Open Peer Review for the Humanities

Tim Cooper, “History against ‘Education for Sustainable Development’: Teaching Climate Change as Critical History”

Permalink for this paragraph 0 “History against ‘Education for Sustainable Development’: Teaching Climate Change as Critical History”
Tim Cooper
University of Exeter
Tremough Campus

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Permalink for this paragraph 0 Introduction

Permalink for this paragraph 0 In a recent article in History Workshop Journal, Mark Levene has argued that history pedagogy needs to reorient itself towards the presence of ‘The End of History’.[1] This ‘End’ is not, he argues, associated with one or another ‘failed’ historical meta-narrative, rather it is an authentic existential crisis of civilization fuelled by the consequences of anthropogenic climate change. Levene poses the telling question of what future history teaching and research can possibly have in societies which can themselves now see an historical terminus ahead. How can we reframe the teaching and writing of history in ways relevant to a society with firmly limited horizons? Responding to this challenge, Levene looks to the tradition of polemical historical writing, by those such as E.P Thompson, to argue that we can put little trust in elites to fix the systemic features of human interaction with the atmosphere. Rather, it is to grassroots movements of the kind that were the focus of Thompson’s work that we should look for hope of a future.[2]

Permalink for this paragraph 0 While we should be wary about apocalyptic readings of anthropogenic climate change because of the wide range of uncertainties involved in predicting the effects of global warming and the political implications of catastrophism (Levene recognises these problems in his article), I do believe that it is very worthwhile to think about the meaning of historical learning from the perspective of the ‘End Times’.[3] We can even this of this ending, as does Slavoj Žižek, as a point of transference, an ideological  frame through which it is necessary to travel before some new world become possible. As Dipesh Chakrabarty has argued, thinking in terms of the epochal geological rupture associated with the idea of the anthropocene as geological epoch, dramatizes the limits of the Enlightenment concept of history, and the a priori division of human history from natural history.[4] While it is questionable whether the abandonment of the humanist, anthropocentric objectives of traditional history is appropriate, the idea of an imminent end to history begs the question of what lies beyond the current capitalist organisation of society. What can we imagine, other than the end of history itself, beyond an eternal present of capital accumulation?[5] As Levene demonstrates, this is a question of our temporal imaginaries, but it is our ideological horizon that sets their limit. It is this that makes thinking about teaching climate change as an explicitly critical practice so compelling.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Thinking about history within the temporal dimension of the ‘End Times’ is a utopian act. The literal ‘no place’ of the human future, is given a particular  meaning through climatic catastrophism, and offers us a way of focussing upon the historical territory of the contingency of human social arrangements. But it also queries that contingency, the very historicism which we assume is at the heart of our discipline, and which is itself so rarely subject to criticism. It asks the question “is this it?” It forces us to view ourselves, our desires and our social institutions, from the outside in an ethical way. In terms of teaching history, anthropogenic climate change does not simply present us with a ‘natural’ crisis with social origins, but also a symbolic or ideological crisis that highlights the very limits of what is possible in the present. Can we really change the fundamental basis of our political economy, even when what is at stake may be the very continued functioning of civilization itself? Historical responses to anthropogenic climate change therefore demand that we reflect critically not merely upon the historical roots of the present ecological crisis, but upon the structures of subjectivity and ideology in the present and the limits they place on the possible.[6] Bringing those themes into our practice as teachers and learners also demands that we engage with the limits set to what it teachable as history in the first place.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Thinking with the ‘End Times’ also asks us whether we are really serious about the humanistic claims for history, that a knowledge of the past can be activated to improve and transform the human condition. This claim is often made in the current climate where humane studies find themselves subjected to the phantasmagoria of market valuation. What is the value of a history degree? The romantic-humanist response to this question, which typically emphasises the role of the public university in the preservation of democratic cultural values and the tolerance of difference, while appealing, has done little to stem the tide of marginalization of authentic scholarly activity. Against the hegemonic tide of universalized accounting practices, the language of ‘skills agendas’, and instrumental assessment metrics that dominate the contemporary university, the humanist paradigm has proven to have little remaining purchase.[7] The time has come to embrace the end of humanist claims for university level education as a whole. The humanist university is a lost cause. In the future teaching and learning must be seen not as core elements of university life, but as activities that occur in spite of the university as an institution. Every moment in the seminar room is potentially a counter-hegemonic event against an institution now held firmly in the hands of the enemy.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Our ‘End Times’ however, offer a fertile moment of contradiction, one that can be deployed precisely to open up anti-hegemonic moments. What good are all those metrics and narrowly ‘skilled’ and ‘employable’ graduates in a world without a future? This is the question that those of us working in the humanities in general and history in particular, can still pose if we choose to. It is a question that resists the degraded logics of neo-liberal learning simply through its demand for a historical perspective on the question “What is it all for?” Chakrabarty is right to suggest that it is perplexing that anthropogenic climate change has not been firmly brought within the realms of historical study much earlier, leaving its territory to the natural sciences which have themselves done much to try to narrow the gap.[8] In the present circumstances, simply to ask this simple existential question, and to demand the right to think about an answer, provides a vital way in which we can start to force open the space to think in the contemporary university. This space to think is both the product of, and the condition for, a critical history of climate change.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Critical history and the ‘relative autonomy’ of the classroom

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Before we can establish the possibility of a critical history of anthropogenic climate change we should ask whether historians (and the academic community more widely) are still capable of forging a critical engagement with the present? Levene’s rather catastrophic reading of the implications of anthropogenic climate change is helpful precisely because it raises questions about the role of critical learning in the contemporary university. In short, Levene implies the question ‘To what extend does the university remain institutionally capable of organising the kind of rethinking relevant to living in the ‘End Times’?

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Their public role increasingly attenuated, universities, and the humanities in particular, now face serious questions about their very capacity to operate as spaces of critique.[9] The production of research to meet the demands of such metrics as the Research Excellence Framework, and more or less arbitrary internal assessments for promotion purposes, arguably neuters both the critical content and space for innovation in research from the outset. Existing historiographical problems provide the fertile territory from which to build an institutionally recognisable research career, albeit one that is likely to seem abstruse at best from the perspective of ‘real-world’ issues.  It is far from clear that existential questions even remain articulable within the university when the horizon of what can be asked is increasingly determined by external agents such as governmental institutions, corporations or the ideological apparatus of the media.[10]

Permalink for this paragraph 0 However, it is not simply the absence of space for critique which is a question, a point that is easily neutered by supporters of the status quo by listing a series of exceptions to the rule. Increasingly, the university apparatus is itself becoming a positive source of ideological conceptions of the world. The university is rendered a machine for resolving (temporarily) the contradictions of capitalism through new techniques of environmental and biological technocratic control, celebrated on university websites everywhere as evidence of ‘innovation’ and social relevance. Problem solving rather than critical education, which opens the possibility of alternative temporalities and futurities is the order of the day.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Students from every discipline are increasingly asked to see themselves as participants in the grand challenge of problem solving in order to sustain capitalist social relations. Critics from both left and right have pointed to the ways in which the Universities have increasingly evolved into privatised spaces dedicated to the production of undergraduates who view themselves as individual proprietors of skilled labour power, possessing a range of ‘employability skills’ and various kinds of specialised problem-solving knowledge.[11] As Giroux puts it “Within this impoverished sense of politics and public life, the university is increasingly being transformed into the training ground for the corporate workforce, and with it any notion of the future that views higher education as a crucial public sphere in which critical citizens and democratic agents are formed.”[12]

Permalink for this paragraph 0 For opponents of this system the question is one of how to find strength in this position of weakness. One possible response is to recognise and reclaim the teaching space as a real of counter-hegemonic activity; a space within which the contradictions an absent future can be made apparent and deployed to extend the horizons of which questions can be asked.[13] As bell hooks argues in Teaching to Transgress, “the classroom with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility, we have the opportunity to labour for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress.”[14] To place climate change as a contemporary issue at the heart of learning and thinking about history in the classroom should be more than an attempt to demonstrate the continuing ‘relevance’ and ‘impact’ of our subject in changing times. It should rather be taken as an opportunity to think really critically about what space continues to exist for really changing those times.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 EfSD and the University: Doing not Thinking!

Permalink for this paragraph 0 While the adoption of Education for Sustainable Development (EfSD) is often limited to a process of ‘badging’ existing modules as ‘sustainability related’ for auditing purposes, there are also more ambitious efforts to reframe education in order to inhabit the deeper institutional imperatives of EfSD.  In concrete terms, EfSD has become embodied in a range of material practices and textual interventions designed to reframe the way in which learning is understood by both students and teachers alike.  One of the first objectives of the teaching of environmental history today should be making apparent and querying the existence and relevance of the institutional ideology of EfSD: doing so opens up opportunities to explore an emancipatory approach to learning and thinking with history about the problem of our common future. It therefore remains urgently necessary to recognise that the teaching of anthropogenic climate change as history occurs in a particular institutional and ideological context. Universities increasingly seek to corner ‘sustainability’ and the ‘environment’ as master signifiers of their continuing institutional relevance to society at large. However, the framework within which this enters teaching is increasingly determined by the pedagogic predominance of the Education for Sustainability. EfSD as an institutionalized narrative of the aims and methods of teaching about socio-environmental questions seeks to reproduce a particular view of those questions should mean. It ensures that as far as possible they are articulated within a particular ideological horizon. EfS presents the existing socio-economic system as ‘natural’ and the contradictions stemming from it, in terms of climate change or environmental degradation more widely, as system mishaps subject to technological or behavioural fixes. It therefore effaces the political and social content of such phenomena. It is against EfS that a critical historiographical approach to learning about anthropogenic climate change increasingly needs to be positioned.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 A number of authors have contrasted the EfSD approach to an authentically ‘eco-pedagogic’ approach to learning. EfSD emerged in the 1990s as the dominant way of articulating the relationship of university-level education to environmental issues.[15] Many universities in Britain now deploy an EfS pedagogic discourse to frame the meaning and legitimate the practice of environmental education, and its relevance to the contemporary undergraduate. This adoption of EfSD has, along with numerous other institutional changes, been largely driven by factors external to a largely atrophied professional pedagogic decision-making process. It only coincidentally reflects an authentic, autonomous response by intellectuals to environmental and climate change issues. Rather, EfSD has been promoted in the wake of global and national governmental efforts to institutionalise and control the nature of environmental education Higher Education. For example, we are currently in the middle of the UNESCO Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, a global programme that seeks to universalise EfSD as the model for universities response to global environmental questions on the basis of an ideal of ‘global citizenship’.[16]  This externalised character of EfSD as a pedagogic model not driven by intellectuals themselves, but by the interests of global governance institutions is one of the central characteristics of EfSD, and renders it increasingly a core element of higher education as a global ideological state apparatus.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 In the UK this had been institutionally embodied in the results of HEFCE’s programme Sustainable Development in Higher Education which has outlined an objective of making the HE sector a ‘major contributor to society’s efforts to achieve sustainability’.[17] The report is brutally instrumental in its articulation of sustainable development and Higher education. As it puts it, “Higher education can help to promote new and sustainable ways of living, working, producing and travelling that will help achieve wider benefits to human health and wellbeing”. All this is driven by the fact that, “The Government has made it clear that it wants the public sector to take a lead in sustainable development, by promoting and delivering sustainable development through all its policies and through its own operations.”[18] In other word sustainable development is seen as a governmental imperative and universities as an apparatus to deliver that objective.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 In practice much of the institutional work of developing EfSD as a practical pedagogy and institutional presence has been led in the UK by the Higher Education Academy, which has a programme for developing EfSD that includes numerous sub-programmes delivering reports and data on curricula. As these programmes get closer to researchers and teachers, a language of critical engagement emerges, suggesting that the concerns of the academic community begin to transform some of the EfS discourse. The Sustainability in Higher Education Developers Network (SHED), for example, explicitly includes the objective: “To treat the concept of sustainability and Education for Sustainability critically and explore the advantages and disadvantages of a wide range of alternative approaches from ecopedagogy and transition, to deep green resistance and the dark mountain project – treating each approach equally critically”.[19] However, one is struck by the strict discursive limits of this criticality, which subjects only the symbolic order of EfSD itself to critical analysis. The basic critico-ideological question of what lies behind, or structures, the very nature of environmental problems is rarely brought forwards.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sustainability narratives are therefore founded on a constitutive exclusion, an ‘absent referent’, that is rarely rendered visible, that enables their ideological functioning. A truly critical engagement needs to render apparent what is actually excluded within EfSD and subject that to analysis. One of the key objectives for ‘critical’ educators with respect to EfSD is exposing the existence of this absent referent of ‘sustainability’. What is it that we seek to sustain? It is this absent referent that determines the ideological horizon of EfSD, and it is worth reflecting on what this means in terms of how to frame alternative ways of teaching the environment or climate change. Typically historical definitions of sustainability will usually refer back to the Brundlandt Commission’s 1987 definition of sustainable development, which assumes that existing social relations are sustainable and that it is a primarily technological and behavioural change that is at stake in the act of producing sustainability. The use of the Bundtland definition of sustainability has been subject to strong criticism particularly from eco-pedagogues such as Richard Kahn as predicated upon sustaining capitalist social relations (the absent referent) rather than sustaining life.[20] It is also historically problematic in so far as it fails to recognised the long history of a concept of sustainability, such that it stabilizes what has, in effect, always been a contested term.[21]

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Advocates of EfS would not, of course, accept this representation of their approach as insufficiently critical. To be fair, there are indeed spaces within EfSD of counter-hegemonic discourses of various kinds. Perhaps the most commonly found such space is constructed through the use of the Earth Charter as the basis for certain principles such as the concept of ‘global citizenship’. These are commonly deployed by EfSD to legitimate the idea that critical engagement with environmental issues is socially and pedagogically necessary.[22] However, this idea of global citizenship is commonly imagined from the perspective of a smooth plane of globality in which environmental issues are exhibited as producing ‘challenges’ for ‘human’ development as a whole. The Earth Charter proclaims for example that that ‘we’ are ‘one human family’, a term that then finds its way into contemporary justifications of EfSD.[23] Historians in particular would be right to sceptical about such naturalising claims that efface the existence of a world of radically and structurally uneven development typified by great inequalities of class, gender and race. This flat globality is typical of the neo-liberal political framework that underpins EfSD, which seeks to individuate social problems as problems of the behaviour and attitudes of individual ‘global citizens’ who should seek to ‘walk more lightly’ upon the earth. This is commonly to be found in the associate of EfSD with naturalised ‘behaviourist’ approaches to learning in which the nature of environmental problems are assumed to be transparent along with the solutions and EfSD if reduced to a process of producing the correct subjective relation towards these problems in terms of the behaviour apparent to students. The alliance in practice of the application of EfSD with particular individuated practices such as recycling and energy saving is one example of this. Politicians need not apply!

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Recently, the readily apparent limits of EfSD’s critical engagement with environmental learning have become even more accentuated by the uncritical drift toward ‘employability’. Advocates of EfSD have moved efficiently to fill this space opened by the empty signifier ‘employability’ by framing EfSD as response to the requirements of employers for ‘sustainability literacy’ and knowledge of ‘corporate social responsibility’. Increasingly EfSD is articulated alongside employability as a way of rearticulating the curriculum toward ‘action-oriented’ approaches to teaching.[24] While action-oriented approaches do contain a radical potential within the individuate, business oriented framework of EfSD they explicitly seek to produce obedient work-focussed subjects who understand global environmental questions not in a systematic critical fashion but as subject to individuated behaviourist responses. Critico-ideological thought of the kind likely to challenge the role of capitalist social relations in producing such phenomena as anthropogenic climate change are not merely marginalised by EfSD, but become literally inarticulable. We can therefore place EfSD alongside ecology more broadly as precisely the kind of action designed to produce inaction, decried by Žižek as typical of post-modern ideology. A great deal of fuss is made precisely to ensure that nothing fundamental changes.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Eco-pedagogy and History: Thinking before Doing

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Structurally speaking, then, EfSD seeks to ensure that debate about responses to climate change within higher education institutions remains firmly within the horizon of capitalist development as an unchanging norm. As pedagogy it is structured to prevent discussion of the very futurity that climate change issues raise as a problematic in the first place. There is no ‘beyond’ capitalism, no space for a critical and fundamental reordering of social relations, even if that may ultimately be necessary. What should our response to this as historians be? One way forward would be to leave EfSD to those who already dominate the terms of its teaching in the social, physical and biological sciences. These are of course already subject to critique through science studies, and we might claim to leave matters there. However, another approach might be to see EfSD as an empty signifier, and as such open to contestation of its meaning. The existing symbolic order within EfSD is already riven with potentially productive contradictions, and it is my claim that it is these very contradictions that should be the basis of an alternative approach to the teaching of climate change and history. This approach should be founded on a combination of critical pedagogy and ideology critique approach to learning. Rather than teaching about EFS, this would involve directly making EfSD the object of critique, asking students involved in sustainability education how far they conceive EfSD as adequate to addressing the environmental questions likely to face them in their lifetimes, and explicitly deploying the resources of a historical understanding of climate change to enable them to develop an alternative course of set of proposals for how to set about learning in this area. This is an approach that history as a discipline is particularly well-placed to contribute to. What is required is the development of an approach to thinking and learning about the environment and climate change that is firmly about thinking before doing and which includes what EfSD excludes: the absent referent of sustainability, capitalism as an historical epoch.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The best counter model to EfSD currently available is that of ‘eco-pedagogy’, and approach to environmental education that draws on the traditions of Paulo Freire and Henri Giroux of ‘critical pedagogy’. In its original form critical pedagogy posited a critique of a ‘banking’ approach to learning as the absorption of authorised knowledge, preferring to suggest that learning could be based upon the existing knowledge and capacities of learning subjects in thinking about their own experiences and situation to produce a critical engaged understanding of the world as it is lived in rather than as an abstract place outside the experience of the learner. In the hands of ‘eco-pedagogues’ such as Richard Kahn it has been suggested that this approach has a great deal of potential in enabling learners to produce relevant situated environmental knowledge. This is not reducible to the ‘action-oriented’ model of learning often proposed by advocates of EfSD. Most vital of all, however, critical pedagogues include the experience of social relations and politics as relevant subjects of study; however, this is done from a radically subjective position, asking students to situate themselves within these politics and relations. In adopting this approach I have interpreted this as demanding that ‘historical knowledge’ be directly related to questions of ‘relevance’ and, more than this, that these questions be posed as far as possible from the subjective point of view of students themselves.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 How might this be made to work in practice? The question posed by Levene at the start of this paper both makes sense of this need and offers a very concrete institutional response to it. This response has been embodied in a collaborative HEA project, co-ordinated by Levene, for the former History Subject Centre. This collaborative project brought together a range of scholars to produce a model syllabus on History and Climate Change. This syllabus, Past Actions Present Woes Future Potential, is a valuable resource that exemplifies the possibilities in collaborative approaches to designing resources for the teaching of history.[25] Driven by the input of a range of scholars from a number of fields, rather than institutional imperatives, Past Actions contains a wide range of critical material and original pedagogic approaches that deploy historical knowledge to raise the question of what a social response to climate change can be, and how history should inform it.  More than this, though, it is an explicit attempt to provide resources that rethink what the teaching and learning of history is as a practice. What does the historical knowledge of an undergraduate mean from the perspective of the future? And how might historical knowledge contribute to a reconstitution of that future. For the last two years I have used this syllabus as the basis for my own module on history and anthropogenic climate change, which has proved popular with undergraduates, many of whom have reported that the module enabled them to deal with contemporary political and social issues in a way that is not always as readily possible with other forms of historical engagement. This alone suggests that Past Actions should be more widely known and used.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 However, in using Past Actions as the basis of my module, I have also sought to radically extend and transform it in the light of my concerns with EfSD. One of my criticisms of Past Actions would be that, while in many respects it presents itself as a move away from teaching a module as a body of knowledge unconnected to wider social and political practice, the syllabus does not go far enough in this regard. In effect it fails to fully abandon the ‘banking’ model and to trust students to develop relevant knowledge of climate change for themselves. In part this limit is inscribed in aspects of the catastrophist underpinning of engagement with anthropogenic climate change, which finds it difficult to open itself to approaches that may be critical of scientific knowledge production, or the social meanings of climate change. Ironically, much of the best historical work on climate precisely takes this kind of approach. In short Past Actions risks too didactic an approach. However, rendering the concept of climate change itself historical and problematic can transcend this.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 One of the key changes that I made in my own application of Past Actions was to put the critique of EfS, and particularly the institutional logic of EfSD at my own institution, at the heart of the module. Students begin their engagement with climate change as a social question through an analysis of the concept of sustainability and sustainability education at their own institution of learning. They are encouraged to see the teaching of a module on the history of climate change as contingent on this context and to ask themselves about the gap between institutional expectations, and their own desires in studying the module. I therefore offer the module as an opportunity for students to think critically about and respond to logic of EfSD and its effects on their own learning context. As part of this process the students are asked to read a paper critical of EfSD (on which this current paper is itself based) around which the rest of the module then seeks to orient itself in terms of critical discussions of capitalism, technological fixes, gender and the politics of climate change. We thus seek to establish a radically reflexive, critical, subject position from the outset of the module, which I make clear, is not to be seen as an attempt to impart ‘proper’ behavioural attitudes, but rather a properly critical approach to what forms and delimits climate change as a problem in the first place. In short the module is rendered an attempt at situated ideology critique.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The module’s assessment seeks to reinforce this approach. The module is jointly assessed through an assessed essay and a group project in which groups produce a joint wiki. The wiki is specifically designed to provide a space for collective expression of ideas, which is prompted by my claim that climate change is a social problem that is inappropriately addressed through individualistic mode of assessment. Students can pursue any line of research they wish with the specification that they should always be seeking to use historical knowledge to engage an audience critically with history and climate change. This has resulted in a wide range of projects from the creation of resources for schools to critique of existing historical modules and forms of teaching. It is a difficult assignment that seeks precisely to actually activate historical knowledge, to make real a social and critical intervention developed in the classroom itself. From the ‘relative autonomy’ of the classroom a space is sought in which historical knowledge can become a genuinely activated critique. Students are also asked to write an assessed essay on what they think the opportunities and challenges for history in teaching anthropogenic climate change are. Rather than asking a question that seeks to elicit given historical knowledge, students are explicitly asked to form an opinion about what they felt they should be taught based on their concrete critical engagement with the module.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 This module and these approaches to assessment, while not without significant challenges of their own, has elicited some really critical and engaging responses to my own assumptions about what I am seeking to do through this module, as well as to the teaching history in general. One common response is the idea that the orientation of history towards dealing with problems and questions of the present made it seem more ‘relevant’ or ‘engaging’.  In some cases this was very explicitly articulated against the dominant institutional concerns with ‘skills’ and ‘employability’ as the key ways in which students are asked to conceive of, and express, their subjectivity. For instance, when asked for their responses to the approach to the module, one student responded:

Permalink for this paragraph 0 What I like most about this module … is the way in which it is taught…I think this issue of intellectual stimulation is a real problem at the University and the push towards employ-ability compounds rather than eradicates that problem. Rather than encouraging critical engagement with issues such as climate change, an employ-ability centred approach surely just reinforces the views of the hegemony.[26]

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Another student has commented:

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Moving onto our module program, firstly I’ll say that so far I’m thoroughly enjoying it, we engage with some very complicated interdisciplinary and very current debates and issues, which in itself I think is very useful. I thought the whole point of university was to become a critical individual who has their own opinions and can engage in debate, as well as learning to write like the historians we read about. Learning for learning sake and for bettering ourselves as individuals seems to have gone out of the window for the most part.[27]

Permalink for this paragraph 0 What is fascinating about these responses is the way they highlight the existence of a feeling that the true impulse students have to study history at university, which is the pursuit of a critical attitude toward the past, has become marginalised by instrumental managerial dogma.  It is surely from this frustrated space of desire for genuine critical engagement that a critical historical perspective on anthropogenic climate change can emerge.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Conclusion

Permalink for this paragraph 0 There is a vast opportunity for critical engagement with climate change in the contemporary classroom. A generation of students is emerging who have not only experience an epochal crisis of capitalism, the introduction in a British contest of privatized, fees-based education, but also are forced to live with the presence of the end of history. The contemporary university is utterly under-equipped to speak to them in a meaningful way. The desire for the thrill of authentic critical engagement with the world around us still beats strongly in the heart of the modern undergraduate. Those who bemoan the loss of so idealised past humanist university would do well to look to the resources for change that we find in ever increasing numbers right in front of us: a generation of students whose futures have never been more uncertain. In truth, they already know what it is to ask critical questions, and to seek alternatives. Teaching anthropogenic climate change offers more than an opportunity to speak to, or even to critique, the failed discourse of EfSD. It offers an opportunity to recapture the classroom as a site of counter-hegemonic struggle; an opportunity to demand the right to ask existential questions, to question the very framework within which what is possible is set. This is surely the crucial first set towards the possibility of a politics that will see us through ‘The End Times’ and towards some kind of politics which not only restores the possibility of futurity, but actively transforms what is possible in that future.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [1] M. Levene, ‘Historians for the Right to Work: We Demand A Continuing Supply of History’, History Workshop Journal, 73, 1 (2009), 69-81

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [2] Levene, ‘Right to Work’, 79-80;  M.D. Bess, ‘E.P. Thompson, The Historian As Activists’, American Historical Review, 98, 1 (Feb 1993), 18-38.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [3] S. Zizek, Living in the End Times (Verso, 2009)

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [4] D. Chakrabarty, ‘The Climate of History: Four Theses’, Critical Inquiry, 35 (2009), 197-222

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [5] F. Jameson, ‘Future City’, New Left Review, 21 (2003), 65-79

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [6] L. White, ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis’,

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [7] This is little recognised however. For all its compelling romanticism Thomas Docherty’s recent book For the University: Democracy and the Future of the Institution (2011) simply restates, in rather conservative tones,  the value of the public university in terms that no longer coincide with the reality of the contemporary institution and the experience of those that work within it. Nor does it confront the possibility that recent changes are commensurate with a more widespread, and planned, assault upon democratic institutions. Similarly the laudable Campaign for the Public University in the UK, engages the rational defence of a form of education that, in practical terms, no longer exists. Its engagement with the question of undergraduate fees in terms that question, not the ideological or class parameters of how university funding has changed, but the accounting rationality of student fees, demonstrates the exhaustion of the romantic-humanist vision. The Campaign for the Public University (UK), publicuniversity.org.uk, accessed 31 October 2012.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [8] M. Hulme, Why Do We Disagree about Climate Change?

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [9] F. Furedi, Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone (2004), T. Docherty, For the University; Democracy and the Future of the Institution (2012).

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [10] C. Lorenz, ‘If You’re so Smart, Why Are you Under Surveillance? Universities, Neoliberalism and the New Public Management’, Critical Inquiry, 38  (2012)

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [11] H.A. Giroux, ‘The Corporate War Against Higher Education’, Critical Pedagogy Online, htts://www.louisville.edu/journal/workplace/issue5p1/Giroux.html (accessed online 25 April 2009)

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [12] H.A. Giroux, Education and the Crisis of Youth: Schooling and the Promise of Democracy’, The Educational Forum, 73 (2009), 13.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [13] Communiqe froman Absent Future, wewanteverything.wordpress.com, accessed 31 October 2012.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [14] bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of freedom (1994), 207.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [15] A. Wals and B. Jickling, ‘“Sustainability” in higher education: From Doublethink and Newsspeak to Critical Thinking and Meaningful Learning, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 3, 3 (2002), 221-232

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [17] HEFCE, Sustainable Development in Higher Education 2008, http:/www/hefce.ac.uk/pubs/

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [19] HEA, Sustainability in Higher Education Developers Network, http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/organisations/detail/esd_shed, accessed 18 December 2012

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [20] R. Kahn, ‘From Education for Sustainable Development to Eco-pedagogy: Sustaining Capitalism or Sustaining Life?’, Green Theory and Praxis: A Journal of Eco-Pedagogy, 4, 1 (2008).

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [21] P. Warde, ‘The Invention of Sustainability’, Modern Intellectual History, 8 (2011), 153-70

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [23] See for example advice to stadd of EfS at the University of Exeter. A Quick Guide to Education for Sustainability http://as.exeter.ac.uk/media/level1/academicserviceswebsite/studentandstaffdevelopment/educationenhancement/educationforsustainability/EfSQuickguide.pdf (accessed 15/08/2012)

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [24] University of Gloucester, Education for Sstainability: A Guide for Educators on Teaching and Learning Approaches, http://insight.glos.ac.uk/sustainability/Education/Documents/EfS%20Educators%20Guide%20FINAL%207July11.pdf (Accessed 15/08/2012); C. Cremin, ‘Never Employable Enough: The (Im)possibility of Satisfying the Boss’s Desire’, Organization , 17, 2 (2010), 131-49.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [25] Levene, et al, Past Actions Present Woes Future Potential: Rethinking History in the Light of Anthropogenic Climate Change, http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/heahistory/elibrary/internal/co_levene_pastactions_20100731/ (accessed 14/08/2012)

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [26] Personal communication with undergraduate

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [27] Personal communication with undergraduate

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