Tag Archives: resilience

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!

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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?

Keep your paint off my magic mirror!

Alex Steffen, leading Worldchanger, had the following post (28 March 2013):

Dark Gray Paint

If you want to try to change the world, you will inevitably encounter the guy with the bucket of dark gray paint.

This is the guy who in the middle of any discussion of any new proposal, innovation, plan or solution demands that everyone in the room revisit how fucking horrible the reality of the problem is. Working on an idea for clean energy as climate action? He’s there to tell you about starving polar bears you won’t save. Working on imagining a new public health program in a poor country? He’s there to remind you of the sick babies who’ll die anyway. Working on a hunch about a more sustainable product design? He’s there to remind you of the dark mountains of toxic trash that will pile up in China despite your efforts. You’re working on envisioning your contribution to the world as vividly as possible, and splash! Dark gray paint.  more…

This reminds me of Caroline Casey‘s story of the magic mirror.  The Critic holds
up a mirror to reality, showing us the problems of today’s world: “This sucks.  In detail.”  But the Trickster Redeemer transforms that mirror into a window, showing us how beautiful things could be.  Then the window becomes a door that we are invited to walk through, and make the vision a reality.

Critics have their place (which is good, because otherwise… I’d be place-less much of the time).  But there is great need for visionaries to show us those windows, and leaders to hold open those doors.

Cyanorhamphus saisseti SmitAnd, as Andy Partridge (XTC) sang,

Awaken you dreamers, asleep at your desks.

Parrots and lemurs populate your

unconscious protests…

Don’t let the loveless ones sell
you a world wrapped in grey.

Propithecus tatersalii, Duke Lemur Center, photo by E.S.Peterson

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Originally posted on Ekostories:
I came across Studio Ghibli’s Only Yesterday (titled Omohide Poro Poro in Japan) at a time of transition in my life. Having just having graduated from school and secured a job in my field, I had hoped…

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  How does xkcd know so much about me?

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Happy Solstice 2012! While the Mayans have plans for coming years, this is prophesied to be a major time of transitions.  Others are calling this U-Day, a day of global unification and and peace.  Here’s hoping that a global mindshift is … Continue reading

Getting sensible about transportation options

In Santa Cruz county, we’re starting to have some conversations about transit and land use.  A few interesting thoughts along those lines:

City-builders across the globe understand the relative cheapness of the bike mobility option, in both cost and space. Dollar for dollar, bike lanes move people more cost effectively from a return-on-investment perspective than any other way of getting around, especially once a tipping point of cyclists is reached — and that doesn’t even factor in the well-documented public health cost savings that come from widespread biking. Global studies have shown investing in cycling infrastructure actually saves society public money per kilometer cycled! The math is enough to make any real fiscal conservative hop on a two-wheeler…

…mobility flows from smart land use choices, and the best transportation plan is a great land-use plan. [Brent Toderian: It's Not About the Bike or the Car -- It's About Better Cities]

I think we have a chance to improve here.  I hope we really take advantage of it.

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The Climate Emergency Petition calls on the presidential candidates of the two largest political parties in the USA to publicly acknowledge the climate emergency and commit to hosting a summit within their first 100 days in office to formulate remedies. Please read it, sign … Continue reading

The Shared Dream at the Top of the Stairs

Apparently (I have not yet read it), E.O. Wilson has a new book, The Social Conquest of Earth, promoting his ideas about multilevel selection.  What’s that?  That’s the idea that Natural Selection is taking place not only at the level of the individual (as the overwhelming majority of biological scientists infer from observable facts, and a few have observed firsthand), but is also occurring at the level of competition between groups of organisms.  This second idea is usually given the epithet “group selection,” and frequently accompanied with sneering.

I myself expend a good deal of effort getting students to understand that in most circumstances Natural Selection will favor traits that enhance individual survival and reproductive success, even when they decrease the success of the group or species.  Most evidence suggests that, with the exception of things like the eusocial insects (what E.O. Wilson studies) and naked mole rats - all things that have unusually high within-group genetic similarity – individual selection overrides group selection.  It is intriguing, that even in our highly individualistic and competition-driven late-capitalist culture, the default assumption seems to be that everybody generally works for the good of the group.  However, we find very little evidence of other species being team players.

However (in a riveting TED talk) psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests that selection for something like eusociality and improved cooperation and altruism in humans might have lead to the evolution of a type of consciousness that is associated with spiritual or religious experiences:

How do we create the “all in the same boat” feeling associated with these “top of the stairs” religious epiphanies Haidt describes?   Partly, I think we’re already doing it.  We have been ever since we as a species got our first look at the Earth entire, in 1966

First View of Earth from Moon | NASA Image #67-H-218

First View of Earth from Moon | NASA Image #67-H-218

… or at least, by the time we got a really good look at her face in 1972.

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

Buckminster Fuller probably grokked it before 1968 with his 
Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth
, and Stewart Brand inspired multitudes of hippies with the basic notion through the Whole Earth Catalog (1968-1998).

So that puts us all in one boat, surrounded by the same thin membrane of atmosphere.  But multilevel selection seems to necessitate competition between groups to provide group selection pressure, keeping the success of more cooperative groups (or super-organisms) high relative to those groups that have an overabundance of selfish “free riders.”  The intensity of the warriors’ experience of “us” is dependent on a contrasting “them,” particularly in a high-stakes game where self-sacrifice is potentially so profound.  Globally, can we promote “the shift from ‘I’ to ‘we’,” without external competitors?

Many science-fiction writers have said that the next logical step is to have another “world” or “civilization” with which to compete.  They don’t need to be enemies, per se, just competitors.  Simple-minded creatures as we writers often are, this usually comes down to a fight, providing “entertaining” fiction for us to consume.  This is an option, admittedly with a low (though non-zero) probability of happening in the next century.

Option two, humans diversify by colonizing distant worlds.  This is another favored theme, be it in classics like Frank Herbert’s Dune or the latest Kim Stanley Robinson book, 2312.  My first-started-but-now-on-hold novel project works in this realm also.  Effective separation of different human populations over time and space leads to cultural diversification, somewhat like the way separation of different populations of one species can lead to their diversification into new species (this is called allopatric speciation in evolutionary biology).  Such projects are not impossible, though the likelihood in the next century is for very little of this (as much as I’m inspired by the call to Occupy Mars and support the 100 Year Starship program).

Option three, we re-entrench in smaller communities or tribes.  This is often the fertile ground in which post-apocalyptic fiction takes place, and my current novel project is rooted here.  Again, the most common scenario is that these tribes will fight when they interact, unless they’re forming alliances to fight off mutual threats.  I believe this option has much higher probability than the previous two, though I’m not ready to commit to a probability above 50% (take some time for Peak Prosperity’s “Crash Course”, and decide for yourself where you think we stand… and he didn’t even account for climate change).

Maybe there is a fourth way.  In the comments for the bold and radical article “Self-Evident Truths” by Derrick Jensen (comment 11 by mike k.), it is suggested

We can begin by coming together in small groups to deeply consider these things, and make truth, love, and beauty effective realities in ourselves and in our world.

One response suggests World Café as a method for accoplishing this, and I have found it a useful tool also.  There’s a great set of similar tools for coalescing the brilliance of small groups at Liberating Structures.  But this only gets us working together in small groups.  The essence of the argument for multilevel or group selection is that this is an evolutionarily stable strategy for competing with other groups.

Can we rethink what that competition is? Could it be a competition between groups for the best solutions, the most vibrant, ecologically-integrated, just and regenerative communities?  Could local pride and tribalism work in way that didn’t invite violence, but instead amplified positive deviance?
Maybe these are the questions to explore via World Café. Such questions invite us to dissolve the self in the greater “we,” perhaps even at the global level, in a collective effort by humans to improve the well-being of all.

Promoting Sustainable Choices at College Events

To put it as diplomatically as possible, we experienced some challenges in attempts to make a recent event more sustainable, especially in regards to the free food that was offered to community participants.  The Cabrillo Sustainability Council decided to put together a statement about how we can improve future performance on this.  I offer my contribution to that here, hoping that others can use and transform these arguments to make their own events and organizations more sustainable.

Why Cabrillo College events should emphasize sustainable choices

1)      Events like Graduation and the Social Justice Conference are some of our major opportunities to connect with the broader community that we serve.  We want to look like we are keeping up with important cultural changes in higher education.  One of the major transformations taking place on college and university campuses everywhere, particularly at some of our major transfer schools, is a shift to sustainability.  There is a broad movement in higher education institutions shifting to the use of sustainable, local and organic foods, meatless and vegan food choices, and a reduction of single-use or disposable items like bottled water.  See http://www.aashe.org/ for many examples.

2)     Cabrillo College should model what we teach in classes and at events like the Social Justice Conference and Earth Week, and strive to do better than the bare minimum in our many commitments to improve campus sustainability (including both external commitments like the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment and the Monterey Bay Area Regional Climate Action Compact, and internal commitments like the Student Senate and Inter-Club Council Sustainable Purchasing Resolution – see http://www.wiser.org/file/view/5b15399f971a04c9726f12805d48486e).  Our students will be living in the time of consequences for our current choices, and they may not forgive hypocrisy and foot-dragging in our efforts to meet these commitments.

3)     We have an opportunity to be on the leading edge of the necessary and perhaps inevitable changes in our culture toward sustainability.    The drive toward “global awareness,” “personal and professional responsibility,” “sustainability” and “a strong sense of social justice” are embedded in the Cabrillo College Vision Statement (http://www.cabrillo.edu/home/mission.html). We must not miss opportunities to demonstrate leadership in these areas.

4)     Sustainability and Social Justice are inextricably linked.  The impacts of unsustainable choices fall most heavily on the disenfranchised in our own communities, and more broadly on the global poor.  The consequences of non-organic agriculture are felt most deeply by farmworkers and nearby communities, where rates of cancer and birth defects are higher in those exposed to pesticides.  Climate change is triggering devastating floods in places like Pakistan, Brazil and Mississipi (http://climatecommunication.org/new/articles/extreme-weather/floods/).

5)     The gravest social injustice fostered by our limited commitment to improving the sustainability of our choices is to the generations that will follow us.  Cabrillo College is an institution that has endured for over five decades, and most of us hope that we will continue to serve our community for many decades to come.  We should be an institution that can take the long view, considering the consequences of our choices and actions and how they will impact the well-being of future generations in our community and across the planet.