Sustainability – living within Earth’s natural rhythms
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!