….in order to act as a driver for change, education itself needs to change, to become transformative, to change values and behaviours. ( Leicht, Combes, Byun, Agbedahin 2018, p29).
Steve Sterling and I recently argued in a short paper for the International Association of Universities( https://iau-aiu.net/IAU-Horizons) that in our experience there is a growing and urgent need for our universities to become systemic learning organisations themselves, if they are to play a critical part in addressing the social, environmental and economic issues we currently face. We need to amplify and accelerate a shift from the old model of university as ‘ivory tower’ towards an “adaptive, innovating, and co-evolutionary engagement relationship with community and society.” This transformative model must avoid the ideological effects of the standardising global testing culture, and a rationale based solely on the needs of the economy. The traditional model must be critiqued and circumvented in favour of a higher purpose and role aligned to addressing the immense challenge and possibility of securing social and ecological wellbeing in our troubled times.
As Gregory Bateson agued the logic of learning is essentially the same as the logic of evolution. The process of biological evolution is best understood as the education of a species. Adaptation is a learning process. A species learns about its environment and embodies that leaning in progressive modifications that allow it to adapt ever more successfully to its environmental niche. Those species that fail to learn, that fail to adapt, perish. Only the “educated” survive. Only those species that “learn” to adapt will procreate and prosper.
If we consider the impact of this insight on our ideas about education ,then the evolutionary model of learning , as John Dewey saw long ago, is less cerebral and more pragmatic. Most approaches to education imagine it to be about packing the brain with facts and truths. For evolution, however, experiments are essential to improvement and flourishing.
If experimentation, mutation, and random modification are essential to the logic of evolutionary learning ,then much of the current debate about the importance of educational standards maybe fundamentally misplaced. If educational policy pursues national standards it would appear that our nation’s students are being moulded into a single species of androids; cloned by knowledge genes that are as close to identical! If we have learned anything from evolutionary theory, it is that a rich ,healthy ecology requires diversity. As Ashby’s law of requisite variety mandates-the more varied a given gene pool, the less vulnerable a species is to disease. Any uniformity in the gene pool makes them more vulnerable to any change in their environment.
As Cristina Escrigas (A Higher Calling for Higher Education | A Great Transition Initiative Essay-2016) has advocated:
“ From a monoculture to an ecology of knowledges. The academic community and society as a whole need to challenge the idea that the knowledge residing in the hands of experts is the only valid kind. The supremacy of the rational-scientific paradigm is rarely called into question, but an expanded perspective provides space to consider additional ways to understand reality and to generate innovative solutions to persistent problems. Moving beyond the belief that the only criteria of truth and validity are found in science; we can see that recognizing the inherent incompleteness of knowledge is a necessary first step toward epistemological dialogue between different sources of knowledge.
Even when academia incorporates knowledge from diverse sources and methods— such as community-based research, indigenous knowledge, and intercultural dialogue—it often dilutes the contributors of non-conventional perspectives rather than engaging themselves in real dialogue that seeks productive exchange.
We cannot solve today’s problems with the same kind of thinking that created them.
Universities need a way of connecting different types of knowledge, acknowledging their existence and giving them equal value. It is time to decolonize knowledge and adopt a knowledge-democracy framework, considering the intellectual contributions from diverse sources and worldviews. “
There is a growing interest in the idea of civic universities. It’s an idea which has a new resonance with many who believe its time for a reassessment of what a university is for(see my earlier blogs on From Green Academy to Ecological Universities and What is a University For?). I was particularly struck by what is currently happening in the Netherlands to make the connections between a university and its place. They argue that civic universities matter more than ever as “anchor institutions”. Whilst this is a poorly defined and loose term, universities are– alongside the NHS and local authorities –one of the key institutions in many places. They create wealth in a variety of ways, including through their direct spending on wages and local goods and services, and through their effects in the local economy. They play a critical role in an ageing and automated society in facilitating lifelong learning and will be crucial in helping to deal with both challenges especially in a post Corvid world. They also are increasingly involved in activity that makes life meaningful and pleasurable for local people: including education more broadly, and arts and culture.
In the case of the Netherlands the national policy agenda for Higher Education and Research identifies knowledge valorisation – the creation of economic and social value from knowledge and social benefit – as a key priority. The ambition is that by 2025, research universities and universities of applied sciences will form part of localised sustainable “ecosystems” alongside the secondary education sector, secondary vocational education, research institutes, government departments, local and regional authorities, companies, hospitals, community centres and sports clubs. Is this the dawn of the “Ecological University”, I wonder
The overall performance of universities’ contribution to this agenda is monitored through a process of Performance Agreements) – now called Quality Agreements . Funding can be withheld if the plans do not meet the criteria. The separate ministries with responsibility for higher education and for city development have recently announced joint funding for “city deals” specifically to support collaboration between universities and municipalities. Most Dutch universities and their municipalities are participating in the programme. I hope our new Minister of Higher Education is following the Dutch example?
The rationale for such an approach is clear. It is important for a city’s capacity for innovation that it has a strong relationship with knowledge institutes and that researchers, lecturers and students are involved in solving social problems. Not only to strengthen the problem-solving ability of the city, but also because it contributes to the training of the students of the future– who will contribute to shaping society – and gives them a better understanding of social issues. Using the society as a rich learning environment for students is therefore an important theme. The idea is that students formulate the relevant research questions together with researchers and the field (businesses, government, social institutions, citizens’ initiatives), carry out further research into urban problems and evaluate whether assumed problem-solving approaches are effective.
This idea is not a new one. A similar approach initiated in an agricultural college(Hawkesbury) in New South Wales directly tackled the inadequacies of the philosophies, theories and practices of reductionist science and technology. The Hawkesbury initiative shifted their educational approach from abstract and conceptual perspectives to ways of dealing directly with reality. The central thesis of the Hawkesbury approach is that, if there are to be new ways of farming developed which are more socially and environmentally responsible, then these will be predicated by the development of ‘new ways’ of thinking, knowing and learning.
I once wrote a book review on effective executive sustainability leadership in our universities in which I declared that, in my experience, there were none who could live up to this accomplishment. I can now report that there is at least one: Michael M Crow, the President of Arizona State University. Today I listened to his 12-minute live broadcast at the UN HLPF meeting in New York (https://sustainability.asu.edu/).
In those few minutes he shredded any sense that today’s universities are fit for purpose in the 21st century. He argued that universities are “inadequate” for five key reasons:
- Universities are outcomes of their own design and its application. They teach and research in areas such as economics, based on models which are outmoded and sustainably untenable. In the sciences academics focus on inane arguments based on outdated notions of disciplinarity, which can be categorised as “epistemic myopia”. From a systemic perspective the whole university enterprise lacks epistemic sensibility.
- Universities apply inadequate system level tools; they are basically reductionist in focus and fail to teach and research the wider more complex global and social dimensions beyond the traditional disciplinary traditions.
- Universities do not reflect the cultural diversity of their local communities with respect to BAME and indigenous peoples. This narrows their sources of knowledge and its wise application.
- Universities are currently “closed sequestered” places not fully and pragmatically engaged with the real world. Universities do not involve themselves with the social, environmental, and economic consequences of their work. They have no moral sensitivity because of their obsession with reductionism.
- Universities are arcane, none-adaptive institutions which move at a pace which is not commensurate with the pace of change in the modern world.
Arizona State University has made some outstanding progress in developing a more systemic and transdisciplinary approach to learning with over 25 interdisciplinary programmes and many global interdisciplinary research institutes. Even so Michael Crow says that it is not enough. He believes universities need to change everything “down to their roots” and that sustainability should be a core value in everything they say and do.
Michael Crow and Arizona State University seem to me to epitomise the transformative, adaptive knowledge enterprise/model that Universities need to make them fit to tackle the grand challenges of the Anthropocene.
Our civilisation, as we know it, is at an historical tipping point, because of the environmental wreckage we are creating in the planetary biosphere. Planetary biophysical limits will determine the future of our world and, as things stand, this will be characterised by huge discontinuities for human and natural systems, caused by widespread natural disasters, mass migration, and civil unrest. Consequently, in this new age , – the Anthropocene- we urgently need new ways of thinking and acting. The shockwaves running through our interconnected global, environmental, socio-economic, and educational systems caused by Covid-19 create opportunities to transform all our current systems, at the deepest levels.
We urgently need to explore how our university systems could play a significant part in this national and global transformation, but only if they themselves can become transformative. As Richard Bawden(2008 ) has commented
“There is a strange and inexplicable reluctance by our institutions of higher education across the entire globe, to overtly promote the fact that they are first and foremost, agencies of human and social development”
He argues that “project civilisation” is profoundly fragile and our universities have extraordinary know how and capacity to protect it.
Universities are facing huge pressures to change the educational programmes they offer to make graduates fit for future citizenship and employment in the 21st Century (Martin and Jucker, 2009). These demands come from a complex array of contemporary issues including societal, economic, and environmental challenges as well as national and international policy change (Martin et al, 2013). Recent UK policy pronouncements on the green economy are an important example of such policy change ( Pettifor,2019: Luna et al., 2012). Curriculum reform and innovation are beginning to take place in many universities in the UK and elsewhere in the world in response to such pressures and policy developments. Examples include the Higher Educations Academy’s Green Academy change programme at seven UK universities ( MCoshan and Martin,2013). Elsewhere, other universities are introducing some fundamental changes; Aberdeen and Southampton in the UK, Melbourne in Australia, and British Columbia in Canada.
The volume and intensity of such contemporary change requires a system-wide approach to institutional curriculum, campus and community reform and innovation, because the majority of the change in higher education arises from systemic external and internal sources which have varied and contested policy dimensions (Wals and Corcoran, 2012). Adopting a ‘whole institution’ approach in itself raises a number of questions. Change on this scale cannot occur organically. It requires explicit and skilful management along with a strategic emphasis on institution–wide communication to raise awareness of the need for change, and then to gain commitment to the widespread embedding of the curriculum change process. This needs be integrated along with appropriate monitoring and evaluation to measure progress (Scott and Gough, 2003; Trowler, 2010).
Universities can actively promote and participate in the co-creation of societal transformation that goes far beyond technology transfer and other economic contributions, which is why the twin concepts of a “civic” university and “ecological” university have growing support. We advocate that a new model based on the concept of a civic/ecological university would embed a university’s life within its local community and ecosystem, so that both students, locals and the environment benefit from the research and learning activities hosted by the university. Active engagement and mutual learning, paired with participatory processes, creates an environment that promotes critical, systemic, and future-oriented thinking. Good example of such engagement is the development of city-wide citizens assemblies to develop climate emergency and net zero carbon plans, exemplified by Nottingham, Bristol, Lancaster, and Leeds. Former Secretary of State for Education – Charles Clarke and Ed Byrne-President and Principal of Kings College London and currently Chair of the Association of Commonwealth Universities make a similar and compelling case for transforming universities as a means of changing the world .
The Ecological University, 2016, Ronald Barnett, https://www.ronaldbarnett.co.uk/assets/docs/talks2016/The%20coming%20of%20the%20ecological%20university%20-%20Middx%20symposium%204-5%20July%202016.pdf
The University Challenge, Pearson: 2020. Charles Clarke and Ed Byrne.
Professor Stephen Martin and Barry Carney
Albert Camus published his novel, The Plague, in 1947, and there are many similarities with our current response to the pandemic. Camus describes the ineffectiveness of the authorities; the complacency of the citizens in the early days and the challenges and dilemmas forced on individuals. The novel highlights the powerlessness of individuals to affect their destinies, the very essence of absurdism. Some of the psychological impacts have a resonance with citizens today, leading them to display behaviour patterns – like mass civil unrest on beaches, illegal raves and street parties – resulting in violence and murder.
One interpretation of such behaviour is that the threat of death displaces the meaning of life and what it means to be human. This, coupled with the ambiguous communications from government and health officials, can seem like an experience of absurdity. Citizens end up feeling powerless against an impersonal, but authoritative force, and the Government is incapable of resolving the civil unrest which ensues.
As one resident in Bournemouth (where half a million people flocked to their sandy beaches) watched aghast as groups of revellers took drugs and drank their way through countless crates of beer he thought “There was a Lord of the Flies vibe about it. The atmosphere was ugly”.
Litter picking groups described the sight and smell as “horrendous, like nothing they had ever come across before. There was the smell of weed, urine, and excrement: empty beer cans and bottles ,wet wipes and even underpants covered the ground”.
Absurdity can be used as a term to criticise any actions the government takes, such as a social distancing system, that does not make sense. As described in Camus’ novel, it can arise spontaneously when individuals are faced by an external world that removes the meaning they seek to create.
References to absurdity in our daily life can be seen in newspaper headlines highlighting false news and confused messaging. This, coupled with those in power overtly disobeying their own advice and rules and lacking any sense of humility and authenticity, gives rise to a growing mood of defiance and frustration.
Should we question to what extent absurdity is a relevant concept for criticising how Governments around the world have responded to the pandemic? We might accept that governments are struggling with absurdity as best they can. More critically, perhaps is the question of whether politicians deliberately seek to invoke absurdity, and if so why?
Is chaos and civil unrest the likely outcome of other crises, like climate change, social inequality, or further pandemics? The UN and WHO are predicting more pandemics because they are one of the dire consequences of the dramatic decline in biodiversity across the planet.
We live in a moment of epochal precarity, amidst irreversible environmental catastrophe that is impacting all life on Earth. Signaling the end of human exceptionalism, this era calls for an urgent redefinition of what it is to be human and a reconfiguration of the relationship between human and Earth. How should education respond to a world of shifting planetary boundaries and collapsing ecosystems? What education policies, practices, and pedagogies can help re-situate the human within the relational flow of life where everyone and everything – both human and non-human – are deeply interconnected? How can we learn to responsibly encounter and fully engage with a more than human world?
This is the opening statement from a recent virtual conference, hosted by the COMPARATIVE & INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION SOCIETY in Miami: Education Beyond the Human
And, this is the powerful opening video from its president-Professor Iveta Silova, Arizona State University: https://cies2020.org/
This is the reality of our relationship with our planet. It asks the fundamental question:what does this mean for our global education and learning systems. Collectively and cooperatively we need to reflect and urgently act on its message
The text below is the opening page of a short and powerful guide on how universities can empower their students make a difference. I was really impressed by its argument and its 12 reasons why universities should address their purpose. Universities can help people step out of their comfort zone to make a difference. Its author is Titus Alexander who wrote Practical Politics: Lessons in Power and Democracy, a textbook for learning and teaching the practice of politics. He founded Democracy Matters, the UK Alliance for Learning Practical Politics in 2009, and is an Honorary Fellow of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for Understanding Politics at Sheffield University.
Universities say “We’re changing lives. Creating a better world”.
Learn skills “essential for future leaders and decision makers”.
We “equip students to be critical investigators and ‘change makers’”.
But do they equip students to be change makers?
From the evidence in this paper: not nearly enough.
Humanity is in a race against time. In 2003 Professor Sir Martin Rees published Our Final Century, A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future. Since then our knowledge of problems has grown exponentially. Our ability to deal with problems may have declined.
Disease, a nuclear armed dictator, or the climate crisis could wipe out vast numbers of people. At a local level people struggle with countless problems, from domestic violence, high rents and mental illness to poverty and lack of opportunity or social care. Universities analyse these problems and even develop solutions. But they do not teach people advocacy and campaigning skills to become effective change makers and put solutions into practice.
Universities do teach practical business, now their biggest subject area. They help academics exploit the commercial potential of research.
But courses on how to lobby and improve public policy, social conditions and our environment are still rare.
The challenge for universities is to close the gap between understanding problems and developing the political abilities needed to solve them.
Some university leaders and academic boards will say this is not their problem. Most will say they need more research and money to investigate it.
The pioneers are challenging conventional thinking and equipping people to become effective change makers within existing courses and resources.
We have a shared responsibility for humanity by using knowledge to create a better world. As educators, we can learn and teach how to do it better.
To download a copy of Titus Alexander’s guide: https://www.practicalpolitics.global/can-universities-make-a-difference/
Guest blog by Emma Hickling
Amidst all the doom and gloom of Covid-19, I decided to read a recently published book about the philosophy of consciousness, which has the engaging title of “Galileo’s Error”. The author, Philip Goff, is an academic who manages to make a complex subject very accessible to the lay reader. The nature of consciousness is a fascinating topic for reflection upon in these turbulent times, when all we can do is sit and think.
We are all conscious and experience feelings, emotions, and thoughts: we all have a subjective inner life. Consciousness is fundamental to us as human beings. But what is consciousness? And how do we integrate consciousness into our scientific story of the universe?
Goff discusses in depth the two predominant world views on consciousness, namely Materialism and Dualism. Dualism states that reality is made up of physical things and immaterial minds; it is the mind that bears consciousness and it is the mind, not the brain, that thinks and feels. Materialism states that everything is physical and that ultimately consciousness can be explained by physical processes (although this has not yet been done).
In 1623 Galileo declared that mathematics was to be the language of science; this enabled all the physical properties of matter to be quantified. But he left the subjective qualities, such as emotions, feelings and senses out of this, as they could not be quantified. Yet these are the components of consciousness. Describing nature as a set of equations has enabled us to predict how matter operates and has enabled us to manipulate the natural world and ultimately brought about the technological revolution. Physics has been extraordinary successful in telling us what matter does, but not what matter is. It does not tell us about the intrinsic nature of matter.
Goff goes on to promote a third view: that consciousness is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of reality – it is the intrinsic nature of matter. In academic circles this view is given the fancy name of “panpsychism”. It describes a world view where we are conscious creatures embedded in a world of consciousness. We live in a physical universe whose intrinsic nature is constituted of consciousness.
So, what is the link to climate change? One of the knotty problems of climate change is that, although many people are now agreeing that it exists, extraordinarily little action has been taken to ameliorate it. Compare this to the Covid-19 crisis where the response has been swift and dramatic. So why? Goff posits that one reason could be that the predominant worldviews of consciousness, which are supported by all major civilisations through their religious, education and cultural systems, promote the view that humans are separate from the rest of the natural world; that we have nothing in common with a tree and that nature has no value in and of itself. All major civilisations promote the view that nature is there to be exploited. Goff argues that if we accept that consciousness is an inherent part of everything, then it has the potential to transform our relationship to the natural world, to the extent that we would want to look after it rather than exploit it. Understanding that we are conscious creatures embedded in a world of consciousness could transform our ability to act upon the threats of climate change.
But, at present, the notion of panpsychism remains a philosophical line of enquiry embedded in the academic system, and thus unlikely to break out into the mainstream world. Panpsychism is also an academic description of an ancient world view supported by many indigenous people, who have always known that all of life is conscious: a worldview that major religions and the scientific community have spent many centuries trying to supress. Maybe it is a time for a change of heart?
Footnote: What was Galileo’s Error? According to Goff, Galileo thought that mathematics could provide insight into the nature of physical reality, and that the nature that it revealed was incompatible with the reality of the sensory qualities (which must therefore reside in the soul). But mathematical models do not tell us anything about the intrinsic nature of matter and nor do they exclude the reality of the sensory qualities. A book well worth reading to get a deeper insight into this
Guest Blog by Barry Carney: MSc (Centre for Alternative Technology, UK); Change Agents UK research associate.
In the age of the Anthropocene, we urgently need new ways of thinking and acting. Economists are predicting that biophysical limits will determine the post-growth world and, as things stand, this will be characterised by mass migration, profound natural hazards, and huge discontinuities for human and natural systems (Crownshaw et al., 2018). Epidemiologists warn how climate change will create a world of unprecedented new diseases.
The current pandemic is sending disruptive shockwaves through all our interconnected global, environmental, socio-economic, and human systems. With this, we have opportunities to alter current systems at the deepest of levels.
The SDG Transformations Forum (TF), established in 2017, is a growing global community of enablers and transformations initiatives. The forum recognises where large-scale challenges – reflected in the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – call for urgent interventions. By providing and making widely available the necessary resources, practical knowledge and organisational infrastructure for positive transformations, TF aim to support and amplify the efforts of the world’s change agents on their journeys towards a flourishing future.
Wherever harmful and disruptive events destabilise the status quo, they can prompt the critical reflections which lead to new thinking. TF recognises the importance of these discontinuities for triggering systemic change. In a recent newsletter, TF featured two of their current programmes for encouraging transformational responses to such events. One is the “Global Assessment for the New Economy” (GANE) – lead by Jasper Kenter of York University – which will gather insights on and from economic transformations, synthesise the findings and distribute practical knowledge across an emerging new network. GANE will work alongside a second initiative, “Bounce Beyond,” which provides the necessary infrastructure to mobilise and enable actions (for GANE and other transformations initiatives alike). To do this, TF will apply a growing body of knowledge and action research regarding transformations. The shock of Covid-19 could provide the springboard to ‘bounce beyond’ a mere return to the pre-pandemic business-as-usual.
Too often, theory and practice are deemed to be separate pursuits – perhaps best exemplified by academia’s disciplinary approaches. By using approaches based upon a knowledge of systems thinking and practice, in contrast to conventional methods situated within systems, there are better opportunities to explore and resolve wicked, intractable problems, in a more integrated and emergent way (Scoones et al., 2020). The SDG Transformations Forum adopts a three-step approach of seeing ● connecting ● acting: whereby complex situations are better understood ● valuable actors and interventions are identified and brought together ● so that appropriate, context specific actions can occur.
In this way, they can enable change by i) identifying ineffective mechanisms and behaviours; ii) generating new ways of working; and iii) implementing enabling structures. These can be achieved simultaneously: actions from one serving as enablers and agency for all.
Beyond being a network hub, TF works to engage the transformations community in ‘deliberation–action processes.’ This community intrinsically includes citizens as well as the change-makers informing, devising, and driving the initiatives. The plan is to generate local actions whilst holding global scale challenges in sharp focus. Establishing, maintaining and strengthening multi-directional links will be vital – e.g. between TF as a central hub and resource, the TF community as key communication and agency tributaries, and the various localities and citizenry completing the cycle and providing a collective groundswell of actors.
Transformations “require deep innovation in the ways we organize”. The need for unifying diverse approaches raises difficult questions about the transformational learning spaces for co-creation via participatory methods. Effective governance, facilitation, guidance and education (capacity-building) will be needed to yield appropriate value from such inclusive processes. These factors are elucidated by recent experiments in deliberative democracy in the UK via Citizens Assemblies, established to tackle Climate Emergencies (see e.g. Citizens UK, 2020). Further, there is a need to address the acquisition of key sustainability competencies, which underpin social learning processes, and link knowledge and action. These should include, inter alia:
- Systems thinking competence
- Futures thinking or anticipatory competence
- Values thinking or normative competence
- Strategic thinking or action-orientated competence
- Collaborative or interpersonal competence
Digital competencies are being fast-tracked under the Covid-19 conditions and TF are embracing the complementary power of technology (e.g. developing a Multi-Sided [transformations] Platform). Bounce Beyond will be making use of virtual learning and multilocal collaboration to rapidly up-scale actions.
A primary focus within the TF initiatives is the transformation of mainstream economics. Many alternative, often radical conceptual reworkings of the economy have been emerging in recent decades and the pandemic has now centre-staged their importance. Transformation of current economic models can be hard for citizens to ‘buy into’, in part as understandings of the existing systems offer a fantasy of security.
Powerful narratives will be important: taking root beneath existing biases, nurturing societal understanding of what transformations can look like. It is narrative and communication (between humans and natural systems) which orient us and guide our journey. TF recognise the difficulty in working with heightened levels of complexity and so the story is best created through acting, with both pen- and script-in-hand.
We need to clear away the broken shards of failing systems and identify the best placement for precautionary crash mats. Creating new attractors within our stories can lure our behaviour towards the new, the exciting and the flourishing. In the example of the economy, uncovering its original meaning of ‘household management’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2009) creates space for innovative stories and fresh understandings of creating new and better. How do we, as humans with active influence and responsibility over systems, transform how we manage our home?
Against our best intentions, it was perhaps easier and often more attractive, pre-pandemic, to approach transformations in a genial way (ambling on rather than bouncing beyond). This approach often lacks impact. ‘Light-impact’ can be easily countered by established structures and world views and their efforts subsumed back into existing systems: e.g. the status quo is re-rebranded using greenwashed packaging.
The SDG Transformations Forum was established in response to the urgent existential needs of our time, and it is identifying the crucial pathways used or imagined by transformations experts. The Covid-19 pandemic is having a fundamentally destabilising effect, such that systems can be tipped into a new order, repurposed, or eradicated and replaced with better. ‘Bouncing beyond’ demands swift and decisive action, which will require new breakaway mechanisms and above all, wise leadership. Where will this come from? Our universities are outstanding in the acquisition of knowledge but much less effective in the acquisition of wisdom apt for fundamentally addressing wicked challenges (Tassone et al., 2017). At present, our educational systems do little to consider the ethical and ontological challenges related to sustainability science. There is a deeply fundamental and ongoing need to understand and reconcile the relationships between the human world and the physical universe, and hence help provide critical and imaginative solutions to a growing escalation of global existential problems (Maxwell, 2020).
One of the biggest challenges will continue to be launching en courage into [and thus creating] new paradigms. This is an action call to us all – a time to ask, “who am I in the interconnected universe and which systems do I want to support?” Is it time to explore these questions through agency now? We must be prepared to recognise old systems and navigate past pitfalls along the way. To truly create a movement of movements, we need to keep living the stories of collaboration, seeing our worldview rather than seeing with it, and committing decisively to acting as one flourishing system.
- Citizens UK (2020) Local chapters > Leeds. Available at: https://www.citizensuk.org/leeds (Accessed: 26/05/20)
- Crownshaw, T., Morgan, C., Adams, A., Sers, M., dos Santos, N., Damiano, A., Gilbert,L., Haage, G., Greenford, D. (2018), ‘Over the horizon: Exploring the conditions of a post-growth world’, The Anthropocene Review, 1 –25.
- Oxford English Dictionary (2009) Concise Oxford English Dictionary: Luxury Edition. 11th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Scoones, I., Stirling, A., Abrol, D., Atela, J., Charli-Joseph, L., Eakin, H., Ely, A., Olsson, P., Pereira, L., Priya, R., van Zwanenberg, P., Yang, L. (2020) ‘Transformations to sustainability: combining structural, systemic and enabling approaches’, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 42, 65-75. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2019.12.004
- Maxwell, N (2020) Our Fundamental Problem: A Revolutionary Approach to Philosophy, McGill-Queen’s University Press. Available at: https://philpapers.org/rec/MAXOFP
- Tassone, V., O’Mahony, C., McKenna, E., Eppink, H., Wals, A. (2017) ‘(Re-)designing higher education curricula in times of systemic dysfunction: a responsible research and innovation perspective’, Higher Education, Doi: /10.1007/s10734-017-0211-4
As we enter week 8 of the lock down, along with thoughts of returning to work or sending children back to school, there is a growing chorus of voices talking about the need for a new form of economics. One of these voices is called the Wellbeing Alliance (WEALL for short: https://wellbeingeconomy.org/ )
WEALL is proposing a new economic model based on a radical repurposing of our current preoccupation with more and more growth: an oxymoron on a finite planet!
It advocates that in the world’s most developed countries, growth has brought unrivalled prosperity and hence “we have arrived”. However, some of the outcomes of growth, such as increasing personal debt, inequality, climate change, a pandemic, and a fractured and deeply polarised politics, may make the fruits of growth rot! In a ground-breaking book – The Economics of Arrival -Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams persuasively argue that it is about time we made ourselves “at home” with the wealth we have created. That we move away from enlarging the economy to improving it and secure the benefits that have accrued from growth, for everyone.
WEALL issued a briefing paper on 8 May, which sets out 10 key principles for an economy which “builds back better “from the Covid 19 pandemic. It prioritises human health,wellbeing,and ecological stability in the long term and seeks to avoid some of the “back to worse” traps of business as usual economics, based on GDP growth!
- New goals: ecologically safe and environmentally just Prioritise long-term human wellbeing and ecological stability in all decision-making; degrow and divest from economic sectors that do not contribute to ecological and wellbeing goals; invest in those that do; facilitate a just transition for all that creates jobs in and reskills for environmentally friendly and wellbeing focused sectors.
- Protecting environmental standards Protect all existing climate policy and emission reduction targets, environmental regulations, and other environmental policies in all COVID-19 responses.
- Green infrastructure and provisioning Develop new green infrastructure and provisioning, and sustainable social practices as part of the COVID-19 recovery. For instance, transform urban space towards active travel and away from car use; scale up public transport, green energy, environmentally sustainable food production, low carbon housing; attach environmental conditionality to bailouts of high carbon industries.
- Universal basic services Guarantee needs satisfaction for everyone, including through health care coverage for the whole population free of charge at point of access; universal free provision or vouchers for basic levels of water, electricity, gas, housing, food, mobility, education.
- Guaranteed livelihoods Ensure everyone has the means for decent living, for instance through income and/or job guarantees, redistribution of employment through working-time reduction.
- Fair distribution Create more equal societies nationally and globally through a fair distribution of resources and opportunities. E.g. more progressive and environmentally orientated income and wealth taxation; public/common ownership of key resources and infrastructure.
- Better democracy Ensure effective, transparent, and inclusive democratic processes at all levels; end regulatory capture from corporate interests and corruption.
- Wellbeing economics organisations Prioritise in all businesses and organisations social and ecological goals; implement circular economy principles to minimise resource use and waste; ensure economic and organisational democracy.
- Cooperation Ensure cooperation and solidarity at all levels, including in international politics and the global economy; across industrial sectors and government ministries; across scales (global, national, regional, local).
- Public control of money Introduce public and democratic control of money creation. Spend newly created money on investments that promote social and environmental goals and avoid post-recovery austerity.
I believe we are at a new global tipping point, where the idea of building back better, is growing in everybody’s mind. But will our existing governance systems respond urgently and at scale to the new reality and embrace an economy that values wellbeing and ecological sustainability? Its worth all of us joining and fully supporting the WEALL Movement!