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2. Retrospective

I. Assumptions
II. Reorientation

The first step in an assessment of where we stand presently in the current of thought about our relationship with the natural environment and what we might be able to do about it is to find our bearings and develop a perspective. The best perspective for the study of a process is likely to be a historical one. In this chapter we look back over the last decade and trace some of the events that mark the gradual accretion of change in attitude. But first it will be well to review some of the basic ideas or assumptions in terms of which the slowly-changing discourse about natural resources has proceeded through the 1970s.

 

I. Assumptions

On ecology and human ecology
On adaptation
On ecosystem
The problems of application

All fields of human endeavour- scientific, administrative, commercial or domestic - develop general orientations. These orientations, which are often now called paradigms (a convenient derivation from Kuhn, 1962), and might more felicitously be called discourses (in similar derivation from Foucault, 1970) derive from the accumulation of concepts which are formulated in the process of explaining temporal and spatial relationships and, generally, ordering information. These groups of concepts are not necessarily mutually compatible or consistent and the argument that interrelates them is often not explicitly worked out. Within a discipline some concepts tend to take priority over others for reasons of historical precedent or intellectual fashion. No orientation is totally coherent and there is plenty of room for legitimate difference of opinion among specialists emphasising different concepts within one general orientation. Ecology is such an orientation. Human ecology is fast becoming another.

 

On ecology and human ecology

Human ecology is more diverse than most such orientations, because its practitioners scarcely constitute a unitary profession. They come from a range of different backgrounds. Of the scientific traditions they would claim as their heritage, biological ecology would be among the most prominent, though a significant number of them are primarily trained in the social rather than the natural sciences. Within the social sciences they span the range of possibilities from the more philosophical and theoretical to the applied and practical, from anthropology and political science to civil engineering and public health. Whatever their primary training, they tend to accept unquestioningly a number of concepts from biological ecology as the basis of their explanatory repertoire. They rely on these concepts to identify themselves as ecologists, but since they are taking each concept out of context, they run the risk of distorting it and of being rejected by the disciplines that fathered the concepts (which is not to imply that natural ecology has not made significant borrowings from the social sciences; see for example the discussions in Rapport and Turner 1977 and Richerson 1977).

It will be useful here to discuss briefly a few of these basic concepts in order to demonstrate some of the dangers that they present. Awareness of these dangers has increased significantly among the various brands of human ecologists over the last decade. The major concepts selected for treatment here are "adaptation" and "ecosystem." But these also raise questions about others, such as "niche," "population," "energy flow," "equilibrium," "succession," "carrying capacity," "the tragedy of the commons," and "rationality," each of which is introduced briefly here and elsewhere, as appropriate.

 

On adaptation

The most basic assumption of ecology has been characterised usefully by Barry Commoner in his popular book, The Closing Circle (1971, p. 29): "The first law of ecology," he writes, is that "everything is connected to everything else." But if we proceed from such an assumption, how can we determine for practical purposes where, and how, particular chains of causation begin ?

There is no satisfactory general answer to the first part of this question. The accepted answer to the second is "by adaptation." The two questions may be combined by asking who or what adapts first. In attempting to answer this it would help to understand how adaptation works. For this question - outside the study of biological evolution there is as yet no satisfactory answer.

The difficulty is much greater when the chain of causation moves from physical and biological to social and cultural factors, since there is no generally-accepted explanatory framework common to both the natural and the social sciences. Moreover, natural scientists either assume human behaviour can be changed (and that if politicians cannot change it, social scientists should be able to), or they attempt to apply natural science theory in the explanation of human behaviour. Sometimes, somewhat illogically, they do both. At the same time they have become dependent on a number of social concepts, such as "community." Social scientists, on the other hand, have been tempted to borrow concepts from the natural sciences. especially "ecosystem" and "adaptation." However, although some studies based on such borrowing have been elegant tours de force they have generally been inadequate as explanations. But most social scientists have either ignored the ecological context of human behaviour or understood it only imperfectly, and they have sometimes justified this inattention by insisting that social and cultural processes cannot be explained by reducing them to another order of phenomena, whether biological, physical, or even psychological. There obviously is a relationship, but the exact nature of it not amenable to generalization.

Some ecological problems derive directly from changes in natural phenomena, such as precipitation patterns. In this case human activity may be blamed only insofar as it does not in due course adapt to the new situation (unless it can be shown that human activity somehow caused the change in precipitation, as in the current hypothesis that increasing accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, resulting from the increasing consumption of fossil fuels, is inducing climatic change that will include among other things higher temperatures and increased occurrence of drought in the sub-tropical arid zone). In fact most ecological problems are considered by both social and natural scientists to begin with increases in human activity, especially as a result of population growth. But the term most commonly used to discuss the relationship between human activity and the natural conditions is "adaptation"!

The concept of adaptation begs the question of mal-adaptation. Otherwise, how would any problems arise? But if both adaptation and mal-adaptation occur, how do we know when to expect one and when the other? If we cannot know, then neither is equivalent to a law. In an applied science, especially, neither concept is useful unless we can predict when one will occur and when the other. The combination of genetics and the theory of natural selection makes it possible to deal with this problem in evolutionary biology, but (so far at least) we have no equivalent in the other fields of biology. let alone in the social sciences.

Adaptation is generally defined in both the natural and the social sciences as a process whereby an organism seemingly fits better into its environment and way of life. (See, for example, Bateson 1979, p. 227.) The mechanisms whereby biological adaptation occurs (as natural selection of phenotypes, due to environmental pressures, leads to change in genotypes) by genetic transmission of traits and mutation are reasonably well understood. But when the concept is transferred to the cultural sphere acceptable analogies are difficult to find and little progress has yet been made in the study of them. One extreme position, typical of those who assume adaptation everywhere regardless of all the evidence of mal-adaptation, or who at any rate do not try to explain the incidence of mal-adaptation, re-defines the concept in the framework of systems analysis as the process by which organisms or groups of organisms, through responsive changes in their states, structures, or compositions, maintain homeostasis in and among themselves in the face of both short term environmental fluctuations and long term changes in the composition or structure of their environments (Rapport 1971a, p. 60; cf. 1971b, pp. 23-24).

Such a definition presumably places most entrepreneurial activity beyond the pale of acceptable behavior by dubbing it maladaptive - unless it defines homeostasis so broadly as to comprehend somehow all social change! Perhaps more importantly, it presumably deals only with behaviour, taking no account of intent. A more generally acceptable position, typified by Sahlins (at one stage, 1964), simply uses the concept to draw attention to the effects of non-cultural constraints on human behavior or on cultural processes, whether these constraints are physical, biological, social. demographic or historical. In fact, Sahlins makes the point that the most important constraints on human behaviour are often historical, in that people are seldom able to do more than they have been taught. It is worth noting that the genetic information that sets limits on biological adaptation is of course also in a sense historical (Sahlins 1964, p. 136).

A simple ethnographic example will help us to put these definitions in perspective:
Quite commonly, Eskimo culture is cited as an apt, if somewhat extreme, example of how man's cultural capacity allows him to adapt to even the harshest circumstances. At such a gross level of analysis, such statements are unquestionably true, for it is apparent that culture does make the difference between life and death for the Eskimo as it most probably does for every other human being today. (Burnham 1973, p. 93)

The evaluation of culture as adaptive in this sense cannot help us to explain why some behaviour interacts with natural processes more homeostatically, or with greater apparent conservationist concern, than others.

In the context of development the most serious problem with the scientific concept of adaptation lies in its implicit consignment of all human activity which is involved in degradation to the category of maladaptive and (by a short step) irrational behaviour. Attention to the human factor often stops here. It should of course minimally be extended to the point of suggesting an explanation for the irrationality.

Probably the best that can be said in the present state of our understanding is that in the explanation of human behaviour and of culture the concept of adaptation is not very useful. For all behaviour is adaptive in the sense that in a given situation each individual responds to a range of factors (which include both the historical and the psychological) that are not so much ecological or environmental, as contextual. An individual or a group adapts its behaviour to a set of cultural, social and natural factors in which it may see the cultural or social factors as more immediate or important. Over-grazing may make good economic sense for particular individuals or groups in particular situations. but it is likely to be branded as maladaptive and thus irrational. Since enforcement is often unsuccessful in the long run, it might be more promising to investigate the causes of such maladaptive behaviour and seek to remove them by legislating incentives or disincentives. But our consciousness is so pervaded and conditioned by the values of science that we tend to assume adaptation even when we have evidence against it. Like ecology, therefore, adaptation can become a symbol around which we rally but it may not provide an unequivocal basis for action. It is equated with conscious rational or unconscious useful behaviour, but it does not provide a workable recipe for planning.

 

On ecosystem

The main problem with the concept of adaptation lies in our inability to locate the mechanism. The need to focus on a particular mechanism always implies to some extent the definition of a unit of analysis. In biological ecology, adaptation is the mechanism that relates the individual to its immediate environment and the population to its niche - a subset of an ecosystem, which includes all the biologically and physically relevant environment. In biological ecology any investigation to a greater or lesser extent implies ecosystemic boundaries to the enquiry. "Ecosystem" was coined from "ecological system" by A.G. Tansiey in 1935 to denote "not only the organism complex but also the whole complex of physical factors forming what we call the environment of the biome - the habitat factors in the widest sense."

Many attempts to develop some form of human ecology have disregarded the discontinuity between biology and culture and have given ecosystem priority in defining the context of social and cultural factors. This approach has been successfully promoted by the brothers Eugene P. Odum and Howard T. Odum in imaginative ways but ways that are nevertheless severely limiting, in that they discount the dynamics of social and cultural processes and (in the case of Howard T.) reduce all activity to processes of energy flow, which is translated into quantitative terms. These terms are only superficially meaningful, but are treated as though they are an end in themselves. The use of the term ecosystem in this sense is the result of coalescence with general systems theory, which has been very influential in social science. Rapport once again provides an excellent example. He seeks to perfect his ecological approach to culture by subsuming even the "numinous" into a systems analysis of an entire socio-natural system of a small isolated community in Highland New Guinea:
the sacred and the numinous form part of an encompassing cybernetic loop which maintains homeostasis among variables critical to the group's survival (1971b, p. 39).

But when the social and cultural dimensions are taken into account, "ecosystem" as a framework for the analysis of man-environment relations becomes a straightjacket that deprives us of any flexibility, especially in the treatment of the non-behavioural factors. When we move from theory to application the social and cultural factors can no longer be contained in the straight-jacket: it is no longer possible to ignore them.

 

The problems of application

Attempts to deal with human behaviour ecologically by arguing from concepts derived from natural science, however elegant some of them may be, are in the final analysis, if not before, disappointing, for several reasons: They imply that equilibrium is normal and change is abnormal. They distort the context of behaviour by defining it in exclusively natural (that is, non-social) terms. They imply that motivation has not changed in the course of either evolution or history. And finally, they imply an assumption that although human technology has continuously increased carrying capacity since the Palaeolithic and currently continues to do so, sometime in the relatively near future it will cease to be able to increase it further.

Because of this disappointment it is legitimate to argue that ecological science forfeits any right it may claim to demand intervention in the lives of "non-scientific" populations. Where intervention is against their wishes as it commonly is- it raises moral issues. The relationship between populations will, of course, anyway continue to be determined not by science but in the political process, where morals are commonly trumped by politics. So. if science is to be used as a bargaining counter in the political process the arguments should be made in terms of a theory of ecological degradation that does not beg moral questions, and does not impugn particular social groups. Human ecology needs "no-fault" theories.

Even without the human factor ecological systems are so enormously complex that it is virtually impossible to comprehend them entirely in a coherent description or analysis. Bateson (1979) and Commoner (1971) both emphasised this problem of complexity and in different ways suggested that any interference is, therefore, likely to be dangerous. Interference is, however, a matter of degree and human populations are now so large, so ubiquitous, and so ecologically dominant that a policy of noninterference is unrealistic. But since any intervention is bound to be selective and partial, favouring some groups and disrupting others, it must be organized from a more broadly-based and open-minded effort at comprehension. This aspect of the human factor is the most important and most neglected: since even our scientific understanding of ecological situations is embedded in particular socio-cultural and historical contexts, definitions and assessments often vary according to the social vantage point and identity of the investigator. This is not to say that ecological trends and causes are not real, but that any one interpretation of them is likely to be partial and relative.

The answer to this problem is not to despair or retreat into mysticism (as Passmore, 1974, pp. 173-176, has characterized some of the more extreme expressions of the ecology movement), but rather to seek always a range of interpretations of any given situation, from individuals related to it in different ways, and to work on the synthesising of those interpretations. Since any interpretation is likely to be (to at least some extent) derived from reality, but is different and partial insofar as it is conditioned by both individual and collective experience and identity, the larger the number of interpretations that get fed into the political process, the closer the final synthesis is likely to be to reality.

A helpful methodological analogy may be found surprisingly, perhaps - in a discussion of the nature of myth by Levi-Strauss. Arguing from the example of the Oedipus myth, he demonstrates (1963, pp. 212-213) that it is not possible to determine the true version of a myth. The way to get as close as possible to what is significant in the myth is to collect and correlate and synthesize as many versions as possible. Further:
At this point the objection may be raised that the task is impossible to perform, since we can only work with known versions. Is it not possible that a new version might alter the picture? This is true enough if only one or two versions are available. but the objection becomes theoretical as soon as a reasonably large number have been recorded. Let us make this point clear by a comparison. If the furniture of a room and its arrangement were known to us only through its reflection in two mirrors placed on opposite walls, we should theoretically dispose of an almost infinite number of mirror images which would provide us with a complete knowledge. However, should the two mirrors be obliquely set, the number of mirror images would become very small; nevertheless, four or five such images would very likely give us, if not complete information, at least a sufficient coverage so that we would feel sure that no large piece of furniture is missing in our description. (Levi-Strauss 1963, pp. 214-215)

The best analysis of an ecological situation involving human populations is similarly one based on the largest (but not necessarily a complete) census of the opinions of people- both scientists and others - who are in some way related to the issue, either intellectually, professionally or personally. It should be noted that any consensus is likely to be influenced by public policy, though not necessarily in favour of it. An analysis of the relationship between a grazing regime and an area of rangeland will be conditioned not only by the relative social values of the pastoralists and investigators. but by the place of pastoralism in public policy- which, in turn, depends on the degree of participation of the various parties in the formulation of public policy and on the historical context. For example, in cases such as Iran, where government is dominated by people from settled agricultural backgrounds, whose cultural heritage includes fear of raiding by nomadic pastoralists, policy has tended to discriminate against traditional forms of pastoralism despite the economic demand for pastoral produce. In other countries such as Somalia and Jordan, or Botswana, where traditional pastoralists have a closer relationship with the government, policies towards traditional forms of pastoralism are more positive despite the existence of similar ecological problems. The solution to the moral problem of the human factor, therefore, lies in providing the broadest cross-section of opinion to inform public policy, representing scientific understanding, technological capability and relevant cultural values.

This brief discussion of some of the basic assumptions of ecology as applied to human problems has focused on the lack of fit with particular situations to which they might be applied. The remainder of this chapter reviews the consequences of this lack of fit in the intellectual history of the recent decade.

 

II. Reorientation

From a static to a historical perspective
From ecosystem to human use system
From system to organization
The argument so far
Some avenues of compromise

For the present purpose it is convenient to divide the history of the world into three phases of increasing diffusion of information and intellectual awareness. In the first, which extends up to the Enlightenment, natural, social and symbolic phenomena were for the great majority of people all explained alike in terms of religious faith. In the second phase, beginning in the seventeenth century, the use of mathematical reasoning replaced religion in this function at an accelerating rate, to the point where its superiority became generally established for all argumentative purposes, both in the West and by various processes of exportation throughout most of the world, thus determining a disciplinary hierarchy in scientific endeavours, according to the degree to which mathematical argument could be applied. In this process natural, social and cultural or symbolic phenomena were separated out as a function of intellectual reliance on a particular type of reasoning, which works best with the natural, and inadequately with the other two (especially the symbolic). In the third phase, with the growing autonomy and equality of nations since the middle of the twentieth century, the political process has led to a demand for the equitable distribution and application of scientific knowledge in ways which take account of variation in social conditions and symbolic values.

Society and culture are now coming into their own as independent dimensions in our perception of the problems to which science and technology are applied. Here we are concerned with a small part of this third phase (which is still only beginning and has reached identifiable proportions perhaps only in the last decade) in the growing awareness of inequity in the distribution of natural resources among social groups of all kinds, and the implications for future generations.

In the second phase, problems were defined scientifically in terms of systems. The spread of general systems theory in the middle of this century represents the culmination of this paradigm. Explanation of natural processes was pursued in terms of ecosystems which were assumed to evolve by adaptation in the direction of equilibrium. Change was orderly and proceeded according to the laws of succession, which were disturbed only by exogenous factors. In the case of dry lands the principal exogenous factor was precipitation, or its absence. As the third phase develops, however, it becomes clear that the larger political economy, in the social dimension, and the spread of consumer values, in the cultural dimension, are exogenous factors with similar disruptive potential. As our attention is taken more and more by the disruptiveness of these various natural and human exogenous factors the systems view of the world appears less and less adequate for our purposes.

 

From a static to a historical perspective

The rising consciousness of the role of larger political and economic forces and of changes in values is causing a major reorientation in ecology and development. But the basic assumptions of adaptation and equilibrium are still strong. Science, and intellectual endeavour generally, consist of the imposition of order on observed phenomena. The importance of equilibrium in our thinking lies in the fact that it is a relatively simple form of order. It is difficult for us to find a better one to replace it with. The science of ecology is founded upon it.

Ecology has to do with equilibria of various types, and with their achievement, as in the concept of succession, and with the quasi-mechanistic balance between subsystems, populations and (by extension) societies. Ecology is generally ahistorical. in the sense that it is concerned with the evolution, rather than the history, of ecosystems. It is true that for similar reasons - the imperative need to impose satisfactory order- much social science has also been not only ahistorical, but even (because of its need to distinguish itself from history) anti-historical. Although the recent experience of socio-economic change has inevitably led to some historical awareness, nothing has yet replaced equilibrium as an implicit conceptual framework of analysis. New concepts are needed to facilitate the paradigmatic shift. Unfortunately, the available social theories of change all seem partial and unsatisfactory. But although the ecologists' paradigm was not weakened so easily by historical change and they are not forced so insistently by the unpredictability of everyday life to question their framework as are social scientists, nevertheless the theoretical emphasis in ecology appears to have shifted over the last ten years from synchronic descriptive analysis of ecosystems to a more dynamic focus on evolution and natural selection.

Such a trend is promising because it should lead away from the phase-two conception of ecological systems and human disruption to a phase-three orientation in terms of ecological process and social cause. For example, where ecological problems have developed in the aftermath of exogenous technological change in the waterlogging and salinisation of large areas in the Punjab (See chapter 3), it had been taken for granted that the local society was adaptive (even though it was accused of causing the problem), and resilient (though it was obviously suffering from the consequences). Only recently has some attention been given to social forces and cultural values as independent variables interacting with the natural processes (See Merrey 1982).

In the study of ecosystems, where the productivity of natural resources is reduced as the consequence of activities in the human use system that incorporated them, the ecologist's reaction has commonly been to focus on the degraded resource. The degradation is then attributed to the immediate cause in the form of the social group exploiting it, as in many cases of traditional pastoralists and degraded rangelands. Desertification is acknowledged to be caused by social factors, but no attention is paid to their etiology. Remedies are generally designed by focusing on the symptoms of specific desertification problems (for example, reduction in the quantity and quality of vegetation), and by attempting to rearrange the more immediate social factors in relation to them. Judging by the record, this approach commonly fails to lead to a satisfactory solution and, besides, often brings about new adverse social factors which may accelerate the original process. Cause is translated easily into fault, and central authorities with large urban constituencies are comfortably indulged in their prejudices against marginal rural populations. Cultural discrimination of urban against rural increases; the population concerned suffers further reduction in its range of economic options and tends to become an increased burden on its immediate natural resources.

The ecologist focuses on natural processes and sees the fault in the behaviour of the human population which failed to reorganize its activities in the way prescribed. The social scientist is invited in to devise ways to encourage the people to confine their activities within boundaries prescribed by the ecologist. Until recently, most social scientists working in development have tended to accept the ecologists' terms of reference and have sought to apply their expertise as a service in the larger programme. Some now seek to reformulate the terms of reference, and redefine the situation in terms of the interests of the human population, in order to develop an ecologically satisfactory strategy that will serve those interests. In dealing with desertification in particular the social scientist is more likely than the ecologist to look for the ultimate social cause, which is often outside the affected area. It is unfortunate, however, that few social scientists have sufficient ecological awareness to be able to interact persuasively with ecologists.

This problem of difference in orientation between disciplines is simply a permutation of the difference in values - the conflict of interest- between different social groups generally, and is replicated again in the difference between the orientations of "basic" and "applied" research. It is generally allowed that involvement in applied work may condition values and compromise scientific objectivity. It tends to be overlooked that the implicit assumptions underlying the positions of basic research are cultural values that are by no means absolute, and may therefore be morally questionable. The arguments for and against capital punishment or abortion, for example, are based on differences in moral assumptions which no scientific argument can resolve. Scientific judgment faces a similar moral problem in ecology, but it seldom becomes apparent - except when human populations are involved. The introduction of "experts" (in the parlance of the UN system) into any situation where there is already a conflict of interest over the solution of ecological problems changes the moral and therefore also the political balance, either by reinforcing the position of one group vis--vis the rest, or by adding a new group. Each group formulates its solution to the general problem in terms of its perception of nature, which is in turn based on a combination of social and cultural heritage and self-interest.

The problem of integrating the explanation of cultural and natural processes in a single theoretical framework is complicated by historical factors on the social-science as well as the natural-science side. Pre-Darwinian evolutionary theory, which was not immediately replaced either by Darwinism or by genetic theory and still survives here and there in popular writing, was extended in the 19th century to describe a series of stages of cultural evolution, culminating in Victorian society. Revulsion against this model of human evolution which arbitrarily categorized, and failed to explain, spatial and temporal variation, contributed to the theoretical isolation of the social sciences which continues still. This isolation was therefore to a large extent self-imposed, and attempts to bring the social sciences out of it have so far met with little success. One of the more noteworthy attempts is that known variously as cultural ecology, human ecology or ecological anthropology-which is where social science enters the present argument.

Cultural ecology (as the ecological approach from within cultural anthropology has most commonly been known) was defined by Julian Steward as the study of "the adaptive processes by which the nature of society and an unpredictable number of features of culture are affected by the basic adjustment through which man utilizes a given environment" (in Tax 1953, p. 243, quoted in Netting 1977,p. 6). It has been most successful in the study of relatively simple technologies. Since man has occupied most dry lands from the earliest technological stages of history, it is not surprising that many dryland areas have been exploited by pastoralism and irrigation since the beginnings of those technologies. These less-than-ideal habitats have, of course, been exploited mainly by behavioural or cultural, rather than physiological or genetic adaptation, and are excellent material for long-term social science research. But studies in cultural ecology, despite their intrinsic interest, have generally failed to function as bridges between the social and the natural sciences. There are two reasons for this failure. First, instead of trying to integrate social theory with explanations of natural processes, cultural ecologists have sought to explain social processes either by reference to natural factors or in naturalistic terms. Second, by adopting the ecologists' systemic assumptions of equilibrium and homeostasis, which reinforced some a historical tendencies in their own tradition, they have ignored the historical background of their subject matter which might have forced them to take more seriously the ecologists' assessment of ecological degradation and to attempt to explain change. Therefore cultural ecology, whatever the benefits of some of its products (for example, explanation of certain cultural or social similarities in similar habitats) could not provide the basis for a dialogue between the social and the natural sciences.

In order to avoid any possibility of misunderstanding it may be worth restating that there is no intention here to question the reality of ecological processes apart from specific cultural perceptions of them. Neither is it meant to suggest that basic ecological research (as it has been pursued in isolation from social problems and the social sciences) is misguided. The problem is to bring both sides together.

There are in fact signs that a rapprochement of sorts is finally on the way. Though still somewhat faint, these signs are especially discernible in work sponsored by certain agencies of the UN system where the political pressure to reconcile scientific and political opinion is possibly greatest. The accumulation of data from observation, description and analysis of ecosystemic processes in the 1970s, which had been stimulated by the International Biological Programme (IBP) and continues to be supported by UNESCO's Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB), has been impressive. Dryland research, in particular, received an important boost when the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in December 1974 to organize a United Nations Conference on Desertification (UNCOD). UNCOD suddenly became the Maecenas of dryland ecologythough not for long. Meanwhile, ecology had become a historical issue and would never again be convincingly treatable outside its historical context.

The Conference was initiated in the atmosphere of urgency generated by the human tragedies that followed the Sahelian drought, but its subject matter was defined to include a larger set of problems that had for some time been causing increasing concern. The Conference Secretariat commissioned a series of studies to synthesise the state of knowledge on all these problems. These studies (See UNCOD 1977a) were organized in terms of climate, technology, ecological change and the social and demographic aspects of desertification. Other studies (See Mabbutt and Floret 1980) were commissioned by the Secretariat and by other UN agencies and participating countries at the Secretariat's request. To demonstrate experience with and lessons learned from the application of this knowledge, a third series of studies investigated the feasibility of tackling selected problems transnationally. Other agencies - UN, international, national, and non-governmental - contributed complementary studies.

The General Assembly, and following it, the UNCOD Secretariat and the writers of the various studies, all made the point that the human factor should be given special attention. It is important to point out, however, that none of these studies actually succeeded in integrating the human factor into a general ecological argument. The political determination for integration was there, but not the epistemological framework, and not the methodological mechanism. However, during the 1970s two landmarks appeared in the progress of social-science thought in relation to ecological problems. Both are deceptively simple, but their implications are important for the future of the ecology debate. The first is the formulation by a group of social scientists (invited to develop a social science contribution to MAB) that "human use systems" are not coterminous with ecosystems (UNESCO 1974). The second is the concept of the "ecological transition" (Bennett 1976). The two concepts are complementary and it is worth while spelling out their implications here in a little more detail.


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