5th Annual Conference of the
International Environment Forum
19-21 October 2001
Hluboka nad Vltavou (South Bohemia), Czech Republic
REPORT OF THE CONFERENCE
Knowledge, Values and Education
for Sustainable Development
The fifth international Conference of the International Environment Forum was held on 19-21 October 2001 at the Townshend School in Hluboka nad Vltavou (South Bohemia), Czech Republic, on the theme "Knowledge, Values and Education for Sustainable Development".
Governments and NGOs around the world are galvanizing their energies in preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), to be held in September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa. While much progress has been made to implement the Rio agreements and Agenda 21, at least in some regions, it is clear that the governments and peoples of the world have not shown sufficient commitment to make firm steps on the path to sustainability. This situation calls for serious reflection on the reasons for this lack of commitment, going beneath the standard answers of lack of resources, of faulty incentive structures, etc., to explore the fundamentals of human society. This was the central aim of the conference.
Commitment requires action in both mind and heart. The conference took an in-depth and comparative view of the roles of knowledge, values and education in achieving the commitment and action necessary for implementation of the sustainable development agenda at local, national and global levels. It explored how science and religion, culture and spirituality, and their transmission through education, can lay better foundations for sustainable development and global prosperity. It addressed issues such as:
Should equal importance be assigned to knowledge, values and education?
In what ways do they play unique roles?
To what extent do they complement each other?
What characteristics do each possess that are most conducive to initiating change at the local, regional and international levels?
What internal dynamic is needed among them to facilitate a societal transition?
The programme included keynote speakers Professor Bedrich Moldan of Charles University, Dr. Arthur Dahl of UNEP, and Victoria Thoresen of Norway, as well as panel discussions with researchers and practitioners in a variety of fields. The conference consultations generated ideas both to provide innovative input to the WSSD process and to contribute to emerging research agendas.
The 20 registered participants included researchers, teachers, students, and professionals from a wide range of disciplines, and practitioners in the field of environment and sustainable development. Additional students and staff from the Townshend School sat in on some sessions. Evening programmes including music, a dance workshop and an environmental play were provided by the Townshend School. The General Assembly of the International Environment Forum was held directly after the closure of the conference.
An electronic version of the conference was offered for those who could not come to the Townshend School. Participants received by e-mail advance versions of the papers presented and summaries of the discussions, and were able to send in comments to be read at the conference.
FRIDAY 19 OCTOBER
The president of the International Environment Forum, Dr. Arthur Dahl, opened the conference, and explained how - even though the group of participants was quite small - the IEF is a virtual organisation, and many other people were following the conference electronically. Mr. Ardawan Laloui welcomed the participants on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the Czech Republic, and said that the Townshend school was honoured to receive the IEF in its beautiful new building.
Arthur Dahl explained how the different aspects of knowledge, values and education for sustainable development would be explained by key speakers and discussed individually by panels before the final synthesis. The aim was to provide ideas and recommendations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg next year. Some of the conference participants were involved in the governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental preparatory processes for the WSSD, and the IEF planned to hold its next conference in association with the NGO Global Forum in Johannesburg, so the results of the conference would be put to good use.
Arthur Dahl then presented the first keynote talk, From Stockholm via Rio to Johannesburg (see separate paper), which traced the evolution of international environmental action from the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment through the 1992 Earth Summit, and now preparing for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September 2002. He asked why these 28 years of action had not been more successful, and raised a series of questions to be addressed at this conference.
The discussion that followed covered a wide range of issues which can be grouped as follows.
What is the definition of sustainable development? There are hundreds of definitions, but the two most accepted are that of the Brundtland Commission, and Agenda 21 itself. It is often easier to define what is unsustainable and eliminate it. Much time has been wasted trying to defining sustainability. Any attempt would result in a compromise. At the national level, each country has to come up with its own definition appropriate to its environment, culture and economy. One unified definition would probably involve imposing a political agenda. However we need some common vision.
Sustainability is a dynamic process, not a goal to be reached. Energy follows the second law of thermodynamics, but other resources must be used sustainably over time. Do we need to change the motor? Unsustainable patterns of consumption are an example of an unsustainable motor. On the other hand, less consumption would take away growth, and society thinks that growth is the only way to remove poverty. In Africa, poverty is the major problem. It has to be resolved. However, would this be sustainability? Growth is not necessarily economic growth.
Sustainability includes an ethical dimension of justice now and for generations to come, which practically means eliminating the extremes of poverty and wealth. The Earth is a closed system except for energy, where there is a constant inflow from the sun. We have to live indefinitely within that system. Also, the physical laws are just one dimension, the spiritual dimension is not included.
To achieve sustainability, we have to focus on processes, not on specific actions and results. The Rio declaration gives a good framework of processes. If countries would just apply one of the points mentioned, the world would already be a better place. Leadership has moved away from governments to civil society and NGOs. Businesses are voluntarily undertaking environmental audits to improve their image. Governments get their mandate from normal people. Therefore, the people are responsible to change processes. It boils down to education to eventually change local, and then national and international decision making. What are we as individuals going to do to contribute to sustainability? We need to redefine what global citizenship would look like.
The willingness of people is there, but the structures are too difficult to cope with. Take for example a bio-pesticide that was very good, but too expensive. Either the production would need to be funded by the government, or the production would have to halt. In poor countries, the larger businesses need to be maintained in order for the country to survive. The governments cannot do anything about that. How can you change this structure?
The Rio declaration triggered the formation of local groups concerned about sustainability. Businesses took part in these groups, to a certain extent out of good motivations, but also because of fear of loosing customers. Even if businesses took part, they still did it out of a motive to increase their market share. In a sense it was just window-dressing. If industry was obliged to make publicly available the data on how much waste is created, this would put a lot of pressure on industrial performance. The World Business Forum for Sustainable Development indicates that business can transform society. We need to change the idea of production. The old-fashioned way is to allow for a washing machine to break down, because this creates more business. However, if you sell the service of washing, and have to change the machine if it breaks down, you would make machines differently.
In El Salvador a system of awards was set up. Eco-friendly companies or projects were rewarded, which influenced public opinion. This created immediate feedback. Just the award ceremonies created a huge impact.This system works in some places like in Latin-America; in Scandinavia it would not work. An environmental audit and balance sheet is good, but we should also have an ethical audit and balance sheet. We already have social and environmental audits, but managers must now fill out so many audit forms that they feel they have no time for real action. Pension funds have a lot of money to invest. Some are investing in eco-friendly projects.
A lot of good actions come from NGOs. Governments should support and use these NGO actions. In this way, governments could interact with the private sector. In conferences, sustainable and non-sustainable groups are always painted black and white. We should bridge this gap. We need to find common ground. This is the basis of consultation. A successful environmental group in the US has succeeded in making discussions non-confrontational.
Knowledge is not education. Education is much more. Children in England do not know where chocolate comes from. They need to be educated on the processes of chocolate production, trade and the sustainability issues entailed in them. Consumer education and economics education all have a sustainability issue in them. We just need to realise these common themes.
At Nur University in Bolivia, all students must do community service. It influences the students and also transforms them. Nur has become known for this service aspect. In Swaziland there is a lot of unemployment and people do not want to work without pay. When international volunteers came however, local people also started to join in. Service is much easier to apply in education and less easy in businesses. The concept of service could be applicable to businesses as well. Employees could maybe do some hours of service every week. This would need to become economically desirable. In Switzerland this is sometimes done.
We should teach about what basic needs are and what luxury needs are. Refugees in Scandinavia get housing and food, but usually not work. Give them service projects so that they feel fulfilled in life. This is part of quality of life. We are not making use of all the worlds human capacity, looking at for example the pensioners and unemployed.
A guaranteed minimum income should be applicable to everyone. When a farmer has a bad year, he should be supported, so that he can produce again the next year. Rich countries should maybe give up some of their income to achieve better global balance.
World population may be stabilising in say 2050. Do we want for example the world to all have a car per family? Do we want for example the world to consume as much as Greece per person? Is that sustainable? The amount of waste tells you where resources are coming from. Look at the places that are developed but are not creating a lot of waste. This is how you judge sustainability. Teach waste awareness so that people can choose what they buy.
Parents used to spend money first on food, then for one set of clothes and then for schooling for kids. Now it is food, clothes, then a CD-player and only then sending their kids to school. We will never resolve the concept of basic needs, because needs are different for different people. Peru and Honduras have the same income per capita. However in Peru, people have clothes and food, but in Honduras people have jobs but cannot support themselves, yet they are treated equally by aid organisations. Some people idealise poverty. Poor people are thought to have more spiritual values and live a more ecological lifestyle (for example the people in the rainforest of Brazil).
The disaster in the US (11 September) was a consequence of people who were so desperate that they did things no one would normally do. It was a wake-up call for everybody about the huge differences in the world. Richness is no guarantee of happiness. Everybody has a right to home, food and shelter. Things other than material wealth that make you happy are important for our next discussions, such as dignity, social relationships. This is one of the problems for refugees.
SATURDAY 20 OCTOBER
The morning session, chaired by Irma Allen from Swaziland, featured three keynote talks on each of the three themes of the conference: knowledge, values and education. The session started with reflections, quotes read from the Baha'i writings to a background of birdsong.
Professor Bedrich Moldan of Charles University, a former Minister of Environment in the Czech Republic and chair of the 9th Commission on Sustainable Development, gave the first keynote talk on "Knowledge and Indicators for Sustainable Development".
He referred to all these reflections, thoughts and high ideals on the idea of sustainability, and noted that it is essential to have a basis of knowledge, which may not look very exciting.
Two years ago he organised a workshop on education near Prague. In looking through the proceedings, not much has happened since then. He shared one thought for which this may be the perfect occasion to elaborate this idea further. Mr. Vaclav Havel recently organised a series of conferences, Forum 2000, co-organized by Eli Weisel from Israel. Mr. Havel invited prominent people, intellectuals, spiritual leaders and politicians. In the opening speech, Mr. Havel spoke about a global moral minimum. It was exactly the idea expressed in the workshop. He proposed to the conference to help share in the development of a global minimum of values, awareness and knowledge necessary for sustainable development.
Sustainable development is many things to many people and that is the problem. One way to over come this difficulty is to extract some ideas which could be shared by all peoples, whether they are bankers from Switzerland or islanders from Tonga, etc. He gave some history on how the idea of sustainable development came into circulation. In 1972 two very different and related events took place. First of all there was the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm on 5 June (which became World Environment Day). This conference put the idea of the environment on the global agenda. The motto of this conference was "only one earth". In fact with few exceptions all the programmes for contemporary environmental work were spelled out there. The exception was the ozone layer for which the threat became known only two years later.
The other event was the landmark publication of Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome. It said that economic growth in general was simply not sustainable and must be stopped. It explored how to deal with this, but the overall conclusion was that there is no way to amend things with technical solutions like building purification plants, etc. The major problem was economic growth. This was a major challenge to everybody, especially to developing countries. If growth was stopped their situation would be a disaster. It took 15 years before the idea of sustainable development was put forward in Our Common Future, published in 1987, and was further developed during the Rio Conference in 1992. But it is a rather fuzzy idea even if we know much more about it than some years ago. We know it has three pillars. The trick is to keep the harmony between economic development and material welfare, and the second pillar which is social development. It is not sustainable to increase the inequity among people, and not to enhance security and safety, dignity and health. The third pillar is the environmental pillar. Without this, development cannot proceed, not only smoothly, but not at all. This seems almost trivial, but if you go into the details it is not so easy.
Therefore people who deal with the knowledge basis for sustainable development put forward the idea of indicators. In fact, the first world-wide effort to develop such indicators was in the Commission on Sustainable Development, which embarked on an ambitious programme in 1995. The result is a list of 56 indicators published this year. These are for use at the national level for each nation to see how they are doing. These indicators are best seen as a sort of matrix:
The "Response" dimension is probably the most important one. The word is not fully appropriate because it somehow hints that it is passive. You ask questions and the other one is responding. It is also proactive. A better word is "Action". We are trying to develop different indicators to characterize the different dimensions. You can imagine that there is not only one indicator in each field; there are a great number of them. Even the 56 put forward by the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) are a bit too much if you go to the public. People will not feel very excited by that. People try to simplify. You certainty loose something. Simplification is not for free, but sometimes the result is a powerful message. This is done by aggregating many indicators into one index. There are many systems of indicators: CSD; OECD, and European competing ones. For example, one of the well-known fora where economic development is discussed is the World Economic Forum of the top CEOs, finance ministers, etc. For the last two years, a group of scholars from the private sector and Yale and Columbia Universities put forward the Environmental Sustainability Index. Surprise, the World Economic Forum listened and now includes the ESI as one index in World Competitiveness published every year. Some countries that are low on the index feel upset by that. An example is Belgium. The Slovak Republic is much higher than the Czech Republic, and they are very happy. The ESI has 60 variables with 21 indicators from different fields which are averaged. They cover 122 countries, but not all have all the data. The data are really the weak spot of the enterprise. They make a score from the order of nations, such as for CO2 emissions. Then they have similar scores in five areas. One area is global stewardship which is very important, covering things which directly affect the global level of sustainability, like climate change, etc.
Another example is the UNDP Human Development Report including the Human Development Index, a combination of health, education and income. It is quite authoritative and some countries are screaming. These indicators have impacts on policy and push countries to action.
The following discussion brought out a number of additional points. There are some significant gaps. It has been very difficult, for instance, to develop indicators on biodiversity. Also, the indicators are now rather biased to northern developed country priorities where the data are adequate, and ignore issues important to the majority of G77 countries. Institutional indicators are still weak. One could develop an indicator of democracy, but this is not a universal notion.
There are at least three requirements for a good indicator. One, it should have a direct bearing on sustainability. Second, it must be scientifically valid, with defined units and which can be measured. Third, it must be accepted, credible, methodologically transparent. It must be used by politicians and the public at large.
One question concerned the NGO Forum in Johannesburg. If Professor Moldan chose one issue which would be important to transmit there, what would it be? He replied that is a difficult question. In Johannesburg there will be no special consideration of sectoral issues. The emphasis may be on cross-sectoral issues like consumption patterns or poverty reduction, perhaps related to water or energy. But the problem is biodiversity, the health of ecosystems, which also captures the intrinsic value of nature. This is really difficult to capture when you look only at the cross-sectoral aspects. Principle one of the Rio Declaration will come strongly, you should know it by heart. Of course the emphasis on poverty, etc. will be very important but not exclusive.
Dr. Arthur Dahl of the United Nations Environment Programme then presented his keynote talk on "Values as the Foundation for Sustainable Behaviour" (see separate paper). He defined values, reviewed their role in society, and discussed how they could be changed for more sustainable behaviour. He then described some relevant values both for individuals and institutions.
The discussion that followed included both questions from the audience and comments by e-mail from "electronic participants".
Each approach to make people, businesses, etc. change their values has its role. Everyone, religions, scientists, etc. need to become aware of their role in changing values. We need to respond consciously to the need for change before we hit limits that lead to crises which will shake peoples' fundamental beliefs.
There are few value systems that explicitly promote selfishness and materialism. The conflict is really between the knowledge of cost (both individual and societal), and the knowledge and determination to act so as to lessen the costs. Looking from an evolutionary perspective, both exploitative and co-operative strategies can actually be equally successful. Indeed the exploitative model (for example large predators) tends to favour individual benefit compared to the co-operative system (for example ant colonies). It is widely assumed that humans have evolved in an exploitative environment which relied largely on hierarchical structure and individual dominance to achieve economic and societal gain. From this perspective, any move toward sustainable development requires fundamental and very large changes in some human behaviour. The values ascribed to various religions commonly involve increased self-control and self-knowledge as an instrument for greater good, both individual and societal. As with so many value systems, but also with other cooperative output (such as the Rio Summit), the real problem comes in the implementation. Most agree with the theory, but disagree or do not know how to put such ideas into practice. Perhaps the most surprising thing is the general human tendency towards recognition of values such as justice, self-sacrifice and compassion, and the innate desire of many people to cooperate for a greater good. If such traits are relied upon, rather than exploited by the institutional systems, anything is possible.
The third thematic keynote presentation was by Ms. Victoria Thoresen of Norway on "Education: A Constraint or a Catalyst to Sustainable Development" (see separate paper). After reviewing some of the difficulties with non-formal and formal education, she presented some possible prerequisites for education which stimulates sustainable development.
One e-mail comment on this paper noted that the educational structure actually just as capable of delivering sustainable development values as it is of reinforcing the existing market economy, acquisition led norms. This depends on the policy, curriculum and teacher attitudes. Human curiosity provides the driver for new knowledge, but there is a strong movement at present to force students in the direction of practical application of pre-gained, "approved" knowledge rather than providing tools with which to analyse and question specific issues at a fundamental level.
While it is important to recognise the "pessimist's pitfall", the forces ranged against a shift towards societal responsibility over individual materialism are very powerful and almost all pervading on all fronts. The only avenue open to immediate and comprehensive change is that of parental education, although mainstream school based education is probably nearly as flexible and open to change.
The conference was then opened to questions and discussion on all three papers.
One question from a media worker asked about the use of information which can be used well or can be used to destroy. How is it regulated and controlled? In an English school, a child said that they live in mud houses in Africa because it is so poor. However, it is really because it is so hot, and concrete houses would be devastating and would bring more disease. We need to be careful how we convey information and the message it transmits. The key is to get children to ask non-prejudiced questions. The cultural impression is something we have to make people aware of in this society where there is lot of "half-information". Research has shown it is easier to remember what you learned the first time, so "de-education" is much more difficult. Thus it is very important what one learns first.
Another question concerned how we can come up with a global minimum as a common denominator. Professor Moldan commented that it was very important to find ways to help people communicate on a common basis without some deep non-explicit divisions between them. This could be a topic which the Baha'is could address. With respect to Professor Moldan's concern that the focus of the first principle of the Rio Declaration emphasized human economic and social development over the environment, the principle also mentions "harmony of nature". How do we measure that? How do we capture the balance among the three dimensions?
In response he described his recent return from Cape Town, where there was a large gathering of 200 people for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. This is very different from what natural scientists tried to do in the past. It is people centred, focusing on ecosystem services, which is an absolutely new way to look at ecosystems. It looks at how they function to fulfill ecosystem services, which are in three categories: providing (food, water, materials, etc.), regulating (creating the conditions for life such as regulating climate, space within landscapes, etc.), and enriching (urban ecosystems which have a cultural function, providing amenities for recreation, inspiration for spiritual renewal, and the excitement of scientific study). Here is the connection with living in harmony with nature. The Millenium Assessment is a multimillion dollar project to explore how these services are influenced in positive (but mostly negative) ways by human activities. It includes an important exploration of response options. One interesting detail is that it first referred to ecosystem "goods and services", but then this was limited to services as a more general word. If you say "goods" it tends to be interpreted as economic goods.
There is no real systematic work on the concept of a "global minimum" at present. The door is open for everybody to contribute. There has been an interfaith effort in Norway towards a global minimum that could provide a foundation perhaps for work in other countries.
In the preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, there is a certain weakness in the governmental process, which is very lates. Many hard-nosed diplomats participate in the Preparatory Committee. Civil society will have opportunities to influence the processes through providing inputs to people who go to PrepCom from the government of the country you are from (they are looking for ideas!). Talk to the Foreign Ministry or the national preparatory committee, which should be very open to NGO input. Another way to influence WSSD is through our own IEF events in Johannesburg.
With respect to indicators as tools to apply knowledge for sustainable development, there is progress. Right now the governments are getting used to and adjusting to the different forms of indicators, which are gradually gaining some popularity. The media have an important role to play, such as by regularly having columns devoted to one or two indicators at the national level, comparing countries, etc. People are interested in where they stand on the indicator list. The media should capture and publish this.
There is a bias in the information gathered for indicators in favour of the issues of concern to the developed countries. The indicators may be rational, but the way they are selected and weighed can be manipulated to give a certain result, such as making businesses look good. The challenge is to find the grey in the middle between the G77 and the G7, the "developing" countries and the "developed" countries. Are societies becoming more human? More spiritual? These are some of the potential questions still to be explored. We have to be aware of the two polarized positions and try to find something in between that reflects the global balance of interests.
The problem with many present aggregate indicators is that they are mostly correlated with GDP per capita. This has many deficiencies as a measurement, since both bad and good things increase its value. For example, traffic accidents are very good for GDP by creating economic activity for hospital and rescue workers. Another problem is to find positive indicators and not just negative ones. Even among the European countries it is difficult to publish indicator information because many countries are embarrassed about their problems.
A question was asked about the IMF and World Bank giving loans to developing countries with interest for projects which may help the economy but cause environmental or social damage. What are the possibilities to change the institutions that say something is good for a country when in reality it is not good? This is exactly the case where indicators could be useful. We would need indicators that would reflect the truth and communicate them widely to the people to help them understand what is going on. Stories and anecdotes are fine, but hard numbers are usually what count.
Another question was on the possibility for improvement of the 56 indicators adopted by the Commission on Sustainable Development. The Commission has agreed to a follow-up for its indictators programme, but it is awaiting a decision in Johannesburg on its own future. The UN Statistics Division is interested in further developing these indicators.
The next part of the conference involved panel discussions on each of the three themes: knowledge, values and education. For the first panel on Knowledge for Sustainable Development, three presentations were made by the panelists: Dr. Sylvia Karlsson (Germany), Dr. Bettina Moser (Germany), and Dr. Laurent Mesbah (Bosnia, by e-mail). While Dr. Mesbah was prevented from reaching the conference at the last minute, his paper on Knowledge for sustainable development (see separate paper) was read out.
He reviewed religion and science as sources of knowledge. Science has brought progress in health, communication, agriculture and material comfort, but with a widening gap between rich and poor. The most prosperous societies in the past have been those who developed using both science and religion as their sources of knowledge. We should combine these two sources of knowledge for a prosperous and sustainable world.
Dr. Karlsson's presentation on Knowledge for Multilayered Environmental Governance (see separate paper) considered the use of scientific knowledge for consensus building and decision-making at different levels of governance from local to global. Science is now essential for global assessment processes, but problems of uncertainty and inadequate knowledge hinder its effectiveness. The North-South divide in access to science has three consequences: issues important to the South are often invisible; the knowledge that is applied in the South may be inappropriate; and the South is disadvantaged or not included in global decision-making. The South has other forms of knowledge that need to be considered alongside science. She concluded that science cannot reconcile issues of values, and that both are needed for effective governance.
The discussion highlighted the need for multi-level governance and also the need therefore for multi-level and local knowledge of environmental issues. The North-South knowledge gap may not be as great as was implied, although certainly the ability to act upon available knowledge is hugely different. There is evidence that development in the South is proceeding differently to the North because of the transfer of modern knowledge.
Regarding costs and benefits, this really boils down to the problem of individual benefit having global/society wide costs, and these costs are not immediately apparent to any one individual. Decisions therefore have to be made at a national/global level and are naturally viewed with suspicion at a local and individual level. Science has a very important role in communicating these issues at all levels in language that all can understand.
The third presentation by Dr. Bettina Moser on the Role of Knowledge for Sustainable Development (see separate outline) looked at the meaning of knowledge and its significance for man. It emphasized the importance of motivation in the use of knowledge, whether that motivation is divine in origin, or basically selfish. We need to know if our actions have a good or bad impact to know if we have a sustainable lifestyle. One of the reasons that there is still destruction prevailing is because there is still a lack of knowledge. Many people are aware individually, but as a whole they are not. It is important to make people aware of their actions and the implications thereof. Often we do know what is good for us, but we are so lethargic. We know we should exercise, and eat healthily, but we do not necessarily do it. It concluded that a sustainable society cannot be realized without detailed and thorough knowledge of all the different disciplines involved in sustainable development, and a wise and judicial implementation of this knowledge.
The following discussion on lethargy suggested that humankind is not really lazy. Psychologists refer to three choices: the ideal choice, the instrumental-practical choice,or the minimalistic choice. In complex situations, we often prefer the line of least resistance. Reference was made to a native Indian who talked about the hidden words. He said God made us perfect and he wants us to come back to that.
Scientists have an important role as communicators. People do not want to understand because they believe it is very difficult. There must be a way to give values and ethics to scientists. Scientists should have some kind of moral position. Scientists should be aware that they include values in their communication. They may be doing it, but generally very naively. This could be why politicians can hide behind scientists. They need to be aware about when they are talking about values.
We think scientists are the bearers of knowledge. They are actually only told what to study and do not have much choice. Scientific knowledge is not impartial. Science is a human enterprise that is changing very quickly. Centuries ago, science was pursued for its own sake. Nowadays it is driven by money, searching for grants. Scientists are very territorial. They create their own specialist terminology to keep in power and stay at the top. In the future, science should not be for a certain elite, rather everybody should be "scientists" in their own way. It was said earlier that education should be participatory but so should be science. We need to re-conceptualize the concept of science. 'Abdu'l-Baha defined the learned as people with a very comprehensive level of knowledge. We should take a look at where we are and where we should be going. We can broaden the definition of science. In molecular biology, the best molecular biologists are those who are the best cooks.
Whatever we do we should do in the spirit of service to mankind. The way we manage our knowledge must be guided by this value. Then we will see the real value of knowledge.
The second panel on Values for Sustainable Development again started with three presentations for which separate papers are available: Ms. Judith Fienieg (Netherlands) on Environmental Values in Industry; Ms. Patty Van Zanten (Lithuania) on Values; and Dr. Friedo Zoelzer (Czech Republic) on Can ethical norms be justified by rational arguments alone?
Judith Fienieg opened with her discussion on the environment and industry. The first wave of industrial awareness of the environment began with the task of allocating responsibilities and with certification in industry. This heralded the second wave of concern for sustainability, leading to board room discussions and engagements on the various processes of production, and on the need to add value through environmental stewardship. However, the definition of Sustainable Development in the Brundtland Report is often interpreted by various industrial organizations to suit their own agendas. Industry refers to carrying out production within its own regulatory and financial framework. However industries have failed to understand that they are to provide services to satisfy people. It is the failure of industry to accept the fact that the services they provide constitute values to mankind that comes into question. On the other hand, industry may be seen as an answer to sustainable development, in the sense that services provided by industry allow people time to do other things that are of service to mankind. The definition of value to industry is money centred value. However industries are now in the process of trying to convince society that they are doing something in the area of sustainability by using indicator-criteria ratings such as, for example, the Dow Jones Sustainability Group Index and Eco Value Mode 21. Industry also uses guidelines, principles and codes, for example the Social Accountability 800 and the OECD Principles for Multinational Corporations. Finally the Sustainability Funnel concept is also used by industry through fora such as the Key Business Context and Reporting /communication amongst others.
In the discussion it was observed that the kind of values conveyed by modern industry are value-driven in terms of monetary value. The need for industry to re-orient its aim of production should be both morally and ethically based and therefore constituting good value. Unfortunately many of the values conveyed through modern industry and in advertisements do not promote sustainable values. It was agreed that industry should take a complete new look at the products it markets.
Patty Van Zanten on her part stressed the need for the definition of what is value. She noted that the biggest problem was that society tends to determine what values people should pursue or acquire. In the United States for example, people tend to see the accumulation of wealth as valuable. However there are other issues like virtue and conformity to moral life. There is a need for purity of motive, trust, accountability, a feeling of the sense of purpose and commitment. Sharing of successes, co-ordination and co-operation are virtues. However the problem is how to teach the virtues. Knowledge develops from birth, where children are trained to have a vision or goal in life, to trust people as spiritual beings, to love and be willing to talk to people without prejudice. To be prepared to listen to other people, to be objective and tolerant, are virtues that help to inculcate values in individuals.
In the discussion, it was agreed that a new discourse to promote virtues either through education or in the family was a necessary prerequisite to achieve the kind of values that will promote sustainability. The fact that people should be free to make choices must also be guided by moral principle.
The third presentation by Friedo Zoelzer posed this question - Can ethical norms be justified by rational arguments alone? This generated a healthy discussion on the origins of values or ethical norms. He noted that, although many people consider themselves to be of different religious denominations and therefore tend to stick to their traditional norms of behaviour, they do not understand that these are inspired by or are based on religion. So how then can ethical norms be justified rationally? Is this a role of science in modern societies? Many people feel science can be used to decide between what is right and wrong, forgetting the fact that scientists, in collecting and analysing facts, have their own limits. Therefore ethical norms cannot be justified scientifically. The utilitarian concept, for example, is not a good approach.
In the following discussion, it was agreed that all religions need to recognise the fact that they belong to the general spiritual tradition of mankind. Interfaith dialogue and other forms of religious cooperation on values should be promoted. It was observed that all religions provide service to mankind. As such this service must value-oriented. With regard to the role of science in modern societies, it was noted that science has an obligation to be instrumental in helping people live sustainable lives, rather than exploiting them for profit.
For the third panel topic on Education for Sustainable Development, the two panelist were Dr Irma Allen (Swaziland) and the keynote speaker Dr Victoria Thoresen (Norway).
Dr. Allen set the scene with the following thoughts. Education is not a panacea: we agree that we need education but do not agree on what constitutes a good educational system. People do not do what they know is right, i.e. they continue to smoke and don't use seat belts. We need education to prepare for life but do not know what the future holds. We are preparing for something unknown. We agree that education is a life long process, but in fact the most important education comes in early childhood. Although early childhood education is the most important, that is not where we put our major emphasis. Education is not just knowledge; there is a need to modify behaviour. The challenge is to modify education so that we can better manage change, new technology and resources. In the past education has been subject oriented. In the future it needs to be process oriented.
The biophysical, economic and socio-cultural dimensions of society are three overlapping circles bordered by communication and education, leading to quality of life. Development means a positive impact on the quality of life. As long as the poor countries lack resources they cannot hope to enjoy an improved quality of life.
As teachers how do we teach to improve the quality of life? We need to have people participate in learning for life. We need to think of education as a dynamic, participatory process. The challenge is to educate for awareness. This leads to identifying something which is meaningful, about which a person will become concerned. He/she will then become committed and take the necessary action. We cannot make people do something, but we can teach in such a way that they become committed and take action. It was after conferences in Belgrade, 1975, and Tbilisi, 1977, that there was agreement on the definition of environmental education.
Environmental education started as just another subject in the curriculum, then it took in other subjects such as economics and agriculture. It first dealt with preservation, then conservation and the wise use of resources, leading to action oriented preservation of the natural environment, and then to education for sustainability. Now there is more common agreement on what we mean by education for sustainability.
Environmental education should use other skills learned at school and apply these to everyday life. We should encourage children from toddler age to be active participants in their own environment when parents are the teachers in the home. The role of the mother, the family, friends, workplace and measures to educate staff are all important.
Education holds the key to sustainable behaviour, but we need to broaden the concept. Using buildings, teachers and schools is not a sustainable concept. We need to look at other methods such as apprenticeship schemes, story telling and wisdom from the elders in the community. We need to harness every means. In 1991, the IUCN/UNEP/WWF report "Caring for the Earth" put forward nine principles for developing strategies for sustainable living.
1. Respecting and caring for the community of life. This implies a world ethic which reflects care for others and other forms of life. This should start early with children learning to give gifts, send messages, visiting the sick and caring for animals.
2. Improving the quality of human life. This is the real aim of development, reflecting concern for such matters as health, human rights, freedom from violence, reduction of illiteracy and access of education for all. It was estimated in 1991 that the cost of eliminating illiteracy and laying the foundations for education would be 43 billion dollars.
3. Conserving the Earth's vitality and diversity. This implies conservation of the earth's life support systems of soil, air, water and use of renewable resources. It needs deliberate action which could include such things as using students to collect data regarding problem areas of the community, and helping them to conduct research and develop solutions.
4. Keeping within the Earth's carrying capacity. This reflects such things as the need to stabilize resource consumption and population. A few consuming a lot can have the same devastating effects as a lot each consuming a little.
5. Changing personal attitudes and practices. We must encourage people to examine and choose values for themselves by disseminating information through formal and informal means
6. Enabling communities to care for their own environments. Instead of coming to people with preconceived ideas of what they need, give them the freedom to use their own resources and delegate management to the consumer level.
7. Providing a national framework for integrating development and conservation. There is a need for laws to allow the community to advance in a natural manner.
8. Creating a global alliance. This reflects the need to help low income countries by promoting alliances.
9. Energy. We need to develop such things as national energy strategies which reduce the use of fossil fuels, wastage and pollution.
If we are to change to a more sustainable society, it requires millions of small actions from us all rather than a few major actions.
The discussion brought out the following points.
We need community based values. We ignore our spiritual nature and have become divorced from nature. We require a sense of belonging. A value based educational system has knowledge and values rolled into one. Values are the engine of sustainable development.
The father of one participant, working in South America, found that there are five ingredients to a successful development programme:
- awareness and knowledge of the problem and its solution;
- the means/resources to implement the solution;
- the laws to provide the framework to implement the solution;
- ethics. These constitute the moral motor;
- love. This is the unifying element.
A new NGO "Uplift" working in Uganda does not offer money but calls the villagers together to ask what they consider to be important. Then they ask "If we help you, will you help others?" In one case the village priorities were malaria, popo (a local food) and pit latrines. The facilitators put the required information for implementing these three projects into a form which the villagers could then teach others.
We have to remember the three concepts of love, cooperation and service.
At times education has alienated people from the environment by teaching things which people cannot relate to. There was a case where the mother, living in the tropics, was struggling with the problem of salt water entering the well so that she could not water the rice. At the same time her child in school was learning about igloos in the arctic.
In response to the question whether we need additional subjects in the curriculum, Dr. Allen felt that there should be fewer subjects rather than more, but that environmental education should be integrated into all subjects.
We are constrained by the examination system, when we need flexibility allowing teachers to cross the lines between subjects. We need to say we are here today, define where we want to be tomorrow and then plan how to get there. We need to reconcile the many established goals with new goals as they arise, break down barriers and cross curriculum lines. We need to examine the methodology we use. Mind maps as used in the UK are very helpful.
SUNDAY 21 OCTOBER
The final session on Synthesis and Integration involved a long discussion around the three central concepts. The participants tried to distill key points that had emerged over the past days' discussions. The discussion went back and forth between many topics and something close to "mindmaps" were made of the concepts and links. These were compiled into the outline below. Some participants volunteered to participate in the process of using this outline to write a substantive report from the conference with concrete documentation which could be fed into the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
Interplay of all three areas (knowledge, values, education): individual and collective decision-making, behaviour, action
Characteristics of each area:
Sources of knowledge (science and religion)
Fanaticism if there is no scientific knowledge
Knowledge should be used for decision making (indicators)
Accessibility and selection of knowledge, communication of knowledge
Processes involved in natural systems
Processes involved in human systems
Processes involved in natural science-systems
Multilevel (global-local) knowledge access
Participation in the generation of knowledge
Diversity of knowledge systems
Global minimum of knowledge (as part of general education)
Actors on knowledge: public, media, politics, scientists, religious leaders
Understanding: Is it synthesis of knowledge and values?
Commitment: Knowledge and Values lead to commitment
Few value systems promote selfishness, materialism; rather it is a question of cost.
Large predators vs. social animals. Humans have both capacities.
Different types of values (positive/negative; virtues and vices):
Self-control, desire to cooperate, justice, compassion, humility.
There are values that contribute to sustainable development; these need to be identified.
Sources of values: tradition, religion (spirituality), advertisements, commercials.
Parents: mediators of values.
Actors of values: institutions, individuals
Central Comment: LOVE
Service: Action resulting from a positive value
Constraints vs. catalysts
Contents/methods/tools of education
Current paradigm: industrialism, influence, power, control, make good workers
New paradigm: focus on sustainable development, cooperation instead of competition
Characteristics of education that we would like to see: participatory, interactive, integrative, value-driven, knowledge-based, help people to find information and make choices (i.e. independent investigation of truth).
Actors: parents, schools
Receivers of education: pre-school years are most critical in value formation.
After the Conference, the International Environmental Forum held its General Assembly.
Return to Conferences Page
International Environment Forum - Updated 2 January 2002