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Interdisciplinarity and transboundary thinking as a pre-requisite for learning our way out of unsustainability. Arjen E.J. Wals. Today. Unsustainability & urgency Learning our way out? Redesigning education, learning & research. 60.000/5sec. 2.000.000/5min.

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Arjen E.J. Wals

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Arjen e j wals

Interdisciplinarity and transboundary thinking as a pre-requisite for learning our way out of unsustainability

Arjen E.J. Wals



  • Unsustainability & urgency

  • Learning our way out?

  • Redesigning education, learning & research

Arjen e j wals



Arjen e j wals

Arjen e j wals

“The conventional wisdom holds that all education is good, and the more of it one has, the better.… The truth is that without significant precautions, [it] can equip people merely to be more effective vandals of the Earth” (D. Orr).

Who knows who cares

Who knows? Who cares?

  • Deepwater horizon

  • Nuclear radiation in Japan

  • Increased infertility in men

  • Calcium supplements for women

  • Runaway (?) climate change

  • Organic – sustainable – for all?

  • Paper or plastic?

  • ….

‘ We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom’E.O. Wilson, 1998, p. 300)

Post normalism


  • Complexity

  • Uncertainty and indeterminacy

  • Contestation and controversy – extinction of ‘truth’

  • Shallowness and hyper-connectivity – erosion of meaning

  • Emergence - reflexivity

Arjen e j wals


Arjen e j wals

What’s it made of?

Where does each component come from?

How does it affect our lifes?

How does it affect the lifes of others?

Is there a future for cell phones?

Arjen e j wals

Mireille Faist Emmenegger, et al, “Life Cycle Assessment of the Mobile Communication System UMTS: Towards Eco-Efficient Systems,” International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 11, 4, (2006): 265 – 276.

Arjen e j wals

Chromium: Production and Consumption emissions in Sweden

Lessons learned competencies developed

Lessons learned & competencies developed

  • Local and global issues are connected

  • Information is everywhere, how to choose?

  • Sustainability is multi-dimensional: ecological, economic, ethics, environment, etc.

  • Becoming critical of consumption & consumerism

  • Alternatives are possible!

  • Interviewing, presenting, reporting, listening, googeling, critiquing…

An education for sustainable development lens

An Education for Sustainable Development Lens

  • Integrative – not only the ecological and the environmental, not only the present, not only the local, not only the human world

  • Critical - questioning continuous economic growth and consumerism and associated lifestyles

  • Transformative – exploration of alternative lifestyles (e.g. ‘voluntary simplicity’), values and systems that break from existing ones that are inherently unsustainable

Arjen e j wals

Blinding insight - intermezzo

  • If you have done it before – don’t say a thing!

  • In the short movie you will see a small group of boys and girls wearing black or white shirts that are playing with two balls.

  • Your goal is to count how many times the ball is passed by those wearing white shirts. It’s that simple.

  • Remember, count just the passes of the ball by those wearing white shirts!

  • Write down the number of passes.

Arjen e j wals





Transformative learning





Sustainability Competence (1)

Arjen e j wals

Sustainability competence (2)

  • Competence to think in a forward-looking manner & to deal with uncertainty

  • Competence to work in an interdisciplinary manner

  • Competence to achieve open-minded perception, transcultural understanding and cooperation

  • Participatory competence

  • Ability to feel empathy, sympathy and solidarity

  • Competence to motivate oneself and others

  • Competence to reflect in a distanced manner on individual and cultural concepts

  • Sources: de Haan (2006); Michelsen and Adomssent (2007)

3rd generation university

3rd generation university

Arjen e j wals

Thank you!

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