THE 'LONG TRANSITION'
In this century we are faced by a number of major global changes that will affect every aspect of society in the years ahead. Do we continue in our current unsustainable ways or do we work together to create a more sustainable future? For better or worse we find ourselves facing a 'long transition'. The UK Government's chief scientific adviser, for example, believes that several upheavals may all come to a head around 2030. The result could be a 'perfect storm' of energy shortages, water scarcity and food shortages that could, in turn, lead to public unrest, cross-border conflicts and major migrations (The Guardian, 18 March 2009). There are three interrelated issues – climate change, peak oil and the limits to growth – which students and teachers need to become familiar with in order to develop the skills needed to facilitate such a local/global transition. This needs to be one of the central tasks of education in the 21st century. See Changing the climate and The long transition.
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change is caused by man-made global warming, the result of the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) and the use of their by-products in every aspect of modern life. Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have increased dramatically since the Industrial Revolution and will continue to do so for centuries to come.
- The consequences of climate change include shifting seasons, increased flooding, drought, extreme weather and rising sea-levels. The twin tasks facing society are adaptation (how to adapt to these changes) and mitigation (how to reduce the impact of global warming) both of which require the rapid shift to a zero carbon society based on renewable energies.
- The task for education is to help young people understand the nature of these changes and to acquire the skills needed to create a more sustainable and resilient society, a society which will be very different from today. All schools will need to be exemplars of good sustainable practice whether in relation to food and transport or energy and waste.
- Useful background reading includes: Henson, R. (2011) The Rough Guide to Climate Change, Rough Guides; Urry, J. (2011) Climate Change and Society, Polity; Oreskes, N. & Conway, E. (2010) Merchants of Doubt, Bloomsbury.
This refers to where we are now in the cycle of discovery, production and consumption of oil. Discovery of oil peaked in the 1960s, production is likely to peak in this decade and could then decline relatively rapidly by mid-century. Oil has been central to human activity as a fuel (contributing to global warming) and is a key element in the manufacture of items such as plastics, clothing, chemicals, drugs and fertilizers.
- The consequences of this are that long term oil prices are likely to go up as demand exceeds reduced supply. Renewable energies such as wind, solar, wave and biomass will have to be urgently developed as will new forms of transport. Energy shortages may occur and energy efficiency will become a priority in all areas of life, whether at home or at work.
- The task for education is to help young people understand the nature of these changes and to acquire the skills needed to create a more sustainable and resilient society, a society which will be very different from today. All schools will need to be exemplars of good sustainable practice whether in relation to materials and buildings or biodiversity and transport.
- Useful background reading includes: Buchan, D. (2010) The Rough Guide to the Energy Crisis, Rough Guides;Strahan, D. (2008) The Last Oil Shock, John Murray; IPTOES (2010) The Oil Crunch: A wake-up call for the UK economy, Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security, available at www.peakoiltaskforce.net/download-the-report/2010-peak-oil-report/.
Limits to growth
Contrary to popular opinion economies cannot grow indefinitely due to the finite nature of the earth and its resources. Growth for growth's sake has led to ever increasing consumerism which is damaging the biosphere (species, habitats, soils, rivers, oceans, atmosphere) and contributes to global warming. Rich world countries live wastefully and disregard the planet's ecological limits.
- The consequences of ignoring the limits to growth have been fourfold – on-going damage to the environment, exploitation of the poor, making consumption the measure of human happiness and ignoring the right of future generations to inherit an ecologically stable world.
- The task for education is to help young people re-assess their relationship with the biosphere and learn the skills needed to live within ecological limits. This applies to what is taken from the earth as well as the waste that is created as a result. This requires a very different society from today, one that is more sustainable in every aspect and therefore more resilient.
- Useful background reading includes: McKibben, B. (2010) Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Henry Holt; Randers, J. (2012) 2052: A global forecast for the next forty years, Chelsea Green Publishing; Heinberg, R. & Lerch, D. (2010) The Post Carbon Reader, Watershed Media.
These three global issues are inextricably linked and they will not suddenly disappear. Whilst their detailed impact may not be known the broad parameters are increasingly clear. Climate change, peak oil and the limits to growth will affect all our communities wherever they are and ensure a future very different from today. For an overview of these issues see: Heinberg, R. (2011) The End of Growth: Adopting to our new economic reality, Clairview Books; Hopkins, R. (2011) The Transition Companion, Green Books; the Transition Network, available at www.transitionnetwork.org.
In entering into this ‘long transition’, which has already begun and will change our lives forever, education has a crucial and exciting role to play [see The long transition]. You can begin to find out more about how global education, futures education and sustainable schools can contribute to this in the pages of this website. See also Education for Hope (forthcoming).