Learning, Environment and Sustainable Development: A History of Ideas by Bill Scott and Paul Vare

Bill Scott, writer, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Bath and long time ESD champion writes on his new book, co-authored with Paul Vare.

This book is an introduction to the history of the interconnections of human learning, the environment and sustainable development.  It explores our struggles with the natural world: first for survival, then for dominance, currently for self-preservation, and in future perhaps, even for long-term, mutually beneficial co-existence.

The book looks through the lens of human learning, and puts on record many of the people, ideas and events that have contributed, often unwittingly, to the global movement for sustainable development.

Of course, human learning has always had a focus on the environment.  It’s something we’ve been engaged in ever since we began interacting with our surroundings and thinking about the impacts, outcomes and consequences of our actions and interactions.  The story told here is episodic rather than a connected, linear account; it probes, questions and re-examines familiar issues from novel perspectives, and looks ahead.  The book is of particular interest to those studying (and teaching) courses with a focus on socio-economic and environmental sustainability, and non-governmental organisations whose work brings them face-to-face with the general public and social enterprises.

It has three sections:

1 Past Historic from pre-history to the middle of the 20th Century

2 Present Imperfect from the publication of Silent Spring to the present

3 Future Possible from the present looking forward

There are 43 chapters, typically around 1500 words long.  Section one covers early human experience, the notion of Mother Earth, and what Virgil had to say.  It explores the emergence of science and the interrogation of nature, the ideas of Bacon, Descartes and Rousseau, life in the long 18th Century and the coming of Enlightenment, and the contributions of the Romantic poets, Thoreau, Muir, Marx, Dewey, and Geddes.  It singles out Alexander von Humboldt as the man who influenced everyone who followed him and was the man who invented nature.

Section two begins in the 1960s with Rachel Carson and the emergence of the modern environmental movement; it charts the origins of Forest Schools, the influence of Friluftsliv, and travels the long road to Tbilisi via all those UN conferences.  It explores Deep Ecology, the Earth Charter, teacher education, and significant life experience research, and follows the development of ideas that led us to ESD, the sustainable development goals and the Paris agreement, ending up with Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg.  Along the way it explores the different ways in which environmental education has been thought about.

Section three looks ahead at the future stories we might be telling about ourselves and the Earth, and then looks at what being human means.  Finally, there are three appendices that set out timelines of the history of environment and learning in Germany, England and the United States.

Reviewers said:

“The beauty of Scott and Vare’s co-authored books are their ability to communicate in a concise, clear and clever manner leading the reader to think about environmental teaching from new and potentially ‘rebellious’ perspectives.”

“The book involves the reader and, importantly, invites them to think. Drawing on religion, politics, poetry, music, philosophy and science, this is a highly engaging book with extremely wide appeal.”

“Scott and Vare show that we can learn from the past for thinking about environmental education for the future”

Further details can be found here:

routledge.com/Learning-Environment-and-Sustainable-Development-A-History-of-Ideas/Scott-Vare/p/book/9780367221935

What is sustainability?

Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The concept of sustainability is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental, and social—also known informally as profits, planet, and people.

What is ESD?

ESD or Education for Sustainable Development is a way of learning that empowers people to take informed decisions and responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society, for present and future generations, while respecting cultural diversity. It is about lifelong learning, and is an integral part of quality education. ESD is holistic and transformational education which addresses learning content and outcomes, pedagogy and the learning environment. It achieves its purpose by transforming society.

Why is Sustainable Development important?

Sustainable development is aimed at ensuring a good quality of life for present and future generations. Quality of life is recognized as being able to live in healthy surroundings, with an adequate standard of living and a way of life that is physically, intellectually and morally satisfying. Inevitably, our decisions and actions all have an impact on the environment, the economy and society. Sustainable development ensures future generations a habitable world that they can enjoy. It gives kids, grandkids, and future generations a good environment to live in. Sustainable living helps people to understand that they are part of nature not separate to it, and respecting natural cycles and resources is key to their future.