Some notes on environmental crisis and the internationalisation of higher education

ONE. Educational truth: there is no alternative to economic growth

David Willetts’ speaking at the UK Quality Assurance Agency, We need to talk about Quality: MOOCs:

when Goldman Sachs are investing and Stamford say it is significant and big players are coming in, my view is, this is a significant moment in the spread of education, notably, but not only higher education. So yes, I do think this is significant. Its significance comes in different ways; I think it is significant for the brick [sic.] countries and developing countries which have extraordinary ambitions to grow the number of their young people with education qualifications and when you try to think how a country like India or Indonesia or Mexico or Colombia is going to achieve some of their remarkable ambitions for growth it is hard to see how they can do that without using a lot of online learning as one of the delivery mechanisms.

Pearson CEO John Fallon writing about African Outcomes on the Pearson Africa blog:

The universal power of education to transform lives for the better feels more urgent in Africa, too. Better education, of which literacy and numeracy are the bedrock, will be fundamental to sustaining growth and prosperity across the continent over the next decade, just as it surely will be throughout the rest of the world. For example, despite high unemployment rates on the continent, employers often struggle to fill vacancies. In a PWC survey of 1,330 global CEOs, over half report concerns about finding the right talent to reach business targets. Vast skills gaps are holding back job creation and growth in many African economies; there is a disconnect between what is being taught in schools and the knowledge and skills young people need to become engaged and productive citizens.

Just as countries as diverse as the US and China are shifting from measuring progress in education by inputs – such as teacher/pupil ratios, textbooks or laptops per child or total spending levels – to focusing on learning outcomes, so Africa needs to do the same.

The McKinsey Center for Government’s report on (global) Education to Employment:

Around the world, governments and businesses face a conundrum: high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of job seekers with critical skills. How can a country successfully move its young people from education to employment? What are the problems? Which interventions work? How can these be scaled up? These are the crucial questions.

Education-to-employment solutions need to scale up. There are three challenges to achieving scale: first, constraints on the resources of education providers, such as finding qualified faculty and investing in expansion; second, insufficient opportunities to provide youth with hands-on learning; and third, the hesitancy of employers to invest in training unless it involves specialized skills.

The NUS Charter for becoming a global University:

Embedding internationalisation across all departments in the institution is key to enhancing the global competitiveness of all UK universities. Each university should have an international strategy which addresses the entire institution to create a global culture among all students and staff and to develop globally employable and mobile students and staff. Students’ unions should be actively involved in forming these strategies.

Because there is no alternative.

TWO. Growth, hegemony and power

In an article on the Network of Global Corporate Control, Vitali, Glattfelder, and Battiston highlight the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations. They reveal

a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy… a core of 1318 companies [representing] 20 per cent of global operating revenues and… the majority of the world’s large blue chip and manufacturing firms… representing a further 60 per cent of global revenues’… a “super-entity” of 147 even more tightly knit companies … controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth … Most were financial institutions.

The B-20 sponsored Global Business Coalition for Education

brings the business community together to accelerate progress in delivering quality education for all of the world’s children and youth.  We believe that education is the birthright of every child and the key to expanded opportunity and future employment.  For companies, investing in education promotes economic growth, leads to more stable societies, fosters healthy communities and makes it easier to do business. Education spurs innovation and increases the skills of employees, the income potential of consumers and the prosperity of communities where business operates.

The B20 (check out the network of CEOs of Global Corporations, OECD, World Economic Forum, the International Chamber of Commerce, and McKinsey & Company), 2012 Task Force Recommendations:

The b20 believes that business has an important role to play in rebuilding trust and helping to address key global issues. Today’s challenges are too large, too complex and too interrelated to be solved by governments – even by those belonging to the g20 alone. We all have to play our part.

Through the b20, business leaders have engaged as corporate global citizens, working closely with other stakeholders to address seven of the most pressing global challenges. Business leaders are impatient with theoretical discussion and long reports, and want practical solutions with concrete actions. It is with this spirit that we have approached the b20.

ceos have developed action plans this year in these seven areas – starting with “What should business do?” before looking at what governments should do, as well as what governments, businesses and other stakeholders can do together.

These action plans provide the basis for a new global growth agenda in that they propose a set of structural improvements to economies that would have the combined effect of increasing both the quantity (rate) and quality (inclusiveness and resilience) of global economic growth. They are intended as a serious contribution to the g20’s fundamental mission, articulated at its 2009 Pittsburgh Summit, of promoting “strong, sustainable and balanced” growth.

More effectively and efficiently unsustainable.

THREE. Hedging the planet

Monsanto Buys Climate Corp For $930 Million

Monsanto broke the news this morning that it was buying Climate for approximately $930 million. The idea is to sell more data and services to the farmers who already buy Monsanto’s seed and chemicals.

In his piece on Why food riots are likely to become the new normal, Nafeez Ahmed writes:

Whether or not those prices materialise this year, food price volatility is only a symptom of deeper systemic problems – namely, that the global industrial food system is increasingly unsustainable.

climate is not the only problem. Industrial farming methods are breaching the biophysical limits of the soil.

High oil prices will continue to debilitate the global economy, particularly in Europe – but they will also continue to feed into the oil-dependent industrial food system. Currently, every major point in industrial food production is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. To make matters worse, predatory speculation on food and other commodities by banks drives prices higher, increasing profits at the expense of millions of the world’s poor.

The link between intensifying inequality, debt, climate change, fossil fuel dependency and the global food crisis is now undeniable. As population and industrial growth continue, the food crisis will only get worse. If we don’t do something about it, according to an astounding new Royal Society paper, we may face the prospect of civilisational collapse within this century.

The OPEC World Oil Outlook for 2012 noted:

OPEC’s focus remains on bringing stability to the market, given that oil is expected to satisfy the largest share of the world’s energy needs for the foreseeable future. In this spirit, the WOO 2012 – the publication’s sixth edition – consistently provides a detailed breakdown and analysis of the key issues that might shape the global energy future, particularly in relation to the oil market. From a supply perspective, the world has more than enough oil resources to satisfy consumer demand for many decades. The US Geological Survey estimate of ultimately recoverable oil resources continues to be revised upward. It is now approaching four trillion barrels. Technological advances have improved the recovery from producing fields and extended the reach of the industry to explore and produce from frontier areas and new plays. Moreover, there remain many areas, both OPEC and non-OPEC, that still have not been explored.

In an HSBC Climate Change Global report, Scoring Climate Change Risk: Which countries are most vulnerable?

Uncertainty surrounding the scale and speed of future impacts mean that climate, food, energy and water risks need to be factored into investment strategies. In this note, we assess the climate vulnerability of the G-20 countries in terms of their exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. We find that India, Indonesia, China, Saudi Arabia and Brazil are the most vulnerable. Currently, these five economies account for 15% of global output. By 2050, HSBC’s economists estimate that these countries will contribute almost 37%. We believe the time for integrating the climate factor has arrived.

This makes an assessment of how climate factor is fusing with underlying resource stress critical for long-term investment strategy. In our view, evaluating country vulnerabilities to the climate factor is a critical tool for risk management, informing both asset allocation and the understanding of pressures along global value chains.

Because it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

FOUR. Reality bites

A leaked draft of the IPCC’sglobal review of future impacts from global warming predicts system break-downs across the board

Differences in vulnerability and exposure arise from non-climatic stressors and multidimensional inequalities, which shape differential risks from climate change (very high confidence).

Impacts from recent extreme climatic events, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, and wildfires, demonstrate significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to climate variability (very high confidence).

These experiences are consistent with a significant adaptation deficit in developing and developed countries for some sectors and regions. Climate-related hazards constitute an additional burden to people living in poverty, acting as a threat multiplier often with negative outcomes for livelihoods (high confidence).

Climate-related hazards affect poor people’s lives directly through impacts on livelihoods, such as reductions in crop yields or destruction of homes, and indirectly through increased food prices and food insecurity. Limited positive observed impacts on poor people include isolated cases of social asset accumulation, agricultural diversification, disaster preparedness, and collective action. Violent conflict strongly influences vulnerability to climate change impacts for people living in affected places (medium evidence, high agreement).

Large-scale violent conflict harms assets that facilitate adaptation, including infrastructure, institutions, natural capital, social capital, and livelihood opportunities.

The Royal Society’s People and Planet reportfrom 2012 argued that there is an urgent need to address issues of climate change and resource availability across the globe. The report argued:

in the most developed and the emerging economies unsustainable consumption must be urgently reduced. This will entail scaling back or radical transformation of damaging material consumption and emissions and the adoption of sustainable technologies. At present, consumption is closely linked to economic models based on growth. Decoupling economic activity from material and environmental throughputs is needed urgently. Changes to the current socio-economic model and institutions are needed to allow both people and the planet to flourish by collaboration as well as competition during this and subsequent centuries. This requires farsighted political leadership concentrating on long term goals

Is there really no alternative?

FIVE. What is to be done?

Naomi Klein in the New Statesman argues that climate scientists are beginning to align their scientific approach and analyses of data to direct action.

what [University of California’s Brad] Werner is doing with his modelling is different. He isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

That’s heavy stuff. But he’s not alone. Werner is part of a small but increasingly influential group of scientists whose research into the destabilisation of natural systems – particularly the climate system – is leading them to similarly transformative, even revolutionary, conclusions. And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.

Only in the immediate aftermath of the great market crash of 1929 did the United States, for instance, see emissions drop for several consecutive years by more than 10 per cent annually, according to historical data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre. But that was the worst economic crisis of modern times.

If we are to avoid that kind of carnage while meeting our science-based emissions targets, carbon reduction must be managed carefully through what [the Tyndall Centre’s] Anderson and Bows describe as “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the US, EU and other wealthy nations”. Which is fine, except that we happen to have an economic system that fetishises GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human or ecological consequences, and in which the neoliberal political class has utterly abdicated its responsibility to manage anything (since the market is the invisible genius to which everything must be entrusted).

So what Anderson and Bows are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which may be the best argument we have ever had for changing those rules.

In a 2012, Anderson and Bows argue:

in developing emission scenarios scientists repeatedly and severely underplay the implications of their analyses. When it comes to avoiding a 2°C rise, “impossible” is translated into “difficult but doable”, whereas “urgent and radical” emerge as “challenging” – all to appease the god of economics (or, more precisely, finance). For example, to avoid exceeding the maximum rate of emission reduction dictated by economists, “impossibly” early peaks in emissions are assumed, together with naive notions about “big” engineering and the deployment rates of low-carbon infrastructure. More disturbingly, as emissions budgets dwindle, so geoengineering is increasingly proposed to ensure that the diktat of economists remains unquestioned.

In a Royal Society paper, Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?, Ehrlich and Ehrlich note that:

Besides focusing their research on ways to avoid collapse, there is a need for natural scientists to collaborate with social scientists, especially those who study the dynamics of social movements. Such collaborations could develop ways to stimulate a significant increase in popular support for decisive and immediate action on the predicament. Unfortunately, awareness among scientists that humanity is in deep trouble has not been accompanied by popular awareness and pressure to counter the political and economic influences implicated in the current crisis. Without significant pressure from the public demanding action, we fear there is little chance of changing course fast enough to forestall disaster.

The needed pressure, however, might be generated by a popular movement based in academia and civil society to help guide humanity towards developing a new multiple intelligence, ‘foresight intelligence’ to provide the long-term analysis and planning that markets cannot supply.

While rapid policy change to head off collapse is essential, fundamental institutional change to keep things on track is necessary as well. This is especially true of educational systems, which today fail to inform most people of how the world works and thus perpetuate a vast culture gap.

In The Republic of Ecuador’s National Plan for Good Living 2009-2013: Building a Plurinational and Intercultural State, the Government argues for five interconnected revolutions: democratic; ethical; economic; social; and Latin American dignity; in order to build a fraternal and co-operative coexistence. The aim is:

The combination of ancestral forms of knowledge with state-of-the-art technology can reverse the current development model and contribute to the transition towards a model of accumulation based on bio-knowledge.

This is a world of disjuncture, disunity, discontinuity, where our lives inside capitalism become riskier as the repetitive, precarious nature of its alienation and dehumanisation is revealed. What is the role of the academic in denying capital’s power-over our lives? What is the role of the academic in the revolt against Capital’s subsumption of our lives to the profit motive and the rule of money? What is the academic’s role in our recovering of our subjectivity? As Marx argued in the Collected Works (Volume 3):

Since human nature is the true community of men, by manifesting their nature men create, produce, the human community, the social entity, which is no abstract universal power opposed to the single individual, but is the essential nature of each individual, his own activity, his own life, his own spirit, his own wealth… The community of men, or the manifestation of the nature of men, their mutual complementing the result of which is species-life…

The University remains a symbol of places where mass intellectuality, or knowledge as our main socially-productive force, can be consumed/produced and contributed to by all. The University remains a symbol of the possibility that we can create sites of dissent, opposition and critique, or where we can renew histories of denial and revolt, and where new stories can be told, against states of exception that enclose how and marketwise our assemblies, associations and organisations.

There is no alternative.

SIX. Courage.

Stephanie Dowrick reminds us of the importance of courage in the face of crisis.

Courage is a way of living in the world. It arises out of the cultivation of an attitude that you can then bring to any situation, even when you feel at your worst. It is courage that is needed when a crisis has long ceased to be exciting and has become instead a new version of your old life to which you must adjust. It is courage you need when life has become “impossible”, bleak, scary or perhaps dangerously flat.

Courage is what allows you to experience that even when life has apparently betrayed you, or you have come to see how you have betrayed yourself, life itself is still present. In the presence of life, or maybe in the presence of your own consciousness of the life that is within you, it is impossible to be totally diminished by events that are outside you, or are outside your control, no matter how deeply and permanently they affect you.

Courage can be admired from any distance, but you can discover it only through lived experience. Sometimes this has to be achieved in the midst of hardship. Sometimes it is found through an experience of intense physical achievement that brings supreme joy as intention and action unite.  Often though, courage takes on meaning through an experience of profound suffering when what had seemed eternal or essential dissolves or disappears, and your faith in life, in yourself, or in God, hits the line.

You face the truth of that suffering within yourself. You face the truth of it, and the truth that it will not be adequately met with facile solutions or other people’s platitudes, but only with your own version of strength and compassion.


One Response to Some notes on environmental crisis and the internationalisation of higher education

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