Returning Earth to Mankind and Mankind to Earth: An Ecosystemic Approach to
Advocacy, Public Policies, Research and Teaching Programmes
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
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 the appropriate technologies.
In the boundaries between reduced academic formats and fragmented public policies, 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
factors in view of the degradation of quality of life, increased urban violence, chaotic system of
production and consumption, energy squander, deforestation, mining expansion, hazardous
wastes, pesticides, pollutants, global climate change, diminishing biological diversity (fig. 1).
Consumerism can not be attacked using ethical formulations, it can not be understood outside of
contemporary socio-technical systems; many traditional economic groups, wealthy elites and rich
multinational corporations, that apparently would support “development” strategies and
“sustainable” development goals (banks, agribusiness, contractors, mining companies) are being
used nowadays 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
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.
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
Fig.1: Consequences of current socio-political-economical systems for the state of the world.
Fig.2: The real problems lie deep inside the boiling pot, not in the bubbles of the surface (effects).