OneThing28: sustainably fit for our times

Sustainability – living within Earth’s natural rhythms

Holding Earth

Cascadia - the great rivers of the Northwest and their watersheds flowing to the Pacific

The variety and beauty of the Pacific Northwest

The best way for us to talk about this was to use the elements of systems thinking to focus on sustainability.

  • What are the primary STOCKS of the Pacific Northwest we want to preserve? What (rising/declining) STOCKS threaten the Pacific Northwest?
  • What are the annual/decadal/epochal FLOWS within the Pacific Northwest we need to reduce? Increase? Repair? Honor?
  • What are the relationships among these STOCKS and FLOWS?
  • What BEHAVIORS emerge over time from among these STOCKS and FLOWS?

And so we started looking at patterns of behavior of the stocks we were interested in:  dam building, logging and tree-planting, growth of roads, shifts in car purchases, population growth and shift throughout the region, sprawl, and others.  We saw logistic growth, overshoot and collapse, exponential growth still unchecked, and we noted some absolute declines.  The growth (or decline) of one stock impacted still other stocks. In some cases, the feedback was quite distant in time or space (e.g., loss of salmon runs due to small-scale but ubiquitous dam-building).

With care . . . and systems thinking, we can sustain our only planet

For God’s sake . . . how do we regain equilibrium?

That’s when we started looking carefully at interconnections among stocks and flows.  It was a lot to learn – students realized that they needed a really different, and a really disciplined way of thinking about things so that they might tell the story about sustaining it.

Camp Snowball participants will learn that “Education for Sustainability . . .is a transformative learning process.”  It’s a kind of apprenticeship for living responsibly.  Students in the “Northwest Rhythms” course had to acquire a different set of learning skills so that they might generate new questions and make sense of their complex world . . . and make sense of it in a new and compelling narrative.  The process transformed them, indeed.

When I was a child, we learned about things.  Barry Richmond called them “the nouns of a system,” just a bunch of parts of speech lying around.  In education for sustainability, students learn about the relationships among those things, the “verbs and conjunctions and prepositions” as Barry might say. With this, students can compose a new world view. Holistic rather than reductionist.

Can we not read the sign of the times . . .

What systems thinking offers sustainability education is an accessible and critical tool that imbues students with a radical story-telling ability.

Hold on, everyone . . . we

are on the slippery crest of a rising paradigm.  There is much to learn . . . let’s get our students learning . . . so they can help us!


One comment on “OneThing28: sustainably fit for our times

  1. Sustainability is about finding a balance between the environment, the economy and the community. Each of these historically has been studied individually and that was probably okay when the world was a lot less crowded. Now the impact they have on each other is hard to ignore and so they must be considered together.
    System thinking process allows us to look at that big picture and find a balance point for the three, where all can thrive. Education can not only be about the stocks or memorizing details. To make sense you have to look at it as a system, that gives rise to an understanding of how one action can have on so many unanticipated impacts. With understanding comes the opportunity for action and change. When they can tell the story of what has and is happening they can then add new chapters that may lead to a happier ending.
    This makes me think that there is a much greater need for more integrated curriculum in schools today. A systems approach to education would improve the critical thinking skills of students and better prepare them to solve the many problems we have created in our rush to technology.
    Maybe it is time for a return of “Northwest Rhythms”.

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