Sustainable Development Theory and Alternative Concepts of Nature and Society Interaction

UDC 330.15

Gerald Vasilevich Shalabin – St. Petersburg State University, Department of Mathematical Methods in Economics, Associate Professor, St. Petersburg, Russia,


62, Tchaykovskogo str., St Petersburg, Russia, 191123

tel: +7(812) 272-07-85

Alexey Sergeevich Alipov – St. Petersburg State University, Department of Mathematical Methods in Economics, Associate Professor, St. Petersburg, Russia.


62, Tchaykovskogo str., St Petersburg, Russia, 191123

tel: +7(812) 272-07-85


Background: The case of environmental economics shows the urgency of the development of the modern scientific concept of nature and society interaction. The absence of such a concept is one of the main reasons of the deep theoretical crisis of this science, including the problem of substantiation of its subject, object and method.

Results: In the framework of the noospheric approach it is claimed that the subject of environmental economics is the process of extended reproduction of a special material wealth-environmental conditions (quality), and we should consider natural ecosystems (ground-based and aquatic) different hierarchical levels to be its object.

Research implications: This approach to understanding the subject and the object of environmental economics leads to the obligatory revision or specification of traditional ideas about the boundaries, goals and objectives of public production, the criteria of evaluating the effectiveness of its functioning, structure of finite products and outcomes, composition of the set of goods and services. It results in significant adjustment of the applied methods of calculating the basic macroeconomic indicators.

Conclusions: Current social and environmental problems of the Russian Federation should be solved by elimination of the main reasons of their occurrence (rental and raw character of the economy; constant increasing technical and technological gap; non-sequential and contradictory environmental policy of the state and so on). The set and the sequence of the relevant projects implementation, the sources and the amounts of their funding should be based on and proved by a comprehensive analysis of these reasons.


Keywords: biosphere; noosphere; concept of nature and society interaction; environmental economics; social and environmental program.


The development and the application of scientific concept of nature and society interaction is one of the most important, fundamental problems of modern science. The main purpose of this concept is to identify the causes of global social and ecological crisis and to justify methods and ways to overcome it in the current conditions. It should serve as a scientific and methodological basis for the development and application of social and environmental forecasts, plans and programs on the different levels of nature and society interaction (regional, national, global levels). Currently, it is commonly supposed, especially among representatives of the social sciences, and above all-economists, that the scientific concept of nature and society interaction has been already created. According to this point of view, such a concept is the Sustainable Development Concept (see below – SDC), developed by the International Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission) in 1987 [8]. This position related to the SDC the authors consider to be not reasonable and vulnerable enough for criticism, for the reasons set out in their article [1]. Therefore we confine our estimation to the general conclusion. From the scientific point of view, the basic statements, conclusions and recommendations of the SDC are neither new nor original. In general they are contradictory and declarative. The definition of “sustainable development” (see below – SD) nearly repeats the “Kavka-Locke standard” well-known since the XVIII century: “Each generation should leave not the worst life conditions for those who comes to Earth after it”[4]. The SDC has no natural scientific ground, because it is not based on the ideas of the limit, threshold impact on the environment. According to the SDC authors, poverty, especially in developing countries of Africa and Latin America, “is a major cause and consequence of global environmental problems” [8, p. 15]. Therefore, proposed acceleration of global economic growth is recommended to be the main method and technique of solving these problems [8, p. 90]. It means the appeal to a new stage of industrialization, but, so to say, “industrialization under the green banner”. At the same time the results of social and economic development of these countries in previous years, which are characterized by a further intensification of social and economic inequality (both among countries and within them), looting and depletion of natural resources all over the world and the “barbaric destruction of the environment” [14, p. 268] are being ignored. According to the latest UN data, these negative trends will be typical for the next decades. In compliance with this organization forecasts the world population will have reached 8.9 billion people by 2040, 90% of absolute increase in the world population being caused by the developing and underdeveloped countries of Asia and Africa. It will evoke to the further intensification of different problems including the ones of providing the population with food, drinking water, energy and other resources, as well as further environmental pollution and increasing social and economic inequality [16]. At the same time, these negative effects cannot be fully eliminated or compensated by scientific and technological advance. During the last few decades the special economic and mathematical models were being applied widely for research of various aspects of the SDC implementation. The Dasgupta-Hill-Solow-Stiglitz (DHSS) model takes a special place among these ones. The analysis of these models application experience is the subject of a special study and research. Therefore we confine our conclusions by a general statement that the mathematical simulation methods application is an important and necessary condition for the successful and constructive research of contemporary problems of nature and society interaction.

Currently we should consider the concepts based on the V. I. Vernadsky’s biosphere and noosphere theory and the theory of self-organization to be the alternatives to the SDC. The development of such a concept is not finished and requires an intensive interdisciplinary research which is unfortunately ignored by economists. V. I. Vernadsky in his studies of the problem of the transition of the biosphere into a new stage of the evolutionary development – the noosphere – focused mainly on two issues: the biologocal human evolution and the technical and technological society development.

At the same time, he clearly realized the failure of attempt to reach the aim of transition of the biosphere into the noosphere by only technical changes, stressing the importance of social and political reforms [3, pp. 28 – 32]. However, in general V. I. Vernadsky did not explore (or did not have enough time to explore) the influence of all these factors on the transition of the biosphere into the noosphere as minutely, as he did it with the “technocratic reforms”.

It seems that B. L. Lichkov in his correspondence with V. I. Vernadsky identified the two components of the process of transition of the biosphere into the noosphere more precisely. He wrote: “Therefore there are two prerequisites of antroposphere with noosphere replacement: the human domination over external nature and the mind power domination over the lower collective instincts inside man and human society. As for the second one, we need to achieve such an order when the things don’t determine the motives of human actions, but the free will based on mind should take place” [9, p. 123].

The ideas of V. I. Vernadsky were presented in a number of works of academician N.N. Moiseev. According to his opinion, the noosphere is the process of transition to a qualitatively new stage – the stage of coevolution of society and nature [6, pp. 217 – 219]. He insists that this transition requires a long-term development strategy, which should include the two components: technical and technological re-equipment and establishment of the new morality of environmental ethics as a set of socially necessary rules and regulations in the minds [7, p. 86].

N. N. Moiseev strongly stressed for several times that the transition to the noosphere is impossible without providing of society and nature coevolution and that “the concepts of the noosphere and the coevolution of humans and the biosphere become almost synonymous” [6, p. 217]. The question arises: does the theory of coevolution of society and nature have any relation to the economic science? According to our opinion, it does, and this relation is direct and immediate. It seems that such coevolution means a transition to a new type of extended public reproduction, namely the type saving nature and natural resources.

Such a form of extended reproduction includes as the principal components not only extended reproduction of traditional goods and services, but also extended reproduction of the special public good – environmental quality (state). At the same time the extended reproduction of this good should be regarded as the ability of the environment to satisfy the demand of both existing and future generations of people in realization of a number of important functions in cooperation with the humanity. These include the following functions:

1) to be a healthy habitat;

2) to be a spatial basis for the settlement and productive forces allocation;

3) to serve as a source of natural resources, environmental benefits and environmental facilities;

4) to accumulate and to transform pollutants;

5) to maintain and keep the gene pool and biological diversity of plants and animals;

6) to stabilize and maintain the climate conditions on the local and global levels.

Without their implementation the existence of neither any individual nor the whole society is impossible.

Extended reproduction process in such a general sense is indeed a regulated and guided process of nature and society interaction. Natural and man-made processes, factors and conditions are inseparably combined in this interaction. This way of extended reproduction process understanding is essential for the economic science and above all – the environmental economics, which, according to our opinion, has been in a deep crisis and a theoretical deadlock for a long period. The ideas concerned with extended reproduction process lead to the necessity of either revision or specification of the current principal elements of economics as a science, namely its subject, its object and its methods; its boundaries, its goals and its objectives of public production, the criteria of evaluating the effectiveness of its functioning, structure of finite products and outcomes; composition of the set of goods and services, which determines the social welfare function; applied methods of calculating the basic macroeconomic indicators, including GDP, GNP, NW (national wealth) and so on [1].

N. N. Moiseev speaks correctly about the difficulties and duration of the period of transition to the application of the noosphere approach in solving the problems of nature and society interaction. He emphasizes “the necessity of the program to organize the sources of the noosphere” [7, p. 51]. The question is: what can create such sources? We believe that the answer to this question can be obtained taking into account that people always interact not with some abstract environment, but with a particular set (system) of natural territorial complexes within a defined area. In physical geography these complexes are called “landscapes”. Currently most of the landscapes are man-made, transformed by humanity. They are fundamentally different from the natural landscape. This difference means that they have lost their ability for self-regulation and self-recovery. Maintaining them in “robust” (productive) and safe for human conditions requires ever-increasing in time costs of resources of all kinds. We believe that such interacting natural territorial complexes within the boundaries of administrative entities (districts) of different hierarchical levels and ranks become objects of research and regulation in practice. Namely these complexes can become potential noosphere sources. Therefore we will use the term “noosystem” for their specification.

Application of ideas and achievements of the theory of self-organization (synergy theory) in solving problems related to the development of the modern concept of society and nature interaction is perspective and productive [see, e. g.: 2; 5].

One of the fundamental assumptions of this theory is the ability of time to create order from chaos [10; 11]. I. Prigogine and I. Stengers reveal that in non-equilibrium states near the bifurcation points [2] recurring fluctuations appear, one of which can lead to a change of regime from the unstable to stable. However, such fluctuations at first must appear in a finite region, and only later “spread and fill” all the space [12, p. 240]. The process of chaos self-organization into a certain order of new sustainability begins with one element of the future system by accident, but after that the bifurcation gives this change direction some stability which forms all the rest elements of a new system. “There is some competitiveness between the sustainability provided by the bond, and instability due to the fluctuations. The stability threshold depends on the outcome of this competition”, I. Prigogine and I. Stengers emphasize [12, p. 56]. If we apply this statement to the ecological and economic relations, we can make the following conclusion: instability in the “society and nature” system reaching the crisis states is generated mainly by fluctuations in both the production ecological management sphere and man’s relationship with the environment. These ideas were further developed by N. N. Moiseev and the V. S. Stepin. For example, speaking about the process of transition to a qualitatively new stage of the biosphere evolution, i. e. the stage of coevolution of society and nature, N. N. Moiseev emphasizes that all the features of this transition “can appear only in the self-organization process, which means the creation process of many people. Any social experimentation and rigid planning are extremely dangerous” [7, p. 51].

V. S. Stepin notes that the modern science, technology and society development leads to generation of complex, self-developing “synergetic ” systems, which includes humans themselves. “They begin to occupy gradually a central place among the objects of scientific knowledge, and not only in the humanities, but also in the natural sciences” [13, pp. 194 – 195].

Currently human is included in biosphere as an integrated self-developing system. Thereupon V. S. Stepin stresses: “When he (human – G. S. and A. A.) works with developing system which he is integrated into, then its remaking with violence can cause catastrophic consequences for himself. In this case certain activities limitations focused on selecting only those possible scenarios of the world changing, which provide a survival strategy, become inevitable. These restrictions are imposed not only by objective knowledge about the possible directions of the objects development, but also by value structures, by understanding of goodness, beauty and self-sufficiency of human life” [13, pp. 196 – 197].

These new trends and new values are incompatible with the values of existing Western consumer technological civilization based on the constant expansion of production, the looting of natural resources, the subjugation and conquest of nature. Therefore, the transition to a new, special type of civilization progress is necessary for the radical solution of social, environmental and other problems facing the humanity. In this connection a fundamental question appears: whether such a transition is possible, and if it is so, in what time frame? Science, as empirical knowledge, has no means and methods to answer this question because it concerns the distant future. So the implementation of such a transition, the content of which is quite in tune with the modern concept of the noosphere, is a myth. But in contrast to fairy tales it will come true if people start to believe in it. In his time, John Galsworthy wrote that if you do not think about the future, you will not have it. In this context, the authors share the opinion of those scholars who believe that rational decision of mentioned problems is possible in principle. But, as the German philosopher V. Hösle stresses, it is impossible to say that “everything you need for the prevention of global catastrophes will be done in time, since there is neither a priori guarantee nor a priori proof that humanity cannot avoid self-destruction” [15, p. 175].

Of course, the lack of generally accepted scientific concept of society and nature interaction due to some uncertainty connected with a number of theoretical and methodological issues, that were mentioned in our article should not divert scientists and public attention from solving increasing social and environmental problems in our country. We are deeply convinced that the solution of these problems first of all should be consisted in the elimination of the underlying causes. Among these reasons, according to our opinion, we can mention:

1. underdeveloped rental and raw character of the economy;

2. constant increasing technical and technological gap between Russia and industrialized countries;

3. non-sequential, contradictory and in many cases irresponsible governmental state environmental policy;

4. low efficiency and the lack of conformity to real conditions of exploited economic mechanism of environmental protection, use and reproduction of natural resources;

5. low level of environmental culture and education of population and government officials;

6. backwardness and inefficiency of the institutions of civil society including the activities of the local authorities and “green” public organizations in solving the social and environmental problems.

The set and the sequence of the relevant projects implementation, the sources and the amounts of their funding by the federal and regional social and environmental programs, the development and implementation of which are provided by the Federal Law “About Protection of Environment”, should be based on and proved by a comprehensive analysis of these reasons. The consideration of the issues emerging during this process is beyond the goals and objectives set out in the article. The general approach to their solution has been considered by the authors in the article published before [1].



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16. World Population Prospects: the 2010 Revision. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, New York, 2011, CD-R.

[1] Adjustment of macroeconomic indicators is carried out within the international ecological and economic system taking into account national peculiarities and is realized successfully in a number of countries – UN members.

[2] Bifurcation – occasional division of a process into two separate branches, especially branches that go in different directions.

© Gerald V. Shalabi, Alexey S. Alipo, 2014