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New issue of "Estudos Avançados" discusses the relations between society and environment, and between science and values

by Richard Meckien - published Dec 12, 2014 07:10 PM - - last modified Dec 19, 2014 11:53 PM

Capa Revista Estudos Avançados V 28 N 82Issue 82 of IEA-USP's journal "Estudos Avançados" was launched this month and is already available (in Portuguese) at SciELO. It contains 14 articles divided into two thematic parts: "Society and Environment" and "Science, Values and Alternative 1". Seven reviews and a comment complete the issue.

According to Alfredo Bosi, editor of the publication, "the first part faces conceptual and historical issues concerning the role of sustainability in the struggle for global governance of public goods, such as biodiversity, climate and the oceans."

The section consists of nine articles by 14 authors, dealing with relations between society and the environment with a focus both on broad conceptual issues, centered on discussions on sustainability, energy and public perception of climate change, and on more specific issues facing the domestic scenario in Brazil, especially São Paulo.

The second part comprises five texts by five authors who present the results of a series of research carried out in recent years under FAPESP's Thematic Project "Genesis and Meaning of Technoscience: On the Relationship between Science, Technology and Society", focusing on theoretical contributions.

This is the first part of the dossier "Science, Values and Alternatives", proposed by IEA's Philosophy, History, and Sociology of Science and Technology Research Group, organized by Pablo Mariconda, group coordinator, and Hugh Lacey, visiting professor through FAPESP and member of the group.

According to the researchers, the articles are intended to "provide a firm philosophical and methodological support for multi-strategic research, and illustrate the potential of its positive agenda, contributing to the critics of the commercially oriented technoscience".

The final part of the dossier, whose theme will be "Agroecology, Health and Biodiversity" will be published in the next issue of "Estudos Avançados". The launch has been set for April 2015.


In the journal's opening article, "The Core of Sustainability", José Eli da Veiga makes a theoretical discussion of the concept of sustainability, seeking to resume its original meaning. For him, the trivialization of the term "has caused a great amnesia about its origins, which obscured the historical sense of its legitimacy as a new value" and has put in suspicion "the possibility and the hope that humanity can indeed relate to biosphere to avoid the prophesied collapse in the 1970s."

Veiga analyzes the thought of researchers who have wrested the term by pointing to catastrophic scenarios and denying the viability of sustainable development. Moreover, it presents empirical evidence that refute the pessimistic forecasts and reinforce the feasibility of maintaining and restoring the environment, as suggested by the concept of sustainability.

"Sustainability is a concept that is incompatible with the idea that the disaster is only being delayed, or with any kind of doubt about the real possibility of human progress. At its core is a dynamic vision of world in which change and adaptation are inevitable but rely on higher consciousness, sober caution and a lot of responsibility on the risks and especially on uncertainty. Hence the crucial importance of a synergistic increase of knowledge of global governance and cooperation," he concludes.

"Responses to Climate Change: Technological Innovation or Individual Behavior Change", the article that closes the thematic part "Society and Environment", also addresses the issue of sustainability, but from an applied perspective, focused on international public perception.

In the text, Fabián Echegaray and Michele Feyh Afonso deal with the opinion of the population of many countries on the two main alternative responses to climate change: investing in technological innovation or promoting individual behavior change towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Based on data of the annual opinion study Radar, of the GloboScan network, held in 15 countries around the world, the authors have also identified the contextual factors that explain the positioning differences between people of one nation and another.

According to them, "the least developed countries, with moderate institutional development and favorable environmental conditions, support the solution of the problem on technology. On the other hand, developed countries with strong institutional development and unfavorable environmental conditions are more skeptical when it comes to technology, realizing how necessary changes in individual habits and behaviors are."


Three articles deal with the energy issue, which is at the heart of discussions on the relationship between man and the environment. In "Energy and Society", Joaquim Francisco de Carvalho examines the correlations between demographics, the stage of economic development and energy consumption. The author explores the evolution of energy sources over time, demonstrating that older ones have been replaced by others, newer and more efficient, in so far as technologies have advanced and the production system has become more complex.

"Thus, muscle strength has been complemented by wood and animal traction, which in turn have been complemented by the energy of water and wind, among others. Then there was coal, which was complemented (or replaced) by oil in industry, transport and modern agribusiness systems."

According to Carvalho, although gas and oil, both non-renewable, are the most efficient and suitable sources for use on a large scale in these three sectors, the trend is that they end up being replaced, as it happened in the past. For him, investment in alternative and clean sources such as wind, the Sun and water, associated with the finiteness of natural resources and environmental impacts caused by fossil fuels, will lead to the gradual abandonment of polluting and non-renewable sources. But to do that, "it is essential to invest heavily in the development of energy sources that are renewable and clean."

The author concludes that although the underdeveloped societies require a high energy consumption per capita, growth, particularly consumption, should be limited to the scope of a reasonable quality of life level "because the development does not necessarily depend on growth, but on other factors, such as improving education, increased access to information, better product quality, rationality and maintenance of passenger and cargo transportation systems, and so on."

In "'Shale' Gas in Brazil: A Necessity," Wagner Ribeiro evaluates cost x benefit of the exploitation of Brazilian reserves of natural gas that is found trapped within shale formations, known as "shale" gas, pointed by many as the best solution to lower the power generation in the country.

The author identifies four negative characteristics in the extraction of gas for application in the energy sector: 1) it is a non-renewable source of energy and emitter of greenhouse gas effect; 2) it is an intensive and short-lived activity, which takes a natural resource to exhaustion in about a decade; 3) hydraulic fracturing, the technique used in the extraction of gas, can cause the lowering of the land surface and local tremors; 4) moreover, the procedure uses chemicals which contaminate soil and water, and has been banned in many countries.

But according to Ribeiro, in the specific case of Brazil, the main factor contrary to the exploitation of this natural resource concerns its destination. According to the author, as the country does not have a distribution network that enables the domestic use of gas for water heating, responsible for most of the energy consumption in homes, gas within shale formations would be used as a complementary source in thermal power plants for the generation of energy used by major consumers of the mineral sector, particularly the bauxite, iron, steel, pulp and paper producers.

"In other words, it is used to keep the country in a peripheral position in the international system as simple supplier of raw materials, when what we need is to dare and to propose a new energy production model and renewable materials, based on the use of biotechnology and its associated knowledge, abundant in our country."

In "Perspectives on the Hydroelectricity and the Licensing Process in Brazil," Priscilla Piagentini, Roseli Benasi and Cláudio Luis Penteado address the issue of energy focusing on the impasse around a renewable source. In the article, the researchers explore data of the survey they have performed with actors involved in the process of environmental licensing of hydroelectric plants in the country, including prosecutors, academics, experts, lawyers, activists and representatives of NGOs, social movements, consulting companies and electric utilities.

According to the authors, the data collected through questionnaires, showed that "the difference of opinion, guided by different interests and goals, is, on the one hand, interesting at the moment that they enrich the debate. However, this scenario shows the permanence of a social immaturity rooted in the existence of specific prioritization, when in fact such actions should be conducted in a systemic view ".


The specifics of the environmental reality of the city of São Paulo have been addressed in three papers. In "Climate Variability and Water Quality in the Guarapiranga Reservoir," Sofia Oliver and Helena Ribeiro have reported the study conducted on the correlation between climatic variables in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo (RMSP) - particularly the rainfall and the change of air temperature - and the cyanobacteria density, taken as water quality indicator in the Guarapiranga System.

The authors have concluded that the increasing concentration of cyanobacteria is related to high rainfall and average temperature during periods of rain in the region, a phenomenon that may be linked to global warming. They have also inferred that the density of these micro-organisms will continue to increase if the trend observed in the last four decades, an increasingly hot and rainy weather, continues - a scenario seen with concern by the researchers, since cyanobacteria are potential producers of harmful toxins to human health.

The article "Contributions of Human Sciences for the Debate on Environmental Change: A Look at São Paulo" also deals with the environmental impacts associated with the climate issue in São Paulo, but on a reduced scale, concentrated in the area of the borough of Butantã, in the west zone of the city.

In the text, Gabriela Di Giulio and Maria da Penha Vasconcellos present results of the research that they have developed in order to understand the perception of São Paulo on the risks associated with climate change, as well as the role they can play in combating the environmental crisis. Based on critical reflections derived from human sciences, the authors point out "the importance of considering the population as an integral part, if not essential, for social and environmental change in this movement in response to urban problems and climate risks."

In "Urban Renewal in Contaminated Areas in the City of São Paulo", Mateus Habermann addresses the problem of the contamination of soil and groundwater in real estate central areas of the capital. In assessing the urban density, sanitation infrastructure availability and socioeconomic status of the residents, the researcher concludes that there is potential for recovery, occupation and urban regeneration of contaminated areas, and highlights the need for the government to act as a promoter of this process.

Although not related to São Paulo, "Drought and Public Policy in the Semiarid: Ideas, Thinkers and Periods" also brings a local perspective on the relationship between environment and society. In the article, José Nilson Campos periodizes public policy against drought implemented in the northeast region of Brazil since the colonial period.

While recognizing that public policy in question resulted in significant advances, enabling the growth and industrialization of the northeastern region, the author points out that "there are still many challenges such as poverty eradication, elimination of regional inequalities, increase of knowledge in management of water, especially with regard to water quality in the reservoirs. The reduction or elimination of pollution of water bodies constitutes the biggest challenge for future governments."


In the opening text of the first part of the dossier "Science, Values and Alternatives", Mariconda and Lacey claim that the articles address, from different perspectives, the model of interaction between scientific activities and values (M-CV) that are being developed by the Philosophy, History, and Sociology of Science and Technology Research Group under the aforementioned FAPESP Project.

"We hope the articles of both dossiers serve to demonstrate that the M-CV provides tools both to criticize the contemporary scientific activities and to identify alternatives and important possibilities of research that are not getting due recognition in prevailing scientific institutions."

To introduce the theme in "The model of interaction between the Scientific Activities and Values in the Interpretation of Contemporary Scientific Practice", Mariconda and Lacey explain the principles that guide M-CV, showing that different types of values play different roles in five steps of scientific activity: adoption of the research strategy, research development, cognitive evaluation of theories and hypotheses, dissemination of scientific results and application of scientific knowledge.

In addition, the researchers address the tensions between the two current options for the development of science - the commercially oriented technoscience, predominant in scientific institutions, and the multi-strategic research; and emphasize the need to explore the possibilities brought by the latter option in order to ensure the integrity of science and strengthen democratic interests.

"The prevalence of commercially oriented technoscience leads to the strengthening of the values of technological progress and the values of capital and the market, and, to a significant degree, to the cost of weakening the values of social justice, participatory democracy, and environmental and local sustainability, while multi-strategic research can serve to strengthen these values."


The consequences of the hegemony of commercially oriented technoscience are discussed in two articles. In "The Gift as the Science Organizing Principle", Marcos de Oliveira Barbosa talks about entrepreneurship processes promoted by neoliberal scientific policies. These cases concern the application of typical principles and methods of private companies in the management of scientific activity, which translates in quantitative and productivist evaluation parameters of the research.

According to Oliveira, "such principles and methods are characterized by operating on the basis of favorable cost / benefit, or input / output, or investment / return, or, more accurately, based on quantitative parameters - in monetary ultimately - with the objective of maximizing one of them. In the paradigmatic case, the profit."

The author lists a number of problems caused by the entrepreneurship of science, including "the deterioration of the quality of life of the researchers, the incompatibility with the exercise of social responsibility in science; the fraud proliferation of various types; the decline in the quality of production." Therefore he proposes a reasoned conceptual scheme in the transition of quantitative criteria for qualitative academic evaluation.

Ivan Domingues also addresses the need to increase scientific productivity in the article "The Communication System of Science and Academic Taylorism: Questions and Alternatives."

According to Domingues, the term "Taylorism" is more appropriate than "productivism" because it highlights "the administrative bias of academic production, associated with the system of incentives and constraints that go along with the rewards and punishments, permeable to constraints of governments, development agencies, central administration of universities, leading to standardization of processes and the explosion of publications."

The author states that Taylorism is intrinsically linked to the spread of production and the results of scientific activity among peers, and the indices that determine the impact of journals and articles. "If we could sum it up in one sentence, we would say that the soul of the Taylor system is the 'publish or perish', its ratio is the quantum, its method is the metrics, and its body or matter is the scientific paper."

Domingues also notes that although the Taylorism is naturalized in scientific culture, "there are abundant facts against it, the uncertainties increase, fractures grow and threaten to cause the system to ruin." As an example, he mentions initiatives aimed at the questioning of Taylorism, as the slow science movement, which seeks to break with the academic productivism; the creation of quality filters; changes in the peer review system; free access to articles and journals; among others.

For the author, it is about "restarting the ethos of science fractured by academic Taylorism" and thus build an alternative to utilitarian ethics of science able to "counter the agonism of competition that leads the delight of the contemplation of the work that perpetuates and survives the individuals to the all-or-nothing idea of 'publish or perish'."


In "The Social Technology as an Alternative to the Reorientation of the Economy", article that closes the first part of the dossier, Sylvia Gemignanin Garcia discusses the potential and limits of Social Technology (TS) - alternative design to technoscience, which seeks to expand the rationality of science "due to the ethical and social dimensions of existence."

Garcia says that by "guiding the production and dissemination of knowledge from the identified needs and interests to groups located in the lower strata of the social hierarchy," TS provides valuable contributions to the construction of "another economy", either by enabling the economic, environmental, political, social and cultural sustainability of solidarity enterprises, or by stimulating forms of production, social organization, economic exchanges and alternative political relations through the strengthening of the Solidarity Economy (SE).

As an example, the author presents the "One Million Cisterns in the Semiarid Program," a TS initiative developed from a partnership between the federal government and NGOs in order to encourage the construction of tanks by the benefited families and thereby enabling expansion of collective action experiences.

"The design of this policy includes the direct participation of family members in the construction and maintenance of the tank, and the exchange of experiences and technical information with other families in order to promote networking and forms of voluntary cooperation, integrating the material purpose of access to water with the aim of cultural and political strengthening of the people involved," she concludes.