30 Nov 2011

Communicating Sustainability

Good article in the Guardian which summarises the 'Common Cause' project that WWF is involved in. To put it briefly, Common Cause criticises sustainability writings which appeal to extrinsic values (wealth, public image, social power and concerns about security) because it's been shown that people who focus on these values are less likely to be motivated to contribute to sustainability. Instead the claim is that it's more effective to focus on intrinsic values - social justice, care, acting ethically, improving people's wellbeing etc., i.e., representing sustainability as something that is life-affirming not a short-cut to self-aggrandisement, saving money, and avoiding fines. Here's the article:

and here's the very useful Common Cause project:

21 Nov 2011

Thoughts from Jane Davidson

What would a country committed to sustainable development look like? A country committed to balancing economic, social and environmental factors in its decision making; a country prepared to actively reduce unnecessary consumption and focus instead on improving the quality of life for its citizens, particularly those with least resources?  From 2013, that country might be Wales when the Welsh Government puts forward legislation to put sustainable development at the heart of not only what it does, but how the government relates to the wider public sector. Such legislation will make a flexible concept real and turn what is now at best good practice into meaningful legal obligations which can be monitored and reviewed and ultimately challenged in the courts.

This is a significant moment in the history of devolution. The National Assembly for Wales started its life in 1999 with a unique duty to have a Sustainable Development Scheme, a duty supported by all political parties. 12 years on, it has become clear that the original duty, although pioneering, is insufficient. The scheme is simply not enough to make a real sustainable difference in a world that uses too much.

Last month I was privileged to be invited to give the annual ENDS Report lecture in London which went up on SHED-SHARE last week. In it I argued that the time for voluntarism is past, that legislation will deliver better outcomes for Wales as it will enable ‘sustainable development’ and its indicators to be defined in law and in doing so, facilitate adherence from the government and public sector in Wales round a common agenda.

For those of us interested in the sustainability agenda, this presents an ideal opportunity to discuss what such legislation should look like. What should be its ambit? What outcomes would we like to see as a result of it? Could a ‘sustainable’ Wales be distinctively different? How precise should the definitions be? What would be the best model for independent critique?

Our discussions with the new Minister start on 1st December. Your thoughts would be welcome.

Jane Davidson
Trinity Saint David University
November 2011

17 Nov 2011

No country is an island ...

In a recent mailing, Arran wrote:

Just wanted to encourage you to read Jane Davidson's article … I really appreciate the way it represents sustainable development. … I like the way it starts off by talking about "quality of life and community wellbeing" rather than economic growth with a bit of resource conservation, the way it describes "the concept of 'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given" and mentions the vision of Wales "using only its fair share of the earth's resources so that its ecological footprint is reduced to the global average availability of resources". That's a long way from the language of Whitehall, and clearly embraces the contraction end of contraction and convergence which often gets forgotten. Hopefully it's a reflection of the wider discourse used in political circles in Wales, but even if not it certainly encourages the reclaiming of the term sustainable development.

Yes, hopefully it is.

Prompted by this encouragement, I read Jane’s article, and looked again at the 2009 report: One Wales: One Planet. In the article, Jane herself asks: "So what would a sustainable Wales look like?" and then reminds us that a cross-party vision was agreed in One Wales: One Planet last year:

Across society there is recognition of the need to live sustainably and reduce our carbon footprint. People understand how they can contribute to a low carbon, low waste society. These issues are firmly embedded in the curriculum and workplace training. People are taking action to reduce resource use, energy use and waste. They are more strongly focused on environmental, social and economic responsibility, and on local quality of life issues, and there is less emphasis on consumerism. Participation and transparency are key principles of government at every level, and individuals have become stewards of natural resources.”

For me, this doesn't quite picture a "sustainable Wales"; rather, it's a view of Wales's becoming less unsustainable, and (then, perhaps) more sustainable, over time. The verbs used here are all about the journey "… are taking action ..."; "… understand how they can ..."; "… a recognition of the need ..."; etc.

But this is fine, as sustainable development is just that: the reflective social learning that this descriptor captures – albeit in too little detail. It was Jane's question that was misleading with its definitive notion of a "sustainable Wales".

Actually, the view of a sustainable Wales presented in One Wales; One Planet is not quite this:

Our Vision of a Sustainable Wales is one where Wales:

  • lives within its environmental limits, using only its fair share of the earth’s resources so that our ecological footprint is reduced to the global average availability of resources, and we are 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.

… but here there is no hint of social learning, or any sort of learning and education, although the document as a whole does address such matters.

I do think the omission significant, however, as none of what I have just quoted will occur without a great deal of learning, and un-learning, by all concerned, and absolutely not just through ESDGC in schools.

Thus, there will be development of a less unsustainable, and then of a more sustainable sort, and One Wales; One Planet details some of the initial steps along this track. It is less clear, however, when it comes to forming judgements about effectiveness and progress; ie, about indicators, an issue that the UK itself continues to struggle over – especially in relation to education.

I mis-quoted John Donne in the title of this post. Here's the original:

... No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

We are all involved in humankind, and Wales will only be properly sustainable when everyone else is too. But I think they know that.

11 Nov 2011

Occupy Universities

The Occupy movement is about drawing attention to system failure. (in my opinion)

So what if we occupied universities? Does anyone doubt that universities are failing to enable humans to create systems that will allow humans and species to thrive on our planet? If that's not the role and goal of a university, then let's create spaces and places that will enable humans to head for and reach this goal.

So, whilst it's certainly important to raise awareness around tuition fees and the marketisation of higher education, that doesn't go far enough.

What if students at university around the UK (the world!), launched sit-ins, demanding that they be educated about the system and how it is failing and about alternatives and how to implement them? Do the professors not have the answers? Then let's co-learn.