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Vitor Vieira Vasconcelos

Legislative Consultant of Environment and Sustainable Management at the Legislative Power of Minas Gerais State, Brazil. PhD. student in Geology. Master of Arts in Geography. Specialist in Soil and Environment. Bachelor in Philosophy. Environmental Technician. Computer Science Technician.

Paper originally published in Portuguese, at:

VASCONCELOS, Vitor Vieira . O Profissional de Meio Ambiente e o Contato com a Natureza. Qualit@s (UEPB), v. 1, p. 1-10, 2011. Available at: http://revista.uepb.edu.br/index.php/qualitas/article/viewFile/1009/569

Proofreading of the English version by Carolina Dias, in December, 2012

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Vitor Vieira Vasconcelos PhD. student in Geology. Master in Geography. Bachelor in Philosophy. Technician in Environment and Informatics. Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto. Assembleia Legislativa de Minas Gerais. Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. Phone: 55-31-3274-4446, 55-31-9331-1593. Address: Rua Goitacazes, 201/1402, Centro, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, CEP: 30.190-050. vitor.vasconcelos@almg.gov.br

Abstract: It is usual for the environmental technicians to establish affinities among their work praxis, their principles referring to environmental preservation and his passions. This attitude has its roots in the human predisposition to seek a touch with nature, in a close relation which reaches esthetic and existential spheres. However, the environmental labor is fulfilled with tensions, frequently leading to personal disappointments. Not few professionals have abandoned this career because of its inherent strain. Thus, it becomes important to critically evaluate how these topics are related to the environmental labor, discussing their professional, social, epistemological and philosophical issues. Keywords: Environment, Nature, Work. Resumo: tpico do profissional tcnico em meio ambiente estabelecer afinidades entre sua atuao em servio e seus valores e emoes em relao preservao do meio ambiente. Subjaz a essa atitude uma predisposio humana em buscar um contato com a Natureza, na forma de uma relao ntima que envolve esferas estticas e existenciais. Contudo, a prtica laboral ambiental est permeada de tenses, ocasionando no raro desapontamentos, o que tem levado diversos profissionais a abandonar essa carreira. Propem-se neste artigo, avaliar criticamente essas questes, relativas vivncia no trabalho em meio ambiente, perpassando seus liames profissionais, sociais, epistemolgicos e filosficos. Palavras chave: Meio Ambiente, Natureza, Trabalho.



The aim of the lines that follow is to address how environmental professionals life has a tense relationship between the search for a contact with Nature and the actual practice of their labor activities. I write this paper based on recurring experiences along my professional life in the environmental area, seeking a deeper reflection on this chosen phenomenon. To that goal, I intend to look for the reasons which can cause this phenomenon and for the consequences that it can bring to the environmental area and to society. Therefore, let us start reporting the main issue. Since the beginning of my technical education on the environmental area, I followed the personal situation of many schoolmates, and also of some who were attending other courses on the environmental area. However, after some time, many of them gave up from this work field, either before graduating, or either immediately

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afterwards, after a brief working experience on this area. As this state of affairs occurred with a significant part of the professionals with whom I had contact, this issue got carved in my mind for the loss of dear fellows on the process of environmental defense, as well as for the possible loss for the overall society, if this situation were also happening at the various centers of professional education on the environmental field, in Brazil and worldwide. When I happened to ask these companions about their waiver regarding the professional career on the environmental field, many of them would answer something similar to: Sorry, but I realized that the work on the environmental area is not what I thought it was when I chose this professional qualification. At more detailed conversations, it was clearer that these individual s, many of them freshly out of adolescence, had, initially, an utopian vision of the environmental worker as someone who strolls along the groves, assisting wounded animals, and, after a brief and friendly talk, is able to convince people to adopt better ecological behavior. Let us not forget that the teenage is a stage for big dreams and ideas. Neither do I disclaim the influence of wildlife documentaries, which captivate a huge amount of people of all ages. Nevertheless, the matter of this paper emerges from the frustration of these utopias, from this tacit disagreement between the environment defense dream and the professional practice.

2. DEVELOPMENT 2.1 Evolution, adaptation and artificialization

It is not difficult to imagine about how, through the course of its evolutionary history, the human species adapted its biological structure to a series of environmental feedbacks. It is worth to note how such process of adaptation has been largely responsible for the esthetic reaction of human beings. It is hard to find someone who does not find it cozy to be and to look at a green grass, where a brook flows, or an open landscape with pleasant shade of trees. That is, human species enjoys favorable environments for its survival, with fertility and plenty of water, a suitable temperature for the metabolic activities and vision width which makes it possible to foresee any threat that approaches. In contrast, the fear of the dark and the repugnance to odor of decaying matter are examples of how the danger or the contaminant has gradually become averse to the human esthetic sense. On the other hand, the degradation of natural environment becomes a huge loss, both regarding our morality in killing dozens of living beings that should deserve our empathy and respect, and also due to the loss of quality of life for human beings. I mean, the loss of quality of life but not an extinction risk as an answer to more catastrophic environmentalists who broadcast the danger to the survival of human species on our planet. As always, we succeed persisting through the hardest adversities, even if we have to replace the biological resources with artificial ones, at least in the sufficient measure to ensure the survival and order of society. Nonetheless, there is a cost, which is not always evident, although it is very high, because the artificial environment hardly fits our biological structure (physical, perceptual and mental) so well as the natural one. We replace the natural landscapes with squares, the animals with robots, the fresh air with air conditioning, the sunlight with the lamp, the fields with asphalt, the human contact with telephone calls and the Internet, the vegetables with the dietary supplements, and the list goes on, indefinitely. Without major doubts, it would be more sensitive to seek for the reconciliation with nature, while there is still time for some reversibility the problem is that we do not know how long these opportunities will last. Therefore, what we experience today is an increasing artificialization of our environment. When we relocate a species (us), nourished for hundreds of thousands of years on fields and groves, to the city, there is no way to avoid considering an esthetic shock. Not only visually, but also regarding odors, thermal sensations and, moreover, cycles of effort, rest, sleep, hunger and satiety should be considered. The sum of all these small misfits, also considering the interference in the hormonal regulation, leads to the feeling that something is wrong, that something is lacking in our lives. Even if we do not understand exactly what it is.

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As an example, the desire of returning to the countryside nurtures many participants of land reform movements in Brazil and in many developing countries. Doubtless, many of them are individuals and families who have not found a plentiful meaning for their lives in the cities, and so they are trying to reorient their lives through a utopia of re-encountering with the rural environment. Among the wealthiest social classes, analogously, it is common to identify spreading processes of country houses, weekend farmsteads, gated rural condominiums with an ecological appeal, and also the increasing demand for ecotourism services. These are many sides of the same coin, in which each one seeks for their own way to solve their unconscious afflictions. On this regard, I must point out that a major part of my earlier companions of environmental formation, after giving up the career, tried to satisfy their needs through one of the ways mentioned above. Furthermore, it is also worth narrating that this theme was relevant to me, on my own life history. After my birth, my parents chose to leave the urban life and seek for a life as peasants. Their main concern was that the social environment of the cities had become too much artificialized, so urban people would be growing and being educated around already crooked values. The rural life, for them, would mean a pursuance for a purer life, a sincere acquaintanceship and shared feeling in a more direct and deeper way. This argumentation is not new Jean-Jacques Rousseau had already expounded in a similar way on his pedagogical work Emile (ROUSSEAU, 1762). Anyhow, due the progressive artificialization of the urban social environment throughout history, Rousseau's propositions turn to be even more patent.

2.2 Philosophical Retrospection

As in every valuable theme, we can explore further into this topic. The human search for a contact, or an alleged reconnection, with the marrow of what surrounds him is, notably, an instigating theme. In a tiered approach, I propose to analyze this issue through digressions based on Marx, Heidegger, Freud and Marcuse. The considerations of Karl Marx, in his works Economical and Philosophic Manuscripts (MARX, 1844) and Capital (MARX, 1867), fairly assist the scope of this text, as they refer to the context of the labor environment and to the personal awareness of the social processes. Largely, the discussions about alienation can shed light into the worker position regarding his social consciousness, both directly, through the perspective of work tasks specialization, and also indirectly, by being subjected into the rhythm of work and rest that guarantees the capital reproduction with the minimum of reflection on the overall process. As well observed by Antunes (2009, p. 29-30), subsequent to the changes on the labor world over the last two centuries, the alienation/estrangement moved from the mere partition of tasks, analyzed by Marx, to the point of leading to the compartmentalization of knowledge and to the despotism in relation to self. This double process can be understood as the internalization of the professional position, required by the companies, so that the employees abdicate from their subjectivity (and humanity) in order to proceed and progress on their careers. On this regard, multidisciplinary has already been required on the composition of the environmental departments staff which overtly reveals the specialization of knowledge. Undoubtedly, the in tune conjugation of these specialties can be quite advantageous regarding the generated products. However, the tasks and knowledge division encumbers the holistic comprehension and contemplation of the accomplished works and of the environment as a whole, by each member of the team. From the social point of view, this subjugation of the environmental professional as a specialist machine, in a highly competitive labor market, in turn, demands for an arduous dedication, both in terms of productive hours, and in terms of extra investment on professional continuous training courses. Thus, little time remains to critically reflect on the individual existential questions and on the social relations. The brief moments of rest and leisure can then be consumed through mass media entertainment, seductive though little instigating to reflection, in

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order to asseverate the alienation framework guaranteeing the mere recovering of energy to the labor continuance. In this way, the professional ideal of seeking for a harmonious acquaintanceship among humankind, and of humankind with nature, finishes travestied into an estrangement among the gears of the contemporary labor system. While Marx studied over a labor framework, Martin Heidegger approaches the question on a much more abstract, general, and worth to say, existential point of view. In his work Being and Time (HEIDEGGER, 1927), Heidegger attempts to show that the human beings seek, as ultimate goal, a contact with the deepest of the universe and of their existence that is, what he denominates Being. If we start from a perspective of nature that includes the individuals themselves, the humankind and the exterior universe in the same significant content, we can perceive that the contact with Nature, matter of this paper, was also the central theme of this philosopher works. Through his works The Question Concerning Technology (HEIDEGGER, 1949), and Poetry, Language, Thought (HEIDEGGER, 1971), Heidegger defends that the contact with the Being is deeper in the proportion that this experience goes more intuitive and personal. The primary living perceptions of environment, as well as the feelings and emotions directly associated, would be what is closest to this proposal, closely followed by the artistic and poetic experience. On the other hand, the contemporary attempts to formalize the knowledge about the world, and to master it by technique, would be ways which move the humans away from their contact with the Being. In this Heideggerian perspective, it is notable how the students, researchers of environmental professional, on their quest for understanding the environmental processes, would, in the end, be more and more afar from this entity which is their ultimate goal. Consistent to his philosophical proposals, Heideggers most important contributions came up after long seclusion seasons at his cottage in the Black Forrest, his birthplace in Germany. The quest for existential contemplation through the contact with nature in the Black Forest would be a way of accessing what, otherwise, would be so abstruse by the ways of conventional knowledge. Nevertheless, would this quest for a contact with nature be something really achievable? Or would it be an endless quest, as something always beyond the horizon? Sigmund Freud, in his work Beyond the Pleasure Principle (FREUD, 1920), tries to show that the feeling of missing or lacking something is a kind of feeling that accompanies human beings since their birth, until the end of their existence. Actually, the woe from this feeling comes, initially, by the frequent delusion after not fulfilling a basic impulse, such as sexual volition or hunger. As the mind becomes more complex, these frustrations and traumas come to encompass feelings of ownership, unfulfilled plans and complex problems regarding relationships and self-acceptance. That is the context in which Freud explains the human innate will to return. This will can be symbolically defined as the desire for returning to our mothers womb, or even as a desire for our own death. This will means seeking for an ideal situation in which there would be no misfit anymore between the desire and its possibility of fruition. In this paper, I suggest that seeking for a contact with nature could be, perhaps, another symbolism of this same Freudian process, such as the return to the womb. In his book Civilization and its Discontents (FREUD, 1929/1930), Freud demonstrates that, in order to make it possible to develop the society through human history, it was necessary to rear many psychological and social mechanisms which could put off the realization of the most primitive vital volitions. The strategy would consist, basically, of neglecting a raw and immediate pleasure, in exchange for the promise of a more refined pleasure in the near future. Nowadays, it is not hard to frame the proposal of sustainable development under this strategy. Ultimately, the sustainable development can be assumed as a redirection of the desire for immediate profit, motion root of the free market, towards a strategy which can enable a better satisfaction of society in the medium and long term, especially concerning the use of natural resources and the economic externalities of the enterprises. This does not mean that sustainable development is a serene path; notwithstanding, it is just such postponement of basic volitions which implies a field of conflicts and consternations, where undertakers, environmental professionals and representatives of the public interest quarrel among one another. Moreover, it is far from being a fixed game with good

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and bad guys. Actually, the contradictory desires, the anguishes and traumas sue within the consciousness of each participant in the process. This situation, all the while experienced by the environmental professionals, can turn their relationship to their labor into a tense and grueling deal. Anyhow, even if the anguish of missing inherently accompanies the civilizing process, this does not mean that there is nothing that can be done. As Herbert Marcuse proposes in his book Eros and Civilization (MARCUSE, 1955), the great quest that arises for the contemporary society is the search for strategies to organize itself in a way which causes the minimum of basic loss and, consequently, of traumas and suffering. After all, although there cannot be the ideal society, of immediate and complete satisfaction of volitions, yet there is a vast field to work on the elimination of needless suffering. Suffering which, in many cases, does not contribute to any forthcoming reward. The sake of a well-organized society, living as harmoniously as possible with the environment, would be a way to attenuate, in the future, the civilizing malaise evidenced by Freud, even if there is an arduous path before achieving that phase.


Cases and practices of the environmental labor

How to think on the ideals of environment preservation, in the context of the contemporary worker? An emblematic case, to reflect on these nuances, occurred during the oil spill at Guanabara Bay, from the refinery Duque de Caxias, of Petrobrs company, in January, 2001. A team of environmental engineers1 were meeting night and day, endeavoring the maximum of efforts to solve the broad environmental impact. Meanwhile, the mass media spotlights were saved for another professional. For behold, a biologist passionate about animals took up his beach towel and began to clean the oil impregnated on a sea turtle, in a desperate attempt to save it. This was justly the scene for which the media was most expecting, to illustrate the cover of newspaper and television headlines. It is not surprising that the environmental engineers were feeling an evident twinge of jealousy. In due course, the team at Petrobrs was oriented towards a broad scale planning, focused on containing the spread of the oil slick. Hundreds of animals died, but thousands were saved due to the actions coordinated by this team. Thereabouts, the action of the environmentalist biologist might even be belittled however, the issue is more complex than that. For without the media coverage, broadcasting the shocking scenes, the public opinion would not demand from Petrobrs to take such intense efforts to mitigate the environmental impacts. If social demand were lacking, there would be no motivation to assemble such a prestigious team of environmental engineers and, also, to allocate a huge amount of money to execute the technical choices adopted. If there is something to be highlighted in this narration, it shall be that the intimate linkage between the environmental professional and nature is the way that this professional has to communicate and to be understood by the general population. However, it would be too simple to crown this short case with a morale of this kind: each character (engineers and environmentalists) has a distinct and necessary r ole in the environmental preservation. It is not the case, also, that this morale cannot be defended its validity is even almost obvious. But such saying could enshroud from us the fact that environmental engineers are nowadays awarded with wage levels progressively higher than ecologists. In addition, these engineers are being increasingly sought in the labor market 2. Doubtless, the analysis of transformations of the environmental labor market shows how the

I used the term environmental engineers in the meaning of their labor activities: engineering applied to solving environmental problems. Hence, I do not include only the strict academic formation of environmental engineering. Undoubtedly, the team was composed by chemistry engineers, civil engineers and a whole multidisciplinary staff. 2 Without, in any way, belittling the important contributions of Ecology to the environmental studies, but attaining only to labor market issues.

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classical environmentalist of the 1970s and 1980s was inchmeal giving way to the profile of a technician in corporate environmental management. Even though the echoes of the last decades still resonate in the image that the general population has of the environmental professional, it is exactly the swiftness of these changes which is responsible for the reflections discussed in this text. Over the last decades, a technical arsenal was brought about, enormously increasing the instrumental possibilities of environmental sciences. One of these advances was, doubtless, the progress in the ability to measure certain physical and social data, structuring them into large databases. Today, there are more comprehensive and systematized databases, as well as more refined techniques and more efficient systems to perform the tasks. In this respect, mathematization, statistics, computing, remote sensing and geographic information systems brought many news capabilities for analyzing such database structures. The increasing popularization and usefulness of the Internet, both in the academia and in the professional circles, resulted, as a consequence, in a new way of working. The environmental labor of yore, which would consist of just going to fieldwork, collecting data and analyzing the results, cannot compete with the contemporary possibilities. After all, the worldwide web enables gathering various previous data and work reports about the same place being studied, with expert analysis by other professionals. The growth in the amount of available information sources about every place, on multi-scale approaches (from local to macro-regional), implies an exponential progression of the potential analysis. Furthermore, it becomes essential to search the network for other studies which, even if they were conducted in other places, could contribute with useful innovations in the methodology that will be used in the proposed environmental study. This virtual dialogue boosts advances in environmental sciences, in ways never experienced before. In this context, new professional branches started to get hired for the multidisciplinary environmental teams. Instead of the old hegemony of biologists and geographers, other professionals began to gain importance, such as economists, statisticians, mathematicians, computer scientists, information system analysts, among others. The main characteristic of these new branches is the ability to analyze abstract information and offer original interpretations on environmental problems, through the use of complex methodologies. Abstraction and quantification constitute a tempting pathway to environmental studies, which makes this aspect being increasingly reinforced in the qualification of other professionals in the environmental field. It is worthwhile to enter into the discussion on the consequences of this trend, regarding the labor experience of the environmental professionals. Abstraction simplifies and, partially, equates the entities. Thereby, we do not study the reality in itself, directly, but an abstract model. This abstraction is, a priori, necessary to work mathematically on the data, such as in the Cartesian algebra, Graphs theory, among others. However, the abstraction and quantification trends are exactly what highlight the Heideggerian critique on the process of increasing the distance between the individual and the reality. Because of the work almost only based on numbers and indirect data, the professional loses contact with the environment being studied. This detachment from nature goes clearly against the utopian expectations of young professionals of the environmental area contributing significantly to the delusion regarding this profession. The debate on whether the contact with the environment is useful or not has been brought up recurrently in Geography. The thoughts tied on these debates may also be applied to the other academic and professional fields which also study the environment. Along the twentieth century, there were geographers trends, fond of theoretic-quantitative methodologies, suggesting that, with the advent of remote sensing technologies, the modern professional would lose less time with fieldwork. In addition to remote sensing, even the measurement of other data in loco has been done more and more with automatic recording stations and telemetry, dismissing most part of the fieldwork staff. Notwithstanding, many voices stood up advocating reservation and cautious judgment, upholding that the direct experience of reality can bring a special vision of the scene, providing different and complementary information to remote sensing and other quantitative data.

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Even in the Human Science studies which step into the environmental field, focusing on social and psychological researches, the contact with the environment is often relegated. This happens partly because human sciences usually devote less attention to the morphological appearance (the visible, the empiric), and more attention to the structures (the non-visible, including the subjective aspects)3. Without belittling the importance of structure investigation, its study is strongly dependent on the context of social factors, inclusively the ideological factors, over which arouse everlasting debates among various academic streams. Therefore, the way to interpret the structures always keeps changing through the human history. On the other hand, morphology is generally better agreed than structure, despite recognizing that there are differences in the analyses and classifications of landscapes, with the own historical development of this academic stream. And even in the strictu sensu humanistic research, the personal experience with the people being studied, combined with the direct esthetic experience amidst the surrounding nature, are capable of manifesting an intertwinement of nuances that, otherwise, would remain hidden from the researcher. Consensually, the direct contact with the research object is important to check the veracity of the hypothesis formulated either by quantitative analysis, either by remote sensing and telemetry, or by the study of social structures. In this aspect, the recommendation of Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason (KANT, 1781), fits well. He states that the empirical experience is essential to remind us of the complexity of reality, making us aware of the danger of, through the paths of dialectic abstraction, moving away from prudent judgment. The Kantian discussion in his work Critique the Judgment (KANT, 1790) finds a fruitful topicality in the contemporary scene of environmental sciences. In this work, Kant seeks to reconcile the scientific method with the esthetic, intuitive experience of nature. His aim was to conjugate the Physics causality with the implicit teleology of the natural systems. Kant proposed a dual method for the investigation of nature, encompassing the reflective judgment (intuitive observation of nature) complementary to the causal determinism (empirical experimentation in Physics, with the use of abstract categories). I propose here that this Kantian theorization may be applied to the scientific contemporary scene, leading to a possible complementarity between the sciences with systemic approach and the quantitative sciences. The sciences with systemic approach (linked deeper to the reflective judgment) care more for the perception of the interaction among elements in dynamic and complex studies, based on presupposition that Kant ascribed to nature (teleology, unity, harmony, among others) by means of the reflective judgment. The quantitative sciences, in their turn, may be benefited from their great technical capability of aggregating primary data and establishing patterns based on these data. Mirroring the dual method of investigation proposed by Kant, the environmental sciences have a lot to gain with the conjugation between systemic and quantitative approaches since while the systemic approach may provide a general frame for the proposal of hypotheses, the quantitative sciences attempts to prove whether the hypotheses are valid or not, facing them with actual empirical data. Although direct contact with the studied object has been pointed out, without many doubts, as an important stage for the environment research, the practice is not always consistent with this concern. The amount of human and financial resources, as well as the criteria for their allocation, ultimately restricts the possibility of fieldwork to, at most, two short periods: one at the beginning of the research, for a preliminary contact and to collect primary data; and another at the end, to face the results of the analysis with the environment actuality. Between these two moments, it can take months, or even years, spent on laboratory and office analytical work. Moreover, even the field works carried out have usually been executed just by a small part of the work staff typically the staff seniors or the professionals whose specialty is oriented to

Structure, here, may be understood within the propositions of Milton Santos, in his work Space and Method (Espao e Mtodo, 1985). In this context, structure can be understood as the relations and interactions among elements intrinsic to the analyzed object and which will give rise to the shape of this object. Congregated with structure and shape, there are also the categories of process (time and dynamics) and function (goals and usefulness of the object).

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fieldwork analyses. Nevertheless, because of the scope of this paper, it is important to draw attention to the thousands of trainees who, despite of customarily not being taken into relevance at the workplace, suffer intense anguish while spending their labor contracts preparing spreadsheets and maps about environments which they have never directly experienced before. This dichotomy, as to building an abstract representation of an object not understood by the builder, is an emblematic example of the labor alienation process, proposed by Marx. This may be, indeed, one of the main reasons for the discontent with the environmental career, after the first professional experience as a trainee.

The discontent and even the waiver regarding the professional activity in the environmental area is undoubtedly a complex question. In this paper, the inquiry for the widespread preoccupation and discomfort regarding anthropogenic changes in the environment was presented as a useful approach for this question. The theoretical contributions of Rousseau, Marx, Heidegger, Freud, Marcuse and Kant may open up new possibilities of interpretation of the problem, connecting it to human existential aspects and to social, technical and labor issues. The pursuit of the contact with being, the deal with the basic drives of pleasure, the processes of alienation and also the interaction between esthetics and technical-scientific knowledge are proficuous elements to delve into this question. The trends of the last decades in environmental work show how searching, sharing and managing indirect environmental information have been more and more valued. This encompasses the high regard of increasingly specialized studies, which use the abstraction and mathematization to work with the growing amount of data available. Such trends provide an undeniable leap in productivity and in the quality of the developed products. However, the concern with the environmental professionals, as human beings, in their relation with the labor activity, is still mandatory. There are many possible ways to bypass the noticeable discomfort, stress and estrangement constantly reported in these workplaces. The main alternative, based on the discussions exposed throughout this paper, is to offer to the professionals possibilities of deeper reflections on the relations among their work, personal lives, society and environment conservation. A clearer and constant awareness of the causes and consequences of their professional activities may convert the difficulties and anguishes of their work into challenges in order to reach goals that are noble and, therefore, inly stimulants.


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