Sustainability, Climate Change and ‘Disruption’

Prof Christopher Dent

Disruption. It can take many forms. It can come suddenly and unexpectedly, like an un-forecasted storm or major crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic. We may see it is coming, such as the planned transport workers strike in Glasgow during the COP26 Climate Summit. Or it may be a gradual process, like the ‘disruptive’ changes that social media technologies have made to how we communicate and relate to one another.

We generally do not like disruption. It causes problems, uncertainty, risk and a loss of control. But disruption can also challenge us in positive ways. It can make us sit up and think, awaken us to take things more seriously that deserve our attention, or present common opportunities to make the world a better place.

The University’s Sustainability Festival is taking place from Monday 1st to Friday 5th November, and it aims to disrupt!

Like the COP26 Climate Summit also starting at the same time, we want to bring about significant change, disrupt in the way we think, act, and behave; to have a real and positive impact on our lives, and those around us.

There is a big debate in sustainability studies about how we can realistically achieve real change in our society and economy, to make them both more sustainable.

There are those who advocate a gradual, pragmatic approach. This entails adapting current practices and systems in steady, incremental ways; taking existing approaches and ways of doing things and simply making them more sustainable, for example, replacing economic growth with the pursuit of ‘green growth’. Instead of mass-producing fossil fuel powered cars we mass-produce electric vehicles and so on. The UK government’s ‘Ten Point Plan’ to achieve its net zero emissions goal by 2050 is largely based on this gradual approach, sometimes referred to as ‘ecological modernisation’. But will this be enough to avoid a climate catastrophe?

Other sustainability theorists are more radical and revolutionary in approach, arguing for more profound disruptive change. Yes, electric vehicles are needed but a more radical approach would be to have far fewer vehicles in our society through the use of technology and a cultural shift of attitudes on car ownership. This approach makes the case for paradigm changes in humanity’s relationship with the planet and its resources. It contends that the greening of ‘business as usual’ is not sufficient, and that we need to ‘disrupt’ what we currently are doing if humans are to survive into the 22nd century, and beyond. Otherwise, we may find various kinds of environmental collapse will come to increasingly disrupt us, and our unsustainable lives.

Come to the Sustainability Festival and entertain the possibility of it ‘disrupting’ you… for good!

DAY THEMES – click on the images below to find out what is happening on each day of the Festival:

Professor Christopher Dent is the Chair of the Sustainability Festival organising committee and the Director of SustainNET.

The Sustainability Festival is coming… be prepared to connect, engage and be inspired.

Prof Christopher Dent

The University’s Sustainability Festival – taking place Monday 1 to Friday 5 November – is a chance for everyone at Edge Hill and beyond to come together to feel part of a collective of people that want to make our world a better, more sustainable place.

It coincides with the first week of the COP26 Climate Summit the UK is hosting in Glasgow, and the Sustainability Festival is organised over five Day Themes, such as ‘Move it Monday’ (special focus on transport and mobility).

Across all five Festival days there are six ‘Activity Themes’:

  • Community – local organisations showcasing their sustainability focused work, mainly in The Hub building
  • Tours – various tours organised around Edge Hill’s beautiful green campus. Bike rides, get to know our campus’ wildlife and eco-buildings and systems, and an opportunity to plant flowers and shrubs in Edge Hill’s wonderful garden spots!
  • Performances – artistic inspiration on sustainability. We have various performance events planned – films, poetry, dance, drama and an art exhibition
  • Talks– something for everyone, covering different everyday sustainability issues such as recycling and energy. We also have fast rising media personality and former EHU student Joshua Styles giving a talk on plants on ‘Footprint Friday’ (5 Nov)
  • Food-Drink-Shopping – we have a number of food, drink and other sustainable product organisations coming onto campus to show how we can become more sustainable consumers
  • Competitions– these will be running all week on sustainability-related themes. Look out for updates on the Festival website. There are prizes to be won!

SustainNET has been the main driving force behind the Festival. Established in February 2020 under the Institute for Social Responsibility (ISR) umbrella, it is a network community of Edge Hill University staff seeking to advance the sustainability agenda on four main fronts: research, teaching and learning, student engagement and our local community with 30 local organisation partners.

As part of the Festival organisation, I was asked how I would define sustainability… I responded “Very carefully, as there are dozens of definitions out there”! The definition I prefer is the capacity for human civilisation and planet Earth’s biosphere to co-exist into the foreseeable future.

While this definition has an explicit environmental dimension, it also concerns how humans get on with each other, inferring a societal dimension. If there is peace, harmony and justice within human society, human civilisation is more likely to attain environmental peace, harmony and justice. Developing healthier and more sustainable food systems for example, will help us mitigate climate change and address local environmental issues.

We hope the Festival will help people see and understand various kinds of inter-connections that exist regarding sustainability, as well as connecting with each other. Come along to the Festival – engage and be inspired to look at our world and society in different ways. It will be great to see you there.

Christopher Dent is a Professor of International Business and Economics in the Business School and Director: SustainNET. Please get in contact with him if you wish to be part of the Festival or become a SustainNET Member – details on becoming a Member this can be found here.

Are there really any Positives from the Pandemic?

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago I suggested that COVID-19 might help us become more empathetic towards the life experiences and challenges of vulnerable groups and recognise the opportunity to transition to a more inclusive and sustainable world.

Many people – including several authors of this blog – have seen the pandemic as an opportunity or a lesson for the transition to an alternate world.

Take for example the environmental crisis. During lockdowns, we have witnessed some unexpected positive pictures: wild animals roaming in cities, clear waters in Venice’s canals! Our interest in the environment has also increased. The global number of online searches for “bird sounds”, “identify trees”, and “growing plants” have increased by a factor of two.

Other views, however, are more sceptical. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek doubts that the  epidemic will make us any wiser.  And Bruno Latour puts forward the hypothesis that “the pandemic prepares, induces, and incites us to prepare for climate change”. Both Žižek and Latour recognise that drastic changes are required to transition to an alternate world.

There is an autistic person with impressive achievements in climate-change activism. Starting from school strikes, Greta Thunberg has made a substantial impact on public awareness of the catastrophic threat of climate change.

However, there is also significant controversy around Greta as a public figure. Being young, female, and autistic, Greta Thunberg brings together several characteristics that tap into implicit biases about who should have an active role in public life and who should, and should not, be listened to.

For Greta “Being different is a gift… It makes me see things from outside the box. I don’t easily fall for lies, I can see through things. If I would’ve been like everyone else, I wouldn’t have started this school strike for instance.”

It is, perhaps, because of her autism that Greta extends her activism to the pandemic crisis. A few days ago, Greta urged governments, vaccine developers and the world to “step up their game” to fight vaccine inequity after the richest countries bought up most COVID-19 vaccine doses and those in poorer nations have gone lacking.

With regards to lessons learnt from the pandemic, Greta seems to align with Žižek and Latour.  “COVID-19’s impact on the world is first and foremost a tragedy,”. “The pandemic has no advantage or positive aspects … We shouldn’t be speaking of lessons that can be learned from it, because lessons sound like something positive, in a way.”

Dr Themis Karaminis is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader BSc (Hons) Psychology at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 15th May 2020 by Themis which can be found here. @CogNeuroThemis

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Veganuary

We’re midway through Veganuary, the annual challenge to those who typically consume animal products to spend a month going vegan. Reports suggest half a million people in the UK have made the pledge to eat only plant-based food as part of the initiative this year, and the number of participants has risen rapidly since the initiative was inaugurated in 2014. The organisers of Veganuary also work with food producers and supermarkets to get more plant-based food on the shelves, making taking part easier for everyone. Begun in the UK, Veganuary is now grabbing attention around the world, and genuinely might indicate a shift in how humans understand their relationships with food.

After all, time and again evidence shows the environmental problems resulting from current levels and methods of meat production. Reducing meat intake is the “single biggest way” to reduce your environmental impact upon the Earth given the amount of land used, and emissions produced, in meat and dairy production. In 2019 a report commissioned by the United Nations showed that other efforts undertaken with the goal of reducing environmental damage – for example, reducing car use – are largely pointless unless accompanied by “drastic changes in global land use, agriculture and human diets”.

I became vegan about 6 years; I’d been vegetarian for about 5 years before that. In that time I’ve seen such activity become significantly more mainstream. Interestingly, debates about how humans treat animals also seem to have become more common, and this appears to me to be part of a generational shift. When discussing the topic with undergraduate students, for example, the idea that thinking about the treatment of animals seems quite normal, and part of wider concerns about social and environmental ethics and justice; yet I find if the conversation comes up with people who are older – such as my own age – the discussion is often categorised as fringe or faddish.

Here’s my experience of becoming vegetarian, and then vegan. The former I found required much more of a shift in terms of thinking about what to cook and how to shop, because I was raised – like many – to understand meat as the central part of a meal around which everything was placed. Once I’d got over that assumption – and discovered the amazing opportunities for trying new Indian, Mexican and Thai that I’d been missing out on before – going vegan was not that big a step.

For me, it is this hurdle of rethinking what you’re used to that often functions as the biggest barrier for those considering removing animal products from their diet. In that sense, Veganuary is a useful initiative, encouraging everyone to give it a go and find out that it’s not that hard – the Veganuary website itself has a vast resource of delicious recipes. There is still a week left – so why not give it a go?

Brett Mills is Visiting Professor of Media at Edge Hill University, UK, and Honorary Professor of Media and Culture at the University of East Anglia, UK. He is the author and co-author of five books, including Animals on Television: The Cultural Making of the Non-Human (Palgrave 2017).

Photo by Viktoria Slowikowska from Pexels

SustainNET – The New Sustainability Network

Sustainability Event

It was good to see so many local organisations and people come together with Edge Hill University staff and students at the ‘Sustainability in the Region’ event held on 6 November 2019 at New Church House in Ormskirk. Around 20 organisations were able to display and demonstrate their sustainability-related work with around 100 people who attended the event. There was also a programme of eight short stimulating presentations, as well as the chance to participate in behavioural research on sustainable thinking and practice. New links and connections between people were formed, mutual learning on sustainability was experienced, and there was strong feedback for us to continue this good work.

SustainNET

With this in mind, we would like to inform all interested people that with ISR’s support we have created SustainNET , a new sustainability network collective based at Edge Hill University (EHU) but one that is outward-looking and keen to involve local community partners.

SustainNET’s overarching aim is to undertake transformative work on sustainability themed research, knowledge-exchange, local community impact and curriculum development. More specific starting aims of SustainNET are currently to:

  • Establish a committed core of EHU staff to collaborate together on promoting and advancing the University’s work on sustainability studies, within the framework of the United Nations 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs)
  • Develop and nurture inter-disciplinary collaboration on sustainability research and other forms of academic-related work at EHU
  • Promote the sustainability agenda generally at EHU in collaboration with Sustainability Champions, Students Union and relevant others
  • Promote and develop the integration of sustainability into EHU’s curriculum programmes, including continuous professional learning and in-service learning.
  • Establish EHU as a leading centre for sustainability studies both nationally and internationally in the longer-term
  • Develop links and relationships with relevant external (especially local) stakeholders to work together to help achieve the above aims, and improve the sustainability of EHU’s locality and local region

Please contact SustainNET ([email protected]) if you are interested in being part of this exciting new venture or would just like to know more.

Podcasts

You can also in the meantime listen to a series of short podcast recordings on SustainNET’s work being conducted at Edge Hill that were made shortly after the November 2019 Sustainability in the Region event. These are as follows:

  1. Christopher Dent (Business School) – Sustainable business, energy and trade
  2. Geoff Beattie (Psychology) – Implicit attitudes to sustainability and climate change
  3. John Sandars (Medical School / Health) – The links between good health and sustainability in the local region
  4. Paul Aplin (Geography) – Tracking environmental and climate change, with a focus on forests and peatlands
  5. Pam Brandwood (Facilities Management) – Sustainability: inter-linked issues and challenges
  6. Louise Hawxwell, Martin Ford, Becky Cleave (Education) – Teaching on and learning about the Sustainable Development Goals

Christopher Dent, Professor in Economics and International Business in the Business School at Edge Hill University.