Returning Earth to Mankind and Mankind to Earth: An Ecosystemic Approach to Advocacy, Public Policies, Research and Teaching Programmes

CEESP News - by André Francisco Pilon, University of São Paulo / Int. Academy of Science, Health & Ecology

In view of the overwhelming pressures on the global environment and the need to disrupt the systems that drive them, an ecosystemic theoretical and practical framework is posited for the evaluation and planning of communication, advocacy, public policies, research and teaching programmes; Priority is given to a set of values, norms and policies in view of human well-being, quality of life and natural and built environments, supporting new socio-cultural learning niches, within and outside the academic area, to change perspectives, develop boundary-crossing skills, and cope with complexity and expertise in a critical and creative way.

Trying to solve isolated and localized problems, without addressing the general phenomenon, is a conceptual error: “sustainable” development, as an ideology, is easily absorbed by predominant interests (including enterprises for plunder); policy makers and researchers, disregarding epistemological and ontological issues at stake, adopt structuralist approaches, with their stress on institutions and institution building, failing to account for the general patterns of institutional failure or corruption, encompassing the design, formation and maintenance of institutions by leaders, elites and established coalitions of interests.

Nowadays, quality of life, biocultural landscapes, environmental conditions are hampered by bureaucratic governance regimes, historical injustices, vested interests, biased policies, internal incoherence, lack of pluralism in decision-making, asymmetries of knowledge and power, a long-standing reproduction of subalternity, aggravated by unequal sharing of benefits and the destruction of peoples’ cultural, land and territorial basic relationships (adverse effects of real estate interests in urban areas, of large plantations and mining inland, of commercial demands for exported commodities).

In the teeming cities of today buildings tower to the sky, while problems are getting worse: environmental catastrophes, criminality, corruption: the role of law, the work of attorneys and judicial courts is held back by the very system in which they have their insertion, "legal" and "illegal" strategies are mixed together in the assemblage of political and economical interests; powerful lobbies, deeply ingrained in the public administration, favour mega-projects with intensive use of resources, rather than appropriate and less expensive technologies.

Evidence shows that the paradigms of growth, power, wealth, work and freedom, embedded into the dominant political, technological, economic, social, cultural and educational systems, are the main contributing factors (in the boundaries between fragmented public policies and reduced academic formats), to the chaotic system of production and consumption, increased urban violence, energy squander, deforestation, mining expansion, hazardous wastes, pesticides, pollutants, global climate change, diminishing biological diversity and degradation of quality of life (fig. 1).

Figure 1 Photo: Andre Francisco Pilon

Consumerism can not be attacked using ethical formulations and can not be understood outside of contemporary socio-technical systems; wealthy elites, traditional economic groups, rich multinational corporations (banks, agribusiness, contractors, mining companies), that apparently would be concerned with “development” strategies and “sustainable” development goals, are actually being used not as a roadmap for social, economic and environmental transformation, but as a vehicle to justify the status quo, to entrench inequitable power relations, translating their economic power into political access to influence government decisions.

Educational and mass communication policies, nowadays aligned to “entrepreneurship” development, are not adequate to prepare people as agents of change; policies of “social inclusion” only accommodate people to the prevailing order: once “included", a new wave of egocentric producers and consumers reproduce the system responsible for their former exclusion; in this sense, beyond the limits of academic formats and biased public policies, it is proposed the generation of new socio-cultural learning niches, in which people could explore new pathways, within new scenarios relevant to new forms of being in the world.

To reach the roots of, and deal with, the problems of difficult settlement or solution in our times, a theoretical and practical framework is posited to identify and reconceptualise roles and drives, encompassing the co-design of all dimensions of being-in-the-world (intimate, interactive, social and biophysical), in view of their dynamic equilibrium, complementarity and mutual support, as they combine, as donors and recipients, to induce the events (deficits/assets), cope with the consequences (desired/undesired) and organise for change (potential outputs): deficits and assets should be assessed, connections strengthened and ruptures sealed.

In this sense, it is expected that advocacy, public policies, research and teaching programmes would:

a) define the problems in the core of the “boiling pot” (fig. 2), instead of reducing them to the ‘bubbles’ of the surface (effects, fragmented and taken for granted issues);

b) combine all dimensions of being in the world in the diagnosis and prognosis of events, assessing their deficits and assets, as donors and recipients;

c) promote the singularity (identity, proper characteristics) of and the reciprocity (mutual support) between all dimensions in view of their complementarity and dynamic equilibrium;

d) contribute towards the transition to an ecosystemic model of culture, as an essential condition for consistency, effectiveness and endurance.

Figure 2 Photo: Andre Francisco Pilon




In view of a set of values, norms and policies that prioritises socio-ecological objectives and human well-being, the quality of natural and built environments and the aesthetic and ethical values should be linked to a moral and cultural meaning of existence; instead of taking current prospects for granted and projecting them into the future (exploratory forecast), science–policy interfaces, public policies, communication, advocacy, research and teaching programmes should emphasise the definition of desirable goals (normative forecast), and the exploration of new paths to reach them.

To understand how people create and experience their lives, it is necessary to unveil the epistemic cultures which structure how they know what they know. In the socio-cultural learning niches, heuristic-hermeneutic experiences generate awareness, interpretation and understanding beyond established stereotypes, from a thematic (“what”), an epistemic (“how”) and a strategic (when, who) point of view. Niches are new structures, protective spaces for “path breaking innovations” in the wider transition process to an ecosystemic model of culture, “shielding, nurturing and empowering”.

The ecosystemic model favours the development of healthy societies, which invest in each other rather than in mega-projects with intensive use of resources. It extends to environmental problems, the quality of life and the state of the world a conceptual framework that includes ontological and epistemological issues, the isomorphy and transfers of concepts, laws and models; it highlights how taken-for-granted worldviews, values and perceptions affect the definition and treatment of the problems by communication, advocacy, public policies, research and teaching programmes in the contemporary world.


André Francisco Pilon: Professor, University of São Paulo; Psychologist, State Court of Justice; Director, Ministry of Health; Editor, journal Academus. Education: Masters of Public Health Education, University of Puerto Rico; Doctorate/Post-Doctorate, University of São Paulo. Affiliations: Int. Acad. of Science, Health & Ecology; United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification; IUCN Comm. on Environmental Policy; EuroScience; World Alliance for Citizen Participation; WSSCC; Centre for Healthy Cities. His proposal for advocacy, public policies, research and teaching programmes encompasses environmental problems, quality of life and the state of the world. Instead of the effects, priority is given to the general phenomenon.


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