Category Archives: culture change

Education for Sustainability: What Every College Student Should Know

If you happen to be in Singapore and you can make it by on the 30th…

The Environment and Sustainability Research Cluster of HSS cordially invite you to a seminar by Dr Michelle Merrill, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Environment and Sustainability Research Cluster. Her topic is Education for Sustainability: What Every College Student Should Know.

Details of time/venue: 30 April 2014, Time: 3:00pm – 4:30pm,   HSS Meeting Room 4, Level 4 (HSS-04-71), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Education for Sustainability: What Every College Student Should Know

It is easy to find evidence for unsustainability. Almost everyone has heard about the problems (climate change, air pollution, water scarcity, soil degradation, biodiversity loss…) and it is not difficult to imagine scenarios in which multiple converging crises precipitate devastating social, economic and political shocks.  Most would agree that, even without such doomsday scenarios, solving these unsustainability crises is an obligation we have to future generations; intergenerational well-being demands that we learn to be good ancestors and leave a world that works for our descendants.  While most sustainability problems actually have solutions that could be implemented without waiting for tomorrow’s technology, the solutions are often dismissed as “not feasible,” with the clear implication that leaders in industry, government and academia do not really know how to resolve these interdependent problems.  Sustainability requires not just new technologies and industrial processes; it also requires new attitudes and mindsets, especially the ability to consider how consequences travel through interconnections in complex adaptive systems.  Colleges and universities are where tomorrow’s leaders should gain the skills to wisely address these challenges.

Education for sustainability is essential for intergenerational well-being and the long-term viability of society. It also provides an ideal platform for students to learn and apply interdisciplinary critical thinking.  This talk will investigate strategies for promoting interdisciplinary education for sustainability in tertiary education.  Concepts and pedagogies that were implemented at Cabrillo College (California, USA), and preliminary results regarding their efficacy will be addressed.  The talk will review some of the organizations and strategies for promoting professional development in education for sustainability around the world.  Plans for fostering a strong network of sustainability educators across colleges and universities centered in Southeast Asia will be presented.

Michelle Y. Merrill Biographic Sketch:

Michelle Y. Merrill (Ph.D.) studies teaching, learning, cultural evolution and culture change.  Since 2004, her focus has been on the application of those concepts to sustainability:  how we can connect with, learn from and teach one another to co-create a resilient, regenerative future.  She is particularly interested in applying principles, examples and metaphors from ecology and evolutionary biology in solving human design problems in both the social and technological arenas, especially systems thinking and biomimicry. Before embarking on her current research project on sustainability and pedagogy at NTU, she worked at a community college in California, developing sustainability-themed courses, advising student clubs, and supporting college efforts to enhance institutional and community sustainability and social justice.  She won the 2013 John D. Hurd Award for Teaching Excellence at Cabrillo College.

Dr. Merrill’s previous research was on the evolution of primate behavior, giving her a broad grounding in tropical ecology, primate and human evolution, social networks, cooperation, learning and communication.  She studied wild orangutans (Pongo abelii) on Sumatra, and bonobos (Pan paniscus) in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and at the Language Research Center (Decatur, Georgia, USA).  Her doctoral dissertation in Biological Anthropology and Anatomy from Duke University (2004) was on Orangutan Cultures: Tool Use, Social Transmission and Population Differences.  Her experiences in tropical rainforest fieldwork inform her current approach to sustainability, emphasizing the need to address social and economic development along with environmental conservation to protect and preserve endangered great apes and other species, including our own.

…Meanwhile, Happy Earth Day!

The Population Problem

 

Long-time population maven Paul Ehrlich just published a post called Overpopulation and the Collapse of Civilization  on the blog for the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB).

“Food is just the most obvious area where overpopulation tends to darken the human future – virtually every other human problem from air pollution and brute overcrowding to resource shortages and declining democracy is exacerbated by further population growth.”

“A popular movement is needed to correct that failure and direct cultural evolution toward providing the “foresight intelligence” and the agricultural, environmental, and demographic planning that markets cannot supply. “

This timing is good, as I just taught my Biological Anthropology lab unit on population.  I’ve made the student and instructor materials for this module available, as part of my work on a grant for Engaged Interdisciplinary Learning for Sustainability.

I also continue to hear from the folks at Californians for Population Stabilization.  I know, it sounds like exactly the kind of sane thinking that Dr. Ehrlich was talking about.  That’s what I thought it was at first, too. Unfortunately, it turns out that they’re on an extreme anti-immigration kick.  I tend to think this is antithetical to the actual goal of GLOBAL population stabilization.  After all, as Hans Rosling shows, increasing prosperity and child survival reduces birthrates and population growth; immigrants in the US definitely follow this trend.  In fact, something like the DREAM Act is likely to lead to exactly the kind of improved education and opportunity for girls that leads to reduced fecundity and zero population growth.  So yes, a narrow, parochial approach to population stabilization in California might be served by reducing immigration, but it would probably just exacerbate the global population problem.

Let’s focus on the big picture, people!  You’ve got to think global while you act local (or global).  And remember, Dr. Pongo sez “Copulate, Don’t Populate!”

A Beautiful Action

I spent last Saturday in Richmond, California with a couple thousand amazing people, including Bill McKibben, who had this to say:

… daily life was interrupted dramatically one year ago today [August 6th] when the Chevron refinery exploded and released toxic chemicals into the air, sending 15,000 people to the hospital; much like how daily life is interrupted around the globe almost constantly by flood or drought or storms.

Daily life was also interrupted on Saturday — in a good way, this time — by a beautiful march and demonstration outside the Chevron refinery. Highlights included the magnificent sunflower mural that kids painted on the street; the thousands of sunflowers that we carried with us through the streets; the speeches by local leaders including a powerful elder of the Lao community; and the ride in the police wagon with six friends old and new. We were some of the first of 210 people who were arrested at the gates of Chevron’s refinery — so many that the police eventually ran out of zip cuffs.”

You can maybe almost see me in this photo of the pre-march rally near the Richmond BART station (by the wall, green shirt… that might be me and that’s about where I was standing then; the speaker is Richmond’s mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who seems awsome, and who just started a lawsuit against Chevron for the damage caused by last year’s fire).

August 3rd Summer Heat pre-march rally, Richmond BART (photo by by Shadia Fayne Wood/Project Survival Media)

So we listened to some speeches, then picked up sunflowers (I heard they were acquired by Urban Tilth, not only because they are so beautiful and cheerful and pro-solar-energy, but because they are reputed to pull toxins out of the soil) and signs (here’s my farewell picture of the one I carried – anyone know who did the art and screenprinting on these, because they were gorgeous?)…

stop-climate-chaos-screenprint (photo by M. Merrill, art by ???)

… then we marched through Richmond, including a long lonely stretch leading up to the Chevron refinery that followed their pipeline…

Chevron-Petroleum-pipeline (photo by M. Merrill)…then we gathered on the street outside the refinery.  Some of us did a huge round dance, led by some folx involved with Idle No More.  There was a welcome ceremony performed by some of the locally indigenous Ohlone (I believe Chochenyo), then speeches from a diverse array of local activists, with an emphasis on environmental justice.

They invited all those who wanted to get arrested to get prepped, then the civil disobeyers (is that a word? maybe “civilly disobedient persons”?) trespassed by going through the gates and onto the property of the refinery so they could be arrested.  Not me – too chicken :-(  But I stayed with the thousand or so that cheered on our arrested heroes.  There was a festive jazz band, a great street painting, and some interesting theater out there.

I’m not altogether convinced that actions like this are effective, but they do get a fair amount of press, so they must be worth something.  Plus, it’s good to gather with a purpose like this, not to mention FUN!

Richmond-Rally-Chevron-Summer-Heat-08-03-13 (we dance and chant while the brave got arrested)

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Qualities of a Global Citizen Game Changer

I’m grateful to be enrolled in the pilot of a new Pachamama Alliance initiative called GC101.  We had our first virtual meeting a couple of hours ago.  They asked us to post this somewhere for discussion, and they were cool with me posting it on the blog.

Qualities of a Global Citizen/Game Changer

Thomas Berry says the Great Work of our time is to carry out the transition from the current period where humans are a devastating presence on the Earth, to one where the human presence is mutually beneficial to the planet and the entire community of life—a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship. To do this we need to undergo, at both an individual and collective level, a fundamental transformation – a virtual reinvention of what we consider a human being to be.

The Pachamama Alliance believes that this great work requires a critical mass of conscious, committed individuals working collectively to “change the game.” As a “game changer/global citizen,” you embody and/or aspire to these qualities:

1. You see the human family, in all its diversity, as an integral component in the whole of the web of creation, and are committed to building a society that reflects and reveres the sacred and interconnected nature of all life.

2. You stand for and act from a grounded and informed vision that a sustainable, just and fulfilling future for all beings is urgent, possible and essential.

3. You recognize that the universe is friendly and that the evolutionary force that put the stars in motion is moving through us, and is a dynamic, self-organizing process whose grace and guidance we can trust.

4. You realize that the human role and responsibility now is as an evolutionary activist, intentionally engaging with the momentum of evolution to shape the future as it is being brought into being.

5. You understand that the collective transformation of our society requires a completely new definition of what is possible in being human, and requires that we inquire deeply into questions such as: “Who am I, really?” and, “What is my relationship to the whole?”

6. You recognize that the social injustice and environmental exploitation in our world are not the “natural order of things,” but rather, are the logical outcome of intentionally-designed systems of power and privilege that operate economically, politically, socially, and technologically to perpetuate inequitable access to resources and opportunities.

7. You are able to discern the cultural stories that perpetuate inequity and concentrate power and privilege, and you live from and share new stories that create the paradigm for a just and sustainable future.

8. You are no longer “food” for the system. Your actions and interactions move in the direction of undoing rather than consciously or unconsciously being complicit with existing systems and structures that perpetuate an unjust, unsustainable, unfulfilled world.

9. You seek to engage in effective personal and collective actions that strike at the root causes of the global crises, and you involve others in taking those actions as well.

10. You experience being an integral member of a vast and growing evolutionary movement toward reconciliation and wholeness.

Questions, comments, concerns, suggestions?  I guess I’m not a full-fledged Game Changer quite yet, but I’m happy to carry that aspiration on my path as an “evolutionary activist.”  How about you?

Aside

David Bergman: EcoOptimism posted more about Interdependence Day on July 6th: As befits a post on interdependence, there are a lot of intertwined tentacles here: property rights, voting rights, future generations, our relationship to nature. Just a few ethical and existential questions. Good … Continue reading

A Declaration of Interdependence~Independence Day 2013

Re-imagining Independence Day

It’s that time of year again.  Here in our little coastal paradise, hordes or barbarians descend to get out of the inland heat, char some animal flesh, and blow things up on the beach.

Of course, I can’t let a Fourth of July pass without remembering my dear friend Joody, and our attempts to articulate and celebrate new thoughts appropriate to such a revolutionary anniversary.  So raise your own flagoccupy your worldget decolonized,  start your own currency and declare something wonderful today!

After working so passionately on devising a new Independence /Interdependence Day celebration, I had a few more thoughts.

One has to do with the dynamic tension between the two possible sentiments: Independence ~ Interdependence (as Eamonn Kelly would put it).  Both are present and necessary in these challenging times.

From an artistic perspective,  independence is about the negative space: breaking away from that which we no longer need.  There are other examples of the power of this negative-space perspective; the language of the Ten Commandments, the resistance movements of the Arab Spring, and many crucial environmental movements have been drawn around the negative space, with “Thou Shalt Not…” language and a call to STOP doing wrong.  This is Michelangelo, knocking away the unwanted bits of marble to free the glorious figure within.

Interdependence is framed more in the positive language that McDonough and Braungart promote in The Upcycle, their new sequel to Cradle to Cradle. It is much more about what we want to move towards, not just what we want to stay away from: “more good” instead of just “less bad.” Interdependence, of course, is the province of the weaver, finding the gossamer connections between things. The first peoples of Turtle Island/North America spoke of  Grandmother Spider, who knew a thing or two about interdependence.  This is not a wisdom taught as commonly in the dominant, Euro-derived culture.  It is a harder thing to see the immaterial links between, the pattern which connectsand keeps communities, civilizations and ecosystems whole and healthy.

Again this year, I celebrate and embrace both, entwined as they are in their powerful dance.  I declare Independence ~ Interdependence!

(Updated from my 2011 Inter-dependence Day Post, with a little from 2012, because recycling is beautiful!)

Aside

Mobilize: The Next BIG Rally [in the SF Bay Area] Plan, Fund and Spread the Word (Save the Date) Saturday, August 3 [Richmond, CA]  Remember the Richmond Chevron refinery fire last August. Well, we’re mobilizing! It’s part of the national days … Continue reading

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Passing 400

350.org had to start a new page, with some reactions to the rather alarming news from Mauna Loa.  Here are some choice quotes:

On May 9th, for the first time ever, the world’s most important CO2 monitoring station recorded daily CO2 concentrations above 400 parts per million – the highest levels found on earth in over 5 million years…this is yet another sign that our dependence on fossil fuels is out of control.” - 400.350.org
We’re in new territory for human beings–it’s been millions of years since there’s been this much carbon in the atmosphere. The only question now is whether the relentless rise in carbon can be matched by a relentless rise in the activism necessary to stop it.” -Bill McKibben, Co-Founder, 350.org
Crossing the 400 ppm threshold is a somber reminder that we haven’t taken the action we need. Nevertheless there is good reason for hope — activists all across the globe are fighting the fossil fuel industry and demanding clean, just and affordable solutions to our energy needs.” –Payal Parekh, Coordinator, Global Power Shift

One can hope that the old saw “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going”*will really kick in.   Of course, as the Chinese proverb goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” *

Yuri and the View from Up There

Ben Gibbard said, “everything looks perfect from far away.”  Taken out into space, this phenomenon is known as the Overview Effect.  Space-faring humans frequently report how compelling and life-changing the view back towards home really is when you’re out there, not only because it is the biggest splash of color in an otherwise fairly black-and-white vista, but because you can see how fragile and precious that thin film of biosphere actually is.

“Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty — not destroy it!”

~Yuri Gagarin, 1st person in space (12 April 1961)

Apollo 17′s “Full Earth” image (a.k.a. “The Blue Marble”) | NASA image AS17-148-22727

I’ve commented before on how powerful the image of our home planet from space truly is.   Recently, the good people at The Planetary Collective produced a 19-minute video discussing the phenomenon.  They’re using it to promote a feature-length film called Continuum they are funding through Kickstarter.

Watch the Overview video: it’s a great way to celebrate Yuri’s Night!

P.S.  Ekostories did a lovely, thoughtful review of the Overview video  - check it out.

Indigenous Energy Idle No More

Indigenous voices are being raised.  The amazing story of Idle No More, and their resistance to the exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline, is a source of tremendous inspiration for me.  Local groups are organizing around the themes of Indigenous Rights and the Rights of Nature.  These rights have been ignored and abused for far too long.

Idle No More at San Francisco demonstration against KXL

Near the winter solstice of 2012, the Catholic Bishop at Mission San Juan Bautista offered a formal apology to the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Ohlone/Costanoan Indians.  Valentin Lopez, Tribal Chairman of the Amah Mutsun band of Ohlone said they misreported that he accepted the apology.  Instead, he acknowledged the apology, as it was not sufficiently extensive to accept.

You [nearly] exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better?

~Spike (BtVS #64, by Jane Espenson)

Perhaps there is no way to truly apologize for the damage done by colonialism. Healing from historic trauma is a vast challenge that will confound us as a species for a long time.

Everybody’s been traumatized in this society… To civilize us, they have to traumatize us.

~John Trudell 7 Feb 2013, “dedicated, coherent, prolific, inspiring, AIM leader, poet troubadour”

Still, an apology is not a bad place to start, as long as everyone understands the inadequacy of the gesture. In the US, a 2010 military spending bill  included an apology to Native Americans that was signed into law, far too quietly, by President Barack Obama. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did his best to apologize for the (not-un-Borg-like) government efforts to assimilate previous generations of First Nations peoples via residential schooling.   At least in Canada, they’ve adopted something like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, trying to bring the history of atrocities into the light of day, so that healing might begin.  As far as I can find, the only Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the United States is in response to the Greensboro Massacre by the KKK in 1979.

Willow : …we should be helping him redress his wrongs. Bring the atrocities to light.

Giles : If the history books are full of them, I’d say they already are.

BtVS #64, by Jane Espenson

Is the truth really out there?  You can find it, if you’re looking in the right history books.  In her book Bad IndiansDeborah Miranda sketches the terrible history of the California missions.  California received the barbed tip of the lash that was struck across Turtle Island. It tore asunder languages, cultures, people. The reverberations of that violent blow have echoed down the generations descended from the too-few survivors.  This book is brilliant, sometimes in the way that a fresh wound is brilliant with crimson.  Miranda‘s indictments of the 4th grade California history mission assignments are sharper than an obsidian scalpel.

One might also seek enlightenment in museums.  The website of National Museum of the American Indian (part of the Smithsonian) certainly doesn’t foreground the atrocities of colonialism, but you can search for “massacre” and find some of it.  Valentin Lopez mentioned that there is fundraising to establish a museum in San Francisco that would highlight a history of the atrocities against Native Americans, especially in California (this may be a reference to the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa). Stan Rushworth (instructor of Native American Literature at Cabrillo College) notes that the missions, the scenes of so many atrocities against indigenous California peoples, rarely if ever acknowledge that part of their history; this is in contrast to places like Dachau and Auschwitz, where the brutality of what was committed there is central to their stories.

However, it’s a tiny minority of people that actually go to museums, and those are often people who are already aware and seeking more information.  Mass media only tells these stories occasionally.  Valentin Lopez commented that there has never been a movie about the native people of California – it’s just too sad for a Hollywood story.  We can watch Schindler’s List and The Pianist, but not this?

When the Occupy Movement was emerging in the fall of 2011, I was excited about their ideas, but a little less sure about their chosen name.  This image from Occupy Oakland inspired me to create (well, borrow and rework, with some help from my spouse) a hometown version (full-size for printing).  Santa Cruz is Occupied Ohlone Land

California was perhaps the most populous and culturally diverse area of pre-contact North America.  The peoples now referred to in the aggregate as Ohlone were actually several culturally and linguistically distinct bands, including the Chochenyo in the area that now includes Oakland (those who left the shellmounds that gave Shellmound Drive in Emeryville its name) and the Awaswas of Santa Cruz.  

If we want to understand how to live here on the central coast of California,we need to ask the Amah Mutsun, the Rumsen, the Indian Canyon Mutsun, the Esselen, the Chumash, and so many other peoples, living and extinct.

Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Costanoan/Ohlone Indians

And, more difficult still, we have to ask politely.  We of “mainstream American” culture, must be humble, we must be patient, and we must learn some manners.  We cannot just expect to be welcomed into what remaining mysteries the natives of this continent have managed to retain, to dip our toes in, to take a weekend retreat.

I’m proud to say that this semester, Cabrillo College (where I work) has been actively engaged with conversations about the genocide of indigenous people, about the invisibility of white privilege and how we’ve benefited from historic efforts to exterminate native people.  Last November, the school newspaper published the article “400 Years Too Late: The Reality of Thanksgiving.” On March 14th, we had an intense and critical  discussion of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, a short story collection by Native American author Sherman Alexie that was banned from curriculum lists in Tucson, Arizona.   On April 15th, Cabrillo will host Deborah Miranda (author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir).

On Earth Day this year, Cabrillo College will emphasize the theme of Indigenous Rights.  We’ve invited a speaker from the Pachamama Alliance to talk about the Achuar and other tribes of Ecuador.  We also plan to host Darryl “Babe” Wilson, California Indian author and activist.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

~Lilla Watson and Aboriginal activists groups, Queensland, Australia 1970s

As we say in the Cabrillo Sustainablility Council, “We’re All In It.”  It’s time to work together, and be Idle No More.