Degrowth: a syllabus for a democratic pedagogy

August 12th, 2019


In his book ‘When Giants Fall’ (2009), Michael Panzner makes a case for the turbulent social changes to come if we stick fast trying to maintain economic growth.  According to Panzner, the changes will be widespread. Businesses will struggle amid wars, shortages, logistical disruptions, and a breakdown of the established monetary order. Individuals will be forced to rethink livelihoods, lifestyles, living arrangements, and where to live  Political structures will be in flux, as local leaders gain influence at the expense of national authorities. For many people, it will be nothing short of a modern Dark Ages, where each day brings fresh anxieties, unfamiliar risks, and a sense of foreboding. He blends the present generally negative ecological, demographic and geopolitical trends of a global growth economy to project a downward trend.  In contrast, we keep hearing from politicians and business leaders that economic growth is indispensable in order to guarantee prosperity, peace and liberty. However, fewer and fewer people believe these incantations, as it has become too obvious that growth does not benefit all, but only a small class of the rich and super-rich. The current global economic and social paradigm is “faster, higher, further“.  It is built on and stimulates competition between all humans. In many countries the damages caused by economic growth already outweigh its benefits: environmental destruction, stress, noise, loneliness and social divide. Many believe that global competition for increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) destroys much of what makes life worthwhile. On top of this, economic growth is ruining the ability of global ecosystems to regenerate – thereby threatening the long-term survival of humanity. In the face of these destructive consequences of growth, an intensive quest for alternatives to growth started in the 1970s, a debate which has been revived with vigour over the last years focussing on the term “degrowth”.  

By “degrowth“, we understand a form of society and economy which aims at the well-being of all by sustaining the ecological basis of life. To achieve degrowth, we need a fundamental transformation of our lives and an extensive cultural change. As a minimum response, degrowth requires policies for a basic income, reduction of working hours, environmental and consumption taxes, controls on advertising and reduction in air travel. To avoid Panzner’s catastrophe closely intertwined cultural and political change is needed to construct a society that lives better with less.

‘‘We do not claim to have a recipe for the future. . .’’, stated the Barcelona degrowth declaration. . .but we can no longer pretend that we can keep growing as if nothing has happened’’. This declaration synthesized the results from the Second International Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, which took place in 2010. The conference followed an innovative and participatory process that stimulated many proposals offering a fertile ground for exploring alternative degrowth solutions and future scenarios. During the event, more than 500 attendants, collaborating in 29 thematic groups, jointly worked out hands-on policies for degrowth across many futures.  In all of them, degrowth was put forward as a transition pathway towards a socially and ecologically sustainable future. A new thrust in interdisciplinary education will be required to implement the change.

In the first week of January 2018 the UK government launched its much anticipated 25 year plan to improve the environment. It largely ignores the Barcelona outcomes. Although it sees a positive role for schools and for other community-based education providers,  it has a limited view of how to educate people for life in an overcrowded world with declining resources and an unstable environment. As the President of the National Association of Environmental Education (NAEE) Justin Dillon noted in an NAEE blog:

“The 25-year plan seems to miss a fundamental point. … Schools and their leaders have a key role in influencing public attitudes and empowering students to support the reverse of decades of environmental degradation in both urban and rural areas, but this plan, for all its merits, only plays lip-service to a challenge that must be at the heart of social change in the UK.”

Attendees of the Barcelona conference were trying to adequately address the relevance of culture for economic growth. Numerous initiatives followed up on the conference are being discussed in public debates, research publications, political programmes and conversations.   These have fed into subsequent degrowth conferences (Montreal, Venice, Leipzig) and ecological economics conferences (Istanbul, Lille). 

Analyzing how cultural patterns shape our lifestyles, habits and thinking is crucial for socio-ecological transformations. In this context, education plays a preeminent role in teaching to the theme of cultural ecology: How does the content of education, its organization and structure prepare individuals for a steady state society in terms of knowledge, skills and values? What kind of education do we need for transformations? Which promising alternatives already exist and do they match with existing visions? Answers to these questions come from three levels in an education system, the pedagogy, the curriculum and the syllabus


Pedagogy is defined simply as the method, and practice of teaching. It encompasses teaching styles, methods feedback and assessment, and teacher theory.  When people talk about the pedagogy of teaching, they will be referring to the way the content of a curriculum is delivered to learners. Above all, in the context of degrowth, the emphasis should be on systems thinking, mind mapping and cross-curricula dialogue.  Although environmental education was granted cross-curriculum theme status some years ago, in secondary schools an entrenched subject curriculum and the dominance of specialist teachers tend to combine to militate against cross-curricular work. What is needed is a root and branch change in pedagogy from single subject specialisms to cross disciplinary learning at all levels of education.  Indeed, the availability of free online open educational resources, combined with social networking, enables large numbers of learners to access a great spread of specialist knowledge and discuss it widely with their peers. They can do this without the necessity for meeting institutional admission requirements, following a set course, or having an instructor. In this connexion, there is much free software available for making and reporting to assemble and test personal bodies of knowledge. 

Online interaction with information supports Integrative learning, cutting across disciplinary lines and learning styles.  Making connections of learning across subjects focuses on connections rather than isolated facts. Such a pedagogy aims to blend what is learned with real life situations because it about developing problem solving and having discussions about issues in the real world. This marks a large shift towards a lifelong inquiry based on a constructivist pedagogy.  Learners acquire knowledge by investigation of an issue. They then promulate questions, investigate to build understanding to finally create meaning and new knowledge which can then be applied in the real world. A constructivist pedagogy is based on the belief that learning occurs as learners are actively involved in a process to construct meaning and knowledge as opposed to passively receiving information. Learners are the makers of meaning and knowledge. Such are the working and outcomes of a constructivist social change pedagogy, which is inquiry based, raising questions, posing problems or scenarios and letting learners discover the answer. 

The need for a social change pedagogy is essential to bringing the Paris Environmental Agreement to the centre of all education systems.  It was signed in December 2015 and the UN has demanded that countries work to realise the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Taken together, and if successful, these programmes will transform the lives of billions of people across the planet. The Paris Agreement and the SDGs not only embody the hope of a better world – socially, economically and environmentally – they also represent a race against time. In a narrow sense, this is a race faced by people, often volunteers, who dice on a daily basis with preventable destitution, social exclusion, discrimination, malnutrition, illness and an early death.  This highlights the need for the broadest possible pedagogy for everyone to run the race. It’s a race faced by us all as we each do our bit to limit climate change and global warming before lasting damage is done to planetary systems. 

Participatory systems thinking tools have much to offer in envisioning contractional, macro-pathways towards sustainability.  For example, complementarities between emblematic degrowth proposals provides a toolkit for developing a more coherent picture on how overdeveloped societies may make a transition to more frugal and convivial futures. These complementarities may be investigated using the method of Causal Loop Diagramming in a collaborative setting for learners engaged with gaining an understanding of degrowth issues. First they derive collaboratively the dominant feedback processes in the current social, ecological and economic systems and identify leverage points for systemic interventions to facilitate degrowth. By explicitly representing the main causal chains of effects it is possible to reveal insights on the consequences of a given proposal and explore ‘‘what-if?’’ questions and future pathways. In addition it is possible to construct a compatibility matrix to identify possible synergies between emblematic degrowth proposals. The results from these two exercises are integrated to provide plausible pathways for the implementation of degrowth policies, with a systemic identification of risks, uncertainties and leverage points of intervention to create a steady state economy

A pedagogy for social change aims to immerse learners and teachers in the process of finding out who they are and what they want to become based on shared experiences of contemporary environmental issues. Therefore a humanistic, democratic, learner‐centered pedagogy is needed to deliver the curriculum.  In school learners have a significant role in defining course policies, materials covered, and other aspects of the learning environment, e.g., allowing students in school to vote on an attendance policy or to engage in self‐evaluation and using technology to facilitate democratic goals, e.g.,having students blog regularly and incorporating that into curriculum objectives.


Curriculum is about what is offered by the education system for understanding a subject or topic.  It covers the knowledge, attitude, behaviour, manner, performance and skills that are imparted or inculcated in a learner. It contains the teaching methods, lessons, assignments, physical and mental exercises, activities, projects, study material, tutorials, presentations, assessments, test series, learning objectives, and so on.  These are the skills necessary for questioning a subject or topic to gain understanding. Hence, the major question of a degrowth curriculum is can we have prosperity without economic growth? The educational objective is to promote social justice and ecological sustainability with a transition from the present growth economy to a lifestyle that is prosperous and stable, rather than a catastrophic descent. Some would say such a lifestyle should be an expression of the intertwining of intuition and bodily awareness pertaining to a relational view between human beings and the planet. Such a view is at the heart of the concept of Earth spirituality (Ecospirituality), which has been influenced by the ideas of deep ecology and is characterized by “recognition of the inherent value of all living beings and the use of this view in shaping environmental practices and governance policies” Earth spirituality also refers to the connections between the science of ecology and psychology (ecopsychology).


A syllabus is an outline/plan/list of a specific course prepared by the instructor. It includes the topics to be covered, their order, the required and suggested reading material, and any other relevant information. It presents the units of knowledge for a curriculum. “Degrowth2050‘’ is a project launched by International Classrooms On Line to create an international syllabus for future generations to participate in a democratically-led decrease in the production of greenhouse gases and overconsumption of Earth’s resources.  It is centred on a ‘Group’ created at whose members are invited to submit ideas, reports and actions exemplifying degrowth at different levels, local, national and global.  Inputs from the web are being assembled to support a democratic pedagogy and develop a curriculum that blends culture with ecology for living sustainably in the 2050s.  If a group member does not want to have conversations with other members they can use the Group’s archive of messages, files and the Group wiki as a compendium of information about the philosophy of degrowth and how to achieve it.

The focus is a time when future generations are educated to take up cultural ecology with a humanistic democratic pedagogy to prosper in an international society fuelled by renewable energy.   Members of Degrowth2050 will also be able to contribute to help assess the reality of a global steady state economy, where people are consuming only their fair share of Earth’s resources measured by their country’s ecological footprint. By joining the Group people will have a facility to pose and address questions about the main drivers of change.  They will also be able to measure the rate of progress to ‘life without carbon’. The Degrowth group’s wiki is being developed around the concepts of sustainable development imported from Wikipedia to create a syllabus for understanding how to live sustainably (Table 1). These concepts are the backbone of a syllabus about living sustainably and are applications of the sustainable development curriculum.

Table 1  Degrowth; a sustainable development syllabus

1 Degrowth

1.1 100% renewable energy

1.2 Carbon neutrality

2 Post growth

3 Path to degrowth

3.1 Carbon capture and storage

3.2 Carbon capture and utilization

3.3 Carbon neutral fuel

3.4 Decarbonisation

4 Genuine Progress Indicator

5 Carbon footprint

5.1 Low carbon economy

5.2 Carbon offset

6 Ecological footprint

7 Sustainability

8 History of sustainability

9 Ecospirituality

10 Deep ecology

Appendix: 1 Two visions for 2050

Culled from Reports of UK Committee on Climate Change and Expert Opinions

Essentials for degrowth (1)

  • Striving for the good life for all. This includes deceleration, time welfare and conviviality.
  • A reduction of production and consumption in the global North and liberation from the one-sided Western paradigm of development. This is aimed at allowing for a self-determined path of social organization in the global South.
  • An extension of democratic decision-making to allow for real political participation.
  • Social changes and an orientation towards sufficiency instead of purely technological changes and improvements in efficiency in order to solve ecological problems.  It has historically been proven that decoupling economic growth from resource use is not possible.
  • The creation of open, connected and localized economies (deep place).

A survey of a total of 128 peer-reviewed articles focused on degrowth were reviewed, and 54 that include proposals for action were analysed. The proposals identified align with three broad goals:

  • Reduce the environmental impact of human activities
  • Redistribute income and wealth both within and between countries;
  • Promote the transition from a materialistic to a convivial and participatory society.

The proposals include common-sense ecological plans, like the reduction of energy and material consumption, carbon caps, bans on harmful activities, and incentives for local production and consumption. Degrowthers are also looking to transform traditional ideas of the economy with the promotion of community currencies and alternative credit institutions, reduced working hours, basic and maximum incomes, and voluntary simplicity and downshifting

UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) takes the view that government should lead the global fight against climate change by cutting greenhouse gases to nearly zero by 2050. The CCC maintains that if other countries follow the UK, there’s a 50-50 chance of staying below the recommended 1.5C temperature rise by 2100.  A 1.5C rise is considered the threshold for dangerous climate change. Some say the proposed 2050 target for near-zero emissions is too soft, but others who believe in a growth economy will fear the goal could damage the UK’s economy. The CCC says it would not be able to hit “net zero“ emissions any sooner, but 2050 was still an extremely significant goal.  

The report by the Committee on Climate Change makes it clear that things we take for granted now would have to be seriously restricted. Petrol and diesel vehicles will need to be phased out and replaced by electric or hydrogen powered ones by 2035. Consumption of beef, lamb and dairy must be cut by 20% by 2050 to reduce the methane emitted into the atmosphere by livestock. And no houses built after 2025 would be connected to the gas grid, whilst the owners of older buildings will need to switch their heating system to a low carbon one by around 2035.

The main author  of the CCC’s report, Christopher Stark says: “This report would have been absolutely inconceivable just a few years ago. People would have laughed us out of court for suggesting that the target could be so high.”

The main change was the huge drop in the cost of renewable energy prompted by government policies to nurture solar and wind power.

In an interview Stark said the BBC’s David Attenborough climate documentary, protests by Extinction Rebellion and speeches by the teenage campaigner Greta Thunberg had persuaded the public that the problem needed urgent action.  But there is no way the 2050 target would be achieved unless the government backs it with policies and money.  The UK is already slipping away from a legal obligation to cut its emissions step-by-step between now and 2032.

The CCC estimates the cost of the new proposal is tens of billions of pounds a year and may reach to 1-2% of national wealth (as measured by GDP) each year by 2050. That doesn’t count the benefits of decarbonisation – such as cleaner air and water. The CCC said England should aim to eliminate emissions by 2050, while Scotland could go carbon-free sooner – by 2045. Scotland has exceptional potential for planting trees (which absorb carbon dioxide) and is more suited for carbon capture and storage. Wales can only cut 95% of its emissions by 2050 because of its large upland livestock industry. Northern Ireland will follow England’s targets.

The government is studying the report, which has substantial implications for public finances, and says it “sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely”.

The plan is for “net zero“ emissions by 2050, which means balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal. In practice, which means slashing the amount of CO2 put into the atmosphere. Unavoidable emissions need to be captured and stored (for example, where CO2 is collected from a power station chimney and put underground) or offset by planting trees.  The CCC believes that achieving zero emissions depends on low-carbon technologies and changes to industry and public behaviour. Here are some of the report’s recommendations for the public.

Home heating

The report has one controversial recommendation: to turn down the home thermostat to 19C in winter.  We will need to insulate our homes much better. Some of us will use heat pumps – a sort of reverse refrigeration technology that sucks warmth from the ground – and convert natural gas boilers to hydrogen ones.  The committee expects consumer bills to rise at first, then fall as a newer, cheaper electricity generators are introduced.


The aviation industry is trying to bring down the cost of making jet fuels from waste materials.  But the CCC says this won’t be enough. The number of flights we take is increasing, and the report predicts that government action will be needed to constrain the growth. However, it doesn’t say how – and the committee chair, John Gummer, ducked a question about Heathrow expansion at the report’s launch.


The report says we won’t need to overhaul our motoring habits, but eventually we will be driving electric cars. The government has set a target date of 2040 beyond which conventional car sales will be banned. However, the committee says that deadline should be 2030.


The committee notes many people are already eating less red meat for the health of the planet and themselves. It says people can reduce their diet-related emissions by 35% if they transition from a high-meat diet to a low-meat one. But it only predicts a 20% drop in meat consumption by 2050.


Bio-degradable waste should not be sent to landfill after 2025. This means we would all be obliged to separate our food waste from other rubbish. The report recommends reducing food waste as far as possible.

The CCC says people can also take the following steps:

  • Choosing to walk, cycle or take public transport
  • Choosing LED light-bulbs and electric appliances with high energy efficiency ratings
  • Setting the water temperature in their heating systems to no higher than 55C
  • Using only peat-free compost
  • Choosing quality products that last longer and sharing rather than buying items, like power tools, that are used infrequently
  • Checking your pension funds and ISAs to see if your investments support low-carbon industries

The big push is to decarbonise industry and heat generation. Carbon capture technology will be needed on many of the major emitters: the steel, aluminium and paper industries.

Farmers would need to find ways to reduce methane emissions from cows  Agriculture is a major emitter of greenhouse gases through sheep and cattle burping methane, and from fertilisers.  Farmers would need to reduce the amount of land in pasture, increase woodland, and feed cattle food that creates less methane gas.

The fracking industry would also be affected – the committee says we should only use fracked gas in the UK if it replaces gas that would otherwise be imported.

Environmental groups are supportive – although many think 2050 is too conservative. The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change has called on the government to adopt the recommendations but “adopt a net-zero target before 2050”.

Essentials for degrowth (2)

Lorna Greenwood of Extinction Rebellion says: “2050 condemns us to a bleak future… Others are already dying around the world thanks to inaction and far-off target setting.”

The environmental campaign group WWF has said: “The problem is, we’ve been acting as if we have time. But if we want a world with coral reefs, safe coastal cities and enough food for everyone, we must act now.”  Business and industry groups have expressed support but argue they need government help. 

Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) says: “The UK should do all it can to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. What we need now is a supportive and timely response from the government to enact this ambitious target. 

Minette Batters, president of the farm union NFU, says: “We take the climate issue very seriously. With Brexit and the government’s Agriculture Bill the government can shift farm support towards helping farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Shaun Fitzgerald, director of The Royal Institution, says: “I am a massive supporter of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But he added: “Will people be prepared to set their winter time thermostat to 19C? Asking people to put up with a reduction in comfort/quality is going to be difficult.”  Imagine a world where petrol cars are banned, there is no gas central heating, and meat-free Monday is no longer a choice. That is the future that awaits us if the Government’s pledge to go carbon neutral by 2050 is to be met. Under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, the UK and almost 200 other countries vowed to work together to keep global warming in check. The agreement seeks to keep temperatures to 1.5 degree or at the very least to “well below 2 degrees” above pre-industrial levels so it is vital that we cut emissions. If Britain is to get greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” it means the amount of gases emitted into the atmosphere is no more than the amount taken out. If we can do it by the deadline of 2050, Britain will become the world’s first major economy to stop contributing to climate change. But to achieve that goal means drastic and life-changing action has to be taken – and fast.

So is going carbon-neutral by 2050 a realistic goal and how can we achieve it? Roger Harrabin BBC environment analyst interviewed Robert Ward, Policy and Communications Director of the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, (2018).  The following account in includes some highlights of the conversation.

In your home

Every house would have to be better insulated to reduce energy wastage. And every home would also be connected to smart devices to make sure things like lights, computers and TVs weren’t using power when they weren’t needed. But perhaps the biggest change would be in how we heat our homes – with gas central heating becoming a thing of the past.

New homes would be designed in a way where they required minimal energy to maintain their temperature

“Gas central heating will have to end.  “Initially there will be a generation of boilers that are a combination of gas and also heat-pumps which use refrigerants, which create a heat exchange with the natural heat from the air or from below ground.”But they need to increase their efficiency and initially you would have them backed up with gas central heating that would turn on when the pump wasn’t doing quite enough, in the same way that you have hybrid cars that run on electricity but occasionally need to use petrol.

“Eventually we just won’t be burning gas – you won’t have any gas cookers any more, everything will be electric. “It certainly requires an investment upfront but the idea is that all of these appliances are going to be much more efficient, so in fact the running costs will be much lower than people have at the moment.  “Yes there will be an investment in a new cooker, but it will cook things more quickly and in a more energy efficient way. “The same things for you heating – by not using gas your energy bills will be much lower.”

On the road

In order to achieve net zero carbon emissions, petrol and diesel cars will become a thing of the past. Not only will we all be driving electric cars but driverless cars – which are computer operated to find the most dynamic routes around our cities – could replace traditional cabs.

And public transport systems would have to improve to reduce congestion.

“The prices of electric cars are coming right down, and the running costs of an electric car are a lot less than those of a petrol or diesel car. “A lot of people when they come to the end of life of their current car, electric cars will be the only thing available. “For people who have to buy one earlier there may be incentive schemes. “One of the more interesting developments is that at night when you plug your car in, if you have any charge left then the grid might take that out of your car to use at peak times, and then charge the car during the night, which will help with the supply and demand of electricity.

“Some electric car companies are looking at autonomous vehicles which are almost like cabs are now – so when you need to make a journey, you hire a car, it turns up, it doesn’t have a driver but takes you to your destination. “Because it is controlled by computers it gets around the city much more efficiently than if it was driven by a person. “So people will spend less time actually commuting and then don’t have to worry about parking.  “If we invest more money in public transport, everyone may knock 10 minutes off their daily commute which is ten minutes more that everybody spends being more productive. “So when you work these sums out it is far more economical than people sitting in traffic jams. Many of the changes we make for climate reasons will also generally improve life.”

In the air

The huge greenhouse gas emissions caused by air travel are one stumbling block to a carbon neutral future.  But technology is moving so quickly that battery-powered short-haul flights are not too far away. “We think we will probably have good enough battery technology that it will be possible to have short-haul flights by battery powered planes.  “But it seems unlikely at the moment that battery technology will move on to where we could do a long international flight using electric. “So it is hoped that we will develop new biofuels which are based on plants so when the plants grow they suck in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so when you burn them when you fly, you release carbon dioxide but you haven’t added to the overall concentration of carbon dioxide so it is effectively carbon neutral.”


Livestock create massive emissions of the greenhouse gas methane, which we will have to tackle if we are to become carbon neutral by 2050 – which means eating less meat and dairy products.  But technology is already being developed where meat is being created in science labs so we will no longer need cows to enjoy a juicy steak or burger. “We are already seeing a change where a lot of people are eating less meat for health and ethical reasons,”

“The environment gives you another reason to think about your meat consumption.

“When livestock belch they produce methane and that is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. “When you work out all the resources you have to put in to having a cow, it is very inefficient.

“Scientists have also started to grow meat in laboratories using stem cells.  The cost of this is now coming down, and some burger companies are already experimenting with this, so we will get to the stage where you can buy a burger made of meat but it hasn’t come from a cow it has been grown in a lab and you won’t be able to taste the difference”.

“Another reason we need to reduce our consumption of meat is that we need the space that is used to keep the livestock to grow biofuels. “So we will grow trees to burn for energy and create electricity. The trees are burned in an electricity power station but instead of releasing the cartoon dioxide they will store it underground in disused oil fields. ” So effectively you are reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because the plants take it in to grow, but then when it is burned it isn’t released again.”

At work

By working less, we produce fewer goods and services that require precious resources to make. We also consume less in the process of getting our job done. Less work means less carbon-intensive commuting, less energy-demanding office space, and less time on power-hungry computer systems. In addition, working less would help to break down the work-spend cycle. Fewer hours at work mean we have more time to do other personal things such as travelling, preparing food or fixing broken household items. We are also less likely to rely on environmentally costly timesavers such as high-speed air travel or takeaway food delivered in plastic containers by someone riding a motorbike. 

The politics

A new left wing economics is emerging that wants to see the redistribution of economic power, so that it is held by everyone – just as political power is held by everyone in a healthy democracy. This could involve employees taking ownership of part of every company; or local politicians reshaping their city’s economy to favour local, ethical businesses over large corporations; or national politicians making co-operatives a capitalist norm. They want this change to be only partially initiated and overseen by the state, not controlled by it. They envisage a transformation that happens almost organically, driven by employees and consumers – a sort of non-violent revolution in slow motion.

The result, the new economists claim, will be an economy that suits society, rather than – as we have at present – a society subordinated to the economy. This isn’t really economics at all. It’s “a new view of the world” focussed on the concept of Deep Place, a holistic approach to sustainable place-making. The deep place idea is grounded in a concern with how to achieve more economically, socially, environmentally and culturally sustainable places where communities are in control. It seeks to overcome what it identifies as the harmful consequences of the current dominant Neoliberal economic competitive paradigm adopted by rootless people on the move. Although it is not anti-capitalist, degrowth economics recognises the weaknesses and failings of Neoliberalism, which exploits the human factor of production and in doing so consumes more resources than the planet can regenerate.  The glue of deep place sustainability consists of a ‘mosaic of peoples, traditions, beliefs, and institutions uniquely shaped by long term pressures of geology, human history, culture, local environment, and changing human needs’. 

The cost

Experts estimate that for Britain to reach its net zero carbon target by 2050 it will cost £1trillion. But  the benefits not just for climate change, but for our general well-being, may well far out-weigh that investment in the long-run.

“Air pollution currently kills about 30,000 people a year in the UK,. “When you start adding up all these benefits – reducing congestion etc – it looks like we will end up being better off from that £1 trillion investment.“That number is over 30 years but it doesn’t take into account any of the benefits. Yes £1trillion is a lot of money, but if the benefits are £3 trillion well that is a good deal.

“One thing that really strikes me is that when you tell people all the benefits they get it, but the one thing that seals it for them, particularly older people, is that the impacts of climate change are getting worse and if we don’t act promptly then our children and grandchildren will have to deal with them. “And I think most people would agree they would rather leave the world in a better place so that our children don’t have to deal with the catastrophic impacts of climate change.”

The spirituality

All economic value is derived from nature by way of society.  Economic value is therefore rooted in human values and ultimately in the spiritual values that give purpose and meaning to human life.  In the absence of purpose, there is no logical motivation for sustaining human life or sustaining human economies. Thus, economic sustainability is deeply rooted in spirituality.  So fundamental challenges in achieving sustainability are ethical, moral, and ultimately spiritual rather than technological or economic. Therefore, sustainability ultimately depends on creating a moral and ethical culture that gives long term economic sustainability priority over short term economic expediency. 

“Deep sustainability” goes beyond the normal shallow or instrumental strategies which focus on resource efficiency and substitution, motivated by economic incentives. Deep sustainability explores the philosophical, ethical, and transcendental roots of ecological, social, and economic integrity. In so doing, it calls for a spiritual-rooted, cultural revolution. This revolution must be motivated by an understanding that the pursuit of economic sustainability is synonymous with the pursuit of authentic happiness—which is inherently social and spiritual as well as material. A degrowth economy would be one which simply provides the material requisites and means for a pursuit of happiness motivated by a spiritual sense of wellbeing.  

Spiritual wellness comes from having connections to something greater than yourself.  It is about having a set of values, principles, morals and beliefs that provide a sense of purpose, hopefulness and meaning to life.  Applying those principles to guide your actions generates a personal prosperity that can make life worthwhile in a steady state economy.

Sustainability in the 2050s

July 27th, 2019


In September 2015, the town of Woking published a paper entitled ‘Woking 2050’ which takes a look at its whole way of living and how it can influence the local environment. It presents a balanced view of the town’s environmental aspirations and its needs for development to help reach the UK’s target of a carbon neutral economy by the year 2050.  The aim is to coordinate a wide range of objectives into one comprehensive document that can be used by the Council and Woking’s residents, businesses, community groups and others to reduce the Borough’s impact on the environment. Essentially, Woking 2050 is a vision of the type of place and community it is hoped the town will be and how everyone can help shape and achieve it.  The document also looks at the opportunities, threats and challenges to achieving this vision. 

Woking was one of the first communities to take this long term objective to heart which placed it at the forefront of local actions to tackle climate change.  This decision has now become part of a growing movement embedding into the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, a timeline covering  25 Years of effort and achievement highlighting key milestones in the evolution of international climate policy.  Analysis of Woking 2050 and similar visionary town and village strategies that have been produced during the last decade highlights the following seven structural concepts underlying planning for sustainable development:  

  • networking ideas; 
  • simpler lifestyles; 
  • community agendas, 
  • steady-state living; 
  • intergenerational wellbeing; 
  • re-defining prosperity; 
  • and cultural richness.

These concepts are now examined in more detail.

Networking ideas

The first UK action plans for sustainable development and biodiversity envisaged a citizens environmental network to share ideas and know how. This did not materialise.  But citizen groups are still needed to share conversations about living sustainably. The term Group refers to Internet communication, which is a hybrid between an electronic mailing list and a threaded Internet forum,  Group messages can be read and posted by e-mail or on the Group’s webpage like a web forum. Members can choose whether to receive individual, daily digest or Special Delivery e-mails, or simply read Group posts on the Group’s Web public access site.  Here are three examples of networking ideas.

1   Conversations2050 

This is an online discussion Group to promote international conversations about the socioeconomic changes necessary to reach climate neutrality by 2050. Group members will also be able to contribute to help assess the reality of a global steady state economy, where people are consuming only their fair share of Earth’s renewable resources measured by their country’s ecological footprint. By joining the Group people will have a facility to pose and address questions about the main drivers of change.  They will also be able to measure the rate of progress to ‘life without carbon’. The target is a time when future generations can take up cultural ecology as a humanistic democratic pedagogy to prosper in an international society fueled by renewable energy. Hence, the major question is can we have prosperity without economic growth? Conversations2050 has been created by Denis Bellamy, Professor Emeritus of Cardiff University, as part of his long standing research into online education for living sustainably. 

To obtain some information for starting conversations about potential drivers of change Technology Education and Design, TED2014 , challenged attendees to vote on ten potential drivers. Three of the ten topics received 56% of the votes.  These were, climate crisis, rising inequalities and machine intelligence. The TED list is one basis for establishing conversations2050 another is the 2015 all-Wales conversation that led to the government’s Future Generations Act 

2 The economic and social impact of small community hydro schemes in Wales.

This report examines the economic and social impacts of small scale and community-owned micro-hydro in Wales. It is intended to present a factual picture of the economic benefits of small scale community hydro projects in Wales.

3 Climate change and overconsumption

This is an experimental database of Tweets as windows on climate change and overconsumption. It has also been singled out to highlight the networking potential of social media.  The context is a democratic pedagogy to embed cultural changes in education at all levels required to adopt a 2050s steady state economy.

Simpler lifestyles

 There are three fundamental lines of argument for the rejection and replacement of consumer-capitalist society. The first is to do with its unsustainability, the second is to do with its injustice and moral unacceptability, and the third to do with deteriorating cohesion of humanity and quality of life.  

There is something fundamentally wrong in treating Earth as if it were a business in liquidation.  The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the reverse. According to Ted Trainer the central theme in the transition to a sustainable and just society,  is a powerful, inescapable logic connecting the ‘‘limits to growth’’ analysis of the global situation with the form that an alternative society must take. Thus, when the magnitude and nature of humankind’s global predicament is understood it becomes obvious that a satisfactory vision for future society must be some form of ‘Simpler Way’.  Surely the enjoyment of non-affluent lifestyles is the desired outcome within mostly small and highly self-sufficient economies under local participatory control and not driven by market forces. The Simpler Way is about ensuring a very high quality of life for all without anywhere near as much production, consumption, exporting, investment, resource use, environmental damage, work etc. as there is now.  There are many rich alternative sources of satisfaction other than materialistic acquisition and consuming. Consider having to go to work for money only two days a week, having much time for arts and crafts and personal growth, living in a rich and supportive community, living in a diverse and productive leisure-rich landscape, having socially worthwhile and enjoyable work with no fear of unemployment… and knowing you are not contributing to global problems. There is no need to sacrifice modern technology to achieve these benefits.  

This vision of the only way to create a sustainable society can be traced to 1992, when the United Nations released a ground-breaking global action plan for sustainable development called Agenda21.  This process is called the Local Agenda 21 (LA21). It was quickly realised that sustainability cannot be achieved, nor significant progress made toward it, without the support and involvement of individual communities geared to a common purpose. The Local Agenda 21 (LA21) is a blueprint that sets out actions that ordinary people can all take to move towards global sustainability in the 21st century. It recognises that most environmental challenges have their roots in local activities and therefore encourages Local Governments to promote environmental, economic and social sustainability by translating the principles of sustainable development into strategies that can be operated by their communities. 

A LA21 programme adopted by a town or village comprises systems and processes to integrate environmental, economic and social development. Founded on a strong partnership between local government and the community, progress towards local sustainable development is guided by the preparation of a long term strategic action plan that integrates existing policies and programs to realise an agreed vision of the future for families and their community.  At a community level this operates in four action areas.

Action Area 1: Building partnerships — establish an understanding of the community and develop ways and means of extending awareness and involvement in Local Agenda 21

Action Area 2: Determining vision, goals, targets and indicators — set out what the community wishes to achieve, ideally broken down into goals with indicators and targets

Action Area 3: Creating a local action planning document — prepare a statement of actions that the community will undertake in order to realise each target; this includes a timeline, budget and people responsible for each action.

Action Area 4: Implementing, reporting, monitoring and reviewing — consider whether the actions are helping to achieve the targets, whether progress is being made towards the goals and whether any aspect of the Local Agenda 21 needs changing 

The goal of a LA 21 is development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends. The core objectives are:

  • to enhance individual and community welfare by following a path of development that safeguards the well being of future generations; 
  • to provide for equity within and between generations; 
  • to protect biological diversity and maintain essential ecological processes and ecosystem services

Producing a LA21 is a tailor made process that facilitates sustainable development at community level. It is based on participation that respects the social, cultural, economic and environmental needs of the present and future citizens of a community in all its diversity.  It relates to a specific community and its future within the regional, national and international community of which it is a part. Any LA21 project will take into account the quality of life of the entire community in the long term, will include a high level of participation at local level and is integrated into other aspects of community life.  Projects should focus on environmental awareness and actions which complement national environmental policies such as those on waste, biodiversity, water conservation and climate change including community gardens and allotments, compost schemes, rainwater harvesting, biodiversity projects, waste reduction initiatives, educational initiatives and environmental exhibitions.

Community agendas

1 Schools and Communities Agenda 21 Network (SCAN)

SCAN was created in 1993 at St Clears Teacher’s Resource Centre for West Wales with funds from the Countryside Council for Wales, Dyfed County Council and Texaco Pembroke Oil Refinery. The stimulus was the young people’s Agenda 21 that emerged from the Rio Environment Summit  in 1992 as ‘Rescue Mission Planet Earth. SCAN was designed by a group of Pembrokeshire teachers to act as an online focus for community action in the context of curriculum targets being integrated with neighbourhood objectives for the LA 21. The assumption was that schools working with the communities they serve could play a key role in the introduction of sustainable development principles into everyday living.  Adopting the Simpler Way, the procedure was to state what was good and bad about where they lived, highlighting what should be done to protect the good and improve the bad. Links were made with the European Schools Network based in Portugal for pupils to compare their concerns about the environment and spread ideas about how they could be tackled locally by school and community working together.

SCAN’s first community action plan was produced by Johnston Primary School in Pembrokeshire and it activated the local authority to make significant environmental improvements in the village. 

For more information about School Scan and related topics go to:

2 Community Parish SCAN

The idea for a Community Parish Scan grew out of a network of Suffolk villages striving to take advantage of the newly invented Internet to say:

 “look how different we are, but we are bound together by a common deep history as a Saxon tribal group who settled on the upper reaches of a small river, which defined the physical boundaries of the Blything villages (the people of the River Blyth).  

Cultural heritage Blything 

The following article from a local paper sets the scene for an account of the invention of Community Parish SCAN by the Suffolk village of Parham in the late 1990s to celebrate the Millennium.  

Parham’s  tale of flowers, hedges, and 310 people 

A BOOK delving into almost every aspect of one small village comes out this week. 

“”The Suffolk village of Parham has produced a 173-page book containing information collected by its own villagers to celebrate the millennium. It is the first parish scan of its kind, and was the brainchild of Professor Emeritus of the University of Wales, Denis Bellamy. It will give future historians an insight into village life at the end of the 20th century. It will be distributed to each of Parham’s 113 households, and to various bodies who have helped along the way. 

Among the subjects covered are the 279 wildflower species that can be found in the parish, a survey of the 310 villagers, and a count of every hedgerow and what it contains. 

Annette Gray, parish clerk and co-ordinator of the scheme, said she felt ‘elated’ that the mammoth task had been achieved.  “I never imagined that it would take so much of my time just collating the information that’s come in”.  “There was so much people had done, such large quantities that we had to reduce it”. “We had hundreds of pages and we had to whittle it down to what is here” she said.””

Essentially Parham’s Millenium SCAN published in 2000 provided a solid baseline of the village as a ‘deep place’ with a well-researched cultural heritage that continues to enrich the people who live there and are adding to it. It is the basis for producing sustainability plans for conservation of their biophysical heritage assets.  The villagers were acting on a deeply held belief that community shapes their identity, quenches their thirst for belonging, and bolsters their physical, mental, emotional, and economic health. But in the chaos of modern life, community ties have become unraveled, leaving many feeling afraid or alone in the crowd, grasping at shallow substitutes for true community.  Paul Born describes the four pillars of ‘deep community’ as sharing our stories, taking the time to enjoy one another, taking care of one another, and working together for a better world.  

Two decades have elapsed since the parishioners took up the challenge to reveal Parham as a special place worth sustaining.  But what should they be planning for now? In the 1990s Agenda 21 was a pointer towards community planning for sustainability.  A much stronger international focus on poverty alleviation and international development came to the fore in September 2000. Building upon a series of United Nations conferences and summits, world leaders met at United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration (UN, 2000).  The Declaration committed nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty, and set out a series of time-bound global targets to be achieved by 2015. These have become known as the Millennium Development Goals. Then in 2018 came the strategic long-term EU vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy by 2050. 

Paham is now at the cutting edge of local moves towards decarbonising the national economy.   Planning permission has been obtained to build a solar panel farm on the village’s World War 2 airfield site.  The plan is to install 64,200 panels to generate 15 megawatts of electricity, which is enough for 4,600 homes.  The mindset of development is now beginning to be dominated by the need to abandon fossil fuels and make the transition to a steady state economy, adopting policies of degrowth to prevent over consumption of Earth’s renewable resources. 

Steady-state living

Economic growth is a primary policy goal of most governments but there is now a fundamental conflict between economic growth in the developed world and the impact of its carbon-based economy through global warming.  A majority in the international community believe this is a global crisis. 

Degrowth is a voluntary transition towards a just, participatory, and ecologically sustainable society.  The objective of degrowth is to meet basic human needs and ensure a high quality of life, while reducing the ecological impact of the global economy to a sustainable level, with natural resources equitably distributed between nations. Once right-sizing has been achieved through the process of degrowth, the aim should be to maintain a “steady state economy” with a relatively stable, mildly fluctuating level of consumption.  Regarding the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, on 28th November 2018, the European Commission presented its strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy by 2050. 

The European strategy shows how nations can lead the way to climate neutrality by investing into realistic technological solutions, empowering citizens, and aligning action in key areas such as industrial policy, finance, or research, while ensuring social fairness for a just transition.  The Commission’s vision for a climate-neutral future covers nearly all EU policies and is in line with the Paris Agreement objective to keep the global temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5°C.

For a post 2050 climate-neutral future the visionary elements of a sustainable society are: 

  • a decarbonised steady state economy operating within the limits of the world average ecological footprint;
  • stabilized/declining greenhouse gases;
  • births plus immigrations equal deaths plus emmigrations;
  • communities supported by national health services;
  • arts applied in the service of cultural prosperity; 
  • each generation adding to the pleasures of local sociobiological heritage 

How do we get there?

To reach this goal we need to make the transition to a steady state economy (SSE) by adopting the right macroeconomic goal which means restricting resource use, stabilising population, limiting inequality, reducing working hours, eliminating fractional reserve banking, and changing the way we measure progress and prosperity.

The following steps will gradually change existing policies from growth towards a SSE, all of which will be life changing at the community level and involve conversations between neighbours, schools and local government to establish community wellbeing.

1. Limit Resource Use 


There are few controls on use of resources and emission of pollutants  The Montreal Protocol: limits ozone-depleting substances The EU Emissions Trading Scheme: limits CO2 emissions 

In a SSE:  

Impose strict resource and emission caps  Employ a cap–auction–trade system Caps set based on ecological criteria  Permits auctioned by government Trade between industries to allow efficient allocation 

2. Stabilise Population 


Natural increase is low in many wealthy countries  But many rich countries are trying to encourage population growth 

In a SSE:  

Births plus immigration must equal deaths plus emigration  In wealthy countries: Balance immigration with emigration In poorer countries:  Provide education, access to birth control, and equal rights for women 

3. Reduce Inequality


Economic growth is used as an excuse to avoid dealing with poverty  “A rising tide lifts all boats” 

In a SSE:  

No growth, so no excuses!  Finite resource use = Finite amount of wealth  Must deal with distribution explicitly Need a minimum and maximum income 

4. Reduce Working Hours


Technological progress is used to increase production of goods and services  A better widget machine equals more widgets! 

In a SSE:  

We cannot increase production if it results in higher resource use  Instead, shorten the working day, week, & year Same salaries but more leisure time!

5. Reform the Monetary System


 Fractional reserve banking  Most money is created by private banks in the form of debt  Increasing debt drives economic growth 

In a SSE:  

All money would be created and spent into existence by a public institution  Banks would be prohibited from creating money, but would instead have to borrow existing money to lend it 

6. Change How We Measure Progress 


Rely on GDP, which doesn’t distinguish between:  Benefits and costs Quality and quantity 

In a SSE:  

What happens to GDP is not important  Replace GDP with two sets of accounts: Well-being to be maximised  Resource use to be reduced and kept within ecological limits 

7 Change How We Measure Prosperity


Prosperity is the income for an entire country measured as gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of the value of all market goods and services produced in the county in a year.

In an SSE

Within ecological limits becomes the guiding principle for design and the key criterion for success

Intergenerational wellbeing

As the planetary systems fail under a rapidly growing population now over 7 billion and expected to grow to 11 billion by the end of the century, intervention programmes focus on helping leaders define a framework to achieve “intergenerational well-being,” in which global needs for natural resources, shelter, food, water, and social systems, such as education, health care, and good governance, are met not only for today’s population but in the future.

A report produced by the Welsh Sustainability Commissioner in 2014 draws together the lessons about intergenerational wellbeing from a year-long National Conversation.  It distills discussions around vulnerable areas of Welsh sustainable development that impact on individuals, their communities and Wales; for example health, a growing and ageing population, education, unemployment, affordability, security of energy, inequality and the provision of adequate services.  Discussions also focused on areas of opportunity such as technology, skills, leadership, diversity, identity, local enterprises and preventative action. The combination of these areas has resulted in the following seven foundations for the well-being of future generations. As such they may be taken to indicate conversations within communities that are necessary to envisage life post-2050.

1. Children need to be given the best start in life from very early years 

2. Future generations need thriving communities built on a strong sense of place 

3. Living within global environmental limits, managing our resources efficiently and valuing our environment is critical 

4. Investing in growing our local economy is essential for the well-being of future generations 5. Well-being of all depends on reducing inequality and placing a greater value on diversity 

6. Greater engagement in the democratic process, a stronger citizen voice and active participation in decision making is fundamental for the well-being of future generations 

7. Celebrating success, valuing our heritage, culture and language will strengthen our identity for future generations.

Bearing in mind recent targets set for national decarbonisation and equalising the use Earth’s renewable resources between nations, an important topic to add to ongoing conversations is the need to define local prosperity.

Included  in the report were the following selective quotations from the 2014 conversation:

“We need to have greater parental involvement in children’s education, with more opportunities for skills-based learning, and means of encouraging independent thinking to better equip children for the future. ”

“We need to create a Wales where communities find it easier to do things for themselves through for example increasing people’s ownership of their community including spending.” 

“Many of these inter-generational challenges are interdependent that need a co-ordinated not an isolated approach. ”

“Natural environment should be accessible to all and used sustainably because people depend on it for food, fuel, clean water and clean air. ”

“Climate change needs to be top of the agenda and politicians have to take it seriously. ”

“We need to sustain local jobs in the area that pay living wages and help to grow the local economy and “unleash more entrepreneurial creativity through encouraging and developing more leadership networks” by creating “an employment, skills, enterprise framework based on natural assets, energy, food and transport” through “locally sourced skills and products to develop the local community and reduce reliance on public funds. ” 

“If Wales becomes a more equal nation where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential and are able to contribute fully to the economy, Wales will inevitably become more prosperous and innovative. ” 

“Everyone should be accepted for the way they are and children with disability should be treated fairly – with more parks and play centres for the disabled. ”

“The role of government needs to be re-imagined. Government needs to see itself as having a different purpose in the 21st century, and that is one of system stewardship rather than just deliverer of public services and guarantor of security. ”

“There is a need to showcase and build on the very essence of Wales – its language, culture, context and pride, and communicate the value of its differences to others and other countries. Media has a key role to play to actively promote and help establish the new belief that ‘Wales can be best in the world.’ ”

Welsh case study initiatives

Re-defining prosperity

Most supporters of the move towards a steady state economy do so in order to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and establish fair shares of Earth’s renewable resources. They proceed as if we can, and should, eliminate the growth element of the present economy of mass production while leaving the rest of the economic system more or less as it is. However, this is not possible because if economic growth is eliminated then radically different ways of carrying out many fundamental processes currently associated with it will have to be found.  In particular, the central societal consumer-capitalist goal of year on year growth in personal incomes will have to be abandoned. Major problems of climate change and the redistribution of Earth’s limited renewable resources from rich to poor nations cannot be solved unless fundamental systems and structures within the consumer-capitalist culture are radically remade. For example, current systems aimed at the pleasures of monetary prosperity cannot be reformed or fixed; they will have to be largely scrapped and replaced with systems that deliver cultural prosperity aimed at the pleasures of sustainability .  

At present, the widely acceptable definition of prosperity is such that continuous economic growth is deemed a necessary condition for its achievement. Tim Jackson seeks to prove an argument for “prosperity without growth” by undermining the claims made by supporters of continued growth. He begins with the old idea that in order to flourish with access to basic needs, and maintain economic and social stability, we need a year on year growth in monetary wealth. In this context, our attachment to ever more material consumption is borne out of our desire for social meaning related to our sense of belonging, identity and social status, where participation in society is through economic competition. Therefore, if societies were more equal we could perhaps extricate ourselves from this trap of “positional competition” whereby an individual’s well-being is founded on stable relative wealth, and he/she would seek less materialistic ways to participate in society. However, monetary wealth is not in itself the goal.  It is the means to well being suggesting there may be other strategies for meeting intrinsic psychological needs that are pre-requisites for personal ‘flourishing’ in a sustainable world.  

To support this flourishing Jackson proposes a radically different kind of economic structure he calls “ecological macroeconomics”. This economy is one in which “stability no longer relies on ever-increasing consumption growth… economic activity remains within ecological scale… our capabilities to flourish – within ecological limits – becomes the guiding principles for design and the key criterion for success”. Parallel to this, society must address the “social logic of consumerism” to deliver a more sustainable, equal, happy, and less anxious society. Requirements for social change towards prosperity without growth, include establishing the ecological bounds of human activity, fixing the “illiterate economics of relentless growth”, and, finally, transforming the social logic of consumerism so that it delivers enough to meet needs but not more to satisfy wants. 

Of course the whole discussion about moving towards sustainability isn’t popular because it’s always presented as a downgrade. It is inevitable that redistributing wealth to remove global inequalities will mean western countries taking a hit in so far as the process will involve a downward adjustment of their ecological footprints.  Picking up on this point, urban architect Bjarke Ingels asks for a new approach he calls “hedonistic sustainability,” which is “sustainability that improves the quality of life and human enjoyment”. 

The position has been, there’s a limit to how good a time we can have. We have to downgrade our current lifestyle to achieve something that is sustainable. That makes it essentially undesirable. People can be to the left [politically] and maybe shop a little bit green, but they’re not going to drop their car if they have to pick up their kids from football and go to the movies. It becomes an impossible mission.

Ingels believes it is important for sustainability to enhance the personal pleasure of living with a smaller ecological footprint by creating innovative interactive architecture on a humane scale and redefining the value of localised placemaking.  Both will increase cultural prosperity to the extent that they enhance the pleasures of living. Bertolt Brecht is more direct than either Jackson or Ingels in listing the personal everyday pleasures that cannot be bought. His list is a celebration of the simple joys in life.  This goes along with making things for the enjoyment of it.

“1 The first look from morning’s window/  2 The rediscovered book/ 3 Fascinated faces/  4 Snow, the change of the seasons/ 5 The newspaper/  6 The dog/ 7 Dialectics/ 8 Showering, swimming/ 9 Old music/  10 Comfortable shoes/ 11 Comprehension/ 12 New music/ 13 Writing, planting/  14 Traveling/ 15 Singing/ 16 Being friendly”.

Escaping from societal collapse by adopting a steady state economy would have us reliant on cultural prosperity based on our experiences of what we are grateful for and that helps us be present as unique individuals.  How else can we ground ourselves and know that we belong to a bountiful planet that needs urgent maintenance. By living sustainably we come to live with a variety of pleasures and a larger sense of who we are, inseparable from the web of life and finding contentment with the world around us.  The greatest pleasure in a sustainable world is to want to be there. We see this want in the 2030 vision for life in Saudi Arabia. “The happiness and fulfillment of citizens and residents is important to us. This can only be achieved through promoting physical, psychological and social well-being. At the heart of our Vision is a society in which all enjoy a good quality of life, a healthy lifestyle and an attractive living environment”.

Working from within culture innovators of the social platform of zero growth understand do not see poverty only, or even primarily, as an economic phenomenon. Individuals and even entire communities today are suffering from a poverty of relationships; knowledge, social and legal structures that can support fairness and justice and most importantly, guiding visions for the future. Taken together, these represent a poverty of culture, and this is the kind of poverty that cultural innovators are working to eliminate in the new cultural spaces they are creating.

Innovators of cultural prosperity are not development gurus or community professionals. Rather, they are the masses, individuals, people often working in small groups empowered with technologies and connections to one another that do the kinds of things large institutions simply can’t accomplish. In the process, they are re-writing the fundamental principles of what prosperity means and how to achieve it. And they are perhaps our best hope for discovering how to build prosperity that is in sync with our rapidly changing environment.  This is what the European 2050 strategy means by investing into realistic technological solutions which empower citizens to control their own futures.  

Ted Trainer sets a vision of local governance that goes with a new prosperity for zero growth:

“If we must abandon growth and greatly reduce production and consumption then there is no alternative but to develop an economy which is basically under social control, i.e., in which we discuss, decide, plan and organise to produce that stable quantity of the basic things we need to enable a high quality of life for all. In the coming conditions of intense resource scarcity, viable communities will have to be mostly small, self-sufficient local economies using local resources to produce what local people need. Such economies can only work well if control is in the hands of all citizens, via participatory-democracy exercised through whole town assemblies. This vision would enable most of the firms and farms to be privately owned or community cooperatives, and would involve little role for councils, state or federal governments”. 

This paragraph is a basis for conversations to be scheduled in a community agenda which is the vehicle for developing a local participatory democracy to adapt future generations to a climate neutral, equal shares simpler way to and through the 2050s.   

Cultural richness

Sustainability is already present in many aspects of our everyday life. We ensure we take care of the environment, we desire balanced economic development, and we defend social wellbeing in many fields. One of these fields is art as a medium of expression, a promoter or an indictment on behalf of sustainable development.

Art does not show people what to do, yet engaging with a revealing work of art can connect you to your senses, body, and mind. It can make the world felt and this feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action.  Art influences society by changing opinions, instilling values and translating experiences across space and time. Art is often a vehicle for social change. It can give voice to the politically or socially disenfranchised. A song, film or novel can rouse emotions in those who encounter it, inspiring them to rally for change.  Painting, sculpture, music, literature and the other arts are often considered to be the repository of a society’s collective memory. Art preserves what fact-based historical records cannot: for instance how it felt to exist in a particular place at a particular time. Art in this sense is communication; it allows people from different places and different times to communicate with each other via images, sounds and stories.  Research has shown how art affects the fundamental sense of self-in-place and so is central to learning to live in a zero growth economy where culture is a term that describes the entire way of life shared by a group of people. Cultural richness includes diversity in anything that has to do with how people live: music, art, recreation, religion or beliefs, languages, dress, traditions, stories and folklore, ways of organization, ways of interacting with the environment, and attitudes toward other groups of people. Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations.  Cultural heritage includes tangible culture (such as buildings, monuments, landscapes, books, works of art, and artifacts), intangible culture (such as folklore, traditions, language, and knowledge), and natural heritage (including culturally significant landscapes, and biodiversity) specific or technical meaning in the same contexts in the other dialect.

Each of us seeks to know our personal identity and where and how we fit into the scheme of things so that we can make sense of our lives and plan for the future… Whereas we are Kenyan South Asians, we are not a monolithic community with an organised leadership. We are a conglomeration of many diverse communities, languages, religions and customs. Occupationally, though predominantly business-oriented, we also are professional, artisans and service workers.specific or technical meaning in the same contexts in the other dialect.

Each of us seeks to know our personal identity and where and how we fit into the scheme of things so that we can make sense of our lives and plan for the future.

It’s important to understand cultural richness at different scales, from individual identities to groups and societies—local, regional, national, and global. Cultural landscapes are continually changing due to migration, globalization, and modernization. All of these factors impact forces of cooperation and conflict among communities.

Living with prosperity without growth involves combining diverse knowledge systems. Art may be used as the bridging tool to promote resilience and adaptability of social-ecological systems to cope with unprecedented environmental changes and social uncertainty.  In particular, the combination of the knowledge systems of culture, heritage and ecology is necessary for communicating sustainability and for envisioning the good life in a world of environmental limits. The main difference between culture and heritage is that culture is based on what people create anew in the here and now, whereas heritage is what people inherit by nature, by history, by culture.  Therefore, art, culture, heritage and ecology are the inherent elements for bonding non monetary prosperity to everyday life. They are the targets for life’s fulfilment in future generations, adapting to climate change and establishing equal shares of Earth’s renewable resources. They are the foundations of tomorrow’s economy. 

Over the years, a significant number of people have weighed in on theories surrounding the correlation between art and culture, and the manner in which it impacts our day-to-day lives, particularly when it comes to our core beliefs. Some of these individuals, all with rather different views, come from all walks of life. Some of them are artists, playwrights, designers, academicians, and cultural directors.  Art in the service of culture, heritage and ecology is a tool for communicating sustainability and for envisioning the good life in a world of environmental limits. In fact it is an inherent component of non monetary prosperity, supporting life’s fulfillment in a zero growth economy where collective memory passes on cultural practices from generation to generation. It is in this context that art is an important facilitator in the life of society.  In particular, it contributes to a creative and fulfilling quality of life. For most people this interaction is activated through a personal exploration of the complex interaction between culture, ecology and place, involving the quality and availability of employment, leisure, and the rights to self-expression. Travel is an important component of this search for self awareness.

In a survey commissioned by American Express in 2017, travellers were found to demand more enriched lives and personal fulfillment through experience and learning. Over 72% of respondents said they would rather spend money on experiences than on things. Further, 88% said travel is their number one dream, ranking higher than family or wealth.  Travellers want to have life-fulfilling experiences when they travel, and they are seeking travel experiences that closely align to their own personal values. In this connection, people are seeking travel experiences that will allow them to interact with the local community; “they want to visit private homes, schools, orphanages and smaller villages”. They are “specifically looking to immerse themselves in the destinations they visit and to travel like a local.”  Over 20% of respondents indicated that they want to experience adventure, arts and culture, e.g. experiences “… that include gondola lessons in Venice and pastry-making classes in France.” Boomers and older generations are demanding more experiential and adventurous travel options, although their definitions of experiential and adventure travel are sometimes just a little different. We may therefore need to expand our understanding of cultural learning and education as part of lifelong learning, to include consideration of the many different ways people can be creative outside the arts and culture, for example in disciplines which combine scientific and artistic skills such as architecture, engineering and programming. Looking at the wider creative sphere might help us better understand the intersecting communities, sectors and industries which form this landscape.

The inherent value of art in culture, its contribution to society, its symbiotic relationship with education and its economic power makes the holistic case for public support of arts and culture. When we talk about the value of arts and culture to society, we always start with its intrinsic value: how arts and culture can illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world.  This is what we cherish. However, we also understand that arts and culture has a wider, more measurable impact on our economy, health and wellbeing, society and education. It’s important we also recognise this impact to help people think of our arts and culture for what they are: a strategic national resource. The value of arts and culture to people and society outlines the existing evidence on the impact of arts and culture on our economy, health and wellbeing, society and education.  Indeed, the primary reason we make both public and private investments in the arts is for the inherent value of culture: life-enhancing, entertaining, defining of our personal and national identities.

Art and culture at their very core serve as some of the most significant, dynamic, participation, and social influences of human behavior and interaction. When put together, they have the ability to generate empathy, stir up dialogue, induce reflection and charter new relationships and ideas.

Art and culture also provide a commanding and democratic way of sharing, shaping, and expressing human values. They allow us to explore our inner capabilities and give us insight on how we imagine and use different means to relate with each other. Art and culture also provide us with a way to create useful and meaningful things whilst increasing the value of our livelihoods.

To fully understand or comprehend the potential of art a person must look deep inside themselves to find out what factors actually impact their lives and values. You have to basically rethink how you view and appraise art because these two aspects play a vital role in steering our principles, behaviors, and general perceptions towards the world we live in.

Art and culture also help to shape the manner in which we view and understand the world around us. Native American artist John Nieto states that the two help to build our mental structures and how we form ideas. They act as the frame through which we can develop stories to tell ourselves and those around us regarding the most important things in our lives.

According to art enthusiasts and experts, art and culture serve as part of the basis for shaping the values we have, some of which include:

  • A sense of community or belonging
  • Affiliation
  • Self-acceptance
  • Creativity
  • Self-respect
  • Equality
  • Unity
  • Nature
  • Freedom

In their study, ‘An empirical examination with Inuit artists from Nunavut, Canada’, Kaitlyn J. Rathwell and Derek Armitage consider enhanced resilience in the context of social-ecological change as an outcome of bridging knowledge systems via art and artistic processes. They take the view that the role of art and artistic processes is one fruitful yet underexplored area of social-ecological resilience. Art and art making can nurture Indigenous knowledge and at the same time bridge knowledge across generations and cultures (e.g., spanning the small Inuit culture and the global scientific establishment).  The mechanisms are:

(1) embedding knowledge, practice and belief into art objects; 

(2) sharing knowledge using the language of art; 

(3) sharing of art making skills; 

(4) art as a contributor to monitoring social-ecological change; 

(5) the role of art in fostering continuity through time; 

(6) art as a site of knowledge coproduction.


“….at the end of the day, prosperity goes 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. Prosperity 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 urgent task of our times”. 

Tim Jackson Economics Commissioner

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Internet references

Research & Degrowth, 2010. Degrowth Declaration of the Paris 2008 conference. Journal of Cleaner Production 18 (6), 523–524.

The Aquisition of Things

June 25th, 2019


Fig 1 Advert for Mark Ellis’ ‘Bazaar of Fancy Goods’ placed in the 1850 visitor’s Directory to Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire: an ‘improved bathing place’  

 Historian Frank Trentmann sees ‘the acquisition of things’ as the very foundation of culture and he argues it’s central to our understanding of the self and society.  Since the late Middle Ages we have built a vision of prosperity which is based on people’s insatiable propensity to acquire things. So far we have not discovered how it might be possible to live better by consuming less.  Learning how to sustain well being with less stuff is essential for our survival on a planet with finite resources.  

Humanity now exists in a world where relationships between culture and ecology dominate present day life and our view of the future. Our relationships and actions primarily operate  through a matrix of consumption. Consumption is a system of meaning. We assign value to ourselves and others based on the goods we purchase so that identity is now constructed by the clothes we wear, the vehicle we drive, and the music on our smartphone. We are what we consume and consumerism is the driver of economic growth and the goal of world development. 

Against the surge of consumerism there are already those who have resisted the exhortation to ‘go shopping’, preferring instead to devote time to less materialistic pursuits (gardening, walking, enjoying music or reading, for example) or to the care of others. Some people (up to a quarter of the sample in a recent study) have even accepted a lower income so that they could achieve these goals.

A limited form of flourishing through material success has kept our economies growing for half a century or more. But ever-growing consumption it is completely unsustainable in ecological and social terms and is now undermining the conditions for a shared prosperity within and between nations. The materialistic vision of prosperity has to be dismantled. The first step is the obvious need for government to get its message straight. Urging people to Act to reduce CO2 emissions, to insulate their homes, turn down their thermostat, put on a jumper, drive a little less, walk a little more, holiday at home, buy locally produced goods (and so on) will either go unheard or be rejected as top down manipulation for as long as all the messages about the importance of highstreet consumption point in the opposite direction.The idea of an economy whose task is to provide capabilities for flourishing within ecological limits offers the most credible vision to put in its place. But this can only happen through changes that support social behaviours broadly defined as anti-consumerism and reduce the structural incentives to unproductive competition based on status.  Achieving a lasting sense of well being relies on providing capabilities for people to flourish, but within certain limits. Those limits are established not by us, but by the ecology and resources of a planet with limited resources. Unbounded freedom to expand our material appetites just isn’t sustainable. Embracing degrowth and the fair sharing of resources between peoples are essential.  

Looking to the future, most people now accept that it is imperative that we consume less carbon-based energy to combat climate change.  However, few people understand that the developed world is consuming year on year more natural resources than Earth can regenerate. This is overconsumption. Climate change and resource scarcity together are today’s problems. Generally, the discussion of overconsumption parallels that of human overpopulation; that is the more people, the more consumption of raw materials takes place to sustain their lives. But, humanity’s overall impact on the planet is affected by many factors besides the raw number of people. Their lifestyle, including overall affluence and resource utilization and the pollution they generate are equally important. 

Currently, the inhabitants of the developed nations of the world consume resources at a rate almost 32 times greater than those of the developing world who make up the majority of the human population.  An index of the level of resource consumption is the ecological footprint, which measures human demand on nature, i.e. the quantity of nature it takes to support people or an economy. It tracks this demand through a  year on year ecological accounting system. These accounts contrast the biologically productive area people use for their consumption to the biologically productive area that is actually available within a region or the world.  Biocapacity is the productive area that can regenerate what people demand from nature. In short, reducing humanity’s ecological footprint is as important as reducing our reliance on carbon energy, which in any case is also part of the ecological footprint.  

By taking more than Earth can provide and maintaining unequal ecological footprints between nations the globe is inching towards a disaster. A global ecological disaster can only be averted if the principles of one planet living, together with equality, non-discrimination and the fair distribution of the benefits of development are taken seriously.  These changes have to be implemented and monitored at the national and international levels. When the benefits of development can be shared, allowing effective opportunities and access for the 80 per cent of the world’s population and the 80 per cent of populations within nations that suffer discrimination, we will have begun to pull back from the precipice. What has been lacking consistently is the collective will to put any of those ideas into practice.  Indeed, between the invention of the concept of ecological footprint in the early 1990s, by William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, and the present moment, a remarkable paradox has unfolded. On the one hand, the evidence for the imminence and catastrophic potential of overshooting Earth’s productive capacity has grown steadily more convincing. On the other hand, the prospect that any constructive response will actually be implemented has grown steadily more distant. Despite occasional bursts of lip service, every major political party in every major nation in the industrial world supports pro-growth economic policies that move the world further away from a transition to equitable sustainability with each passing day.  Further, the more imminent and obvious the dangers become, the more stubbornly the world’s political and economic systems cling to exactly the policies that guarantee the worst possible outcome in the not very long run. For example, it has been calculated that if the world is to meet its 2 degree goal for global warming a global average decarbonisation rate of 6.4 per cent per annum will be needed. This goal was set at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, but in 2018 none of the signatory countries had come anyway near meeting the target. The UK could take a great leap towards the target immediately by banning oil fracking, abandoning plans to build a third runway for Heathrow airport and reinstating the policy on carbon capture and storage, which is an essential technology for least cost decarbonisation of the UK economy.  Instead, the government is dragging its feet, looking over its shoulder to see what other nations are doing.

Origins of consumerism

Medieval serfdom began in Europe with the breakup of the Carolingian Empire around the 10th century. The demise of this empire, which had ruled much of western Europe for more than 200 years, ushered in a long period during which no strong central government existed in most of Europe. During this period, powerful warlords who had gained land by conquest encouraged the establishment of serfdom as a source of agricultural labour. Without the peace guaranteed by Charlemagne’s unified rule, the serfs needed a lord’s protection. In the absence of a strong centralized government, the threat of violence lurked everywhere: from bandits and the armed bands of warlords. 

Serfdom was an institution that reflected a common practice whereby great landlords ensured that others worked to feed them and were held down, legally and economically, while doing so. Serfdom was a component of feudalism, the dominant social system in medieval Europe.  The nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles.  The peasants (villeins or serfs) were obliged to live on their lord’s land and give him homage, labour, and a share of the produce, notionally in exchange for military protection.  In exchange for tending a lord’s demesne, a serf could expect the lord’s private army to protect them.  The lords needed the serfs, too; labour shortages caused by war and disease limited the available workforce in Western Europe. This is part of why the terms of serfdom constrained a peasant’s rights to resettle—it maintained a servile labour pool for the lordly class. The terms of these agreements could vary widely, as they were derived from a variety of sources, such as”barbarian” codes of the Germanic kingdoms, Church law, and Roman property ordinances, but some labour practices were relatively standard.

Feudalism was a combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.  In the early Middle Ages the payment was generally “payment in kind” and through “service,” sometimes also called “boon work.” Payment in kind means it was goods—so much milk, eggs, meat, hay, and so on. Book work is labour done for free on the lord’s own land, including plowing and harvesting, fixing fences, collecting wood, repairing buildings, tending animals, and so on.

Medieval serfs (aka villeins) were unfree labourers who worked the land of a landowner (or its tenant) in return for physical and legal protection and the right to work a separate piece of land for their own basic needs. Making up at least 75% of the medieval population, serfs were not slaves as only their labour could be bought, not their person, although they were subject to certain fees and restrictions of movement, which varied according to local custom. The hub of the medieval rural community and reason for a serf’s existence was the manor or castle.  This was the estate owner’s private residence and place of communal gatherings for purposes of administration and legal matters. The relationship of the peasantry to these manors and their lords is known as manorialism. Manors usually attempted to be as self-sufficient as possible. The work of making and repairing equipment, for example, was carried out as far as practicable within the manor. Towns were few and far between, and transporting goods to and from them was slow and expensive, so self-sufficiency was a sensible aim.

Even though the word “serf” comes from the Latin “servus” and means “slave,” the situation of medieval serfs was quite different from that of the slave of Classical times. There were two kinds of serf: those who were bound to the soil and those who were bound to the lord. Servants were drawn from the latter class. The serf usually had a separate hut with an attached garden and lived with his family.  The serf had duties assigned to him by the steward of the manor and was responsible for the tilling of demesne land and the provisioning of the manor house. He received, in return, food and clothing for himself and his family. He could produce things which he was allowed to keep for himself or sell.

Serfdom declined by the 14th century CE due to social and economic changes, particularly the wider use of coinage with which serfs could be paid, allowing some the possibility of eventually buying their own freedom.

The unfree farming that elite landlords oversaw, sustained the military units that protected their estates and the people who worked and lived on them. The wealth generated by these feudal estates powered the Crusades, and, following the Black Death and the Peasant Revolt, would begin to concentrate in the peasant class. This would lead to artisan specialization, the growth of cities, and a desire for goods from far-off places. Those factors together would lead to the rise of guild economies, the Renaissance, and the colonial voyages of discovery.  Self sufficiency of serfdom was giving way to consumerism, which developed into materialism driving consumer spending, fed from top to bottom of society by year on year economic growth.   

Then there was the rise of leisure mobility.  There were new opportunities in Britain for buying stuff with the appearance of cheap railway excursions in the 1850’s.  People took day trips and holidays from inland cities to the nearest ‘improved bathing places’, a cherished experience to be remembered by the purchase of souvenirs, also described as fancy goods, to decorate the home (Fig 1).  This general behaviour characterised a developing Western tourist culture that was already destroying the attractive environmental features that spawned it. It was vilified as a disease in 1906 by the American writer John Walker Harrington when he declared his country’s addiction to tacky souvenirs purchased abroad as an “incipient mania for cherishing the useless”  It was reaching fever pitch and was being “propagated with amazing rapidity”.

Cultivating a Culture of Hope

Now, consumer society, deeply embedded in history, seems hell-bent on disaster; but dismantling the social logic of consumerism doesn’t look easy. Overthrowing it completely could drive us even faster along the road to ruin. But incremental changes are unlikely to be enough. Faced with this kind of intractability it’s tempting to retrench. To cling more tightly to existing tenants. Or we could resort to a kind of fatalism, a position where we accept the inevitability of a changing climate, an unequal world, perhaps even the collapse of society and concentrate all our efforts on personal security.

The social logic that locks people into materialistic consumerism as the basis for participating in the life of society is extremely powerful, but detrimental ecologically and psychologically. An essential prerequisite for a lasting prosperity is to free people from this damaging dynamic and provide opportunities for sustainable and fulfilling lives. This is the prescription for a ‘green consumer’.

A green consumer wants to buy things produced in a way that protects the planet and is compatible with safeguarding the environment for the present and the next generations.  He/she behaves in an environmentally-friendly way within a culture of hope. As a concept, ‘to be green’ ascribes to consumers the responsibility or co-responsibility for addressing environmental problems through adoption of environmentally friendly domestic behaviors, such as the use of ‘organic products’, renewable energy and goods produced with zero, or reversable environmental impact. 

Hoping for something is to wait expectantly and eagerly; looking forward to the day when your hope will become reality.  A culture of hope utilizes four “Seeds of Hope” which provide the social/emotional learning that grows into ecological prosperity.  These seeds are:


Place & Belonging

Pride & Self-Esteem

Purpose & Passion

Five recommendations of Tim Jackson in ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ focus on the task of producing green consumers and their hopeful behaviour, which is the basis of new definition of non-material prosperity as something to be hoped for. 

1 Working time policy

 Working time policy is important to a sustainable economy for two reasons. Firstly, the number of hours that people work bears an important relation (via labour productivity) to output. Specifically, output is equal to the number of hours worked multiplied by the labour productivity. In an economy in which labour productivity still increases but output is capped (for instance for ecological reasons), the only way to maintain macroeconomic stability and protect people’s livelihoods is by sharing out the available work. This often happens already on a smaller scale during recession. 

Secondly, reduced working hours have been sought for their own sake for various reasons. One of these, ironically, was in the belief that it would increase labour productivity. This was the rationale for example for the French ‘experiment’ with a 35-hour working week. The reasoning behind this is that when people work shorter hours they are more productive during those hours because they are better rested, more alert and fitter. These benefits of course have been called for in their own right by employee organizations and campaigners. Specific policies to reduce working hours and improve the work-life balance could include:

  • greater flexibility for employees on working time; 
  • measures to combat discrimination against part-time work as regards grading, promotion, training, security of employment and rate of pay; 
  • better incentives to employees (and flexibility for employers) for family time, parental leave and sabbatical breaks.

2 Tackling systemic inequality 

Systemic income inequalities increase anxiety, undermine social capital and expose lower income households to higher morbidity and lower life satisfaction. In fact, the evidence of negative health and social effects right across unequal populations is mounting. Systemic inequality also drives positional consumption, contributing to a material ‘ratchet’ that drives resources through the economy. Tackling inequality would reduce social costs, improve quality of life and change the dynamic of status consumption. Yet too little has been done to reverse the long-term trends in income inequality, which are still increasing, particularly in the liberalized market economies, even policies and mechanisms for reducing inequality and redistributing incomes are well-established. These include revised income tax structures, minimum and maximum income levels, improved access to good quality education, anti-discrimination legislation, anti-crime measures and improving the local environment in deprived areas. Systematic attention to these policies is now vital. 

3 Measuring capabilities and flourishing 

The suggestion that prosperity is not adequately captured by conventional measures of economic output or consumption leaves open the need to define an appropriate measurement framework for a lasting prosperity. This must certainly include a systematic assessment of people’s capabilities for flourishing across the nation (and in different population segments) and between nations. Such an assessment would set out specifically to measure flourishing ‘outcome variables’ such as healthy life expectancy, educational participation, trust, community resilience and participation in the life of society. A number of suggestions along these lines have been made already. Perhaps the closest model to what is being suggested here is the Dutch work on developing a ‘capabilities index’. But suggestions to develop national well-being accounts also draw on this logic of ‘measuring what matters’. A further step would be to integrate such accounts systematically into the existing national accounting framework and perhaps even adjust economic accounts for changes in the flourishing accounts. 

4 Strengthening social capital.

Understanding that prosperity consists in part in our capabilities to participate in the life of society demands that attention is paid to the underlying human and social resources required for this task. Creating resilient social communities is particularly important in the face of economic shocks. The strength of community can make the difference between disaster and triumph in the face of economic collapse. A whole raft of policies is needed to build social capital and strengthen communities. These include: 

  • creating and protecting shared public spaces; 
  • encouraging community-based sustainability initiatives; 
  • reducing geographical labour mobility by placemaking; 
  • providing training for green jobs; 
  • offering better access to lifelong learning and skills; 
  • putting more responsibility for planning in the hands of local communities, and protecting public service broadcasting, museum funding, public libraries, parks and green spaces. 

There are some signs that the systematic erosion of social capital is being addressed. Third sector initiatives are beginning to focus specifically on building the resilience of communities. Examples of this include the International Resilience project in Canada, the Young Foundation’s Local Well-being Project in the UK and the growing international Transition Town movement.

Some support is beginning to emerge from governments’ own recognition of the importance of social capital. But state initiatives still remain isolated and sporadic. A systematic policy framework is needed to support social cohesion long term and build resilient communities. 

5 Dismantling the culture of consumerism 

Consumerism has developed partly as a means of protecting consumption-driven economic growth. But it promotes unproductive status competition and has damaging psychological and social impacts on people’s lives. The culture of consumerism is conveyed through institutions, the media, social norms and a host of subtle and not so subtle signals encouraging people to express themselves, seek identity and search for meaning through material goods. Dismantling these complex incentive structures requires a systematic attention to the myriad ways in which they are constructed. Most obviously, there is a need for stronger regulation in relation to the commercial media. Particular concerns exist over the role of commercial advertising to children. Several countries (notably Sweden and Norway) have banned TV advertising to children under 12. The creation of commercial-free zones such as the one established by São Paolo’s ‘Clean City Law’ is one way of protecting public space from commercial intrusion. Another is to provide systematic support for public media through state funding. As the Institute for Local Self-Reliance argues, ‘communities should have the right to reserve spaces free of commercialism, where citizens can congregate or exchange ideas on an equal footing’. There is also a role for stronger trading standards to protect citizens both as workers and as consumers. The Fair Trade initiative is a good example of what can be achieved by companies prepared to act on a voluntary basis. But it isn’t yet extensive enough to protect ecological and ethical standards along all supply chains. Or to ensure that these questions register on people’s buying behaviours. 

Trading standards should also systematically address the durability of consumer products. Planned and perceived obsolescence are one of the worst afflictions of the throw-away society and undermine both the rights and the legitimate interests of people as consumers and citizens. 

Unravelling consumer culture and changing the social logic of consumerism to create ever hopeful green consumers will require the kind of sustained and systematic effort it took to put it in place to start with. Crucially though, this effort clearly won’t succeed as a purely punitive endeavour. Offering people viable and prosperous alternatives to the consumer way of life is vital. Progress to reach this new prosperity depends on building up capabilities for people to flourish in less materialistic ways.  Fortunately, a small but growing group of psychologists is beginning to tackle issues such as these in the emerging discipline of conservation psychology. Conservation psychology equips us with better tools for effecting change in human behavior, including the behavior of green consumers. The starting point is that green consumers have, for the most part, used their gut instincts, rather than an empirical understanding of human behavior, to attempt to reshape human culture.

What lessons can embryonic green consumers glean from the findings of conservation psychologists? Among other benefits, studies show that cultivating hope is a critical element for motivating behavioral change in most people. While justifiably acknowledging that psychology cannot offer a one-size-fits-all approach to individuals who inherently vary in motivation and temperament, there is a strong case, theoretically and empirically, for making several generalizations about behavioural change. We know, for example, that when we create confident expectations for future success, effort will increase. By contrast, low expectations (i.e., lack of hope) robustly predict giving up.  If people expect little improvement they will invest little effort into achieving it. Attributing our current environmental predicament to inevitable factors, such as human greed or large, amorphous, multinational companies, is commonplace even among green consumers, but this habit may be counterproductive.

Another emergent behavioural concept is to “own” problems of moving to one planet living.  People must believe they can exercise some control over the situation. In effect, they must believe they are empowered to make a difference. These findings lead to the inevitable conclusion that people need to feel their contributions are desired and valued. This raises the possibility of another powerful yet underused tool that green consumers can employ.  There is no greater way to get people to internalize a biodiversity ethic than to have them participate in ecological stewardship. If geen consumers really want to make a difference, as opposed to just documenting decline, then they must strive to engage the larger public in the process of transition. Having citizens invest in creating a transition economy may have additional but important byproducts: Witnessing hope rekindled in the eyes of their disciples may rejuvenate hope in those who are fighting the loss of biodiversity in the trenches.


The other powerful behaviour to be cultivated by green consumers alongside hope is empathy.  Icons pointing in this direction are John Donne, born in 1572, the founder of the Metaphysical Poets and Adam Smith, born in 1723, a Scottish political economist and philosopher.  Both expressed the view that we all have the innate capacity to empathize with our fellow men and women. Donne famously wrote “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind.”  A century and a half later in his Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith wrote, “How selfish whatsoever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.” Smith referred to this as a ‘sympathy’ for others, though in modern parlance we might call it an ’empathy’ with our fellow human beings.

Empathy refers to the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When you are empathetic, you put yourself in another person’s shoes, make an effort to see the world from their perspective, and feel the emotions that they feel. Having empathy doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll want to help someone in need, though it’s often a vital first step toward compassionate action.  When we buy into today’s ever-present marketing messages that living “the good life” actually means buying “goods” without end, not only do our levels of happiness and empathy decrease, but we also waste Earth’s natural resources. The cultivation of empathetic behaviours is an antidote to consumerism and coming to be seen as one of the fundamental forces for tackling global challenges ranging from humanitarian emergencies and violent political conflicts to the climate crisis and loss of biodiversity.

 When you can understand where other people are coming from, it is easier to treat then with compassion and kindness. You build stronger and more satisfying relationships that are based on mutual respect and understanding. When you focus only on your own emotions and happiness, you are left with little meaning beyond family. But when you work to enhance the experiences of others around you, you experience a more fulfilling flavour of happiness through making a difference to the lives of others.  In this context, prosperity is about things going well for us: in accordance with our hopes and expectations. Everyday exchanges come to convey more than casual greeting. They reveal a mutual fascination for each other’s well-being. Wanting things to go well is a common human concern. Here lies in a vision of prosperity as the ability of all to flourish as human beings within the ecological limits of a finite planet.

Empathy is one of the most effective tools at our disposal for shifting us from consumers within a ‘self-interest frame’ of thinking to a ‘common-interest frame’, where our underlying mode of thought is structured as green consumers by a concern for both ourselves and others.  At present, the self-interest frame is dominant, especially in Western societies that have inherited the hyper-individualism of a free market ideology within the consumer culture that characterized twentieth century capitalism. But if we want people to take practical action on issues such as poverty in developing countries or the related issue of how to manage the equal distribution of Earth’s resources between countries, it is essential to promote empathy.  Hopefully it helps transform people’s worldviews at the deepest level, moving them beyond the boundaries of the ego and the individualist thrust of consumer society. ‘Empathy is at the heart of progressive thought,’ writes George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, who has popularized frame analysis. It is by imagining ourselves in the shoes of others, such as oppressed minorities, future generations or even other species, that we extend our circle of moral concern, developing our sense of justice to make the leap from a self-interest to a common-interest frame of thinking. As he points out: ‘Empathy is at the heart of real rationality, because it goes to the heart of our values, which are the basis of our sense of justice’. 

Empathy is the reason that we have the principles of freedom and fairness, which are necessary components of justice. Moreover, there is convincing evidence that taking a rationalist approach of feeding people a barrage of facts and information about the extent of global inequality or environmental degradation is not enough to motivate action, and may actually exacerbate levels of denial.  So it is vital to work at a more profound level of using empathy to shift our mental frames to become one with the Earth’s ecosystems. An anthropocentric worldview that human beings are at the centre of the universe is no longer valid. Satish Kumar puts it this way as the basis for adopting ‘a declaration of dependence’.

“We are utterly dependent on other species and we have to take care of them. We are members of one Earth community and need a new trinity that is holistic and inclusive, that embraces the entire planet and all species upon it. So I propose a new trinity of soil, soul, society. Soil represents the entire natural world. Without soil there is no food and without food there is no life, trees, forests, animals or people”.

In this context, soul is equated with an individual’s emotional and intellectual energy, especially as revealed in the commitment to care for the environment.  In Kumar’s trinity, society is where caring individuals as green consumers come together in hope for adopting one-planet living and thereby harvesting ecological prosperity as an outcome of communitarianism.   Communitarianism is a social philosophy that, in contrast to theories that emphasize the centrality of the individual, emphasizes the importance of society in articulating the good. Communitarianism is often contrasted with liberalism which promotes individual autonomy holding that each individual should formulate the good on his or her own. Green communitarians examine the ways shared conceptions of the good life are formed, and transmitted, justified, and enforced globally..


We used to live on a planet that was relatively empty of humans; today it is full to overflowing, with more people consuming evermore resources. We would need one and a half Earths to sustain the existing economy into the future. Every year this ecological overshoot continues and is amplified.  The very foundations of our existence, and that of other species, are being undermined.

At the same time, there are great multitudes around the world who are, by any humane standard, under-consuming, and the humanitarian challenge of eliminating global poverty is still a response of affluent nations to intermittent crises and not a commitment to the permanent establishment of fair shares of Earth’s resources.  Meanwhile the population is set to hit 11 billion this century. Despite this, the richest nations still seek to grow their economies without apparent limit, dribbling only a small percentage of their increasing wealth into ‘overseas development’.

Like a snake eating its own tail, our growth-orientated civilisation suffers from the delusion that there are no environmental limits to growth. But rethinking growth in an age of limits cannot be avoided. The only question is whether it will be by design or disaster.

Internet References

Managing the Biosphere

June 1st, 2019

One planet living

Over a century ago, in his 1926 book The Biosphere, Russian biogeologist Vladimir Vernadsky was first to recognize implications of the interdependence between life and Earth’s 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 elements, we do not recognize the connection between the monetary economy and Earth’s limited capacity to maintain year on year economic growth.  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.

Natural resources, including materials, water, energy and fertile land, are the basis for our life on Earth. In this context the biosphere, (from Greek bios = life, sphaira, sphere) is the layer of the planet where life exists.  The biosphere is one of the four layers that surround the Earth along with the lithosphere (rock), hydrosphere (water) and atmosphere (air) the biosphere is the sum of all the ecosystems. However, our rapidly growing consumption of these resources is causing severe damage to environment and society.  Fresh water reserves, fish stocks and forests are shrinking; fertile land is being destroyed and species are becoming extinct alongside the spread of social disorder. To thrive, our lifestyles will need to become more sustainable, so that we are able to protect our natural resource base, and the fragile eco-systems that maintain: ecosystems

. We have become the dominant species regarding the demands we make on the biosphere and are now taking more than it can regenerate, so much so that we have started tracking when this “annual overshoot” between supply and demand takes place. For example, in 2017, by August 2nd, the global demand for natural resources exceeded what Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate.  All resources and ecosystem services we used in the remaining four months of 2017 collectively added to our natural resource debt. Each year the date of annual overshoot is getting earlier. But where does this claim originate, and how is it calculated?

Actually the Global Footprint Network (GFN) has been attempting the tricky business of measuring the impact of humans on the planet since 2003. “Ecological footprinting” is where researchers look at how much land, sea and other natural resources are used to produce what people consume – how many potatoes they eat, how much milk they drink, the cotton that goes into the shirts they wear and so on.  The GFN does this by using published statistics on consumption and the amount of land or sea used to produce the quantity of goods consumed. The world’s seven billion people consume varying amounts of Earth’s resources. For instance, compare the lifestyle of a subsistence farmer in the developing world with that of a wealthy city-dweller in a developed country. Each year more land is required to grow the city dweller’s food, more materials are used to build the city dweller’s home and workplace, more energy is required for transport, heating and cooling.

The GFN’s data illustrates how much land would be required if seven billion people lived like the populations of nine selected countries from Bangladesh to the United Arab Emirates. For example, if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average US citizen, four Earths would be needed to sustain them.   “It’s a book-keeping approach for resources,” says GFN director and co-founder Mathis Wackernagel.

However, the US does not consume the most on this measure. It is in fact ranked fifth among countries with a population of one million or more. Kuwait comes top with 8.9 global hectares (5.1 Earths), followed by Australia (4.8 Earths), the United Arab Emirates (4.7 Earths) and Qatar (4.0 Earths). The others in the top 10 are Canada, Sweden, Bahrain, Trinidad and Tobago, and Singapore. The UK is 32nd on the list (2.4 Earths).  Humanity’s addiction to more and more stuff has to be curbed to initiate an era of post consumerism where Earth’s productivity matches demand.

The impact of climate change on the biosphere is additional to our excessive use of natural resources and is already being felt. Average global temperatures have risen every decade since the 1970s, and the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997.  Glaciers, permafrost and sea ice are disappearing. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs dying, seasons changing and extreme weather events becoming more common. The impacts of climate change are already responsible for killing an estimated 315,000 people every year and permanently damaging ecosystems. Science predicts that anything more than 2°C rise in global temperatures puts us on the road to catastrophe. There will be more flooding, more drought, more disease, more famine and more war, creating hundreds of millions of refugees and causing the destruction of entire ecosystems and their species..

Defining prosperity

Even without taking climate change into account, our continued emphasis on economic growth is diametrically opposed to sustainability of the planet. Although there has been progress in developing alternative energy sources to wean us from carbon-based energy we are still consuming more than Earth can regenerate.  It is time to adopt one planet living and bring an end to unsustainable growth, to rethink our priorities, to conserve, to reinvent. We cannot grow our economy and sustain our planet; these two processes are mutually exclusive; we can’t have both.

We must substitute something else in place of unbounded economic growth, which involves redefining prosperity, and translate the consumerism that stimulates economic growth into another way to achieve a significant selfhood. This solution could work by nudging human nature away from materialistic solutions to human longings. But given human nature, how can we convince people to sacrifice for what some of us may never see.  Karen Higgins puts the search for a new prosperity that sustains planet Earth as follows:

“Suppose we had a meaningful purpose to which we could commit heart and soul. Such a purpose would not only allow us to gracefully reduce our dependence on economic growth but would fill a void in our lives and make us truly “stand out,” leaving our footprints in the sand of time. What if this purpose were to ensure the survival — and flourishing — of future generations?”

Rowen Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury,  speaking at the Cambridge ‘Ethics of Sustainable Prosperity for All’ conference in 2018 defined prosperity as ‘that which is hoped for’.  He maintained that ;

…morally, such prosperity should be rooted to provide for the common good for all and shared social goals.  Yet we are currently looking forward in panic in our current politics of populist protectionism which puts national security  over global wellbeing and pitches North against South, East against West and rich against poor. Our well being is interdependent and interlocking, so prosperity for the few is prosperity for none.  International crises be they environmental or social do not respect boundaries. The secure border is a toxic fiction”.

His prescription for a prosperous sustainable future is;

.”.. to build sustainable virtuous civil societies which transcend narrow factionalism and look wider and beyond national electoral politics. This also means reinforcing international organisations and finding narratives of international cooperation being empowering of our humanity rather than a loss of national freedom”.

With respect to human relations, he said;

“…we need a positive sense of justice in what is owed to all humanity, adnabod in Welsh (recognise or know someone).  Our localism and universalism needs to be connected, seeing the stranger as neighbour in a true humanism”.

Fig 1 Trends in world growth

(Sources: GDP data: International Monetary Fund, The World Economic Outlook Database. Population data: US Census Bureau, Total Midyear Population for the World,1950-2050. Oil consumption, production and CO2 emissions: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2012. Data normalized to fit the same scale.)

The above chart (Fig 1) shows a snapshot of world growth trends for representative parameters: economy, CO2 emissions, oil consumption, a surrogate for natural resource use, oil production and population.  While population is doubling about every 43 years, the trend for CO2 (one of the primary greenhouse gases in global warming) is on a steeper path. From 2000 to 2010 its rate of increase was over 2½ times what it was between 1990 and 2000. The chart also indicates an acceleration of world GDP, reflective of escalating consumption and growing dependence on economic growth. Oil consumption and production are stand-ins for all carbon-based energy consumption and production. Although they do not give a complete picture (which would include other carbon-based sources such as coal and natural gas, as well as alternative energy and energy reserves), this representation intends to depict the trend for continuing growth of consumption and the similar or slowing rate of production for carbon-based sources.  However, not one of the G20 countries achieved the 6.4% rate of decarbonisation required to limit warming to two degrees in 2018. That goal is slipping further out of reach – at current levels of decarbonisation, the global carbon budget for a two degree rise in temperature will run out in 2036.

Pillars of sustainability

The term sustainability refers to four distinct areas: known as the four pillars of sustainability; human, social, economic and environmental.

Human sustainability

Human sustainability aims to maintain and improve the human capital in society. This involves investments in the health and education systems, access to services, nutrition, knowledge and skills. The challenge is to maintain these features of human wellbeing on a planet with finite space and limited natural resources to achieve wellbeing for everyone.

Social sustainability

Social sustainability aims to preserve social capital by investing and creating services that constitute the framework of society. The concept accommodates a larger view of the world in relation to communities, cultures and globalisation. It means to preserve future generations and to acknowledge that what we do can have an impact on others and on the world. Social sustainability focuses on maintaining and improving social quality with concepts such as fair shares, cohesion, reciprocity and honesty and the importance of relationships amongst people. It can be encouraged and supported by laws, information and shared ideas of equality and rights. Social sustainability incorporates the idea of sustainable development as defined by the United Nations sustainable development goals.

Economic sustainability

Economic sustainability as stated by the UK Government in its (Annual Report 2000, January 2001) is;

“Maintaining high and stable levels of economic growth is one of the key objectives of sustainable development. Abandoning economic growth is not an option. But sustainable development is more than just economic growth. The quality of growth matters as well as the quantity.”

Critics of this model acknowledge that a great gap in modern accounting practices is not to include the cost of damage to Earth in market prices. A more recent approach to economics acknowledges the limited incorporation of the ecological and social components in this model. New economics is inclusive of natural capital (ecological systems) and social capital (relationships amongst people) and challenges the capitalist mantra that continual growth is good and bigger is better.  Thus we place continued emphasis on the economic growth we know today is diametrically opposed to sustainability of our planet. Although there has been progress in developing alternative energy sources to wean us from carbon-based energy, it is time, many say, to bring an end to growth, to rethink our priorities, to conserve, to reinvent. Companies, individuals and nations are beginning to recognize the urgency; however, the real issue is whether we can grow our economy and sustain our planet,  these two are mutually exclusive

Environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability aims to improve human welfare through the protection of natural capital (e.g. land, air, water, minerals etc.). Initiatives and programs are defined as as being environmentally sustainable when they ensure that the needs of the population are met without the risk of compromising the needs of future generations. Environmental sustainability places emphasis on how business can achieve positive economic outcomes without doing any harm, in the short- or long-term, to the environment.

Biosphere reserves

At the moment the four aspects of sustainability above are played out in the global UN system of biosphere reserves.  Through the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, UNESCO has developed a dynamic and interactive network of sites, composed of 631 biosphere reserves in 119 countries, including 14 transboundary sites.  MAB situates people and nature in a living laboratory (the Biosphere Reserve) for managing natural resources while fostering economic and sustainable development. Each Biosphere Reserve promotes the harmonious integration of people and nature for sustainable development through participatory dialogue; knowledge sharing; poverty reduction and human well-being improvements; respect for cultural values and society’s ability to cope with change.

Fig 2 interrelated zones of a biosphere reserve, North Vidzeme Biosphere Reserve, Latvia

  • Biosphere reserves are organised into three interrelated zones (Fig 2) in order to enable them to carry out the different functions:
  • Core area of habitats and species, which is legally established to ensure long term protection and that should be large enough to meet defined conservation objectives for habitats and species.
  • Buffer zone-  around or next to the core zone. This can be an area for experimental research to use natural resources sustainably and in economically viable way. It is the area for ecosystem restoration. It can accommodate education, training as well as carefully designated tourism and recreation facilities.
  • Transition area- or area of cooperation for testing out approaches to sustainable development.

In terms of their use as exemplars for sustainability the aim is to draw out principles and practice to manage day-to-day living in the transition zone, where most of the population live and work.

Biosphere reserves are conceptualized as model regions (territories) set up to demonstrate the management of sustainable development.   The paradigm combines nature conservation with the current MAB strategy, 2015–2025. The strategy envisages a stronger role for the biosphere reserves in local economic development and maintaining cultural values.  The model is tested, refined and implemented to reconcile conservation with human needs. It positions the biospheres as the “principal internationally designated areas dedicated to sustainable development in the twenty-first century” and explicitly refers to their contribution to the global Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The tasks of a biosphere reserve are:

  • to ensure the protection of landscapes, species and the biological diversity of the territory;
  • to promote sustainable economic and social development of the territory;
  • to restore damaged ecosystems in the territory;
  • to ensure information exchange on environmental and nature protection and sustainable development of the territories.

Biosphere reserves are therefore innovative model territories, managed to achieve a balance between humans and nature by integrating all four aspects of sustainable development.  In this respect, the very name of “reserve” sometimes might be misleading. While the conservation of biodiversity in these sites is usually a priority being centred on a statuary core nature reserve, Biosphere Reserves are typically not designed to function as pristine wilderness areas or nature reserves. Millions of people live in Biosphere Reserves and many host a wide range of tourism, development and extraction industries. Biosphere Reserves are unique because they are meant to be “sites of excellence” where scientists and local leaders can explore and demonstrate a balance between economic development and biodiversity conservation. As such, if managed properly by a wide range of stakeholders, Biosphere Reserves have the potential to serve as models for sustainable development of the global biosphere of which they are the lowest common denominator.

Involvement of the local population is a key element of the biosphere reserve concept, and thus is also highlighted in the objectives outlined in the 1995 Seville Strategy.  Literature on the subject advocates for all-encompassing participation in all management aspects In defining objectives, choosing between alternative courses of action, implementation, and, finally, evaluation. The current MAB strategy calls for even stronger participation and integration of the local population and their economic activities in biosphere reserve policy and management (“selecting, designating, planning, and implementing”), thus “enabling people to become pioneers and ambassadors for realizing effective sustainability in all Biosphere Reserves”.

Participation in a biosphere programme is defined as “a process where individuals, groups and organizations choose to take an active role in making decisions that affect them”. Involvement of diverse population groups in local planning and development processes, including conservation activities, is a critical issue of both equity and environmental justice and a democratic necessity. It can facilitate a local sense of place and sustainable community development and ensure long-term success and quality.  This is particularly true of those management processes, which require integration of different forms of knowledge and co-management. In the case of protected areas, understanding the objectives of a management plan that begins with the rationale for their designation, is a major factor in developing a positive attitude towards these areas among the local population. It can create local support for protected area-related decisions and management practices after designation. Furthermore,  participatory management approaches may facilitate a higher degree of legitimacy and acceptance of the management planning to control processes and solutions in the territory as a whole.

Many studies have determined various motivations for community members to participate in local events and processes. These include:

  • acceptance of the purpose;
  • feelings of ownership and making a contribution;
  • possibilities of empowerment;
  • equity, trust and learning;
  • social links and networks;
  • trust in public authorities;
  • a personal invitation to an event or material compensation.  

At the same time, a number of obstacles to participation have been identified in the MAB literature:

  • perception of power inequality;
  • inability to influence decision-making;
  • unequal representation of stakeholders with respect to age, gender, and social background;
  • lack of trust and agreement;
  • lack of interest and incentives;
  • lack of confidence, time and financial resources;
  • low mobility;
  • consultation fatigue, as well as lack of information.

Due to these, and other obstacles, certain groups remain under represented in sustainable development processes. With respect to gender, women have been historically underrepresented in decision-making. However, the importance of their involvement in all environmental issues, including nature protection, has been addressed by a number of studies, as well as strategies and policy documents.

The 1996 paradigm of combining nature conservation with economic development and maintaining cultural values is tested, refined and implemented, remains the prime value of biosphere reserves.  However, a management model for implementing a zero growth economy within a reserve that can be applied to the global biosphere has not so far emerged. This, and the fact that the limitation of designations to territories with a nature reserve core devalues most of Earth’s global biosphere that would not qualify.

Managing the global biosphere

Agenda 21 is a comprehensive international  plan of action to manage sustainable development. It applies to every every part of the world where humanity impacts on the environment.  It originated as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests agreed by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.

The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was created in December 1992 to ensure effective follow-up of UNCED and to monitor and report on implementation of the agreements at the local, national, regional and international levels.  The full implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the Commitments to the Rio principles, were strongly reaffirmed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 26 August to 4 September 2002.

The Agenda is a non-binding programme of action.  Although it lacks the force of international law, the adoption of the texts carries with it a strong moral obligation to ensure implementation of the strategies. The implementation of the Agenda by turning strategies into actions, with appropriate performance indicators, is primarily the responsibility of governments, but as been adopted globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups. They do this via national strategies, plans, policies and procedures. International and regional organizations are also called upon to contribute to this effort. The broadest public participation and the active involvement of non-governmental organizations and other groups are encouraged to plan at a community level to produce a Local Agenda 21.  Critical to the effective implementation of the objectives, policies and mechanisms agreed by the governments in all programme areas of Agenda 21 will be the commitment and genuine involvement of all institutions and grass roots social groups.

The Rio Agenda comprises 40 chapters (arranged in 4 Sections), which address all levels of social organisation, from national and local governments through to development agencies, non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations in every area in which human activity impacts upon the environment. Its 40 chapters cover existential issues such as poverty, consumption patterns, demography, human health and settlement, and more conventional environmental issues such as protecting the atmosphere, forests and fragile ecosystems, seas, freshwaters and biodiversity. The management of wastes, biotechnology and land resources are included, as are the roles of groups such as women, NGOs, indigenous peoples, farmers, businesses and scientists.

A final set of chapters concern the instruments and institutions needed for change.  Each chapter describes a programme area for planning operations on the ground and comprises four parts: the basis for action, objectives, activities and means of implementation.  Therefore, Agenda 21 provides a format for a global action plan, uniting people with operational objectives for managing sustainable development into the 21st century delineating the basis for a “global partnership”.  The partnership idea encourages cooperation among nations as they support a transition from wilful overconsumption of Earth’s resources to constraints on consumption to sustain life on the planet. The central belief behind the Agenda is that all countries can protect the environment while simultaneously experiencing growth.  However, this belief is now being challenged because the global economy cannot grow indefinitely on a finite planet.

Almost as soon as it was adopted, Agenda 21 became the focus of conspiracy thinking, particularly in the United States, which still propagates the view that it allows the UN to dictate what governments do. However,  Agenda 21 is not a treaty, does not override national sovereignty, has no legal force and is not intended to be implemented in a top-down way.

The Green Economy

Twenty years after Rio, the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), “Rio+20”, focused on a “green economy” agenda to help local governments around the world more effectively implement Local Agenda 21s (LA21s ), or other community sustainability plans required to transition toward a global green economy.  The green economy project focuses on innovative collaborative governance structures, thus contributing to the implementation of global environmental governance agendas and informing future international policy discussions. The Green Economy could be viewed as an approach that emphasizes these linkages. It could therefore be considered as a tool or vehicle that facilitates the widespread transition to sustainable development.

The United Nations Environment Programme defines the Green Economy as “one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”.

Another more elaborate definition of green economy is:

“… one in which the vital linkages among the economy, society, and environment are taken into account and in which the transformation of production processes, and consumption patterns, while contributing to a reduced waste, pollution, and the efficient use of resources, materials, and energy, will revitalize and diversify economies, create decent employment opportunities, promote sustainable trade, reduce poverty, and improve equity and income distribution.”

Caring for the World

The main elements inherent in a Green Economy support the idea that environment can no longer be treated in isolation from mainstream economic policy. Though integrating environment in macroeconomic policies has been long called for, even as far back as the Brundtland Commission in 1987, efforts have been modest to achieve this goal of caring for the world.  In most instances, the environment continues to be addressed as a separate component without clear linkages to the social and economic aspects of endless growth, an objective that is not attainable.

For most people, the phrase ‘Caring for the World’ means doing their best as a member of a community, a neighbourhood and a family to make Earth a better place to live for everybody, particularly future generations. Nowadays we can no longer avoid the fact that the way we live our lives is affecting the long term future of our planet.  To be effective, even in small ways, means behaving according to a plan. The planning process for an individual could be as simple as pinning ‘to do’ notes on the fridge door. For a neighbourhood group concerned about crime, litter, or trees in the street, it could be organised in a diary or a PC spreadsheet. For those wishing to act on their concerns about climate change, they may want to plan long term to reduce their carbon footprint or encourage their neighbours to do so.

Web pages have been produced to demonstrate how caring for the Earth involves making plans for environmental improvements, which span home-based energy saving to running a local nature reserve.  All follow the same simple standard logic of setting a target and saying how and when it will be reached and monitoring progress to a measurable objective. Most of the examples deal with improving local biodiversity, but the logic could be applied to manage any community issue.

Planning begins with a mind map.  Mind mapping is a diagram technique to generate, visualise, structure and classify ideas, and is used as an aid to organising information and solving problems. By using mind maps ideas can be gathered quickly to understand the structure of a subject and see the way that pieces of information fit together.  More than this, mind maps encourage creative problem solving, as they hold information in a format that is easy to remember and quick to review.

Mapping the biosphere positions it as one of the four layers that surround the Earth.  The layers interact with each other. For example, a biome is a major type of ecological community in the biosphere. There are 12 different major biomes, each consisting of distinct plants and animals in one large geographical area.   A biome is formed as the result of the climate, rocks and soil interacting with the the biosphere.

Regarding planning a sustainability action plan for a biosphere, large or small, a mind map is required that sets out the structure of the planning arena, encompassing the entities of the environment that have to be managed because they are either destroyed or impacted through non-sustainable use in order to support human settlement. The entities are distinct features which are strongly influenced by human infrastructures and wastes.  Settlement is therefore the starting point in the mind map with branches to all features so affected. Each feature relates to the biosphere as a system through which human impacts are propagated (Fig 3).

Fig 3 A mind map for a biosphere

These negative consequences of humanity’s activities all relate to the functioning of ecosystems and the planet’s physical systems that support them. Knowledge and understanding of such processes in wild and human-dominated environments are keys to their solution. It was in response to this challenge that the Ecological Society of America proposed the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative, an ecological research agenda for the 1990s. This proposal was taken further by a workshop held in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in June 1991. The workshop, attended by ecologists from fourteen countries around the globe, recommended the establishment of a cooperative programme, the International Sustainable Biosphere Initiative (ISBI), with the central goal to: ·‘facilitate the acquisition, dissemination, and utilization of ecological knowledge to ensure the sustainability of the biosphere.”  This ecological approach led in 2007 to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to forecast differences between climate zones today and in the year 2100. They found that under both high and low emissions scenarios, many regions would experience biome-level changes, suggesting areas that may presently feature rainforest, tundra, or desert may no longer have the same type of vegetation in the year 2100 due to climate shifts.  By the end of the 21st century, large portions of the Earth’s surface may experience climates not found at present, and some 20th-century climates may disappear. This is a reminder that the present generation is the first in the history of humankind with the power to totally destroy life on earth. It is also the last generation with the option to reverse trends in environmental degradation and transform the world to a sustainable state.

To summarise, the Local Agenda 21 is essentially a starter for a global process of democratic action to curb over-consumption and eliminate inequalities in using resources (adopting fair Earthshares).  It has been signed up to by most of the international community. At an operational level it involves sharing political competencies in decision making by local authorities and the mobilisation of all citizens and civil society organisations in the process. This is a course of action in which the willingness and openness of local political leaders is as important as the ability of citizens to take the initiative of learning about and getting involved in the dynamics of local public life. Nevertheless, actions can be thwarted through political resistance to setting up scientifically informed targets for a sustainability policy with performance indicators to measure progress.  These are political decisions based on short term values of government and its networks. But they can be persistent barriers in facing up to the need in the long run for big reductions in urban consumerism, where personal lifestyle choices could account for as much as 60% of a city’s ecological footprint. In this context, the only power governments have to limit the stuff people buy is rationing.

Internet references

The Phytopia Project

May 6th, 2019

Phytotopology delineates a new body of knowledge in visual culture.  It is the transdisciplinary study of the way in which the constituent parts of visual relationships between people, plants and place are interrelated or arranged.  It is applied particularly to the condition of fragmented microcosms. These are relatively small, yet visually accesible botanical expressions of urbanised cultural ecology, such as nature reserves, fields, woods, gardens, roadside verges, urban wastelands and cracks in the pavement.   The knowledge framework is a transdisciplinary tree of life that branches into botany, history, biology, art, sociology, economics and climatology.

1 The Background

We live in a time of unprecedented upheaval, when technology and so-called progress have made us richer but more uncertain than ever before. We have questions about the future, society, work, happiness, family and money, and yet no political party of the right or left is providing us with answers. So, too, does the time seem to be coming to an end when we looked to economists to help us define the qualities necessary to create a successful society. We need a new movement that can tell us the truth about how we got here and how we can move on with a strong sense of well being. Rutger Bregman’s vision is a ‘Utopia for Realists’.  It hinges on one overarching principle, which is that ideas can change the world. ‘Never forget’, Bregman argues, ‘that people are the motors of history and ideas the motors of people’. The task for any progressive, then, is to make the un-thinkable thinkable and to bring the horizon of a better future constantly back into view, with a meaning of prosperity more in keeping with well being than money.

Julia Adeney Thomas says that the unprecedented and enormous threat of anthropogenic climate change demands new ideas that will come from the dissolution of artificial barriers between old forms of knowledge to reveal deep complementarity. She points out that attempts at such harmony have been made by both historians and biologists. For instance, ethicist Clive Hamilton argues that “humans have become a ‘natural’ planetary force.”, historian Dipesh Chakrabarty insists that the divide between the humanities and the sciences ‘melts in the heat of global warming’.  Historians such as Ian Morris and biologists such as E.O. Wilson have tried to reconcile disciplinary differences and create consilience across subject boundaries.  These attempts at concilience are described as multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary. Multidisciplinary activities draw upon insights from two or more disciplines but simply juxtapose these insights and do not attempt to integrate them.  Multidisciplinarians are also less likely to critically evaluate the insights they draw upon. Interdisciplinary activities involve the combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g., a research project), solving a problem by bringing in new information across professional  boundaries.

2 Phytopia

Transdisciplinary activities occur when two or more discipline perspectives transcend each other to form a new holistic approach. The outcome will be completely different from what one would expect from the addition of the parts. Transdisciplinarity results in an output created as a result of disciplines integrating to become something completely new.  Such was the focus of an exhibition entitled ‘Phytopia’ presented in February and May 2019 at the Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea.

The exhibition was curated by the artist Edward Chell, who used the visual idea of a Tree of Life to bring together works of 22 other artists to celebrate the influence that plant forms have had on nearly every aspect of visual culture.  The concept of the Tree of Life manifests itself in many cultures and traditions and is understood in a multitude of forms, from the genealogical to evolutionary and from cultural and political hierarchies to plant growth forms. As a public display, Phytopia celebrates the increasingly sophisticated conceptualization of human reality.  For Chell, the exponential growth of branching knowledge structures and the diversity this represents is a metaphor for life itself.

The exhibition is important because it highlights the need for a new subject area to contain and harness the energies embedded in such tree-like pictorial information structures. There are stories to tell; stories about endangered ecosystems and species in the context of the ecological crisis of global warming.  However, the conclusion reached by Julia Adeney Thomas is that it is impossible to treat “endangerment” as a simple scientific fact. Instead, endangerment is a question of value and a question of perspective. She says that what we value, what we are in danger of losing under the pall of global climate change, is most fully articulable not through science but in the humanities.  This endorses efforts by academics to pool their resources in the face of global danger. Therefore, the practical humanistic message of Phytopia is about having the educational freedom to build transdisciplinary personal bodies of knowledge to help those beings in crisis that are undergoing unprecedented change and are dependent on human beings to secure their place in nature.

Phytopia can be seen as a model of thinking about knowledge how to build knowledge with pictures. Chell’s exhibits range “….. from great, bright painted mountains, full of wild faces and gemstones, to tiny ferns etched delicately in copper and protected under glass-topped vitrines. There are enigmatic black-and-white photographs; a swirling, flora-like diagram of global stock exchanges; landscapes made from ceramics; abstract sculptures in primary colours; and floral photographic images printed onto shipping pallets”.

An example of new knowledge creation emerging from Phytopia would be an ecologist’s interpretation of ‘Flowers’ an exhibit contributed Rasheed Araeen (Fig 1) as representing a set of four random quadrats illustrating the variability in the distribution of flowering plants in an ecological microcosm.

Similarly, a page from Derek Jarman’s photograph album shows his garden as an art installation of flotsom and jetsom.  In the background stand the concrete blocks of Dungeness’ nuclear power stations contrasting with the barren botanical wildness of a shingle beach (Fig 2).  This exhibit becomes a metaphor for the crisis of global warming when information is added that constant repositioning of the shingle is necessary to guard against the innundation of the power stations by an exceptional tidal surge in the English Channel.

Fig 1 ‘Flowers’: Rasheed Araeen

Fig 2 Dungeness: garden and nuclear power stations; Derek Jarman’s photo album

In keeping with the invention of the word phytopia to encompass Chell’s distinct, visually creative arena, phytotopology describes the new subject required to contain the data, information and transdicipinary knowledge.   It is the study of the way in which the constituent parts of visual relationships between people, plants and place are interrelated or arranged. Phytotopological stories explore the shadowy world of cultural ecology. Each image encapsulates the hand of man as a placemaker in Earth’s fragile biomes; chopping them into isolated microcosms, a process that cannot fail to have political implications.  Tom Jeffries, who produced an essay for the exhibition, reminds us of how we should think about the relationships between plants, people and place, particularly in an era marked by mass species loss, climate upheaval and economically motivated denialism. Jeffries’ story is not simply one of intellectual interest because it is now accompanied by a growing sense of political urgency. Procrastination is not about preserving Earth’s biodiversity but maintaining Western  lifestyles.

Plants are already responding to the challenges of intense heat, wilder weather, acidic oceans, increasingly virulent diseases, chemical pollution, decreased biodiversity, failed crops, rising political tensions, revolutions and wars, greater inequality and injustice, massive migration, and strains on practices dedicated to knowledge and beauty.   In their adaptations to climate change plants are telllng us that a conjoint understanding of science and the humanites to manage ‘the planet-at-risk’ is inevitable and desirable. Under the threat of climate change, culture and nature seem to converge; anthropogenic climate change “spells the collapse of the age-old humanist distinction between natural history and human history.”

The sheer breadth of Phytopia’s art work should alert us to the complexity of any attempt to untangle the relationships between plants, people and place, which is evident at all levels of understanding from biomes to backgardens.  Phytopia offers an important key to the planetary tree of life that is a mind map of the relationships between plants and people, which will play out in places that we love. To re-enforce this idea Tom Jeffries introduced his essay with the following quotes:

“Different meanings tend to cluster around the same sites … As one gets to know a place well, it gathers additional meanings.” — Oliver Rackham, Landscape and the Conservation of Meaning, 1991

“Place isn’t a stage, a backdrop against which we act out our lives: it is part of what we are.” — Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map, 2014

2 Transdisciplinism

An important lesson from Phytopia is that curating and art production increasingly operate directly as expanded educational praxes by being involved with the transdiciplinary interpretation of visual material. Indeed, there has been an educational turn in professional curatorial and art practice.  This emerged by consideration of humanistic, pedagogical models within various curatorial strategies and critical art projects. In particuar art teachers have reoriented to the role of ‘facilitator-curator’ in order to address the non-traditional pedagogic thinking required to facilitate individualised classroom leaning. There is no longer one knowledge that we must all sign up to. Within this context, intended, planned and enacted curricula go hand in hand. Indeed, it is only through a facilitator’s interpretation that a humanistic curriculum can be meaningfully implemented. Teacher-facilitators operating humanistic pedagogys are provided with the curriculum (intended curriculum) and expected to enact it for each student to assemble their own personal body of knowledge (enacted curriculum). A personal body of knowledge is the complete set of concepts, terms and activities that make up a distinct domain of interlinked information, which is assembled as a knowledge representation, where words and things are linked idiosynchratically in a media-coded culture.  

All the artists contribibuting to Phytopia have the science of plant forms as their starting point and are curated as commentators on man made fragmented ecosystems.  Their art works on walls and in encasements are new ‘hybrid’ assemblies of selected pictorial biodiversity to enrich the visual experience. On the other hand, natural resource scientists bring a well-honed, subject expertise to their endeavours to address climate change, but lack knowledge and any understanding of the arts, or other modes of viewing the world, that many feel could make them significantly more effective communicators.

A recent review of the teaching of enviromental art in biological field laboratories suggested that if scientists wish to span the domains of traditional scientific disciplines this must include the arts and humanities to gain more benefits by encouraging new ways of exploring and understanding the environment.  The scientists have to modify their dependence on knowledge acquisition through lectures and demonstrations, whereas the artists have to modify their desire to simply “turn the students loose” for personal exploration. But is this gulf unbridgable? The biologist Lewis Woolpert thinks so. He summed up this conclusion in the final paragraph of  his article for the Observer in 2002 as follows:

“Art does not explain, but it broadens our experience in ways that are not clearly understood. I value it in its own terms but it has nothing to do with understanding how the world works. To pretend that it does is to trivialise science and do nothing for art. We should stop pretending that the two disciplines are similar, and instead rejoice in the very different ways that they enrich our culture”.

Consumerism often fails to fulfil its promise of cultural enrichment because the consumer class has been sold a lie.  Many affluent consumers are now developing what social scientist Ronald Inglehart calls “post-materialist” goals and values. This emerging way of life involves different ways of cultural enrichment, seeking purpose and satisfaction in life through things other than material riches, including deeper community engagement, more time to pursue private passions, or even increased political action.  In this connetion, Samuel Alexander believes the tipping point will come via grassroots political organisation, rather than waiting for growth-fixated governments to give up the mantra of endless economic growth. This is not to deny the need for “top-down” structural change. Alexander’s argument is simply that the necessary action from governments will not arrive until there is an active culture of sufficiency, the tipping point, that demands a post materialist future.

4 Information into knowledge

Humanistic facilitators in the environmental humanities, whether artists or scientists, undergo a process of planning what is to be taught and translate it into individual learning experiences that are appropriate for each of their students. The necessary skills are for storytelling, drawing on their capacity to be a facilitator of individualised learning, and the exchange of knowledge with others.  To maximise interaction with visual elements of information, Ii is also necessary for both facilitators and their students to engage with digital technology and new international communication platforms to harness graphics, text, video and hypermedia in order to create knowledge from information and share it. An art gallery is the educational model. The exhibits and their makers are the raw data; the descriptions of the exhibits and their makers are the information.  Stories created and illustrated with the information, contained in a picture-text database, designed for information sharing, are personal bodies of knowledge assembled from fragments of information by learners with the help of a facilitator.

To find a suitable database we need go no further than Twitter, the free microblogging, social networking website, which allows users to publish short fragmens of information that are visible to to the public.  These messages, known as tweets, have space for up to 280 characters, a hyperlink to deeper levels, a hash tag for searching, space for up to four pictures and a curation and listing facility. The ability to communicate pictorially is importants.  Twitter says that adding a picture results in a 150% chance of increasing the number of impressions and pictured tweets are 34% more likely to be retweeted. An example of a tweet is presented in Fig 3.

Fig 3 Vulnerabililty of UK coastal nuclear power station to climate change

This tweet contains information from a report to the UK government presenting evidence that coastal nuclear power stations are vulnerable to climate change.  It is illustrated with four images featuring Dungeness power station, showing its position on an exposed shingle beach that is a National Nature Reserve, the sea defence wall and a view of the power station from the famous shingle garden of the artist/film director Derek Jarman.  There is a hyperlink to the government report.

It can be seen that the Twitter platform comprises an information database suitable for archiving and classifying information for turning tweets into knowledge and sharing it widely. Microblogging is deemed effective in educational settings as it enables information to flow between fellow students and teachers beyond the physical boundaries of the classroom.  The role of microblogging in the context of Twitter as an educational tool is to support individuals to participate in process-oriented informal learning. A vast abundance of searchable information passes through Twitter. In this context, Twitter supports the instant, online dissemination and reception of short fragments of information from sources outside the formal structures of education.  Each tweet creates a social awareness stream that provide a constantly updated, live representation of the experiences, interests, and opinions of the tweeter. The receiver can perform Twitter searches at their Twitter search page or in the box of their home page.

Twitter can be used for self-education and to stay up-to-date on topics of interest. To do this, users can follow experts in various fields on Twitter who can be found, for example, through thematically relevant hashtags. Users can also use research hashtags for researching  a topic or use apps like Tweetdeck to subscribe to them. They can create private or public lists to categorise experts from various fields. Users can also subscribe to expert lists created by others.  Tweets can also be embedded in macroblogs. This is a way of making past tweets come alive.

Twitter can be used as a newspaper on any given specialist subject. The specialists are like editors who use their tweets to select what they consider to be essential items of information. Other users who follow a sufficient number of experts (editors) from a field, can be reasonably sure that they are getting all the important information from that particular field. Accordingly, Twitter can also be seen as an academic journal to the extent that some users no longer feel the need to read specialist publications.  However, the majority of viewers, less than about 3%, seldom use the hyperlink facility to delve beyond the ‘headline’ text. This is why Twitter is a good tool for mass education from small fragments of information, but is not good for attracting those who require chunky information in web sites and macroblogs. The following paragraphs highlight the writings of a twitter user who is bemused as to how it all works.

In terms of its mechanism, an ‘impression’ of a tweet is the viewer’s iresponse to the delivery of a post (tweet) to an account’s Twitter stream. The stream is composed of tweets from various sources. Twitter says Impressions are “times a user is served a Tweet in his/her timeline or search results.”  There are a few things worth noting about this. Remember, whenever you post a tweet, that tweet will show up in the feeds of the people who follow you. However, it will also become available in Twitter search, particularly if you’ve used any keywords of a type people search for. It will also show up in feeds for hashtags, but it depends if the people browsing the hashtag view it by “top” or by “latest,” or one of the other filtering options. A tweet is shown in the feeds of the followers of anyone who retweets your tweet. This is why influencer-marketing is so important; a retweet from someone with 50 followers isn’t going to be worth much, while a retweet from someone with 50,000 followers is going to be worth a lot more.

Finally, an impression might not actually mean a person saw the tweet. If I load my Twitter feed and then get distracted by something and close it, I probably gave +1 impression to a 20+ tweets account without actually reading any of them. There is no bonus engagement, no interaction of any kind, but an added impression across the board.

Impressions also don’t care who the viewer is.

Fortunately, Twitter doesn’t count your own impressions on your own tweets. You can’t hammer the F5 key to refresh your browser on your own profile to boost your stats.

Also, you should not conflate impressions and reach. Impressions are the number of views a tweet receives; reach is the number of people who see it. Reach will always be a lower number than impressions for this reasons. Anyone who sees the tweet twice will be worth two impressions, but only one reach.  

In relation to the ups and downs of impressions, The following account, in Fig 4, has only 28 followers but it is public and recieves about 2000 impressions a week.  

Fig 4 Tweet activity asociated with A Personal Twitter  Climate Change Database

In this Twitter experimental account for exploring the topic of climate change the total number of impressions at the end of a tweet’s first day of exposure to the public is around 3-10 times the new tweet was viewed (Table 1).  This suggests that a popular tweet will generate a search of that account holder’s past tweets on that particular topic. However, there is no way to discover how many people were responsible the additional impressions or which of your previous tweets they selected.

Table 1 Relationship berween the impressions (impressions) to two consequtive daily tweets and the total impressions on those days

DateResponse to tweetTotal responsesTime after tweeting
May 47462814hr
May 57565124hr
May 65529814hr
May 75731324ht

The following Twitter accounts are information databases for gathering information about the connections between people, plants and places.

Global Plant Council

People Plants Planet

Kew Gardens

Plants Leeds

5 internet References

Civic Character and Civic Service as Components of a Democratic Pedagogy

March 31st, 2019

1 ‘Bottom up’ purposes of education

Democracy must be experienced to be learned and in this connection there is a democratic deficit in contemporary classrooms world wide.  

The need for a children’s democracy to underpin civic actions is not new. As English aristocracy was giving way to democracy in the 19th century, Matthew Arnold investigated popular education in France and other countries to determine what form of education suited a democratic age.  Arnold wrote that “the spirit of democracy” is part of “human nature itself”, which engages in “the effort to affirm one’s own essence…to develop one’s own existence fully and freely.  What he didn’t say is that a democratic education means cultivating the experience of engaging in political processes.

During the industrial age, John Dewey argued that children should not all be given the same pre-determined curriculum. In ‘Democracy and Education’ he develops a philosophy of education based on democracy. He argues that while children should be active participants in the creation of their education, and while children must experience democracy to learn democracy, they need adult guidance to develop into responsible adults.  In his view, the purpose of education is to uplift humanity Through self knowledge each person must decide what use he or she will make of their knowledge but the young should remember that their great aim should be the uplift of humanity. He said this should apply particularly to the use of evironmental resources. In his view the value of the resources of nature lies in the extent to which they are used for the welfare of humanity. By welfare he means health, happiness and prosperity.  Prosperity need not be measured in terms of financial gain. He said,

“The time will come when men will look back on the present and wonder how or why the knowledge of science was not used for the welfare of mankind. What can the colleges do to train the young best to serve their fellow men? Education should not be so practical; so devoted to gains that the great object in life is obscured. Do lawyers strive to serve their fellow men as they should? Are the efforts of all in authority; of all enjoying the best in life used for the betterment of the race? If education tends to improve the mind and lead the ones enjoying it to altruistic effort then it will not be in vain. This will be grand and an era of good will for mankind will be ushered in”.  

Amy Gutmann argues in ‘Democratic Education’ that in a democratic society, there is a role for everyone in the education of children. One of her central tenets is that education should maximize students’ future life choices without prejudicing them for or against any controversial conceptions of what the good life should be. The roles and goals of participators in mining Earth’s bounty are best agreed upon through deliberative democracy.  Deliberative democracy has its roots in Athenian-style democracy that originated in ancient Greece where decision-making was carried out by large gatherings of citizens, largely without the aid of ‘representatives’. It is based on the idea that authentic discussion between free and equal citizens, including young people, can enable local consensual decision -making. This has legitimacy and is much less vulnerable to the distortions that come with party politics, because modern democracies need a rich ecology of democratic practices supported by strong legal systems, different forms of citizenship education and a free press.

Gutmann summarizes the similarities and differences between her democratic educational theory and its progenitors as follows:

“Like the family state, a democratic state of education tries to teach virtue – not the virtue of the family state (power based upon knowledge), but what might best be called democratic virtue: the ability to deliberate, and hence to participate in conscious social reproduction. Like the state of families, a democratic state upholds a degree of parental authority over education, resisting the strong communitarian view that children are creatures of the state. But in recognizing that children are future citizens, the democratic state resists the view, implicit in the state of families, that children are creatures of their parents. Like the state of individuals, a democratic state defends a degree of professional authority over education – not on grounds of liberal neutrality, but to the extent necessary to provide children with the capacity to evaluate those ways of life most favoured by parental and political authorities”.

This theme was taken up by the journal “Democracy and Education’, which was established to investigate “the conceptual foundations, social policies, institutional structures, and teaching/learning practices associated with democratic education.” By “democratic education” is meant “educating youth…for active participation in a democratic society.

Yaacov Hecht claims that Democratic Education, being an education that prepares for life in a democratic culture, is the missing piece in the intricate puzzle which is the democratic state.

There are many reasons why education is important, but the above contributors to the debate about the purpose of education play down its contribution to economic growth and outcomes. Nevertheless, from an economic point of view, education continues to be defined as the stock of skills, competencies, and other productivity-enhancing characteristics.  This was the view of the World Economic Forum in 2016. Furthermore, politicians continue to see education as a critical component of a country’s human capital, which increases the efficiency of each individual worker and helps economies to move up the value chain beyond manual tasks or simple production processes. This value chain driven by education was described by the sociologist Ulrich Beck in the 1980s, when he called Germany an elevator society in which millions of skilled workers upgraded from Volkswagons to Audis and expected their children to rise further.  Now, the economic elevator culture is faltering abd young Germans are joining the precariat. In sociology and economics this is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare. The term is a portmanteau obtained by merging precarious with proletariat.

Germany’s economic power is largely the result of its education and training system and its applied research in the eyes of interviewees.  But it’s impossible to quantify the relationship precisely because there are many other limiting factors.

The economic purpose of education in the UK was exemplified by Nick Gibb, Government Minister for English Schools, speaking at the 2015  Education Reform Summit. His standpoint was that the purpose of education is to underpin civic actions as follows;

  • it is the engine of our economy;
  • it is the foundation of our culture;
  • and it’s an essential preparation for adult life.

The minister put serving economic growth as the top priority of the English education system.  

Making this point he positioned education in relation to the state of the economy, “….which in 2014 grew by 3% – the strongest growth since 2006, and the fastest in the G7”.  Employment in 2014 was at its highest-ever level, with 1.85 million more people in work since the last government entered office. Business investment had increased by 25.6% since the first quarter of 2010.

Regarding the role of education in achieving this success the minister said

“….most important of all, we must ensure that more people have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in a demanding economy. For example, the UK’s … “long-term performance has lagged behind those of our international competitors. Our 15-year-olds are on average 3 years behind their peers in Shanghai in mathematics and we are the only OECD country whose young people do not have better levels of literacy or numeracy than their grandparents’ generation”.

The implication is that Government  beĺieved that a better performing education system would boost year on year economic growth, which is the foundation of the UK consumer culture and a driver of climate  change.

2  A bottom-up global democracy of children

The first Earth Summit, held in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, was the largest meeting of world leaders ever. Together these leaders created a document called AGENDA 21, a blueprint for saving Planet Earth.  After the conference ended, thousands of young people from nearly 100 countries, funded by the UN and other international agencies,worked together in an extraordinary effort to find out exactly what was agreed in this important document. Their efforts produced a unique book, designed, written and illustrated by children, for children, to inspire young people all over the world to join the rescue mission ‘to save planet Earth from environmental degradation’.

The UN Secretary General of the UN at that time was Boutros Boutros-Ghali.  He wrote:

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

As they edited the book the production team thought about how to organise the thousands of young people who had had an input to the project.  They put it this way.

“How on earth could 2.5 billion human beings under the age of 18 be connected in a way that would be democratic without being bureaucratic?  How could we enter into the adult’s decision-making process without starting to be as boring as them? The first thing to do is select issues, not representatives. That way we can all choose what we want to talk about, after which the question of who does the talking is less important.  The first place is to organise is in our schools. Each Rescue Mission will start with a conference where we would decide the isssues and select a small action council to see things get done. Like the School’s Councils in Frace, we will have regular access to local government and work with them, perhaps to organise the Local Agenda 21”.

Their solution was to promote a network from schools that would carry a Global Democracy of Children through the various levels of government in partnerships with NGOs.

Their aim was for the schools to help the communities they served make local action plans for improving local well-being (Fig 1).   

The book ‘Rescue Mission Planet Earth’ failed to galvanise the adults as teachers and politicians to change an education system that had been designed by the western powers long ago  to serve colonialism. Also, in 1994 the Internet and social media were in an embryonic stage and not available to provide a platform for young people to gather globally and voice a new educational framework to promote prosperity for all without denuding humanity’s ecosystem services.

Fig 1  Networking a global democracy of children

The new framework has to be the Millenniium Ecosystem Assessment and the 2030 goals for a sustainable global economy  The Assessment marks the advent of the ideational educational knowledge framework of cultural ecology, where humankind works with nature instead of battling against against it.

No one has defined the philosophy of cultural ecology better than David Orr who  in 1994 set out its new educational imperatives.

“Those now being educated will have to do what we, the present generation, have been unable or unwilling to do: stabilise world population; stabilise and then reduce the emission of greenhouse gases; protect biological diversity; reverse the destruction of forests everywhere; and conserve soils. They must learn how to use energy and materials with great efficiency. They must learn how to utilise solar energy in all its forms. They must rebuild the economy in order to eliminate waste and pollution. They must learn how to manage renewable resources for the long run. They must begin the great work of repairing as much as possible, the damage done to Earth in the past 200 years of industrialisation. And they must do all this while they reduce worsening social and racial inequities. No generation has ever faced a more daunting agenda”.

Fig 2 Common ground of a school/community democracy

A  school/community democratic pedagogy incorporates two essential components, civic character and civic service .

Civic character includes social and emotional skills, the principles and practices of democratic participation and the values and dispositions of an effective responsible citizen.

These skills and values are vital for successful relationships and participation in school, organizations, community and career, as well as political engagement.

  • Value and demonstrate honesty, personal integrity  and respect for others;
  • Understand and effectively manage their emotions and behaviour;
  • Act toward others with empathy and caring;
  • Resolve differences in constructive ways;
  • Understand how to participate in the political process and democratic institutions that shape public policy;
  • Exercise leadership for social justice;
  • Work to counter prejudice and discrimination;
  • Think critically and creatively about local, state and national issues, and world events;
  • Contribute time and resources to building community and solving problems.

Civic service includes the understanding of a community/national/world problem and planning and implementing a project to help solve that problem, in the context of learning and practicing the knowledge, values and skills of citizenship.

Civic service involves student groups devising and operating an action plan for tackling a local issue by :

  • Identifying a current issue that they believe needs to be addressed.
  • Researching the issue from multiple perspectives, with help from community
  • mentors.
  • Choosing a potential solution and presenting a rationale for their choice.
  • Planning and implement a project to promote their solution.
  • Reflecting on learning  about themselves, their team, their  issue and civic responsibility.
  • Giving a formal presentation of the project, what was learned, and conclusions.

Through this process students will experience working together to achieve a common purpose. They will demonstrate an understanding of their civic responsibility and contribute  meaningful solutions to their community. The vision of Rescue Mission is that students will become civic service leaders, caring for their school, community, nation and world.  This means looking from the inside out and see the embeddedness of education into the surrounding cultural environment and its rich variety of services and actors.  The aim is to develop the outward looking school, a school that opens up towards both its internal and external actors – physically and mentally that manage their community’s environmental services.

3 Ecosystem services in education

The concept of ecosystem service was first coined in early 1980s. By drawing attention to the many services ecosystems provide for human beings, the aim was to raise public interest and concern for ecosystem protection

While originating in the ecological sciences, the ecosystem service concept puts human needs and preferences in the centre of cultural ecology and measures the health of ecosystems based on their ability to provide humans with benefits.  The United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2003 and 2005 stimulated interest in the cultural aspects of ecosystem services, which are defined as the ‘nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences’. In this classification system, ecosystem services include ten subcategories of which cultural heritage is one.  Each of these services is given a short explanation. Cultural heritage is defined more broadly by Tengberg et al as follows:

‘Many societies place high value on the maintenance of either historically important landscapes (cultural landscapes) or culturally significant species’. These valued elements of human experience can be understood as heritage when the focus is on physical objects or places, that have been passed on from generation to generation. But heritage also incorporates various practices and tangible aspects such as language or cultural behaviour in a broader sense. This also incorporates ways to go about conserving things and choices we make about what to remember and what to forget, often in the light of a potential threat and in relation to future generations. Cultural heritage is thus not only what former generations built up but also the way it is interpreted, valued and managed by contemporary society in our everyday life. Historical artefacts and the way practices are reconnected to historic features within landscapes are reconsidered as heritage because we attribute values to them. Cultural heritage is therefore not static but is constantly changing by being re-evaluated and interpreted in various ways by different actors”.

As the ecosystem services approach is becoming a key tool in environmental decision-making, there is a need for the practical discipline of conservation management of cultural heritage to engage and influence the ecosystem services societal discourse so that cultural heritage is seen as a useful and valuable environmental resource for living sustainably.  Education has a key role, which is evalutated in the European Commision’s thematic paper ;The Outward Looking School and its Ecosystem’ (2015) a rethinking of education as learning entrepreneurship through introducing opportunities to open up the community served by the school as a learning resource.

Europe is facing major changes in education, one of the domains, which has evolved less than others since the 19th century. Rethinking the educational system tends to break down barriers and adapt to a changing world. However, the school curricula still remain too centred on key subjects with little connection between one and another, not sufficiently related to present-day realities and not sufficiently encompassing skills in digital technology. This leads to poor PISA results, early school dropouts and increased unemployment. Where schools and teaching institutions see in culture and cultural heritage an important mind-opener they remain too imprisoned in a day-to-day organisation lacking flexibility, personnel and appropriate financing. Field trips require time, money, efficient, properly trained teachers, and shared responsibilities. In this context the local heritage sector is a relatively untapped dynamic outdoor laboratory.

The heritage sector is in constant evolution, rethinking its goals, encompassing new fields and being at the core of new declarations and conventions. It enhances participation, engaging not only specialists but also the layman. In developing public-oriented activities, from schools to adult lifelong learning, the awareness and need to protect our common heritage has grown, as has the idea of considering it a responsibility shared withhin the community. However, heritage education as such is too often related to one-time events and not centred enough on the long-term cultural trajectory.

Integration of heritage matters in a variety of sectors, among which heritage education is an important if not essential answer to:

  • Democratic citizenship;
  • Environmental protection;
  • Job growth;
  • Social inclusion;
  • Sustainable development;
  • Well-being;
  • Political engagement

In ecology, ecosystems consist of a systemic community of living organisms which interact with the non-living elements in their environment. These biotic and abiotic components are regarded as linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Ecosystems are defined by the network of interactions among organisms, and between organisms and their environment. They can be of any size but usually encompass specific, limited spaces.

In the world of education, ecosystems may be defined as the full variety of actors (i.e., living species) and all nonliving elements in use for education through teaching and learning. The full variety of actors involves the population inside school (mainly teachers, principals, students, other staff) as well as the population outside school (entrepreneurs, associations, institutions, parents, families, friends and private persons etc.). The non-living (abiotic) elements inside this milieu are defined by all available material means (buildings, classrooms, external locations, tools, IT resources, etc.) and they influence the nature of interaction of populations.

All these populations are connected through networks. They form together a meta-population and inhabit the same milieu. In the entrepreneurial school, the nature of this milieu is characterised by a shared entrepreneurial context.  To understand the constituents of the entrepreneurship education ecosystem of a school requires an investigation of the motivations of the actors in the ecosystem. Primarily, this motivation is held by the educators who may spread it to learners. Since motivation is based on perceived benefits, a school needs to investigate primarily the benefits desired and perceived by teachers. In this context teachers and learners become entrepreneurs, and their entrepreneurial activities may be of monetary nature, but they can also be related to the ‘marketing ‘ of societal, philosophical and personal values. Hopefully some of these products would be elements of a democratic pedagogy necessary for future generations to to implement a global circular economy.

Using Twitter to Promote a Democratic Humanistic Education Network

March 8th, 2019

1 Towards new pedagogies

Educational theorists have long been calling for new pedagogies that afford authentic learning opportunities, are responsive to ever changing digital information landscapes, and that will position learners in active and participatory roles. The need is particularly acute for critical learning about the educational relationship between culture and environment.  Here there is the requirement for alternative educational solutions stimulated by the nature of developing IT information landscapes and conceptual bridges between culture and ecology. These new learning landscape have been described as:

the ‘intersubjectively created spaces that have resulted from human interaction, in which information is created and shared and eventually sediments as knowledge’   

In other words, the new ‘word and picture’ technologies for organising and presenting information make it relatively easy for a researcher to connect one subject to another and share the new ideas that thereby arise to create new interdisciplinary knowledge.  It is in this vein that Alison Hicks and Caroline Sinkinson connect and contrast personal learning environments (PLEs) and critical information literacies (CILs) in order to explore the design of pedagogical responses to the information environment. Their view is that PLEs are commonly created using specific technologies and tools, such as online  personal and group organizers like EverNote.  However, the model is not wedded to a specific technology but rather to a process that aims to visualize and organize the influx of information and resources that students are confronted with daily. They believe that PLEs are essentially a positive educational response to the overload of information in the digital age.

Critical, or democratic, pedagogy is an educational movement which gives people the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills and sense of responsibility necessary to engage in a culture of questioning information and interrogating ruling hierarchies. These abilities are of benefit to young people when they increase their political agency through heightened awareness of social injustice and the means by which to communicate and challenge this. A central feature of the critical pedagogical approach is critical literacy, which teaches and provides opportunities for analysis and critiquing skills. Critical literacy has been recommended by a number of authors as a valuable aspect to include together with personal learning in information literacy (IL) courses. Critical IL could contribute to enabling the development of political agency and increasing users meaningful and active involvement in democratic processes.  The ability to do this is heightened because of the free availability of social media. This opens up a new approach to humanistic education.

2 Internet learning

There is no doubt that advances in IT technology have greatly increased the amount of information available on the Internet.  Significantly, they include lower barriers to participation. This explosion in accessible and inexhaustible content is an opportunity for educators to reshape their understanding of information, particularly in terms of traditional conceptions of division of knowledge, authority and validity. These changes can be seen in shifting practices of scholarship from imparting knowledge and facilitating its use.  ‘Internet scholars’ use participatory humanistic technologies and online social media to share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate, and so further the development of their personal body of knowledge within their own online knowledge networks and mind maps. On this learning journey IT takes them through academic silos, leaving trails for others to follow, consolidate and expand.

While PLEs and CIL both support learners’ critical engagement with new information environments, each was developed within a different field.   Hicks and Sinkinson demonstrate that education for information literacy intersects with the concepts and goals of PLEs. They suggest that PLE scholarship informed by CIL scholarship, and vice versa, will yield a deeper understanding of modern learning contexts as well as providing a more holistic and responsive learner framework.for leadership.  With these propositions, the authors invite educators, librarians and information technologists to engage in a dialogue about these concepts and the potential for fundamental pedagogical change.

3 Hyperbox club

I 1912, Everett  L. Getchell wrote a paper, ‘THE PICTURE IN EDUCATION’, in which he pointed out the power of the magic lantern as an educational tool for picture-education;

“The time saved and the accuracy of impression gained through stereographs and lantern slides leads one to wonder why they are not freely used. It seems to us that the geography and history of the grades in the future will be developed largely with the picture as a nucleus, and the story woven around it”.

Although Getchell probably did not know it, two hundred and thirty years previously the German theologian Johann Siegmund Stoy had created a boxed ‘Picture Academy for the Young’ (Bilder-Akademie fur die Jugend).

Pictures became an international force for social education between 1925 and 1934 when Hans Neurath and his wife invented  Isotype (International System of TYpographic Picture Education). Isotype is a method of showing social, technological, biological and historical connections in pictorial form. It was first known as the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics, in the Social and Economic Museum of Vienna.

PLEs and CILs are approaches to learning and inquiry that are particularly responsive to pictures. is a new and easily accessible landscape for picture education. The central feature that draws attention to an educational Tweet, is a picture around which an educational Tweet can be constructed as a dense and deep hyperlinked information package, summarised with a condensed piece of text (Fig 1),  

With more than 241 million active users, 500 million Tweets, and 2.1 billion searches every day, online teachers have a multifarious, active and informed audience to engage with.

Fig 1  Educational ‘anatomy’ of a Tweet


Twitter is a really a microblogging platform that allows individuals to communicate by sending short messages of up to 280 characters. Although it enables people to be in constant contact, its value in an educational context is less clear.  International Classrooms Online (ICOL) is researching the use of social media to create and freely share authoritative personal bodies of knowledge produced by teachers and students to promote democratic humanistic education. Research has shown that students feel more engaged in political issues when they can speak with authority on issues that are going to affect their lives and those of future generations.  That is why they are more motivated to learn new things. Twitter as an educational tool is able to open up totally new worlds for students and allows Tweeters to collaborate and participate in meaningful hashtag chats..

The advice given today by Twitter to increase your reach as a twitterer is to ‘add a picture; people like pictures!’.  Additional information is accessed through an URL link.  An entire suite of Tweets is extractable using #-tagged filters. Feedback is available using ‘Twitter Analytics’, which displays day by day  ‘impressions’ and ‘engagements’ for each Tweet. An ‘impression’ is a Tweet that has been delivered to the Twitter stream of a particular account.  An ‘engagement’ could be a click to a landing page, a reply to a Tweet, or a comment on a Facebook post. Either way, the record of an engagement means that someone has the Tweeter’s attention and they have become engaged in a positive way. In Twitter-speak, a ‘Moment’ is a set of Tweets curated in a sequence that tells a  story. It is a personal linear narrative; a mind map incorporating the personal Tweets of its maker. It can also include other people’s Tweets. ‘Moments’ have their own URLs and can be shared and developed with others.

To summarise, Tweets are pieces of information that are turned into a body of knowledge when they are packaged as a Moment.

4 Trees in mind

This section is the account of an experiment in using Twitter for creating PLEs and CILs.  It is based on picturing concepts of the material and symbolic interaction of trees with culture.  

No matter where or how we live, there can be no doubt that most of us cannot help noticing trees. Their obvious cycles of greening and shedding of leaves, give tree-watchers a sense of trees as powerful symbols of life, death and renewal. Trees project a raw intensity that refuses to flinch in  the face of the powerful meaning we read into trees which is that they represent both death and new life. In this context, most people cannot escape a sense that trees are sentient beings just like us, They bleed when they are hurt. Do they feel pain? We revere trees as keepers of past secrets and sentinels of the future. We innately feel a deep connection to them.  In this strong cultural perspective, trees illustrate the theme of the memento mori, the medieval Latin theory and practice of reflection on mortality, which is as old as Western art.  

An important insight from the complex role that trees have played in the construction of the human ecological niche is that acquired characters have taken on a social development role in transforming selective environments. This is particularly relevant to human genetic evolution, where, from early times, our species appears to have engaged in extensive environmental modification through cultural practices involving trees. Such practices are typically not themselves biological adaptations.  Rather, they are the adaptive behavioural product of those much more general social adaptations, such as the ability to learn, particularly from others, to teach, to use language, and so forth. These, underlie human culture, and hence, cannot accurately be described as the work of extended phenotypes. A universal behaviour to form communities seems to be a sequence of;

  • fell trees;
  • build settlements;
  • and grow crops.

This is a linear material process in which managing trees for sustainable community services has played a vital role in the development of a local tree management system called coppicing.  Trees become cultural symbols along the way. Because of such imaginative thoughts, trees are a bridge between people and nature and through these thoughts trees have taken on great cultural significance. In particular, they tell us that the mind is what the brain does to form cultures which are the behavioural outcomes of mental programmes shaped by environmental problems, mysteries and opportunities.  These mental programmes work as well as they do because they were shaped by social selection to assemble a mental scaffold for human niche construction. They incorporate trees as symbols sanctified by our primeval ancestors’ will to master trees, along with other life forms, rocks, and each other. So ultimately trees become embedded into local ecosystem services for human survival and reproduction. Hence comes forth the significance of the cultural role of trees.  They are vehicles to encourage people to develop their own cross-curricular, critical learning network about topics such as climate change and social justice associated with ancient and modern land use practices.

A collection of pictures illustrating pictorial concepts of the cultural ecology of trees was assembled on Twitter under the name zygeena (Fig 2).  The first one in this series was posted on the 14th October, 2015. They followed on from a series of mainly textual Tweets containing information about the general educational philosophy of cultural ecology and climate change, which had been uploaded intermittently from 9th February 2012.

Fig 2 Tree Tweet (3 Jan 2016)

Impressions = 801. Total engagements = 9

The tree Tweets have been divided between two Moments

Messages of the Trees 1

Messages of the Trees 2

5  Climate in mind

Climate change is by far the biggest political issue facing humanity with profound consequences for all our future cultural relationships with ecology. ‘Climate in mind’ is a Twitter educational  initiative to stimulate the self assembly of an international group of students and teacher facilitators with personal Twitter accounts, using the Twitter tag #democraticpedagogy to co-produce an educational philosophy (pedagogy) and create an online curriculum for learning about climate change; what it is; how it is happening; what the consequences are; and how people can have an input to national and international policies to control it.  The role of a facilitator is to raise the confidence of individuals through helping them build a thoughtful personal body of knowledge. This is the process behind humanistic learning, also known as “person- centered learning” or ‘self-appropriated learning, which is also a key factor in education/training for leadership.

The Twitter project ‘Climate in Mind’  was initiated on the day when pupils of UK schools ‘went on strike’ to draw attention to their fears about the effect of climate change. Their Twitter tag is #schoolstrike4climate.The following sequence of Tweets was published by Denis Bellamy between 15 Feb to 3 Mar 2019 on the topic of democratic pedagogy,

Tweet 1

The target of a democratic pedagogy to meet the aims of the students who went on strike to pressure the politicians to tackle climate change is to challenge the beliefs and practices that dominate the current fictional world view of boundless economic growth because the only future for humanity is one planet living …

Tweet 2

I am using this tag  #democraticpedagogy to discuss humanistic teacher/learner interactions required to develop and implement a critical global curriculum for shaping new citizens for one planet living …

Tweet 3

1A democratic pedagogy for today is an educational framework which guides learners to gather question challenge and develop information to create a personal body of knowledge and apply it for one planet living …

Tweet  4

Central to the school strike for climate is a plea from young people to become involved in establishing a democratic pedagogy to coproduce a curriculum centred on the management of climate change to ensure the wellbeing of future generations …

Tweet 5

Teachers of a democratic pedagogy are facilitators.  They lead individual learners to question ideologies and practices considered oppressive,encouraging liberatory responses of their own intellectual development for one planet living

Tweet 6

A democratic pedagogy is a theory and practice to produce a democratic classroom which is under the shared authority of teacher and learners. This is a primary educational goal of democratic pedagogy. …

Tweet 7

At the core of undemocratic education policies is a model of indefinite economic growth with yearly increases in wealth that caused our present ecological crisis  A democratic pedagogy is necessary to evaluate a future with no growth. …

Tweet 8

The aim of a democratic pedagogy is that individuals create a personal body of knowledge and share it to change the oppressive nature of society knowing that this will require radical re-ordering of priorities in institutions and ideologies.

Tweet 9

Democratic pedagogy in the classroom …

Tweet 10

Democratic pedagogy in the global context of a democratic network of young people self educated to adopt a conservation world view. Based on a children’s Agenda 21 (Rescue Mission 1994) …

Tweet 11

Democratic pedagogy in the national context of one planet living in Wales  #schoolstrike4climate

Tweet 12

Democratic pedagogy in the global context of a democratic network of young people self educated to adopt a conservation world view. Based on a children’s Agenda 21 (Rescue Mission 1994) …

Tweet 13

At the core of undemocratic education policies is a model of indefinite economic growth with yearly increases in wealth that caused our present ecological crisis  A democratic pedagogy is necessary to evaluate a future with no growth.

Tweet 14

Democratic pedagogy in the global context of a democratic network of young people self educated to adopt a conservation world view. Based on a children’s Agenda 21 (Rescue Mission 1994) …

Tweet 15

Click on following URL to see a mindmap of a climate change curriculum … This is a work in progress.

Tweet 16

Click on following URL to see a mindmap of a democraticpedagogy.  This is a work in progress …

Tweet 17

To see a democratic pedagogy in the national context of education for one planet living in Wales UK click the following URL  

A Moment was created for these Tweets (15 Feb 2019 onwards).

It is so simple to participate. Open a Twitter account and Tweet your microblog with the hashtag #democraticpedagogy.

Some examples of substantial personal bodies of knowledge produced by students and their facilitators beyond twittering can be accessed in the LIBRARY OF ONLINE EXEMPLARS at:

Twitter has a powerful analytics system for tracing the dynamics of individual Tweets. For example, the number and type of interactions a Tweet receives is automatically recorded day by day.  Also. the total number of interactions received by all Tweets can be plotted as a histogram over any time period (Fig 3). The rate of impressions per day varied and was always boosted on the days when Tweets were published. During a period of seven days without tweeting (Feb 28 to Mar 5) the number of daily impressions increased two-fold.

Fig 3 Numbers of impressions and Tweets on the topic of climate change per day (Feb 27 to Feb to 7 March).

Each new Tweet boosted the number of impressions for that day.  This was followed by a slower rate of interaction. Over the first 20 days of the project the Tweets had earned 1,8 k impressions at a rate of around 100 per day. Engagements accumulated at a slower rate; an average of 3 interactions per 100 impressions.

This raises the question of the factors that limit the impact of a Tweet in gaining an audience and getting the recipient to delve deeper into the subject matter.  To a large extent this is an issue of the way in which people interact with information that is delivered to their computer screens. The following five facts illustrate the psychological limitations of this basic interaction.

  • The average person gets distracted in eight seconds, though a mere 2.8 seconds is enough to distract some people.
  • 81 percent of people only skim the content they read online. (Jakob Nielsen has written that the average user reads at most 20 to 28 percent of words during an average visit.)
  • People form a first impression in a mere 50 milliseconds.
  • Posts that include images produce a 6-fold higher engagement than text-only posts.
  • People are 85 percent more likely to buy a product after viewing a product video.
  • Posts with videos attract 3X more links than text-only posts.

Then there is the tone of the actual Tweet, which has to be enthusiastic.  If you want to earn reTweets and engagement, you have to be at least as enthusiastic about your Tweet as you want your followers to be. A sincerely excited and positive tone in your Tweets will make it more likely that your followers will get in on the conversation and help you spread the word. For example, would you be more likely to reTweet this “Starting Saturday we are expanding hours at all of our restaurants.”, or “Great news night owls! Starting Saturday you can get great burgers, shakes, and fries until midnight!”?

Also  certain words and phrases are more likely to create engagement. For example, the word “you” is extremely powerful in all forms of social media content, but on Twitter, its power is even more exceptional. It reminds followers that your focus is on their needs and interests, and when used in a question encourages responses. In addition to the word you, superlatives (awesome, mind blowing), verbs (share, reTweet, click, look, see), and urgent phrasing (check it out today!, Learn more at our website! Limited time to respond!) urge people respond.

Content that contains images is more likely to be shared and to get responses. However, if you limit the type of visual content you are Tweeting, you could be missing out on attention and engagement. In fact, the most shareable form of content is the infographic.  An infographic is, “a visual presentation of information in the form of a chart, graph, or other image accompanied by minimal text, intended to give an easily understood overview, often of a complex subject.”

The importance of the format of the Tweet is brought out by a comparison of the following two Tweets.  Each carried the same basic message (Figs 4 & 5) but in terms of impressions, total engagement and link clicks the second Tweet was far more successful.  

Fig 4  Tweet published on Mar 3 (2019); viewed Mar 5 ( 2019)

Time elapsed from publication of Tweet = 48hr

Impressions = 39

Total engagement = 1

Link clicks = 1

Fig 5  Tweet published on Mar 5 (2019); viewed 5hr after publication

Time elapsed from publication = 5hr

Impressions = 97

Total engagements = 2

Link clicks = 2

Profile = 1

In summary, Twitter says that an influencer with a good engagement rate on Twitter could expect between 2 – 9 reactions for every 1000 followers. An engagement rate between 0.09% and 0.33% is considered to be high, where an influencer would expect 9 – 33 reactions for every 1000 followers on Twitter. So far, the actual engagement rate for the climate change project from Feb 15 to Mar 7 was 2.8% and the total reactions, link clicks, reTweets and Likes was 57.  With only 29 followers this amounts to 2000 reactions per 1000 followers. These engagements were not coming from followers.

However, from an educational viewpoint the most significant statistic is that 17 people delved deeper into the information, an indication that they were building a personal body of knowledge.  This augers well for the use of Twitter as a personal learning environment for supporting and promoting self-motivated critical learning.

6 Internet references

Skomer: An Island For Playful Learning

February 9th, 2019

Each week I was required to complete one or two several thousand word essays, ticking off sources from the reading list as I went by. I was encouraged to read beyond the facts, to make my own assumptions and to prove and disprove theories. Another shock was for me that now – for the first time – my opinion actually mattered. Rather than simply regurgitating the textbook, tutors were asking me what I thought.

Adam, an undergraduate at Oxford.

Educational Humanism

A book ‘Freedom to Learn’ was published in 1969 that contains the basic ideas about learning as researched by the creative psychologist Carl Rogers.  Rogers was thinking within the framework of existentialism, a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life bottom up, through free will, choice, and personal responsibility.  Existentialists believe that everyone is searching to find out who and what they are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs, and outlook. And personal choices become unique without the necessity of an objective form of truth. Existentialism holds that a person should be forced to choose their own pathway through life and be responsible without the help of laws, ethnic rules, or traditions. Existentialism goes alongside enculturation.

Enculturation is the process by which people learn the dynamics of their surrounding culture and acquire values and norms appropriate or necessary to thrive in that culture and its worldviews.  As part of this process, the influences that limit, direct, or shape the individual, whether deliberately or not, include parents, other adults, and peers. If successful, enculturation results in competence in the language, values and rituals of the culture.

A place-based analysis of enculturation addresses the following propositions of cultural ecology.

  1. How we use the environment is a central determinant of human culture and through human discourse our relationship to places defines human identity and social progress;
  2. Cultural experiences influence social, emotional and cognitive development throughout the human life course to consolidate a personal sense of ‘home’.
  3. Objects of heritage (artefacts, buildings, sites, landscapes) and practices of heritage (languages, music, community celebrations) are used to shape personal ideas about who we are as nations, communities, and individuals. What we define as ‘heritage’ is constantly changing in the light of the present as we look to the past to imagine our future.  Myths, as organised collections of stories by which we explain our beliefs and our history, form scaffolds of culture Beneath the story-lines, myths usually confront major issues such as the origin of humanity and its traditions, and the way in which the natural and human worlds function on a profound, universal level. Art objects often carry and display these story lines.

The above propositons delineate a process of self-understanding by which we define ‘home’ as a landscape of the mind with definate boundaries.  In this respect these landscapes are islands of the mind and the central features of our cultural self-identity, using heritage to connect with the places where we like to be. In that context, this blog may be regarded a virtual museum of social progress.  It deals with the question: Do we create a place in culture through discovering culture in place?

Knowledge sharing between islands of the mind is an important source of new knowledge and innovation. Different studies point out the difficulties and specific requirements to be considered in cross-disciplinary contexts.  The problem is how do we obtain a multi-perspective access to information spaces for facilitating knowledge exchange between mapped knowledge islands. This blog discusses the main challenges of creating knowledge frameworks to support existential exchange between knowledge islands.

To take on existentialism is be confronted with humanism.  Humanistic education in particular, is an approach to learning based on the work of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.  In the 1970s the term “humanistic education” became less popular after conservative groups equated it with “Secular Humanism” and anti religion.  It was therefore re-labelled as “person-centered learning”, also named self-appropriated learning. Carl Rogers devoted much of his efforts toward applying the results of his psychological research to person-centered learning where empathy, caring about students, and genuineness on the part of the learning facilitator were found to be the three key traits of the most effective practitioner. Fascilitated person-centred learning is the essence of a humanistic education and the closest most learners can come this is to engage in an Oxford/Cambridge type of tutorial.

We are in the era of learning through the organization of digital information, a cultural position where gathering, storing and sharing information is integral with producing new knowledge.  This defines today’s learning culture. Nevertheless we are surrounded by horizons of incompleteness. We respond by sailing ever more mental ships of discovery to chart reality. But this only produces an ever shifting map of islands and archipelagos of partial knowledge in a vast sea of ignorance.  As more shores are discovered our ignorance grows. In 1990, Peter Senge wrote in The Fifth Discipline that “through learning we recreate ourselves …. This is the goal of humanistic education, which centres on the learner as an individual and considers that learning is not just about the intellect, but also about educating the whole thinking person, taking a person’s interests, goals, and enthusiasm into account, so that full potential can be achieved. This approach to learning is thinker-centred, with learners encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning and being intrinsically, rather than extrinsically motivated.

The humanistic approach emphasizes the personal worth of the individual, the centrality of human values, and the creative, active nature of human beings.  Humanists regard personal growth and fulfillment in life as basic human motives. Sometimes the humanistic approach is called phenomenological. This means that personality is defined from the point of view of the individual’s subjective experience, namely how individuals uniquely perceive and interpret events.  This means humanists, in different ways, seeks to grow psychologically and continuously enhance themselves. This is the hall mark Leonardo da Vinci’s humanistic outburst of creativity and the explosion of the art of Paul Klee’s humanism four centuries later. Both artist believed that objective reality is less important than a person’s subjective perception and understanding of the world. It is well-known that Klee, more than any other artist of our century, was consciously detached from the main stream of modern art and its theoretical assumptions. In the same way, Leonardo, more than any other artist of the Renaissance, consciously detached himself from the central features of the historical tradition. In this connection, the writings which compose Paul Klee’s theory of the production of pictorial form have the same importance and the same meaning for modern art as had Leonardo’s  writings, which composed his theory of painting for Renaissance art. They are both the result of a humanistic introspective analysis of reality, which the artists engaged in during their work. In their creative thought both Leonardo and Klee are not so much concerned with the art object, as with the manner in which it is produced. They are concerned not with form as an immutable value, but with formation as a process, which takes in the entire universe.

This then, places humanistic education at the heart of the digital learning culture, where it has never been easier to map a personal body of knowledge as interconnected islands of the mind.   Education from a humanist perspective focuses on developing rationality, autonomy, empowerment, creativity, affections and a concern for a free humanity. This concern for humanity expresses a person’s relation to other people; a social component that can range from empathy to solidarity, and from the person’s own community to the social diversity of the global world. Appreciating diversity and democracy are humanist ways of living together as human beings.

The essence of humanism is that learners are no longer regarded as passive receivers of knowledge, but as active constructors of personal meaning.  

Some basic principles of the humanistic approach used to develop educational objectives are:

  1. Students will learn best what they want and need to know. That is, when they have developed the skills of analyzing what is important to them and why as well as the skills of directing their behavior towards those wants and needs, they will learn more easily and quickly. Most educators and learning theorists would agree with this statement, although they might disagree on exactly what contributes to student motivation.
  2. Knowing how to learn is more important than acquiring a lot of knowledge. In our present society where knowledge is changing rapidly, this view is shared by many educators, especially those taking a cognitive perspective.
  3. Self-evaluation is the only meaningful evaluation of a student’s work. The emphasis here is on internal development and self-regulation. While most educators would likely agree that this is important, they would also advocate a need to develop a student’s ability to meet external expectations. However, meeting external expectations runs counter to most humanistic theories.
  4. Feelings, such as spirituality are as important as facts. Much work from the humanistic view seems to validate this point and is one area where humanistically-oriented educators are making significant contributions the  knowledge base of selfhood.
  5. Students learn best in a non-threatening environment. This is one area where humanistic educators have had an impact on current educational practice. The orientation espoused today is that the environment should be psychologically and emotionally, as well as physically, non-threatening. However, there is some research that suggests that a neutral environment is best for older, highly motivated students.

Currently, in a European context, Finland comes closest to operating a national humanistic education system and is positioned high in the league tables of academic attainment. In contrast, as Finland devolves more power to teachers and pupils to design and direct learning the UK educational policy becomes more narrow and centrally prescribed,

It is in relation to this existentialist/humanistic background that Denis Bellamy, Professor of Zoology in the University of Wales at Cardiff, organised annual small group field courses on Skomer, a small volcanic offshore island in South West Wales, in the 1970s and 80’s.   For two weeks at a time, up to six undergraduates and an academic tutor/facilitator lived on the creative edge of the western seaboard that has been occupied by pioneering island cultures dating from prehistoric times, a history now embedded in the settler’s stone-walled field systems.  The practical curriculum was conservation management, taking a holistic view of the management systems of biological resources ancient and modern. The physical evidence of the coming and going of past settlers quickly raised issues of the relationships between cultural and economic values of human resources and their sustaiable use.  

It is within this interdisciplinary panorama that gathering information and assembling it as knowledge can be seen as a form of play. There are now numerous case studies from higher education that demonstrate how researchers, students and managers can benefit from play as a means of liberating thought, overturning obstacles and discovering fresh approaches to persistent challenges. While play is often misunderstood as something ‘trivial’ and associated with early years education, it can be argued that play contributes to social and human development and person to person relations at a fundamental level when play is incorporated into a self-learning curriculum.  In this respect, this blog celebrates Skomer as a place where learning can become playfully creative.

Skomer as a learning island had five important mainland outcomes that Bellamy advocated based on the student islanders experience of self-discovery learning.  These were:

  • the formation of a cross departmental General Honours degree called ‘environmental studies’ in Cardiff;
  • a lecture-free, self instruction tutorial-based course to deliver a first year zoology course for over a hundred Cardiff students;
  • the creation of a new GCSE subject called natural economy, created by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate;
  • a schools in communities network for addressing the local Agenda 21, assembled by teachers in Pembrokeshire, based in the National Museum of Wales;
  • and International Classrooms OnLine (ICOL), a global IT network promoting the use of cultural ecology as an ideational knowledge framework for learning to live sustainably.  ICOL currentlt has over a million unique visitors a year and around fifty people a day register for its blog.

The student islanders also had an input to the creation of a conservation management system that was invented on the island by the warden Mike Alexander and is now used worldwide.

The success of the Skomer excursion into humanistic education encouraged the incorporation of two ‘mainland islands’ into the project, Whitford Burrows NNR, a sand dune peninsula and Parsonage Down NNR, a traditional downland working farm, on the edge of Salisbury Plain, an island of ancient grassland grazed by cattle and sheep in a sea of intensive arable cultivation.

Creating a Skomerite

The significance of using Skomer as an educational resource to link culture with ecology means fascilitators and learners have to adopt a crosscuricular approach to understand the island as a special place.  It has a very rich archaeological history. A single standing stone, isolated round barrows and cairnfields have long been recorded, but previously unrecognised megalithic sites, have now been discovered. The human settlement of Skomer can now be argued to span millennia rather than decades or centuries.  During this time there has been a succession of people, the Skomerites, who have laid claim to the island’s natural resources, the latest being the Welsh government body responsible for nature conservation. Then we have the Skomer vole, a subspecies of the mainland vole, that illustrates Darwin’s principle of islands as places of rapid evolution.  The term Skomerite also references the island’s rock strata, found nowhere else in the world and unique in terms of their volcanic origins. More importantly for the budding humanist Skomer lies on an arc of prehistoric island settlement along the western seaways of the British Isles, stretching from the Channel Islands in the south, up through the Isles of Scilly, Anglesea, the Isle of Man, and the Outer Hebrides to Orkney in the north.  These sea routes have long been seen as crucial to our understanding of the processes which led to the arrival of the Neolithic Age in Britain and Ireland in the centuries around 4000 bc and the creative use of ‘community stone’ for monuments, field boundaries and houses. Therefore, each academic discipline brought to bear on the island is only a relatively small piece of Skomer’s humanistic jigsaw, which is the island in all its socioscientific dimensions.  

If “scientific” stands for measurement, quantification, and prediction, student islanders had to let the term “humanistic” do the same for aesthetic concern, qualitative interest, and uniqueness of the island in human events.   Is there a categorical opposition between these two sets of polarities? Must one be pursued to the exclusion of the other? After two weeks incubating their projects the student islanders came to realise that a true understanding of the past in the present demands the definition of both.  This understanding was reinforced when they left the island and re entered, shock/horror, the supermarket economy. Furthermore, with this new realisation of the partiality of academic divisions of knowledge came with an understanding that the single honours degree has to be ditched because at the heart of cultural ecology and the future of humanity is an interdisciplinary perspective of economic development.

Learning on the Creative Edge

People on small islands live on the creative edge of culture.  Islanders are island-bound but can easily come to be progressive, to look forward embracing what can be, while remaining fully aware of what is and what has been.  Being on the creative edge also means embracing change, personal, social, and cultural, which for the most part comes from mainland influences. It could mean living for something tangible that can have a cultural impact. It could mean envisioning a new culture centred on community and connections with others and with nature, learning to integrate ecology with economy.  

Within Skomer’s historical backdrop, there is a growing opinion that henge builders migrated south from Orkney and a crucial turning point was from the coastlands of Pembrokeshire towards Salisbury Plain.  It has long been known that the bluestones forming Stonehenge’s inner horseshoe came from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, around 140 miles from Salisbury Plain. Putative evidence of quarrying for the bluestones of Stonehenge is among the most recent dramatic claims of leading archaeologists that a prototype of England’s greatest prehistoric monument may have first been erected in Wales.  Now archaeologists have discovered a series of recesses in the rocky outcrops of Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin, to the north of those hills, that match Stonehenge’s bluestones in size and shape. They have also found similar stones that the prehistoric builders extracted but left behind, and “a loading bay” from where the huge stones could be dragged away. Carbonised hazelnut shells and charcoal from the quarry workers’ campfires have been radiocarbon-dated to reveal when the stones would have been extracted.  Mike Parker Pearson, director of the project said the finds were “amazing”. “We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC,” he said. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.”  Also, it has been discovered that cremated humans at Stonehenge were from the same region of Wales as the smaller standing stones, bluestones, used in construction.

Although we will never know for certain how the bluestones arrived on Salisbury Plain, Parker Pearson has produced an archaeological surmise that will not go away.  Edmund Burke, 18th century British statesman and philosopher, could have been talking about the value of having an archaeological focus for place when he wrote about the importance of the partnership “between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”.  It is this sociohistorical backdrop that makes Skomer a good place for playful conceptual thinking about futures. It was Burke’s kind of partnership that was repeatedly highlighted in the undergraduate field courses held on Skomer in the 1970s.

An Impenetrable Curriculum

The Skomer student islanders, each assembling their personal island curriculum from a cross curricular perspective, were also contemplating the historical origins of today’s traditional science curriculum and recognizing it as essentially a 19th century invention in its educational intent.  Accordingly, attempts at reforming the traditional curriculum into one with a humanistic intent have been unsuccessful. This indicates that political and social power is involved in reaching curriculum decisions Just as science had to compete in the 1860s with the classics and religion to get a foothold in the school curriculum, today a humanistic perspective must compete with the pre-professional training of elite students to earn a place in the single subject science curriculum that supports a global capitalist economy. This reflects a competition between two ideologies.  On the one hand there is the intention to, promote practical utility, human values, and a connectedness with societal issues to achieve inclusiveness and a community-centered orientation to the future. On the other hand there is a desire to promote professional science associations, the rigors of a narrow mental training, with academic screening to achieve exclusiveness, and a narrow subject-centered orientation towards maintaining a free market economy growing year on year. This is not a sustainable option.

A group of environmentalists met in Cambridge in 2018 under the auspices of the Learned Society of Wales to discuss routes to a sustainable future. One of their conclusions is that educational humanism resides in the forward reach at a growing tip of the ethics of cultural ecology.  From this academic stance the legacy for future generations is for the present generation to aim for abandoning economic growth as a criterion of human progress and bring the use of natural resources in line with Earth’s limited productivity.

The call from Skomer for a new humanism in the 21st century is based on the conviction that the moral, intellectual and political foundations of globalization and international cooperation have to be rethought.  Humanism was first set out by the ancient Greeks to resolve tensions between tradition and modernity and to reconcile individual rights with newly emerging duties of democratic citizenship. The new humanism goes beyond the level of the nation state in seeking to unite the process of globalization with its complex and sometimes contradictory manifestations.   A new humanism for lifelong learning therefore advocates the social inclusion of every human being at all levels of society and underlines the transformative power of an education that links sciences, culture and communications to live sustainably. Therefore, humanism today needs to be perceived as a global collective effort. Its aim is to hold governments, civil society, the private sector and human individuals equally responsible to realize its values.  The aim is to sustain a human population on our planet based on the holistic management of social and environmental development to maintain a steady state global economy where everyone has a fair share. New humanism describes the only way forward to a world that accounts for the diversity of identities and the heterogeneity of interests and which is based on inclusive, democratic, and, indeed, humanist values.

Conceptual Learning

Humanism promotes conceptual thinking that goes with an ability to understand a situation or problem by identifying patterns or connections, and addressing key underlying issues. It is central to a humanistic education which rests on the integration of issues and factors into a conceptual framework which postulates that the production of, and interaction of, people with, ‘things’ in the world have had transformative effects on those ‘things’ as well as on humans themselves.  Here are two well-known examples requiring this ability of cross curricular conceptual modeling for a full understanding.

‘People started to cook, and the cooked proteins had profound effects on the evolution of teeth and jaw muscles, which in turn affected the development of the human brain. And the domestication of plants, wolves, sheep and cows had profound transformative effects on plants, wolves, sheep and cows, as well as on landscapes, human subsistence and material as well as immaterial culture, and finally ‘fed back’ to create changes in human bodies, brains and minds.  This interrelationship between mind and matter in the form of intricate codevelopment of brains, cognition and material culture has in recent years been solidly recognized in cognitive archaeology’.

A humanistic education should promote this kind of learning, which traces links between concepts, not factual learning.  Factual information is seen as a necessary means to a higher end, and not as an end in itself. Students’ success, their “competence” in the teacher’s eyes, is determined by how well they are able to take in facts and retrieve them when called upon in examinations to do so. Little concern is given to what students are able to do by playing  with their factual knowledge. How effective are they, for example, at solving problems or asking suggestive and original questions; at formulating new conceptual models, reasoning a complex matter through to a logical conclusion, hypothesizing, or making intelligent inductive leaps?

Education which stresses conceptual learning would encourage students in developing these abilities to tackle difficult distinctions and deep entanglements.  These exist between dead matter and living organisms, processes and products, complex interactive mutual involvements, networks, and feedback loops between people, their surroundings and whatever people make or manipulate.  A total understanding requires the application of systems thinking using conceptual mind maps to unravel the interdisciplinary complexity.

For example, considering the 1996 Sea Empress oil spill, which occurred only a few miles from Skomer, in a factual learning model, a teacher might concentrate on the data surrounding this oil spill; when it happened, what caused it, what its effects were. In the traditional learning model, students would leave the classroom knowing specific pieces of information, like; it involved an oil tanker that spilled millions of gallons of crude oil; and it is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters that has ocurred in the UK.

But in a conceptual learning model, the starting point of a fascillitator would be the broader concept of world wide environmental sustainability.  Then the Sea Empress oil spill would be considered as one specific example of consumerism that had a negative impact. In a conceptual learning model, students would work within their own world model, first to learn about the concept of environmental sustainability.  In particular, how it involves decisions and actions that help or harm the natural world and its ability to support human life, then touch on a few significant examples that fall under this concept, such as Exxon’s Alaskan oil spill and how the biological impact was responded to by the local and international communities

Throughout history, the real fundamental changes in societies have come about not from the dictates of governments or the results of battles but through vast numbers of people changing their world view, sometimes only a little bit!”  In this connection, successive populations of Skomerites from prehistoric times to the present have had to take a world view of their small space on Earth and comply to a management plan which balances the numbers partaking of the island’s bounty in relation to the resilience of its ecosystems to supply their needs and wants indefinitely.  The many commings and goings of people through the centuries indicate how difficult it is to be sustainable!

Knowledge Islands in Humanistic Learning

What is the relation between thinking on the one hand, and knowledge on the other?  Psychologists have defined thinking as a purposeful mental acivity aimed at finding an answer to a question.  Examples of thinking are, to solve a practical problem, to establish the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject or to make choices or decisions by discovering facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education.

There are at least three broad categories of thinking, namely, inferential thinking, reflective thinking and creative thinking.  All of these were demonstrated in the reports of the student islanders.

Inferential thinking allowed them reach a conclusion on the basis of evidence and reasoning from a given body of information. The information was seen as a set of previous statements from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion.  Inferential thinking can be viewed as the process of reasoning, specific forms of which include proving and calculating.

Reflective thinking included perceiving patterns, relations, similarities, and differences; identifying relevant factors, spotting inconsistencies, and synthesizing.

Creative thinking involved inventing ideas, solutions and entities, as well as the conceptualizing, and imagining.

An important part of finding reliable answers to questions by thinking is quality control: ensuring that our answers are as close to “truth” as possible. This calls for critical thinking which involves the use of inferential and reflective modes of thinking to make an evaluation. Critical thinking can be thought of as the mental process of evaluating the merit of a statement, object, policy, or action, on the basis of a careful consideration of the relevant factors.  Here, “merit” is defined as being credibility/truth, significance, usefulness, desirability, moral goodness, beauty, and so on. Reading research reports, critiquing a movie, considering a proposal for a reform, and trying to choose between products, all involve critical thinking.

In this respect, critical thinking is a very important self learning element of humanistic education.  Critical thinking in the context of inquiry involves evaluating the truth of knowledge statements. As producers and consumers of knowledge, thinkers engage in three important activities involving critical thinking.

  1. They assess the credibility of the research findings of the other members of the community, to decide whether or not to accept their claims.
  2. They provide justification for their own claims in response to questioning by others.
  3. They persuade the community to accept their claims as being true by providing arguments in favour of the claims, or against competing claims.

Critical thinking goes along with personal kmowledge management to marshal the evidence.  With the increased awareness of digital knowledge management, many educationalists have been paying special attention to knowledge mapping.

Lorraine Code, in 1995, conceptualised “rhetorical spaces” as places for the classification of personal topics, where they can be taken seriously as legitimate subjects for open discussion. In existing library classifications, there is rhetorical space for most mainstream social and scholarly knowledge domains but not for domains of interdisciplinary knowledge. Mindmapping offers neutral nodes as rhetorical spaces for framing concepts to build a theoretical mapping framework for ameliorating the biases and omissions of library classifications.  

Classifications are bounded ystems that  marginalize some groups and topics by locating them in ghettoes. Other marginalized groups and topics are totally excluded from these systems, being outside of their territorial limits. Because classifications are locational systems, spatial analyses borrowed from various disciplines have potential to identify and address their problems.  A mind map is a means to visually represent ideas and their relationship to one another.

According to different purposes, mind maps can be classified into 3 types:

  1. Library mind maps for information organizing
  2. Presentation mind maps for presenting ideas and projects
  3. Tunnel timeline mind maps for organizing or making a project plan

Educational practitioners, researchers and theorists all agree that the concept of knowledge mapping has yet to be studied, described and fully understood. First and foremost learners need to understand where their knowledge assets might be located before they can plan a map to unlock the value.  Knowledge mapping is considered as a means of visually representing knowledge assets as well as their relationships and dependencies with one another. It can be defined as creating a knowledge repository consisting of a visual two-dimensional, spatial, one-to-many nodal network showing relevant relationships among pieces of knowledge.    A map is a representation, usually on a flat surface, of the whole or a part of an area of containing the pieces of knowledge. A mind map is also called a knowledge map, a conceptual map, or a knowledge tree and in itself it creates new knowledge for the user.

The procedural approach to the conceptual mapping of a body of nodal knowledge is aimed at visualising the functioning of the core processes that the user is required to understand as functional hierarchies. A procedural knowledge map will define processes or thinking- narratives  and offer the user some instructions or guidance as to how they operate. It usually shows the source of that knowledge and indicates at what point it intervenes in a process. Process-based maps represent knowledge and its sources mapped within the framework of a process. Any type of knowledge that drives the process or results from its execution can be mapped. Any process of an organisation can be mapped (e.g. research and development, marketing, selling, supply process, etc.) and show where tacit or explicit knowledge intervenes.

A functional knowledge tree is a growing branch structure, which associates, organizes, and places informational nodes in hierarchical order.  A hierarchical barrier is any factor which prevents the mapping of the hierarchical order. A functional barrier is any factor which prevents mapping the relationships between processes.  Knowledge islands are formed when functional and hierarchical barriers cross each other, thus isolating the thinking of individuals or groups (Fig 1).

Fig 1 Formation of knowledge islands

The Hyperbox Club

The Hyperbox Club was invented on Skomer and is now an online international gathering of educators defining and designing complex mental structures.  This is a common activity performed by members of almost every discipline, profession, and artisanship throughout the centuries. All the disciplines of old discovered that skills and knowledge required for the composition of large complex systems for the containment, conservation and transmission of culture  do not match the skills that are required for assembling small, bottom-up knowledge structures. Yet the bottom up assembly of knowledge is where we all start at primary school.

Hyperbox recommends Mindmeister and cmap software for assembling knowlege and Google Sites for presenting it.

The group of knowledge islands in Fig 2 is a branch of a Mindmeister map entitled ‘Knowledge Islands in Humanistic Education’; a work in progress.

Fig 2 Knowledge islands

This fgure is taken from a mind map exemplifying the way a digital model of knowledge management can be expressed graphically as five islands and their extensive archipelagos.

Knowledge islands as patchy ecosystems

Patch dynamics is an ecological perspective that the structure, function, and dynamics of ecological systems can be understood through studying their interactive patches. Patch dynamics, as a term, may also refer to the spatiotemporal changes within and among patches that make up a landscape. Patch dynamics is ubiquitous in terrestrial and aquatic systems across organizational levels and spatial scales. From a patch dynamics perspective, populations, communities, ecosystems, and landscapes may all be studied effectively as mosaics of patches that differ in size, shape, composition, history, and boundary characteristics.

The idea of patch dynamics dates back to the 1940s when plant ecologists studied the structure and dynamics of vegetation in terms of the interactive patches that it comprises. A mathematical theory of patch dynamics was developed by Simon Levin and Robert Paine in the 1970s, originally to describe the pattern and dynamics of an intertidal community as a patch mosaic created and maintained by tidal disturbances. Patch dynamics became a dominant theme in ecology between the late 1970s and the 1990s.

Patch dynamics is a conceptual approach to ecosystem and habitat analysis that emphasizes dynamics of heterogeneity within a system (i.e. that each area of an ecosystem is made up of a mosaic of small ‘sub-ecosystems’).

Diverse patches of habitat created by natural disturbance regimes are seen as critical to the maintenance of this diversity (ecology). A habitat patch is any discrete area with a definite shape, spatial and configuration used by a species for breeding or obtaining other resources. Mosaics are the patterns within landscapes that are composed of smaller elements, such as individual forest stands, shrubland patches, highways, farms, or towns.

Knowledge islands as managed green spaces

Green space is a vital part of the public realm. Attractive, safe and accessible parks and green spaces contribute positive social, economic and environmental benefits, improving public health, well-being and quality of life.

Public spaces are a barometer of a community. As human beings we respond positively and instinctively to places that are welcoming. We want to spend time – and money – in such a community. But all too often, we experience places that are unwelcoming, unkempt and difficult – or even dangerous – to use.

The standard of a local authority’s management and upkeep of the green spaces in its care is a very public indicator of its broader performance. A piecemeal, reactive approach to providing and maintaining green space will deliver few, if any, benefits. High quality, well-used spaces are possible only if those responsible for their planning, management and improvement think strategically. Councils are responsible for producing green space strategies that set out the vision and the detail of the design, provision and enhancement of the parks and public spaces in their care.

Knowledge islands as literary metaphors

There is a strong island tradition in European literature that links it specifically to the notion of cultural translatability and the idea of the floating island as a mobile signifier with a focus on writers from Greco-Roman antiquity to the contemporary period.  Island spaces are used to explore and create bridges between the real and the imaginary as a response to cultural and social realities, frequently taking the form of utopias/dystopias, Edens, Arcadias, nations and cultural crossroads. The virtual spaces of islands are susceptible to translatability and articulate perspectives on the shifting relationship between self and other, centre and periphery, serving as sites of mediation between cultures. Within an increasingly global culture marked by inequalities and differences, islands may induce a contrapuntal approach to literary and cultural criticism

Knowledge islands as tribal places

The word “tribe” can be defined to mean an extended kin group or clan with a common ancestor, or can also be described as a group with shared interests, lifestyles and habits. The proverb “birds of a feather flock together” describes homophily, the human tendency to form friendship networks with people of similar occupations, interests, and habits. Some tribes can be located in geographically proximate areas, like villages or bands, though telecommunications enables groups of people to form digital tribes using tools like social networking websites.

In terms of conformity tribalism has been defined as a “subjectivity” or “way of being” social frame in which communities are bound socially beyond immediate birth ties by the dominance of various modalities of face-to-face and object integration. Ontologically, tribalism is oriented around the valences of analogy, genealogy and mythology. That means that customary tribes have their social foundations in some variation of these tribal orientations, while often taking on traditional practices (e.g. Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), and modern practices, including monetary exchange, mobile communications, and modern education.

The social structure of a tribe can vary greatly from case to case, but the relatively small size of customary tribes makes social life in such of tribes usually involve a relatively undifferentiated role structure, with few significant political or economic distinctions between individuals.  A tribe often refers to itself using its own language’s word for “people”, and refers to other, neighboring tribes with various epithets. For example, the term “Inuit” translates to “people”.

Tribalism implies the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates one member of a group from the members of another group. Based on strong relations of proximity and kinship, members of a tribe tend to possess a strong feeling of identity.

Objectively, for a customary tribal society to form there needs to be ongoing customary organization, enquiry and exchange. However, intense feelings of common identity can lead people to feel tribally connected.

The distinction between these two definitions for tribalism, objective and subjective, is an important one because while tribal societies have been pushed to the edges of the Western world, tribalism, by the second definition, is arguably undiminished. A few writers have postulated that the human brain is hard-wired towards tribalism by its evolutionary advantages, but that claim is usually linked to equating original questions of sociality with tribalism.

Knowledge  islands as public spaces

Public spaces and marketplaces are essential ingredients in every community. Public space provides opportunities for people to meet and be exposed to a variety of neighbours. These meetings often take place by chance, but they also can come through active organizing. The art of promoting constructive interaction among people in public spaces has been nearly forgotten in many communities. Planners, architects, and public administrators have focused more on creating aesthetic places and on providing for the unimpeded movement and storage of automobiles than on creating places that encourage social interaction. More recently, public officials have been even more concerned with security and maximizing their ability to observe and control people in public spaces.

William H. Whyte asserted that crowded, pedestrian-friendly, active spaces are safer, more economically productive, and more conducive to healthy civic communities. “What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people,” he wrote. Since the 1950s, city planners, developers, policy makers, and transportation engineers have built and modified communities in just the opposite vein.

Importance of Self-Appropriated Learning.

Rogers’ thoughts about teaching and learning first appeared in the 1950s.  

“My experience is that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.  It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential and has little or no significant influence on behavior. I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behaviour.  I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influence behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning. Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another. As a consequence of the above, I realize that I have lost interest in being a teacher.  When I try to teach, as I do sometimes, I am appalled by the results, which seems a little more than inconsequential, because sometimes the teaching appears to succeed. When this happens I find that the results are damaging. It seems to cause the individual to distrust his own experience, and to stifle significant learning. Hence, I have come to feel that the outcomes of teaching are either unimportant or hurtful.  When I look back at the results of my past teaching, the real results seem the same – either damage was done – or nothing significant occurred. This is frankly troubling”.

Many students have chaffed under what Rogers calls traditional “jug and mug” teaching styles that stress transfer of information through top down, one-way communication. He saw his role as a facilitator supporting the growth of personal bodies of knowledge.  Years later, one of Rogers’ followers, Em Grim, organised an experimental learning situation for budding psychotherapists on a small island in Lake Michigan. The aim of the island course was to learn about human relationships by studying what happens among group members over a two-week period. Every year Grim selected eight students who wanted to change the way they interact with others. They understand that the remote setting would tend to magnify whatever feelings they have for each other. The enforced togetherness can turn ordinary liking to love or irritation to disgust. It is the type of intensive group experience that Rogers enjoyed leading throughout his professional life.  Although the island course gave students the opportunity to be more than passive learners, Grim says they had qualms about what it might mean to take responsibility for their own learning. Students opted for Grim’s island course with many misgivings.

Unlike the Skomer students, who were dedicated to carrying out a small piece of ecological research for real, Grim’s students were looking for ways to improve their self-concept, draw closer to others, and express themselves more freely. Since students who signed up for the island course qualify on both counts, Grim would predict growth over a two-week period as long as the leader, conveyed Rogers’ three caring responses; empathy, caring about students, and genuineness on the part of the learning facilitator. The Skomer students also adapted to each other socially, but also developed their own selfood by obtaining research data and making sense of it. They rapidly became self confident experts!

In a more general sense, the term self-appropriated learning includes the work of other humanistic pedagogues, such as Alexander Neill, Rudolf Steiner, and Maria Montessori. All of them aimed to create a self-learning environment, seeking to engage the “whole person”.  This

includes the intellect, life affirming behaviours, social capacities, and artistic/practical skills as important foci for an individual’s growth and development.  Important objectives include developing learners’ self-esteem, their ability to set and achieve appropriate goals, and their development toward full autonomy with the self assembly of a personal body of knowledge.  It is in this sense that we surely create a place in culture through discovering culture in place.  

Internet  References


History of Humanism

Carl rogers

Ecological Humanism

January 9th, 2019

We Earth-bound humans are encountering a severe ecological crisis exemplified by climate change and have three choices for the future. The first option is to continue with industrial capitalism in pursuit of the dream of mastering nature. This global social force is underpinned by a radical separation between humans and other life forms.  It is associated with anthropocentrism, the idea that humans are superior to the rest of nature and thereby hold the right to pillage the planet. In 1961 humanity used 70 percent of Earth’s sustainable productivity; since the 1980s it has consistently exceeded it. The world’s ecological deficit is referred to as the global ecological overshoot. Since the 1970s, humans have been in ecological overshoot, with the annual demand on resources exceeding what Earth can regenerate each year. Today, the human population uses the equivalent of 1.7 Earths to provide its resources and to absorb its wastes. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what is used in a year through overfishing the seas, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester through plant photosynthesis.  

Estimates put Earth’s carrying capacity at anywhere between 2 billion and 40 billion people. It varies with a wide range of factors, most of them fitting under the umbrella of ‘lifestyle’. For instance, if humans remained in the prehistoric hunter-gatherer mode, Earth would reach its capacity at about 100 million people. With humans producing food by intensive agriculture and living an urban life in high-rise buildings, that number increases significantly.  

To understand the flexibility of Earth’s carrying capacity is to look at the difference between the projected capacities of 2 billion and 40 billion people. Essentially, we’re working with the same level of planetary resources to produce both of those numbers. But people in different parts of the world are consuming different amounts. Basically, if everyone on Earth lived like a middle-class American, consuming roughly 3.3 times the subsistence level of food and about 250 times the subsistence level of clean water, Earth could only support about 2 billion people. On the other hand, if everyone on the planet consumed only what is needed, for a long-term state of contentedness, 40 billion people would be a feasible number.  In 2019 the human population on Earth living with global overshoot was 7.7 billion and increasing. As it is, the 25 percent of Earth’s population living in developed countries are consuming so much that the other 75 percent of humanity is left with barely what it needs to get by. Thus, the first choice, to maintain the ever-expanding capitalist order, is unsustainable. It is the very path which led to the current ecological crisis measureable by biodiversity in sharp decline.

Biodiversity is the basis of human existence; our life support system. Ecosystems regulate climatic processes, breakdown wastes and recycle nutrients, filter and purify water, buffer against flooding, maintain soil fertility, purify air, and provide natural resources such as wood, textiles, and of course food.  In the face of a decline in biodiversity an alternative future is the neo-Romantic idea of Earth as a managed wilderness, whose conservation on a planetary scale would be humanity’s primary ecological aim. That is to say, we have to reject anthropocentrism in favour of biocentrism, a principle inhibiting humans from interfering with the vital needs of other organisms. But this alternative  is untenable as well, since pursuing it would require a massive reduction in the human population, the subordination of human aims to perceived natural ones, and a regression to a low-tech agrarian existence.

Ecological humanism offers a third future, which takes the view that human beings are capable of transforming their societies so as to promote the flourishing of both humanity and nature.  Ecological humanism is, in essence, a communitarian view of human culture. Human beings, it argues, have always pursued the developmental ideal of becoming fully integrated persons within community contexts by answering the questions; Who am I? (searching for values, beliefs and empathy for others); What am I going to do (defining career paths); WilI I make it? (coping with the cultural impact of rapid social, technical and economic changes). This is a tradition that is particularly associated with three pioneer social ecologists – Lewis Mumford, René Dubos and Murray Bookchin.   Their work provides a vital interdisciplinary resource for those concerned with developing a coherent philosophy of how humanity and nature, from which we evolved, can and should work together to deal with the current ecological crisis. The crisis in cultural ecology is evident in the degradation of the natural environment under industrial capitalism; the pollution of the atmosphere, rivers and lakes; deforestation; the limitations of industrial agriculture and the adverse effects of toxic pesticides and soil erosion; the problems of chemical additives in food; the dangers of nuclear power; and the serious decline in the quality of urban life through overcrowding, pollution, poverty and traffic congestion.  Ecological humanism focuses on culture and affirms that human beings are capable of transforming their societies so as to enhance the flourishing of both humanity and nature.This perspective highlights an educational objective to promote a sophisticated, planned, co‐ordinated global economy that is ecologically benign, socially peaceable and equitable. A pedagogy is needed whose basic characteristic is to promote planetary well being, not humankind’s destructive animality. Learning to care comes through the application of reason, decency, tolerance, empathy and hope.

These are important human traits that we should aspire to, not because we seek a reward of eternal life or because we fear the punishment of a supernatural being, but because they define our humanity on Earth.  In 1997, Babu Goginieni, director of the Humanist and Ethical Union, referring to the need for humanism in education remarked that: “… Atheism is not important. I happen to be an atheist, but that’s not the point – what is important is freedom and human values, and a way of living with others and with nature.”  ‘Prosperity’ is ‘belonging with love’, not year on year financial gain.

Humanism is a worldview, not about one aspect of religion, knowledge, or politics.  Many humanists are also secularists, but religious believers may also take a secularist position on humanism which calls for freedom of belief, including the right to change belief and not to believe. Education founded on free humanistic intellectual enquiry envisages that all children should be free to grow up in a world where they are allowed to question, doubt, think freely and reach their own conclusions about what they believe.  Ecological humanism in the classroom is about where our convictions of human dignity, equality or liberty come from and how these principles are to be defended. It is about finding one’s identity to promote the management of the local and global consumption of finite planetary resources and the associated divisive issues of gender and livelihoods. As a communitarian project the questions to be answered are: Who are we? What are we going to do? Will we make it?  

Fig 1 Comparison of two pedagogies for promoting learning and good behaviour

Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world’s great thinkers and creative artists since Greek and Roman times and gave rise to science itself.  In 1952, at the first World Humanist Congress, set out the fundamental principles of modern Humanism. The 50th anniversary World Humanist Congress in 2002, unanimously passed a resolution known as “The Amsterdam Declaration 2002”. Following the Congress, this updated declaration became the official defining statement of World Humanism.  The declaration promotes the application of human thought and action to solve the world’s problems of human welfare. Therefore humanism imposes no creed upon those committed to its principles and who share humanism’s quest for a more humane, just, and compassionate society. Humanism now takes on sustainable development initiatives looking far into the future as well as other pressing policy pursuits, with more immediate relevance. The latter are often also associated with sustainable development, such as the drive to promote health, secure basic education, reduce poverty, and create productive employment and livelihoods.

The fundamentals of modern Humanism are as follows:

1. Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.

2. Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.

3. Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.

4. Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognises our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.

5. Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision.

6. Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.

7. Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.

A primary task of humanism in education is to make students aware in the simplest terms of what Humanism can mean to them and what it commits them to. By utilising free inquiry, the power of science and creative imagination for the furtherance of peace and in the service of compassion, we have confidence that we have the means to solve the problems that confront us all. We call upon all who share this conviction to associate themselves with us in this endeavour.

IHEU Congress 2002

Internet references

Rethinking education as a cultural ecology

December 20th, 2018

A learning country

With education being “ […] a primary institution towards affecting social and ecological change for the better” (Kahn, 2003), educating for sustainability requires vast personal and collective paradigm shifts – completely new individual and global ways of being and doing.

In 2015 UNESCO published ‘‘Rethinking Education:Towards a Global Common Good’, which presented an educational landscape reflecting a world undergoing radical transformation with regard to methods, content and spaces of learning. UNESCO saw the increased availability of, and access to, diverse sources of knowledge as expanding new opportunities for learning.  These opprtunities were less structured and more innovative, affecting the classroom, pedagogy, teacher authority and learning processes. In scale, the transformation of the learning landscape underway in the first decade of the new millennium was likened to the historical transition from the traditional pre-industrial ‘learning on the job’ educational model to the ‘school as a mass production educational factory focused on passing written examinations’. Regarding the traditional pre-industrial learning model, most of what people learned came through the activities of their daily lives and work, with the apprentice system having pride of place. In contrast, the model of mass education born of the industrial revolution factory output model equated learning – almost exclusively – with schooling.

In September 2018 the Learned Society of Wales held its third international meeting in Cambridge entitled ‘The Ethics of Sustainable Prosperity for All’.  With respect to the role of education in attaining sustainable prosperity, an historical timeline for Wales was set out by Jane Davidson, a former Member of the Welsh Assembly Government, who had held the ministerial posts in education and environment.  As education minister she took the first steps towards education for living sustainably in a government paper. ‘The Learning Country; A Paving Document’. This was published in 2001, two years after the inception of the devolved National Assembly for Wales.  At that time Wales’ economic profile was summarised as:

  • GDP per head in Wales was some 20 per cent below the UK average;
  • the proportion of working age people whose highest qualification is NVQ level 4 or equivalent, or above, was some 23 per cent compared to 25 per cent in the rest of the UK;
  • in 1999 Welsh hourly earnings were 12 per cent below the UK figure;
  • 19 per cent of the population had no qualifications, compared to 16 per cent in the rest of the UK;
  • rates of economic inactivity were at 25 per cent in Wales compared to 21 per cent across the UK.

Davidson was cocerned with the political question,  Would such a culture of low skills, low qualifications, low creativity, low expectation, and low enterprise survive in the face of European and international competition?  The 2001 paving paper pointed to the plain fact that training and education are equally and intimately related to successful community development, social inclusion, wealth creation and personal fulfilment. The belief was that “… there is a close synergy between the measures necessary to sustain learning and creativity, and achieving the benefits of economic growth, community enrichment and a wonderful quality of life for individuals”. Thus, the Davidson paper presented a vision for the future where innovation in the arts, sciences and technology would stimulate and promote Wales as a vigorous learning country.  

Therefore, at the turn of the last century the Assembly Government was proposing a cultural prescription to implant a genuine momentum to lifelong learning for all.   The aim was to unlock everyone’s capacity to acquire the confidence to be adaptable and enterprising; and to make the most of the dynamic cultural and linguistic inheritance in Wales; all with due regard to the Assembly’s consistent commitment for the betterment of its population by:

  • realising sustainability;
  • tackling social disadvantage – especially in the most deprived communities;
  • promoting equality of opportunity; and
  • sustaining an environment that celebrates diversity and makes genuine progress towards realising the benefits of bilingualism.

In this respect the government was committed, more generally, to boosting the participation of children and young people across a range of dimensions in community life. The outcome was seen as the promotion of individuals’ attainment and development whilst also giving them the legal entitlement to design the services that affect them directly. This new ‘community for participation’ was to be supplemented with a new information resource’ branded Canllaw On-Line, to meet government aspirations for a confident, characterful, and holistic schooling system in Wales. This was seen as a system of cultural ecology in which schools could develop, and make the most of their varied strengths and origins in partnership with the community they served.   The focus of cultural ecology is the interchange between human and natural systems. It provides provocative insights into the nature of human relatedness with and impact on the natural world and a window through which the concept of sustainability may be configured. The educational dimension was seen to be a much closer relationship between schools and the communities, where schools would act as a community resource – not just in school hours but out of hours and in vacations as well. Schools were seen as being integral to community capacity building – providing a base for delivering, not just education and training (with links to FE and HE institutions), but also a range of other services like family support, health and enterprise promotion. The aim was to root schools in a wide community/environment context; where they were capable of taking genuine pride in their achievements, and able to ensure they were  publicly recognised. Schools were seen- quite as much as other providers – as being more and more concerned with enabling people to learn how to learn, as well as being dedicated to transmitting knowledge, skills and understanding. Information technology was seen as a vital resource for achieving this. Here, the Assembly Government was breaking with the past by regarding the disposition to learn, and the .confidence to do so, as being vitally important local social currencies for the future. Secondary schools, in particular, were going to be encouraged to progressively move away from rigid timetables, and even classroom based teaching, to very much more flexible modes of provision tailored to the needs of the individual learner and supported by ever strengthening distance learning and computer networking to spread ideas and achievements.

Schooling for a global economic downturn

The core of all political sustainability programmes rely on the old model of indefinite economic growth that caused our ecological crisis in the first place: ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 calls for  “at least 7% GDP growth per annum in the least developed countries” and “higher levels of economic productivity” across the board. In other words, there is a profound contradiction at the heart of these supposedly sustainable goals. They call for both less and more at the same time. A new education system is needed to resolve the contradiction, which demonstrates how it is entirely possible to shrink our resource consumption while increasing things that really matter such as human happiness, well-being, education, health and longevity. Consider the fact that Europe has higher human development indicators than the US in most categories, despite 40% less GDP per capita and 60% less emissions per capita.

Despite the fine words about living sustainably, now, in Wales and elsewhere, the old schooling model focused on endless economic growth continues to associate learning essentially with classroom teaching to pass time-limited examinations.  In fact much learning, even in traditional educational settings, takes place at home and elsewhere. The physical space defined by the classroom is still the main locus of learning and is a central feature of formal education systems at all levels of learning.  In this respect, UNESCO has questioned the future of this 19th century schooling model in the digital age, bearing in mind the opportunities offered by e-learning, mobile-phone learning and other digital technologies. Also the current industrial model of schooling was designed to meet the production needs of unending year on year economic growth. This began to increase personal wellbeing over a century ago but since then, modes of learning and knowledge about Earth’s limits to support year on year increases in incomes have changed dramatically.  Sources of information have changed, as have the ways in which we exchange and interact with them. Furthermore, curricula have been slow to change and remain remarkably similar to what they have been for the past two centuries. In fact a high degree of prescription and detail in the national curriculum, allied to increasingly powerful accountability mechanisms, has tended to create a culture within which the creative role of the school has become diminished and the professional contribution of the workforce underdeveloped. In particular, the essential features of a national curriculum for the UK, devised in 1988, reflect a world that was yet to see the World Wide Web and the advances in technology and globalisation that have transformed the way we live and work.   

And yet, schooling remains as important as ever. It is the first step in institutionalized learning and socialization beyond the family, and it is an essential component of social learning: learning to be and learning to live together. Learning should not be merely an individual process. As a social experience, it requires learning with and through others – through discussion and debate with peers teachers, business leaders and politicians. In this connection, the transformation of the educational landscape in the contemporary world has seen growing recognition of the importance and relevance of learning outside formal institutions. There is a move from traditional educational institutions towards mixed, diverse and complex learning landscapes in which formal, non-formal and informal learning occur through a variety of educational institutions and third-party providers. Therefore, what is need is a more fluid approach to learning as a continuum, in which schooling and formal education institutions interact more closely with other less formalized educational experiences from early childhood throughout life. The changes in the spaces, times and relations in which learning takes place favour a network of learning spaces where non-formal and informal spaces of learning will interact with and complement formal educational institutions.  Above all we should no longer school young people for the review, but to battle for a sustainable future. This was the message of Davidson in 2018 when she said we must move away from the stressful process of ‘learning to test’.

It wasn’t until 2014 that serious effort was made to apply the 2001 pavement prescription to establish a new Wales curriculum.  Professor Graham Donaldson, was commissioned by the Welsh Government to consider new assessment and curriculum arrangements. His report champions six “areas of learning and experience” as the basis for a  curriculum, which would transcend all learning from the age of 3 through to 16. It is scheduled to come into operation in 2021.

The main points from the Donaldson Report are it:

  • incorporates all learners aged three to 16, from Foundation Phase to Key Stage 4 (GCSE)  
  • bids to develop: ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives; enterprising creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work; ethical informed citizens of Wales and the world; and healthy, confident individuals ready to live fulfilling lives as valued members of society
  • replaces existing key stages with “progression steps”, relating broadly to expectations at ages five, eight, 11, 14 and 16
  • follows progression steps to provide reference points for teachers and parents, while providing a “road map” for pupils according to their individual needs
  • is organised into six “areas of learning and experience”: expressive arts; health and wellbeing; humanities; languages, literacy and communication; maths and numeracy; and science and technology
  • introduces three “cross-curriculum responsibilities” – literacy, numeracy and digital competence – that would be expected of all teachers
  • maintains teacher assessment, which remains the “main vehicle for assessment before qualifications”
  • recommends that teaching of the Welsh language remains compulsory up to the age of 16, but there should be a new expectation that learners gain “transactional competence” by the end of their studies
  • recommends Welsh-medium schools should act as hubs for the Welsh language, supporting teachers and practitioners in English-medium schools
  • recommends all teaching and learning should be directed to achieving the four curriculum purposes
  • recommends external, standardised testing to provide important benchmarking information – but its frequency should be “kept to a minimum” in view of its impact on the curriculum and teaching and learning
  • recommends a programme of professional learning to be developed to ensure that the implications of the review for the skills and knowledge of teachers are fully met
  • Recommends a Wales’ national school categorisation system to be .adjusted to reflect the recommendations of the review

The Humanities working group has already developed a statement outlining how this Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE) promotes the four purposes:

‘Through exploring big ideas about the Humanities, pupils will study the past and present, and by imagining possible futures, will learn about people, place, time and beliefs. In detail pupils will:

•understand historical, geographical, political, economic and societal concepts.

•explore their environment to further develop their sense of place and wellbeing.

•engage in learning experiences about rights, values, ethics, beliefs, religion, philosophy and spirituality.

•consider, explore and make informed choices regarding sustainability and the impact of their actions.

•positively contribute to their community and critically engage with local, national and global issues to become a responsible citizen of Wales and the wider world.

This is the area of the new curriculum where the 2001 paving document can become a route to education for sustainability, stressing systems thinking across traditional subject areas and using the community served by the school as an outdoor laboratory.  It has potential to provide rich opportunities for learning beyond the school walls, for example through exploring the local environment and learning from the experience of people, organisations and businesses and political governance in the community. Children and young people will also gain the knowledge and skills to understand and contribute to the communities in which they live and engage with societal issues.  However, the invisible elephant in the classroom is the unaddressed question. How can Jane Davidson’s vision of a wonderful life for all be realised through education that engages students with a future economy committed to zero economic growth?

Humanity’s average ecological footprint is 2.7 global hectares (gha) per person in an economy targetted to grow unendingly year on year.  To sustain the current population on Earth of 7 billion people requires 18.9 billion gha (2.7 gha x 7 billion people), which is higher than the 13.4 billion global hectares of biologically productive land and water on Earth.  This is a fact demonstrating that humanity’s demands have already exceeded the regenerative capacity of the planet. If the escalation of this demand continues at this rate, by 2030, with an estimated global population of 10 billion people, two Earths will be needed to satisfy humanity’s yearly demands.

Currently, over 80% of the world population lives in countries that use more resources than their own ecosystems can renew. The core capitalist countries (EU, USA and Japan), are ecological big debtors.  In the survey of the Global Footprint Network, the Japanese consume seven times more than their country can provide; four Italys are needed to supply Italian demands for a good life. Education for a bright future should begin with the indisputable fact that humanity pursuing endless growth consumes more natural resources than the planet can ever replenish.

Education for One-planet Wales

Debate about zero economic growth in Wales was started in 2008 with the publication of ‘One Wales: One Planet The Sustainable Development Scheme of the Welsh Assembly Government’.  In his introduction the government’s First Minister said:

“I want a Wales fit for generations to come … What motivates me is doing my very best to ensure a brighter, sustainable future for [my grandchildren and their grandchildren] and every other child growing up in Wales today … [Therefore], top of the list … of our priorities which will continue to improve the quality of life for people today and in the future … is sustainability”’

Sustainable scale is the key characteristic of a steady state economy. Scale is simply a measure of the size of one object relative to another. In this case, concern is with the size of the human economy relative to the ecosystems that serve it. Sustainability is achieved when the human economy fits within the capacity provided by Earth’s ecosystems. Economic activity degrades ecosystems, interfering with natural processes that are critical to various life support services. In the past, the amount of economic activity was small enough that the degree of interference with ecosystems was negligible. The unprecedented growth of economic activity, however, has significantly shifted the balance with potentially disastrous consequences. This is why getting the scale of the economy right (technically the point at which the marginal costs of growth equal the marginal benefits) is the highest priority for a steady state economy.

Finding the Goldilocks scale of the economy, the size that’s not too small and not too large, but just right, is no easy feat. In cases where the benefits of growth outweigh the costs (for example, where people are not consuming enough to meet their needs), growth or redistribution of resources may be required. In cases where the size of the economy has surpassed the carrying capacity of the ecosystems that contain it (a condition known as overshoot), degrowth may be required before establishing a steady state economy that can be maintained over the long term. Adjusting the scale of the economy through accurate measurement of benefits and costs, through trial and error, through regulation of markets, and through political will to achieve sustainability is the great political challenge of our times.

Since continuous growth and sustainable scale are incompatible, growth cannot be relied upon to alleviate poverty, as has been done (ineffectively) in the past. If the pie isn’t getting any bigger, we need to cut and distribute the pieces in a fair way. In addition, poor people who have trouble meeting basic needs tend not to care about sustainability, and excessively rich people tend to consume unsustainable quantities of resources without constrainf. Fair distribution of wealth, therefore, locally. nationally and globally, is a critical element of sustainability and the steady state economy

The route delineated in One Wales One Planet to a brighter future is embedded in a vision where Wales:

  • lives within its environmental limits, using only its fair share of the earth’s resources so that its ecological footprint is reduced to the global average availability of resources, and the population is resilient to the impacts of climate change;
  • has healthy, biologically diverse and productive ecosystems that are managed sustainably;
  • has a resilient and sustainable economy that is able to develop whilst stabilising, then reducing, its use of natural resources and reducing its contribution to climate change;
  • has communities which are safe, sustainable, and attractive places for people to live and work, where people have access to services, and enjoy good health;
  • is a fair, just and bilingual nation, in which citizens of all ages and backgrounds are empowered to determine their own lives, shape their communities and achieve their full potential.

Clearly the Welsh government is imagining a country that met the basic needs of its citizens – one where everyone could expect to live a long, healthy, happy and prosperous life. Now imagine that same country was able to do this while using natural resources at a level that would be sustainable even if every other country in the world did the same.

Such a country does not exist. Nowhere in the world even comes close. In fact, to live within Earth’s sustainability limits, resources how used to meet basic needs would have to be reduced by a factor of two to six times.  Currently, wealthy nations like the US and UK satisfy the basic needs of their citizens at a level of resource use that is far beyond what is globally sustainable. In contrast, countries that are using resources at a sustainable level, such as Sri Lanka, fail to meet the basic needs of their people. In general, the more social progress that a country achieves through economic growth, the more Earth’s biophysical limits are transgressed.

On February 21, 1994 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Francisco, Dr. David Pimentel presented some statistics indicating the insufficiency of world resources to sustain a rapidly-expanding human population in relative prosperity.  His report indicated that even if humans succeed in using rapidly diminishing resources more efficiently, the planet can sustain a “quality” standard of living for only two billion people while still maintaining environmental integrity. The report concluded;

“For Americans to continue to enjoy a high standard of living and for Society to be self-sustaining in renewable energy and food and forestry products, given U.S. land, water, and biological resources, the optimum U.S. population is about 200 million.”  

In 2018 the U.S. population was 327 million, about 4% of the world’s population.

It is well known that Americans consume far more natural resources and live much less sustainably than people from any other large country of the world.   For example, it has been calculated that a child born in the United States will create thirteen times as much ecological damage over the course of his or her lifetime than a child born in Brazil and the average American will drain as many resources as 35 villagers of India and consume 53 times more goods and services than someone from China.  Wales is not far behind the U.S in its global demands.

If everyone in the world were to consume the same as the average Welsh citizen, just over 2.5 planets would be required. The most recent figure available for Wales’ ecological footprint is 4.4 global hectares per person,  more than double the average earthshare. The earthshare is the average amount of global resources available per person. To calculate earthshare, the total available bioproductive land and sea area of the planet is divided equally among the current global population. It is estimated that the present average earthshare is 1.88 global hectares per person. If everyone lived within their earthshare, we would be ecologically sustainable at a global level.  

The government’s aspiration is to to reduce Wales’ ecological footprint to the global average availability of resources within the lifetime of a generation. To achieve this goal our use of carbon-based energy, has to be radically reduced by 80-90% resulting in a similar reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions. It would support the government’s aspiration to make annual 3% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and its ambitions to make all new buildings zero carbon buildings; and move to producing as much electricity needed from renewable sources by 2025. There would have to be a radically different approach to waste management, moving towards becoming a zero waste nation. By this, is meant a society where focused on eliminating waste.  Waste that can’t be eliminated would be recycled in “closed loop” systems that achieve the best reduction in ecological and carbon footprints. The stated goal is to achieve 70% recycling across all sectors, and diverting waste from landfill by 2025.

Other changes envisaged for the future in Wales are:

  • to organise the way people live and work so they can travel less by car wherever possible, and can live and work in ways which have a much stronger connection with our local economies and communities.
  • have a resilient and sustainable economy that is able to develop whilst stabilising, then reducing its use of natural resources, reusing sites and buildings and reducing its contribution to climate change.
  • source more of our food locally and in season, within a natural environment where ecosystems are managed sustainably.
  • do all of the above in ways which make Wales a fairer society, reducing the gap between rich and poor, building on our commitments to tackling child and fuel poverty.

This One Wales One Planet vision led to the passing of the Well-being of Future Generations Act in 2015.  The Act makes the public bodies listed in the Act think more about the long term, work better with people and communities and each other, look to prevent problems and take a more joined-up approach.  This new law will mean that, for the first time, public bodies listed in the Act must do what they do in a sustainable way. Public bodies need to make sure that when making their decisions they take into account the impact they could have on people living their lives in Wales in the future.

It will expect them to:

  • work together better
  • involve people reflecting the diversity of our communities
  • look to the long term as well as focusing on now
  • take action to try and stop problems getting worse – or even stop them happening in the first place.

The Act establishes a statutory Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, whose role is to act as a guardian for the interests of future generations in Wales, and to support the public bodies listed in the Act to work towards achieving the well-being goals.

The Act also establishes Public Services Boards (PSBs) for each local authority area in

Wales. Each PSB must improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of its area by working to achieve the well-being goals.

Yet, all future economic policies are still geared towards growth. Few of us believe we will ever “run out of stuff”. If we do run out of things, a more efficient alternative will be invented to take its place (such as the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy). The march has to be ever upwards. Negative growth and recessions are bad.  What is not followed through is the inevitability that we will have less to spend.

The Welsh Youth Parliament

When the National Assembly was established in 1999, one of its first acts was to set up a dedicated Education and Youth Engagement Service.  The Assembly wanted to give children and young people in Wales a fun and engaging way to learn about the National Assembly.

Since 2000, the Assembly’s Education and Youth Engagement team has worked with tens of thousands of children and young people across Wales.

A range of educational programmes take place in the National Assembly’s education centre, Siambr Hywel.  They help learners understand the National Assembly’s work and how they can get involved to influence what happens in their local area.  The Education and Youth Engagement team offer activities and opportunities to discuss political issues in schools and colleges across Wales. The National Assembly also focuses attention on young people outside of the school environment, to make sure everyone is included.

To make sure young people in Wales can express their opinions and are listened to, the National Assembly signed up to a Youth Engagement Charter in 2014.

The Charter sets out the National Assembly’s commitment to make sure it listens to, respects and acts on what young people from across Wales say.  It included a commitment to make it easier for young people to find out about the National Assembly and what it does, to take part in debates and to find out how their contributions make a difference.

Since the National Assembly made its commitment, many young people and professionals (backed by the Campaign for a Children and Young People’s Assembly for Wales) told the National Assembly they would like to establish a Welsh Youth Parliament.  Assembly Members agreed.

In October 2016, during a meeting of the whole Assembly, it was decided that a youth parliament should be set up.  The National Assembly consulted over 5,000 young people in Wales to help decide what the Welsh Youth Parliament’s aim, membership, and work should be.

A world for future generations

“The fellowship between man and man which has been the principle of development, social and moral […], is the ideal of goodness entirely human”.

This citation of the Victorian novelist Mary Ann Evans, known under the male pseudonym George Eliot, reflects an early definition of a humanism.   

The concept of humanism marks one of mankind’s most influential philosophical strands of thought and a crucial turning point within the history and the development of human civilization following a theme of human goodness.  The Italian philosopher Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) defined humanism in his famous Oration on the Dignity of Man, written in Florence in 1486:

“God the Father, (…) taking man (…), set him in the middle of the world and thus spoke to him: ‘we have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer’.”

The genius of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is an illustration of humanity’s endless ability to understand the environment. Inventor, architect, painter and civil engineer, Leonardo took an interest in all things, from medicine to biology. His note-books show an insatiable curiosity, an interest in the different movements of water, reflections on the atmosphere, observations of nature and the gestures or changes in humour of his contemporaries. He refreshed the Lombard portrait tradition, revolutionized painting and never ceased throughout his life to build bridges between disciplines, as equal and as diverse products of the never-ending creativity of human spirit. Through his travels in Italy and France, through his works – the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper – he is a model of what human beings can accomplish, by dint of work and imagination.

As an intellectual and ethical stance, humanism stresses the significance and the normative value of human goodness both with respect to individuality, community and overall society. As such, the concept of humanism involves a critical reflection of the constitution of society and of the manner in which social interactions between human beings proceed. Regarding its origins within the framework of the era of European Enlightenment, humanism was cast as a moral rationale.  The aim was to address fundamental questions relating to humanity and human nature. These relationships facilitated humankind’s ordered progress in science and technology. Rooted in the notion of a free and resourceful human existence, humanism evolved into the grand movement of human spiritual and creative liberation, which enabled an unparalleled acceleration of European economic growth and social change. In line with humanist ethics, material growth was understood as a collective good, which was to serve all participants of a community and meant to enable the socio-economic progress of society. Thus, although the exact definition of humanism has historically fluctuated in accordance with successive and diverse strands of intellectual thought, the underlying concept rests on the universal ideas of human emancipation, independence, social justice and the promotion of  general well being.

Economic growth has been defended for its contributions to human well being and increasing standards of living. Yet, it is evident that the current level of  economic growth requires to be supported by an increasing use of Earth’s natural resources that exceeds the capacity of the planet to yield them. It has been clear for a long time that we cannot continue to consume water, burn fuel and emit carbon dioxide at ever increasing rates. We are at a point in history where economic growth and monetary prosperity have to be replaced with a global cultural, spiritual, and political value shift to adopt a steady state economy.   The objective is to move towards simplicity,and sufficiency in a sharing, community, with a deep respect for the natural world, driven by a non-monetary definition of prosperity. Humanism is the obvious educational framework to carry us along this path.

Rowen Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury,  speaking at the Cambridge ‘Ethics of Sustainabile Prosperity for All’ conference in 2018 defined prosperity as ‘that which is hoped for’.  He maintained that ;

…morally, such prosperity should be rooted to provide for the common good for all and shared social goals.  Yet we are currently looking forward in panic in our current politics of populist protectionism which puts national security  over global wellbeing and pitches North against South, East against West and rich against poor. Our well being is interdependent and interlocking, so prosperity for the few is prosperity for none.  International crises be they environmental or social do not respect boundaries. The secure border is a toxic fiction”.

His prescription for a prosperous sustainable future is;

.”.. to build sustainble virtuous civil societies which transcend narrow factionalism and look wider and beyond national electoral politics. This also means reinforcing international organisations and finding narratives of international cooperation being empowering of our humanity rather than a loss of national freedom”.

With respect to human relations, he said;

“…we need a positive sense of justice in what is owed to all humanity, adnabod in Welsh (recognise or know someone).  Our localism and universalism needs to be connected, seeing the stranger as neighbour in a true humanism”.

There are various types of humanism.  Classical humanism, which is associated with the European Renaissance, emphasized aesthetics, liberty, and the study of the “humanities” (literature, art, philosophy, and classical languages of Greek and Latin). Secular humanism emphasizes human potential and self-fulfillment to the point of excluding a need for God; it is a naturalistic philosophy based on reason, science, and end-justifies-the-means thinking. Christian humanism teaches that liberty, individual conscience, and intellectual freedom are compatible with Christian principles and that the Bible itself promotes human fulfillment—based on God’s salvation in Christ and subject to God’s sovereign control of the universe.

The natural economy of gender is an outstanding barrier to human fulfillment that can only be resolved globally  through the application of secular humanism to ellicit changes in the complex social system of household partneships.  For example, a heterosexual community can be analyzed biologically as a marketplace in which men seek to acquire sex from women by offering other resources in exchange. Societies will therefore define gender roles as if women are sellers and men buyers of sex. Societies will endow female sexuality, but not male sexuality, with value (as in virginity, fidelity, chastity). The sexual activities of different couples are loosely interrelated by a marketplace, instead of being fully separate or private, and each couple’s decisions may be influenced by market conditions. Economic principles suggest that the price of sex will depend on supply and demand, competition among sellers, variations in product, collusion among sellers, and other factors. Research findings show gender asymmetries (reflecting the complementary economic roles) in prostitution, courtship, infidelity and divorce, female competition, the sexual revolution and changing norms, unequal status between partners, cultural suppression of female sexuality, abusive relationships, rape, and sexual attitudes.

A few weeks after Willliams made the above contribution to the Cambridge conference he co-signed with 93 academics the following open letter to the Guardian newspaper entitled ‘Facts about our ecological crisis are incontrovertible. We must take action’.  It is against this warning of environmental disaster that Williams’ prescription for a prosperous future should be set.

The letter reads:

We the undersigned represent diverse academic disciplines, and the views expressed here are those of the signatories and not their organisations. While our academic perspectives and expertise may differ, we are united on one point: we will not tolerate the failure of this or any other government to take robust and emergency action in respect of the worsening ecological crisis. The science is clear, the facts are incontrovertible, and it is unconscionable to us that our children and grandchildren should have to bear the terrifying brunt of an unprecedented disaster of our own making.

We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, with about 200 species becoming extinct each day. Humans cannot continue to violate the fundamental laws of nature or of science with impunity. If we continue on our current path, the future for our species is bleak.

Our government is complicit in ignoring the precautionary principle, and in failing to acknowledge that infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources is non-viable. Instead, the government irresponsibly promotes rampant consumerism and free-market fundamentalism, and allows greenhouse gas emissions to rise. Earth Overshoot Day (the date when humans have used up more resources from nature than the planet can renew in the entire year) falls ever earlier each year (1 August in 2018).

When a government wilfully abrogates its responsibility to protect its citizens from harm and to secure the future for generations to come, it has failed in its most essential duty of stewardship. The “social contract” has been broken, and it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty to bypass the government’s inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty, and to rebel to defend life itself.

We therefore declare our support for Extinction Rebellion, launching on 31 October 2018. We fully stand behind the demands for the government to tell the hard truth to its citizens. We call for a Citizens’ Assembly to work with scientists on the basis of the extant evidence and in accordance with the precautionary principle, to urgently develop a credible plan for rapid total decarbonisation of the economy.

There are two sides of the debate about the future of economic growth.  A conventional neoclassical economist would probably tell you that there have always been measurable increases in the efficiency of using resources, income, and quality of life improvements under past conditions of year on year economic growth. If the economy continues to grow, so their theory goes, ecological limits will be overcome thanks to technological solutions and a structural shift towards a post-industrial knowledge economy.  This ideal trajectory is called ‘decoupling growth from material input’ or ‘dematerialization,’ because each unit of GDP requires fewer and fewer material inputs. Some theorists, call this view ‘techno-optimism,’ which is the crux of the growth debate.

Many other economists – and an increasing number of thinkers across the arts and sciences – would suggest that the impossibility of endless economic growth is the proverbial invisible elephant in political debating chambers’.  According to H L Evans (2009:),

“…education, if it is to play a role in developing sustainable ways of being human in the world, cannot continue its traditional functions in a society headed for global catastrophe. It cannot simply aim to help individuals achieve lucrative careers in a world where continued enslavement of nature and economic and cultural colonisation of peoples serve as the inputs for economic growth”.

The cultural change needs to be substantial and faster than anything we have witnessed in the past through historic educational discourses and world development  trajectories. The humanistic sustainability education approach has delivered positive creative milestones on the revolutionary road of transforming homo economicus into homo sustineo. In so doing it is creating a new world of common sense, liberation and democracy in which nature is treasured and the well being of present and future generations is safeguarded.

Nevertheless, the economy’s aggregate material footprint, especially in high income regions, continues to climb despite technological innovation and efficiency gains.  Deleterious environmental changes march in lock-step with growth in GDP. Moreover, growth doesn’t necessarily improve well being, and the gains aren’t shared equitably with those who could benefit from them the most, especially in the world’s poorest regions. This in turn means that we should do what many economists would consider the unthinkable: actually produce and consume less, strive for a more fulfilling and less materialistic life, and tailor policies to address specific ecological, social, and financial challenges. This multilateral scenario would require that world leadership is needed to foster social and technological innovation without growth and guide transition to a steady state economy (SSE).  

Political decision making tends to be based on crises; decisions are not made until catastrophe strikes. Thus, decisions are ad hoc, designed to protect or promote a particular aspect of human well-being instead of examining the problem in a holistic manner. Based on past experience, we expect that leaders will continue to postpone decisions concerning human carrying capacity of the world, maintenance of a standard of living, conservation of resources, and the preservation of the environment, until the situation becomes intolerable, or worse still, irreversible.  Transition aimed at this end point requires a radical change in a global education system that was designed to create Western industrial empires.

Essentially, multisubject teaching was established in the 1904 UK Regulations of the Board of Education that knowledge can, and should, be divided into narrow subjects, and thereby more effectively organised for the benefit of the learner.  This assumption was reinforced in the UK National Curriculum.

The difficulties of escaping from this single subjects constraitlnt are exemplified by the Wales model.   Since 1999, the Welsh educational system developed within the bounds of a separate ministry and the opportunity was missed to integrate One-planet Wales, the Future Generations Act and  the Welsh Youth Parliament seamlessly within a new steady state economy format situated in the humanities. This could have been an integrated lifelong learning pedagogy with a curriculum, framed within cultural ecology, for living sustainably to promote a true multifaith humanism.

In the new Welsh curriculum the Humanities Area seeks to give pupils an understanding of historical, geographical, political, economic and societal factors.  This will provide opportunities to engage in informed discussions about ethics, beliefs, religion and spirituality. It draws on existing subjects, history, geography, business and social studies, as well as religious education.  This is the place to embed secular humanism as a philosophy of life which affirms the universal and unique significance of humanity, universal human rights, objective moral values, optimism concerning the future of the human condition, and meaning and purpose in human life. Davidson’s  2002 paving document, with its emphasis on pupils serving the needs of their community neighbourhood was signposting to a comprehensive humanistic curriculum with a commitment to “self-fashioning”. But it was not followed up.

All the basic elements were there for fostering a humanistic approach to Welsh education based on an engaging environment for the students to ask inquiry-based questions that promote meaningful learning.  The humanistic approach places a great deal of emphasis on students’ choice and control over the course of their education. Students are encouraged to make choices that range from day-to-day activities to periodically setting future life goals. This allows for students to focus on a specific subject of interest for any amount of time they choose, within reason. Humanistic teachers believe it is important for students to be motivated and engaged in the material they are learning, and this happens when the topic is something the students need and want to know.

Being a true (or new) humanist, secular or religious, today means  accepting a collective requirement of the humanities message, which emphasizes the necessarily collective dimension for Individuals to become whole in society, as members of a community. Humanists exist as a community of humanity that binds every individual to all others. Beyond our diversity, we all share one common human culture. Through communication, through language learning and dialogue, through scientific cooperation, we can extend beyond the limits of ourselves, we can broaden our knowledge, discover other customs, with an awareness of the humanity that binds all people of the planet together. New humanism means adapting the strength of an age-old message to the requirements of a global population commited to a steady state economy. This humanist message is that it will no longer will be it possible for governments, of any political persuasion, to take the natural environment for granted. After at least two centuries of unregulated exploitation of nature, this is surely, to all but a few self-interested corporations and their employees, a positive development.  Also, as concern about the environment has grown, new philosophies reevaluating the economic relationship between the social and natural worlds have also emerged. The purpose of a humanistic education today is to question the underlying vision of a prosperity built on continual growth. And to search for alternative visions – in which humans can still flourish and yet reduce their material impact on the environment.

A prosperous society without growth  is concerned not with income growtk and financial wealth, but with the health and wellbeing of its citizens, with access to good quality education, and with prospects for decent and rewarding work. Prosperity without growth enables basic individual rights, freedoms and equalities. But it must also deliver the ability for people to participate meaningfully in common projects. Ultimately, prosperity must offer society a credible and inclusive vision of social progress.   IIn summary, there is the education of commodity, the old kind of education that seeks to produce persons who will maintain and increase the economy of profit. And, on the other hand, there is the new, humanistic education of community, the kind that seeks to foster persons who will maintain and preserve the essential characteristics of community. Above all, a humanistic education would be the life long pursute of an ecological balance between society and nature. It would engage students with systems of environmental ethics that call for human beings to understand that we are all part of nature and its limited production in everything we do.


Five Classes for Humanistic Education to Live Sustainably

The context of this appendix is about developing a humanistic education system for growing selfhood in a rapidly changing world. It presents the view that teaching in a humanistic education system is about enabling learners to gather information and transform it creatively into a personal body of knowledge to answer the following three questions about growing as an individual.  

Who am I? (searching for values, beliefs and empathy for others).

What am I going to do (defining career paths to transient jobs that may not even exist yet).

WilI I make it? (coping with the cultural impact of rapid social, technical and economic changes).

There are also three ‘sister’ questions about developing a global community that has to cope with environmental issues surrounding the management of finite planetary resources and the associated divisive issues of gender and livelihoods.

Who are we?

What are we going to do?

Will we make it?

Young people have never had to ask these questions in past ages.  Sadly, the current education system is not engaging students with these big questions that are ‘burning in their souls’. Answering them requires teaching with a grander purpose of learning in mind i.e. growing each student as a whole individual, in body, mind and spirit.

Answers to these deep questions lies within the following ‘classroom’ framework for a system of humanistic education.

1  In the Steady State Prosperity class students learn that a failed growth economy and a steady-state economy are not the same thing; they are the very different alternative futures humanity faces today. The Earth as a whole is approximately a steady state. Neither the surface nor the mass of the earth is growing or shrinking; the inflow of radiant energy to the Earth is equal to the outflow; and material imports from space are roughly equal to exports (both negligible). The closer the human economy approaches the scale of the whole Earth the more it will have to conform to the physical behavioural mode of the Earth. That behaviour mode is a system that permits qualitative development but not aggregate quantitative growth.   None of this means that the earth is static—a great deal of qualitative change can happen inside a steady state, and certainly has happened on Earth. The most important change in recent times has been the enormous growth of one subsystem of the Earth, namely the human economy relative to the total system, the ecosphere. The ecosphere is no longer able to provide the sources and sinks for the metabolic throughput necessary to sustain the existing oversized human economy—much less a growing one. A growing economy produces more of the same stuff; development of a zero growth economy produces a constant amount of different and hopefully better stuff to support a more planet-friendly kind of prosperity.

2 In the Turning Facts and Beliefs into Knowledge class the students begin to learn how selfood is constructed from facts and beliefs and how to critically evaluate claims to knowledge. Students learn to analyse the arguments of others and to construct their own thoughtful arguments in response.

3 In the Creating a World View class students learn what defines a world view. Tradition, education, religion, political structure, economics, gender and historical context all contribute to the construction of an outlook on the world. Moreover, students learn that a world view is a human creation and therefore we are not hapless victims of the world we find ourselves in, but rather everyone is capable of ideation to give shape to it.

4 In the Defining Cultural Ecologies class students will learn that cultural ecology provides an ideational scaffold for a humanistic education system.   The term oekologie was coined in 1866 by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel. The word is derived from the Greek οικος (oikos, “household”) and λόγος (logos, “study”); therefore the original definition of “ecology” means the “study of the household [of nature]”  Ecology originally referred to the interrelationships between living creatures and their habitats, but over the years the term has been generalised to mean the set of relationships existing between the features of any complex system and the influence of its surroundings (Table 1).

Table 1 Ecologies of species, art and gender

SpeciesHabitatsBiophysical factors
Works of artSocietiesBeliefs and ideas
Men and womenHome and communityMale dominance

The natural economy of gender is an example of a complex system that stands to benefit greatly from applied humanism.  The classroom objectives are:

  • to gain a basic understanding of the concepts gender, economy and economic agency and how to consider them in their interrelationship;
  • to be aware of power differences characterizing gender relations;
  • to learn how gender identities and relations influence economic outcomes;
  • to be able to argue how gender relations may structure economic institutions;
  • to know how to specify gender-aware economic functions and models.

5 In the Planning for Change class, students consolidate their critical power of argument and realization of their ability to effect change in an exploration of their responsibilities to do so. Humanistic planning is an approach to management theory based on the ideas of human needs and human values.  Students will study ethical theories, identify conflicts in values, analyse ethical issues pertinent to a programme of change and formulate planned solutions to ethical problems. Here the humanistic values of thoughtful reasoning, tolerance and open mindedness are applied to manage practical issues and problems.

6  Educators and facilitators.

Students follow a humanistic curriculum with the guidance of teachers and facilitators.

Teachers are the ones with knowledge and expertise in a particular field. They impart that knowledge through a variety of means to groups of students.

Facilitators build on the knowledge base of individuals to find the answers to questions bothering them.

Both methods of instruction serve a purpose and help individual students build their own personal body of knowledge and articulate it to others in the group.  They communicate through writing, pictures, audio, video, artworks and good deeds.

When a teacher enters a classroom, she/he is a subject expert and takes charge of a group learning environment. The teacher is responsible for creating lesson plans that direct the course of study that a group of students follows. Clear and concise objectives delineate what the group studies on any given day. The teacher is responsible for measuring how much information each student has gathered.  Evaluation is often in the form of tests, but the teacher may use other measurement tools to determine if all the students met the teacher’s objectives for the class as a whole.

Facilitators might not be subject experts like a teacher  They have special training in group dynamics, using processes such as conflict resolution, strategic planning and team building. In any group setting, a facilitator can quickly determine what each member of the group knows so that every person is self directed and has an opportunity to build on that personal knowledge. By asking guiding questions and keeping the group focused, a facilitator helps the group establish a set of ground rules about how the group should function, as well as allowing individuals meet their own learning objectives. A facilitator also helps individuals evaluate what they have learned. Facilitation works best in small groups.  Because humanism is a highly individualised body of knowledge the emphasis is on facilitation.