Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Monday, 30 July 2007

External and internal learning

Giving, ethics and worldview. For a week, we gathered along with more than 10,000 people from 32 countries to listen to the teachings of the Dalai Lama, in the Rothenbaum Tenniscourt, Hamburg. During the teaching, he touched upon the subject of education a few times. For me the concept of internal learning was an eye-opener. It is a necessary complement to all the technical and social knowledge we seem to focus on for sustainable development. It is also needed to walk- the- talk, more credibly, towards positive change. Finally it adds another dimension to ESD and e.g. Earth Charter Education.

Happy people, happy families and a happy society ultimately rely on our own individual efforts. In the end, a happy society is not about governments, laws, or economics”, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner said. He quoted Santideva, the famous Indian Buddhist philosopher (685-763 CE): “All suffering in this world originates from the wish for oneself to be happy. All happiness in this world originates from the wish to see others happy.

To develop a positive mental attitude, education plays a key role. Not only education about the external world, but also education about our inner world. The Dalai Lama explained, from his own experience, this inner education- a life long process of practicing and familiarizing ourselves, no matter what our religious background is, with basic human values. The most useful, is to focus on three learning areas: giving, ethics and worldview.

Giving relates to the qualities of a warm heart: empathy, deep listening, altruism, sharing and compassion. Ethics relates to the basic values that make our mind stronger, such as non-violence, equity, respect, tolerance, forgiveness, mental discipline. World view relates to a continuous mindfulness of the importance of dialogue, connectivity, holism, interdependence between people, nations and economies. And I'd like to add, ecological footprint!

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Communication residue Summer Course

I learned a lot about CEPA in the Spanish context. But what mental imprints are left behind from three days in Colmenar Viejo, Spain? I use for this communication residue exercise the same four touch points as I described for the WEEC 2007.

Sustainability: walking 20 minutes back and forth from the ‘hostal’ every morning and afternoon to the meeting venue, was a wonderful extension of informal communication and learning. So were the lunches and dinners: a ‘slow food’ experience. I noticed some car pooling and bicycles. There was not much paper. It was all small scale.

Learning: my impression is that most academic lecturers must have some kind of an education ‘deficiency’. Lecturing (fortunately mostly with support of visuals) is used as the only communication vehicle for keynote speeches, round tables and workshops.

Environmental communication: mainstream academic thinking seems to be focused on a systematic analysis of the role of communication in creating environmental issues (e.g. advertisement for cars and other consumption goods, green advertising) and less as an instrument to support learning for change, which was mostly illustrated by professionals from local and regional government. Personally I learned it is better to talk about communication and learning for change than to use the term CEPA.

Spain: the venue of the meeting was the ruins of the old grain storehouse of the city, next to the main 13-century church (picture, storks on each pinnacle!). Inside the old walls a modern glass and steel structure was erected that very well blended with its historic context. It all helped to place the culture of sometimes too many words in its proper context. Seeing some of the countryside and ancient culture and enjoying an erudite conversation over a beer in the house of the main organizer, it all contributed to my appreciation of this part of Europe.

A next time I would love to provide some suggestions and help to make such a summer course more an experience for the participants of new learning and participation.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Student questions about CEPA

Help from 'end users' to make my lecture more useful. We often base our keynote speeches on what we assume the audience already knows and wants to know. To our surprise these assumptions afterwards mostly prove to be wrong. So by way of introduction to my lecture in the Summer Course “New Challenges to Environmental Communication” just outside Madrid, I asked participants to take two minutes to discuss in pairs what the main question was they would like me to answer in my presentation. The audience – graduate and post graduate students in environment related studies and professionals from local and regional government – came up with the following questions for me:

What is CEPA?
What international conventions related to the environment exist today?
What CEPA projects exist in Spain and elsewhere?
How to develop a CEPA project?
What are your practical experiences with CEPA in different parts of the world?
What techniques in EE and participation are really working today?
What is more important: communication or learning?
What is the relation between communication and participation?
What is the role of persuasion in CEPA?
What is the reason for the decline in interest in the environment?
What happens at the international level with regard to environmental communication?
Do governments have a real interest in environment or is it for them mere lip service?

Spending five minutes - of my two hour time slot - in collecting these questions and later in my presentation the re-energizing of the audience by an exercise ‘test your own CEPA knowledge’, was an investment that paid off: I did not lose my audience! Feedback of some students afterwards was: “you practice what you preach: two-way communication!” and “this was a very interesting new way of learning”. Who has more suggestions to make a lecture more user friendly?

Madrid airport, 21 July 2007

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Communication residue WEEC 2007

WEEC 2007 – 7. A meeting is not an end in itself, but a means towards an end. You can check whether a meeting has met its objectives by looking afterwards at the communication residue. So what mental imprints are - after one week - left behind from 6 days in Durban, South Africa? For me there are four touch points between WEEC 2007 and myself: the sustainability experience, the learning experience, the experience of the EE brand or content and the African experience. This - in my case - is the communication residue:

Sustainability experience: I did not really have an opportunity to experience sustainable development: the event talked more about sustainability than it showed participants in the organization, its eco-performance and exhibitions.

Learning experience: I am left with the impression that mainstream EE experts seem to feel most comfortable with a lecturing style and are apparently not familiar with new modalities of professional dialogue, deep listening and other forms of learning.

EE brand or content experience: the conference left me with the idea that mainstream EE seems to be focused on formal education, methodology and pedagogy and not so much on deep change in individuals and organizations or impact on society.

African experience: singing, dancing, contagious humor and many more aspects of African culture, undoubtedly have an exciting and powerful magic I learned. In spite of all the rhetoric however I am left with the question how much that magic in real life - especially in a society in transition – is linked with the logic of the all pervasive importance of and the need for good education.

For me this exercise provided useful learning for the organization of meetings I am involved in. Maybe it also inspires the organizers of Tblisi + 30 (planned for this autumn) and the next WEEC (planned for 2009) to make a next generation effort in providing leadership for learning in and about EE and ESD.

The essence of a communication strategy

A good communication strategy is simple and sticky like a good metaphor. It should be so clear and concise that it can be written at the backside of a beer mat. You may have to go through a rigorous and complex planning process, but the plan should be simple. I learned this from art, music and literature:

“A bolt is not round but octagonal, a bath tube is smooth and not small,
A door is two meters high, everybody knows why!”

This is how Dutch architect Mart Stam – the inventor of the steel-tubing chair (see picture)- explained in the first half of last century his approach to modern industrial architecture and design.

“Listen: you strings are weaving a carpet with all kind of warm colors, and you - the hobo – you have to imagine that you are the silver thread that gives the carpet its heavenly appearance.”

This is how I remember Joop van Zon, conductor of our student orchestra, explaining us how to play the adagio of a Mozart symphony.
In section 4 of the CEPA toolkit on page 31-39 strategic communication approaches are explained in more detail.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Toolkit: suggestions to improve

The CEPA toolkit has received a warm welcome from many sides. And users sent us a range of good suggestions. As the website only contains the pre-publication version, I learned that at least two things can be done to make sure the printed version has an optimal impact:
1. The CD-Rom to be influded with the publication, could be improved so that people do not have to down load or scroll down a whole pdf file, but instead, access each checklist , fact sheet or example through only one or two clicks. This will be at the same time an improvement for the website.
2. The CEPA toolkit website has very useful additional and complimentary information on CEPA: glossaries, links, resources, power points, videos etc. It should be expanded in a way that people from all over the world can upload their information.

The toolkit was discussed in a meeting of the CEPA Informal Advisory Committee to the CBD Executive Secretary during the SBSTTA meeting in Paris. Quotes from interventions of the IAC members illustrate the above conclusions:
“The CEPA toolkit is very comprehensive; it is the first concrete realization of our work program, other activities should build on it.”
“I wish you could upload our latest CEPA project on the website.”
“As in our side of the world internet access is a real problem, it took me one minute to open the site and two and half hours to download the pdfs”.

Earlier in the week the CEPA toolkit was discussed in the first meeting of the chairs of the SBSTTAs of all biodiversity related conventions. The meeting recognized the importance of education, communication and dissemination of information to the larger public. The toolkit was presented and participants stressed the impact it would have if all the conventions made use of it. A short summary of the toolkit will be incorporated into the minutes of the meeting, including links to the toolkit itself.

The website statistics indicate that while 2 gigabyte (of the toolkit) was downloaded on May 5, in June that was 2,9 gigabyte. In both months an average of 34 unique visitors a day opened an average of 2 pages. The videos, power points, links and other resources were more popular in June than in May.

Friday, 6 July 2007


"WEEC 2007 - 6. Economics that hurt the moral wellbeing of an individual or a nation are immoral and therefor sinful. The economics that prey upon another are immoral." The text is engraved on the stone carrying the statue of Mahatma Ghandi. We are visiting the Ghandi settlement where Mohandas Ghandi lived for 11 years after his arrival in South Africa in 1893. He started here The Opinion, a newspaper for the Indian community. The old printing press is in one of the buildings, now a small museum. The house is simple and has a similar atmosphere as his houses I have visited in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Empty rooms, a view on the garden. Knowing this great mind has actually lived here touches me as I enter the veranda, I get tears in my eyes.

Inside there are photos from the period he stayed in Africa. They all are gifts from the Indian government as the museum was set on fire during the 1985 unrests in the townships. Our guide blames the apartheid regime for this disgrace. A South African lady from Indian descent has another version and tells me about the strained relations between the different racial groups. But clearly history is written by the victors. During the trip we have more examples of this wisdom and of the official ANC policy lines: African culture does not know domestic violence; a dowry does not mean that women are bought, it is only to strengthen the bonds of the two families. Since the ANC took over the power, people are happy, rejoice the leaders and celebrate their new found confidence. Strange to hear this in the birthplace of satyagraha (pursuit of truth).

On one photo we see the signboard of a hotel from those days: "We do not accomodate coolies in our hotel." Coolies meant Indians, Kaffers stood for Africans. The photos show the changes Ghandi underwent from a formal lawyer to an ashram dweller and proponent of ahimsa (non violence), developer of the philosophy of satyagraha and leader of the Indian Congress. The guide tells about Ghandi being thrown out of the first class compartment of the train in Pieter Maritzburg. The oppression of racial groups and the injustice and cruelty of apartheid. We are reminded of the important leadership role of the ANC. The guide tells us that the truth and reconciliation process, was too soft and that all these criminals will go to jail, if he had a say in it. I get the impression that it will take generations to heal the wounds and become a satyagrahi (seeker of truth).

The garden is well kept with green grass, flowers and trees. There is a peace monument erected by Native Americans a few years ago when they held a march for peace in Africa. There are more houses on the premises, outside the property townships as far as the eye reaches. Children are standing curiously around our bus. The school teachers are still on strike. They smile, laugh and wave at us. We visit schools and experience the importance of education for social change. Then it is time to return to Durban, where I have to catch my flight.

At the congress center I bump into the smiling faces of the people from Orange Free State I had shared a table with during the Farewell Dinner yesterday evening. We say goodbye again. The evening was a fabulous event. A modern ballet inspired by climate change. Wonderful food, music and dance. Many speeches, but the organizers had deserved all the applause they got from the participants.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

A conference cup, not a bag

WEEC 2007 - 5. All these days I have been - without success - looking out for the information on the ecological footprint of the conference. I finally asked one of the organizers. I learned that some work was done on procurement and waste management. And in the exhibition hall was a box for suggestions. Over dinner last night I had boasted that I could think of at least twenty ideas how the organizers could improve a next time. Today walking from one paper presentation to another - without getting too excited about the content of most of them – I came across many aspects of the conference where the footprint can be reduced. Here are my twenty suggestions:

1. Provide people with their own cup, so that no plastic cups are needed for water and dish washing after coffee breaks is minimized.
2. Do not provide participants with a conference bag, 80% is not used afterwards and ends up in the dust bin.
3. Have a detailed mobility plan that foresees in different seizes of vehicles to avoid that buses have to go almost empty.
4. Avoid large conference centers if you cannot influence their environmental management.
5. Demand from exhibitors that their stand is energy efficient and minimizes the use of paper. Make creative use of the internet.
6. Provide participants with a (sponsored?) memory stick with all the conference documentation.
7. Provide participants with a (sponsored?) mobile that only works in the building with an address book of the phone numbers of the other participants.
8. Do not use plastic name tags, but have something of the local culture that is produced environment friendly.
9. Identify local or national NGO projects, that sequester carbon and can be used to neutralize the carbon footprints of participants coming by air.
10. Ask a higher conference fee from participants who travel by air or travel by private car used by only a single person, than people who take trains or buses.
11. Do not provide participants with a special ballpoint, even most ballpoints are not used afterwards and end up in the waste bin.
12. Have a checklist with clear and specified demands of environmental management for the business companies you procure products or services from.
13. Do not provide translation of plenary session, when only 1% of the participants needs translation for only one speaker. Arrange in that case for help from bilingual participants.
14. Include compensation for the average national ecological footprint of participants in the pricing of conference fees.
15. Invite exhibitors from the recycling and sustainable design sector showing the latest developments in that industry.
16. Provide transportation only to the cheaper hotels: those who can afford the luxury of four star hotels, can pay for their own transportation.
17. Do not provide free parking for people who come to the conference venue by private car.
18. Make sure the conference time schedules take optimal advantage of daylight.
19. Have fresh fruits, fruit juice and other healthy alternatives for tea and coffee.
20. Provide participants with the experience how good vegetarian and ecological catering can be or have a conference dinner in slow food tradition.

Over lunch Suzana Padua tells me about her Institute for Ecological Research and its new cause related marketing partnerships with the private sector. A partnership with Havaianas, producer of flip-flop sandals with Brazilian fauna species stamped on their soles. The aim is to popularize Brazilian species. A percentage of the net sales goes to IPƊ. An education boat in the Amazon, together with Grupo Martins (a large retail company), which offers continuous education for local communities to enhance livelihoods through sustainable practices. A partnership with Natura, a Brazilian cosmetic company, is making it possible for IPE to build a campus where a Master’s program on conservation and sustainability will be offered.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Inconvenient questions

WEEC 2007 - 4.Dear participants, can you please all stand up”. We all do as we are told. “Who has more than one car in his or her household – raise your hand. Thank you - You can sit down. Who has come by plane to this conference? Thank you – you also can sit down.” Only two participants in the workshop are still standing. “Congratulations with your sustainable lifestyle, you set an example for us all”, says Douwe Jan Joustra. “In a similar way our prime minister (see picture) introduced the Dutch Interdepartmental Program Learning for Sustainable Development to his civil servants”.

The program has a component focusing on organizational learning within government departments. Civil servants have to learn asking inconvenient questions to each other and to their bosses. Such inconvenient questions can serve as a key to discussing ignorance about sustainability; as a key to finding responsibility and as a key to creating sustainable solutions. Change towards sustainability calls for new competences in governmental institutions: understanding the added value of cultural diversity and plurality; learning to work across the silos of different departments, managing change step by step.

Learning from change was the focus in the presentation of Derick du Toit from the South African Association of Water and Rural Development. He and his colleagues worked to transform rural practices in communal wetlands in Limpopo. An area under pressure from a growing population due to forced settlements from he apartheid era. People are extremely poor and dependent on the natural resources of the wetland. Improving productivity and income while conserving the wetland, is a huge challenge. Especially when conditions are variable and changing: erosion, new laws, population increase, climate change. The project is now three years under way and impacts on harvest due to new techniques (e.g. mulching) are visible. Learning takes place without books or sophisticated methods: the community rejects those approaches. Now it is very much deciding itself on what and how to learn, the Association supports the learning.

Suzana Padua – Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil - provides us in ten minutes with a birds eye view on 20 years of learning for change in one of Brazil poorest areas, that at the same time is one of the richest areas in terms of biodfiversity. “Not only the people in the communities learned, we also learned ourselves. We started out to think that knowledge about nature would lead to change.” Her presentation shows that the black box between knowledge and real change is filled with innovative ways to address systemic complexities, public participation, landscape approach, policy influencing and so on. She also illustrates the value of monitoring and evaluation as a tool for continuous quality improvement and learning. It leads to a clear picture of different stage a participatory learning and change process goes through: identification – reflection – vision or dream – strategizing – partnerships – follow through. Each stage calls for different competences and values.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Cheryl Lynn Ogilvie quotes Albert Schweitzer and illustrates this truth with her work to uplift the Ndumo community and the environment. She works I n Tshwane University of Technology and with her students she tackles the challenges in this community: health (TB, malaria, Aids); poverty (malnutrition, especially among Aids orphans – 75% of all children); education (absence of basic facilities); extra mural issues (weapons, drugs). She started with surveys on various issues, then she and her students started with interventions: training of teachers, indoor and outdoor activities, games, trees and vegetable gardens, nurseries generating extra income, awareness about litter. An improved school environment makes happy children, who the are motivated to act as game wardens for the protected areas close by. Evaluation each year shows the impact in various aspects of the school and community life. A recent nation wide strike was not followed by the teachers in this community: the children come first!

I had started the morning assisting Wazha Tema - regional chair for Southern Africa of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication – and Solly Mosidi, CEC member and WEEC 2007 organizer with a workshop on CEC. Participants came from government, academia, and NGOs and had an explicit demand to learn more about IUCN, CEC and its latest product the CEPA toolkit. Wazha filled in the knowledge gap a bout CEC with a presentation, a brochure and we showed online what you find on the CEC website and how to apply for membership. We surfed through CEPA toolkit website nd had a quick look in some of the blogging by CEC members.

After this workshop I attended a great many paper presentations, a few I have highlighted above. The Tiblisi + 30 committee meeted again and I was shortly present at the launch of some new publications. Kartikeya Sarabhai of the Indian Center for Environmental Education (CEE) launches the Journal of Education for Sustainable Development.You can order through or write to

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Power to the people

WEEC 2007 - 3. Power to the people: a solar panel donated by a South African bank, not only provides ‘green’ electricity to the school, but also provides a daily lunch for one thousand students from the savings on the electricity bill. This example was given by Mr Envaserti, Deputy Minister of Education of South Africa. It illustrates the challenges his ministry faces in providing quality education to 12 million children. Basic provisions for schools often push the environment to the periphery. But the Minister is keen on environmental education as a basic need in an emerging democracy: “EE is not about trees, water or soil, but about lifestyle decisions, what we eat, drink, how we build etc.”

The morning session was opened by the Drameni Children Choir of the Lutheran Church in the Mlasi district of Durban. A well known local singer and the children manage to get the audience out of their seats and into swinging. There is loud cheering when the VIPs on the podium also get up and join the dance. It provides us all with energy and a positive mindset: we are ready for a whole day of listening to speeches.

John Ssebuwufu, Research Director of the African Association of Universities talks about the role of universities in sustainable development and the changes needed in his academic community: “Changing a university is like asking the inhabitants of a cemetery, whether the cemetery should be moved to another location.” The changes in our world of today he illustrates with the fact that even his driver now has a mobile telephone. He ends his speech with an African proverb: “One who does not learn from other peoples’ mistakes, is a fool.” I am thinking you are even a greater fool, when you do not learn from your own mistakes.

During the applause at the end of his speech, the lady next to me who forced me out of my seat during the singing – an extension worker of the Ministry of Agriculture’s department of water and forestry - grumbles to me: “Like yesterday that professor from Spain, this one also lectures in abstract terms about environmental facts and figures. We all know them very well from our daily experience in the field, and he only knows them from books and publications. It is almost an insult to our intelligence.

Indeed during this morning session the jargon of academia is overwhelming: conditions of uncertainty, the degree of rigor of research, theoretical understanding, transforming relationships, post-positivist paradigms, conflicting perspectives, EE as problem solving versus ESD as capacity building, continuous responsive learning, non-traditional forms of knowledge, categories of action oriented competences, sub components of action competences, learning efficiency, notions of authenticity, behaviorist and science approaches, participation as content. And so on, and so forth.

William Scott gives us an overview of EE research and shows the need for EE to come out of its niche and venture into mainstream education research and publications and prove there its relevance and added value. “Policy makers today turn to psychologists and not to EE experts for advice on changing attitudes and behavior on issues of climate change and the environment.” He finally asks the hard question: “EE: what do we have to offer?” He then almost with regret he ends: “I cannot answer this question with confidence, so I leave it with you to dwell upon during the coming days.

Professor Bjarne Bruun Jensen shares years of experience in researching environmental education with his Danish team. He explains the Investigation – Vision – Action – Change Approach in health and environmental education in schools.He explains the modalities of participation. He shares with us his newest publication “Participation and Learning” and two web addresses:; Finally he summarizes part of his lecture: “What we can learn from this, is that participation is a complex issue.” My neighbor is moving uncomfortably and whistles softly.

Justin Dillon, from Kings College is the last speaker. Here is a some one who can go beyond jargon, as he welcomes us to the world of public opinion polls: “this morning the BBC showed that the public is more concerned about terrorists and dog mess, than about scientific reports about climate change”. “Why is it”, he asks “why the public holds such opinions? The he answer is quite simple.” He waits a second and then says: “We simply do not know!” He ridicules our definitions of ESD: they are so long that you cannot remember them and they do not make sense anymore. His message is that we have to reposition science and environment education and provide students with the big picture and with a model of a scientist they can aspire to. At the moment research shows that boys want to learn from science education details about explosive chemicals, atom bombs and weightlessness in space; girls want to learn about, why we dream, facts about cancer and details of first aid. The message to take home he ends, is: “our identities are only artificially separated from the environment.

Prizes are awarded to universities by UNESCO and UNEP in the framework of MESA (Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainable Development into African Universities). In her introduction to the the handing out of certificates, Akpezi Obuigwe dreams up the new leadership values emerging for a sustainable African continent, leaving behind all greed, selfishness and corruption: “put others first, work with passion, have love and faith, sacrifice 20% of your own interests, live by example, use your inner wealth.

The morning session ends with teachers and students sharing their learning in projects of Durban schools: games, food gardens, drama, music, natural pests, energy saving, waste management. Teacher Sunita Doodhnath sums up her experience with environmental education: “nature: if you know it, you love it, then you will protect it and conserve it; and finally you will learn about it and from it.

In the afternoon plenary presentations are given - while I am typing this - about the Ahmenabad Tiblisi + 30 conference. Time to go back to the plenary.

Monday, 2 July 2007

EE: boring most of the time!

WEEC 2007 - 2Environmental Education – in my experience – is boring most of the time, the challenge to you in this conference is innovation”, said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa in the opening statement of the 2007 WEEC. “Environmental Education is one of the most effective means to meet the challenges of sustainability. It should focus on real outcomes and impact, with everyone understanding his or her role and contribute to sustainable development.

Over 1000 delegates had gathered in the ICC auditorium for the opening session to listen to welcome and keynote speeches. The Durban Serenade Choir of over 40 men and women gave the a festive undertone: a capella singing of beautiful harmonics in a marching tempo with stylized marching movements. Solos mixed with a chorus of great volume, demonstrating the self-confidence of the New South Africa.

Education is a two-way street: teachers also learn form learners. Everyone has a role to play, we all should become ambassadors for the environment”, said Rejoice Mabudafhasi, Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism. Other quotes from speeches that appealed to me were:

Where there is wheel, there is a road. Where there is sustainable development, there is learning. Change is a process of learning together.
Akpezi Ogbuigwe (UNEP, Nairobi).

Education is about developing to become a better human being. No individual can achieve his or her goals in isolation. We need to develop a vision of interconnectedness to address issues such as democracy, growth, peace and environmental security. Education for sustainable development is about learning for that fundamental change”, said Ibrahim Thiaw, Director DEPI of UNEP Words that are very close to the vision of IUCN CEC, not surprisingly as Ibrahim has a long history with the Commission. He ended his speech in French: “Chers amis, le monde est a vous: educez-le! (My friends, the world is yours: educate it!).”

Most of the key-notes were presented by women. It contributed to a pleasant and constructive atmosphere of the opening session, setting the tone for the rest of the conference. After the session participants enjoyed the drinks and bites in the exhibition area and I walked back to the hotel to type this posting. Yes I was a bit concerned in the dark, especially when passing groups of young men. Nothing happened though. It must have been the Tara mantra, my wife had reminded me to recite when being alone on the street.

What else did I do today? In the morning I represented CEC at the meeting of the international advisory committee for the Tiblisi + 30 conference in Ahmedabad, end of this year. Kartikeya Sarabhai (CEE), Charles Hopkins UNESCO Chair) and Aline Bory-Adams (UNESCO, Paris) presided over a very constructive dialogue between about twenty leading experts in environmental education. The result was a sharper formulation of the framework to make this event a learning experience for the different leaders in environmental education and ESD. In the corridors I renewed friendship with many CEC members and listened to quite a few exciting stories and experiences. I look forward tol tomorrow’s program.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

WEEC 2007 - first impressions

World Environmental Education Congress 2007 - 1 Good morning, welcome to Durban”. A very friendly South African lady smiles at me and helps me. Since over 1000 participants are expected, I came in early this Sunday morning to register. But I am lucky- there are no long lines of people waiting. In one minute I have my badge and my bag. So I sit down in the coffee corner of the Durban International Conference Center – a modern facility, I remember from the 2003 IUCN World Parks Congress. I slowly sip on my cappuccino and take a closer look at the conference documentation. Soon old and new friends join me at the table.

There are still people who adhere to the old fashioned idea of behavior change, that is indoctrination. Environmental education should provide students with democratic competences and mental ownership of action competences for sustainable development”, says a university professor from Northern Europe. “Poor people are not helped with those competences, they need to change some of their ways to ensure clean water and nutritious food from their natural environment, preferably with some extra income generation”, I hear a bit later from a woman working in rural Africa.

The conference ‘Learning in a changing world’, is a huge undertaking. Participants come from 100 different countries. The documentation contains 455 abstracts of papers and workshop presentations. Apart from a one day plenary sessions, there are two and half days of hundreds of parallel paper presentations, a few dozens one and two hour workshops and many poster presentations. I will have to make some hard choices. Themes include ESD, cultural changes, new learning, research, ethics, curriculum transformation, communities of practice, biodiversity, sustainable schools, poverty, globalization etc.

I read in the program: “Look for the footprint symbol and find out more about Greening the WEEC 2007!” At one o’clock two buses wait to take me and another participant back to the hotel in our section of town. The driver of the small bus decides that his colleague, driving the larger bus will take us. He would wait for the next trip.

At the hotel I had already noticed that the environmental management is more or less limited to the usual notice in the bath room advising guests that towels in the bath tub stands for: “please change”; and towels on the rack mean: “I will use them again”. Most lights are not energy efficient. My windows offer a spectacular view of the harbor but have no double-glass.

Tomorrow I will definitely have a look at the greening of the conference. We should practice what we preach and walk the talk. Or is that too old fashioned a behavior approach to education?