COP26 is knocking on the doors of our classrooms (Part 1 of 3)

Figure 1: An evening light colours the waves as they roll onto the sands lining the mouth of the Firth of Forth, west of North Berwick. In the distance, the lighthouse on the island of Fidra is visible against the sky, a wayfaring beacon for seafarers as they navigate their way through troubled waters. What beacons do we need to pay attention to as we navigate the uncertain waters of the next ten years that has been designated by the UN as a decade of action to address the climate and ecological emergencies?

In this first post of a three-part series, Glen Cousquer explores the pedagogical implications of the COP26 taking place in Glasgow this autumn, and how to incorporate this global challenge into our teaching spaces. In this first part, Dr Cousquer provides useful resources and suggestions for embedding an awareness of the climate emergency in the curriculum. Part 2 will be published next Monday, September 20th, and Part 3 on September 27th. Glen Cousquer lectures on and coordinates the MSc and MVetSci programmes in One Health and Conservation Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

How will we respond to the knock?

COP26 is just around the corner.  Come the 31st October 2021, Glasgow will play host to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).  This summit will bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement, signed at COP21 in December 2015 and those of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. COP26 is thus very close – both in terms of time and distance.  There have been twenty-five previous COP summits, stretching all the way back to the 1992 Earth Summit, held in Rio De Janeiro, at which the Convention was first signed.  Some of these summits have made it into the public consciousness, most notably perhaps those of Kyoto (1997) and Paris (2015); and yet they have always tended to feel quite distant. It is easy to view the issue as “over there” rather than “in here”, as something for scientists and politicians to debate at their remote, high-security gatherings, when it could and should be argued that this is something for us all to address in our homes and hearts. Our homes and hearts are insecure and well defended, however; throwing them open is therefore a courageous act. Whether in our own hearts, our homes, or our classrooms, navigating the uncertain territory that such openings afford us access to requires the cultivation of emotional and spiritual intelligence. This three-part blog post seeks to explore what that might mean for our teaching practice: How do we create space in our teaching for what is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges that humanity has had to face? How, as holders of spaces, do we create safe holding spaces in which our students can slow down and, having done so, start exploring and making sense of the challenges we face? How can we help them feel their way into and connect with challenges of this magnitude?

I propose to explore this question in three parts. In this first part, I want to provide those of you keen (or simply open) to bring COP26 into the learning opportunities we offer our students over the next few weeks with some promising avenues to explore. In part two (to be published next Monday September 20th), I propose to consider certain pedagogical aspects in more depth – specifically what it means to suspend our thinking and our thinking-minds and create space in which to exercise our heart-minds and ecological-minds and thereby develop emotional and spiritual intelligence and why, in the face of climate collapse, this needs to be prioritised. Finally, in the third blog in this series (September 27th), I will share insights from my own preparations to lead and contribute to the official COP26 pilgrimage that will set off from John Muir’s birthplace in Dunbar, on the 18th October, bound for Glasgow.

Part 1: Avenues to explore

Many, if not all, of our students, whether arriving to study in Edinburgh for the first time or returning to pursue their undergraduate or postgraduate studies, will have some awareness of the various narratives surrounding climate collapse, the wider ecological crisis and the challenges we face in delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals by the deadline of 2030. They may, however, have limited awareness of the need for collaborative responses to these challenges from across every academic discipline and the role we can all play whatever we are studying.

This therefore presents each and everyone of us, whether as teachers, as students or simply as global citizens, with an opportunity to explore the contributions we can make both individually and collectively.

Some useful questions to ponder might include:

  1. What is the contribution my discipline and my students can make as part of the UN’s Decade of Action?
  2. Given that the UN recognises that “the urgency of this decade demands that all sectors of society galvanise to secure greater participation and leadership, more resources and improved, game-changing solutions to address increasing inequality and the escalating climate emergency”, what game changing solutions can my students learn about or seek to develop?
  • What actions can I and my students actively develop and might it be possible to work with staff and students from other disciplines in developing these initiatives?

The following resources and links may help you in identifying ways to bring COP26 into your lesson plans and teaching:

  • The Human Development Report 2020 published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) offers an excellent starting place for group discussions. It can be further supplemented by the UNDP’s strategic plan 2022-25.
  • Edinburgh University’s Social Responsibility and Sustainability department have a suite of resources to support staff and students in exploring the significance of this opportunity.
  • You may want to invite students to “walk with a question” and to take it into a place that feels appropriate. This might involve walking with it through the George Square labyrinth for example or you may want to explore some of the campus green spaces. This not only helps students slow down and connect to place, it also allows them to engage with the question in a more organic, less prescriptive manner.
  • You may want to create discussion threads, activities or even projects centred around COP26 itself and invite students to share their own hopes for the conference, whilst seeking to deepen their awareness of how others perceive this crisis.
  • You may want to consider how to include the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Scotland’s own National Performance Framework in some of your welcome material and introductory teaching. The NPF is based around the seventeen development goals and Scotland’s three core values of kindness, compassion and dignity. There is thus plenty of scope for rich conversation.
  • You may want to take advantage of the University’s volunteering policy and work with your students and colleagues to identify volunteering opportunities that feel relevant to COP26 and the future we want to see emerge.
  • You may want to explore ways of suspending classroom activities and of slowing down, perhaps through walking, breathing or some other grounding practice. A selection of mindfulness resources that may be helpful here have been compiled by the University’s mindfulness chaplain, Dr Kitty Wheater.
  • You may want to introduce carbon literacy into your teaching and encourage students to draw on this in their project work.

Clearly this is not an exhaustive list but it may provide a spark that may inspire you to make room for some COP26 material in your teaching. In the next blog, I will delve deeper to explore the need to nurture our emotional and spiritual intelligence.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next Monday, September 20th: Nurturing Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence 

picture of editor/producerGlen Cousquer

Glen is a recipient of this year’s EUSA Outstanding Commitment to Social Justice and Sustainability Award and the 2020 Social Responsibility and Sustainability Changemaker Awards in recognition of his work on sustainability across the University, including the embedding of deep listening and sustainability into postgraduate training courses for healthcare professionals.

Glen’s research into the health and welfare of pack animals on expedition and across the global mountain tourism industry led to the development of new industry standards and the development of multispecies awareness-based Action Research methodologies to help deliver emergent futures. This work has informed the development of dialogical approaches to establishing communities of practice and inquiry, change theory and practice for sustainability as well as more recent work on ecological pilgrimage that has led to the publication of a new guidebook on the Way of St Cuthbert. Since February 2018, he has been lecturing on and coordinating the MSc and MVetSci programmes in One Health and Conservation Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *