Tag Archives: education

Star Trek or Little House on the Prairie, the Red/Blue Divide, and Imagining Complexly

The US election results of 8 Nov 2016 were a bit shocking to me. David Wong at Cracked.com provided a strikingly insightful explanation of why I and my ivory tower, liberal left coast colleagues failed to see this coming.
John Michael Greer noted that the success of the Trump campaign in rural counties is a predictable result of the frustration and hopelessness that permeate the lives of people who have felt neglected by the powerful elites of the country’s urban centers. This deep cultural gulf between cities and small-town-America is an important consideration for successfully maintaining a symbiotic relationship between urban and rural communities (and remember, the cities need the countryside if they want to have things like food and water). Those of us who care about the future of this planet need to find ways to build a future that includes a vision of a better life that will appeal to the rural and ‘Rust Belt’ communities. And we can’t do this by objectifying or vilifying them. As John Green is fond of saying, we need to take the time to “imagine others complexly,” and a big part of that is learning to get better at listening to other people’s concerns. As with planting a tree, the best time to do tbest time to plant a tree.jpghis was twenty years ago (like, seriously), but the second-best time is now.
I started writing this post a while back, shortly after I had the good fortune to visit the Sustainability Institute at Pennsylvania State University. I put it on a back burner for a time, but realized that it had become even more important since the results.  While visiting Penn State, Jeremy Bean asked me a question that, ideally, everyone should ask and explore on a regular basis: What is your vision of a sustainable future? I realized with some surprise that no one had ever really asked me that question in that way. What I attempted to articulate was the ways in which I see a high-tech world and a deep permaculture world as being not just two alternatives, but in fact two tracks that can, should and perhaps must be run in parallel: not Star Trek* vs. Little House on the Prairie, but both at the same time.

 What is your vision of a sustainable future?

To elaborate somewhat on my response, I see these two directions or modes of improving sustainability (shiny high-tech on one hand, and an engaged horticultural society informed by both ecological science and more ancient ways of knowing on the other) as having the possibility not only to co-exist amicably, but in fact to synergize. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing could release human resources to allow for a more hands-on (yet intellectually demanding) kind of small-scale, locally specific, intensive food production  (“Hello computer, make me a mattock head that will work the best around my hazelnut bushes and apple trees, and design a yoke I can use to team my mule and my llama”). We may need to consider alternative economic systems to accommodate this very different suite of human occupations.
I emphasize the plurals in the last sentence, because I think it is important to try to imagine the future complexly. Specifically, we should neither expect nor seek a monoculture. Resilience, and therefore our chances of suvival, are best served by the healthy pursuit of multiple strategies. Evolution works not by a steady chain of progress along a single line, but by the differential survival of diverse organisms. If we see human economic-social-ecological systems through this lens, diverse societies with different strategies will yield a much better chance of surviving and improving upon the present than a single, unified strategy.  So what I would advocate is for different locales and communities to seek alternative ways of balancing post-industrialism, agrarianism, pastoralism, and nomadic foraging economies, using either novel or traditional models. Some yak herders may use satellite imaging and GPS to make migration systems more efficient; some urbanites might rely on hydroponic produce and lab-grown proteins in complex systems based on the latest renewable energy and water management technologies; some rural communities may choose isolated self-reliance with a cap on technology at the 19th century level (as in some Amish communities), or perhaps earlier still (to connect with more ancient lifeways and traditions).
In general, I think the majority of people are unlikely to want to give up some of the benefits of our current global levels of knowledge and interconnectivity, and I would be personally opposed to any kind of enforced primitivism (or enforced techno-urbanism, for that matter). There are challenges to keeping lines of communication and personal options open between diverse economic-social-ecological systems, but these are not insurmountable. Even within more rural Transition Town strategies, a diversity of personal choices regarding technology may be able to co-exist harmoniously.
The question of technological reliance is but one factor. Other questions to be addressed in articulating a vision for sustainable futures engage more deeply with the meaning of sustainability: How do we save what needs to be saved?  What kinds of limits do we set? What technologies are most important and useful to a sustainable society, and which technologies should and could be effectively abandoned? What systems do we use to ensure we stay on a path towards future sustainability?
Maintaining healthy ecosystems is my highest priority. This may now require some fairly heroic efforts to preserve functioning biodiversity, especially in maintaining what remains viable in old-growth rainforests (both tropical and temperate) and aquatic habitats (coral reefs, lakes and rivers), especially in the face of at least some ongoing climate instability. This will mean committing ourselves to reducing harvesting of renewable resources (forest and ocean products, and anything that degrades air, soil or water quality) to below the rate at which they can be replenished or repaired. It will also mean eschewing extraction of non-renewable resources, and finding ways to recycle instead of wasting what has already been extracted.
At the same time, I also don’t want to lose our capacity to maintain and even advance the progress we have made in many of our complex technologies, and I definitely want to advance the benefits of science and these technologies to all humans (assuring not just basic subsistence, but also universal access to medicine, sanitation, communications, transportation, education, research and exploration). I expect that there are many important linkages between the technological achievements and the social progress of the last three centuries, and I do not relish a future in which those gains are abandoned.  I believe the challenge here will be to judiciously determine which technologies are most worth maintaining, and finding truly sustainable ways to maintain those while abandoning some technologies which are no longer ethical or viable.
As I’ve said in previous blog posts, it is clear we need to consider some deep transformations of our current economic system. The challenge is not small. An industrial/post-industrial economic system that supports and incentivizes sustainable behavior while dis-incentivizing unsustainable behavior has yet to be developed. Some may argue that only our current model of capitalist economy provides the proper freedom and incentives to maintain our spectacular rate of innovation. In some senses this may be true, and I also expect that in the coming decades, the pace of research and technological advancement may slow. However, we are have more brainpower now on the planet than ever before. Average IQs and similar test scores are going up (probably not the best way to measure actual individual intelligence, but somewhat indicitave of collective intelligence nonetheless). In 1950, there were only about 17.5 million people with any post-secondary education; by 2010 there were over 318 million – an increase of more than 18X (data from Barro and Lee, 2013).  We almost certainly have more PhDs alive now than the total number of people who ever had PhDs before 1950. In addition, we have the benefit of all of the accumulated information from this history, and increasingly improved ways to search and analyse it. So while innovations may not progress as quickly in the next fifty years as they did in the last fifty, it would be amazing if things slowed down by more than a little, at least when it comes to things that are important and useful to genuinely improving sustainable quality of life.
We don’t really know what these post-scarcity, post-growth economic systems will look like, we only know that we haven’t seen them yet. How would such systems intersect with emerging social and political systems? Can we find ways to get people working more on caring for the earth and caring for one another, and still assure that everyone can have a healthy and rewarding life?  There is no shortage of work to be done, in repairing damaged ecosystems, in re-inventing our food systems, in caring for children and the elderly, in educating those whose current or recent jobs are not sustainable. Perhaps new economic systems will find ways to better reward people who work toward a net-positive ecological ‘footprint,’ leaving ‘credits’ for indulgences (travel, amusing gadgets, more consumptive hobbies), rather than facilitating wealth concentration regardless of environmental harm.
While I cannot yet form a clear image of what will be required of us, I do see some blurry shapes that we might anticipate being resolved by our efforts. max_temkin_poster_550I suspect that most of us in the industrialized world will probably have to be ready to embrace things being  slower and less convenient. Hopefully, the trade-off will be less soul-crushing, meaningless drudgery for wage laborers (many of the people whose rage and distress were voiced in this week’s election results). I believe the best approach to healing the rifts that this recent U.S. election revealed will be to come together to develop more self-reliant, socially-engaged and emotionally rewarding ways for more people to make a living, recognizing the need for maintaining healthy rural communities and lower-tech options for those who prefer them. If we put our minds to it, we can figure this out.

*It turns out that Star Trek actually did presage this vision, at least in small ways. In 1990, an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Family” showed something that might have surprised a lot of Trekkies – Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s brother as a Luddite, Slow Food movement kind of guy, getting along just fine as a traditional vintner in the 24th century – neither isolated nor unaware, just choosing to use less technology.

Other Trek universe episodes were likely to portray those who choose lower-tech lifestyles in an even less favorable light (e.g. “The Way to Eden“, “Paradise“), but at least they continued to acknowledge the possibility that some would go for voluntary simplicity despite the appeal of Star Trek’s techno-cornucopian society.

Mind-mapping a career path

I’m deep in job search mode, meaning I’m spending a lot of time just looking for something that might fit, and sending out applications.  But there are deeper questions I should be answering: What am I actually supposed to be doing?  What do I want out of my next job?

Complex questions are not always amenable to mere lists.  Mind-maps are  often a better tool for dealing with them.  I started with a couple pencil-and-paper mind-maps, but rapidly ran out of room on my small notepad, and got frustrated with trying to erase and reorganize.  So I decided to try the high-tech approach.  I wanted to compare some of the better rated free mind-mapping tools out there.

MindMup: my qualifications

I organized my qualifications in MindMup, a (sort of) free online tool. It has a nice, intuitive interface, and I like that it allows users to make links between things on different branches (red dashed lines, below).  It did have some glitches when I tried to move large branches and sub-trees on the graph.  Frustratingly, the free version only lets you save and publish very small files directly. It does include an option to save working files to Google Drive, but it appears to only save the latest version and overwrite it, even if you try to change the name and do a “save as”.  When I attempted to edit it down, I nearly lost most of my work, and there’s no “undo”  😦  Below is a screen-shot of the pretty version, before I started trying to trim it down. Even edited way, way down with no pictures, I couldn’t get the file under 100Kb so that I could print or save and publish within the free version. (MindMup did control fairly nicely for creating the map, and the “Gold” version isn’t terribly expensive at US$2.99/mo, so if you’re willing to pay a little it might be a good choice.)

MindMup_MM_quals

Coggle: my qualifications redux & qualities of my next job

I used the free online tool Coggle to generate a mind map of what I think that next job should look like.  I found that Coggle behaved much better than MindMup on many things, and it allowed me to save a fairly complex mind-map for free.  I re-created and expanded the mind map of my qualifications, and did one on the things I want in my next job.

Why_Hire_Michelle_Y__Merrill_Dream_Job_Characteristics_-_core_theme_SUSTAINABILITY__

XMind: how to search for my next job

XMind is open-source software with a free download for Windows, MacOS or Linux.  It offers different layouts and styles.  It also keeps many of its features in reserve for those who shell out for the ‘Pro’ version. I used it to do a map about ways to look my next job.  I like the many options for map style and the ability to show relationships.  The interface isn’t quite as slick as the others, but it’s still pretty intuitive.  The free version didn’t let me add pictures. What I was able to create I could save easily locally, and I was able to get a link for a share-able version, but it doesn’t seem to load well.

Xmind_MM_jobsearch

List: dream jobs

I did also try the list approach, just for comparison’s sake.  Here’s a list of my “dream jobs” (in no particular order) and some of the reasons I believe I would like them:

  1. Sustainability Pedagogy Specialist for United Nations or a big NGO
  2. Sustainability specialist within Teaching, Learning and Pedagogy program at large university
    • provide faculty professional development training
    • conduct research on EfS, especially within home university and with EfS Asia collaborators
    • some travel to conferences to present research
    • possible gigs at other universities do do faculty development workshops
  3. Faculty in Sustainability Studies Program
    • teach a variety of courses on sustainability themes
    • lots of time in the classroom and working with students
    • may include support for research, publications and/or conference travel
  4. Sustainability Coordinator for Higher Education Institution
    • conduct faculty, administrator, and staff professional development workshops
    • help organize student events, projects and clubs
    • do local community outreach
    • holistic view of institution and its sustainability activities (facilities, operations, purchasing, student life/co-curricular activities, research and instruction)
    • represent institution and present achievements at sustainability conferences like IGEE, AASHE or CHESC
  5. Interdisciplinary Introduction to Sustainability course developer
    • start with re-design of course at NTU, then branch out
    • hop from university to university, working with local faculty to set up core courses and help design programs in interdisciplinary Sustainability Studies
  6. Consultant in Sustainability and Biomimicry
    • reconnect with Janine Benyus, Dana Baumeister, Toby Herzlich and other biomimicry experts
    • direct application of my background in evolutionary and organismal biology
    • work on a variety of interesting design challenges
    • perhaps apply pedagogy expertise to redesign and further development of educational materials

Listing is less satisfying, but it does help to surface and articulate some ideas.  It could have been done in a mind-map, but perhaps that would be more about formatting than actually developing content.

So there you have it.  To sum up the review of the free tools:

  • I had the best experience with Coggle – easy to use and share results for free.  Not as full featured as the others, but I’m happiest with low levels of hassle.
  • MindMup was fun to play with, but the free version is not very useful for keeping and sharing files.
  • XMind required a download and install.  Features were good, but still awkward to share.
  • Mind-mapping with paper and pencils can be frustrating to make changes and can be awkward to share.
  • Listing, on paper or onscreen, still works for some things, but is less fun than mind-mapping.

Now, about that job…?

 

What would a sustainable Third Level Campus look like?

Another rehearsal video – this time for a short job talk on ways to address sustainability and sustainable development in third level (a.k.a. post-secondary, higher or further) education.


I advocate an integrated systems approach, where every aspect of the institution is informed by key sustainability competences, and viewed as an opportunity for students to develop these competences.  Communities of practice among faculty, staff and administrators, can help make this possible.

Works Cited and Recommended References

Abdul-Wahab, S. a., Abdulraheem, M. Y., & Hutchinson, M. 2003. “The need for inclusion of environmental education in undergraduate engineering curricula.” International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 4(2), 126–137. doi:10.1108/14676370310467140

Bacon, Christopher M, Dustin Mulvaney, Tamara B Ball, E Melanie DuPuis, Stephen R Gliessman, Ronnie D Lipschutz, and Ali Shakouri. 2011. “The creation of an integrated sustainability curriculum and student praxis projects.”  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 12 (2):193-208.

Barth, Matthias, Jasmin Godemann, Marco Rieckmann, and Ute Stoltenberg. 2007. “Developing key competencies for sustainable development in higher education.”  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 8 (4):416-430.

Cullingford, Cedric, and John Blewitt. 2004. The Sustainability Curriculum: The challenge for higher education: Routledge.

Jones, Paula, David Dr Selby, and Stephen R. Sterling, eds. 2010. Sustainability education: perspectives and practice across higher education: London ; Sterling, VA : Earthscan, 2010.

Lambrechts, Wim, Ingrid Mulà, Kim Ceulemans, Ingrid Molderez, and Veerle Gaeremynck. 2013. “The integration of competences for sustainable development in higher education: an analysis of bachelor programs in management.”  Journal of Cleaner Production 48 (0):65-73. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.12.034.

Meadows, D. 2008. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Merrill, M.Y., Chang, Y., Islam, M.S., 2016. Communities of Practice in Education for Sustainability: A Case Study from Asian Higher Education, in: Sharma, V.K. (Ed.), International Symposium on a Sustainable Future-2016 (ISSF-2016). Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), Mumbai, India, pp. 127-143.

Merrill, M.Y., Chang, Y., Islam, M.S., Burkhardt-Holm, P., Chang, C.-H., in prep. Education and Sustainability: Paradigms, Policies and Practices in Asia. Routledge, Singapore.

Mochizuki, Yoko, and Zinaida Fadeeva. 2010. “Competences for sustainable development and sustainability.”  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 11 (4):391-403. doi: doi:10.1108/14676371011077603.

Rieckmann, Marco. 2012. “Future-oriented higher education: Which key competencies should be fostered through university teaching and learning?”  Futures 44 (2):127-135.

Sandri, Orana Jade. 2013. “Threshold concepts, systems and learning for sustainability.”  Environmental Education Research 19 (6):810-822. doi: 10.1080/13504622.2012.753413.

Sterling, Steven. 2011. “Transformative learning and sustainability: sketching the conceptual ground.”  Learning and Teaching in Higher Education 5:17-33.

Wiek, Arnim, Lauren Withycombe, and Charles L Redman. 2011. “Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development.”  Sustainability Science 6 (2):203-218.

 

We’ve got goals: the 17 SDGs

Global Goals SDGs

The UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goals took effect the first day of 2016.  I’ll be leading a discussion of these goals at the upcoming NTU Sustainability Salon.  As I see it, the most promising thing about this renewed effort is the intention to interlink these challenges, recognizing interconnections and building bridges between disciplinary silos.

Learn more:

 

 

A New Type of Thinking

The world we have made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them.

Because attribution of sources is a big part of good scholarship, I went looking for the original source of this quote (often phrased differently, but almost always attributed to Albert Einstein).

What I found was things like:

Ah, searching for “Einstein” and “level of thinking” rather than “same level of thinking” turns up a much earlier example from The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Volumes 1-4, which is dated 1969 by google books though these snippets show it contains pieces from 1969 and 1970. The quote, on p. 124, is “The world that we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level as the level we created them at.” It’s prefaced by “Einstein said an interesting thing”, and the same phrase and quote appears in a 1974 book by Ram Dass (who needs his own wikiquote page!), The Only Dance There Is, on this page, so presumably the one in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology is the same piece by Ram Dass.  [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Albert_Einstein]

and

In the interview by Michael Amrine titled, ‘The Real Problem is in the Hearts of Men’ (New York Times Magazine – June 23 1946) Einstein says:‘Many persons have inquired concerning a recent message of mine that “a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels“.’ (p.7)

The source of that recent message is quoted in an article that appeared the month before titled‘Atomic Education Urged by Einstein‘ where the mircofiche archive copy of the article reports on an appeal by telegram to ‘several hundred prominent Americans’ on 24 May 1946 in a ‘Plea for $200,000 to promote new type of essential thinking’. The telegram was signed by the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists with Albert Einstein as Chairman and the Federation of American Scientists. The text of that telegram is quoted in part and reads:

‘Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing power to make great decisions for good or evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe… a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels… [http://icarus-falling.blogspot.sg/2009/06/einstein-enigma.html]

Of course, one can argue that the words and the source are not as important as the idea conveyed.  That notion that we have to think about things in new ways to resolve major problems is powerful.  I suspect that is why the quote is constantly rephrased and repeated, yet that essential message survives the transformations.

European Excursion and EfS

Just a quick update on my last month of work and play…

Durloch Tower grounds, Karlsruhe, Germany

I traveled to Europe to give a talk for the Mensch-Gesellschaft-Umwelt (Man-Society-Environment) program at University of Basel, then present at the International Greening Education Event (I’m on Day 3) hosted by the European Organization for Sustainable Development.  Then we did some tourism.  Erik is posting pictures from our adventures at http://colorjedi.tumblr.com/.

Since our return, one of my major projects has been working to organize the next Education for Sustainability (EfS) in Asia conference – Post-Secondary Education for Sustainability in Asia 5-6 Feb 2015.

Link

NTU races toward sustainability

Why would I come all the way to Singapore to do research on education for sustainability?  Here’s why:

NTU’s new icons of sustainability

In 2013, the two new [residential] halls achieved Green Mark Platinum status – the highest award for an individual building given by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) for environmental sustainability…

NTU is also set to become the greenest eco-campus in the world, with its aim to have a 35 per cent reduction in energy, water and waste by 2020.

They’re also requiring all incoming freshman to complete a short, multidisciplinary, online course on sustainability.  Learn more…

NTU is serious about becoming a leading world university, and how they plan to get there is by leading the world in sustainability.

I do believe I love my job 🙂