Education and Sustainability
In a sustainable world order, education would be practically free.
With Climate Change capturing public attention and making advances onto
the political agenda, we should expect to hear policy proposals for significant
reductions to the cost of education.
While the connection has yet to become clear to policy makers, grasping
the dynamics of this change will provide a durable platform for promoting
the tremendous advantage that a well-educated population provides in whatever
sort of world we face.
Revolution is a change of accounting practices. The following example reveals
the same sort of misperception that says we have to raise tuition fees to
make universities viable.
Canada's east coast fishery was a classic "success" story in the
old accountancy. Every year more fish were being caught, more money made
and, as a consequence, more money was available to invest in more fishing
to make more money and so on to expand the process. Then, totally off the
radar, the fish stocks collapsed and the many communities that were dependent
on fishing met with disaster.
The situation brings to mind Plato's cave. Prisoners who had never seen
the creatures casting shadows upon their cave wall believed that the shadows
were the whole of reality. In the same way, today's accounts see money figures
as the only valid indicators of the well-being of businesses and society.
The underlying principle is that the only things that count are what people
actually pay for. (How else can one prove value, except by producing actual
Clearly conventional accounting was far from adequate in gauging the well-being
of the East Coast fishery. Had accounts also been kept of the ecological
viability of the fish stocks and the nature of the fishing communities that
depended on the fish, decisions would have been made to limit fishing rather
than to subsidize the expansion of fishing fleets.
Likewise, when accounted for with the triple bottom line (environmental,
social and economic) education is practically free. From the environmental
perspective, education consists primarily of knowledge and good will. Both
of these "resources" are limitless. They require no greater draw
on the natural world than the food and shelter necessary to sustain teachers
and students. With some ingenuity around the use of sunshine to heat buildings,
these material necessities can be maintained within sustainable cycles forever.
From the social perspective, well educated people tend to contribute more
to society than less educated people. They are more likely to understand
the challenges of our times and have a potential for greater self-fulfillment,
making them less likely to be sucked into the notion that they have to purchase
new consumer goods to be happy.
The triple bottom line shows education to be an excellent place to invest
What will it take for such sustainability accounting to replace conventional
practices? It requires that, as a society, we acknowledge that we have grown
to a mature size and that long-term well-being has to replace perpetual
economic expansion as our primary goal. It is a Question of Direction. Once
this reality has been acknowledged, we will begin to see, not the shadows
on the cave wall, but the real world of people working together with limited
planetary resources to make way for successive generations to enjoy their
place under the sun.