and currents of the entire planet, but that is what the scientists are writing their stories today.  As their cries die om the waves so our lives become more precarious.

5 Hot spots of poetic naturalism 

Sean Carroll espouses a philosophy he calls “poetic naturalism.” Here is how he explains this concept:

“By that I mean to emphasize that, while there is only one world, there are many ways of talking about the world. ‘Ways of talking’ shouldn’t be underestimated; they can otherwise be labeled ‘theories’ or ‘models’ or ‘vocabularies’ or ‘stories,’ and if a particular way of talking turns out to be sufficiently accurate and useful, the elements in its corresponding vocabulary deserve to be called real.  “Naturalism,” says there is nothing above and beyond nature. In particular, there are no supernatural forces to transcend or interfere with natural laws. “Poetic,” says, “there is more than one way of talking about the world.” 

Naturalism is a literary genre that started as a movement in late nineteenth century literature, film, theater, and art. It is a type of extreme reality. This movement stressed the roles of family, social conditions, and environment in shaping human character. Thus, naturalistic writers produce stories based on the idea that environment determines and governs human character.  We also see use of some of the scientific principles in naturalistic works, and humans struggling for survival in hostile and alien society. In fact, naturalism took its cue from Darwin’s theory of evolution, which holds that life is like a struggle and only the fittest survive.

Naturalism has had a big impact on literary writers, leading to the growth of the modern movement of ecopoetics. Generally, naturalistic works expose dark sides of life such as prejudice, racism, poverty, prostitution, pollution and disease. Since these works are often pessimistic and blunt, they receive heavy criticism. Despite this, naturalism is generally concerned with improving the global human condition. It is in this context of promoting conservation of biodiversity and international integration of conservation management that Fredrick Monant Nyambane investigated indigenous Kenyan oral poetry.  The intent is to explore the possibility of indigenous poetry that could aid the already existing efforts of biodiversity conservation and how this might lead to the fostering of social and national integration/unity. His research supports the view that …..”human conflicts are offshoots of multiple interests such as sectarian jingoism, xenophobic sentiments, ethnic bigotry and other reasons”. However, the belief is that these are secondary causes. The deeper cause is the scramble for biodiversity-related resources and has further resulted in the “sordid banditry of fauna and flora,” which has displaced and dispossessed populations around the globe.  This gives rise to the idea of hotspots of poetic naturalism, which are special places on Earth where one can meditate on nature, its conservation management and the cultivating naturalist intelligence, a recognized learning style that relates to observing patterns in the natural world and expressing empathy for all other lifeforms. 

An example of a hotspot of poetic naturalism, with layers of meaning awaiting discovery, is the Sourdough Mountain Lookout. The lookout is part of the conservation management plan for tackling lightning-sparked wildfires at the heart of the US  North Cascades National Park. The lookout is situated a mile above the Skagit River canyon at the intersection of six major watersheds. In this respect, it commands one of the most spectacular views in the range. The naturalist and poet Tim McNulty spent the summer of 2003 in the lookout as the firewatcher and here is his gift of a poem when he connected briefly with the life of a migratory Townsend’s Warbler.  This bird is a colourful, distinctive wood-warbler that breeds among the treetops of mature fir forests in the Pacific Northwest, Townsend’s Warbler also nests in montane spruce-fir forests in Idaho, Montana, and northwest Wyoming, and in boreal forests in Alaska and the Yukon Territory. In September, it begins its southward migration to California and the highlands of Mexico and Central America. Although Townsend’s Warbler populations remain stable, this species is predicted to lose large parts of its breeding range due to climate change. Like so many bird species, it’s also at risk from habitat loss.

Tropical Sunlight

Smoke from wildfires fills the valleys,

and a high veil of cirrus

dampens the morning sun.

Then a gift from Costa Rican forests —

Townsend’s warbler drops by.

Sunlit yellow face and breast,

dark Zorro-like mask,

quickly, neatly, shakes down

a subalpine fir crown

for bugs,

cleans his beak madly on a limb,

and takes leave south

across the Skagit,

heading back.

6 Internet references

Conservation education

Darwin timeline

Wallace timeline

Evolution library

Conservation poetry

Indigenous environmental values

Environmental humanities


Kenya state of environment

Conservation poetry

A poetic look at wildlife conservation


Decline of the Hull fishing industry

Fishing and poetry

Sourdough Mountain

Evolutionary humanism: a secular religion for zero growth?

Saturday, December 28th, 2019

“…naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly.” In particular: “No gods worth having exist; no life after death exists; no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; no ultimate meaning in life exists.” These conclusions, “are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists” that they require little defense. 

William Provine

1 History

An essay entitled the New Divinity by Julian Huxley was published in Essays of a Humanist (Chatto & Windus, 1964).  It is a statement of Huxley’s idea for a new secular religion he called evolutionary humanism. He saw this as an inevitable outcome of a new vision of the world and humankind’s place and role in that world. His message is the destiny of humankind is to apply knowledge about evolution, which scientific knowledge has revealed, to maintain its progress. 

This new vision is both comprehensive and unitary. It integrates the fantastic diversity of the world into a single framework, the pattern of an all-embracing evolutionary process. In this unitary vision, all kinds of splits and dualisms are healed. There is no separate supernatural realm: all phenomena are part of one natural process of evolution. There is no basic cleavage between science and religion; they are both organs of evolving humanity”.

We are products of nearly three billion years of evolution through which the evolutionary process has at last become conscious of itself and its possibilities. The fulfillment of evolutionary humanism is for Homo sapiens to take on responsibility for the whole further evolution of life on Earth.

This blog is a transcription and update of Huxley’s essay. 

2 Human social evolution

Homo sapiens emerged as Earth’s dominant species about a million years ago, but has only been a psychosocial organism for under ten thousand years. In that mere second of cosmic time, Homo sapiens has produced astonishing achievements.   During human history, there has been a succession of dominant systems of thought and belief, each accompanying a new organisation of social, political and economic activities. Such was agriculture with its rituals of seasonality and annual rebirth as against hunting with its magic to guarantee success. Then came early civilization with cities and sacred kings, its written records and its priesthoods guarding universal and monotheistic religion.  Later came the scientific industrial age and the technological revolutions with their corresponding patterns of thought. Now we have the beginnings of a humanist revolution, whose ideological and social implications have still to be thought out. However, it is clear that humanism, being about being human, has to integrate the fantastic diversity of the world into a single framework encompassing the pattern of an all-embracing evolutionary process.  This process works on an entire cosmos made out of one and the same world-stuff, operated by the same energy as we ourselves. “Mind” and “matter” appear as two aspects of our unitary mind-bodies. There is no separate supernatural realm. All phenomena are part of one natural process of evolution which has taken place on planet Earth as a rare spot in the cosmos where mind has flowered through the evolution of Homo sapiens as a product of nearly three billion years of evolution.  

3  Religion

Religion, with or without a god, is a universal function of people in society.  It is the organisation made by humans for dealing with the problems of the destiny of individual men and women.  Its fulfillment is the task of societies and nations and of the human species as a whole. If the evolution of its ideological pattern does not keep pace with the growth of knowledge, with social change and the march of events, a religion will increasingly cease to satisfy the multitude seeking assurance about their destiny.  It will become progressively less effective as a social organisation. Eventually the old ideas will no longer serve and the old ideological framework can no longer be tinkered with to bear the weight of the facts. A radical reconstruction becomes necessary, leading eventually to the emergence of a quite new organisation of thought and belief.

There is no basic cleavage between science and religion; they are both features  of evolving humanity. Major organizations of thought and belief may be necessary in science as much as in religion. The classical example, of reorganisation of science was the re-patterning of cosmological thought which demoted the earth from its central position in the universe and led to the replacement of a geocentric pattern of thought by a Sun-centred one. A stepwise reorganization of western religious thought seems to have proceeded as follows. 

In its early, paleolithic stage religion was magic-centred, based on the ideas of supernatural forces inherent in nature, in personages such as “medicine men” and shamans, and in human incarnations, spells and other magic practices, including witchcraft. This type of belief developed gradually into animism and so to many beliefs in many divinities, supernatural beings and gods.  With the coming of agriculture a new pattern was imposed, centering on the ideas of fertility and rebirth, and leading to the rise of priest-kings and eventually divinized monarchs. The next major revolution of religious thought came in the first millennium B.C with the independent rise of the monotheist and/or universalist religions, culminating in Christianity, which later branched off into Islam. The last two thousand years have seen the development of elaborate monotheistic theologies; but in the process their single God has broken into many, or at least has assumed a number of distinct and indeed sometimes actively hostile forms; and their nominal universalism has degenerated into competition for the possession of absolute truth. 

God is a hypothesis constructed by humankind to help understand what existence is all about. The god hypothesis asserts the existence of some sort of supernatural personal or superpersonal being, exerting some kind of purposeful power over the universe and its destiny.  

A drastic reorganization of our pattern of religious thought is now becoming necessary, from a theocratic god-centered to a secular evolutionary-centered pattern.Today the god hypothesis has ceased to be scientifically tenable, has lost its explanatory value and is becoming an intellectual and moral burden on our thought. It no longer convinces or comforts, and its abandonment often brings a deep sense of relief. Many people assert that this abandonment of the god hypothesis means the abandonment of all religion and all moral sanctions. This is simply not true. Some events and some phenomena of outer nature transcend ordinary explanation and ordinary experience. They inspire awe and seem mysterious, explicable only in terms of something beyond or above ordinary nature.  But once we have jettisoned an outdated piece of ideological theocratic furniture that is no longer fit for purpose, we must construct a secular ‘something’ to take its place.

4 The role of divinity

Magical, mysterious, awe-inspiring, divinity-suggesting facts have included wholly physical phenomena like volcanic eruptions, thunder, and hurricanes; biological phenomena such as sex and birth, disease and death; and also inner, psychological phenomena such as intoxication, possession, speaking in tounges, inspiration, insanity, and mystic vision.

With the growth of knowledge most of these have ceased to be mysterious so far as rational or scientific explicability is concerned, though there remains the fundamental mystery of existence, notably the existence of mind. However, it is a fact that many phenomena are charged with some sort of magical hangover or compulsive power, and do introduce us to a realm beyond our ordinary experience. Such events and such experience merit a special designation. Huxley uses the term divine, though he says this quality of divinity is not truly supernatural but transnatural.  It grows out of ordinary nature, but transcends it. 

The divine is what a person or group finds worthy of adoration, that which compels awe.

Much of every religion is aimed at the discovery and safe-guarding of divinity in this sense, and seeks contact and communication with what is regarded as divine. A humanist secular, evolution-centered religion too needs divinity, but divinity without God. It must strip the divine of the theistic qualities which we have anthropomorphically projected into it, search for its habitations in every aspect of existence, elicit it, and establish fruitful contact with its physical manifestations. Divinity is the chief raw material out of which gods have been fashioned. Today we must melt down the gods and refashion the material into new and effective organs of religion, enabling us to exist freely and fully on the spiritual level as well as on the material, where land and landscape verge on the divine or sacred.

Though gods and God in any meaningful sense seem destined to disappear, the stuff of divinity out of which they have grown and developed remains. This religious raw material consists of those aspects of nature and those experiences which are usually described as divine. The term divine did not originally imply the existence of gods: on the contrary, gods were constructed to interpret man’s experiences of this quality.

Religions always have some intellectual or ideological framework.  This can be a myth or theological doctrine; some morality or code of behaviour, whether barbaric or ethically rationalized.  Religions have some mode of ritualized or symbolic expression, in the form of ceremonial or celebration, collective devotion or thanksgiving, or religious art. The codified morality and the ritualized expression of a religion, and indeed in the long run its social and personal efficacy, derives from its “theological” framework.  The framework is a practical aspect similar to an idiom that makes possible the description of realities, the formulation of beliefs, and the experiencing of inner attitudes, feelings, and sentiments. It belongs to George Lindbecks`cultural-linguistic’ category of religions. He sees religions as resembling languages and their correlative forms of life, or culture.  They have idioms for dealing with whatever is most important, and whose doctrines are, in analogy with the grammar of a language, the communally authoritative rules of discourse, attitude, and action. Taking up this theme, Lindberg says that religions and doctrine can be looked at as neither truth claims or so many expressions of subjective experience, but as rules for how to speak and act in a religious community.   

Religions are  “comprehensive interpretive schemes, usually embodied in myths or narratives and heavily ritualized, which structure human experience and understanding of self and world”. Becoming religious is like learning a language. Linbeck suggests that  when one acquires a culture or language they interiorize “outlooks that others have created” and they master “skills that others have honed.” Religious groups speak and live a “narrative” over time, that is to say, a religion is true to the extent that its community lives out what they claim to be ultimate and real. 

Doctrines are rules about communal religious life, but they are ultimately sourced in texts like the Bible or in the case of evolutionary humanism, Darwin’s Origin of Species and The Voyage of the Beagle.  What is the relationship between doctrine and text then? Does the religious text absorb the world or is the text absorbed by the world? Lindbeck wants the former to occur. We understand what the Bible, or Koran, “means” by adjusting that meaning to beliefs in the modern day world (i.e. the world absorbs the text). Creation science does this by absorbing Genesis.  Genesis must mean what we understand modern science to be telling us about the origins of biodiversity.. 

Doctrinal meaning has to radically change as the world changes or inner experience changes. Mark Mann writes “Primacy is given to the scriptural “narrative”: the Bible is unified by a complex but coherent narrative which centers on the personal agent Jesus, the Bible should not be read by attempting to impose a foreign or independent interpretive framework upon it.

Three main categories of functions religions can serve, as presented and defined by Gordon Lynch are: 

(i) a social function: religion provides people with an experience of community and binds people into a social order of shared beliefs and values that provide structure for their everyday lives;

(ii) an existential/hermeneutical function: religion provides people with a set of resources (e.g., myths, rituals, symbols, beliefs, values, narratives) that may help them to live with a sense of identity, meaning and purpose

(iii) a transcendent function: religion provides a medium through which people are able to experience ‘god’, the numinous or the transcendent.

 Lynch introduces these categories as potential ways to study the religious functions of popular culture, noting that a particular cultural phenomenon does not necessarily have to demonstrate all three categories of function to be considered “religious”.

This definition relies on people coming together to form a social order derived from shared beliefs and values to fulfill the classic function of religion, as characterized by Peter L. Berger as “constructing a common world within which all of social life receives ultimate meaning binding on everybody”.

The transcendent function of consumerism might well be the most important of the three approaches introduced in this article for the study of consumerism as an implicit religion in secular settings. As has been shown above, consumerism in the cultural context of the West seems to have little to do with objects of consumption per se and more to do with the symbolic value that they possess. For example, Joerg Rieger observes that the “desire promoted by advertising is not the simple desire for the product; it is for something more transcendent to which the product points, like the hope for happiness and a better life”. That is to say, the underlying meaning of the consumption of consumer goods as a method of participating in the kind of symbolic communication that is outlined above goes beyond the physical world of things and material objects. This transcendent function can be imagined as representing the ultimate promises or hopes that drive people to articulate the meaning of life in a “system of shared understandings that keep us working, consuming, and investing in the economy, maintaining it so that it maintains us”

The above line of argument was created by  Mikko Kurenlahti and Arto O. Salonen in their article ‘Rethinking Consumerism from the Perspective of Religion’.  One of their main goals is to problematize the standard egocentric interpretation of consumerism as being about the promotion of the individual against the collective. Instead, they argue that consumerism effectively binds the individual to the existential process of shared meaning-making in inescapable ways, and thus connects people together to form ever-expanding consumer societies prone to support the ideals of consumer culture. They also argue strongly against claims that consumerist lifestyles are inherently hollow, worthless, and purposeless. Instead, the perspective of religion reveals a most definite quest for the meaning of life and the construction of individual value.  Both these claims are directed outwards into the community, in order to be validated externally, define consumerism as a religion.

5 A secular religion embracing evolution

When scientists  talk about a scientific “fact” or a scientific “theory.” they denote a hypothesis, a tentative explanation that has never failed to be confirmed by empirical testing and observation, not a mere opinion. Rather than seeing the theory of evolution as a threat to religious belief, Huxley says that a theology that embraces evolution can deepen and broaden a faith seeking understanding.  Thus the central long-term concern of a secular religion must be to promote further evolutionary improvement and to realise new possibilities; and this means greater fulfilment by more human individuals and fuller achievement by more human societies

Human potentialities under humanism constitute the world’s greatest resource for human betterment, but at the moment, only a tiny fraction of them is being realized.   Homo sapiens has also been guilty of unprecedented horrors and follies. Looked at in the long perspective of evolution we are singularly imperfect, still incapable of carrying out our  planetary responsibilities in a satisfactory manner The possibility of tapping and directing these vast resources of human possibility provides a secular religion of the future with a powerful long-term motive. An equally powerful short-term motive is to ensure the fullest possible development and flowering of individual personalities. In developing a full, deep and rich personality the individual ceases to be a mere cog or cipher, and creates and disseminates their own particular body of knowledge about what it means to be human and thereby contributing to evolutionary fulfilment.

What precise form these new agencies of religious thought will take in the religion of the future it is impossible to say in this period of violent transition driven by global warning. But one can make some general prophecies. The central religious hypothesis will certainly be evolution, which by now has been checked against objective fact and has become firmly established as a principle of human existence. Evolution is a process, of which we are products, and in which we are active agents. There is no finality about the process, and no automatic or unified progress; but much improvement has occurred in the past, and there could be much further improvement in the future, though there is also the possibility of future failure and regression.  Most important of all, an evolution-centered religion of the future can no longer be divided off from secular affairs in a separate supernatural compartment, but will interlock with them at every point. The only distinction is that it is concerned with less immediate, less superficial, and therefore more enduring and deeper aspects of existence.

Meanwhile, religious rituals and moral codes will have to be readapted or remodelled through the transfiguration of thought, a new religious terminology and a reformulation of religious ideas and concepts in a new idiom. A humanist religion will have to work out its own rituals and its own basic symbolism.

Christianity is a universalist and monotheist religion of salvation. Its long consolidation and explosive spread, achieved through a long period of discussion and zealous ferment, released vast human forces which have largely shaped the western world as we know it. An evolutionary and humanist religion of fulfilment could be more truly universal and could release even greater human forces, which could in large measure shape the development of the entire world. But it’s consolidation and spread will need a period of discussion and ferment, though with modern communications this is likely to be much shorter than for Christianity.

The evolutionary vision of our place and role in the universe, which science and scholarship have given us, could be the revelation of the new dispensation. What we now need is a multitude of participants to take part in the great discussion and to join in the search for the larger truth and the more fruitful patterns of belief that we can confidently believe is waiting to be elicited.

In place of eternity we shall have to think in terms of enduring process.  In place of salvation we have to think in terms of attaining the satisfying states of inner being which combine energy and peace. There will be no room for petitionary prayer, but much value in meditation involving aspiration and self-exploration. A religion of fulfilment must provide bustling secular humankind with connections to all that is permanent and enduring, with the deeper and higher aspects of existence.  Every possible opportunity of transcending the limitations of day-by-day existence have to be explored. This applies to the equivalents of shared worship, the secular self in acts of meditation and self-examination and in retreats from the secular world of affairs. It will of course continue to celebrate the outstanding events of personal and national existence. Already there are humanist wedding and funeral ceremonies. Furthermore, it will enlist the aid of psychologists and psychiatrists in helping men and women to explore the depths and heights of their own inner selves instead of restlessly pursuing external novelty.  Here the aim is to realize more of their mental and spiritual possibilities, to utilize even their repressed and guilty urges, and to transcend the limitations and the internal conflicts of the unregenerate self. There has to be a constructive wholeness and a sense of achieving contact or union with a fuller reality.  

Exploring the ethical and philosophical significance of the theory of evolution by tracing the history of ideas that led up to and beyond Darwin’s great discovery leads to such questions as, “Does modern evolutionary theory adequately explain the origins of consciousness?” “Is it possible for conscious beings to evolve from completely lifeless and mindless matter?” “Does the recognition of humanity’s shared evolutionary heritage undermine our human-centered worldview, or require that we change, particularly with respect to how we treat nonhuman life?”   

6  Human uniqueness

There is a strong tendency in Western thought to place humans at the top of a hierarchy of being.  Modern evolutionary theory fundamentally challenges the assumption that humans are utterly unique. Rather than being at the pinnacle of creation, distinct from all other life-forms, the theory of evolution places humans on a continuum of being, a continuum that challenges the idea that those things that make us who we are, such as culture, language, reason, and so on, are unique to us. The theory of evolution opens the door to the idea that those beings from whom we developed and those that are genetically close to us today may hold these same characteristics, though perhaps to different degrees. Rather than being a singular exception to the forces that shaped the natural world, human beings are a great exemplification of such forces. In recognizing this, evolutionary biology in turn must abandon the notion that physical reality is best understood as a valueless machine, deterministically playing out its programming. If, as evolutionary science teaches, humans evolved from simpler organisms, and if human beings are subjects who are free, conscious, and capable of self-reflection, then this sense of freedom and subjectivity also must be found in humanity’s evolutionary ancestors. 

There is a fundamental intellectual inadequacy of not only atheistic evolutionary materialism and simplistic biblical creationism but also more sophisticated contemporary approaches, such as scientific creationism and intelligent design theory. Rather than seeing the theory of evolution as a threat to religious belief, a theology that embraces evolution can deepen and broaden a faith seeking understanding. This counters the impulse to save religion by retreating into “separatism”; a view that science and religion are nonoverlapping domains of inquiry.. 

From the perspective of biblical creation stories, one can come to understand how these stories answer important transcendental questions, while realizing that one cannot expect them to address the questions posed by modern science. Today, one can build upon biblical creation accounts and, with the help of theology, address evolutionary theory, not as some construct that lies outside the theological sphere, but rather as a theory to be theologically engaged. 

The conclusion is that one must respect the autonomy and veracity of evolutionary biology, recognize the reality and ubiquity of suffering in the world, and begin to move toward an evolutionary theology that recognizes the richness that evolutionary theory can bring to one’s understanding of the transcendent’s relationship to creation. One of the great lessons theology can glean from a study of evolution is that all of reality is in the process of becoming. In this light, evolution is constantly offering us a world in transformation.

In the end, we need not choose between religion or science, faith or reason, Genesis or evolution.  Evolution is not a threat to faith, but rather an enrichment of faith. A thorough faith seeking understanding brings together Genesis and evolution.  This was the view of Catholic priest and renowned geologist and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) who wrote many works arguing that his own faith makes more sense after Darwin than it did before. Now evolutionary humanists see that the open universe has been created through natural processes rather than magic. The fact that this process involves struggling, chance, failure, and loss, along with grandeur and beauty,is completely consistent with the fact that the Universe remains unfinished. They interpret the whole of cosmic history as the path leading to our each contributing to the work of fulfilling the ongoing creation of a sustainable global ecosystem, opening the process of evolution to an ever-widening range of new possibilities as it moves toward a fresh zero growth economic future.

7  Evolution and conservation management

Hendry and a number of coauthors convincingly make the case that evolutionary biology is a necessary component for conservation. Evolution offers four key insights that should inform conservation and policy decisions.

First, they point out that evolutionary biologists are in the business of discovering and documenting biodiversity. They are the primary drivers behind long-term, sustained biological collections, because they need to know what exists in order to better understand the evolutionary history. With millions of species awaiting scientific discovery, their efforts are critical to measuring biodiversity. But not only are they discovering new species and enumerating them, they are uncovering their evolutionary relationships, which gives conservationists better information about which species to prioritize and the rationale for managing them.. Because of what Vane-Wright famously called ‘the agony of choice’, with limited resources, we need to prioritize some species over others, and their evolutionary uniqueness ought to be a factor. More than this, evolutionary biologists have developed pragmatic tools for inventorying and sharing data on biodiversity at all levels, from genes to species, which is available for prioritization.

The second key insight is that by understanding the causes of diversification, we can better understand and predict diversity responses to environmental and climatic change. By understanding how key functional traits evolve, we can develop predictions about which species or groups of species can tolerate certain perturbations. Further, research into how and why certain evolutionary groups faced extinction can help us respond to the current extinction crisis. For example, the evolutionary correspondence between coevolved mutualists, such as plants and pollinators, can be used to assess the potential for cascading extinctions. These types of analyses can help identify those groups of related species, or those possessing some trait, which make species more susceptible to extinction.

Third, evolution allows for an understanding of the potential responses to human disturbance. Evolutionary change is a critical part of ecological dynamics, and as environment change can result in reduced fitness, smaller population sizes and extinction, evolution offers an adaptive response to these negative impacts. Knowing when and how populations can evolve is crucial. Evolutionary change is a product of genetic variation, immigration, population size and stochasticity, and if the ability to evolve to environmental change is key for persistence, then these evolutionary processes are also key.

Finally, evolutionary patterns and processes have important implications for ecosystem services and economic and human well-being. Both genetic and evolutionary diversity of plant communities has been shown to affect insect diversity, primary productivity and nutrient dynamics. Thus understanding how changes in diversity affect ecosystem processes should consider evolutionary processes. Further, exotic species are often cited as one of the major threats to biodiversity, and evolutionary change in exotics has been shown to increase exotic impacts on native species.

All together, these key reasons why evolution matters for conservation, mean that developing sound conservation management plans requires considering evolution patterns and processes. We can use evolution to our benefit only if we understand how evolution shapes current species dynamics. The challenge to evolutionary biologists is to present their understandings and conservation ideas to a broader audience and to engage policy makers so as to incorporate evolutionary views into existing biodiversity and conservation programmes –most notably into DIVERSITAS.

Just as ecological processes cannot be fully understood without appreciating species ancestry and ts dynamics, so must the development of extensive, expansive conservation strategies take evolution into account. Huxley’s idea of evolutionary humanism signals the beginning of a new era of a synthesis between ecology and evolution, to  produce a precise, viable global conservation strategy. In particular, conservation management should aim at conserving evolutionary processes that generate biodiversity. For want of a better definition, this is the practical application of the world-changing teachings of darwinwallaceism. The objective is to practice economics with a specific social goal of conservation, not year on year monetary growth, remaining true to the ultimate social goal of all human economics, making people happier.  As a religion, evolutionary humanism has to create idioms from darwinwallaceism to deal with whatever are the most important issues facing society, The doctrines are analogous to the grammar of a language. The communally authoritative rules of discourse and attitudes are to be expressed in conservation management systems to maintain progressive human evolution and its wider co-evolving biodiversity.


Human biological evolution

The modern synthesis of the theory of evolution by natural selection is the unifying conceptual framework that explains the origins of our species, Homo sapiens, and the millions of other life-forms on our planet.

We are primates members of the mammalian order Primates, which comprises two suborders: 

  • the prosimians (lemurs, lorises, and tarsiers) 
  • and the anthropoids (monkeys, apes, and humankind).

All primates are descended from tree-dwellers, exhibiting adaptations which allow for tree climbing that include: a rotating shoulder joint, separated big toes and thumb for grasping, and stereoscopic vision.  Other primate characteristics include: having one offspring per pregnancy, claws evolved into flattened nails; and larger brain/body ratio than other mammals, and tendency to hold the body upright. Evidence that we are descendants of these early primates was first provided by Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species, published in 1859.  

According to fossil records, primates originated in the Late Cretaceous (97.5 to 66.4 million years ago).  Primates, the ancestors of prosimians, first appear in the fossil record in the Eocene epoch around 55 million years ago; they were similar in form to lemurs.  Anthropoids ancestral to both Old World and New World monkeys appear in the fossil record in the Oligocene epoch around 35 million years ago. Apes are divided into two main groups of hominoids: lesser apes or hylobatids (gibbons and siamangs) and great apes (Pongo: orangutans, Gorilla: gorillas, Pan: chimpanzees, and Homo: humans).  

Hominids refers to the subfamily Hominidae within the superfamily Hominoidea.  Currently the superfamily Hominoidea includes the families Hominidae (great apes: orangutans, gorillas, chimps, humans) and Hylobatidae (gibbons and siamangs). Homininae is a subfamily of Hominidae that excludes orangutans. 

The term “hominin” refers to bipedal apes, which are all now extinct except for humans.  Examples of extinct bipedal human relatives are Australopithecus africanus, Homo habilis , and Homo erectus.  Few very early (prior to 4 million years ago) hominin fossils have been found so determining the lines of hominin descent is extremely difficult.  Within the last 20 years, three new genera of hominoids were discovered: Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Orrorin tugenensis, and Ardipithecus ramidus and kadabba, but at the moment their status in regards to human ancestry is somewhat uncertain  

Internet references

The new nature movement

The new divinity

Evolution ecology extinction

Evolution of aesthetic pleasure

Evolutionary biology and the meaning of life


Evolution and meaning


The biology of wonder

Radiation of hominids

Evolution of primates

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