Do we live with perennial hope of technology saving the planet from the pollution of the industrial revolution? That somehow the fourth industrial revolution will save us.
On 23 September, the 2019 Climate Summit meets in New York to “showcase a leap in collective national political ambition and it will demonstrate massive movements in the real economy in support of the agenda. Together, these developments will send strong market and political signals… ” It’s highly ambitious, and perhaps it needs to be so.
At the last Climate Summit in Paris, Australia’s message pinned hope that “environmentally friendly technology and innovation will be the force to arrest climate change.”
But what will arrest the growth of greed, where large companies are swallowed whole by larger corporations to concentrate markets that defeat the benefits of competition? Where profits win over people.
What will arrest the growth of simple solutions in the face of increasing complexity for short-term gain with no understanding of the long-term consequences? Where short-termism wins over sustainability.
What will arrest the demise of democracy, where the truth is hard to find amidst political and social factions optimising their version of reality at the expense of ground-truth. Where power and positioning win and honesty dies.
In the face of these issues, how will “environmentally friendly technology and innovation” be the force for change? We need to think again. The technology we need is here and is being taken up. But it isn’t fixing the human thinking and behaviour at the core of the problem. So many of us know it. That’s why the simple actions led by Greta Thunberg have momentum. Technology is part of the solution but the hope it brings is not a mission statement for climate change. An education revolution is needed to change the way we (collectively) think and act.
I’m a big fan of Monty Python
This climate change debacle reminds me of a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Amid the ravages of a plague, a man is collecting the dead for ninepence a body.
“Bring out your dead,” he calls.
A man comes out with an old man slung over his shoulder. “Here’s one,” he says.
“Ninepence” the cartmaster says, and before he takes the money, he hears the old man say, “I’m not dead.”
“What?” says the cartmaster.
“Nothing” says the man, “here’s your ninepence.”
The cartmaster is having none of it, “Here, he says he’s not dead.”
“Yes, he is,” says the man.
“I’m not” says the old man.
“He isn’t” says the cartmaster.
“Well...” the man declares, “he will be soon… he’s very ill…”
“I’m getting better!” says the old man lifting his arm.
“No, you’re not, you’ll be stone dead in a moment” replies the man.
“I can’t take him like that,” says the cartmaster. “It’s against regulations!”
“I don’t want to go on the cart…” cries the old man.
“Oh, don’t be such a baby” the man says with not a shred of empathy.
…and so it goes on in true Python style until the man asks the cartmaster,
“Look, is there anything you can do…?”
They both look around to see who else might be watching, and as the old man says, “I feel happy! I feel happy!” the cartmaster give the old man a swift blow to the head with his wooden spoon. And, the old man goes limp and is tossed on the cart.
The scene finishes with King Arthur and his servant ‘riding’ past the cart and the man asks who it is.
“I don’t know,” says the cartmaster. “Must be a king.”
“Why?” asks the man,
“He ain’t got shit all over ‘im” says the cartmaster.
It’s funny, heh?
The scene is classic Python. The stuff of folklore. Satire that cuts deep. The industrial revolution initiated a plague of pollution. The fate of the old man is the fate of the first industrial revolution too. It ain’t dead yet, no matter how hard we try to say differently. As cartmasters, we’ve yet to hit it on the head.
We’re not too worried about regulators, either. Regulations are often ignored, particularly if we think no-one is looking. Or worse, when we know the penalties are cheaper than the cost of compliance, we don’t care if anyone is looking.
And, many of the economic ‘kings’ profiting from the revolution, ride through the industrial wastelands without a care for the “shit” they leave the human and animal populations in .
Oh Richard, “don’t be such a baby.” Funny… heh? (Maybe not so much…)
It’s easy to think, sitting here writing as a white Anglo-Saxon male in one of the most liveable cities in the world (Melbourne, Australia) that we’re in transition from the 3rd Industrial Revolution as a 4th Revolution emerges, and we’re tempted to focus solely on the impact advances like artificial intelligence, global digitalization and industrial cybersecurity will have on us.
We’re also tempted to think that as one revolution emerged, it replaced the one before it. In reality, the revolutions are nested to add complexity in the evolution of humans on the planet.
Every single industrial revolution is still underway.
So, what did past revolutions ever do for us?
In short, everything. And, as much as I’d love to roll into another Python sketch, like the one from the Life of Brian, on “what have the Romans ever done for us?” I will resist. Although, the one that’s gone viral with Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, is definitely worth a look .
The first industrial revolution gave us steam-power and mechanisation, initiating basic education in numeracy and literacy. The educated began to sow the seeds for a middle class. Today, even a basic education can still be a luxury, not available in many parts of the world due to war and poverty; and in some places, not available at all to girls for ideological reasons. Yes, that same industrial revolution that fed the growth, the greed and the wars of ‘western-minded’ nations for 200 years isn’t over.
The second industrial revolution introduced electricity, gas and oil into the energy market and focussed on making processes of mass production and manufacturing more efficient. The education system sits children in rows pushing rote learning in school factories to develop labour for the mass-production factories. When I started school in 1959, this was my experience and my expectation.
We only need listen to pundits calling for education systems to go back to the basics of the 3-Rs to realise they want the education system to roll back the progress it has made. Revisiting the education system of the 2nd revolution will exacerbate our ability to deal with global challenges.
The third industrial revolution from 1960s brings nuclear to the energy mix and introduces the transistor, supporting larger cities and bringing the world ‘closer’ through digital communications. Education systems are slow to change from the modes the baby boomers had been born into.
With social changes accelerating, experiments in social education leave many parents dissatisfied with quality of schooling. There’s still a focus on achievement and standards and a loss of creativity, so critical to advancing into the fourth industrial revolution.
“By the time they’re in the ninth or tenth grade, kids lose a lot of their creativity, because the main thing they’re worried about is getting an A. Creativity comes when you are doing something that you actually think of, and it doesn’t necessarily have to get an A grade. And that creativity ignites the passion and the interest and then they have that…for the rest of their lives.”
– Dr. Esther Wojcicki, Education and Learning Faculty at Singularity University
In 2004, when Salman Kahn shared video lessons over the internet to help his cousin, Nadia, with dramatic impact he initiated the ‘flipped’ classroom. This has changed the way education content is delivered to enable students to study when they can at the pace they need.
We’ve been well trained by our education and economic systems to break problems down, to make it easier to apply reductionist thinking, optimise each part and assemble a solution in a linear additive manner. This thinking mixed with self-interest are instrumental in creating the grand challenges on the planet.
If we use the ‘flipped’ classroom to do no more than reinforce this training in a self-paced manner, we still face a grand education challenge: How we change our ways of thinking and acting in ways that accommodate all four industrial revolutions as the run their course across the world. And, how we create a future where everyone’s paradigm has value in an ecological view of the planet, providing it acts within the interests of a whole and action is predicated by first doing no harm.
An Education Revolution Must Join the Climate Change Movement
I’d welcome your comments on creating a better world through education. More next week.
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 United Nations Web page: https://www.un.org/climatechange/
 Business First Magazine, 11 November 2017, https://www.businessfirstmagazine.com.au/malcolm-turnbull-says-innovation-can-stop-climate-change/13358/
 …and there are notable exceptions, as we see through the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others that are not so visible.
 …witness the burning of the Amazon rainforest; the findings of the Royal Commission into Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services; and, the increasing emissions from the tar sands mining in Canada
 Singularity University on the Future of Learning: https://su.org/resources/exponential-guides/the-exponential-guide-to-the-future-of-learning/