The research method of Social-Natural History is the systemic analysis of historical processes. Social-Natural History is a scientific discipline at the joint of humanities and natural sciences, using original methodology and studying interrelation, interaction and mutual influence of processes, phenomena and events in the life of Society and Nature. The general turn of researchers to the phenomenon of mentality (which has deep historical roots is an ultimate aim of researches in SNH) agrees with the research priorities of the United Nations in the XXI century. These priorities were embodied, first of all, in the most fundamental international research of the present and near future of the Planet issued within the framework of the Program of the United Nations on environment UNEP --- the second Report on environmental conditions under the project GEO-2. In this report mentality is for the first time mentioned as a primary factor in overcoming present global eco-social crisis, and recent Russian official documents for the first time have characterized the situation on the Planet as an eco-social crisis.
Interview with E.Kulpin, provided by I.Khaliy.
I.Kh.: Eduard, I know you as an economist and an historian
investigating and analyzing the influence of the environmental situation on the
development of a society. It is known, that you are a founder and one of the
main theorists of social-environmental history (SNH). What is the basic
research approach of SNH, its basic concept?
E.K.: SNH is the unity of three elements:
nature-economy-mentality. The development of SNH is the result of collective
work of different scientists: historians, philosophers, economists,
sociologists, demographers, biologists, physicists, chemists, geologists,
geographers, psychologists. A lot of my colleagues have two higher educations,
usually in natural sciences and humanities. The worldview and even the way of
thinking of specialists in natural scientists and humanities are different, and
we are making collective efforts to create a uniform system of thinking.
A human being did not reflect on what he was doing to the
environment, until he found out, that something was wrong with it. Today, in
order to understand the essence of the ongoing process, it is necessary to make
a revolution in thinking: a man is not the centre of the universe, he is only
a part of it, and a whole is a set of inanimate nature, animate nature and
society. And a man should take into consideration animate and inanimate nature,
not only the processes going on in the society, as was the case till now. The
purpose of SNH is to find a way to keep the balance in order to avoid
consequences negative for mankind by investigating interaction of society with
nature. Nothing threatens to inanimate nature, it will remain intact, but
animate nature can disappear. A lizard in danger can get rid of its tail, and
the system "nature and society" can get rid of its "tail" too, and this "tail"
will be society.
I.Kh.: I know about your researches on China. Can you give an
example from the history of mankind, how the ecological situation influenced
the development of society and the society coped with ecological crises?
E.K.: In the past, the climate change caused some ecological
crises, but only local ones. The transition from a climatic optimum to
temporary fall of temperature of Iron Age has caused the crisis phenomena in
Ancient Greece. They were rather slight, but in China they were stronger. The
reason of this difference is simple: the effect of global natural changes is
stronger in the areas, which are more distant from the equator. According to
V.Klimenko, if the global temperature rises on one degree, the temperature
will remain practically unchanged in Northern Caucasus and Kuban, but in
Taimyr, where everything is constructed on permafrost, it will rise on 7
degrees. It's clearly, what the result will be.
The society can successfully cope with the crisis only under the
following conditions, for the first time formulated by N.Vavilov: high degree
of biodiversity of nature; sufficient culture accumulated by the society; the
population "density" sufficient for experiments, information transfer, and for
the generation of ideas.
I.Kh.: And the question is whether we shall have time to
transfer the accumulated experience and cultural heritage to those communities,
which will manage to survive?
E.K.: The question is, if the society will have time to carry
out the necessary experiments in order to find a way of overcoming the
ecological crisis, and to inform the people about such a way. Ancient China has
coped with serious socio-ecological crisis. After that crisis the
socio-ecological stability of Chinese society during two millenniums was based
on three "whales".
The first is the invariance of the populated territory. There
was no extensive territorial expansion, as it was in Russia, whose territory
reached the Pacific Ocean, or in Europe, whose citizens on a large scale moved
The second "whale" consists in the fact that the population
did not exceed that "ceiling", which allowed by constant technology to keep
demographic pressure on the soil within the limits of nature's potentialities
to support ecological balance.
And third "whale" is the invariance of the basic conceptions
of the world and of the people themselves.
I.Kh.: Do you mean the tradition, that was preserved and passed
from generation to generation? Did it serve as a stabilizing factor?
E.K.: Yes, for two thousand years Chinese people based their
life on the books of classical Chinese wisdom, on the thoughts of ancient
sages, on their concepts of interrelations inside the society and interaction
between the society and Nature. Western countries developed in a different way.
The characteristic features of their development were: the expansion of
cultivated lands, the development of new territories and population-growth. The
world now can not exceed the bounds of the Globe. It means that we should live
"here and now". And the solution of this problem can, actually, be the same, as
it was in Ancient China.
I.Kh.: Does it mean, that the historical processes, which we
usually connect to political crises or to the structure and functioning of
social and political system, depend first of all on ecological tension?
E.K.: Yes in the long run they are but not directly. Ill-being,
having arisen in one sphere, affects the others. The main actor here is the
society, social, political and economic relations inside it.
I.Kh.: In this connection, how do you estimate the present
ecological situation in Russia and its influence on the society and on the
transformations taking place nowadays?
E.K.: Today there is an opportunity of a global economic crisis,
as was the case in 1929. Then we shall have unpredictable economic and
I.Kh.: Do you consider the global economic crisis possible?
E.K.: Yes, and it can cause ecological crisis. Those actions,
which keep today ecological situation in relative balance, in such case will be
stopped. Every developing country thinks how to feed the population, how to
raise the standard of living. The standard of living, but not the quality of
life, which comprises the quality of environment too. And if there will be
a global crisis, the ecological problems even in the developed countries will
be neglected, and in the world these problems will become much more acute.
SNH also shows us the fact that by the change in conditions of
life (ecological, political, economic, and most often -- all the three in
complex), those countries, which were in the best way adapted to existing
conditions before the crisis, will be least adapted to the stress; and those
countries, which are already in stressful conditions, have greater "immunity of
I.Kh.: Do you believe, that even in case of global economic
crisis we, Russians, have more chances to survive, because we are accustomed
and adapted to constant struggle for survival? Nevertheless, the ecological
crisis already exists. And if we recover economically, we shall start all
enterprises with their old technologies (or we shall replace these technologies
by out-of-date western ones, which we only can get) and thus we shall increase
ecological tension. What is the way out of the ecological crisis, from the
point of view of SNH, what should be placed in its basis?
E.K.: The answer is to be divided into two parts -- ideological
and technical, or rather technological. The ideological component consists in
the following: the world is uniform, and the trouble in one place will
influence all the countries, including successful ones. After the fall of
political regimes of Germany and Japan as a result of the Second world war, the
USA have shown great wisdom and have helped these countries to rise, creating
the economic competitors for themselves, but in exchange obtaining the new
political allies. After the fall of our regime, the case was different. Western
countries have left Russia to the mercy of fate. They have not made it
a political ally, because they have not made it an economic competitor. This is
a consequence of unawareness of unity of the world. Russia under any
authoritarian regime proved to be in an opposition to the West, and in an
unstable situation the transformation of Russia into an under-developed country
will make the world extremely uncontrollable.
SNH presents three possible variants of the destruction of
biosphere. First -- as a result of nuclear war. Second -- because of
scantiness of resources, about which the Roman club warned. And third --
because of growing demographic pressure on the Earth.
Nevertheless, there is a way out. Firstly, the world should find
technologies appropriate to the technologies of biosphere, which works as
a "perpetuum mobile" from the point of view of energy consumption. Nature makes
a monoproduct and does not make waste products, it has no dumps. The main
question for us is: if we shall have time to develop and to introduce such
technologies; if we shall have time to reduce the population up to necessary
limits, to lower the consumption of resources. The substantiation and necessity
of all this are stated in the SNH concept.
Secondly, it is necessary to change the consciousness of the
people and sharply reduce the gap between the poor and the rich.
I.Kh.: In other words, it is the economy that does not let us to
solve the problem now?
E.K.: No, not the economy. There is no comprehension of
inadmissibility of such a gap, and of the necessity of egalitarian policy of
Japanese type, pursued by the state.
I.Kh.: Should the leading role belong to the state?
E.K.: No, the leading role should belong to the society, which
should force the state to act in such way. Until the society forces the state,
the latter will serve those who are satisfied with the huge gap between the
poor and the rich.
I.Kh.: And is our present-day state oligarchic?
E.K.: Yes. It is only an autocratic or a dictatorial state that
is able to reduce the gap violently. Unfortunately, the history of our country
shows, that our authoritarian regime can be of Stalinist type.
I.Kh.: But still, do you consider it possible, that an
authoritarian government acting in a proper way will be established in Russia?
E.K.: The experience of Far-Eastern and Latin-American countries
shows, that the establishment of such a regime is necessary to solve the
problems of social development. Autocracy may force the society to spend the
necessary money for education and public health services, to encourage the
development of new venture technologies. But for this purpose the enlightened
monarchy is the necessary form of government. Unfortunately it is possible only
I.Kh.: It looks like a Utopia. The reorganization of
consciousness is a necessary thing here. But what do we need to begin such
E.K.: This problem has two aspects. Now the society is strongly
influenced by mass-media, because practically every household has a TV set. It
is necessary for the journalists, working on TV and radio, to realize the
ecological tension and not merely to tell and to show something about ecology,
but to speak about the ways of solution of the crisis. These ways do not
consist only in protection of woods, fields and rivers; they consist in
search of new technologies, which would make it possible to reduce the pressure
on Nature and to put an end to the pollution of fields, woods and rivers. It
means that we should not protect Nature, but we should look for technologies,
that would leave Nature intact. It is simply impossible to it in: people need
food, clothes etc., and therefore they will break all the barriers protecting
Nature, destroying it by using the existing technologies.
The second aspect: new consciousness should be inculcated
through education. Technological decisions, found at the local level, should
immediately become the common property of the whole world, and mass-media
should propagandize them. The state should subsidize the development of new
technologies and favour their distribution.
I.Kh.: But we have already mentioned the fact that the state
will work in a proper way only if the society puts pressure on it. But who will
influence the society so as to make it influence the state?
E.K.: To make the society develop this or that way, it is enough
that some 5 % of the population would be inspired with certain
ideas and guide all the others. In the history of various peoples we see the
examples of small groups who changed the consciousness of the whole ethnos.
This, however, can happen only after a long work, lasting not less than 20
I.Kh.: But they should have something for the people. What is
E.K.: It's an ideology and a program of actions.
I.Kh.: Where, in what social strata do you see any forces able
to do it?
E.K.: In Russia I think intellectuals can do it, first of all
scientific and technological community, who will create new technologies.
I.Kh.: Will those people create the new ideology?
E.K.: No, the ideology should be given them. And it will be
given by those who realize problems and know history of interrelations between
mankind and Nature. Who are these people? Today I don't see them. I don't know
them, but they are those who deal with the same problems, as we do within the
framework of SNH. The ideas will appear and be put into effect. In the time of
Confucius nobody thought, that his ideas will become a great force, and will
dominate in China for 2,5 millennium. The question is how quickly the ideas
will be realized. The time given to us by Nature is, probably, estimated in
decades. The ideas of Confucius were incarnated in the governmental policy 500
years after their birth. Christianity became the dominant religion
approximately after the same period. Is this interval universal for the process
of fundamental changes in the people's worldview? I don't know, but we are
trying to find the answer.
I.Kh.: And the last question. I know that you have never
researched the environmental movement. But you have read something about it,
and you have commune with some experts. What role does it play today, in your
opinion? What is the importance of this movement for the development of the new
ideology and for its subsequent propagation?
E.K.: There are a lot of brilliant, decent and sincere people in
this movement. Mostly they belong to the scientific and technological community
and they do know and realize what is going on in the environment on the local
level. Unfortunately, their mental outlook remains generally rather narrow. As
a rule they are not able to generalize, they don't see the close interrelation
of ecological, economic, political, cultural etc. problems. That's why they
don't understand that it is impossible to solve ecological problems when all
the others remain unsolved. If the members of the movement manage to recognize
unity of the world and integrated nature of the problems, they will become
propagandists of the new ideology. Otherwise other social movements will play