Education for sustainable development in the ‘Capitalocene’ – EPAT Special Issue

Last week our editorial introducing the Special Issue for Educational Philosophy and Theory (EPAT) on Education for Sustainable Development in the ‘Capitalocene’ finally appeared. Together with Gothenburg University colleagues, Helena Pedersen, Sally Windsor, Beniamin Knutsson, Dawn Sanders and Olof Franck, we found 8 excellent contributions from some great scholars, after a careful selection and review process. I encourage you to explore the entire SI. Here are the opening lines of our editorial to wet your appetite.

When the thought of this Special Issue began to take shape 3 years ago, we had no clear idea of how it would develop. We wanted to address what we saw as the inability, or even impossibility, of our education system in general, and ESD in particular, to respond to the current climate and environmental crises. We began the call for contributions to the SI with the question ‘Has Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) reached an impasse?’ and referred to Moran and Kendall’s (2009) argument that our various research approaches produce nothing but illusions of education and that education does not exist beyond its simulation. Moran and Kendall continue to argue, drawing on the work of Baudrillard, that current movements in education constitute an ‘improvement agenda’ where more interventions are produced and critiques are repeated ‘over and over’ to foster improvements, ‘pursued as if they were possible’ (Moran & Kendall, 2009, p. 329, italics added). In the call text we used Moran and Kendall’s position on education as a springboard for thinking around ESD and capitalism. In the messy terrain of the debates concerning the ‘Anthropocene’ (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000) and the ‘Capitalocene’ (Malm & Hornborg, 2014), how does education emerge? Since its conception, the ESD field has been criticised for its hidden and problematic normativity (Jickling, 1992). Regardless of how valid such a critique is, the core idea of ESD is, arguably, a grandiose ‘improvement agenda’ – not only of education, but of the planetary condition as such. There is an assumption that if we can find the appropriate way of ‘doing’ ESD, a sustainable world is within reach.

Yet while working on the Special Issue, one overwhelming real (i.e. not simulated) global event and disaster after the other has occurred: The Fridays for Future strikes; the catastrophic wildfires, hurricanes and flooding across the globe; the heatwaves in the Arctic circle and Pacific Northwest, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic – to name a few. Extinction numbers are now at critical levels (IPBES, 2019), climate change impacts are here and increasing in magnitude and frequency (IPCC, 2021), and human-made materials, such as plastic and concrete now outweigh the living biomass of the planet (Elhacham et al., 2020).

How, then, is it at all possible to educate in the midst of this harsh reality, if education itself, and educational critique, cannot be conceived beyond its own illusive patterns of simulation and repetition? As educators, working within these multiple tipping points, where do we stand? Are schools and universities and even ESD, becoming an extension of the globalizing economy and unwillingly accelerating unsustainability (Huckle & Wals, 2015) by equipping people merely to be more effective vandals of the earth? (Orr, 1994). Does the temporality of assumptions held about education (Facer, 2021) impede our ability to respond to the current crisis with urgency? Can educational institutions ever cultivate multi-species approaches to knowledge and justice in a time of mass environmental pillage (e.g. Pedersen, 2021)? And what does this all mean for an individual teacher attempting to nurture hope, and stave off despair (e.g. Ojala et al., 2021), in the face of widespread inequality and lack of access to meaningful biopolitical actions (e.g. Knutsson, 2021)?”

Here is the link to the entire editorial

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