Reorientation of Education for Sustainability

It is argued that “Education is an essential tool for achieving sustainability. People around the world recognize that current economic development trends are not sustainable and that public awareness, education and training are key to moving society toward sustainability” (Hopkins & McKeown 2000).

Reference: Hopkins, Charles and McKeown, Rosalyn. (2000). Chapter 2, Education for sustainable development: an international perspective in Tilbury, D., Fien, J., Stevenson, R.B., and Schreuder, D. (2000). Education and Sustainability: Responding to the Global Challenge

The following are the main points I have pulled from this reading and my reflections regarding our apprroach to EFS.

There are two differing approaches to sustainability in the world: “sustainable economic growth” and “sustainable human development”. The former does not support the transformation of current social or economic systems and the latter demands radical departures from the current system.

I don’t think Otago Polytechnic’s current  aims, visions and policies will lead to a reorientation of education which would equip our students with the knowledge to distinguish between these two approaches to sustainability. A more radical change is needed to develop a  “new world ethic of sustainability”. This new ethic is based upon two interdependent sets of principles
– one related to our responsibility to care for nature (or ecological sustainability) and another related to our responsibility to care for each other (social justice).

The long-term task of environmental education is to foster or reinforce attitudes and behaviours compatible with this new ethic. It should
focus  sharply on developing understanding of and links between environmental quality, human equality, human rights and peace and their underlying political threads.

Issues such as food security, poverty, sustainable tourism, urban quality, women, fair trade, green consumerism, ecological public health and waste management as well as those of climatic change, deforestation, land degradation, desertification, depletion of natural resources and loss of biodiversity are primary concerns for both environmental and development education.

This entails involving people in questions about the ownership of common property resources, issues of international and intergenerational equity, investigations into regional and national ecological footprints and, most importantly, engagement in debates about qualitative versus quantitative growth.

My conclusion is that as a country and as an institution we need to decide where we stand politically, and radically and rapidly respond to the challenge of  educating for sustainability.


Steve Keen: Economic Crisis and solution – abolish debt

from Saturday Morning on Saturday 26 May 2012

Professor of economics and finance at the University of Western Sydney, author of Debunking Economics, and one of a minority of economists to predict the current financial crisis.

Professor Steve Keen comes up with a radical solution to the gobal economic crisis. He targets neo-classical economics which is a consumer oriented economy.  He suggests we need to think collectively and socially and abolish debt. We need to bail out people rather than the finance sector (listen from about 30 mins in).

What does education for sustainability mean to the Otago Polytechnic?

This was the vision back in about 2006?…

In 2004 the Otago Polytechnic Leadership Team made a commitment to become a sustainable organisation and a leader in the field of education for sustainability. However, rather than deliver specialist courses in environmental studies, OP has elected to weave education for sustainability into each and every programme of study.

A clear process has been established by the academic board to meet the goal of EFS content within each programme by mid 2009. This process requires both the programme content and the process of educating to be considered, with experiential education and inquiry based learning being desired ahead of the lecturer talking at students, which has low long term learning value.

No courses are being prescribed in “how to” best integrate EFS into programmes across the board, rather ‘early adopter’ schools have been supported to find different approaches that best meet the needs of their staff and students. For example, the design school has elected to integrate all EFS initiatives into existing courses, where as the health and community school has decided to offer a stand alone EFS “101” type programme to all first year students, then integrate this into year two and three courses.

All new programmes under development are required to contain EFS content and process. An OP ‘graduate profile’ across all disciplines will now include being action competent as a sustainable practitioner in their field.

It is now April 2012 has this vision been realised? Did we make the right decision not to deliver specialist courses in environmental studies?

The words “sustainability” appear in a number of places in OP documentation. Our statement of priorities include these two:

Priority 3:  Strengthen our relationships with all of our stakeholders, building partnerships which will benefit our learners and communities, and build our sustainability.

Priority 8: Develop a sustainable platform to achieve our goals, encompassing financial and organisational sustainability and world class organisation and management.

Do either of these priorities actually have anything to do with educating our students about sustainability? I am starting to see why there is so much confusion in this institution about what all this “sustainability” stuff is all about.

Is this the reason why New Zealand has fallen short in it’s commitment to Education for Sustainability – Institutions like ours have not taken a firm enough grasp of the topic. In most departments we are skirting around the edges and not taking the job of “EDUCATING for sustainability” seriously?

I think we need our own Earth Summit to reprioritise!

New report shows 20 years of environmental inaction threatens NZ’s natural heritage

The WWF’s report reveals NZ  is falling short on important commitments made at the 1992 Earth Summit. Commitments were made on greenhouse gases, water quality, land and marine biodiversity, fisheries and education for sustainability.

We are FALLING SHORT in our commitments to Education for Sustainability. This is a disgrace!

On a more positive note, I was very impressed with the posters I saw in the corridors of D block at Otago Polytechnic

The BIT students were obviously being encouraged to focus on environmental issues in their studies. Well done Sam et al!

Fossil fuel subsidies – fund clean energy?

Governments are artifically lowering the price of fossil fuels. Most of the world’s fuel subsidies are given out in transitional and developing countries – especially those which themselves export fossil fuels.

Speaking to the Guardian, Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that a phase-out of subsidies would avoid 750m tonnes of CO2 a year by 2015, potentially rising to 2.6 gigatonnes by 2035. He claimed such cuts could provide around half the emissions reductions needed over the next decade to reach a trajectory that would limit global warming to 2C, considered the limit of safety by many scientists.

“Fossil fuel subsidies are a hand brake as we drive along the road to a sustainable energy future,” he said. “Removing them would take us half way to a trajectory that would hold us to 2C.”

See full article here:

Question. How do we influence the governments of places like Nigeria?

Would a campaign to put the pressure on world leaders at the G20 Summit in Mexico and at the “Rio+20 Earth Summit” coming up in Brazil work?

Let’s get it on the agenda for Rio – email Amy Adams see link below:\

The suggestion is to use the trillions of dollars of subsidies to fund clean energy alternatives. Now that makes sense.

Strong sustainability and what this means for us as educators.

Strong sustainability recognises that society and the economy function within a superset; the Environment. The Economy is a subset of society. This model places the sustainability of the environment as more important than the sustainability of society and the economy, because if the environment cannot be sustained then neither can the other two. This model is preferable to the Triple Bottom Line model which gives all three equal value which in reality means the values sustaining the economy tend to dominate (

What does this mean for NZ? The site referred to above lists 6 essential conditions for a sustainable New Zealand. I will highlight the one I think is  most important:

Enabling condition 5
Strong sustainability understanding is deeply embedded in all of New Zealand’s governance, economic, legal, and educational systems, and all applications of these systems.

All other enabling conditions should flow from this. To achieve this it places great importance on our elected governments to get it done. This means it places great importance on us, the citizens of this country to elect the right government and keep them on the path we believe is right.

I think perhaps  what this means for us in our role as educators is to not only teach ecological literacy but also political literacy. Young people have the poorest turn out at elections and who can blame them? How many of them have a clue what the various political parties stand for?  We had an election recently (last year in fact) and yes I was aware of talks occuring on campus (usually after hours) from some of our electoral candidates, however I was dismayed to find the very small audiences present at these events.Perhaps some of these events could be included in our course curriculum/assessments?

Otago Access Radio 105.4fm  and Sam Mann and Shane Gallagher are doing a great job with their sustainable lens programme. Here are some podcasts:

The last podcast begins by discussing fracking. Did you know 4.4 million Ha of NZ land has been approved for fracking? Apparently the so called impermeable rocks are not impermeable at all!!

Web Development  (Web1) in the BIT at Otago Polytechnic taught by Sam Mann is a good example of how education for sustainability could look. Check out the latest podcast in sustainable lens 2012-05-03- Sustainability Show   (59 mins) to find out more. The notion of ‘Sustainability’ has been broadened  to include productivity in the workplace. The discussion about social networking and gaming addiction was interesting from the point of view of was it actually off the topic? Is it part of “strong sustainability’. Personally, I think (in a wobbly kind of way) we are far too early into our journey of educating for sustainability to extend the definition of sustainability to workplace productivity. The discussion on recycling old computers was much more on the mark.

There is also an Eco Living In Action Show on access radio. These programmes look at positive and fun ways to bring people on board with sustainability. I am reading Niki Harre’s book, Psychology for a Better World: Strategies to Inspire Sustainability (which can be downloaded for free from   and she warns against scaring or bullying people into changing their behaviour.

So what does strong sustainability mean for me in my role at OP – I think my best course of action will be in awareness raising and rallying for positive action. This can be directed at both staff and students. I will shortly be circulating a petition against assest and I am thinking about sharing resources – land, equipment, gardens etc and taking the ‘Living Campus’ off campus and into the suberbs. (I have done this on an individual level already, but I should extend it to the community level).

Fossil fuels vs. Renewable energy.

Bill McKibben –

In just a few weeks, world leaders are converging on Rio for a landmark “Earth Summit” to talk about sustainability issues — but it’s time for them to stop talking and start doing. And we know where they can begin.

This year our governments will hand nearly hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies to the coal, gas, and oil industries. Instead, they should cut them off. Now.

Cutting fossil fuel subsidies could actually take a giant step towards solving the climate crisis: phasing out these subsidies would prevent gigatonnes of carbon emissions and help make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels.

And here’s the thing: this demand is completely reasonable — so reasonable that the leaders of the big countries have already agreed to it. The G20 promised in 2009 that fossil fuel subsidies would be phased out in the “medium term.” But the political power of the corporate polluters scares them, and so no nation has yet followed through.

If we want real action to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, we need to give world leaders a people-powered push as the Rio Summit approches — and that push starts today with this global call to action:

Why focus on subsidies? Well, remember those pictures we took all over the world a few weeks ago, the ones where hundreds of thousands of people rallied in places wrecked by the drought, flood, fire, and melt that come with climate change? The billions in fossil fuel subsidies handed out to the fossil fuel industry are driving those climate disasters, and it’s time for us, and our political leaders, to conenct the dots. Those billions should be spent investing in the world we want — in renewable energy, in efficiency, in public health and education — not sent to the corporate polluters who are super-heating our planet and threatening our future.

How are we going to ensure world leaders make good on their committment to end fossil fuel subsidies? With a huge global groundswell of citizen pressure. Our friends at Avaaz, the planetary network for social good, are helping to lead this fight — already there are over half a million people signed on. In the US, hundreds of thousands of activists are pushing for landmark legislation to remove $113 billion in American fossil fuel subsidies over the next 10 years. But now we need a truly international effort in the leadup to the Rio Earth Summit — which means enlisting you, and your friends.

Click here to sign on and spread the word:

After you sign on, please share the campaign with anyone you know who cares about the future. Or, for that matter, anyone who cares about not wasting their tax money by sending it to the richest industry on earth.

We’ll deliver the signatures on June 18th when world leaders arrive for the Earth Summit — in fact, we’ve got big plans brewing for some exciting ways to make sure our message in Rio is unignorable. But first we need you on the list, so please sign on today.


Bill McKibben for the team

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