Finding the Way to a Sustainable Future
Ecology and Economics are intrinsically interconnected and it is only when we disturb the balance between them that we give birth to unsustainable futures. What roles can education paly in creating collective consciousness for a harmonious existence?
Lawrence Surendra is a chemical Engineer and environmental economist. Currently Chairman, The sustainability Platform and a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers, India.
Instead of going into a pedantic and rather academic discussion on ‘Ecology’ and ‘Economics’ I want to do a detour and see how to link ‘Ecology’ and ‘Economics’ through a notion of “Education for Conviviality”. A ‘convivial’ life is one in which people are at ease with each other, happy and living within their means not only in pure economic terms but in ecological terms, in terms of the earth’s resources we use up.
As I write my reflection on ‘ecology’ and ‘economics’, I am acutely aware that the month of August and the 8th day of August is the day on which, according to the Global Footprint Network, humanity has exhausted nature’s budget of the year and after the 8th of August we will be in “ecological deficit” and living beyond our means in terms of natural resources and as the Global Footprint network puts it, “Just as a bank statement tracks income against expenditures, Global Footprint Network measures humanity’s demand for and supply of natural resources and ecological services. And the data is sobering. Global Footprint Network estimates that approximately every eight months, we demand more renewable resources and C02 sequestration than what the planet can provide for an entire year” (1). At least in terms of planet earth we are not having and living a convivial relationship. It is not a happy relationship!
The notion of ‘Conviviality’ is appealing to me not only for the connotations it has in terms of happiness and the related meanings in terms of being a ‘bon vivant’ but the deeper meanings and the implications, ‘conviviality’ has for peaceful and mutually respectful ways in which nations, communities, ethnic groups and planet earth can live together. Amitav Ghosh in his recent book on Climate Change attributes some of the raging conflicts in today’s world such as the Syrian Conflict to Climate Change. According to him, “the 2008 drought in Syria is one of the major factors in starting their civil war. There is never any mention of these broader drivers”.
Within such a perspective and in a context where we are also challenged to show ways of learning and teaching for sustainability and while doing so we often discover that at the root of sustainability are peaceful communities and nations. I will not while writing in a magazine meant for educators, go into all the links between how unsustainability in terms of access and use of natural resources provides the fertile ground for conflicts and threats to peace at both community and nation state levels. Or how the lack of conditions for peaceful development threatens sustainability and makes development unsustainable. I want to take a very conventional route and go back to some very old objects of education and which we have left behind to see ways of developing and promoting education for peace and sustainability. By this I refer to objects of Education such as Education for International Understanding (EIU) and the more recent and not so old object of Education, namely Education for Sustainable Development or Educating for Sustainable Futures. I see a very organic synergy between objectives of Education such as EIU and ESD.
Before that to go back to the notion of ‘conviviality’, a term with which I started. The origin of the concept of education for conviviality can be linked to the post-world war II initiatives of UNESCO for promoting education for international understanding. In the evolution of education for international understanding from 1946 to the present, we can say that the 1974 UNESCO Recommendation (interestingly proposed by India and Japan) on Education for International Understanding was the first international document giving concrete guidelines to educational authorities and practitioners to promote implementation of education for international understanding on a global scale, especially to try to adopt a common and universal approach beyond politico-ideological divisions, socio-economic gaps and different educational concepts and strategies.
One can say that the specific notion of ‘education for conviviality’ appeared in the Asia-Pacific preparatory meeting for the 44th session of International Conference of Education in 1994. The meeting adopted the recommendation to UNESCO that under the strong current of economic globalization, education for international understanding would require a new philosophy and goal orientation, which should include, among others, a goal to live together peacefully, in a caring, sharing harmonious way. Education for the future should prepare world citizens, capable of conceiving issues and reflecting in global ways.
The term ‘Conviviality’ has an attraction for me not only in terms of the reasons mentioned above but for also two other reasons. One, conviviality in French also relates to the word, ‘convive’ which means the guest at a meal. Here the notion of dining together, of partaking food together, the notion of ‘a guest at a meal’ could symbolically signify among two warring communities, each community approaching the other as if they were the ‘guest at a meal’ and thus creating spaces for peaceful co-existence.
The second and more significant reason is that Ivan Illich in his brilliant book that examined technology in the modern world titled it, ‘Tools for Conviviality (1975)’. It is a book in which Illich not only critiqued the role of technology in modern capitalist societies but also tried to show how ‘development’ is to be evaluated or judged, while at the same time emphasizing the importance of mutuality, human-scale technology and from a clear ecological understanding of the way societies were ‘developing’ pointing to the immense potential such ‘development’ had in a self-destructive sense.
He significantly wrote in the Introduction to the book,
“To formulate a theory about a future society both very modern and not dominated by industry, it will be necessary to recognize natural scales and limits. We must come to admit that only within limits can machines take the place of slaves; beyond these limits they lead to a new kind of serfdom. Only within limits can education fit people into a man-made environment: beyond these limits lies the universal schoolhouse, hospital ward, or prison. Only within limits ought politics to be concerned with the distribution of maximum industrial outputs, rather than with equal inputs of either energy or information. Once these limits are recognized, it becomes possible to articulate the triadic relationship between persons, tools, and a new collectivity. Such a society, in which modern technologies serve politically interrelated individuals rather than managers, I will call “convivial.”
As Illich in explaining his choice of ‘convivial’ to refer to technology (tools) that is subordinate to ‘natural scales and limits’ also refers to ‘austerity’ not in the bitter taste of rejecting everything but as part of a more embracing virtue. This concept of “austerity” is more akin to the notion of “restraint” found in many Asian intellectual traditions. It is in this perspective I feel ‘education for conviviality’ can be a bridge, one that brings to together, ‘Education for International Understanding (EIU)’ and ‘Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)’. It is in this perspective, I look at the synergies between EIU and ESD and in a way between ‘economics’ and ‘ecology’ and as signposts towards ‘sustainable futures’.
About EIU and Synergy between EIU and ESD
EIU provides a very important normative framework for a critical understanding of contemporary global reality. A framework within which conflicts between nations that constantly reproduce discourses of war, nationalism and mutual hatred not only can be understood but also efforts made to see how that understanding can help minimize and ultimately eliminate such conflicts. But as we all know that it is not only historical conflicts between nations that color perceptions of each other, influence learning, teaching and education and the way children learn about others. More importantly and critically it is also inequity within society, social stratification and prejudice between social groups that stand in the way of living together and intercultural understanding. Matter of fact a closely related aspect of EIU is Intercultural Understanding and both are needed for societies and nations to move towards peace and justice within societies and between societies.
Building on the synergies between EIU and ESD
The many synergies between EIU and ESD can be beneficially used to promote a world which treasures and values, cultural diversity, respects social justice and thus achieve sustainability and harmony in the relationship between man and nature. In such a synergetic process, EIU and ESD can work hand in hand to ensure peace and equity for all and which the world is so badly in need of. As already mentioned, EIU has its moorings in the four pillars of Learning, viz. Learning to Be, Learning to Know, Learning to Do and Learning to Live Together that that the Jacques Delor Report ‘Learning the Treasure Within’ has spelt out. To this a fifth pillar, that of ‘Learning to transform’ can be added in the context of ESD. It is in the context of ‘Learning to transform’ the task of ‘reorienting education to address sustainability’ also becomes a very critical task and creative ways in which ‘ecology’ and ‘economics’ can be linked.
In achieving Peace, Sustainability and Equity in our own society we can see that EIU has a very important role to play. Sustainable Development in the perspective of UNESCO is grounded on four interdependent systems and supports four inter-related principles for sustainable living, viz.
Four Inter-Related Principles:
Peace and Equity, Democracy, Appropriate Development and, Conservation
In referring to Education for Sustainable Development, I refer to it in a dynamic and transformatory sense. ESD having the potential of being the fifth pillar of ‘Learning the Treasure Within’ namely, ‘Learning to Transform’.
In my view ESD is not Environment Education (EE), and for this it is important to understand what EE can do or cannot do in the context of ESD. Without doubt EE has contributed to a wider awareness about the environment, promoting of the understanding of the responsibility of human beings for the environment and their duties to care for it and a deeper understanding of the web of nature. The advantage of EE has also been that it has relied a lot on natural science, whereas ESD may be still limited in that direction, the flip side of this strength in EE has also meant very weak links have been built between society and knowledge (in terms of the science) of the environment. EE has tended to be more individualistic and limited with regard to understanding of structures. A related issue with regard to ESD is that it is not just about creating new knowledge about Sustainable Development but in the extension of the knowledge we already have. From such a perspective, ESD has an immense potential to link science and society, to extend knowledge about sustainable development, involving, the natural sciences (ecosystems and sinks), the social sciences (peace and equity) and society (participation and empowerment).
By way of a Conclusion:
In such a background does it make any sense, for a small group of people talking about
Education for International Understanding, Education for Sustainable Development and Values Education? It does but people who promote such Educational objectives also try to picture themselves as such altruistic individuals that their promotion of such education becomes also suspect in the eyes of many especially well meaning people in the formal education system. This is mainly because they advocate such ‘altruism’ for others but promote what is seen as individual and institutional self-interest. What is important is to recognize that building on the ‘self-interest’ of people has a value in promoting change. Linking ‘ecology’ and ‘economics’ is a kind of ‘education for conviviality’ which as a perspective and approach has a great potential to provide the tools and be the synthesizer, that can provide societies the urgently needed conditions for peace, understanding and sustainability. Herein lie the steps that we can take towards ‘sustainable futures’.
- Ivan Illich, ‘Tools for Conviviality’, Fontana/Collins, Glasgow,1975;
This article is published in The New Leam, OCTOBER Issue( Vol.2 No.16) and available in print version. To buy contact us or write at firstname.lastname@example.org