|Environmental Change and International Law: New Challenges and Dimensions (UNU, 1992, 493 pages)|
|A. Global learning: concept and applications|
To many observers, global learning seems to remain vague, somewhat unclear, when discussed in the abstract. In real life, global learning not only represents an intellectual framework or perspective. it is linked to concrete purposes and is embedded in a specific context. Thus, global learning also entails learning about something. We will now turn to the content of global learning.
First, some remarks on the specific content that are represented by different social levels and needs. Although it seems obvious, there is a constant need to repeat the fact that the same phenomenon will not have the same impact in different socio-cultural settings. It is one thing to add still another television channel in an already TV-saturated environment and quite another to introduce television in a setting where there is little, if any, access to modern media. In the UNU context, global-learning activities have been concerned at one end of the scale with participatory learning at the most urgent and most neglected level. How can scientific information, relevant to the survival and basic quality of life of unfavoured groups in developing countries, be in a timely fashion, in a manner and form that makes sense to them and, most importantly, on subjects of their choice? At the other end of the scale, studies have concerned themselves with the manner in which learning about global issues can contribute to ameliorate a situation in which higher education is often seen as inadequate for addressing "current human problems."
The basic thrust is that global learning concerns itself with global issues as they are worked out at different levels of society, in terms of both needs and opportunities. The following discussion of possible issue areas that would be the content of global-learning activities is based on the consideration of proposals for projects and action in this field.
The perhaps most obvious and one of the most urgent global-learning concerns is development. As mentioned earlier, development has a clear learning dimension that has often been perceived as no more than the education and training of people to become fit for service as producers and consumers to conform to the image of what has happened in the industrialized world. It is in this context that the concept of "human resource development" becomes problematic: resources are means to an end, while the basic current concept is that human beings should be the subjects of development, not the objects of development.
The form of learning that lies at the heart of development is the "rather elusive process" of social learning, in the global sense used here. As to what needs to be learned, the content of this learning process, Soedjatmoko has indicated various sets of goals, each one by implication pointing to failures in development thinking and development practice. These sets of goals include:
- individual and collective enhancement of a society's ability to adjust to change and to direct change even in the face of such phenomena as new demographic patterns, new technologies, new modes of production, and new stages of political consciousness;
- capacity to develop policies and attitudes that can come to grips with the common structural impediments to change;
- the need, morally and politically, to deal effectively with poverty as symptomatic of a process of economic and environmental decay, often compounded by social and political instability;
- the willingness to socialize and bring into the national mainstream hitherto marginalized groups without raising unacceptable levels of social tension. This implies learning how to motivate and release the energies of those whom Gandhi called "the last, the least, the lowest, and the lost";
- organizing for new purposes, the adjustment of traditional institutions to serve these needs;
- new lessons in the management of development activities. Government bureaucracies and institutions must learn how to adjust to the required systems of self-management and self-reliance, as well as to cope with economic interdependence. In addition, they must also learn how to develop the skill of consensus-making, in the context of pluralism, and to deal with the violence of emerging groups that perceive that their aspirations are not being accommodated;
- ability to live together in increasingly higher population densities, finding new ways to make urban communities function, concerning ourselves not only with how these mega-cities can be assured of their food, energy, and housing needs, but also with the ways in which communities of such size and density can function effectively, with civility, thereby avoiding violent conflict and retaining their creativity;
- capacity to meet the learning needs, brought on by development, through an unprecedented flow of information into the villages and urban neighborhoods. This also implies developing individuals and communities, a capacity for continuous learning, creative impulses, and critical assessment.20
These points have been mentioned in some detail because in many respects they are applicable to several subject-matters such as global change.
It is clear that this kind of required learning involves not only individuals at all social levels over their life-span, but also all major in situations in society, be they governmental or non-governmental, in eluding business enterprises, labour unions, the military, professional associations, women's movements, grass-roots and environmental groups. Learning for the purposes of development implies learning by individuals, by communities, by societies, and in the final count, by the human species.
Concerns about the environment are not new. Yet only in recent years have ecological crises reached such pervasive, disruptive, and potentially disastrous levels that "suddenly the world itself has become a world issue."21 Thus today's environmental problems are closely interlinked, planetary in scale, and, literally, deadly serious.
However, more important than another list of issues is the inter-linkage of environmental problems, particularly what they all amount to in the aggregate. The Brundtland Commission has aptly used the image of our earth seen from space as an entry point when it said, "From space we see a small and fragile ball, dominated not by human activity and edifices, but by a pattern of clouds, oceans, greenery, and soil. Humanity's inability to fit its doings into that pattern is fundamentally changing planetary systems. Many such changes are accompanied by life-threatening hazards. This new reality, from which there is no escape, must be recognized - and managed."22
A complement from the national level arrived in a recent study of resources, population, and the future of the Philippines. The study came to the conclusion that, "the grim prospect of a deepening subsistence crisis throws a long shadow over Philippine socio-economic and political development extending into the next century.... Without effective policies to slow population growth? broaden access to land and other natural resources, and stem environmental degradation, these problems could contribute to increased social unrest, and possibly political violence.23
Social unrest due to environmental degradation, resource depletion, and social injustice have already occurred in various countries. Analysts also foresee that if present trends continue unchecked, environmental problems might well become major reasons for international conflict, and even war. In the coming decades such problems will range from squabbles over mineral deposits and other natural resources to controversies over unilateral decisions in one country that will affect situations in other countries (transborder pollution, downstream effects of effluents, deforestation, over-fishing, and destruction of habitat).
In fact, analysts have pointed out that comparisons to the environmental changes now under way can only be found by going back millions of years in earth's history; the situation is thus totally outside of any human experience. As a result, learning how to cope with these changes is, and will continue to be, a new and difficult experience.
The reluctant and/or partial recognition of this new reality has already led to some action. Despite often bitter scientific and sociopolitical controversy in this area, the ecological crises have reached such a level that the scientific community has merged and agreed on a number of scientific projects on a global scale.
There have also been some surprisingly rapid intergovernmental agreements on specific problems such as the Vienna Ozone Treaty24 and its Montreal Protocol,25 as a well as a series of high-level meetings. However, in addition to the difficulties in getting even limited agreements accepted and implemented, voices are already raised in concern that what has been done is not enough and often too late. In general, the agreements are attacking symptoms rather than causes.
Even though the reality of the situation is only partly perceived and accepted even less so, it has led to a new look at the causes, trends, and phenomena that make current measures appear inadequate, insufficient, and sometimes frivolous. It would be easy to find some examples of these newly perceived issues that hint at the kind of changes that are required. However, it is more important to recognize the interlinkage between development, population, and environment. Far from being antagonistic to development, environmental protection is an irreplaceable partner to development. Environment and development are now seen as opposite sides of the same coin.
Today's challenges require that ecological principles and environmental understanding permeate economic activity. In the future, environmental protection must become a process of designing environmentally sustainable patterns of providing an environmentally non-destructive livelihood. In both rich and poor countries, economic and environmental goals must be integrated in powerful new ways..."26
In summary, what is required is a change in thinking, and changes in the way things are done and organized. While little has so far been said about the global learning that is required, it is obvious that the learning dimension will be crucial if we are to achieve:
- the necessary integration of population, environment, and development policies;
- growth beyond such immature attitudes as growth for growth's sake or hiding behind "technological fixes";
- economic stability by rethinking our economies;
- a change in attitudes towards nature and the interrelationship between man and nature.
Take the following two examples. One, there seems to be increasing agreement that there is a need for a complete transformation of technologies, production, and consumption, but very little debate on what this actually might mean. If environmental factors must be integrated into the design of our energy, transportation, and other systems, it might well mean extensive changes in the provision for private and public transport. Energy might have to be provided at its real price. The inevitable industrialization for the third world will take place, bringing with it the polluting technology invented in and disseminated by the industrialized North.
The other example concerns itself with international cooperation, which will have to take place at hitherto unknown levels. Unilateral decisions by countries on any matter that might affect the environment will probably have to be subjected to negotiations and agreements. This means that there is a need to upgrade international environmental agencies so that they can work out new international treaties and integrate environmental concerns into trade and other rules governing international economic relations.
And, finally, there is a moral and ethical dimension, a need to rethink humanity's global obligations, but even more: to act without rapacity, to use knowledge with wisdom, to respect interdependence, to operate without hubris and greed - these are not simply moral imperatives. They are an accurate scientific description of the means of survival. It is this compelling force of fact that may, I think, control our separatist ambitions before we overturn our planetary life.27