The end of week one of being a student and a fascinating, exciting, intimidating and brilliant first week. Setting aside the crushing realisation of the volume and scope of the topic of environmental technology, and the more crushing realisation of my relative decrepitude in comparison to the rest of the students, I’ve loved every minute of being told that now it is my job to sit, and read, and learn.
In particular, a very varied and wide reaching week has led me to consider environmental leadership, or more accurately an absence of it. In a slightly off-the wall policy lecture I wondered briefly if a man with a didgeridoo, discussing sustainability issues through analogies with the importance of sound (see didgitalis), could be the future face of environmental leadership. But in the end came to the conclusion that he was probably just a nice man, who loved the environment, and the didgeridoo – and had found an inventive, if slightly tenuous way to tie the two together.
As the IPCC were, with their fifth report, once again reaffirming – yes, we are now very very sure – man is warming the planet, I looked to the party conference season for signs of environmental leadership. Instead we find Ed Milliband deciding that the solution is to cap energy prices, a policy proudly heralded as one of the biggest, most significant new policies announced in many years at a Labour conference. Without underestimating the assistance that possibly saving a few hundred pounds a year on energy bills will provide to some of the poorest members of our society, for this to be declared a visionary and dramatic new policy seemed only to reflect what a lack of vision and genuine leadership our current political parties can offer.
Perhaps the conservative party would offer something better. They have, afterall, rebranded to the powerfully ‘greened’ image of the conservative tree. Large, proud, British and green – it suggests an environmental leadership which sadly appears entirely lacking with a government agreeing to choose agriculture over wildlife with the badger cull and deciding that the real problem with our energy policy is that perhaps we have gone too far with promoting green energies. We should, after all, be trailing – doing the bare minimum, to match the slowest of our European partners according to George Osbourne’s green manifesto.
For a while I wondered if business could provide that leadership – and then I saw this…
If this is one of the world’s largest company’s idea of what corporates should be proud of, we perhaps have a long way to go.
So where is our Nelson Mandela, or even where is our bottom up change of attitude and social norm which brought huge social changes to apartheid in South Africa, or a smoking ban in the UK – examples that show that long entrenched systems and social norms can change – and they are changed by leadership which can come from all directions. Sadly it seems to be badly lacking – leaders and the public, as one, consumed by short termism over the increasingly un-ignorable realities of the effects we are inflicting on future generations. Perhaps the didgeridoo was not such a bad idea – engagement on a new emotional, intellectual and social level is what is required and any new approaches which can help just a few people achieve that are worth a try.
On more light hearted reflections from the week I’ve been struck, somewhat ironically on an environmental technology course, not by the environmental technology – but the educational technology. Learning is a thoroughly different experience to the chalk and mumble experience of a maths degree 15 years ago. Interactive online platforms containing presentations, online forms and library access, online voting on discussions via mobile phone in lectures , remote access via phone and laptop to your personal storage drive, even an app which tells you where in the University there are spare computers available.
Perhaps I am just showing my age again as I have been doing demoralisingly all week. Having started the week seeing myself outlying to the far left of a ‘years of birth of this year’s masters students’ graph I ended it by buying a cup of tea in one of the Uni cafes (obviously I had already given away my age by not buying a small skinny late or frappuccino). In order to establish the price, the lady serving me asked with a smile, “are you a member of staff sir, or a visitor”… “I’m a student” I replied, hoping for disarmingly friendly but I fear only achieving indignant and grumpy…