17 June 2006

Global Education on Climate Change

John Whitman, an OISE colleague who just defended yesterday (congratulations, John!) is embarking on an initiative to introduce adult learning methods to create a program for Global Education on Climate Change. Much of the education that is available is focused on informing; very little brings in the type of action learning that is characteristic of adult education principles.

John's case and plan is contained in this PowerPoint presentation. Granted, it's not as fancy as Al Gore's, but it illustrates the problem, and proposes a plan for coordinating local education initiatives. What is perhaps most interesting to me about John's presentation is the graph showing the effect of the focused and concerted effort with respect to CFCs. The effect that CFCs were having on the ozone layer has been widely publicized, and the effects on human life (from sunburn to cancer) became important common knowledge. This impetus enabled policy-makers to ban CFCs, over the initial objections of those with vested interests in CFCs, and the atmospheric results became evident in a relatively short time (although it will take half a century for the ozone layer to repair itself).

The vested interests in the petroleum industry are, admittedly, more tightly connected to policy-makers (especially in the current governments of both Canada and the United States). Nonetheless, strategically situated education, with appropriate adult education principles of using collective knowledge, creating empowerment and a sense of urgency to action may be able to overcome many of the self-interested roadblocks. This is especially the case if those with vested interests can see the fiscal wisdom in changing their ways.

Strategically, this education must be directed at the very highest levels - the world cannot wait for K-12 program graduates to grow up and assume their future positions as leaders. Instead, it is vital that today's leaders (and very-soon-to-be leaders) learn, and learn well. Some important venues in which climate change education should be happening:
  1. The annual World Economic Forum in Davos - I can think of no better place to start than at the top, with the world's economic and policy elite. If the imperative for global survival can be compellingly impressed on this group, mountains can be moved... well, not literally... habitat preservation and soil erosion considerations... but you get the idea. While these topics are usually in the realm of the counterbalancing World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, the opposing discourses of two fora talk past each other, with little chance of one truly influencing the other.

  2. Business Schools: MBA and EMBA Programs - Future and current managers and executives receive relatively little in the way of environmental, and social responsibility consciousness-raising. In a course I recently took on Corporate Ethics in the Global Economy, the ethical focus was not on corporate governance, or fiscal accountability, or shareholders' rights, but rather on a critical view of ethics and social responsibility with respect to everything from labour practices, to global governance, to environmental economics, with much else beside.

    If you teach at a business school (or if you attend as a student please direct your professor here) I can suggest syllabus ideas and readings, and connect you with professors who are taking a broader approach to corporate ethics, that is the ethics of corporations as responsible citizens of the world.

  3. Schools of Public Policy and Governance - Like the business world, these are the locales in which future and current thought-leaders can be influenced. While the political dimension adds layers of complexity that are different from those in the shareholder context, the imperative remains the same.

The educational programs - such as they are - of government agencies, the public school system, and even NGOs like Greenpeace are, in a word, pathetic. "Turn off lights," "take public transit," "turn up your thermostat in the summer and down in the winter," and the like, are all things that individuals can do, but they alone cannot address the critical systemic issues that are creating the global crisis. Initatives that can change policy and industrial practices, and investments in environment-saving infrastructure are what we urgently need to ensure the survival of life on this planet.

Liveability is a human right - the planet doesn't need saving, we do!

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