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 to America.
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 political consequences.
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 a survival".
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 theoretically.
I.Kh.: It looks like a Utopia. The reorganization of consciousness is a necessary thing here. But what do we need to begin such reorganization?
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 years.
I.Kh.: But they should have something for the people. What is it?
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 this role.