PIMA BULLETIN NO 49
Special Issue - Climate Justice Education
Shirley Walters and Astrid von Kotze
I heard the forest whisper, ‘All life is at a turning point - the future of human and more-than-human
life is in question. Humans must be, do, live, learn, differently. In this spirit, invite your readers, before
they engage the bulletin, to start by sitting quietly, focusing on their breath and observing where they
are: what do they see, feel, hear, smell, observe? With whom are they in relation? Who has been in
this spot before them? Learning to use senses differently is crucial in this time of the great turning’.
And so, listening to the wisdom of the forest, we invite you to pause and embrace the invitation
In our present moment, the question Ghosh (2020) asks is particularly poignant: ‘Who is a brute and who is fully human’? Describing how the ‘brutes began to unbrute themselves’ he notes how the now-unbruted mimicked the settler-colonial treatment of Indigenous peoples, forests, the earth, desecrating land and water and trashing rituals and beliefs. But increasingly, ‘other beings and forces – bacteria, viruses, glaciers, forests, the jet stream – have also unmuted themselves and are now thrusting themselves so exigently on our attention that they can no longer be ignored or treated as elements of an inert Earth’ (Ghosh, 2020, 196-7).
Humans continue to consider Nature as a thing that is no more than a resource for their indulgences, at their own peril; the Earth will continue, even if humans perish. Njabulo Ngwazi, warned that ‘The natural world is the elder – they have been kind to us humans, but now they are fed up – we must be like the natural world and do the right thing!’‘Our complicity — we’re all complicit — isn’t a sign of our moral failing. It’s the result of a system in which we have little choice but to be part of until we’ve got the alternatives we’re demanding’, suggests Leonie Joubert in her article in Part 1. This bulletin intends to support the demand for alternative systems.
The Bulletin grew out of the conversations within the PIMA Bulletin Number 46, January 2023 where we began to (re)envision relations between humans and the more-than-human world from different vantage points. We noted that many adult educators, like us, have been brought up within the Western world view of hierarchical dualisms, where development is growth, and a serious imbalance between consumption and production further threatens particularly the majority world. We know from personal experience how hard it is to challenge some of the dualisms. It requires that we unpick false assumptions and belief systems that prop up the abusive relationship with social and ecological systems. We also know that other worldviews and knowledge systems have much to offer with regards to intersecting perspectives. We acknowledge that decolonising minds as much as land, values and resources draws on believing that a more just and equitable world for all its inhabitants is possible. For this, we need to take note, listen and question and then reimagine a new story, and re-learn new relationships, especially in a world where so many encounters have become ‘virtual’.
Recognising the deep personal, political, and pedagogical work of unlearning and relearning, the editors convened a two-part series of Teach-ins, led by Elizabeth Lange, Towards a pluriverse of possibilities: Unlearning separation, relearning relationality. These encounters are described by Shauna Butterwick in the Teach-in Report.
This bulletin deliberately takes its title from Pluriverse: A post-Development Dictionary (Kothari et al, 2019). As the fear of an uncertain future grows, so must a sense of resistance against market values and increasing right-wing fundamentalisms. Challenging the modernist ontology of universalism, there is a need to build solidarity amongst humans with each other and the more-than-human world, while imagining a multiplicity of alternative possible worlds. From the notion of universe to pluriverse, the writers in this bulletin mostly ground their creativity and actions in the rhythms and different shapes of nature. They practice the Freirean idea of being both learners and educators, as they seek to learn with and from each other drawing on ‘teachers’ beyond humans.
The bulletin is divided into four parts, with eighteen articles by authors from Brazil, Canada, Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom and Australia. Each section opens a ‘pluriverse of possibilities’ with identification of key ideas, stories, and activities of climate justice education. A collection of internet sites suggests how new relationships with groups of individuals, organisations and networks can advance forging solidarity and support. Warm thanks to all the contributors.
Part 1: A pluriverse of conversations
Stories, old and new, frame this section. Elizabeth Lange argues that stories matter – big stories have powerful transformative capacity to shift consciousness and elevate humanity. It is the Western big story, shaped by science, that is now being transformed by science itself. All the authors, in various ways, are encouraging us to loosen the grip on the old story while stretching into various veins of new thinking, reimagining, re-embodying, towards the new story of Relationality, which was intuited by mystics over human history.
The bulletin begins with a focus on the two teach-ins. Elizabeth Lange succinctly points to key stories which carry our basic understandings and assumptions about reality. She digs at the roots of Modernity which is based on the values of separation and machine logic. The new story of Relationality leads away from individualism and ‘personal’ moral convictions. Shauna Butterwick captures well the engagements with Elizabeth Lange in the Teach-ins, which demonstrated embodied practices towards collective and kinship ways of being.
The review is followed by five articles which inspire visions of new possibilities. They unearth major systemic tensions and contradictions for institutions, people, and communities, who are responding to the climate crisis in earnest. They paint the big and small pictures, which manifest in practical tools and suggestions to help us make our way.
The ethic of caring and sharing, which infuses the story of Relationality, is demonstrated by Deborah Barndt introducing the Earth to Tables Legacies educational package. The project is portrayed through a flourishing website which brings stories to life through short videos, photo essays, and a basket of popular education tools – it educates on multiple levels, embodying the values of caring and sharing, a web of kinship relations. The main messages that the project amplifies are the importance of ‘honoring all relations’, ‘pollinating relations’ in order to ‘rebuild relations based on respect and reciprocity with all things.’ The project is a profound example of people across history, cultures, and borders, imagining and creating alternative ways of being and living.
In the next article, Denise Nadeau, a ‘white settler’, drawing on her own deep experience, addresses her challenge as an educator – ‘how to educate and support settlers to develop a real sense of responsibility to the peoples and territories in which they live and hence to act in a reciprocal way with the land and all the relatives embodied in the land and water’. She identifies the greatest challenge as the ideology of white possessiveness rooted in private property. She argues that it is actions, not just beliefs, that will transform the separateness of humans from the more-than-human world. Denise’s work challenges us to recognize the implications of what it means to unlearn separation, relearn relationality. Her book is reviewed in Part Three by Shauna Butterwick Unsettling Spirit book review.
From working in communities, the next three articles catapult us into the worlds of universities, the media, and the education system more broadly, particularly literacy. Sharon Stein and Jan Hare argue for the centering of indigenous rights to challenge climate colonialism. They point to the prevailing approaches to climate change at most colleges and universities which remain grounded in the assumption that we can and should simply make existing systems and institutions more sustainable, even though these are the same systems and institutions that led to a climate crisis in the first place.
They understand the concept of climate colonialism as the deepening of domination of less powerful countries and peoples through intensifying foreign exploitation of resources of poorer nations and undermining the sovereignty of native and Indigenous communities' responses to the climate crisis. They point to strategies to interrupt the reproduction of climate colonialism in higher education by centering the rights of indigenous people, and highlight a key paradox in doing this, between the urgency of climate change and the slow work of relationship building that is required to confront climate change in responsible ways that address its root causes. This paradox is also mirrored in Timothy Ireland’s article, when he says, ‘despite the urgency of the challenge it is necessary to go very slowly’. We can understand why, when reading Denise and Elizabeth’s articles.
Timothy Ireland argues that the education system urgently needs a new story. He references significant global education initiatives, which register the impact of existential threats to humanity posed by climate change, pollution, and the loss of biodiversity. Amid repositioning itself in relation to the 4th Industrial Revolution, half of the students globally are not finishing high school and 763 million youth and adults are ‘illiterate’. There is urgency to elaborate a new narrative for literacy, which incorporates pluriversal readings of reality in which humans and nature are not opposing forces and in which the planet is recognised as the common home of all forms of life. He proposes that Buen Vivir or ‘Good living’ and Popular Education offer alternative paradigms on which to build new narratives of education in which both humans and nature are co-protagonists.
Leonie Joubert, an award-winning journalist and science writer, laments:
‘Climate stories are still mostly shoehorned into the environmental beat, a nice-to-have reporting extra
that gets the newsroom leftovers once the apex beats — politics, business, health, even sport — have
taken the lion’s share of reporting resources. It’s hard to muscle your way to the top of the prestige pile
when your beat doesn’t have cash or cachet’.
She asks, what do you do when, out of the blue, your small media collective is awarded a journalism prize in the features section, by Standard Bank? The problem is that Standard Bank around the same time forcibly ejected climate activists and a journalist from its Headquarters where an anti-fossil fuel protest was held. The hypocrisy of Standard Bank, who dressed itself up as standing for free press and a green future, was clear. This article is a real-life case of handling dilemmas that are thrown up when taking the climate crisis seriously. What to do? How to respond to the contradictions where moral failings, not the economic system, are seen as the problem?
Part 2: A pluriverse of personal stories
The five stories are deeply thoughtful reflections on personal experiences of unlearning, relearning, learning, for climate justice. Shirley Walters starts with a description of an immersion in a South African game reserve, where there was a conscious move from one world to the next where time and rhythms of life changed dramatically. The purpose of the ‘self-wild trail’ was to ‘unlearn separation’. As her story reveals, without confronting capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and neo-colonialism, `unlearning separation` in the interests of socio-ecological justice is barely possible.
From immersion in the wilderness of South Africa, Nic Dickson is immersed in the peatlands of Scotland, where she experiences interdisciplinary exploration. Whilst walking through muddy marshes, with art historians, educators, archeologists, biologists and environmental scientists, the land meant different things through the eyes of different disciplines. The cross disciplinary encounters with the land enriched everyone’s understanding of the value of peatlands and how actions can have huge impact on both the climate and climate change.
Small scale fishers on the impoverished coast of the Eastern Cape, South Africa, are of concern to Buhle Francis. She is a scholar-activist who works particularly with women fishers, whose lives are made ever more vulnerable through deteriorating ocean health. She tells of a sewing project that she and the women started. The sewing project is more than a livelihood; it's a way for coastal communities to adapt to the changing climate while also understanding and building community and solidarity in times of crises.
For Sharon Clancy, new forms of communication are needed to unlearn old ways and re-learn anew. Poetry, digging back into one’s own history, narratives and hearing other people’s stories are helpful - rather than the ‘inarticulacy of education and formal academic writing’.
Women’s resourceful response to waste management in Nigeria is Bolatumi Oyegoke’s concern. She explores the relationship between personal and social change that is needed to mobilise communities to tackle problems of waste at household and community levels.
Part 2, closes with a moving poem by Serap Asar Brown. She urges us to listen to the rain and the land, to stand up and resist, to ‘find a way to keep life on earth alive in unity’.
Part 3: A pluriverse of Activities
There are two sections:
Firstly, a number of climate justice educational activities.
Secondly, a compilation of inspiring websites and links relating to climate justice action.
In the first activity, Katie Ross uses ‘seeds as a connection, via self, to the universe’. She grabs our attention with beautiful illustrations as she invites readers to pause and embark on a meditative inquiry. This includes pondering how ‘our relationships are grown and fostered in the liminal space between our own inter-steeping sources of knowing: our senses, our family histories, our societal structures, and our cultural and disciplinary perspectives.’
Maggie Mapondera from WoMin African Alliance describes the making and use of a collection of animated films which tell stories of rural, peasant and working- class women and their communities across the African continent. They serve as a testimony as well as a teaching tool, to inspire, provoke and generate conversations, analysis, ideas and action. The links are available to the short films.
A mystica is a short ritual to set the tone and get people ready to focus on Nature and the Earth. Developed by The African Biodiversity Network Barefoot Guide Writer’s Collective, from different countries in Africa, the ‘mystica’ is taken from ‘Restoring our Home in Nature’. The guide, which is freely available, was written to serve ‘as a roadmap for all who seek transformative change in their own contexts, inspiring, informing, and igniting a collective commitment to the conservation of biodiversity and the well- being of all life on this magnificent continent.’
Language shapes the way we view the world, and proverbs, in particular, reflect a culture’s values, norms, aspirations. This activity, drafted by Astrid von Kotze, engages with common proverbs to challenge the binary thinking underlying everyday sayings, and to question what values are being reinforced through their use.
The gut is home to infinite numbers of bacteria, fungi, viruses, yeasts etc, all working hard to digest the food we eat and extract and deliver nutrition to various parts of the body. They also fight off invaders, and sickness. This activity suggests that the gut is a micro-ecosystem and hence a good place for starting investigations about the entanglement between human and more-than-human life and is discussed in the article, The gut as an ecosystem.
A book review can be a useful starting point for dialogue - and Shauna Butterwick’s review of Denise Nadeau’s Unsettling Spirit – a Journey into Decolonization (2021) is just that. The book is a series of autobiographical stories that challenge readers to examine critically how they might unwillingly reproduce certain colonial attitudes and views. The review points out that for Denise “body, spirit, mind and emotions, [are all] necessary to engage in any process of decolonization” (p. 264). Her story helps illuminate how complex a process it is to ‘unlearn separation and relearn relationality’.
The final section of Part 3 is a compilation of random (but selected!) websites and links to interesting and inspiring initiatives that challenge climate injustice. Ranging from storytelling, to dance, to clothing, food growing for food security, to policy initiatives, the websites truly suggest a pluriverse of ideas, actions and networks with whom to build solidarity towards just transitions and climate adaptation for those most at-risk.
Part 4, as part of PIMA Business, warmly welcomes 6 new PIMA members.
Ghosh, A. (2021). The Nutmeg’s Curse. Parables for a Planet in Crisis. Penguin Random House.
Ashish Kothari, Ariel Salleh, Arturo Escobar, Federico Demaria & Alberto Acosta, (2019). Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary. Tulika Books. Via Researchgate, ebook for free (PDF). License: Creative Commons.