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marți, 10 aprilie 2012

A model of Sustainable development neutral with respect to Political Ideologies, Religious preferences, and Environmental sciences paradigms - ASPIRE

(1) The importance of the problem from the socio-economic and scientific point of view
We define a model of sustainable development as the content of a public plan for sustainable development (SD) of a socio-economic system, in the form of a strategy (SDS), agenda, or set of public policies not structured by a strategic plan. A more rigorous definition and eventually a classification can be obtained after identifying the invariances in the existing population of such plans at global, national and (to the extent possible) local level and will be a result of one of the activities of the project.
The concept and the models of SD are a result of the cultural evolution. In the public discourses the elements of the SD agenda raise criticism of at least three types:
·         SD agenda would be ideologically contaminated. The public perception is that these kinds of policies are specific to left wing thinking.
·         There would be a lack of scientific soundness of the holistic studies of socio-ecological systems promoted by the transdisciplinary scientists as bases for SD. The presence of this kind of science self-declared as a new paradigm in the scientific publications with ISI impact factor dealing with development is marginal.
·         SD would involve a new type of ethic, environmental ethic, eco-centric, perceived as artificial in many traditional cultures where is in competition with the traditional systems of norms promoted by the dominant religions.
Whether or not such perceptions and criticism are correct, they anyway reduce the efficiency of the public policies for sustainable development because they will face declared or undeclared resistance from at least some of the decision makers and citizens. This situation is a sign of rigidity, lack of adaptability of the current way of thinking theoretically in practically the SD of socio-economic systems. Because it is reasonable to assume that there is a public good with respect to the natural capital in the socio-ecological system consisting in the maximization of the cumulated production at all scales of natural services not manageable by private actors, this rigidity of SD models is a public deservice, precluding the efficient management of the natural capital.
In this context Holling (2000) comes with a non-political notion of sustainable development: “Sustainability is the capacity to create, test, and maintain adaptive capability. Development is the process of creating, testing, and maintaining opportunity. The phrase that combines the two, sustainable development, therefore refers to the goal of fostering adaptive capabilities and creating opportunities”.
We add to Holling’s idea that adaptive ecosystem management should take into account not only a human – ecosystem interaction, eventually ideally optimized and imposed top-down, but also an adaptation between the humans involved in the management of the natural capital with respect to their values and culture, whatever their decisional level in the hierarchy of political and administrative power. In any socio-economic system occurs of coevolution of the formal and informal rules, and the current models of SD reflect to some extent the informal rules existent in those SES, although they have not been explicitly taken into consideration when designing the SD plans. In principle one could have a purely centralized model of SD – imposing the right values by formal rules, and a purely decentralized (self-organized model) – self imposing the right values by informal rules. The real situations lie somewhere on the gradient in between these ideal types.
The goal of this project is to produce a model of SD explicitly considering this coevolution. The importance of such a model lies in its potential to accelerate the real evolution of SD models towards more efficient forms, adapted to the cultural diversity of each socio-economic system. To foster adaptive capabilities of socio-economic systems is useful to diversify the population of available SD concept and models in order to allow the survival of this idea in the process of cultural selection, i.e. its acceptance by all parties.
Importance of the problem:
·     Political EU-SDS states: ”Research into sustainable development must include short-term decision support projects and long-term visionary concepts and has to tackle problems of a global and regional nature.” We attempt to produce such a visionary concept, but it application may limit some of the political expectations. The general assumption and political expectation is that the strategies for SD will somehow converge. Europe seeks “a self-organised convergence of NSDSs” (based on their regular reviews, Spangenberg 2010). This project will show the value of diversity in NSDSs as formal cultural products adapted to informal cultures.
·         Social No legally bounding obligations are imposed by European or national SDSs (Happaerts 2012), their implementation being heavily dependent on its compatibility with the values of the decision makers and citizens. The pressure on values not compatible with the culture of the citizens leads to rejection of the policies (“social justice, not sustainable lifestyles, has the most resonance with interviewees. As a result, not only do calls for rationalisation carry little cultural meaning, they also actively alienate individuals from the project of sustainable consumption.” - Hobson 2003). This project will promote a reduction of formal pressures of implementing SD models not adapted to the values of the people.
·         Scientific From a strictly scientific perspective the project is relevant for the evolutionary approaches in cultura studies and economics. We apply this evolutionary approach for the first time to the models of SD themselves. This is particularly important as the SD strategies attempt to take into consideration the cultural diversity, but forget that SD strategies are part of the cultural diversity. This project points out also the usefulness of critical thinking / philosophical disciplines for establishing bridges of communication and cross-fertilization between different discourses and approaches.
(2) The difficulty elements of the problem
Figure 1 below presents the types of organizations and processes involved in the public acceptance of scientific knowledge (Iordache 2012 forthcoming). If the model of SD is to be a piece of scientific knowledge publicly accepted rapidly, not at the time scale of decades, it should cope with all filters involved in its selection, each one representing a difficulty element of the problem.

Figure 1 Homomorphic model of the system of organizations involved in the production and public acceptance of scientific knowledge, applicable for understanding the selection of models of SD on the cultural market. Legend: Continuous arrows = transfer of theoretical discourses (or of parts of them) used for evaluating the inter-discursive coherence, 1 = intra-disciplinary grounding by explanation of disciplinary facts, 2 = evaluation of the inter-disciplinary coherence, 3 = evaluation of the coherence with other scientific fields, 4 = accomplishment of the standards produced by the normative epistemic discourse, 5 = evaluation of the compatibility with political ideologies, 6 = evaluation of the compatibility with religious discourses, 7 = evaluation of the compatibility with visions of the world, Dashed arrows = control of the processes 3-7 on the public acceptability of the theories grounded internalistically by processes 1 and 2.
Applying this framework to our problem we obtain a (not exhaustive) list of difficulties
1.      To extract the invariances in the current SD models based in a rigorous way (process 1)
2.      To accelerate the process of communication between scientific disciplines (processes 2 and 3)
3.    To manage to construct bridges of communication between the formal discourses of different types, in particular scientific and political, and scientific and religious (processes 5 and 6)
4.      To produce tools for assessing the compatibility of formal and informal rules and values (process 7). It is a fact that a significant number of persons have needs for freedom and for faith, but such needs are not included in the current concept of SD. They are important in the process of cultural evolution. Freedom is essential for cultural evolution and adaptability of SES, because is involved in the variation process. Faith is essential for responsibility and counterbalances in many cases the excessive use of freedom, which on the other hand ensures the authentic character of the faiths. Such needs should be also preserved for the next generations together with those related to economic wealth, social justice or the natural environment.
5.      To produce a coherent framework compatible with the informal and formal discourses present in a socio-economic system (process 4). From a philosophical perspective to put them in common metaphysical framework.
(3) The limits of the current approaches in the context of the state of the art in the field
The mentioned approaches of Holling (adaptive cycles theory) have the limitations that are too formal, based on the general theories applicable to any kind of system in development. They are not usable in providing assistance in the design of the strategy of a particular, but rather have an explanatory value for the general patterns observed in the dynamic of productive systems.
Transdisciplinary science developed as an alternative to the acceleration of inter-disciplinary research, but currently transdisciplinary science is part of the communication problem between scientific fields, not solution to the problem.
As an alternative to command and control management methods Pahl-Wostl (2002, 2007) explores the modelling of social learning for water management (Pahl-Wostl 2006). It is not clear, however, taking into consideration the cultural differences, to what extent the social learning framework proposed by this author is applicable outside the western societies where it hase been devised. It may be that informal rules in one societies are not compatible formal rules and institutional frameworks devised in, and proved to be efficient in another society (e.g. Ibrahim and Galt 2002).
As the concept of SD and the SD models are rather young the literature concerning them is rather normative or descriptive. Few attempts to understand the dynamic of these cultural products exist, beside the descriptive history of their development.

(1)   The concrete objectives of the project are (see also Gant-Pert diagram in figure 2):
·                    To produce ontological and epistemic foundations for the models of SD. In this objective we approach the difficulties 1, 2 and 5
·                    To produce methodological foundations for an evolutionary model of SD. In this objective we approach the difficulties 3 (at the level of religious discourses) and 4
·                    To produce an evolutionary model of SD. In this objective we tackle the difficulty 3 at the level of political ideologies and then use the results of objectives 1 and 2 to reach the goal of the project.
 (2) The elements of originality and innovation that the implementation of the objectives bring to the field, related to the state of the art in the field and to the previous projects developed by the project leader.
This project is a continuation of the project “Theoretical and methodological foundations of the mathematical modeling of socio-ecological systems”, of the work done for understanding how to develop integrated models of socio-ecological processes across scales (projects related to the biogeochemistry of metals, but which raised problems of principles requesting to be solved in their general form – Iordache et al. 2011), and of the work done in the PhD theses in philosophy of science dedicated to the units of selection in biological and socio-economic sciences (the search for a general form of the units of selection led us to a formal model of the productive systems – Iordache et al. 2012). While the past work allowed us to have a structured image over the theoretical landscape relevant for the problem of sustainability science, in this project we tackle a very specific problem, the status of the models of SD and the possibility to produce an evolutionary one at normal scientific and analytical philosophy standards.
The comparative analysis of national SDSs is a hot problem. For instance a special issue of the journal European Environment (currently name Environmental Policy and Governance) was dedicated to European NSDS. Extending the analyses to the global and regional strategies may provide answers to interesting questions. Is the global Agenda 21 at the root of perceive ideological character of NSDSs, or rather this took place at national and supranational level? Is the concept of NSDS rationalistic in nature? The real situations of NSDSs range between ideal strategies, fully embedded in the state fabric, and cosmetic strategies, devoided of administrative relevance (Meadowcroft 2007). What explains this diversity of situations?
The theories of development are the realm of economics and are not yet coupled with the evolution of informal rules, although institutional economics make an effort to couple it with the evolution of formal institution. Our model will be conceived to have a nuclear core acceptable at global level and external layers extended to regional, national and local level adapted to the elements of cultural diversity existing at those levels (religious, ideological, or those of the scientific schools operational in the socio-economic system where the model is implemented). This multi-level and adaptive structure should be supported by a homogenous metaphysical framework if one wants to keep something from the original rationalism of the concept of sustainable development and not fall into pure cultural relativism.
Accelerating the communication between sciences relevant for the SD problem is relevant also because ecosystem services are produced at different scales (Hein et al. 2006), and usually investigated by different disciplines. Having an integrated management of multi-scale ecosystem services requires a coupling between the knowledge produced disciplinary which is one the largest provocation for sustainable development. We will contribute to this objective by an analysis of the entities specific to all environmental sciences (partial results published in Iordache et al. 2012 for the purpose of integrated modeling).
In the second objective we combine elements specific to ecological economics, such as the concept of ecosystem services and the problems associated with their valuation (Constanza et al. 1997, Fu et al. 2011), with elements specific to evolutionary economic, namely the idea of coevolution of economic behaviors and institutions (Van den Bergh and Stagl 2003) under the umbrella of an ecological methodology for the identification of socio-ecological systems (Iordache 2004, Iordache et al. 2011). A general proposal for making such a joint-venture between alternatives to neoclassical economics was made by Mulder and Van den Bergh (2001). Our approach is different from their’s by the explicit focus on informal and formal rules for the management of natural capital. Co-evolution between formal and informal rules can be seen as a solution for increasing the role of private organizations in the co-management of large scale natural capital. Knowledge about the theoretical possibility of coevolution of informal rules is useful for designing public policies and programs. It is the first time when an evolutionary approach is applied to a potential substitute o social learning in traditional societies.

Figure 2 Combined Gant-Pert diagram of the project. Arrows show transfer of information between activities (continuous when dotted). 

It is likely that the project will have an impact on sustainability science, on environmental ethics, on institutional and evolutionary economics, as well as on religious studies. We cannot anticipate the extent of the political impact; it might exist in cultures with an accent on rationalistic approaches, although its accent on adapting the substantive character of SD strategies to the cultural background of the countries may lead to an unfavorable reception by the representatives of substantive ideologies. However, tor the European space at least facilitating the evolution of interdisciplinary cooperation may be an acceptable top-down policy. Sensitive aspect of the weak and strong sustainability concept will be challenged by answering questions like: is it acceptable in traditional cultures the total substitution of natural capital stocks (i.e. the weak sustainability)?, is it acceptable in such cultures the maintenance of a critical natural capital whatever the effects on the needs for freedom and faith?

This is part of an Ideas project applied at a CNCS competition in 2012. This project has been written with Emi Socaciu, Madeea Axinciuc, Laurențiu Gheorghe and Laurențiu Staicu.

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