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Global context

World Citizen Badge

Badge displaying the World Citizen symbol
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Securing the future
With globalization (the increasing interconnection and interdependence of nations) we are becoming more and more involved with issues and developments that occur at an international scale. We are now a community of global citizens with a shared future and fate. Managing the planet will require us to work together towards common global goals while still attending to our local needs and concerns. A successful approach will need to accommodate and reconcile different world views.

Good intentions are fine – but where do we start?

Already the international community has laid the foundations for this grand vision based on the concept of sustainability – caring for planet Earth in a way that promotes the flourishing and well-being of humans and the community of life – achieved through the careful management of our collective environmental, social, and economic needs. This is a kind of global mission statement, but global responsibility must run deeper than fine words so this is backed by an international set of programs and policies developed by the United Nations and they need our support. To discover more about these programs you can explore the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.[2]

All our actions affect sustainability so this web site has attempted to keep sustainabilty constantly in view.

What would be an appropriate general education for a citizen of the world?

Educational curriculum for a responsible world citizen
Western social, scientific and educational traditions were laid down most emphatically by the ancient Greeks and Romans who took the education of their leaders extremely seriously. But the world has changed. Today we find the social hierarchies of the classical world presumptuous and undemocratic, and their heroic and triumphal nationalim and imperialism too aggressive and patronising and, perhaps more importantly, totally inappropriate for our present world. But the legacy of their educational enthusiasm is as important today as it ever was except today education is not just for an elite class it is, in principle at least, intended to be available for everyone. And as we are quickly coming to realise – in a globalised interconnected and interdependent world with global problems we need to educate people for a global future. This means that at least part of the education of our young citizens should be a ‘global education’.

World history, the world’s ideologies, religions and world views, and ways in which we can possibly confront and manage elements of our human nature that can so easily derail this process.

Managing the planet
Part of the political process must entail developing a vision for the future of planet Earth – the sustainable management of its resources to ensure the best possible outcomes for future generations. This study has been referred to as ‘sustainability science”’.

Though the words ‘science’ and ‘sustainability’ both have detractors the nearest we have to a global consensus on the future management of Earth revolves around the internationally-accepted United Nations program carried out under the general banner of ‘sustainable development’. ‘Sustainable development’ is an expression whose broad character and intentions have been well understood and acknowledged world-wide since the 1980s together with its associated and targeted global programs. It is a n expression term that promotes interdisciplinary studies and cooperation between the arts and sciences and has already received considerable intellectual attention or global sustainability research. Sustainability studies already address central issues at many scales, planetary, organismal, and human history, and the analysis of complex systems. Sustainability provides a highly stimulating and challenging opportunity that involves working on many scales and contexts, often within multidisciplinary teams of professionals. This web site makes a contribution to this background.

Big History
Big History is an increasingly popular approach to teaching and introducing history in general. Big History can be a starting point that provides an overall perspective or point of departure for more detailed studies covering shorter time frames. There is a good overview of sustainability itself in Margaret Robertson’s Sustainability Principles & Practice (2014) with a web site of support materials,[1] other recent books on sustainability are listed in the references.

Multidisciplinary integration of the arts and sciences
Big History is ‘big picture’ history that examines human existence in relation to the history of the planet, its geography, and its biological and physical systems: it examines history over long time frames from a multidisciplinary perspective that integrates science and the humanities and it is generally studied with an eye to the future.

As a guide to future policy
Big history assumes that research into analytic detail, whether historical or scientific, takes place within a broader framework of understanding (a grand narrative) and that it is only from the vantage point of this broader framework of understanding that policy is derived and practical management decisions are taken.

Big history contributes towards a consensus empirically-based grand narrative that is emerging from the constant interplay between fine detail (analysis) and overview (synthesis) that is part of the constant reinterpretation of both history and science. It steps back to examine the long-term factors that have shaped human history.

If soundly based and well-informed policies are to be adopted for the management of planet Earth then Big History needs to be as well researched, accurate, and consensual as possible.

The emphasis of Big History is slightly different from that of another recent historical approach called Deep History. Deep history begins with the emergence of modern humans and takes a comparative approach to human societies and culture and is a reaction to the way of teaching history as the story of human progress that started when writing was invented.

Plants, Sustainability and Big History
In a way Big History is the combined effort of humanity to explain the human situation and such a nebulous topic can be approached in many ways. The approach taken here is to look at the broad sweep of human history looking at the relationship of plants and people while concentrating on one geographic region, Australia, and bearing in mind the future management of the planet.

Sustainability organisations
Managing planetary sustainability is still in a developmental phase. There will always be many approaches at many scales but over time there will no doubt be coalescence of like-minded people addresessing issues in similar ways. Here are a few:

IHOPE – The Integrated History and Future of People on Earth (IHOPE) is a global network of researchers hosted by the Resilience Centre in Uppsala Sweden. They unite Earth system science with the social sciences, the humanities, and communities of practice. IHOPE began as an initiative of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) core project The Analysis, Integration and Modeling of the Earth System (AIMES), and is now a part of both IGBP and the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP). Soon IGBP, IHDP and other global programs will be further amalgamated within the new Future Earth framework. IHOPE is unique in its focus on how the human past can offer important knowledge to build an equitable and flexible future for our species. See Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Volume 4 (1): February 2012, Pages 106-114

Citations & notes
[1] Support materials including references, web sites and glossary for Margaret Robertson’s Sustainability Principles & Practice

General references
Talk on Big History
Atkinson, G et al. (eds) 2007. Handbook of Sustainable Development. Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK
Blackburn, W.R. 2007. The Sustainability Handbook. Earthscan: London
Blewitt, J. 2008. Understanding Sustainable Development. Earthscan: London
Robertson, M. 2014. Sustainability Principles & Practice. Routledge: London


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