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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 20:7–10.


Rearranging the Relationship between Nature and Man (before Johannesburg)



1. Ecology, environmental science, and sustainable development

The human interpretation of the world has been undergoing a rapid transformation. The facts that man is capable of breaking down matter to its elements, that physicists and chemical experts are capable of assembling them totally differently, the fact that man is able to leave the Earth and his understanding of time has undergone total transformation as a result of space research, and that at last we have recognised that we may even destroy our natural environment and our own living conditions with it; well, these facts of the relationship between nature and man encourage us to think entirely differently from our thinking of not more than 30 or 40 years ago. I am, for instance, currently preoccupied with the question of when did so radical changes of world-view, similar to the current one, take place during the course of history, what conditions shaped the world-views regarded as new ones and what is the relationship between man and nature in those still surviving world-views. If nothing else, at least the 11 September, that special date of the collision of world-views, forces the thinking part of humanity to do so. How do for instance the three Judaist religions – the Jewish, the Christian and the Muslim ones – think about the relationship between man and nature, how do the Oriental religions – Buddhism, Confucianism, Shinto – think about the same issue? How far would these interpretations of the world be suited for adequately conducting the real relationship between man and nature in the 21st century? Because this relationship can be influenced by our human thinking with the help of the set of instruments of technical revolutions. Perhaps the Buddhists are right when they blame Christians for our world-view – irrespective of whether we are practicing our religion or not – being full of limited anti-naturalism. In fact the three monotheist religions assume that the Creator, as it is put by Verses 26-30 of Chapter I of the First Book of Moses, has placed all His non-human creatures under the dominion of man. In other words: for one and a half thousand years we have been brought up in a world-view supporting technical optimism according to which man is the in centre of the world. According to Buddhism however, man is only part of nature, there is an interrelationship between man and nature. Not speaking about several pantheistic, polytheistic religions, where every natural phenomenon and even natural object has its holiness, demanding constant respect from man.

Many of us have already noticed that one should speak about the relationship of “man and nature” differently in the 21st century as we have done for one and a half thousand years. By now we know, at least we, a few hundred thousand of us, of daily increasing numbers, and perhaps there are already several millions of us, that it is far more correct to speak about the relationship of “nature and man”, that is to reverse the sequence of words. And it is correct to consider man as part of the entire nature and not to regard nature simply as “environment”.

Our entire interpretation of the world should be revised. It is not simply a conclusion deriving from the internal development of science, when we demand a place for ecology, or the science of the environment, it is not simply the movements protecting animals, plants, or the nature, when we have been (including myself) writing and speaking in the interest of protecting nature since the 1970s. More is involved here. It is the 21st century that demands humanity to change its understanding of the relationship between nature and man.

Thus we may discuss concepts and may discuss Rio. Now, at the time of Rio+10 it is timely. As far as I am concerned, when I am thinking about the concepts of environmental science, ecology, and sustainable development I regard ecology as the general concept that deals with the interrelationships of the entire physical world. I consider environmental science a discipline of a narrower topic, dealing with the relationships between man and the natural environment. The third category, namely “sustainable development” is one of the guiding principles of human activity, which, in my view, requires us to experience our common functions of life while taking the relationship between nature and man into consideration. Thus, in my interpretation “sustainable development” is a requirement the assertion of which should be promoted primarily by ecology and environmental science within science.

Academic institutions, including academies of science should also support this transformation of world-view. They should let disciplines studying the relationship between nature and man come more to the foreground. It should be recognised by what kinds of new technical instruments we have been enriched, just as a consequence of the miraculous development of technical, physical, chemical, and biological sciences of the past century, and that the intelligent use of these tools requires separate study. Because the essence is not that our world-view and activity should be scientific, but that science should focus on man and the physical world. Science can be used for good as well as for bad purposes. This is why I am sure that the 21st century will force the granting of a much greater role to ecology, environmental science, or the complex disciplines studying man such as psychology and complex historical anthropology in the organisations of research.


2. Environmental science: is it a natural or a social science?

Environmental science is at least as much a social as a natural science. Perhaps this opinion of mine is not surprising after the above stated words. The marvellous successes of natural sciences in the twentieth century have led, at least in my opinion, to the thinking of researchers studying nature getting half a century ahead of the thinking of scholars studying society. Our concept of time and world-view has hardly been renewed after World War II. And the new trends of social science research, sociology developing well since the beginning of the century, next cultural anthropology, psychology, economics, have been living in isolation, sometimes locked up in disciplinary ghettos. Conflict between the challenge of practice and the organisation of research can be felt most strongly in social sciences. The challenge of practical life is always focused on problems, whereas the organisation of research is focused on disciplines. Therefore everyone tries to respond to the challenges from the angle of his or her discipline, by methods evolved in it. Naturally this self-criticism does not retain me as a social scientist from criticising natural scientists as well. It is primarily directed towards researchers engaged in the study of inanimate nature. According to my repeatedly worded opinion the marvellous successes of applied and theoretical natural sciences have led to the brilliant institutionalisation of those disciplines, and they dispose of huge amounts of money in their departments, for their researchers and of sums won from production. All these successes and developments have narrowed the thinking of those living in the research organisation of natural sciences. They have been transformed into specialists who only focus on singular research processes. In other words they commit the same mistake as the social scientists. They just as much do not know human society, in which they devise and build their marvellous machines, structures, as social scientists do not know the natural and technical environment of society. Neither of them knows or studies the interrelationship that objectively exists between man and his environment.

Naturally I also keep on repeating that environmental science and ecology are not simply life sciences. Today even the research into live organisms cannot develop without physicists and chemical scientists, not mentioning the fact that the conservation of natural environment cannot be envisaged without the knowledge of structures and the products of inanimate nature.

In other words, I consider natural, as well as life and social sciences as parts of the concept of environmental science. The study of the environment is such a consideration that has to be asserted in natural, as well as life and social sciences.


3. The concept of the “environment-conscious citizen”

What is it by which I consider the Rio programme of 1992 to be supplemented with now, after ten years? It is the fact that the Rio programme cannot be implemented without changing the thinking of the society. Science, education and their allied media have to strive consistently to make citizens follow environmentally conscious principles in their individual lives. I have been talking about “environment-conscious citizens” since 1989. At that time I spent one year in the administration and I had to think a lot about what changes could be initiated in the public thinking of the society with the power of administration. As an enthusiastic environmentalist, or hidden ecologist who had approached the unity of the natural world from the angle of man, I had been in quest of those means by which a nature-friendly thinking could be promoted. It was at that time that that I blurted out the need for an “environment-conscious citizen” at a public forum, who should be educated by the educational system, by media policy, but also by the entire revenue system, and even by the political parties. (At that time I had the least faith in the latter ones.) We would go nowhere without the environment-conscious citizen. Therefore one should, perhaps propose supplementing the Rio programme by such a clause.


Let me say something else while thinking about environmental science, Rio, and the current changes of world-view. During the recent years I have repeatedly quoted Don Quixote, the valiant knight as my favourite literary hero. To me he embodies such a world-view that cannot be victorious in its own age. In my interpretation Don Quixote is a knight who acknowledges that the world around him follows different rules, yet he charges ahead with his spear for the assertion of certain conceived moral norms and attacks the windmill. Today those who urge a rearrangement of the relationship between nature and man are such Don Quixotes as yet. Perhaps posterity would describe our struggles as funny ones, but I hope that our moral stand would be just as well appreciated as I appreciate Don Quixote. I acknowledge the fact that the world and the environment in which I live follows different principles, and I am not upset for it, I would only follow my own obsessions.