The concept of a ‘sustainability lens’.

The concept of a ‘sustainability lens’.

This is based on an understanding that we construct our social worlds and create a reality based upon what Gadamer called ‘prejudices’. The social world of nurse education, for example, has its own prejudices, referred to by Scrimshaw as ‘ideologies’. These form,  often taken for granted, assumptions and values about what education is and what it is for. An ideology, a prejudice, can act like a lens through which a particular image of the world comes into view. In healthcare a ‘biomedical lens’ constructs a certain view of what health, illness and the body actually is. Michel Foucault argues the body itself is a site for bio political power/knowledge to play out and in so doing challenges notions of the possibility of the existence of an objective truth about the body.

In common parlance, we talk of ‘rose tinted spectacles’ or the view point of ‘pollyanna’ or Dr Pangloss, for seeing only the positive.

Another common story is that of blindfolded men feeling different parts of an elephant and then describing what an elephant is only on the basis of what they have actually felt. Pity the poor chap who stumbles only into the elephant’s dung. Another story is that of Plato’s cave in which only shadows can be seen on cave walls and the people trapped within the cave consider that the shadows cast by the fire is the only reality.

In response to a wider education for sustainability agenda, nurse educators could develop their own ‘sustainability lens’ and bring it to bear to interpret professional standards. As we know ‘sustainability’ as a concept is contested and has many meanings. A simplistic binary is sustainability solutions as technical rationality or radical political change. Another binary is dualism and nondualism, or systems and linearity.

There is a need for us to engage in critical reflexivity to reveal our own world views, the ‘lens’ through which we see the world, especially urgent as we are entering the Anthropocene in the context of an increasingly heating world, one in which we have now probably permanently passed 400 ppm.  Critical reflexivity is not enough, it has to be allied to action if we wish to adapt to a heating world.



A positive lens and a negative lens:


Do you still see progress? What do you see? Strictly Come Dancing? Reports on the FTSE index? Labour party division or Labour party debate? Do you see a world in which science and technology will solve the ecological crisis? Do you even see an ecological crisis?


Crisis? What crisis?


Antonio Gramsci wrote:

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear” (Selections from the Prison Notebooks“Wave of Materialism” and “Crisis of Authority” (NY: International Publishers), (1971), pp. 275-276.

He also wrote in 1921 “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will” (Letter from Prison 19 December 1929).

I also see very little positivity.

However, Simon Jenkins is far more upbeat and quotes Johan Norberg and Stephen Pinker:

Johan Norberg’s Progress. It looks not at what “could” happen but at what “has” happened. Norberg is a prophet of anti-pessimism. He is shocked by a 2015 YouGov poll that found 71% of Britons convinced “the world is getting worse”, against just 5% who said it was getting better. More than half thought world poverty was rising, against 10% who thought it falling. It was the same in the US.  Norberg points out that every index of global improvement – measuring starvation, poverty, child mortality, literacy, women’s education, democracy, violence, death in war – shows a steady upward graph. By far the most positive sign of humanity’s advance is the decline in global violence, on a state and personal level. The cognitive scientist Steven Pinker attributes this to historical evolutions. These include nations becoming inherently more “pacifist”, the “feminising” of politics, the growing power of reason and “the expanding circle of sympathy”. He, like Norberg, is puzzled by the potency of pessimism”.

Hans Rosling’s ‘gapminder’ also provides statistical evidence of a healthier, richer world.

Yet look at the indices used, not one of them is ecological. Human societies and material conditions are improving (if not evenly spread).  Ecological indices however are not.

Thought experiment. Imagine a world in which redistribution has taken place and global gdp was spread equally across and within countries so that indices such as infant mortality and literacy resembled that enjoyed by the middle classes in, oh, Italy. Imagine that social and health inequalities as outlined in ‘The Spirit Level’ have all but disappeared.

At the same time the oceans are increasingly acidic and CO2 is heading towards 450ppm (lets assume fish stocks have recovered, deforestation halted and reversed, soil erosion halted). Would that level of prosperity be sustainable in such a heating world?

So, yes on some key and important indices the world is getting better…but……the interregnum could see any number of devastating issues, not the least is populist fascism in Europe and America.


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