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School/Community ECO-learning Networks

Sunday, October 31st, 2021

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


ECO-Learning: the system

ECO-Learning: the conservation management system

1 A Syllabus for Radical Hope

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

This project is a response to ’Rescue Mission Planet Earth’,a radical syllabus for hope  published by an international group, consisting of thousands of young people, from over 100 countries, who were invited to the 1992 Rio Environment Summit (Fig 1).  They envisaged a global network of schools and the communities they served as a democratic eco-learning system. The objective was for them, as members of local communities, to participate in the management of relationships between culture and ecology, according to their skills and vision of the future, in order to live sustainably.  These visions and skills are an expression of individualised learning, which involves providing different tasks and support for each learner at the individual level because all learners have different needs.  Therefore each learner requires a personal approach to learning so that the activities that learners undertake and the pace at which they progress through the syllabus, will be more effective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 3 The Garw Green Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Fig 5 The ECO-learning system

3 Focusing on local materials and colour

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

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

4 Prosperity

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

Fig 6 What Americans think of the American Dream. 

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

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

It transcends material concerns. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Understandings Found In Nature

Thursday, October 7th, 2021

An Integrative syllabus for learning how to live  sustainably

1 Integrative Curricula

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

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

James A. Beane

Published online: 17 December 2020.

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

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

2 Theme-based Learning 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Natural Economy

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

Jean-Luc Godard, film director.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The phrase cultural ecology has two literal denotations:

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

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

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

3 A History Of Economic Harm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 8 Cardiff Bay: Regeneration of old dockland waterfront

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

5  Thinking Through Coal: An Integrated Syllabus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6  Appendix

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

— Education through Art, Herbart Read 

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

— Louwrien Wijers

7 Internet References

Escaping from Silo Thinking

Monday, September 6th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 1 Ideas about cultural ecology

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

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

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

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

Denis Bellamy

August, 2021

Appendix 1  

Homo sapiens as the the deadly pyrophile

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

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

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

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

Appendix 2

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

Objectives (discussion threads)

1 Become A Citizen Managing Change

2 Redefine Economic Growth

3 Learn To Be Inclusive

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

5 Create New Knowledge Frameworks

6 Learn About Empathy

7 Promote Education For Change

8 Apply Arts Reasoning To Explain Sustainability  (currently has the most hits)

9 Oats, Peas, Beans And Barley Grow

10 Awaken the Ecologist Within


International Classrooms On Line

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

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

Education for Cultural Change

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

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

Fig 1 Rebuilding  communities with empathy

1 Growing an island mentality

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

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

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

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

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

2  Grimsby: a Case History of Radical Hope

Fig 2 North East corner of Lincolnshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 4 Report in the Grimsby Telegraph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Incentives for a conservation culture 

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

A biosphere allowance:

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

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

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

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

4 Making  a Culture of Critical Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5  Critical Hope: A Syllabus

In early July 2017, the Rachel Carson Center, together with University of Austin, Texas hosted a two-day workshop on “Radical Hope.” It brought together 21 people from a variety of continents and disciplinary perspectives to explore and exchange ideas on that renewable and essential resource: hope. A Syllabus for Hope framed by the conference consisted of 17 sections each of which was defined by an essay, with references, submitted by the conference attendees. It was presented for feedback as a global online educational resource by International Classrooms On Line.

Section 1: Listening Carefully

Section 2: Forging relationships

Section 3:  Sources of inspiration from politics to poetry

Section 4: Optimism in the Conservation Movement

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

Section 6: The Art of Protest

Section 7: Recurring Earthquakes and the Rebirth of Hope

Section 8  Infrastructures of Hope

Section 9: Air Pollution: Issues and Solutions

Section 10: Thrifty Science

Section 11: Environmental Education for the Present & Future

Section 12: Environmental Security

Section 13: Phytoremediation in an Italian Steel Town

Section 14: A Syllabus of Radical Hope

Section 15: On Love and Property

Section 16: Design, Hybridity and Just Transitions

Section 17: Grassroots Technological Networks of Wind Energy

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

6 Education For Sustainability: The French Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Lessons From Small Island States

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

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

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

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

Islands First will assist the small island states by;

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

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

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

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

8  Internet References

Radical hope 1 

Radical hope 2

Radical hope 3

Hope in dark times

Suffolk Kemps

Five pillars of 2030 Agenda (France)

Cultural  Education, Heritage, and Citizenship

Community fishing heritage

Belonging Together in Nature

Exploring Biosphere Sustainability with Arts Reasoning

Friday, June 18th, 2021

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

1  Thinking with STEAM 

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

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

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

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

2 Scientific illustration

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

Fig 2 Drawing of the head anatomy of a goat 

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

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

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

Fig 4 Example of one of Anna Atkins’ cyanotype photographs 

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

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

Fig 6 Penstemons: Worthington George Smith.

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

Fig 7 Digital photograph of three penstemon varieties

3  Education for empathy

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 8 Mount Recycle More

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

Fig 9 A drowned Albatross

4 Art and sustainability

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

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

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

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

5 Biospheric perception

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

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

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

Fig 10 Earth Rhythms Mark Tobey

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

4 Science in art

Verb: to fashion

Gerund or present participle: fashioning

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

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

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

Here is Fletcher’s definition of a species.

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

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

Here are some more of her definitions.


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


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


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


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


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

Keystone Species 

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


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


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

5 The creative process

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

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

I am a tornado child

         born in the whirl of clouds; the center crumbled,

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

         they tremble at the whip of my supple thighs;

         you cross me at your peril, I swallow light

         when the warm of anger lashes me into a spin,

         the pine trees bend to me swept in my gyrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 11 Silene acaulis (Moss campion)

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

7 Cultural happiness

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

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

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

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

Fig 13  Matisse and his model 

Into this (Fig 14);

Fig 14 Odalisque in yellow robe: 1937

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

6  Internet References

Matisse’s Studio

Learning about climate change with art

Revisioning the Pacific

Art and Sustainability

Art and Sustainability 2

Art and Sustainability 3

Merging the Arts and Sciences

Paul Cezanne: List of Works

Belonging to the Biosphere

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

1 The biosphere

Fig 1  Different parts of planet Earth

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

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

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

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

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

2 The pedagogy

Fig 2 Knowledge silos

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

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

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

3  Progression

Fig 3 Educational progression by self directed learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

4  Mind mapping

Fig 4 Advantages of mind mapping in self directed learning

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

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

Fig 5  Mind map of ‘belonging to the biosphere

Go to the interactive version

5  Rescue Mission: Planet Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further developments of rescue mission involving young people are:

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

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

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

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

6 Internet References

Digital mind mapping

Agenda 2030

Heutagogy Explained

Taking Action 1

Taking Action 2

Biosphere: Encyclopedia of Earth

Cultural Ecology of Urban Cemeteries

Thursday, May 20th, 2021

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

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

Mark Q. Sutton and E. N. Anderson

1  Garden cemeteries

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

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

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

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

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

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crossed the Bar’.

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

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

John 5:28-29

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

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

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

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

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

2 Making a garden cemetery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Heart-ware.

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

Fig 1 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4  What now?

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

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

Fig 2 Two kinds of economy

Fig 3 Meadow scything workshop. Hampstead Graveyard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5  Epilogue

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

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

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


Biosphere Ecoscopes for Transformative Learning

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

Biosphere Reserves are ‘learning places for sustainable development’. They are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity.


1  Segmenting the biosphere

Fig 1 Model of a biosphere reserve

The biosphere is the region of Earth that encompasses all living organisms: plants, animals and bacteria. It is a feature that distinguishes Earth from the other planets in the solar system. The biosphere is considered to extend from the bottom of the oceans to the highest mountaintops, a layer with an average thickness of about 20 kilometers. It is somewhere between the ground and the sky where life can exist.  Nevertheless, the biosphere is a very tiny region on the scale of the whole of Earth, analogous to the thickness of the skin on an apple. The bulk of living organisms actually live within a smaller fraction of the biosphere, from about 500 meters below the ocean’s surface to about 6 kilometers above sea level.   Each life form is supported within a thin slice of the biosphere from which it takes and recycles materials and energy to support its particular lifestyle. The smallness of the biosphere reflects its cosmic vulnerability.

The concept of the biosphere as a focus for global conservation management emerged as a a central element in UNESCO’s concept of ‘Biosphere Reserves’, This idea for engaging local people in defining their cultural connections with ecology, which is coupled with planning for living sustainably, emerged  in 1971, when UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Council defined the overall objective of the programme: 

  • To develop the basis within the natural and social sciences for the rational use and conservation of the resources of the biosphere;
  • To improve the global relationship between people and the environment;
  • To predict the consequences of today’s actions on tomorrow’s world;
  • To increase people’s ability to manage efficiently the natural resources of the biosphere’.

UNESCO  envisaged a reserve as an area where natural resources of flora, fauna, or features of geological or other special interest are protected from human exploitation. This ‘green core’ of a Biosphere Reserve is managed to provide special opportunities for people who live around the green core to learn about conservation management by participation in making and operating local community plans for living sustainably (Fig 1).  UNESCO believes that the direct involvement of the local population in the management of Biosphere Reserves, together with the existence of research and monitoring activities in them, constitute the best guarantee for long-term conservation of genetic resources on a world-wide basis.  At the same time people living adjacent to the green core can apply their learning to live sustainably as communities.  They are expected to integrate their day to day lives with research, monitoring and citizen’s environmental networking from their segment of the biosphere where they live and call home.

The idea of involving communities, families and individuals in the production and operation  of local plans for wildlife protection came from the 1983 UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Congress in Minsk.  The Congress led to an Action Plan for Biosphere Reserves, which was adopted by the MAB Council in 1984.  In 1992, an Advisory Committee on Biosphere Reserves was set up.  

In 1995 a major conference in Seville produced the Seville Strategy for Biosphere Reserves and a Statutory Framework for the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.  The Biosphere Reserve concept was seen as an innovative and practical model for the implementation of significant elements of conventions concerned with the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources and expressed in a community’s local Agenda 21 (Fig 2).  Agenda 21 is a comprehensive voluntary plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, Major NGOs and people in every area in which humankind impacts on the environment.

Fig 2 The process of creating a local Agenda 21.

In 2000, a ‘Seville+5’ review took place in Pamplona, with further refinement, through the Madrid Action Plan, for Biosphere Reserves (2008- 2013),  which promoted them as places for local people to learn about making and operating conservation management systems for wildlife and community living side by side.  

Efforts to promote the participation of indigenous communities in UNESCO biosphere reserve programme for the management of protected areas often fall short of their goals because of the gap between conservation organizations and indigenous peoples. The ideological policies pursued by the government often ignore the economic and social development of indigenous people, and their claims over their customary lands.  For an indigenous people, the forest is considered a living entity, with its own soul and spirituality. This belief transcends generations, thus making it difficult for the local community to understand the short-term social, political and bureaucratic interests of government and the private sector.  They are often at odds with indigenous peoples’ conceptualization of what constitutes moral rights.  

Efforts to promote the participation of communities of the developed world in UNESCO biospheres has fallen considerable short of ambition. Significantly, after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, developed countries did not curb their consumption patterns and failed to find a sustainable development path built on sustainable production methods. As a result, pressure on the global environment have continued to rise since 1992. Specifically, despite continued intergovernmental processes (e.g. climate change talks and further Earth Summits) little progress has been made toward implementation of the deal outlined in Agenda 21.  When it was adopted in 1992 Agenda 21 was meant to be “a programme of action for sustainable development worldwide”. Furthermore, it had the ambition of being “a comprehensive blueprint for action to be taken globally, from now into the twenty-first century”. The ambition was high, and so were the stated goals of the Agenda: improving the living standards of those in need; better manage and protect the global ecosystem; and bring about a more prosperous future for all.  

A significant impediment to the adoption of Agenda 21, particularly in the US, has been the spread of conspiracy theories, which presented it as part of a political movement within the UN to take over the world!  This distorted view has not gone away.  But fortunately, Agenda 21 is now becoming embedded in egalitarian ideas surrounding the concepts of deep place and deep ecology, both of which stress the  importance of historic, social and material connections in belonging to place and address two significant and interconnected social policy problems: how to overcome the inequitable distribution of wealth; and how to effectively adjust to a more environmentally sustainable economic model.  Both issues focus on Mauss’ anthropological concept of a “gift economy” to understand how places are cared for by a community over time.

2  Managing the biosphere for resilience

Over a century ago, in his 1926 book The Biosphere, Russian biogeologist Vladimir Vernadsky was the first to recognize implications of the interdependence between life and Earth’s surface structure. Underlying this interdependence is humanity’s search for happiness through materialism and economic growth,  However, in present-day society, although we recognize our dependence on the earth’s resources, its water, oxygen and other natural components, we do not recognize the connection between the growth of a monetary economy and Earth’s limited capacity to maintain year on year demands for planetary resources to support it.  In the short term, the benefits of economic growth are many: the more that businesses and nations grow and profit, the more individuals have jobs, resources and quality of life. At this point in human history, technology has enabled miraculous products, global travel, rapid communication, astonishing efficiencies and unimagined leisure. Economic growth derived from all these technological marvels does indeed feed on itself, as consumers demand more and more.  The more we take the more we depend upon conservation management systems to protect and maintain a productive biosphere.  Always there has been a search for predictive models of Earth’s resilience to sustain year on year monetary growth.

Over the last three million years the average mean temperature on Earth has never exceeded 2°C above (inter-glacial) or 6°C below (deep ice age) the pre-industrial temperature on Earth (14°C). Already now at 1.2°C warming, we appear to be moving out of the stable and accommodating Holocene environment of the last 11,000 years with predictable seasons that allowed agriculture and, later, civilizations to develop. Already, within the coming 50 years, one to three billion people are projected to experience living conditions that are outside the climate conditions, which have served civilizations well over the past 6,000 years. Climate change impacts are hitting people harder and sooner than envisioned, even a decade ago. This is especially true for extreme events like heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods, storms and variations in their frequency, magnitude and duration. Climate events interact with economic, social, and geopolitical events, creating systemic risks and shocks that spill over multiple sectors and create synchronous challenges rapidly moving across countries and regions. 

Climate stabilization is critical for human wellbeing and prosperity. Human expansion on the urbanized planet is seriously challenging stores of polar ice and critical carbon sinks of soils, biomes and the ocean. There are increasing signs that subsystems of Earth’s biosphere, vital to regulate the state of the planet as a whole, are about to cross tipping points. The fabric of nature and its diversity generates fundamental services to humanity, provides insurance to shocks and surprises, to tipping points and regime shifts, and makes development possible in the face of change. Much of Earth’s biosphere has been converted into simplified ecosystems for the production of a few harvestable species with subsequent widespread loss of biodiversity. Interconnected and simplified systems are vulnerable to change.  They have lost resilience. Resilience refers to the capacity of a system to persist with change, to learn and cultivate the capacity to continue to develop with ever changing environments. 

Conservation management of Biosphere Reserves is therefore critical for the resilience of economies, societies and cultures associated with them in the coevolution of nature and society in and around the reserves.  Management for resilience in this wider view requires creating a suitable management interface between the green core and people as residents and visitors.  The diagram (Fig 3) represents one of the latest designations of a biosphere reserve in India where there is an interactive link between managers and the managed through local nature clubs.  

Fig 3  The management interface between the protected core of the Panna Biosphere Reserve and the wider world 

During the 1970s, humanity as a whole passed the point at which the annual Ecological Footprint matched the Earth’s annual biocapacity (Fig 4) This situation is called “ecological overshoot”, and has continued to grow year on year since then.  There are great inequalities in consumption between countries.  If all of humanity lived like an average Indonesian, for example, only two-thirds of the planet’s biocapacity would be used; if everyone lived like an average Argentinian, humanity would demand more than half an additional planet; and if everyone lived like an average resident of the USA, a total of four Earths would be required to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on nature.   This points to the fact that a global consensus has to be reached for a balanced distribution of natural resources. For equitable use of natural resources people in more developed countries have to lower their consumption so that these resources can be shared fairly between countries.  Equity is an essential psychological dimension of sustainability. This human behavioral characteristic is defined as a tendency to distribute, in a fair way resources, power and benefits among all peoples, avoiding bias or favoritism. Equitable actions, consequently imply dealing with and treating fairly and equally all concerned, regardless of social, economic and demographic differences. To unravel these complexities we probably need to expand the segmentation of the biosphere to get more communities that have already created a local nature sanctuary to adopt the ‘biosphere model’.

Fig 4 Ecological economics  

3  Community Biosphere Ecoscopes

In Elizabeth A. Lange’s book, Transformative Learning in Practice (2009) she described her own journey to transform her teaching practice developed for a course on sustainability for adult learners.  In particular, she tells how she  created a deliberative pedagogy based on ways to create a learning sanctuary as a protected space for critical reflexivity. In this context, reflexivity refers to the examination of one’s own beliefs, judgments and practices during a research process and how these may have influenced the research. Put simply, reflexivity involves questioning one’s own taken for granted assumptions. 

A sanctuary is defined as a special place set aside as a refuge of protection, shelter, and learning for intellectual growth  As the hosts of an educational experience, Lange believes that, at their best, teachers create a learning sanctuary as a place of immunity from the full weight of social forces. Thus, to be transformative, Lange says that education ought to provide a protective sanctuary for a deep encounter with self (mind, spirit, and body), social relationships, habits of thinking and living, and the conjoined individual and social myths that constrain human freedom and justice. So a segment of the biosphere can become a sanctuary containing a personal body of knowledge about deep place that results from the dialectic between a pedagogy of critique and a pedagogy of hope for the future of humankind. In relation to sustainability education, this encounter with managing nature can enlarge the sense of self,  An individual learner moves from seeing oneself as separate and autonomous to seeing one’s embeddedness in a web of living relations, both human and nonhuman; a condition of ecological consciousness.  One of the greatest challenges facing humanity today is to develop an ecological conscience to make the choice between a sustainable and socially just future or maintaining the status quo, which is a threat to Earth’s balanced ecosystems.

There are currently (in 2021) 714 biosphere reserves in 129 countries, including 21 transboundary sites, that belong to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.  As learning areas for sustainable development under diverse ecological, social and economic contexts UNESCO says they are touching the lives of more than 250 million people.  However, the world population in 2019 was 7.674 billion, distributed in 195 independent sovereign nations. Comparing these figures indicates that, although there is a fairly good international network, the Biosphere Reserve recruitment process is not reaching most people. Entry into the scheme inevitably depends on communities and countries selecting their best nature sites, which will already have been designated as national nature reserves or sites of special scientific interests. This is a reminder of the fact that the biosphere reserve concept is centred on the idea of conserving pristine habitats. However, it has been estimated that only 3% of the world’s land remains ecologically intact with healthy populations of all its original animals and undisturbed habitat.  These fragments of wilderness, undamaged by human activities, are mainly in parts of the sparsely populated Amazon and Congo tropical forests, east Siberian and northern Canadian forests, tundra, and the Sahara.  Most communities who are not adjacent to so called pristine sites are left out with the feeling that their environment is third class.  In fact every part of the biosphere is special because it is a part of Earth’s biosphere jigsaw. (Fig 5).  This raises the question as to how a network of ‘nature islands’ can be defined as smaller elements of the biosphere and thereby have a role in creating a larger network of communities in parallel with the UNESCO network Biosphere to spread ideas and experiences about living sustainably.  

Fig 5 Earth’s biosphere as a jigsaw of nature islands

A system of linked up nature islands was envisaged in the UK’s first (1994) strategy for sustainable development and biodiversity as the basis for a citizen’s environmental network to spread local ideas and achievements.  The idea was trialled in Wales in response to ‘Rescue Mission: Planet Earth, an educational outcome of the Rio Environment Summit,in 1996.  The Welsh initiative was known as the young people’s Schools and Communities Agenda 21 Network (SCAN) and was centred on schools and the communities they served.  

A current definition of the Local Agenda 21 (LA21) is a voluntary process of community planning with the aim to create local policies and programs that work towards achieving sustainable development. It encompasses awareness raising, capacity building, community participation and the formation of partnerships.  In this context, SCAN defined an ecoscope as the extent of the biosphere that local conservation management deals with or to which it is relevant (Fig 6).  In other words, an ecoscope is a position or perspective from which a part of the biosphere is considered or evaluated.  An ecoscope allows the observer an exceedingly close view of the structures of the biosphere (habitats, ecosystems and species) at a scale convenient for examination and analysis required to make a conservation management system. 

Fig 6 A segment of the biosphere used as a local learning model of sustainable development 

To help realise citizen environmental networks, International Classrooms On Line, which developed from SCAN, is revisiting SCAN to explore the adoption of community biosphere ecoscopes as nature islands where communities and individuals can test interdisciplinary approaches to understand interactions between their local social systems and ecosystems with the goal of living sustainably.   Their common feature is a core of biodiversity with a management plan that provides solutions to the challenges of maintaining the core in a favourable condition.  Community biosphere ecoscopes vary in size and character.  The biodiversity core, for example, can range from a local nature reserve, serving terrestrial, marine or coastal communities, to parks, trees in the street, gardens and a collection of potted plants giving pleasure to families and individuals. The common purpose of a biosphere ecoscope is to create a focus for people to engage in transformative learning about conservation management systems.  Therefore, ecoscopes are hubs for transformative learning about how to engage in sustainable development.

4  Lessons from community biosphere ecoscopes

The long term survival of humanity depends on utilising energy gathered from the sun, which has been converted to a biochemical form, and consumed by countless creatures until it is ultimately released back into the universe. Solar energy fuels everything on Earth, and maintains its order, organization, and evolution.  Fritjof Capra, cofounder of the Center for Ecoliteracy says we do not need to invent sustainable human communities. We can learn from societies that have lived sustainably for centuries. We can also model human communities after nature’s ecosystems, which are sustainable communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms.  Here lies the value of ecoscopes.  Since the outstanding characteristic of the biosphere is its inherent ability to sustain life, a sustainable human community must be designed in such a manner that its technologies and social institutions honour, support, and cooperate with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life. 

These are five lessons with associated behavioral prescriptions to be learned from making and operating conservation management systems. By far the most common management actions in a conservation management system are aimed at maintaining valued wildlife features by reducing competition between valued and invasive species for space, i.e. the common jobs for local people are maintaining boundaries and removing invasive species. 

Lesson 1 Earth is powered by renewable energy. 

The sun provides nearly all of the energy used to power life on Earth, as well as fueling all of our weather, ocean currents, and water cycling. Earth receives 1,370 Watts of heat and light per square meter of sunlit space, the “solar constant” and that’s been enough energy for the planet to do everything for billions of years. In fact, for all of Earth’s history, ecosystems have flourished on this “solar income” That is until we evolved.

Prescription:- Sunlight and associated energy from wind, waves, and biomass has to provide all the energy we need..

Lesson 2 Nature operates with zero waste. 

Earth is essentially a “materially closed” system. Short of the occasional meteorite, nothing much enters the planet, and nothing much leaves the planet either. That means there are only so many carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus atoms, water molecules, and so on, in the biosphere to work with. So natural systems have evolved to recycle everything. In fact, living things rarely create “waste.” What is waste to one organism is quite often food for another. For example, a single phosphorus atom, a necessary ingredient for life, can be recycled hundreds of times within a forest, before it’s gently redeposited into Earth’s sediments, where geological forces will ultimately recycle it once again. In contrast, we humans use many goods only once before they become waste or toxic pollution. 

Prescription:- We need to mimic nature’s frugality with material, and get much, much better at emulating Earth’s “circular economy. 

Lesson 3 Earth’s ecosystems build strength and resilience from diversity.

Evolution has created a remarkable diversity of life, which is extremely resilient in the face of change. Nearly every flow of energy and matter, and practically every ecological niche, functional trait, and space is being used by something. And if one ecological link fails, others typically pick up the slack. Sadly, humans seem to ignore this lesson. We tend to build monocultures, especially in agriculture, with only one link; if that one fails, the whole system fails. 

Prescription:- Protect fragile ecosystems and environments by reducing the amount of energy and raw materials society consumes as well as the pollution and waste it produces. Use systems thinking to avoid dependence on monocultures.

Lesson 4  In a rapidly changing world we confront the harsh realities of a deeply unequal global landscape. 

In North and South alike, mass protests have flared up, fueled by a combination of economic woes, growing inequalities and job insecurity. Income disparities and a lack of opportunities are creating a vicious cycle of inequality, frustration and discontent across generations. 

Prescription:- Help to bring about a fairer distribution of wealth both between countries and between different social groups within countries, placing a special emphasis not just on the needs but on the rights of poor and disadvantaged people.

Lesson 5  We have lost sight of Indigenous cosmologies 

They demonstrate that spiritual traditions in cultural ecology originate from different understandings of the human experience.  In particular, ancient cosmologies have generated diverse ways in which we depend on plants to relate spiritually to the biosphere.

Prescription:- Understand how certain plants are singled out by every tradition as particularly sacred or auspicious.  Celebrate the ways in which specific plants are elevated to a role of critical importance in the spiritual life of humankind. Human-plant engagements in all their diversity teach the geography of the heart. 

Through learning these lessons there may be a future for education consistent with Agenda 21 if environmental educators, from every kind of education, committed to fostering cross sectorial competence in order to:-

  • combine to raise the status of what they wish to do into a force which can no longer be ignored or patronised; 
  • agree on a common concept of what to do and how to do it;
  • develop capacity for systemic approaches to understanding environmental issues and reaching decisions on what to do;
  • extend their pressure to ensure quality of educational experience, the educational environment and environmental information;
  • foster a climate of public support for Agenda 21 that will take us smoothly and equitably into a post-carbon lifestyle.

5  Something to Blog About

In a world experiencing rapid change, ecoscopes help people prepare for the future by offering opportunities for transformative learning to preserve the elements of nature that wildlife and people will need for belonging in nature together.  Biosphere ecoscopes give everyone the opportunity to engage in conservation management and apply the lessons to everyday life to build a personal body of knowledge. In order to live sustainably.

Google Blogger is being tested by International Classrooms On Line as a resource for individuals to build personal bodies of knowledge. Subjects (blogs)) are structured by adding posts) and pages, augmented with data gathered from the Internet, particularly from local history Facebook pages of libraries.  The educational theme ‘Belonging In Nature Togrther’ was chosen as a  family ecological perspective (Fig 7) for learning to live sustainably.  These blogs are self-learning models for people to create photo-diaries to focus on the importance of historic, social and material connections in belonging to a place. The idea is to explore the development of tangible and intangible connections between past, present and future people and places. An understanding of place as an inalienable gift may create a moral duty to nurture and pass on places to subsequent generations.  A gift economy refers to economic activity characterised by offering services and goods to other members of the community without the expectation of monetary reward. Giving things to other people may be based on pure altruism, a wish to gain status in society, the hope of reciprocal gifts in the future or out of a sense of mutual obligation.  Most families want to make environmentally friendly choices, but they don’t know how. Sometimes parents worry that their family won’t be able to make sustainable choices, or they fear their green living won’t make much of a difference anyway. Sustainable living doesn’t have to be overwhelming; making a few small changes in your family’s lifestyle will make a big impact on your family’s carbon footprint.

Ultimately, sustainable living simply means making choices and developing habits that are good for the environment. By making intentional choices that are earth-friendly, your goal is to lower your family’s carbon footprint. To motivate yourself and your family, use Ecological Footprint to determine your carbon footprint.

Fig 7 Ecological planning for family living

The directory in the following Appendix  indicates a range of situations that would be suitable for creating and networking community biosphere ecoscopes with a family ecology perspective..

6 Appendix 

Outdoor nature sites


(i) Wandsworth Common, London.

The common is classed as a site of borough importance grade 1 for nature conservation. It has nine different ecological habitats, including the pond and lakes, amphibian wetland, grassland, including acid grassland, meadows and woodland (Fig 8). Only native trees are planted today.  Management of the common is a balancing act: balancing a heritage landscape with biodiversity and use by an ever-growing number of people for a variety of formal and informal recreation.

 Fig 8 Wandsworth Common

(ii) Mass Audubon

As an example of the scale of what can potenetially be achieved with biosphere ecoscopes, the NGO Mass Audubon actively protects over 38,000 acres of land across Massachusetts and is now the largest private conservation landowner in the Commonwealth. This land provides wildlife with undisturbed habitat in which to breed, corridors along which to migrate, and rich settings in which to thrive. It provides people with sanctuaries to experience the restorative benefits of nature, outdoor education where children can learn about the circle of life, and ample space to explore the wonders of nature.  There are hundreds of trails to explore at more than 60 wildlife sanctuaries across the state.

(iii) The Drumnaph biosphere sanctuary

The Drumnaph biosphere sanctuary in Northern Ireland is an example of what a small community can achieve in partnership with a national NGO, the Woodland Trust (Figs 9-10).

Fig 9 Drumnaph biosphere sanctuary (Northern Ireland) and its Maghera community

Fig 10  Diversity of Drumnaph biosphere sanctuary

Management plan

(iv) Pin-Supu Forest Conservation Area 

At the junction between the Kinabatangan river and the main road that travels through Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, between Sandakan and Lahad Datu, there is the small village of Batu Puteh, with about 2,000 inhabitants. Here, a community-based project has been set up to take care of the Pin-Supu Forest Conservation Area, 4,700 hectares of lowland rainforest, home of the whole range of Borneo’s wildlife, with the river on one side and the Tungog Lake at its heart.  The local community has found a way to fund conservation and reforestation programs through Eco-tourism, providing at the same time a viable alternative to jobs in the vast palm oil plantations. An amazing place to find some quiet and see the Borneo wildlife, KOPEL’s Pin-Supu Forest Conservation Area is a success story in sustainability, and an example to follow.

(v)   Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales

This report covers the work delivered by the Conservation Team of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW) during the financial year 2018 – 2019. It covers the full breadth of work undertaken by the team, including both core funded volunteer activities and fixed-term grant funded projects (Fig 11).

 Fig 11 Potential community biosphere ecoscopes in South and West Wales based on 110 nature reserves managed by the WildlifeTrust of South and West Wales.

Interactive map

A butterfly conservation core management plan for one of these reserves has been used as an ‘educational gateway-concept’ into the global world of conservation management. This involves making connections and transitions between, and within traditional educational silos by highlighting examples of ecological art, literature and science. It is part of a cross- curricular framework linking culture and ecology , with the objective of encouraging young people to become cosmopolitan citizens by seeking wonders in nature.

Potted plants

Plants have long been primary teachers for those who travel deep into the heart of the world, for those who seek the soul teaching that only the wild can bring.”

-Stephen Harrod Buhner.

Caring for plants in pots can be a powerful spiritual experience.  Nicole Mignone says:-  “Each week when I water my houseplants, I am surprised by the subtle changes that have taken place in such a short time. Most of my plants started from seeds or cuttings and continue to grow, sometimes despite their environment and caretaker. Pruning and watering are my moving meditation, and I would like to share the life lessons they have taught me

(vi)  The spring bulb phenology project

A museum outreach project in Wales that gives children the chance to adopt their own spring bulbs and take part in a real climate-change study.

(vii)  Selected succulents

The idea for the project ‘Selected Succulents’ as an 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.  Care for potted plants

Is also a metaphor for cultural rooting

 viii Encounters with ivies (Hedera species).

Like many other evergreen plants, which impressed European cultures by persisting through the winter, ivy has traditionally been imbued with a spiritual significance. It was brought into homes to drive out evil spirits.  It is rich in mythology.

Rituals are central to many spiritual traditions, and when plants are not the explicit focus, they are often the means by which ritual is accomplished.  For example, in South Indian temples, many plant-human relations are called upon in the assembly of complex rituals. Plants can also provide the setting within which ritual and spiritual practice occurs.  

In Ancient Rome it was believed that a wreath of ivy could prevent a person from becoming drunk, and such a wreath was worn by Bacchus, the god of intoxication.[8]

Ivy bushes or ivy-wrapped poles have traditionally been used to advertise taverns in the United Kingdom, and many pubs are still called The Ivy.[20]

The clinging nature of ivy makes it a symbol of love and friendship, there was once a tradition of priests giving ivy to newlyweds,[8] and as it clings to dead trees and remains green, it was also viewed as a symbol of the eternal life of the soul after the death of the body in medieval Christian symbolism.[21]

The traditional British Christmas carol, The Holly and the Ivy, uses ivy as a symbol for the Virgin Mary.

Ivy-covered ruins were a staple of the Romantic movement in landscape painting, for example ‘Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard’ by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1790), ‘Tintern Abbey, West Front’ by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1794) and ‘Netley Abbey’ by Francis Towne (1809). In this context ivy may represent the ephemerality of human endeavours and the sublime power of nature

Recording variation in Ivy leaves

This activity provides an opportunity to plan an investigation of the variables that might affect the growth of ivy, and a chance to review ideas about factors affecting plant growth (Fig 12). The detail of the relationship between leaf width, petiole length and environmental conditions is complex. It is a good example investigation to develop skills relevant to How Science Works.

Fig 12  Hedera helix: diversity of leaf shapes

7 Internet References

Google Sites for Inquiry Based Learning

Ecological Island

Learning Lessons of the Planet

Re-potting plants; a spiritual exercise.

The wisdom of houseplants

The spiritual life of plants

Plants of Mind and Spirit






Effect of CO2 on growth or ivy

Local Agenda21 Malaysia

Liana control


10 of the Best Nature Reserves on reclaimed land

Bottle biospheres


Friends of Wandsworth Common


Indigenous participation in ecotourism

 Our Future Our Planet

Biosphere reserves and climate change

Nature clubs

Tiger Reserve Communities

Tiger Reserve Communities2

Culture, Ecology, Animality.

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

“For those of us reared in the tradition of Western thought, ‘human’ and ‘animal’ are terms rich in association, fraught with ambiguity, and heavily laden with both intellectual and emotional bias. From classical times to the present day, animals have figured centrally in the Western construction of ‘man’—and we might add, of Western man’s image of woman. Every generation has recreated its own view of animality as a deficiency in everything that we humans are uniquely supposed to have, including language, reason, intellect and moral conscience”Tim Ingold.

1 We people…

Our relation to animals is complicated, sentimental, and fearful (Fig 1). Some can eat you, and you can eat some of them or render them extinct, just by behaving as normal consumers.  The trouble is that the ‘normal behaviour’ of human consumers is stripping Earth of its renewable resources.  A new knowledge framework is needed that fosters the understanding that we are animals and a part of something larger than ourselves.  Present levels and types of human consumption are not environmentally sustainable.  Therefore, consumers need to learn to become more sensitive to environmental issues and the political implications of their behavior. Political consumerism is an expression of humanity that refers to the use of the market as an arena for politics in order to change institutional or market practices found to be ethically, environmentally, or politically objectionable.

Fig 1 Elmgreen and Dragset’s Dawn, 2016: courtesy the artist/Marian Goodman Gallery

Animality defines the combination of features or qualities that form the distinctive character of all animals, including humans.  Humanality defines the combination of features or qualities that zoologists have selected as the distinctive characteristics of humankind, defining people as highly intelligent terrestrial animals who share a common origin with chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Within this group, called primates, we characterise our humanality by our: 

  • erect posture;
  • bipedal locomotion; 
  • high manual dexterity;
  • large scale invention of tools; 
  • open-ended and complex language; 
  • exceptionally large and complex brains;
  • unique mental ability to make plans, and 
  • highly advanced and organized societies.

Regarding our basic animality, we have placed ourselves in the animal kingdom, where, because we have a backbone we belong to the group known as chordates. Because we have hair and milk glands,  we are placed in the class of mammals.  In our physical growth, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny: i.e. the development of the embryo mirrors in its stages our evolution from more elementary life-forms, a process that began with the origin of life 3.77 billion years ago.

Knowledge about animals is contained in the distinct subject of zoology, which makes a huge impact on our planet through the scientific study of the evolution, anatomy, physiology, behaviour, habitats, and health of animals including humans.  Zoology applies diverse approaches to understand animals, such as electron microscopy, molecular genetics, and ecology.  Importantly, zoology is the only subject devoted to the study of animal selfhood that positions humankind as part of nature in all its manifestations, at every level, from biochemistry to transcendental consciousness. We are part of nature in all that we do. Therefore by studying zoology we are able to develop a better understanding of how we people, as animals, function and interact with the world around us. In particular, within zoology we become aware that the psychological distance between self and other animals is quite short.  This primordial awareness of oneness with nature expresses itself socially in different ways according to local culture. For example, in belief systems such as Buddhism, enlightenment brings with it the realization that separation into this or that, you or me, is an illusion, because all animals are part of the same creation and therefore all non human animals demand our equal respect.  We are also the dominant life form on the planet with the capacity to seek answers to questions about who we are, where we come from  and what is our destiny.  This puts humankind in the unique position of being able to affect change, empower better choices, and develop solutions for a stronger and more stable global ecosystem with plans for making Earth hospitable to life in generations to come.  

Cultural ecology is a full-fledged research perspective within geography aimed at establishing the relationships between people, resources, and space, ideas often associated with human ecology.  This blog is about broadening the subject of zoology to strengthen its position as an educational interface with culture and ecology.  The aim of this extension is to explain the bonding of people and animals as a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship that is influenced by behaviors considered essential to the health and well-being of both. The bond includes, but is not limited to, the emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment.  It is in this interdisciplinary systems perspective that zoology is a subject for teaching “Oneness”, the idea that everything in the world is connected and interdependent, as a general orientation of education toward the life of animals, including humankind.  

Our separation from the natural world may have given us the fruits of technology and science, but it has left us bereft of any instinctual connection to the spiritual dimension of life which connects us to the rest of the world.  What is missing is the knowing that we are all part of one living, spiritual being.   Exploring these ideas of oneness in young children Rebecca Nye coined the term ‘relational consciousness’ to encompass the idea that ‘oneness’ is a spiritual awareness rooted in our biology.  By that she meant an awareness of our interdependence with other beings, including animals, and other humans, is an inbuilt spiritual experience.  The experience seems to involve a primordial, biologically based awareness of a relationship with manifold reality: with the self, with other people: with the environment: and, for believers, with God. The thesis can be summarized in a diagram (Fig 2).  

Fig 2  The socio biological roots of relational consciousness

Why have animals not been subject to greater interest in contemporary conversations and historical discourses in the arts?  With this question as a premise, an exhibition was curated by Jens Hoffman in the Marian Goodman Gallery in 2015.  Entitled ANIMALITY the exhibition examined how an artistic and theoretical impetus might be formed that challenges the way we think about beings that are not of our own species. In its essence, ANIMALITY asks what we as human beings can learn about ourselves when looking at the limitations of our own thinking with respect to nonhuman animals. The exhibition leads us to reflect on the importance of addressing ethical issues, thinking beyond our own cultures, and questioning accepted assumptions of who we are. ANIMALITY proposes that while some distinctions between humans and animals are valid, the two groups are more productively conceived as parts of an ontological whole. The exhibition unfolded around six themes— Crossings, Extinction, Markings, Origins, Traces and Variations.  It participates in a broader philosophical debate of the past two centuries that includes thinkers such as Michel Foucault, who has a particular importance to this exhibition. Foucault, in his groundbreaking 1964 book ‘Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason’, connects the idea of human madness with that of animalism. He describes how terms such as ‘wild beasts’, ‘untamed, and ‘frenzied’ have been applied not only to those actually suffering from mental illness, but also to humans from exotic places and cultures that, in the eyes of colonizers, had chosen to live like animals and thus were treated accordingly. 

There are clear parallels between Foucault’s idea and our contemporary realities of refugees and immigrants, expanding the dialogue to the larger social and political issues of our time. Contemporary and historical artworks as well as numerous artifacts, when juxtaposed, allow for relationships between art and non-art materials to emerge, creating strong and provocative links between historical and contemporary realities.

Thus, there is an eco-cultural perspective in zoology beyond the classical perspective based, for example, on anatomy, physiology and embryology.  Zoologists of the 1800s and 1900s operated within a narrow perspective being concerned largely with discovering new kinds of animals and describing their structure and their evolutionary relationships.  Employed in this sense, zoology is divisible into three great but subordinate sciences, morphology, physiology, and distribution, each of which may, to a very great extent, be studied independently of the others.  

Zoology in general now focuses on understanding how different animals solve the common problems of environmental survival, such as behavioural traits, obtaining energy and coping with climate changes. This wider scope is defined by three perspectives on the life of animals, namely ‘form and function’, ‘ecology’ and ‘culture’.

The cultural perspective of zoology has its origins in the Upper Paleolithic era 35,000 years ago with cave paintings of hunted animals associated with a sharp increase in human artefacts such as personal ornaments and grave goods with evidence of goal orientation in the form of advance planning. Archaeologists say this suggests a ‘theory of mind’ with the emergence of human self-conscious awareness separating self and world.  This is a shift away from a primal unity with mother and the world towards an awareness of Self in a world of Others that has led to cultural ideas about the origins of the cosmic unity of all living things.  

Early ideas proposed life was governed as a natural economy established by divine guidance in a universal cycle of “propagation, preservation, and destruction”.  This orderly system was thought to have that emerged to maintain the “established course of nature”.   This idea of a natural economy was replaced with cultural ecology, a cross curricular framework that focuses on the connections between people, ecology and place.  Cultural ecology is a body of knowledge illustrating how cultural beliefs and practices help human populations adapt to their environments and live within the means of their ecosystem, conserving its resources for long-term survival. The problem of being human today is that a person’s individual ecological footprint can have an impact that is thousands of miles away from where they live, which gives zoology a global oversight.  

Humans perceive nature and individual nonhuman animals in various ways. In particular, our animality has produced socially constructed nature, where our place is either within or outside of it. Such constructions from reality are elaborated conceptually and through cultural narratives.  The narratives show how nature and nonhuman animals happen to be perceived. In this connexion, ecological leadership is now a prerequisite for the conservation management of our use of natural resources because we human animals are causing a long-lasting and devastating ecological impact on the biosphere. At the extreme edge of the cultural perspective of zoology ecological leadership includes coordinating conservation management, within and between countries, to establish a fairer sustainable distribution of profits from economic development across social groups (Figs 3 and 4).

Fig 3  Ecological leadership

Fig 4 Four ecological leaders

A ‘Thoreau-Ecological Leadership’, for example, would be based on the truism that life, its abundance and variety, pays for economic development through our day to day increased consumption of non-renewable resources, higher levels of pollution, global warming and the loss of habitats and ecosystems.  

2  Zoology: ‘humanality’ observing ‘animality’

John Peter Berger (1926-2017) was an English art critic, novelist, painter and poet. His essay on art criticism ‘Ways of Seeing’, written as an accompaniment to the BBC series of the same name, is often used as a university text. In his essay ‘Why Look at Animals?,’ Berger examines the development of our relationship with animals and how they went from muses for cave drawings painted with animal blood, to spiritual deities, to captive entertainment (Fig 5) .  In the blog ‘Brain Pickings, Maria Popova addresses the questions “Why Look at Animals”: and “What Our Relationship with Our Fellow Beings Reveals About Us”.  The answers are framed within the following 14 quotations taken from, Berger’s essay ‘Why Look At Animals’.  The extracts have been arranged in a semi historical order.                    

Fig 5 Animality

1. To suppose that animals first entered the human imagination as meat or leather or horn is to project a 19th century attitude backwards across the millennia. Animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises. For example, the domestication of cattle did not begin as a simple prospect of milk and meat. Cattle had magical functions, sometimes oracular, sometimes sacrificial. And the choice of a given species as magical, tameable and alimentary was originally determined by the habits, proximity and “invitation” of the animal in question.

2.  With their parallel lives, animals offer man a companionship which is different from any offered by human exchange. Different because it is a companionship offered to the loneliness of man as a species. Such an unspeaking companionship was felt to be so equal that often one finds the conviction that it was man who lacked the capacity to speak with animals — hence the stories and legends of exceptional beings, like Orpheus, who could talk with animals in their own language.

3.  What were the secrets of the animal’s likeness with, and unlikeness from man? The secrets whose existence man recognized as soon as he intercepted an animal’s look.

In one sense the whole of anthropology, concerned with the passage from nature to culture, is an answer to that question.

4.  What distinguished man from animals was the human capacity for symbolic thought, the capacity which was inseparable from the development of language in which words were not mere signals, but signifiers of something other than themselves. Yet the first symbols were animals. What distinguished men from animals was born of their relationship with them.

5.  In the last two centuries, animals have gradually disappeared. Today we live without them. And in this new solitude, anthropomorphism makes us doubly uneasy.

6.  This reduction of the animal, which has a theoretical as well as economic history, is part of the same process as that by which men have been reduced to isolated productive and consuming units. Indeed, during this period an approach to animals often prefigured an approach to man.

7.  The practice of keeping animals regardless of their usefulness, the keeping, exactly, of pets (in the 16th century the word usually referred to a lamb raised by hand) is a modern innovation, and, on the social scale on which it exists today, is unique. It is part of that universal but personal withdrawal into the private small family unit, decorated or furnished with mementoes from the outside world, which is such a distinguishing feature of consumer societies.

8.  Equally important is the way the average owner regards his pet. (Children are, briefly, somewhat different.) The pet completes him, offering responses to aspects of his character which would otherwise remain unconfirmed. He can be to his pet what he is not to anybody or anything else. Furthermore, the pet can be conditioned to react as though it, too, recognizes this. The pet offers its owner a mirror to a part that is otherwise never reflected. But, since in this relationship the autonomy of both parties has been lost (the owner has become the-special-man-he-is-only-to-his-pet, and the animal has become dependent on its owner for every physical need), the parallelism of their separate lives has been destroyed.

9.  In the accompanying ideology, animals are always the observed. The fact that they can observe us has lost all significance. They are the objects of our ever-extending knowledge. What we know about them is an index of our power, and thus an index of what separates us from them. The more we know, the further away they are.

10.  About 1867, a music hall artist called the Great Vance sang a song called Walking in the zoo is the OK thing to do, and the word ‘zoo’ came into everyday use. London Zoo also brought the word ‘Jumbo’ into the English language. Jumbo was an African elephant of mammoth size, who lived at the zoo between 1865 and 1882. Queen Victoria took an interest in him and eventually he ended his days as the star of the famous Barnum circus which travelled through America — his name living on to describe things of giant proportions.

11.  The zoo to which people go to meet animals, to observe them, to see them, is, in fact, a monument to the impossibility of such encounters. Modern zoos are an epitaph to a relationship which was as old 

12.  Children in the industrialized world are surrounded by animal imagery: toys, cartoons, pictures, decorations of every sort. No other source of imagery can begin to compete with that of animals. The apparently spontaneous interest that children have in animals might lead one to suppose that this has always been the case. Certainly some of the earliest toys (when toys were unknown to the vast majority of the population) were animal. Equally, children’s games, all over the world, include real or pretended animals. Yet it was not until the 19th century that reproductions of animals became a regular part of the decor of middle class childhoods — and then, in this century, with the advent of vast display and selling systems like Disney’s — of all childhoods.

13.  All sites of enforced marginalization — ghettos, shanty towns, prisons, madhouses, concentration camps — have something in common with zoos. But it is both too easy and too evasive to use the zoo as a symbol. The zoo is a demonstration of the relations between man and animals; nothing else. The marginalization of animals is today being followed by the marginalization and disposal of the only class who, throughout history, has remained familiar with animals and maintained the wisdom which accompanies that familiarity: the middle and small peasant. The basis of this wisdom is an acceptance of the dualism at the very origin of the relation between man and animal. The rejection of this dualism is probably an important factor in opening the way to modern totalitarianism.

14.  The zoo cannot but disappoint. The public purpose of zoos is to offer visitors the opportunity of looking at animals. Yet nowhere in a zoo can a stranger encounter the look of an animal. At the most, the animal’s gaze flickers and passes on. They look sideways. They look blindly beyond. They scan mechanically. They have been immunized to encounter, because nothing can any more occupy a central place in their attention. Therein lies the ultimate consequence of their marginalization… This historic loss, to which zoos are a monument, is now irredeemable for the culture of capitalism.

Kay Anderson believes the conceptual boundaries which segregate humanity and animality are being disturbed.   The way is being cleared for us to unthink the cultural categories, both popular and scientific, which map our understanding of the animate environment of which human and nonhuman animals are a part. In their paper, Is everybody human?, Douglas Kawaguchi, and Danilo S Guimarães compare the Book of Genesis, with The Falling Sky myth related by a Yanomami Shaman.  They show that Western and Amerindian narratives present mostly opposite conceptions concerning the relationships between “humanality” and “animality”.  The meanings for “human” and “animal” differ essentially in both.  Western psychology lays its foundations on a worldview that presupposes a strict split between Nature and Humanity.  So, there seems to be an insurmountable incompatibility between the impulse of our “natural” desires and the regulation and prohibitions imposed by “culture”.  This contrasts Amerindian cosmology and its relationship with nonhuman animals and calls into question the ethno- anthropocentrism that is present in Western psychology since its birth. 

3 Speciesism

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men” (St. Francis of Assisi)

Charles Darwin, writing in his notebook in 1838, asserted that man thinks of himself as a masterpiece produced by a deity, but that he thought it “truer to consider him created from animals”,  In his 1871 book ‘The Descent of Man’, Darwin argued that:

‘There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties … [t]he difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind. We have seen that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals’.

English writer and animal rights advocate Henry S. Salt in his 1892 book Animals’ Rights, argued that for humans to do justice to other animals, they must look beyond the conception of a “great gulf” between them, claiming instead that we should recognize the “common bond of humanity that unites all living beings in one universal brotherhood ” (Fig 6).

Fig 6 Speciesism and oneness

“Speciesism” is the belief that non human animals (NHAs) are inferior to humanity. Speciesist thinking involves considering animals, who have their own desires, needs, and complex lives, as means to human ends. The term speciesism was coined in 1970 by animal rights proponent Richard D. Ryder to argue that granting humans more rights than animals is an irrational prejudice. The term was popularized in 1975 by the philosopher Peter Singer, known for his contributions to Utilitarian philosophy and his book Animal Liberation.  

An example of applied speciesism is the devaluation of the British grey squirrel.  Red squirrels entered squirrel-free Britain after the last ice age.  In 1876 grey squirrels were introduced to the English countryside from North America as an ornamental species in the grounds of stately homes. It soon became clear that they could out-compete the red squirrel which is now confined to a few remaining areas of the United Kingdom.  There are now moves to exterminate the grey squirrel on ecological grounds because it has been classed as a NHA outside the range it occupies naturally or could not occupy without direct or indirect introduction or care by humans.  Greys are an economic problem in forestry because they strip tree bark.  In extreme cases the tree dies but even minor damage can reduce the value of timber. It is therefore classed as a pest.  The search is on for a method of eradicating grey squirrels without posing any risk to red squirrels and the spotlight is on the CRISPR-Cas9 gene technology.  By encoding the CRISPR editing system into an organism’s DNA, geneticists can make a desired edit reoccur in each generation, driving the trait through the entire population by modifying the genetic makeup of only a few individuals.  Although evolution has enabled some naturally occurring genes to propagate above their expected frequencies, the recent discovery of CRISPR can cause this to happen at exceptionally high rates for chosen genes in the form of “gene drives.”  Applied to the grey squirrel a gene drive which altered the sex ratio so that there are more males than breeding females, will cause the population to fall. This could be done by ensuring that fewer females are born, or that some are sterile. Those gene technicians carrying out such measures, which might end in extinction, are working with the belief in a human- NHA divide.  Dominique Lestel, building on his critique of the very philosophical foundations of the ethological tradition, argues that “To be human does not mean to have fled animality, but on the contrary to live within it and to let it live within us…we are animals and animals are us.”  Regarding extinction, looking at the relationship between animal and human, Lestel argues that species loss has both an ecological and symbolic consequence on our culture, as every species contributes to our very being, our meaning as being. He warns that “each species that disappears is a part of our imagination that we amputate perhaps irreversibly.

When Charles Darwin returned to England in 1836 from his voyage aboard HMS Beagle, he brought back with him not only revolutionary ideas of evolution and natural selection, but also the spark for debate about the very definition of a human being. He drew lines between humans and

nonhuman animals in order to maintain a comfortable separation between “us” and “them,” citing morality as the main difference between man and animal. However, modern scientific discoveries provide sufficient evidence to support the concept of morality in humankind’s closest relative, the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes).  The standpoint is that all social animals have had to constrain or alter their behavior in various ways for group living to be worthwhile. Now, due to indications that chimpanzees have morality, a trait that Darwin and modern scientists claimed to be unique to humans, the line between human and animal becomes fundamentally blurred. Should the grey squirrel be granted the same basic rights to life that modern society safeguards for humans by having its genome changed irreversibly?  Shouldn’t we people who caused the problem learn to live with the ecological system produced that was produced as a whim. 

 Although it goes unnoticed by most people, speciesism has devastating real-world effects on billions of animals. Some would say that it is also at the biological roots of racism.   Furthermore, connections between speciesism and racism have been found in addition to links to other forms of human to human biases (e.g. sexism and homophobia) which devalue certain cultures in comparison to their own.  Research has shown that attitudes towards NHAs correlated significantly and positively with attitudes towards outgroups, i.e. participants who had positive attitudes towards NHAs also liked human outgroups more.

Both attitudes and the tendency to perceive human outgroups as inferior are forms of ideologies that encourage hierarchical and unequal relationships between people and countries. Also, studies have linked Social Dominance Orientation (SDO), a preference for social inequalities, with a tendency to exploit the environment in unsustainable way.  This is associated with a belief in a sharper human and NHA distinction, and a tendency to endorse utilization of NHAs as ethically justifiable, and a belief in human superiority. Research has found that participants’ SDO was related to a tendency to dehumanize immigrants. In addition, studies have demonstrated that SDO is a key factor connecting ethnic prejudice and speciesist attitudes.

In her paper, ‘Animal Bodies, Colonial Subjects: (Re)Locating Animality in Decolonial Thought’ Billy-Ray Belcourt argues that animal domestication, speciesism, and other modern human-animal interactions are possible because of and through the the emptying of Indigenous lands for settler-colonial expansion. That is to say, we cannot address animal oppression or talk about animal liberation without naming and subsequently dismantling settler colonialism and white supremacy.  They are political machinations that require the simultaneous exploitation and/or erasure of animals and indigenous peoples. She begins by re-framing animality as a politics of space to suggest that animal bodies are made intelligible in the settler imagination on stolen, colonized, and re-settled Indigenous lands. Anthropocentrism is seen as a racialized and speciesist aspect of settler coloniality to re-orient decolonial thought toward animality. 

In 1904, the Herero and Nama people of Namibia (Fig 7) revolted against German colonial rule and were brutally crushed by imperial German troops. On Christmas Day 1906, Catholic missionary Johann Malinowski brokered a peace deal between the Bondelswarts, a Nama ethnic group of Southern Africa living in the extreme south of Namibia, and the German colonial army. The army continued to fight other clans for another two years. It’s estimated that by 1908, more than 75,000 Herero and Nama were killed. Some historians even put the figure at 100,000.

Fig 7  Nomadic Khoikhoi dismantling their huts, aquatint by Samuel Daniell (1805)

 In July 2015, the German government referred to the massacre as genocide for the first time. Namibia’s government has been trying to buy and distribute land to those who don’t own any, but the process has been slow. “We are landless because of the genocide,” says Johannea Matroos, head of the Bondeslwarts Traditional Authority. He is one of the traditional leaders of the Nama. His ancestors lost this land and their cultural heritage of cattle-pastoralism both of which became the spoils of the German colonialists more than 100 years ago.  This land issue is still not being addressed. It is in this context of colonialism that Belcourt propose a decolonized zoological ethic that finds legitimacy in indigenous cosmologies to argue that decolonization can only be reified through a totalizing disruption of those power apparatuses (i.e., settler colonialism, anthropocentrism, white supremacy, and neoliberal pluralism) that lend the settler state sovereignty, normalcy, and futurity insofar as animality is a settler-colonial issue.

From all the above it can be seen that zoology is the body of knowledge which crosses the boundary of culture and ecology, leading us to view the oneness of the human/animal relation overall. There is not a strict separation of humans and animals as categorically distinct entities.  Rationality and animality are in fact entwined, with both contributing to the goodness and full realization of human life.

5 ‘Thinking about Transhumanism’

Systems thinking by making mind maps can be a powerful classroom tool, giving students a personal participatory role in the learning process. By viewing teaching through the lens of systems-thinking  educators can help students recognize how seemingly disparate systems interact, identifying meaningful connections in the wider world around them.  For example, students were tasked with developing plans for a new national park that met specific design requirements: parks needed to be attractive to users, inflict limited environmental harm, and respect a tribal burial ground.  These are three cross-subject areas that have to be integrated and weighted into the plan. During the process of developing their designs, students discovered connections between the social, ecological, and economic components of the project.  To take another instance, in 2012 a book,  Beyond Human: From Animality to Transhumanism’ was produced by the UK University of Edge Hill.  This title explores the implications of our animal origins and posthuman futures to understand our humanity and our relations with other species. In particular.  “Beyond Human” investigates what it means to call ourselves human beings in relation to both our distant past and our possible futures as a species, and the questions this might raise for our relationship with the myriad species with which we share the planet. It draws on insights from the following 13 study areas, which the editors called the fingerprint of the project.

  • Animality
  • Posthuman Future
  • Animals
  • Theology
  • Cave Art
  • Rational Animal
  • Cultural Studies
  • Upper Paleolithic
  • Zoology
  • Biotechnology
  • Planet
  • Human Being
  • Aesthetics

An international line-up of contributors explored the origins of humankind as reflected in early cave art in the upper Palaeolithic through to our prospects of survival at the forefront of contemporary biotechnology. In the process, the book positions ‘the human’ in readiness for what many have characterized as our transhuman or posthuman future. Our status as rational animals or ‘animals that think’ has traditionally distinguished us as apparently superior to other species, but this distinction has become increasingly problematic. It has come to be seen as based on skills and technologies that do not distinguish us so much as position us as transitional animals. It is the direction and consequences of this transition to an equitable, carbon free, zero growth economy that is the central concern of “Beyond Human”.  Looking to the future, if we are to make this transition smoothly, education for sustainability has to take up mind mapping as a central pedagogy of education for sustainability.  The central topics to be mapped are animals, ecosystems and cultures, which together comprise three interconnected perspectives embedding science firmly in the humanities. A demonstration of how this could be achieved is being explored by International Classrooms Online (ICOL) using the GoConqr educational platform, to explore the three pillars of cultural ecology namely zoology, ecology and culture (Fig 8). To see the interactive mind map go to:

Fig 8 Mind map of cultural ecology

6  Internet References

How the world became consumerist

Systems thinking in education

Animals Ecosystems Cultures


What squirrels can teach us about speciesism

The elephant in the room

Thoreau: a sage for all seasons

Gandhian relevance to environmental sustainability

Scweitzer reverence for life

Aldo Leopold

A lobster or the study of zoology

Future of life on earth

Mexican art museum

Zoology and religion


Spirituality as a natural part of childhood

The human being and the animal kingdom

The human being and the animals


Hiroshi Sugimoto’s museum dioramas

Fur in fashion

Why look at animals

The beast within

Art review animosity

From animal to animality

Animality  in decolonial thought

Arts Jungle vips

Humanity and animality

Is everybody human?

Classifying animals

Evolution of human consciousness

Cultural Ecology of Spirituality

Saturday, March 27th, 2021

“Imagination is fine, so long as we know that we are engaging in it. Problems only arise when we mistake our imagination for reality. Religions start off with imagining. For example, true believing Christians imagine that God exists, that Jesus saves, that sins can be washed away, that heaven awaits after death.  I like how Taoism ends with imagining….  imagination fills the gap between what we can comprehend and what is real”. Brian Hines

1 A New Spiritual Awakening

Fig 1 

“A godless world is as mysterious as one suffused with divinity,” 

John Gray writes. Illustration by Seb Agrest

During the modern age, reason became valued over faith, tradition, and revelation. Industrialized society replaced agricultural societies and the old ways of relating to seasons and cycles (Fig 1). Furthermore, the growing predominance of a global, mechanized worldview, a collective sense of the sacred, was severed and replaced with an insatiable drive for scientific progress and material prosperity without any sense of limits or responsibility.  As religious affiliation decreases in the West, there are accompanying declines in church membership, participation in religious activities, and a lack of sustainability in congregations.  Despite these declines, interest in, and practice of spirituality are growing across many diverse populations. Spiritual teachers abound, including both those grounded in religious traditions and those identifying as spiritually independent.  This is the response to a growing movement of people seeking spiritual deepening. According to Diana Butler Bass the trend is clear: “Traditional forms of faith are being replaced by a plethora of new spiritual, ethical, and nonreligious choices. If it is not the end of religion, it certainly seems to be the end of what was conventionally understood to be American religion.” Butler Bass has articulated the critical need for religious adaptation in today’s cultural milieu. In her 2012 book ‘Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of A New Spiritual Awakening’, Butler Bass discusses the radical shift currently underway and suggests that a changing American Christianity may be part of “forming the contours of a new kind of faith beyond conventional religious boundaries.” Butler Bass’ work also points to the ways in which religious and spiritual change is part of a larger transformation: “When a spiritual and religious upheaval and transformation twins with political and cultural upheaval, it often results in what we call periods of awakening: these times in which American history actually changes. And an awakening is not just like a revival meeting, where individuals might get changed; but instead, an awakening is a time when American society, as a whole, is transformed.”  What is clear is that this is a time when people are starting to think globally about how their spiritual lives can accommodate climate change.  

A Replacement for Religion lays out how we might absorb the best lessons of religion, update them for our times and incorporate them into our daily lives: it tries to rescue some of what remains wise and useful from religion, which for many, no longer seems quite true.

The best lesson to take from religion is that being human is to seek a higher purpose outside oneself. In particular, people need a socioecological framework for community-building to find meaning, belonging and identity,  The basic problem of human survival now is that our species feels separate from the rest of the biosphere. We think that we are superior to its other creatures, and that the earth is just an endless collection of material resources for us to exploit. This duality has become dangerous, for us as well as most other species. Can we really resolve the ecological crisis without realizing this type of duality cannot continue?  A nondual ecological culture to manage Earth’s bounty sustainably is required to address an ecological crisis.  An ecological structure is necessary within which people are able to  participate in something vast, consequential and interlocking.  In this connection, the primary aim of education at all levels should be to demonstrate how civic interactions based on trust are correlated with the neighbourly virtues of charitable giving, volunteerism and altruism. An understanding of the relationships between culture and ecology should be a mandatory outcome of education in order to make sense of life’s mysteries. 

At a personal level the search for transcendence is integral to this human experience.  Practically it means adopting a pedagogy for building social capital within individuals to render intelligible and tolerable existential facts about human life, such as suffering and death. With respect to these educational challenges, people, identifying broadly as spiritual seekers, hunger for opportunities to practice and develop their inner lives and connect with the transcendent.  This is why spiritual quests and ethical questions continue to be a vital part of human culture.  Contemporary life is calling for the next iteration of the world’s profound religious heritage, as evidenced by the decline in religious participation and the increased opportunities for spiritual seeking.  An organizational culture is an important element for this kind of communal spiritual growth. Also, a cultural organisation is required to bring communities together and provide a space, a setting and a pedagogy for individuals to serve people they otherwise would not connect with  (Fig 2).

Fig 2 A Zen/Taoist cultural organisation to replace religion.

2  Zen/Taoism as a cultural organisation

Many modern problems are one way or the other caused by too many people engaging in too many activities too quickly.  Arrogance and ego mixed with numerous incompatible activities have made global warming and climate change a global threat that is becoming unmanageable. Zen Buddhism offers a solution to advance sustainability. The Zen solution is to become more mindful and selective in daily activity. In this way, one can find more time for self-examination and reflective thought. It is a Zen Buddhist understanding that by grasping the “twist and turn” of unpredictable life, one will have the opportunity to find and apply the Buddha mind.

The Buddha mind is not a special kind of mind, but it has a special effect to make a person realize the importance of every existing thing and its mutual relationships. The Zen idea of interconnectedness helps to neutralize the feelings of hatred, prejudice, pride, disappointment, anxiety, and joy into a well balanced perspective.  This in turn enables one to perceive and to live in the complete state of harmonious existence within Earth’s ecosystem.  Zen as practice is really about re-animating our consciousness. This is how Thomas Berry evocatively describes the vlsionary outcome of Zen thinking:   

“The thousandfold voices of the natural world suddenly became inaudible  to the human. The mountains and rivers and the wind and the sea all  became mute insofar as humans were concerned. The forests were no  longer the abode of an infinite number of spirit presences but were simply  so many board feet of lumber to be “harvested” as objects to be used for 

human benefit. Animals were no longer the companions of humans in the  single community of existence”.  

Regarding Zen and scientific thinking, Rosan Yoshida Roshi promotes the role of Zen as an overarching ethical guideline for the behavior of scientists as well as the consumers of science. He argues the importance of establishing and adhering to such a guideline and states that Zen is particularly suitable to promote it. In this context, science is not value-free and bias-free.  It is a human enterprise which is extremely vulnerable to our tendency to prioritize the demands from me-ism and selfishness manifested as utilitarianism, materialism, militarism, and money-ism. Yoshida states that these tendencies are destructive and threaten the entire human ecosystem.  Zen teachings can counteract or mitigate these tendencies because it emphasizes collective wholeness as its ultimate goal and presents remedies for lessening these egocentric demands.

Tao (also pronounced Dao) is the Chinese word for “The Way”  is a philosophical practice dating back to 6th Century BCE. Tao Te Ching, supposedly authored by Laozi, is the book attributed to Taoist traditions. Taoism arose in a period of war for China, in which people began to look towards nature for peace in order to get away from the chaotic human to human violence. Taoism focuses on the Tao as the “ultimate ordering principle of nature which we should incorporate into our individual and social lives”. Taoist ethics are concerned less with doing good acts than becoming a good person who lives in harmony with all things and people.  The unmistakable teaching of the Tao Te Ching is that humans are indeed capable of intervening in life’s events, but the evidence of life, which humans constantly ignore, is that such intervention is destructive to all involved, and that we therefore have a moral duty to refrain from taking such actions.  Taoist ethics are inseparable from Taoist spirituality, both contain the same ideas.  If Taoists want to live well they should take all their decisions in the context of the Tao, trying to see what will fit best with the natural order of things.  Taoists thus always do what is required by events and their context, but they only do what is required, no more.  Lao Tsz’s Tao Te Ching says: 

“It is the way of Tao to offer where there is a great abundance and to supplement where there is deficiency. This is not so with men’s way. He takes away from those who have not enough to serve the powerful and the rich. Who could use one’s superabundance to help those in need? Only the man in possession of Tao.”

Taoism is an indigenous Chinese cultural tradition which scientists have found resonates with certain aspects of the essence of modern science and responds to modern social and environmental issues. For example, Raymond J. Barnett finds a surprising degree of similarity between Taoism and biological science in their views on death, cyclicity, the place of humans in the universe and the complementary interactions of dichotomous thinking, where everything is an either-or situation i.e. good and bad, right and wrong, but nothing in the middle. The use of the dichotomous Taoist terms yin and yang is similar to the way scientists describe the behavior of subatomic particles. Yin, associated with shade, water, west, and the tiger, and yang, associated with light, fire, east, and the dragon, are the two alternating phases of cosmic energy; their dynamic balance brings cosmic harmony.  Yin and yang are the ultimate points of reference for each other. Like the positive and negative poles of a magnet create a magnetic field and magnetic force between them, Yin and Yang form the reference points between which the movements and interactions of life occur. Our lives are a combination of the physical substances of our body that come from the earth (yin), and the energy of the light (harnessed through photosynthesis) coming from the sun (yang). Just as the interplay between positive and negative charges of subatomic particles drives chemical reactions, the interplay between yin and yang drive the happenings and animation of our lives. One can say some things about atomic particles, but only if one realizes that what is said is a statement of statistical probability and that a certain modicum of uncertainty is unavoidable. To take a physiological example, the autonomic nervous system both the sympathetic and parasympathetic subsystems, like the yin and yang, affect most organs. The state of an organ is not a function of one system being totally “off” and the other totally “on.” Rather, the health of an organ depends on the balance between the activities of both systems, with each able to change its input and alter the balance. This is a restatement of the biological principle of homeostasis which maintains an organism in equilibrium with its environment.  The pioneer researcher Joseph Needham contended that Daoist thought is basic to Chinese science and technology.

So, Zen is a practical approach to spirituality where the focus is in the moment, on the process not the outcome, quieting the mind and within that having some ‘oneness’ with the process/activity in question.  Taoism on the other hand, is a complementary philosophy, which is all about being at one with the Tao i.e. the way through nature and the universe.  It is about resisting the urge to limit or define things, but instead, accepting things as they are and moving on.  Therefore, Zen/Taoist thinking can be adopted for resacralization; to return spiritual meanings to public sectors of social life such as politics, the arts, science and the body.  It is an argument against the removal of spiritual meanings from public life.  In Zen and Taoist combined thinking, arts imagination and scientific reason merge to become a holistic aspect of the human educational  experience.  It is in this context that the arts are essential and critical  to our planetary survival.  In particular, we need to apply arts thinking to explain sustainability.   

3  Imagination in place

…once upon a time our society was rich in stories. They united us and helped us understand the world and ourselves. We called them myths. In this time of global crisis and transition – of mass migration, inequality, resource scarcity and climate change – it is only by finding new myths, those that speak to us of renewal and restoration, that we will navigate our way to a better future. It is inspiring stories, rather than facts and pie-charts, that have the power to animate us and bring us together to change the worldAlex Evans.

Imagination is the ability to think of new ideas and form images or pictures in the mind. Therefore it is the faculty that enables us to tell stories, write novels, to visualize and envisage, and also to picture the possibility that something good or bad might happen in the future. Our ability to create images not available to the sensory system, is arguably our greatest faculty for evolving human consciousness. In order to transform ourselves and our world, we need to be able to leap out of the familiar and into the unknown. The first step in doing this is to imagine a future different from the past, a self-sense different from the one we have now.  New myths about our place in Earth’s ecosystems are required. 

We are often called upon to imagine how a positive vision of the future might be realized, continually updating our guiding myths and stories about ourselves, our societies and the wider world.  Art is necessary for science to participate in creating these positive visions because creativity involves imagination, and imagination is visualization.  In this respect, the ability to visualize and imagine certain processes is important to solving scientific problems.  One such myth is ‘The Lorax’, a children’s book written by Dr. Seuss and first published in 1971.  It chronicles the plight of the environment and the Lorax, who “speaks for the trees”.  Befriending trees is nowa priority to reach the zero carbon targets of 2050.

Duality is the cause of a rigid polarization of life’s dimensions. We have distorted reality by splitting our world into opposites such as secular and sacred female and male, body and spirit, emotion and reason, and then we assign inferior or superior status to each. The artistic imagination is the way to the deepest realities because it approaches life in its wholeness. Scientific reason, on the other hand, abstracts from life in order to formulate clear and manageable concepts. Therefore imagination is not an inferior human capacity. It is the basis of creativity and therefore is a fundamental way of knowing and experiencing reality. 

Imagination is the function of the mind that we call mental activity. Fantasy and scientific conceptualization are both activities of imagining. Memory and hallucinations are also activities of imagining. In modern terms, the central nervous system’s biological activity of recognizing and identifying any aspect of our peripheral nervous system is the psychological activity of imagination. There is no “red rose” except that by our imagination we have designated “red” and “rose.” 

The central psychological activity of imagination has been one of the main features of Zen and Taoism for over two millennia and the notion of imagination has played an important role in their history.  Indigenous to China, Daoism arose as a secular school of thought around 500 B.C., during a time when fundamental spiritual ideas were emerging in both the East and the West. Two core texts form the basis of Daoism: the Laozi and the Zhuangzi, attributed to the two eponymous masters, whose historical identity, like the circumstances surrounding the compilation of their texts, remains uncertain. The Laozi, also called the Daodejing, or The Way and Its Power, has been understood as a set of instructions for virtuous rulership or for self-cultivation. It stresses the concept of nonaction or noninterference with the natural order of things. Dao, as something imaginative, ineffable, shapeless, and conceived of as an infinite void, may also be understood as the unfathomable origin of the world and as the progenitor of the dualistic forces yin and yang. 

Daoist art reflects the broad time span and the diverse regions, constituencies, and practices of its creators. The artists commissioned professionals, but also leading Daoist masters, adepts, scholar-amateurs, and even emperors working in written, painted, sewn, sculpted, or modeled media, created an astonishingly eclectic body of works ranging from sublime evocations of cosmic principles to elaborate visions of immortal realms and paradises as well as visualizations of the Daoist pantheon, medicinal charts, and ritual implements.  Zen/Taoist arts are cultural landmarks ranging  from an ornamental tree or shrub, a landscape to buildings or and objects that possess a special cultural significance for a group of people, and more often than not, for the whole of humankind as well. As a result, they have usually come to stand as an iconic representation of certain concepts, ideals, cultures, historical events, beliefs, etc., and in most cases have come to be considered a part of the common cultural heritage of humanity, standing as masterpieces of humanity’s creative genius. They teach us that it is possible to express great beauty and convey powerful messages through simplification.  Zen may not verbalize “amplification through simplification,” but you can see this idea everywhere in the Zen arts. There is a style of Japanese painting called the “one-corner” style, for example, which goes back some 800 years and is derived from the concepts of wabi and sabi. Paintings in this style are very simple and contain much empty space (Fig 3 ). You may have a painting depicting a large ocean scene and empty sky, for example. In the corner, there is a small, old fishing canoe, hardly visible. It’s the smallness and placement of the canoe that give vastness to the ocean and evoke a feeling of calm and an empathy for the aloneness the fisherman faces. Such visuals have few elements yet can be profoundly evocative.  Art is just an imitation of imitation. A painting is just an imitation of nature, which is also just an imitation of reality.   For Aristotle, all kinds of art do not aim to represent reality as it is, it endeavors to provide a version of what might be or the myriad possibilities of imagining reality.

Fig 3 A 12th-century Song Dynasty painting entitled ‘Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one’.  

This is artistic evidence of the way these three imaginative philosophies were mixed over time, and often believed to be fully compatible.

Spirituality is captured by the Australian artist J,J. Hilder without reference to an origin in Daoism (Fig  4 ). Debi Riley claims everyone can express this kind of creativity providing they have simplification in mind.

Fig 4  Dry Lagoon, J J Hilder (Australia, 1911)

Fig 5

The object of Zen rock gardens is to provide a calm and harmonious environment for contemplation (Fig 5)..  The aim is not to represent the appearance of things but their inward significance.  Just as Japanese landscape paintings often depict subjects that exist only in the imagination so, in reverse, Zen landscapes are real places only in the sense that they exist to promote the imagination.  A Zen garden, then, whatever its meaning, fulfils the three principles of Zen thought in art and architecture: ‘simplicity’, ‘suggestion’, and ‘irregularity’, and certainly achieves the desired symbolism of yugen or ‘elegant mystery.’

Fig 6)

Bonsai is the art of growing certain trees and shrubs, of many varieties, in small, shallow containers. … It is through careful and precise training and pruning, that the plant is slowly shaped and manipulated to give the appearance of an older, mature tree (Fig 6).

4 Sites of Memory (lieu de mémoire )

“A lieu de mémoire is any significant entity, whether material or non-material in nature, which by dint of human will or the work of time has become a symbolic element of the memorial heritage of any community.  It may refer to any place, object or concept vested with historical significance in the popular collective memory, such as a monument, a museum, an event, a symbol like a flag or the French figure Marianne, even a colour vested with historical memory (the red flag of left politics, for instance). According to La Commission franco-québécoise sur les lieux de mémoire communs (French-Québécois Commission for Common Sites of Memory) a lieu de mémoire signifies the cultural landmarks, places, practices and expressions stemming from a shared past, whether material (monuments) or intangible (language and traditions).  The term sites of memory was outlined in a seven-volume study edited by Pierre Nora,and has been extended to many different texts, from legends to stories to concepts. 

Sites of memory are entities which groups of people engage with in public activity through which they express “a collective shared knowledge of entity’s past, on which a group’s sense of unity and individuality is based.”‘ The group engages with such entities inherits earlier meanings attached to it, as well as adding new meanings. Such activity is crucial to the presentation and preservation of commemorative entities. When such groups disperse or disappear, sites of memory lose their initial force, and may fade away entirely. 

Memory is a major theme in contemporary life, a key to personal, social and cultural identity. Scholars have studied the concept from different perspectives and within different disciplines: philosophy, sociology, anthropology, geography, architecture, urban design, and the interdisciplinary “place studies”. According to Pierre Nora, places of memory refer to entities where “memory crystallizes and secretes itself”; the places where the exhausted capital of collective memory condenses and is expressed (Fig 7). To be considered as such, these entities must be definable in the three senses of the word: material, symbolical and functional, all in different degrees but always present. What makes an entity a memory site is the interplay of memory history and imagination.

As sites of memory became better known and made official by governments, they can tend to homogenize varied local memories. In Nora’s words: “In the past, then, there was one national history and there were many particular memories. Today, there is one national memory, but its unity stems from a divided patrimonial demand that is constantly expanding and in search of coherence.” Thus sites of memory may risk becoming “invented traditions”.

The concept has been listed in Le Grand Robert de la langue française, the authoritative French dictionary, and studied by scholars and others. There are attempts made to map sites of memory globally. Quebec and France have a joint commission to identify and codify sites of memory. An International Coalition of Sites of Conscience of more than 200 museums, monuments and other institutions around the world uses the concept to group “sites, individuals, and initiatives activating the power of places of memory to engage the public in connecting past and present in order to envision and shape a more just and humane future.

Fig 7 Places as reservoirs of memory

Ecological Sites of Memory is a Rachel Carson Centre project that seeks to look into the historical memories that resonate in our environmental thinking, thus bringing environmental history into a dialogue with the burgeoning field of memory studies. Important questions are What are the key events that have influenced and defined our understanding of environmental issues? How did memories take shape, and how have they changed over time? Do memories create opportunities for environmentalism, or are they more of a hindrance in the light of today’s challenges? And how do these memories relate to historical facts?  Locating Imagination in Popular Culture offers a multi-disciplinary account of the ways in which popular culture, tourism and notions of place intertwine in an environment characterized by ongoing processes of globalization, digitization and an increasingly ubiquitous nature of multi-media.  With respect to the role of imagination in place popular culture and media are becoming increasingly important to the ways in which places and localities are imagined.  Also, how they do media use narratives to stimulate a desire to visit the actual places in which people’s favourite stories are conveyed through media to stimulate and reflect desire in tourism. 

8 Internet references

Simplify to amplify

Fetzer Report 2020

The Threshold Society

Memory  Sites

‘The Saints’: Suffolk, England

Panna Biosphere Reserve; India

Govardhan Hill; India

St Denis’ Well; Cardiff, Wales 

Borobudur: Java

Landscapes without memory

A Zen and Taoism Pedagogy

Imagination and spirituality

Wishing for Wellbeing, Old Clee, UK