Two distinct but related issues are discussed in this chapter. The first is how our use of language is implicated in our understanding of both sustainable development and learning as ideas. The second is how language is further implicated in our choice of actions in relation to sustainable development and learning as practice. We shall argue that a degree of insight into these matters is indispensable for any degree of practical planning in relation to our topic if it is to be effective. This is so even if some of the concepts involved initially may seem, to some at least, rather slippery, somewhat arcane or intellectually quite narcissistic.
To begin, two caveats are in order. First, we should be wary of assuming that the ways in which any given individual makes sense of the notion of sustainable development will be consistent with the way that same person makes sense of the idea of learning. Although there is a wide literature across a number of disciplines which assumes, for example, that people have attitudes and values which determine their behaviour in some predictable way, this view is not only the subject of much empirical critique (Hines, 1985; Hungerford et al., 2000; Marcinkowski, 2001; Rogers, 1995; Rickinson, 2001; Stern, 2000), it is also quite contrary to common sense and much day-to-day experience. People (and organisations) are frequently inconsistent. One finds, for example, environmentalists who drive cars with poor fuel economy or smoke cigarettes; developers who campaign near where they live for conservation of biodiversity; and pop-stars who campaign for equality and social justice whilst enjoying extravagant parties and bouts of expensive cosmetic surgery. To explain all this simply as hypocrisy is possible but not very helpful, though it is consistent with an intellectual view, discussed briefly in Chapter 1, which sees people as having self-evident interests which guide their choices. However, the point was made at least as long ago as the New Testament (Matthew 23:23) that hypocrisy is effectively a universal human condition and now, as also suggested in Chapter 1, human perceptions of self-interest appear to be more fluid than ever before. We should not assume, therefore, as the argument of this book develops, that any particular view of sustainable development can be inferred from a person's stated approach to learning, or vice versa.
Second, it is not our intention here to explore in great depth the extensive literature which exists in relation to, variously, the philosophy of language and