Human-nature relations in Czech Republic – Part 1

A week ago my friend Stina Deurell and I boarded a night train from Copenhagen heading for Olomouc in Czech Republic to give a three-day course or workshop with the title Human-nature relations: Anthropocentrism or Earth Stewardship?

But for me the journey was longer than that and started four years earlier when I got interested in the economic crisis and when I had my Peak moment of discovering the energy dimension and where our civilized societies seems to be heading. I followed the discussions, started discussing myself online, wrote some blog posts about it and gave an introduction for closed group of friends and fellow change-makers. I joined a distance course in sustainable transition, started networking and participated in two podcast interviews about Peak oil.

But to really teach it was still something I’d like to do, partly since I felt it was a step in the right direction for me and partly since I’m deeply worried about the future and the challenges we are facing today. I was, however, offered an opportunity by the School for Transformative Leadership (STL), a EU funded pilot project based at the Palacký University in Olomouc that encouraged trans-disciplinary, personalized and transformative ways of educating our future leaders. The offer came since I one year earlier had met with the main organizer Gaudenz Assenza at a workshop in transformative learning in Trondheim, who was recruiting teachers in various wide topic areas. I noticed that they lacked people giving courses in sustainability or relating topic so I proposed to give a crash course that introduced and covered pretty much all aspects of sustainability. I argued that if someone else would give a course in an adjacent topic I could narrow my scope down.

In the design of my course outline I pretty quickly came up with three major sections that I named Issues, Perspectives and finally Being and ethics. The issues part intended to cover what is generally referred to as current matters of sustainability that are typically studied by natural scientists, such as climate, energy and ecology. Perspectives was more about the part on humanity, where we come from, how we think, value and perceive the issues and how to communicate them. Being and ethics was more about the future, what we should do and how we should relate to nature. The first part was my main worry and concern, the second part I felt pretty secure in since it is one of my research areas and the final part I wasn’t sure about, but I had some ideas. On the other hand, no one has an expertise in sustainability. You really can’t specialize in such a vast topic. And this course was not about building expertise but rather to gain overview, in my opinion we have enough experts.

But even if the main outline was set, I still found it to be a very demanding process to prepare for the workshop. When it came to the issues section, I felt how disturbingly much I don’t know, although I think Gunnar Rundgren’s book offer great support and overview. But even if I had felt comfortable with it, some huge questions remained: How do you introduce such vast, broad and complex topics? How do you engage the students and make the huge and often abstract issues relevant to them? And if you succeed, what if the new insights become too heavy burden to the students? Further, do I as a teacher, representing an older generation, have a right to ask the younger students to transform their way of thinking and to engage in problems and that I to a greater extent am a part of than they are? And further uncertainties of practical nature, such as possible cultural or language barriers.

As a part of the process I invited some of my friends with interest in sustainability to an evening of exploring the issues section one week before the course. We did a brain-storming exercise around the issues and mapped everything from energy, food-production, water, biodiversity, poverty, etc on the whiteboard, which I found very useful. But then I tried to draw a big picture of flow and relations between everything, which turned out to be quite messy and the process slowed down and I seemed to get stuck. After a coffee break and some further futile actions someone started to ask about status on specific questions and issues and when we could limit and focus our attention the flow returned.

Until that point (or rather, a couple of days before) I was not that comfortable to write about or invite anyone into the process, but here I asked my friend Stina if she’d like to accompany me to Olomouc. She accepted and the two of us turned out to be a very successful team. She knows me very well and could support me in my process, ask clarifying or critical questions when needed and assist me and contribute to the actual teaching. Stina is an artist, photographer and web-designer with several decades of experience of working with environmental issues and could contribute with a solid biospheric perspective and voice on the issues. We complement each other to a great deal, but we also share many interests, such as broad and integral perspectives on the past and the future of our planet.

Stina was the one that suggested that we should take the night train instead, even though it was more expensive and cost a lot of extra time. But on the other hand, it is a more pleasant way of traveling, I could work with the planning process on the way and we could get the feel of moving a long way through Europe and the changing environment. When you fly, you go to the airport, which I always find a surreal isolated universe of its own, and a couple of hours later you arrive at your destination without really having the chance to emotionally grasp the vast distance traveled. Besides, teaching about energy and climate is kind of easier when you set an example.

On the night train. Photograph: Stina Deurell

And with that, we were on our way! We arrived in Prague at lunchtime and could get an afternoon glimpse of this beautiful city before we the next morning continued to Olomouc in the eastern part of the Republic.

To be continued!

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