Updates on Some Recent Posts

I wanted to share some further materials and tyhoughts regarding a couple of earlier posts I had written this year.

Sleep

sleep tablet

The first concerns the issue of children’s sleep, particularly in relation to the reduced amounts, their relationships with media etc. The two earlier articles garnered quite a bit of feedback and discussion including some exchange of mails with readers and discussions on social media. So, the following article from The Guardian hit me very starkly. It highlights the massive increases in the numbers of children in the UK for whom medical interventions are being sought to address issues of sleep deprivation and resultant issues that are impacting the children:

The Guardian – Sharp Rise in Hospital Admissions for Children with Sleep Disorders
(Click on the link above to open the article in a new window or tab)

Whilst the article flags up issues of sleep apnea (which are frequently linked to issues of being overweight or obese) as the cause of some of this increase, a lot of the blame is also focused on media, smart phone and tablet use by children. As well as the article itself, there’s also a link on the page (just above the picture) to a case study of a seventeen year old boy, whose mother actually works in a sleep clinic.

Here are the links for the two original articles related to this issue:

Sleep and School Start times
Going to Bed

Climate Change  – Responses to Environmental Issues

Climate Solutions

Another article i wrote earlier this year looked at the issues of how we address manmade climate changes that are leading to global warming. To date, so many of the responses, especially taught in schools have been about what people should stop doing, do less of or change in their personal lives and habits in order to bring about change. In my article I acknowledged my own gradual realisation that these ‘killjoy’ approaches will never be the solutions – telling people to stop doing things, to go without things they enjoy or to refrain from aspiring to the things they see others enjoying are just not going to be realistic. Rather, we have to look at the positive steps that can be taken. These are based in science and focusing on them changes the debate. Now, our focus needs to be on ensuring that governments are creating the right environments, incentives and investment climates to support ventures in these areas. Also, there’s a need to ensure that up to date information is shared and readily available to innovators and business people so that their interest in these activities result in real change and tangible actions.

So, I was delighted to see that there have been initiatives in this direction to bring to the fore in the public domain the information about what those scientific advances are and how they can be harnessed to address the issues and reverse atmospheric warming to prevent the worst of man-made global warming. That research comes in a report from Project Drawdown.

Here are two articles that share information on the key findings from Project Drawdown:

Science Alert – 76 Solutions Available Right Now to Slow Down Climate Change
Fast Company – Project Drawdown – 76 Solutions

This was the original article I wrote, right at the tail end of last year on which I’ve received a fair bit of feedback;

Global Warming: The Way Forward

This reinforces my belief that the answers lie at least as much in the focus in science (and STEM generally) teaching, as well as building public awareness and political lobbying to ensure that these kinds of initiatives get the right support to ensure that the world’s problems get addressed effectively.

 

Global Warming: The Way Forward

Global warming

I believe we’ve reached a rather bizarre situation that requires some alternative thinking. Otherwise, I fear that we could all find ourselves heading to a very dark place. The scientific weight of evidence, as well as all the anecdotal evidence anyone could possibly want, is overwhelmingly certain that manmade global warming is causing an unsustainable warming of the earth’s atmosphere.

If this rapid warming is not arrested soon, it could go beyond a point of no return with inevitable consequences that could be hellish. Some parts of the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South Asia could become almost uninhabitable and un-farmable, leading to vast migrations of displaced people. Yet, being honest about this scenario is so unpalatable to the political powers in some countries that they would rather collaborate with interested industrial parties in bare-faced denial of all that evidence. Recently, this resulted in almost complete stalemate at a conference to address the issues in Spain.

Ironically, a great deal of the momentum for change and urgent action to address the issues is coming from young people, lead by the likes of Greta Thunberg

I believe the problem is all too real. If you go to the people of the Western world and tell them that they have to accept massive changes to their lifestyles, consumption and ways of life the vast majority are more than happy to side with the climate change doubters, put their heads in the sand and say they see no real reason to change. They have become so habituated to their lifestyles and ways. Even within the space of 1-2 generations consumerist patterns of consumption have ramped up to warp speed.  People will believe that they need to replace electronic goods at a rapid rate, that they ‘need’ to acquire new clothes at such a rate that they can barely store them all in their homes. In fact, recent data has shown that in the USA an average of 81lbs (36.5kg) per person of clothing is being disposed of every year. Beyond this, an increasing number of middle class families find they need to rent storage locker spaces to store the excess materials they can’t store in their homes. In the meantime, governments are in cahoots with companies to fuel and continue these levels of consumption. Without it their economies would slump in to recession almost instantly, unemployment would rise and tax revenues would drop. As corporate profits declined, pensions would be under stress to meet their obligations and a dangerous downward spiral would ensue.

Also, they will frequently point to the fact that their own country isn’t among the worst offenders, so why should they be among those who lead the way. Plus, all too often, there’s a negative reaction to what I’m going to write in the next paragraph.

If you go to the people of developing countries and tell them that they are going to have to lead the way on mitigation of global warming, that their countries will have to rein back on industrialization, building of power stations to meet the needs of their rapidly increasing demand and that  the world cannot sustain 7.8 billion people all seeking to live their lives as those in the developed and prosperous countries have done, they will just scream unfairness and that they are being bullied unreasonably by those who have already benefitted most. With some justification they will argue that there are still hundreds of millions of people who need to be lifted out of poverty or situations where one bad drought or natural disaster can leave millions in dire peril. They will simply say that as others have been free to ‘pollute to progress’ in the past, so they must be given the freedom to do so now. They will also argue that while the contribution to global warming of developed countries may often be lower on a country to country basis, frequently on a per head basis it’s tiny.

Also, many of these countries sit in areas that are most vulnerable to the early onset impacts of the global warming and this is going to put even greater strain on their populations. They suffer from relatively lower levels of education, higher birth rates (a form of insurance against high child mortality). For governments to agree to rapid cuts would be to leave vast portions of their populations without dreams or hopes to have what they’ve seen so many others around them achieve. This would be a catastrophic mix of the privileged trying to hold on to what they have whilst the aspiring are left without hope.

I mentioned earlier how the young are often realising that they are the ones who will be most effected by global warming. There is considerable anger in the beliefs that their elders have mortgaged their futures for prosperity. And yet, these same young people are personally torn. They still want the mobility and convenience of ride sharing services (over public transport), frequent international travel, online shopping to buy goods manufactured all over the world (shipping is one of the world’s biggest polluters), only to then expect instant and simple return policies when they decide they don’t want some of the goods they’ve purchased. As much as 90% of all returned goods are just trashed and head to landfills – a colossal 5 billion pounds in weight each year and growing. These young people are worried, even frightened about their future, but often fail to see the incongruity of the way they individually live their own lives today.

So, we’re left with a world in which ever more agitated people point the finger at others, call them out and blame, whilst being unwilling to make the significant changes themselves. The process is already broken, evidenced by the way world stock markets don’t even bother taking any notice when major climate change conferences take place – investors know nothing of significance is going to happen that upsets the current train of progress. People weary quickly of the focus on dire warnings, the continual talk of dangers and problems. They want to believe in a future that’s inspiring and exciting, positive and forward looking – not one that’s negative, problem focused and looks backwards with all the what ifs that regret how we reached this point. This isn’t helped when mega-rich people talk of travel to other planets as a means for the rich elite to escape this one when it’s destruction (as a place for humans) is assured. Because, incidentally, global warming won’t destroy the planet – maybe just the ability for humans to live here. the fact is that if humans were wiped out scientific models have concluded the planet would really manage very well without us!

So, is there a solution, or are we (and our children) all doomed Is there a positive way forward for humanity that could really inspire people, excite them about vision for the future? I believe there is and that it lies in science. However, science is made so obscure most of the time that the vast majority of people are switched off and fail to mentally engage with the possibilities. Now, I’m not an expert on things scientific, but i try to make myself aware of some of the most important developments happening in the world. Without even that basic knowledge it’s very hard to give realistic thought to the future (which is what educators need to do, a lot). Just a few of the technological developments already happening have vast potential;

  1. Solar technology and battery technology
    Solar has been getting cheaper at a phenomenal rate and will continue to do so. also, the power of panels of smaller size is increasing. To go alongside this, the battery technology that enables storing of the power gathered from renewable sources is advancing and reducing in cost at rates that are faster than the most positive estimates.
    All of this serves to take us faster to a time when renewable energy is so much cheaper than fossil fuel sourced energy, that the choice is simple and obvious. basic economics rather than political diktat can bring an end to the burning of fossil fuels.
  2. 3-D printing
    Like many technologies, in its infancy most people have found it hard to see how 3-D printing will scale to have a vast impact in the world and on how things are manufactured. today, when an article is made most manufacturing processes involve large pieces of raw material cut and shaped down to finished parts. In these processes anything up to 90% of the original raw material is waste.
    3-D printing produces the item exactly as required, with precision and almost zero waste.
    Next, you can 3-D custom pieces in the required numbers at the place where they’re needed, rather than making thousands of miles away and then shipping.
  3. Nuclear fission
    This is the one where my technical knowledge and understanding becomes most shaky.  Nevertheless, when someone as knowledgeable as Bill Gates suggests this is the answer and the future, it gives me considerable confidence that people are probably on to something effective.
    Nuclear as an option in the past was expensive and dangerous and these were tough to weigh up against the cleanliness of the fuel generated. However, the science has come a long way, meaning that in the future we can realistically look forward to abundant power generation that is both economical and safe.
  4. Quantum Computing
    This is more by way of an indirect rather than direct impact. Quantum computing will soon allow computation of challenges way beyond what could be done until now within a reasonable time. This will lead to more rapid scientific discovery, innovation and therefore the arrival of more advanced and effective solutions.

With such exciting possibilities flowing out of scientific innovation, it can be hard to reconcile when educators talk about how students need to be persuaded and cajoled to study scientific subjects. I believe when i was in school I would have been much more inclined to study and pursue scientific subjects if it had felt like making myself a part of solving the world’s challenges and making a better world for the future.

The current, negative approach to global warming and other environmental issues focuses too much on the problems. For those who believe in, or acknowledge the power of, the law of attraction – if all you focus on is problems, all you’ll have is problems!, One impact of this continual focus on the negatives is it provokes some to believe in ridiculous denials that stand in the way of progress and present too many people with options that just turn them in to hypocrites. Its time to put all of the world’s drive, energy, creativity and vigour behind positive, science-based solutions. The focus on the negative and problems isn’t working and so, I believe we need to break out. The focus on manpower’s ingenuity, imagination, creativity and scientific skills will unleash an even greater momentum towards solutions that can take humankind forward – lift more people out of poverty, provide power and energy to people at a fraction of the environmental impact of the current energy sources and massively reduce negative impact on global warming and negative environmental impacts.

 

 

 

Mock United Nations on Environment

The reality that we’re confronted with in the world is that no end of data, science and evidence are wheeled out to convince people that man-made global warming is creating a massive problem that will soon have massive and horrendous consequences for humanity.  And yet, little of substance changes. People are not voting – at least in most countries – on the basis of honest pledges and commitments by politicians on what they are going to do to ensure their country plays its part in these global issues.

So, this video is interesting as it shares an experimental simulation game that has been bringing real, valuable insights for people in to the issues, their complexity and what needs to happen in the world to get meaningful change to prevent the coming environmental disasters.

I think exercises like this need to be taken in to communities all over the world as speedily as possible in order to educate people. Telling them facts, showing them science and lecturing them with evidence isn’t achieving the outcomes we need. Simulations like this one might just be the answer.

Environmental Impact

800px-Glitter_close_up

Just a quick one! Hate it when i get to say, “I told you so!”

Teachers used to quiz me as to why i made a fuss about glitter use in school and sought to discourage purchasing and use of glitter. This was especially true when working with Indian teachers – they do love a bit of bling!

Well, worldwide pressure against glitter has now built up to such an extent that any day now it’s likely to be announced that UK supermarkets will impose and abide by a ban on glitter. They use it themselves, put it on greetings cards etc. as well as selling it. But the pressure has built over the last few years as it’s recognised to be a highly dangerous pollutant – one of the micro plastics products that stays around in the environment harming particularly fish and birds.

My plea to fellow educators – take a lead in your schools to get rid of the glitter.

Thank you

Thinking Systemically

I’ve become a big fan of these little, short videos from 12 Manage that deal with various issues of leadership and management. This one is particularly good:

12 Manage – Video – Systems Thinking

It provides an excellent, intelligent explanation of what systems thinking is and why it matters. I first came across systems thinking in the writings of Peter Senge of the MIT Sloan School of Management, especially his books: The Fifth Discipline, The dance of Change and Schools That Learn (compulsory reading for all educators in my view).

Watching the video I was provoked to think about the question – “why don’t more people think systemically, naturally?” My conclusion was that, as in too many other things, those of us in education have to take a big chunk of the blame. And, the clue lies in that word “chunk”. Schools deliver knowledge in sealed boxes called ‘subjects’. They test, assess and evaluate each one separately, as if there is no inter-relationship of knowledge across the boundaries of the subjects. In such circumstances and after so many years, should we really be that surprised if people grow in to adults who find massive discomfort if asked to deal with facts, issues, problems or challenges without defining a neat box that it belongs in, then simply applying formulaic solutions in accordance with the standard thinking practiced within that box.

We saw a classic and extreme example some years ago in the Indian education system. The Supreme Court in that country passed a ruling that every citizen growing up should be taught about the environment. Not a bad idea to believe that reduced ignorance of the citizens would lead to more responsible approaches to preserving the environment.

So, the Indian examination Boards rolled out curriculum for Environmental Studies and it was made a compulsory subject. However, the catch was that over the next few years students found high marks very easy to come by in this subject. As a result, universities and colleges refused to take account of results from this subject when considering children for admissions. So, masses of students, parents and teachers labelled the subject a ‘waste of time’. Then, one of the exam Boards proudly announced that they were terribly clever people because they’d discovered a loophole in the Supreme Court judgement that meant that it didn’t need to be taught as a separate subject. it was enough if environmental matters were dealt with, within subjects such as Biology.

So, this new subject was scrapped – and everyone rejoiced.

Now, should we wonder why we read headlines about 80 deaths a day in Delhi due to pollution? Should we wonder why everyone’s scratching their heads and saying the issues of environment are too complex to solve? Here was a classic lack of systems thinking and here is the price to be paid.

Incidentally, it was the most systemically oriented subject possible. It had the scope to blend science, humanities, the arts, sociology, psychology and many other areas in order to understand the interrelationship between aspects that contribute to environmental degradation.

When I wrote to the Board in question and pleaded with them to rethink their decision they told me I was the only person to have raised an issue, everyone else was happy – now students could focus on the subjects that would get the scores to get university places.

Because, after all – that’s what education’s for – isn’t it?

Nobody needs systems thinking more than educators!

14 and Wiser Than Most

An amazing insight in to the thinking of a 14 year old boy, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez determined to bring about meaningful change in the way mankind interacts with the environment. He says, quite simply that it's not climate that needs to change, but the mindset of society.

Here's the MIC article about him and the making of the short film:

Mic - Article
(click on the link above to open the article)

And, here is his TED talk and hip-hop performance with his younger brother:

Power to the young Earth Guardian Crews!

Goa Goa Gone

A couple of years ago, I was very fortunate to get the benefit of a box full of DVDs of the entries in the CMS Vatavaran Environment Film competition. One film stood out and had a considerable effect on me, especially for the courage shown by the citizen campaigners. So, I was so pleased to find a copy of that film on Youtube. Here it is, in two parts. Called ‘Goa Goa Gone’ it highlights the battles of ordinary citizens of that state as they endeavoured to stand up to the bullying power of the mining elite and contended with the apathy (at best) of the government in power in the state at that time.

Since the time when this film was made there’s been a change of regime in the State government coupled with two Environment Ministers in Central government who have had the courage to stand up for what is right environmentally, especially when it comes to all types of mining and the implications for the environment, for tribal and indigenous peoples and for the legacy that we will pass to the next generation.

I don’t claim to be an expert on all the issues, but this film really strikes a chord with me:

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