Human-nature relations in Czech Republic – Part 3

Day 2
Session 3 – Further issues. We started by having a short discussion on the questions we left them with. Most recognize the energy they use in heating, lighting and transportation, but we also came to the conclusion that pretty much all stuff we use need energy to function.

After this we discussed the questions and controversies of climate change, what projections there are of the future and who should cut their emissions first. When we asked them for their view, some doubts and uncertainties were raised on whether human activities really are the cause on the global warming and how certain the future projections are and how reliable the IPCC is. How can I know for sure?

This is a delicate problem in the teaching situation. On one hand it’s tempting to use the authority as a teacher and say “Yes, we are beyond reasonable doubt causing the global warming and we are on a dangerous path. Period!” But on the other hand, I want to encourage them to find out and think for themselves and not to blindly trust authorities just because they are authorities. Obviously, this strategy doesn’t work for convincing everyone in society. And if we are to educate the future change agents of this planet they need to be able to make their own judgments, at least when it’s possible to do so.

I acknowledged their uncertainty by referring to my own understanding of the topic and my own previous doubts when I tried to build my own view and opinion in the matter. We continued to discuss handling uncertainty in information as well as in future projections and value of questioning, but also we emphasized that referring to uncertainty can also be a way of escaping from our own responsibility of doing something about it. I also mentioned that there is a general consensus among the world leaders as well as active climate scientists (see Oreskes in below) that we are the main cause of the global warming and that it’s a real threat. In a discussion on how to find reliable sources of information I listed IPCC and other UN organs as sources I personally considered trustworthy.

Another conclusion from this discussion is how much easier it is to have the energy and Peak oil perspective as a starter instead of the Climate change. Not to say that we should only focus on one and forget the other, even with the remaining fossil fuels we can still heat up this planet a lot beyond the politically agreed target of 2 degrees.

­We then separated into two groups where we analyzed and discussed the two big cluster topics of food production and material flow (stuff we buy and use) respectively. Stina and I participated in and supported one discussion each, she did the food production and I did the material. When the students divided the gender pattern became very clear to everyone’s amusement, and we teachers followed it as well! So for a short moment we could raise a gender perspective, which is really a national sport here in Sweden.

Here it was obvious that we could never go into detail and depth but to keep on a very general and principal level with questions such as: How much food and stuff do we really need in contrast to what we want? Can we produce food sustainably for 9-10 billion people? What are the difference between organic (ecologic) farming and conventional? How do we distribute fairly and stop wasting food? Are there sustainable principles for material flow (see e.g. Cradle 2 Cradle)? Are we running out of anything? What are the interconnections between food, energy and material?

Although we allowed this discussion to expand into the next session we would really like to continue for several more days, as some of the wrote in the course evaluation:

“…more time! For every topic, for whole course, so we could go deeper…”

“…but I still think that such a complicated issue requires more time.”

This was, however, expected and the main purpose of the course was not to solve any problems or view them into detail but rather to get an overview of what problems existed, the status of them and how they relate to each other so they can dig into them deeper on later occasions or on their own:

“What I’m taking with me? A huge packet of topics to think about, new ideas, a lot of information and great references to find out more.”

Session 4 – Economy. The second half of this section we spent on economy, about how different actor’s own economic interests often is an obstacle in sustainable initiatives since the fossil fuels are just free energy sources laying beneath our feet waiting for anyone to extract and how their real costs are being externalized to other countries and generations, how the current economic system that is based on the assumption of infinite growth, the intimate relation to the energy consumption and how it recent decade has been more or less driven solely by debt. This discussion was perhaps not as much of a pressing matter to the students as the Czech Republic has comparably solid and sound economy and is not part of the Euro project. The discussion on economy could perhaps be placed adjacent with the energy session due to the intimate relation between them, but it can also be used as a natural transition to the human side.

Session 5 – Making history. After lunch we made history – Big history! The students received the lunch assignment of each making a top-5 list of important moments in history (of universe, not just human history). We wrote them on Post-it notes with titles and approximate year and placed them chronologically to create a timeline on the wall. Approaching present time I couldn’t fit all the notes before the end of the wall space so I bent the timeline to create an unintended but nevertheless symbolic hockey-stick shaped curve:

Issues at the middle and the Big history timeline at the bottom and continuing up at the right end. Photograph: Stina Deurell

Through this shared process we could follow the trajectory from Big bang to present time with all thresholds and major historic shifts. For each shift we discussed what where the main drivers, the consequences, and the traces from it we can see today. Some themes were followed, such as increase in complexity of life, how energy were being used by humans, major technological revolutions, behavior patterns and increase in complexity of consciousness in what perspectives we took on ourselves and nature and how that shifted throughout history.

The most amusing detail and culture-clash in the process was when we discussed how the technological enterprises of space-travel shifted our view on ourselves when the astronauts turned their camera towards the earth. One student wrote “Gagarin 1978” which was totally unexpected to us Swedes that were thinking about the American Apollo project.

Session 6 – Spiral dynamics. From this exploration it was a short step to turn to an introduction of seven stages of Spiral dynamics which is a model that describes how values and worldviews has evolved in cultures throughout history. It is also a useful model to describe values of today and had a discussion on how to communicate and frame messages towards different vMemes or values.

Before we ended this intense day we gave them the assignment of deciding on an own issue to investigate further the next day and give a 5-min presentation of.

Relaxing after day 2. Photograph: Stina Deurell

Some references and further reading

Naomi Oreskes is often cited about consensus on climate change among climate researchers:

Cradle 2 cradle design principle. and

Story of stuff gives a simple and useful overview on material flow:

The population will probably stabilize at 9-10 according to projection, given a business as usual scenario. See e.g. Hans Rosling:

The relation between energy and economy is explained by Chris Martenson’s Crash course. Here is a shorter version:

There is something called Ecological Economics. Introduction:

Big history is a topic that grows in popularity. Here is a MOOC (Massive open online course):

Spiral dynamics is introduced e.g. here:

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