Looking globally: the future of education
Looking globally: the future of education

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Looking globally: the future of education

3.1 Do we need to respond to environmental changes?

We will now consider some contemporary global environmental issues.

Activity 1 Reflecting on your view of contemporary environmental issues

Allow approximately 45 minutes.

An episode of the BBC World Service programme Fragile Planet was broadcast in 1999 entitled ‘Sustainability’ which took a ‘pilgrimage into the future’. The extract used here provides an overview of the issues which scientists and society at large were noticing in the environment at the time. It raises questions that are still being addressed, such as how concerned people should be about the development and implications of climate change and whether they should ‘maybe even be scared’?

  1. Listen to the following five-minute extract from the programme.
Download this audio clip.
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PRESENTER: We live on a fragile planet. How will it survive the twenty-first century? How will we survive? Asking questions like that is easy. Answering them is pretty much impossible, but asking can still be illuminating. It’s something I've been doing on this pilgrimage into the future.
MAN 1: The two biggest challenges that we face in the world today are the need to stabilise population and the need to stabilise climate. If we cannot stabilise population, and if we cannot stabilise climate, there is not an ecosystem on Earth we can save. Everything will change.
MAN 2: We have never seen such differences in the rich and the poor. We have in America expenditure on one dog, food alone six hundred dollars, yet in Thailand there are eight million people who earn only three hundred dollars a year, so two Thais are equivalent to one American dog.
WOMAN: Every gift of the Industrial Revolution has left us with the legacy of an absolutely despoiled planet, because when they created the steam engine they could not even imagine that their actions would lead to CO2 accumulation on such a huge scale that we would not be able to predict whether we can grow our crops or not, or harvest them or not.
PRESENTER: For at least two hundred years, gloomy thinkers have been predicting that as the world’s population continued to expand, we would run out of food and raw materials. And to the poor it may seem that we already have done. There's a keen audience for these predictions; comfortably-off people of whatever generation seem to like having their flesh made to creep. A quarter of a century ago, the group of acknowledged experts known as the Club of Rome, hogged the headlines with the forecast that the world was on the edge of running out of energy. We would certainly be out of oil in particular by the end of the century. Well, the century is almost over, and thanks to discoveries made since the 1970s, there's quite a lot of crude oil left to be pumped. It’s obviously a finite resource but not as finite as the Club of Rome predicted. The French diplomatist and campaigner Bertrand Schneider was the first Secretary General of the Club of Rome and, he says, the last. The club of self-appointed crystal ball gazers is winding itself up. The other day at his home, rather confusingly in Paris, I asked Bertrand Schneider why the Club of Rome had got it wrong.
SCHNEIDER: Well, in some regards it was wrong, in some regards it was true. If you look at the old problem we were completely wrong. Wrong because at that time we used the information we had. Since, of course, so many different places have been discovered that the problem is totally different. The lack of raw material is still a problem; the lack of water will become one of the main problems of the coming century.
PRESENTER: So the alarm signals which were rung by the Club of Rome all those years ago may have been wrong-footed by what actually happened on the resource front, but nevertheless they alerted people who now may be coming to very powerful positions in all sorts of walks of life.
SCHNEIDER: Absolutely. And you know, a part of the warning about environment governance and demography, the importance of demography, which has changed completely. This is a very interesting example because we were very much concerned in the seventies by the population growth. Now we are very much concerned by the ageing populations. But the other contribution of the Club of Rome has been to insist of three different approaches. First it was the global approach which, in the seventies, seemed completely crazy and we have been criticised as clowns for that, and the second was insisting on the increasing interdependence between nations, and the third point was the increasing interaction between the factors. You know, if you take the problem of environment, you cannot ignore the problem of energy, demography and so forth.
PRESENTER: So you may have got the figures wrong, but your heart was in the right place –
SCHNEIDER: Absolutely. And I hope it has contributed something to some progress in the way people are analysing the global issues.
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  1. Next, find out which global climate records (related to levels of rainfall, carbon dioxide, air and ocean temperature, flooding and sea level rise) were broken in 2016 by accessing this press release issued by the World Meteorological Organisation: Climate breaks multiple records in 2016, with global impacts [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Scroll down to the bottom of the report to familiarise yourself with the infographic ‘Statement of the Status of the Global Climate 2016’.
  2. Think about:
    • If you were making the programme today, would you focus on the same environmental issues? If not, why not?
    • Do you agree with the conclusion that the two biggest challenges to the planet are to stabilise both population and the environment to avoid loss of ecosystems and repercussions to human civilisation? If so, what tensions does this place on a) society globally and b) local communities? If not, what do you see as the biggest challenge we face related to sustainable living?

Activity 2 Current environmental issues

Allow approximately 45 minutes.

Find a news item which reflects a key environmental issue affecting the area in which you live. Post this item on the course forum, starting your post with a description of the kind of issue in the news item; for example: air pollution, deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, flooding, climate change. Ideally, you should add a hyperlink to the news item in your post on the course forum, or you might prefer to take or find an image and upload this with a short description. You can find guidance on how to search for creative commons in Finding copyright-cleared images. Remember to make clear the name of the country and/or area to which the item relates.

Remember that you need to add at least three posts to the forum in order to gain your badge.

Think about:

  • In response to the key environmental issue(s) you have identified locally, how could your local education system respond?
  • How might you expect your local education system to respond given your awareness of constraints on it?
  • How can local education systems respond to the wider, global environmental challenges?
  • How do your responses to these questions connect with any of the three models for education introduced last week?

Please note: we may wish to reuse your forum contributions, anonymously, in future sessions of this course. If you wish to opt out of this, email FELS-Masters-Admin@open.ac.uk.


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