Way back in 1986 a relatively new organisation, the World
Resources Institute, produced a text which revolutionised
the way we looked at environmental education. For the first
time there was a publication that provided a mass of data at
the national level for a range of variables which were seen
as crucial to the burgeoning debates in global environmentalism.
This rightly became a key text for all in the field. Since that
time the publication has changed focus and the data increased
but the same perspective have been kept: that of providing some
of the best, most reliable information and debate in one place.
I must admit to some personal interest here, not in the organisation
per se, but in the fact that their first publication was one
of the first I reviewed. It was with some regret that I missed
the 2008 edition but luckily can remedy this now.
those how haven't seen the first few editions, the WRI started
to gather data from a range of respected international organisations
such as the World Bank and FAO. These were data publicly available
but, pre-internet, difficult for schools and individuals to
collect. The job of those early texts was to provide an update
following a common format. After a few issues, the focus of
the publication changed. Each year a specific topic was chosen
and researched in depth. Initially, the same data were in the
tables at the back of the text but gradually the topic took
over and the data were reduced to support only that year's discussion.
We see that by this latest issue the transformation is complete.
However, this should not be seen as too negative because all
the data are now located in Earthtrends,
the WRI data mining/clearing centre.
leaves us with the current issue. The WRI has long supported
initiatives like the Millennium Development Goals and the need
to help the world's poorest people (their NextBillion
site, for example). So it's no great surprise to see this issue's
focus is poverty reduction. Their basic thesis is that the world's
poor are disproportionately reliant on natural goods and services
and that these services are often not optimised. In other words,
the poor could be helped best by properly designing enterprises
that increase the income from natural resources. This is turn
would improve social and economic resilience (as well as help
ensure a more sustainable environment). This seems reasonable
given the research noting that environmental degradation is
caused not by the poorest but by the slightly less poor (trying
to get out of the poverty trap). The question then turns to
how we can create these enterprises. The first key factor is
to get ownership. Long accepted as one of the most crucial aspects,
ownership and tenure are vital if the poor are to gain some
capital base. Having gained this capital they now need to have
the ability (commonly referred to as 'capacity') to design and
run a business or other enterprise. In the same way, the regional
and national systems need the capacity to support these new
enterprises since it is the inter-relationships that will allow
the whole plan to succeed. Once these are in place, the final
part is to provide the connections for business to take place.
So, ownership, capacity and networks provide (as they do for
all businesses anywhere) the key ingredients to making a successful
enterprise. All that is then required is to grow the business
(or, as the WRI put it - scaling up). Although hardly new, these
ideas are put together against a backdrop of a better understanding
of what is required and within a framework that has been designed
to support the needs of the poor. This line of thinking is the
basis of the first three chapters. Rather than make it an empty
exercise, chapter four brings together a number of case studies
from chapter three and interrogates them to see what lessons
can be drawn. Having understood the cases, chapter five puts
it together to create a series of recommendations. The data
tables at the back provide the statistics to support the thesis
text continues to provide some of the best work in the global
environmental field. The change from data to discussion has
not reduced the quality of the text (especially as the organisation
has grown considerably along with its supplies of data). Initially
it would be a key text by virtue of its data. Now it should
be seen as a key text because of the way it constructs an argument.
One of the problems we face now as educators is that there is
so much information but so little which teaches good practice.
Because of this, I'm pleased to be able to continue to say that,
in paper or electronic
form, this is one text that should be made available to
all senior students and educators as an example of some of the
best work being produced today.