When Good Waters Go Bad: Sustainability and Education in a Postnormal Future

When Good Waters Go Bad: Sustainability and Education in a Postnormal Future

Lynn A. Wilson (SeaTrust Institute, USA & Walden University, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7727-0.ch002

Abstract

This chapter offers commentary on adaptation and resilience to stresses on water systems in a potentially catastrophic future. While considering futures studies as an integral part of science education is not new, reorganizing knowledge and its deployment to equip future leaders to address the complexity, paradox and unpredictability of problem requires new educational paradigms. Youth are poised as agents of change in a collaborative, networked, and complexity-embracing future. Through exploring the changes in waters due to climate change and human activity, and what those changes may mean for developing and maintaining resilience in the postnormal future, a complex adaptive systems (CAS) framework guides new alternatives for education and water policy action in these changing times and within the broad goals of sustainability.
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Introduction

When April 21, 2018 was designated as “Day Zero” for Cape Town, South Africa, the day the water taps would be turned off in the first major city in the world (“Cape Town on the Verge,” 2018), the world was put on notice. Prolonged drought broke with a single day of rain in February. Due to that event and agricultural water usage decline, the shutoff date was pushed back to May 11 and further delayed so the water was not shut off entirely. However, during the interim period, daily water allocation drops from 23 gallons to 13 gallons per person, compared to the average 100 gallons per person daily use in the U.S. It was a wake-up call for adapting to a future in a water-scarce world.

Water is an essential element in the grand challenge humanity faces to provide for the basic needs of people in an equitable manner while attending to appropriate ecosystem functioning for the needs of future generations. While water systems’ restoration, conservation, and ecosystem maintenance are needed now to preserve ways of life, livelihoods and even human survival, looking towards a future based on current environmental and social trajectories may require new policies, concepts, and even new priorities for our oceans, coastal waters, and freshwater systems. This new way of thinking needs to be reflected and expanded upon within sustainability education; educators at all levels need to address these issues in considering both the content and delivery of knowledge to different audiences at different scales. This requires innovative understandings of the interrelated environmental and social issues, a willingness to challenge traditional ways of thinking about delivery of environmental education, and a futures orientation. Learners at all levels also need to become knowledgeable about how these issues and outcomes are measured and evaluated so that they understand the ramifications of different ways of measuring environmental and social complexities, and so that their own work and decisions lead to chosen, preferable futures.

This chapter offers commentary on adaptation and resilience to stresses on water systems in a potentially catastrophic future. While considering futures studies as an integral part of science education is not a new idea (Lloyd & Wallace, 2004), reorganizing knowledge and its deployment to equip future leaders to address the complexity, paradox and unpredictability of modern problems requires new educational paradigms. In the WEF Outlook 2015, the World Economic Forum listed lack of leadership as the third most critical challenge facing humanity (World Economic Forum, 2015), because even with talented young people on the horizon, it will take time to redefine leadership models from their hierarchical present into its collaborative, networked, and complexity-embracing future. As part of the thought experiment “When Things Fall Apart” conceived by Christopher Jones and explained in his companion chapter in this book, this chapter explores the changes in waters due to climate change and human activity, and what those changes may mean for developing and maintaining resilience in the postnormal future.

Using secondary research together with personal accounts and observations, this reflection draws from the tradition of hermeneutics and relies heavily on a complex adaptive systems (CAS) framework (Gell-Mann, 1995; Folke, 2007) in considering water policy and action in these changing times and within the broad goals of sustainability. CAS has been used in fields such as health care to integrate interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary knowledge and theories to help make sense of natural phenomena, including human responses to problem solving (Ellis, 2011). For Cape Town, that consideration became reality in 2018; although they survived the crisis, the experience offers a cautionary tale about the practical relationship between sustainability and resilience.

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