Interview with William Scott & Paul Vare about 'The World We'll Leave Behind'

We caught up with William Scott & Paul Vare to discuss their exciting new title, The World We'll Leave Behind. Read on for the full interview, to find out more about this title and its authors...

It is now clear that human activity has influenced how the biosphere supports life on Earth, and given rise to a set of connected environmental and social problems.

This book identifies the main issues and challenges we now face; it explains the ideas that underpin them and their interconnection, and discusses a range of strategies through which they might be addressed and possibly resolved. These cover things that governments might do, what businesses and large organisations can contribute, and the scope for individuals, families and communities to get involved.

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1. Congratulations on the publication of The World We'll Leave Behind. What do you want your audience to take away from the book?

We wrote this book to help readers think about a wide range of issues and challenges that affect people’s lives across the planet: issues such as clean air and water, biodiversity, climate change, conservation, discrimination, economic growth, energy, the environment, globalisation, loss of species, migration, population, poverty, recycling. There are 55 topics and we have written a short chapter on each.

The book introduces and explains the ideas that underpin the issues and their inter-connection, and discusses a range of strategies through which they might be addressed and possibly resolved.

This book is for everyone who cares about the future. We hope that the book will help people and their families engage in every-day discussion about these important matters.

2. What inspired you to write this book?

There isn’t a book like it. There are in-depth accounts of the problems facing us, and deep historical perspective on their development. And there are toolkits, self-help books and sets of instructions for good living, but our book is different because we summarise ideas in a way that will help people join in public and political debate.

3. Is there one piece of research included in the book which surprised you or challenged your previous understanding of the topic?

For Bill it was the realisation that the greatest contribution to reducing global warming so far has been the 1987 Montreal Protocol, even though it wasn’t devised for that purpose. This was put into effect to reduce and then remove from the atmosphere the dangerous gases containing chlorine and fluorine atoms (CFCs) which were making the ozone layer in the stratosphere thinner, and so exposing the Earth to more of the radiation from space. The Economist reported in 2014 that the Protocol, by preventing the continuing release of CFCs (which were powerful greenhouse gases), had stopped the release of the equivalent of 135 billion tonnes of CO2. The Economist also said that if we can replace the HFCs which replaced the CFCs as well this would be like removing another 130 billion tonnes. Happily, that has now begun.

For Paul one of the surprising revelations was the sheer scale of Bhutan’s efforts to record their Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index. Cited as an alternative to crude economic measures such as Gross Domestic Product, the use of the word ‘happiness’ seems to suggest that GNH may be none too serious. In fact it involves a demanding one-to-one survey of 8,000 people with measures sub-divided into four pillars and nine domains. For all that, whether it is actually a measure of happiness in any meaningful sense is far from certain. Despite its magnitude the GNH survey is probably dwarfed by the cumulative effort of opinion polls taken during any British general election. All of which suggests that, while our individual happiness might be very important to us, party politics is far more entertaining.

4. Paul, how do you feel your involvement in various expert groups of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), prepared you for writing this title?

Participating in those UNECE ‘expert’ groups was fascinating. The three groups comprised academics and civil servants from across Europe, the former Soviet Union and Canada (I was the token non-governmental member at the time). Each member offered a broad hinterland of expertise and experience yet what we all learned was just how much we had to learn from each other. The meetings themselves seemed to be designed to drain us of all we knew on the topic under discussion. Apart from giving me a headache this unearthed dimensions of sustainable development that I hadn’t considered hitherto. Preparing chapters for this book provided an opportunity to go back to the digging.

5. William, you’re now a relatively seasoned Taylor & Francis author! What advice would you give to an aspiring academic writer in your field?

Get to know the Taylor and Francis book editors. When they come calling at your institution, invite yourself along and have a coffee. They will be interested and encouraging and you never know where it will lead...

6. Tell us an unusual fact about yourselves and your teaching or writing styles?

Bill says: my preferred teaching style is to pose questions and to probe the responses with other questions (and so on) until understanding emerges (sometimes my own).

As for writing, I have fallen into the habit of not having a clear view of what I want to say when I start writing.I know what I want to write about, but not where I will end up.It can be frustrating (and involves a lot of re-writing) but sometimes it leads to quite unexpected conclusions.Now, it’s hard to do it any other way.

Paul says: Variety. I get anxious if my students have been sitting still and not saying anything, even if they claim to be enthralled, I don’t believe them. I like to get them discussing things among themselves, sorting cards, drawing diagrams, reporting back – if they can predict accurately what the next two hour ‘lecture’ will entail, I feel I’ve failed.

I tend to write as I talk and then look back to discover how inappropriate that really is – gets me every time. At least this approach starts things off and leads, I hope, to an accessible read.


William Scott is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Bath, UK, and is Chair of Trustees of the UK’s National Association for Environmental Education.

Paul Vare is Postgraduate Research Lead for the School of Education at the University of Gloucestershire, UK, and a Director of the South West Learning for Sustainability Coalition.

Additional Publications from William Scott

  • Higher Education and Sustainable Development

    Paradox and Possibility, 1st Edition

    By Stephen Gough, William Scott

    The ‘Key Issues in Higher Education’ series aims to raise both awareness and the standards of debate on the fundamental issues that lie at the very heart of higher education and intends to assist national and international debate. Higher Education and Sustainable Development examines whether it is…

    Paperback – 2009-06-29
    Key Issues in Higher Education

  • Researching Education and the Environment

    Retrospect and Prospect, 1st Edition

    Edited by Alan Reid, William Scott

    Previously published as a special issue of Environmental Education Research, this collection includes papers published in the first 10 years of the journal, together with a series of specially commissioned critical vignettes that address the kinds of research that the journal attracts and wider…

    Paperback – 2009-02-20

  • Key Issues in Sustainable Development and Learning: a critical review

    1st Edition

    Edited by Stephen Gough, William Scott

    This book presents seminal readings from existing literature alongside specially commissioned, critical vignettes from leading thinkers with interests in sustainable development and learning. The book sets out to inform readers about the many perspectives that exist, and to challenge assumptions…

    Paperback – 2003-11-20

  • Sustainable Development and Learning: framing the issues

    1st Edition

    By Stephen Gough, William Scott

    This book examines the difficult and wide-ranging issues relating to how we understand our environment, our place in it, and how we choose to act. This comprehensive text provides an overview of these developing key issues, illustrating how - through schooling, higher education, professional…

    Paperback – 2003-08-14

20% Discount!

Use code ACT18 for 20% off hardback & paperback copies of The World We'll Leave Behind.

*Discount is only available on print books purchased from, and cannot be combined with any other offers or discounts. Code valid until 30th June 2018.

Take a sneak peek...

Click on the book cover image below for a peak at the beginning of The World We'll Leave Behind