Sustanimalism

 Posted by sustainable on March 3, 2014 

 

“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated” Mahatma Gandhi said many years ago.

Somewhere between this observation and the sustainability debate in recent years, it has gone wrong. If we look at the many sustainability indicators that have been developed over the years, it is striking to see that animal-wellbeing hardly plays a role. Biodiversity and ecosystems indicators put more emphasis on the number and variety of different species than their well-being. Assuming that the words of Gandhi make sense, can we then conclude that the concept of sustainability has nothing to do with civilization? Or is it that animal-wellbeing is a blind spot in the sustainability debate?

Of course is our interaction with the environment, other people and other animals part of our civilization. The reason that ‘animals’ and ‘sustainability’ are not often mentioned together in one sentence is likely to be found in the fact that the sustainability debate has been hijacked in recent years by industry and governments. Their view regarding sustainable development significantly has been subordinate to the dogma of economic growth with little regard for animal welfare. How shortsighted this is, has been illustrated by the various outbreaks of animal diseases in intensive farming, and the development of antibiotic resistance of many pathogens because our cattle are given too many antibiotics. These are just some examples, but it is increasingly clear that our own well-being is closely connected with the welfare of the animals with whom we live.

Take pets, for example. Research shows that people with a pet are in general healthier than non-pet owners. Pets also increase the capacity for empathy and social contacts among children (which are useful characteristics for a healthy and happy life). Furthermore, people who are heavily involved in animal welfare appear to have more compassion for the problems of people. Of course, this supposes a good care of the (domestic) animal. Keeping animals just because it’s (temporary) fun / useful / convenient for us, of course, is not always the most sustainable course of action. We all know stories of neglected pets.

Animal welfare should therefore be central in the sustainability debate: sustanimalism. With this in mind, it is also practical and easy to make a contribution to a sustainable society. Acting animal-friendly – for example, taking good care of your animals and eating less meat – is not only beneficial to your health, but also to a better and more civilized world.

 

Three Horizons: A way of working with change

Posted by sustainable on October 28, 2013


Sustainable learning is not just about learning about the past – it is also about the role of learning in creating a more sustainable future.

This raises important questions about how we can think about creating such a future. For example how we can work with people from diverse backgrounds, expertise, and worldviews to come to a shared vision of the future?   How can we work constructively with the problems our society faces that defy analysis and demand that we learn our way together into the future respecting both our knowledge and our ignorance of what to do?   Over the last few years the Three Horizons framework has emerged as a way of helping people with these kinds of challenges.

Three Horizons is a way of working with transformational change, drawing attention towards systemic patterns rather than individual events or unexamined trends; it frames the discussion in terms of the shift from the established patterns of the first horizon to the emergence of new patterns in the third, via the transition activity of the second.


Untitled1A simple linear way of thinking about change places us in the present moment looking towards how we want things to be in future – placing the future outside the present moment, something that might or might not happen, and appearing in the guise of the unknown or unknowable and the risky. Yet we act with future intent all the time, linking what we are doing now to future outcomes.  The central idea of Three Horizons, and what makes it so useful, is that it draws attention to the three horizons as existing always in the present moment, and that we have evidence about the future in how people (including ourselves) are behaving now.

By making these qualitative distinctions between the three horizons in the present, a lot of dynamics of change come into view quite naturally, and we are led to explore them in terms of the patterns of behaviour of those who are maintaining or creating them. This leads to the additional benefit, that we can reflect on our own intentions towards those patterns in the process of exploring the behaviour and intent that is revealed in each horizon.

Three Horizons thinking offers a way to find and shape our own intentions more clearly as we look over the first horizon of the known towards the second and third horizons of innovation and transformation towards the future.  It transforms our perception of the future potential of the present moment by revealing each horizon as a different quality already existing in the present, and which might develop depending on how we choose to act – to maintain the familiar or pioneer the new. The outcome of Three Horizons work is a map of transformational potential which enables us to act with more skill, freedom and creativity in the present, both individually and together.


H1: The first horizon

The first horizon describes the current way of doing things, and the way we can expect it to change if we all keep behaving in the ways we are used to. H1 systems are what we all depend on to get things done in the world. Throughout the day we make use of a myriad societal systems – shops, schools, banks, hospitals, transport – and most of the time we don’t want, or need, to think about them too much; we all help perpetuate the system by taking part in it. While we talk a lot about the pace of change, it is worth remembering that lots of things must stay the same for daily life to go on. Innovation and change in our H1 systems is happening, but it is about sustaining and extending the way things are done now in a planned and orderly way; uncertainties and risks are to be eliminated or prepared for – the lights must be kept on.

Nothing lasts forever, and over time we inevitably find that our H1 ways of doing things are falling short – no longer meeting expectations, failing to move towards new opportunities, or out of step with emerging conditions. More than that, we have a sense that our H1 methods of improvement and innovation do not ever get us where we want to go and are just sustaining the old approach with its failings; that approach is losing its ‘fitness for purpose’.


H2: The second horizon

The second horizon is the transition and transformation zone of emerging innovations that are responding to the shortcomings of the first horizon and anticipating the possibilities of the third horizon. New ways of doing things emerge in messy ways, brought about through some combination of deliberate action and opportunistic adaptation in the light of circumstances.  Entrepreneurs must judge the moment, and bring together ideas and resources to try a new way of doing things here and now. They live in an ambiguous territory where the old ways are dominant but the new is becoming possible; they can look to the past and fit in with familiar patterns of life, or try to become the seed that grows into the new. Entrepreneurship is hard and most attempts to do new things fail; it is much easier to serve the old systems, and established H1 players typically dominate.


H3: The third horizon

The third horizon is the future system. It is those new ways of living and working that will fit better with the emerging need and opportunity. H3 change is transformative, bringing a new pattern into existence that is beyond the reach of the H1 system. There will be many competing visions of the future and early pioneers are likely to look quite unrealistic – and some of them are. As we build our own Three Horizons map we bring our own vision to bear and take a view on how it relates to the visions of others and the trends that are playing out for all of us.


Convening the future

So, from this simple Three Horizons framework we get three things:

a way to look at the processes of change that encourages us to see deeper patterns of systemic change beneath surface events
a way to make the future accessible in the present in the form of the intent and actions that are bringing it about
a way to bring all the voices of continuity and change into play as part of the discussion, as expressed in their intent towards the patterns.
Three Horizons is a way to think about the future that recognises deep uncertainty but responds with an active orientation. It allows us to understand more clearly how our own and other people’s actions might shape the future we are exploring. This is especially important when we look at issues of broad societal concern, where we are all actors in the future. Here we are particularly concerned to find ways for the many different constituencies in society to come together to unlock the future from the dominance of old ways of doing things – ways that are no longer working for us.

Over the last few years many people have started using the Three Horizons framework as a way to work on their issues and in the International Futures Forum we’ve been talking to them about why it works.   All of them speak of the way it separates things out in a helpful way and improves the dialogue, because people can see where they are and can avoid unnecessary confusion and conflict between the three horizons.  It turns out to be quite natural, in almost any situation where people are working on some complex issue, to gently bring out the three ‘voices’ of the horizons:

the managerial voice that is concerned with the first horizon responsibility for keeping things going
the entrepreneurial voice of the second horizon that is eager to get on and try new things (some of which won’t work)
the aspiration and vision of the third horizon voice that holds out for commitment to a better way and the opportunity that can be imagined in the mind’s eye.
The Three Horizons approach is aligned with these three forms of awareness which everybody can adopt towards the future. By default, many people inhabit just one horizon in their work, and view other horizons with perplexity, misunderstanding or hostility. However, everyone has a natural capacity to work with the other horizons, and the core of Three Horizons practice is the flexibility to work with all three modes of awareness at the same time.

Once different groups are able to see which horizon dominates their thinking they can also see how it relates to the others.    For example, a passionate H3 advocate for renewable energy may easily forget what it feels like to have H1 responsibilities for keeping the lights on, and in return the H1 thinker, dominated by current concerns, can regard the H3 protagonist as simply irrelevant to their pressing needs. The H2 entrepreneur may be drawing their inspiration from the third horizon, but is also having to judge when the time is right to challenge the H1 organisations for dominance, or instead to work with them.

This is the core idea of Three Horizons – to shift from our simple, one-dimensional view of time stretching into the future and instead adopt a three-dimensional point of view in which we become aware of each horizon as a distinct quality of relationship between the future and the present. We call the move into this multi-dimensional view, and the skill to work with it, the step into future consciousness: an awareness of the future potential of the present moment.

As people make this step individually they can also make it together – developing a shared culture of future consciousness that in turn opens up a greater freedom of action.   International Futures Forum is working to bring about the emergence of such a culture through the provision of resources and expertise to support Three Horizons practice.


Untitled2Bill Sharpe is an independent researcher in science, technology and society. He was a research director at Hewlett Packard Laboratories where he led research into everyday applications of technology and introduced scenario methods to HP to support long-range research and innovation. With a background in psychology he is particularly interested in drawing on leading edge research in cognition and systems thinking to find new ways of tackling complex problems. He is a member of the International Futures Forum and has worked with them to develop the Three Horizons framework for futures.

Read more in Bill Sharpe’s book Three Horizons: the patterning of hope, and an extended case study of its use in education in Transformative Innovation in Education: a playbook for pragmatic visionaries, by Graham Leicester et al, from Triarchy Press.


References:

This summary of Three Horizons makes use of material from Three Horizons: the patterning of hope (Sharpe 2013) by permission of International Futures Forum.

The first published version of a three horizons model was in the management book The Alchemy of Growth (Baghai, Coley et al. 2000). The idea of using the three horizons as three orientations to the future in the present was introduced at the Intelligent Infrastructure Futures project (Sharpe and Hodgson 2006) and (Hodgson and Sharpe 2007). The evolution of the approach presented in this book, and its relationship to other futures techniques such as scenario planning, is described in (Curry, Hodgson et al. 2008) which provides a good list of references for those with a technical interest in the futures field.

Baghai, M., Coley, S., et al. (2000). The alchemy of growth: practical insights for building the enduring enterprise, San Frncisco, CA: Perseus Publishing.

Curry, A., Hodgson, A., et al. (2008). ‘Seeing in Multiple Horizons: Connecting Futures to Strategy’. Journal of Futures Studies 13(1): 1-20.

Hodgson, A. and Sharpe, B. (2007). ‘Deepening Futures with System Structure’. Scenarios for Success: Turning Insight into Action, Sharpe, B. and Van der Heijden, K. (eds.), Chichester: John Wiley.

Sharpe, B. (2013). Three Horizons: the patterning of hope. Axminster: Triarchy Press.

Sharpe, B. and Hodgson, A. (2006). Intelligent Infrastructure Futures: Technology Forward Look, Foresight Directorate, London: UK Dept of Trade & Industry.

Transcending Boundaries: Students and Sustainability in Higher Education

Posted by sustainable on October 18, 2013

If sustainability is truly about future generations, then young people — students — should be given the opportunity to propose, develop, and implement prospective solutions for sustainable development. At present, universities are almost never designed for these ends.

Imagine if students, at the beginning of their studies at university, were challenged to ask themselves the seemingly simple questions: Why am I here? And what is higher education for? At the same time, imagine if they were introduced to the many urgent challenges facing humanity and the future of life on this planet. Then, what if students themselves were given the opportunity to propose, develop and organize their own education, based on their newly acquired insights about themselves and the state of the world?

What would it look like? What knowledge and skills would they aim to acquire? Who would they bring in to be their lecturers, teachers, mentors? Which societal actors would they engage with? What would the learning environment look like? What questions would they ask? What solutions to local and global sustainability challenges would they come up with? And perhaps most importantly: how would students, and in extension our future societies, change through this kind of empowering process?

In Uppsala, Sweden, this is happening. For more than 20 years, students from all disciplinary backgrounds from the city’s two universities have gathered at the Centre for Environment and Development Studies (CEMUS), to co-create the higher education of their dreams. Just as in Bologna in the 11th Century, where the very idea of the university was born, students themselves in Uppsala are the conveners and at the core of developing the curriculum. Students are hired to work in close collaboration with teachers, researchers and practitioners, to plan and coordinate the wide range of transdisciplinary undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate courses offered at the centre. Perhaps the most radical characteristic of CEMUS is the degree to which students are given agency and treated as intellectual equals – all within a fairly rigid and tradition-laden university structure.

So what then, does student-initiated, student-coordinated education for sustainability look like in practice?

Transcending boundaries

Courses created at CEMUS are inherently trandisciplinary and bring up new and emerging issues that no single department, faculty or discipline can address by themselves. The breadth of the content of their content can be illustrated by just a few of the course titles: Climate Change Leadership, Sustainable Design, Philosophy of Life and Actors and Strategies for Change. Transcending boundaries is not only evidenced in the content of the course work, but also in the learning environment itself where conventional hierarchy between learners and teachers is replaced with reciprocity.

Critical thinking

The desire to seek out opposing viewpoints, or constructing them if they don’t exist, is hardly a dominant characteristic of our current educational system. At CEMUS, students are continuously exposed to a plethora of different perspectives which, at its best, leads to a deep investigation of the values, worldviews, power relations, and ethics at the root of our human predicament. This also entails students to look within, to look back or to contradict their own worldview. At times, this can be an uncomfortable process, especially if students come to the conclusion that the way we think and do things is wrong or potentially harmful. Uncomfortable as it may be, this may be one of the main reasons that student-run education has the potential to be so transformative and really change what students and teachers know and believe about sustainability.

Creative and Reflective action

Besides gaining new theoretical knowledge and insights, the courses are designed for students to gain applicable skills and the courage to take action. By developing proficiency in systems thinking, innovation processes, creative thinking, heterogeneous methods for analyzing, structuring and solving problems, diverse modes of communication, project management tools and a deeper understanding of self, students seem to become better equipped for creative and reflective action in their lives.

A revolutionary learning process

Most education is seen as a process of learning more, of acquiring more knowledge, skills and tools. However, at CEMUS much of the learning would perhaps better be described as a process of unlearning and reevaluating knowledge already acquired. In recent years, norm-critical and anti-oppressive forms of learning have also gained a stronger presence in several courses. In the best cases, this can lead to an emancipatory learning process that brings out the genius in every individual. One of the most exciting aspect of this type of education is that students and teachers can start questioning, challenging, and transforming other learning and work situations in which they find themselves.

Changing the world through collaboration and co-creation

Besides the 20 plus courses that are offered at the centre a subunit within the organization, CEMUS Forum, serves as a meeting place for students, teachers and the wider community outside the university. It aims to be a catalyst for change, an incubator for regional and global innovation that contributes to sustainability by partnering with businesses, civil society organizations, the public sector and more.

So why is the educational model at CEMUS so successful? Here are just a few observations that might shed a little light on this question:

  • Hiring the most engaged students from previous years as course coordinators for the next year’s courses, leads to learning processes that are adapted to students’ interests and needs.
  • Students hired as course coordinators are given both freedom and a large responsibility. In teams of two, they quickly grow into very competent organizers of higher education – passionate and committed to creating the best courses possible.
  • The education is a result of co-creation between faculty and students: the process is a source of inspiration, as well as intellectually and practically challenging, to everyone involved.
  • The courses are complimentary and help to put the students’ previous studies in a broader and meaningful context. Students that find CEMUS are often frustrated with the shortcomings of earlier education and seeking a learning environment that is more interactive, inspiring and meaningful.
  • The organization is dynamic and ever changing due to a constant inflow of new students as course coordinators, two times each year.
  • CEMUS has become a pedagogical experimental lab for active student participation and didactic renewal at the university, with a constant momentum to improve, remix and innovate based on what seems to work.

So, does CEMUS really live up to all of its claims? Based on the many evaluations, comments, and reflections from students, the courses provide some of the most meaningful and relevant higher education that they have experienced. As one recent student expressed it:

The best thing with this education is that it really takes you into the depth of things, aiming to understand the underlying reasons to environmental degredation and other problems of civilization. Furthermore, the courses have meant a lot to me – I feel that I have been studying something important, I feel wonderful.

However, despite the apparent benefits of CEMUS educational model, there are a number of issues that need to be studied in more detail. There are many obstacles to creating the critical and creative education that I’ve described. For example, students ambitions and goals with their studies are not always aligned with the high ambition of the organizers at CEMUS, and the quality of the papers and projects produced can be highly variable. Another major institutional obstacle has been the difficulty to create and develop a research environment at the centre that is just as transdisciplinary and creative as the educational environment. Attempts have been made but with limited success.

Up until now, very little actual research has been done on the educational model and the learning taking place in the courses and in the organization. However, there is an increasing interest from educators and educational researchers around the world to study the model and potentially develop similar initiatives at other universities. Student-run education for sustainability is just in its infancy and has a long and exciting journey ahead to meet its full potential.

 

 

Isak Stoddard’s professional work for the last few years has mainly dealt with transdisciplinary Education for Sustainable Development, with an emphasis on experiential, transformative and lifelong learning. He is acting Programme Director and educational coordinator at the Centre for Environment and Development Studies (CEMUS), a student-initiated, and mostly student-run centre at the University of Uppsala and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. His educational background is in engineering physics, systems technology and energy systems. Isak has worked in Asia, North America and Europe on issues related to renewable energy, environmental degradation, children’s rights, human trafficking and alternative development paths.

How does the community we belong to help us learn, and enable us to shape our community?

Posted by sustainable on August 9, 2013 

When Ioan Fazey suggested I contribute a blog post to Sustainable Learning, it seemed like a great opportunity to interview John David Smith, whom I’ve learned so much from about learning. I recorded this interview and edited this transcription for brevity and clarity.

John David Smith was born and raised in Humacao, Puerto Rico. He first studied architecture at the University of New Mexico. He became a student of Trungpa Rinpoche in 1975 and worked at the University of Colorado for more than 20 years. He’s been the community steward for CPsquare, an international community of people who are involved in communities of practice as leaders, researchers, or consultants, conducting workshops with Etienne Wenger and others on learning from a social theory perspective.  He is the co-author of Digital Habitats; stewarding technology for communities with Etienne Wenger and Nancy White, and he currently serves as the Interim Communications Director for the Portland Oregon Shambhala Center.

 

 

 

HS: John, how is that your focus came to be on learning? Why learning, per se?

JS: Well, I remember as a child growing up in Puerto Rico, I listened to Americans and Puerto Ricans talking past each other. And meanwhile, missionary doctors would just show up from the States and be able to talk shop with my father. The contrast seemed completely fascinating to me.

Then, when I was working at the University of Colorado, where I focused on using administrative records to support decision making, I found that there were, in effect, communities around different data sets. There were people who understood admissions data, who had no idea about how budget or finance worked or what it really meant. So that made me want to ask: Is there a way of learning across these communities? How could it happen? And how does it not happen? What are the forces that keep one part of an organization out of the business of some other part?

Another theme was seeing how the process of bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West involved a kind of learning that was incommensurate with learning in schools. It involved personal practice and experience — and also, on a social level, a whole messy process of figuring out: Do social forms that made sense in a medieval culture work in Boulder, Colorado, or not?

 

HS: Were you involved in the Buddhist community in Boulder?

JS: Yes, I moved there in 1975 — having read a book! — but also with the intuition that, this isn’t quite book learning. I remember having that thought.

 

HS: What’s the difference between book learning and — other forms of learning? Learning as practice? What’s the appropriate counterpoint?

JS: Book learning for me, at that time, meant discussing the books as we did at St. John’s College. Whereas the whole enterprise of Tibetan Buddhism was much more “mind-in-body,” asking: “How do I show up in the world?”

Early on, the social element was not so explicit. Trungpa Rinpoche’s students were very individually motivated: “I’m here for my spiritual practice and goals.” Now, in traditional texts, a Bodhisattva vow clearly is about “all sentient beings” — and that’s a great example of book learning. It’s easy to say, “Yeah, I take that vow,” and then go back to doing my individual thing.

Then, over the years, it became more clear that there was a kind of social learning component to what Trungpa Rinpoche was talking about. He was talking about transforming society on a deep level that contested the Western notion of individualism, contested the Western stance of mind-in-opposition-to-body, and communicated the idea that “I am the product of all the causes and conditions around me.”

 

HS: You mentioned the notion of community, which brings up the question of how community pertains to learning or social learning. Are recognized communities necessary for social learning?

JS: Well, I think “community” is a fiction is some ways — it’s whatever we want to mean by that term. And different people have both different definitions and different experiences of community. It’s a constructed concept. But, from the other side, that construction can have real value. I find it interesting to note in retrospect how many little communities Trungpa Rinpoche spawned to hold and carry forward different facets of his teaching.

 

HS: And do you find that the perception of belonging to a community is correlated to a perception of learning?

JS: Well, one definition that Etienne Wenger talked about in one of the online seminars we did is that acommunity of practice is the experience of social learning that becomes expressed as a social formation. That’s a whole bunch of squishy but important ideas linked together. The experience of learning and the experience of connection can take place along different vectors. Whether I see myself as a member of the community might precede or follow other important kinds of acquisitions: of identity, of knowledge, or competence — or as membership in opposition to another community.

Last week, in a webinar with people studying social media in The Netherlands, in order to get away from the baggage that the term learning carries, I asked them to talk about how they had been influenced. In that conversation, one of the things that came out was that people did not always know when they were being influenced or not. So it’s my hypothesis that, “When did learning happen?” is a very problematic question to answer. And yet causing and even scheduling learning is conventionally taken for granted in the field of education.

 

HS: You’re equating learning with the perception of being influenced?

JS: Yes, through some interaction over time.

And a community itself defines what learning is — whether we’re learning to pick people’s pockets or to bring environmental awareness onto the agenda of our local community.

 

HS: And if the group is defined by the boundaries of an academic discipline, then competence is defined by understandings of biology or physics or whatever, and that competence is defined in relation to the world around us?

JS: Yes, the world around us as perceived by those communities, but still in relation to communities. Communities define competence. Competence, and membership, often become a contested calls.

I think part of what’s going on here is that our language inevitably floats concepts up to the status of being externally real, and what we’re trying to do in the conversation around communities of practice and — for that matter — in Buddhism, is to remind ourselves that concepts like competence are, in effect, mental events. At the same time, that doesn’t mean we can’t hone them, and fight about them, and grow them, and make them more useful.

 

HS: Your book with Etienne Wenger and Nancy White is called Digital Habitats, yet you place such a strong emphasis on the subtleties of learning. Do you see a lot of potential for digital habitats?

I think the digital habitat is interpenetrated with how we live. We saw it as a little more separate back when we were writing the book. Today, just look right here: you have an Air and a digital recording device; I brought an iPad and a cell phone. All of that is together in our experience and shapes our expectations and sense of meaning about this conversation, as does our environment, in your backyard, under this cherry tree.

As people’s activities move online, then looking over each others’ shoulders in those online activities becomes somewhat more feasible, but there’s always a question of, “Do I see on my screen what you see on yours?” These interfaces create illusions of what’s possible and what’s there. It’s a very difficult thing to see the technology from the perspective of an outsider or of someone who’s coming onboard to a community.

 

HS: What’s the value of looking over another person’s shoulder? Or of having one’s shoulder looked over?

Looking over someone’s shoulder, you get to see practice, you get to see expertise, you get to see human activity in its richness and ambiguity. And it’s definitely a collaborative thing to look over someone’s shoulder. When you do that, it’s typically not didactically organized around a linear text or curriculum. It’s organized around practice, around doing something. And the logic of doing is very rich and kind of unfathomable in some ways. Acquiring the logic of doing happens gradually and iteratively. The word apprenticeship comes to mind here.

From the other side, the value of having someone look over your shoulder is confirming, and the conversational aspect, when someone asks, “Why do you do that?” That can illuminate our own practice.

In Situated Learning, the original frame around a community of practice was somewhat hierarchical. People who are competent are at the center; those who aren’t are outside and move toward the center. A more dynamic frame that Etienne explored in his 1998 book is that the world has multiple communities of practice. Sometimes an outsider pulls the community in a different direction; and sometimes the community pulls an outsider in. That dynamic of who pulls who is very complex. It points to the idea that the center is both imaginary and emergent, changing over time. And so is the periphery.

 

HS: Could you talk a little about other influences on your thinking?

JS: Well, in the generation before Lave and Wenger’s Situated Learning, there was Vygotsky, who as a Marxist set the context for a lot with his focus on zone of proximal development and perfectibility of society.

 

HS: “Zone of proximal development”?

JS: He was getting at the notion of: What are you ready to learn? What’s in the periphery of your understanding that — if you were exposed to or interacted with — you could figure out? One of the benefits of looking over someone else’s shoulder is that you learn what you’re able to learn, picking stuff out from the many elements before you.

 

HS: Like an individual-scale “adjacent possibility.”

JS: Yes, exactly.

And a very important person in this whole inquiry has been Jean Lave, who looked at learning from a cross-cultural perspective. Among other things, she asked: How do people learn to reason quantitatively or — as we learn in school in the West — to do arithmetic? And what do those activities mean? And how is competence defined? And what does schooling do to our notions of competence?

Her recent book, Apprenticeship in Critical Ethnographic Practice, is a wonderful example of sustained attention — that she could focus attention over five summers in the early 80s of conducting interviews with tailors in Liberia, thinking critically about the quantitative tests she gave them, then working to make sense of it over some thirty years, and finally letting us look over her shoulder. It’s really quite a feat, it seems to me.

It’s an example of mind looking at itself, which is a fundamental theme in Buddhism as well. What are the tricks that we do to ourselves? And what enables us to see our own thinking? In Shambhala, that’s the key argument: Looking at our own thinking is not an optional thing at this point in human history.

 

HS: Because?

JS: Because our technical capacities to affect the planet and to affect each other …

 

HS: Have outpaced our ability to be reflective on these things?

JS: Yeah, right, or to organize the level of reflection that’s needed. The board of directors of a big bank can be very reflective about what they’re doing on their own behalf. But do they take a broader view?  Society as a whole has to have a way of bridging across differently focused communities. The whole community of practice conversation is about saying: If you start by looking at knowledge as a social phenomenon, competence as a social phenomenon, then you get a different picture of the world — not only of how it works, but also about its possibilities.

So, rewiring the world socially actually has great promise.

 

HS: “Rewiring”?

JS: Well, that’s an image from the digital habitats conversation — about inducing the kinds of conversations that have been prevented by technology or habit or social separations or jargon. One of the things that you look at in your work is the way that jargon is very powerful. When it faces one way, it’s good for digging into a subject; when it faces the other, it’s exclusionary, confusing, and can be very problematic evidence for those who “don’t get it.”

 

HS: And can lead to assumptions about how learning takes place, through the metaphor of “knowledge transfer.”

JS: Exactly! What’s pernicious about that metaphor — apart from the fact that it doesn’t work at all — is that it creates an illusion that we have served those who have, say, downloaded the PDF file. Maybe we have, but we just don’t know. Often, we just can’t pinpoint when learning happens.

 

HS: Is there such a thing as “design for learning”?

JS: I think so. I think it comes down to extending an invitation to conversation, to looking at your intentions as you participate in the conversation and in the world, and to doing all that with as much scrupulousness and precision as we can muster.

It may require a special jargon to look at our intentions. Jargon is everywhere. And jargon is sharpened in communities. But jargon is useful for asking: What am I doing in the world? And what is the sustained attention that guides my actions in the world? As actors in larger social learning systems, are we out to promote our own conclusions, our own actions and brand — or are we out to enable something larger than ourselves individually?

 

HS: And this takes place at an organizational level, as well as an individual level, right?

JS: Absolutely.

 

HS: So, what types of organizations — whether agencies, businesses, nonprofits — have been good at learning? Are there any individual examples that come to mind?

JS: Well, I don’t know. But my hypothesis would be that effective communities are sometimes contained in but often cross organizational boundaries. Organizations can do something to sustain a conversation. Organizations tend to persist beyond the conversations or communities they contain. But so do communities. The persistence of the two may be incommensurate.

 

HS: So, for example, if we look at the extended Silicon Valley community, it seems to be learning and — for better or worse — evolving rapidly in the last couple of decades.

JS: At that scale, it’s a persistent community that accommodates organizational birth and death. I forget who talks about how the effectiveness of that community is based on rapid organizational formation, learning — or not — and then thriving or bankruptcy. If it’s bankruptcy, those individuals and those relationships disperse and reform somewhere else. That enables other conversations in other companies to form. So it may be useful to think of organizations as platforms, just like we think of digital platforms. The problem is when we think of the organization and the community as coterminous.

 

HS: In Portland, as you know, there is a pretty passionate, extended community that’s focused on sustainability, and there are opportunities to look over each other’s shoulders at what others are working on.

JS: So I think questions about metrics come up. For whatever reasons, in Silicon Valley metrics emerged at the core of the ecosystem to say that what counts is innovation.

It’s much more difficult when it comes to sustainability, to agree on the metrics and to be able to say, “Look, I did it. I moved the needle.”

 

HS: And sustainability indicators are often organized around the three Es — ecology, economy, equity — and don’t always explicitly include learning itself as a measure of success.

JS: Well, learning is driven by some sense of life force, and if you leave that out, it’s as if you’re talking about a closed system or are ignoring how interactions can lead to inspiration or accident. You are ignoring the important ability to discern what to retain or remember versus what to abandon or forget. Without learning as a core point of awareness and self-reflection, there’s no space for, “Wow, we’re doing something really great! Or, this is terrible!”  There would be no pitched battles between different parts of the family.

 

HS: To wrap up this conversation, what are you looking to learn next?

JS: Well, on the community of practice side, I think that conversation has often gotten trapped at the skin or “self” boundary.  I’m thinking about questions like: How can we talk about “self” and “experience” and “learning” in more productive, integral ways? How do we create sustained, and collective, awareness about these things and about the environmental and social challenges that we think we face?

Howard Silverman teaches systems thinking in the Collaborative Design MFA program at Pacific Northwest College of Art. Formerly with Portland-based nonprofit Ecotrust, he has worked in numerous areas: food systems, fisheries and forestry, green building, climate and energy — and learned from the use of numerous approaches: scenario planning, spatial planning, market design, life cycle assessment, online-offline participatory processes, and communities of practice. He is cofounder of the scenarios, research, and design consultancy Pattern Labs and blogs at Solving for Pattern.

 

Going Peat Free

Prof Mark Reed

Prof Mark Reed

There would be an outcry if a company started excavating top-soil from your local park and selling it to gardeners. And yet most of us are silent about the excavation of peat from habitats that are just as valuable to us.

Like most of us, Im a weekend gardener (when I have time), and for the majority of gardeners like me, there really is no excuse not to use peat-free compost. And yet most people I meet have no idea of the damage caused by buying peat-based composts. Thats why I accepted Project Mayas invitation to front their peat-free campaign this summer. I hope that as you read this short article, youll have your eyes opened to the consequences of extracting peat, and the good you can do by making a pledge to stop buying peat.

Why peatlands matter

Peatlands are a vast green lung that provide unique places for recreation and wildlife, while breathing in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and absorbing it into the peat. A loss of just 1.5% of the worlds peatlands is equivalent to all the carbon emissions humans create worldwide in a year. But an area of healthy peatland the size of a rugby pitch can absorb the equivalent of 4 return trips London-Edinburgh by car every year. Thats why we need to keep that carbon locked up under our feet, rather than digging it up and putting it on our gardens, where most of the carbon will end up being lost back to the atmosphere, where it will contribute towards climate change. 

Your average 100 litre bag of peat compost takes around 100 years to develop, as plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and turn it into leaves, stems and roots, which are eventually laid down as peat. A bag this size will have absorbed as much carbon dioxide over the 100 years it took to form as you would emit driving 236 miles in a petrol VW Golf; thats equivalent to driving from Birmingham to London and back, twice. Every month gardeners in the UK use enough peat to fill 69 Olympic swimming pools. We have lost 94% of our lowland raised peat bogs in the UK and there are just 6000 hectares left in good condition. Although most of the peat we consume in the UK now comes from abroad (principally Ireland), we are still extracting peat from the few sites we have left. Thats a problem for species that depend on these habitats, like those in the gallery below.

 

Gallery 1: Species associated with lowland bog habitats 

 

Why go peat free?

For me the answers are really simple:

  • You can protect important wildlife and prevent climate change by buying peat-free compost
  • Peat free composts are typically made using waste materials, reducing the amount of waste we send to land-fill
  • By buying peat-free, you support the development of a UK peat-free compost industry and UK jobs, instead of digging up our few remaining lowland bogs and supporting an overseas peat extraction industry
  • They work: most amateur gardeners are unlikely to notice any difference in the performance of peat-free versus peat-based composts, but some gardeners like to alter their watering and feeding regimes with peat-free composts to get the most out them.

If youre a serious gardener, it may be difficult to phase out peat use completely - there are some plants that are always likely to prefer peat, like carnivorous plants and ericaceous species. But you can still go a long way towards mimicking peat by buying a specially formulated peat-free ericaceous compost or by adding pine needles or bracken to your own compost to increase its acidity. Some enterprising hill farmers in the Lake District now sell peat free compost made from bracken, as well as ericaceous compost made wool sheared from their sheep and their neighbours flocks to provide slow release nitrogen and added water retention.

For me, its a bit like the whole argument over low-energy light bulbs - we all knew that they existed and that they were good for the environment for years, but many of us didnt switch till they were banned. Some of us remembered the low performance of early low-energy lightbulbs that took ages to warm up, some of us balked at the higher price of low-energy light bulbs, and some of us just kept buying what wed always bought out of habit. Early peat free composts often didnt perform well, and there were scare stories about finding nails or bits of glass, but these issues are now things of the past. Peat-free composts do typically cost a bit more than peat compost, and you have to read the labels rather than just choose the compost you always buy. 

Like low-energy lightbulbs, if we dont start buying peat-free composts voluntarily, they may eventually be banned. The Government has set a target to phase out the use of peat by amateur gardeners in England by 2020. They are monitoring peat use and will be reviewing progress next year to see if additional policy measures are necessary.

You have the opportunity to lead the way by making the peat-free pledge today, and letting everyone you know why they should take the pledge too. Our peatlands are a beautiful and incredibly valuable resource. Lets keep them and our gardens beautiful.


Mark Reed is a Professor of Interdisciplinary Environmental Research in the Birmingham School of the Built Environment at Birmingham City University, where he teaches on courses about Environment and Spatial Planning and Environmental Sustainability. He is also Research Manager for the IUCN’s UK Peatland Programme, where he is responsible for managing the UK Peatland Code. Mark is a Project Maya Associate, helping run a national course training researchers how to increase the impact of their work. 


Why switch to an electric vehicle

By Mark Benson 

If you read the motoring press you’ll see snippets of comment about electric cars, electric car technology and battery technology. However, the vast majority of the motoring press is still dominated by gasoline vehicles with many people suggesting that electric cars are something of a gimmick. So, why would you consider switching to an electric vehicle?

There are a number of positive aspects of the electric car industry which are perhaps overshadowed by the stigma of years gone by. We will now take a look at the reasons why you might consider switching to an environmentally friendly electric car and ditching your gasoline vehicle.

The Environment

As we alluded to above, the modern-day gasoline car is more efficient than those of 50 years ago, 20 years ago and 10 years ago but the fact is that there are still very harmful emissions created every time you drive your vehicle. These emissions are having a major impact upon the worldwide environment.

There had been a general consensus that electric vehicles, and their environmentally friendly nature, would very quickly catch on and the fact there are no tailpipe emissions would grab the attention of the environmentally friendly lobby. The fact is that so far the take-up of electric vehicles has been disappointing to say the least, with their environmental benefits often downplayed – although the message is slowly starting to seep through.

Reduced maintenance and running costs

Before we look at the upfront cost of an electric vehicle, we’ll take a look at the reduced maintenance and running costs (which again, are often overlooked). The fact that an electric vehicle has very few in the way of moving parts means there is “less to go wrong” and ultimately maintenance and servicing of the vehicle is significantly less expensive compared to its gasoline counterpart.

When you also take into account the fact that “filling up” your electric vehicle will cost but a fraction of that compared to its gasoline counterpart, there are yet more ongoing savings to be made. The general consensus seems to be, when also taking into account the cost of insurance and the upfront cost of the vehicle, an electric car will pay for itself and save money for the driver from year three onwards.

Government financial incentives

If you take a look at the baseline cost of electric vehicles today, they do not always compare favourably to their gasoline counterparts. However, thankfully a number of governments around the world are now offering significant financial incentives to switch from gas guzzling vehicles to environmentally friendly electric cars.

If you shop around, there are potential savings in the thousands of dollars not to mention the fact that many electric cars attract no additional road tax charges, or at worst a reduced payment. The fact is that governments around the world have invested public money into electric car companies, have been promoting electric vehicles and ultimately, they cannot afford for the industry to fail again.

There is a growing feeling that governments around the world will do whatever it takes to “encourage” the transfer from gasoline vehicles to electric vehicles because the consequences of failing for the environment, public finances and government reputations are frightening.

Conclusion

The electric car of today is very different to that of 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. However, the stigma of the old-style rather distinguished and often eccentric looking vehicle, together with the old style technology, still hovers over the industry.

The fact is that governments around the world have invested heavily in the industry, car manufacturers have been dragged kicking and screaming into the new electric car age and slowly but surely consumers are coming around to the idea. The upfront cost of vehicles will fall as popularity improves, insurance costs will become more competitive and there are potentially even more benefits and cost savings to be had further down the line.

Written by Mark Benson of www.electricforum.com For more information on electric vehicles visit the Electric Forum where you can discuss your questions and queries with the 5,400 strong community.

Social media for sustainability

Well, it’s been a busy October for us MAYA peeps. Not least because Anna headed out from the London office to New York to give a presentation on how Social Media may just be the answer we need to create a sustainable planet.  So, we thought rather than have you guys miss out, we’d quickly go over the basics and pop her talk below…

As a society we face perpetual change. In the last 20 years the world has become a more connected place. International connectivity has stimulated trade and is likely to have played a significant role in global economic collapse. Ecological systems are rapidly changing and degrading, with extinction rates up to 1000 times their pre-human levels. Changes are impacting upon a global biodiversity that is already under pressure from expanding urbanization and increasing population growth.

The Internet, and social media especially, offers a significant chance to make this world a better, fairer, and more sustainable place. Already, the Internet has brought people together, enabling the rapid, widespread emergence of ever-novel ideas and the empowerment of communities to bring about change and raise awareness of injustice. Its potential lies in bringing about change toward more sustainable behaviours through social learning. Social media facilitates new approaches to governance whereby stakeholders across sectors and jurisdictions can become engaged in consensus building and implementation processes, and be a part of the conversations and decisions that affect them. Of course, not everyone has the ability to be part of social media at the moment, but evidence shows that situation is changing, with 7.9 new users logging on to the internet each second!

Social media is about facilitating greater participation and enabling the spread of sustainability concepts through peer learning. People pay attention to what their trusted sources and friends have to say. Information moves rapidly between and across social networking sites through technology features and key individuals active on multiple platforms. In social media products, messages and behaviours spread like viruses. Similar to medical epidemics, a handful of special people play an important role in starting idea epidemics.

These are the Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople. Mavens are idea specialists. They are human data banks who are obsessive about details and about sharing them with others; connectors are people specialists. They know a lot of people from every possible sub-culture and niche. They have an extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances out of everyone. They act as social glue by spreading ideas around; and salespeople have the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing.

We live in the era of transparency. So, events that were easy to downplay in the past, are now posted on social networks, discussed and shared widely. Crimes against the environment and humanity are hard to ignore, even if you tried. And, the environmental community is increasingly embracing social media to share stories as well as to reach the indifferent.

We now need organisations and professionals working in academia and governance to embrace social media and take on the roles of maven, connector or salesperson. Creating a profile, sharing information and cultivating meaningful interactions within a community does take time—time that will extend above and beyond an average workday. But the viral impact of updating extended networks of family and friends on what you care about and work on during the day cannot be underestimated.

RIO+20 – A conference without a soul?

by Ricardo Braun

The Rio + 20 Conference created great expectations for all that are interested in the future of our Planet. There was a lot of talk about sustainability but at the end nothing really changed. Why is it so?

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, also known as the Stockholm Conference, was held in Sweden in 1972. It was the first conference on international environmental issues based on the zero growth report of the ‘Club of Rome’. Shortly after the conference the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) was institutionalized in Nairobi, Kenya. In Brazil the Special Secretariat of Environment (SEMA) was established in 1973, and later implemented the National Environmental Policy Act (Law 6.938).

Twenty years after Stockholm the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This conference, also known as  ECO 92. It  followed the findings of the report ‘Our Common Future’ prepared by the World Commission on Environment and Development that introduced the term ‘sustainable development’ for the present and future generations. The 92’ Global Forum,  was also held in Rio de Janeiro in parallel to UNCED. It was considered the largest civil society meeting at that time. The ECO 92 conference had impressive results such as the global Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration and the establishment of a number of major international conventions such as climate change and biological diversity.

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development known also as the Rio + 20 had the task to give continuity to the previous UN conferences. Based on the slogan ‘the future we want’ the main goal of the official UN meeting was not only to evaluate the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, but also to strengthen the climate negotiations, evaluate the human rights issue and define an agenda for sustainable development for the next decades. In other words to take a step forward in relation to the previous conferences.

Excluding the parallel agreements and voluntary decision-making between local governments and the social civil society, the final out-put of this meeting was a simple declaration that was defended by the Brazilian government as a successful summit document. However this declaration has been strongly criticized by the world civil society as an empty diplomatic document lacking concrete goals to guide the future we all want for the Planet.

The Peoples’ Summit

The ‘Peoples Summit for Social and Environmental Justice‘ held during the Rio + 20 Conference  became the hope to overcome the failures of the official meeting. It was held at the  Burle Max’s gardens in Flamengo Park in Rio de Janeiro. The same location where the famous 92’ Global Forum was held twenty years ago.

 
 

The Peoples Summit congregated several sectors of society through an ambitious programming. There were many structures, many people circulating, and many protests, claims and incentives to mass protest. The majority of structures were opened tents with chairs and a spot of light for all sorts of performances, lectures and demonstrations, and to bring together NGOs, government representatives, academics, scientists and the general public. Many structures such as the Gaia Education,Transition Towns, Blue Planet Project, among others, demonstrated that sustainability is possible through the gathering of motivated people and local solutions.

The first day of the summit was marked by the lack of information. A lot of people looking for maps and information signs. Chinese lectures, Spanish researchers, Iranian and Italian NGOs, Canadian students, even Brazilian NGOs were lost in the first day. This was no different for me. I also had problems to find the structure were I should lectured on the ‘Future of Energy’ representing the Urban Observatory of Rio de Janeiro (OUERJ / UN Habitat).

The Flamengo Park was opened for almost everything. There were street vendors and artisans selling their products and much of the public seemed to be more interested in seeing and buy crafts than participating in the plenary sessions. The feeling was that the commerce somehow distracted the attention of the visitors regarding the real objectives of the Peoples’ Summit. Some structures in the park has permanent activities with great public. But many structures were kept empty.

 
 

The ‘Plenary on Food Sovereignty’ gathered representatives from the Brazilian land tenure movement (MST), various indigenous and ethnic groups and many NGOs. There were hard speeches against global mercantilism and social injustice.  When inquiring a representative of the Tupi-Guarani indigenous group about her modus vivendis she promptly offered to sell me handicrafts made from her native group…

More ahead at the Modern Art Museum there were many people coming and going in the midst of non-governmental and governmental structures. A loud amphitheater with LED video screens stood out for live music and roundtables discussions on different topics. A show of lights and colors from the government. But powered by diesel generators! In this scenario, the Greenpeace gave a glimmer of hope by feeding their structure with solar and the wind power.

In short the Peoples Summit had diverse and simultaneous events with the involvement of many organizations. No doubt a great event. Very similar to the 500 years celebration of the discovery of Brazil by the Portuguese in the year 1500. But for an analytic eye there was some unanswered question regarding this whole event, such as, what were the main contributions out of all the discussions carried out in the Peoples Summit?

 
 

The ‘Declaration of the Peoples Summit’ revealed to be very simplistic for such a big event. The general text with two pages emphasized a reactive position of ‘being against…’ and ‘fighting for…’ Instead of the spirit of cooperation and sustainable solutions that we need for our common future.

The Prophets of the 92’ Global Forum

Before opening the doors of the 92’ Global Forum the former director of the Centre for Our Common Future, Waren Lindner, emphasized two essential things. To deliver a consistent document that synthesized the position of the 92’ Global Forum for the heads of governments at UNCED and to show the world that the civil society was capable of organizing a great event in a sustainable manner.

Although there were numerous promises from politicians, government agencies and business enterprises to help develop the 92’ Global Forum, all governmental infrastructure and support was given to the UNCED’s official meeting in the Rio Center. The Forum team worked with minimal support. The internet at that time was an experimental Bulletin Board System, and there was only one fax to send and receive all messages to organize the event. Resources were limited but the motivation, the creativity and the willingness to make it happen was enormous.

The Forum had many structures focusing on science and technology, culture, women’s rights, children’s forums, arts and culture for sustainability among many other parallel events. A permanent spiritual vigil for peace was carried out during the event. A viking boat sailed the Atlantic with an international crew to arrive during the 92’ Global Forum. Hundreds of banners painted by children from around the world were exposed and hundreds of people were acting for a better world. A very positive atmosphere took place in June 92 at the Flamengo Park.

The ‘Open Speakers Forum’ was one of the most important structures of the 92’ Global Forum. It gathered many environmental leaders that gave ‘soul’ to the Eco 92 event. Among the speakers were the Buddhist leader Dalai Lama, the Oceanographer Captain Jacques Cousteau, the Nobel laureate Wangari Maattai, the educator Darcy Ribeiro, the spiritual leader of Dadi Janki, the environmentalist José Lutzenberger, Professor David Suzuki, the ecofeminist Vandana Shiva, Senator Al Gore, the director of the World Watch Institute, Lester Brown, the leader of the Third World Network, Che Yoke Ling, Dr. Helen Caldicott from the institute of social responsibility, the American Indian Nations spokeman Chief Oren Lyons, Elizabeth Mann Borgese the Director of the Institute International Oceans, among many other known environmentalist and celebrities.

 
 
 
 

The Forum’s charisma was such that many UNCED authorities broke protocols to visit Flamengo Park in order to prestige the event. Many government leaders climbed to the ‘tree of life’ located in the center of the park, and wrote their pledge for a sustainable world on small leaf made of recycled paper.

Why an empty document at Rio + 20?

Despite Brazil’s spectacular biodiversity and a highly sophisticated environmental legislation, it cannot not be considered a sustainable country. Brazil has many environment contradictions such as high deforestation rates, poor urban sanitation, excess cars in the streets, a progressive pressure on the indigenous people, an energy matrix with historical negative environmental impacts, a consuming population with poor education, and many corrupt politicians. Brazil’s human development index is incompatible with its sixth position in the world economy raking. It’s clear that the country cannot lead something that has not been reached.

The country lost twenty years of opportunity since the Eco 92 Conference to show more sustainability during the Rio + 20. It could have shown practical solutions beyond prototypes and small-scale projects. The whole conference could have been powered by alternative sources of energy. Just to show the world that the country is tune with the modern concepts of sustainable energy. It also lacked green mobility schemes and selective collectors for recycling, including bicycles lanes and other alternative means of locomotion during the event. There was also no disclosure regarding the neutralization of carbon emissions generated during Rio+20.

In the newspapers, on the internet and on TV we had live information about what was going on during the official conference. Heads of state, journalists, government officers and NGO leaders gave interviews and repeated technocratic information on agreements, strategies, negotiations, decisions, successes and failures of the Conference. Never in environmental history have we experienced so many contradictions concerning the future of the Planet.

Knowledge and communication are one of the pillars of sustainability but the excess of information confuses society regarding what is vital and what is not for the future of humanity.

It is necessary to ask where was the Rio + 20 environmental leaders to inspire the general public? Where was Sir David Attenborough to talk about the wonders of the planetary ecology, and the Nobel Prize Muhammad Yunus to talk about the solidarity bank of the poor? Where was our former Environment Minister Marina Silva to talk about the Amazon forest, and Master Tokuda to talk about Zen and ecology, or Bunker Roy, founder of the Barefoot University, and the Monk Satish Kumar from the Schumacher College to talk about soil, soul and society. These among many other names would certainly bring more light and consciousness to the decision makers at Rio + 20.

 
 

The first impression is that ‘sustainability for future generations’ is not an important issue for a country that is focused on two great events. The World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics Games in 2016.

But is there any environmental concern for the Olympics Games? In fact the organization of the Olympics begins at least six years prior to its development. The hosting countries have to develop an environmental impact study of the Olympic Games (OGI) and deliver an Olympic Agenda 21. They have also to implement local measures to recycle litter, feed the athletes with organic food, establish sustainable mobility schemes, develop social responsibility projects among many other actions. However none of these actions were seen during the Rio + 20 Conference. In other words, without environmental measures there are no Olympics Games. This should have also been the case for Rio + 20. It is imperative that the United Nation establishes an Agenda 21 for the future mega conferences.

The failure of the Rio + 20 must be reviewed, starting with the name of the conference. The ‘Rio plus some number’ such as ‘Rio + 5, Rio + 10, Rio + 20’, in fact does not say anything. It is a bureaucratic abbreviation of a successful conference that took place twenty years ago in Rio de Janeiro. A UN conference discussing the future of humanity must have its own personality. The exhausted Planet urges for less ‘ego’ and more ‘sustainable soul’ because it is a serious issue for our common future. We are seven billion consuming the Planet and the world needs sustainable paths to follow.

The Nordic countries have some of the best examples regarding the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Future UN conferences such as Rio + 20 should be developed in the countries that are more sustainable in order to give the good example.

During the Peoples’ Summit two small tents gave the right message for long term sustainability with a couple of ergonomic bicycles and dynamos powering mobile phones with human driving force. A small example of how the world can be more sustainable when mankind begins to give back what has been consumed in excess.


 
 

Ricardo Braun was a special events manager at the 92’ Global Forum. He is currently an associate researcher at the Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability (ACES) and associate to project MAYA in the UK.