Jay Hanson et al: Social Contract Evolution: Ecology of Peace or War is Peace Maximum Power Principle social contract evolution?

Social Contract Evolution: Ecology of Peace or War is Peace Maximum Power Principle social contract evolution?

24 April 2015 | Andrea Muhrrteyn compilation


Homer Lea: Day of the Saxon | Andrew Fraser: The WASP Question | Mathis Wackernagel & William Rees: Our Ecological Footprint | Garrett Hardin: Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos

“Today, when one observes the many severe environmental and social problems, it appears that we are rushing towards extinction and are powerless to stop it. Why can’t we save ourselves? To answer that question we only need to integrate three of the key influences on our behavior: 1) biological evolution, 2) overshoot, and 3) a proposed fourth law of thermodynamics called the “Maximum Power Principle”(MPP). The MPP states that biological systems will organize to increase power generation, by degrading more energy, whenever systemic [social contract | archive.is/y3ZGO ] constraints allow it”. – Amended quote from Jay Hanson; editor at DieOff.

“Investigation shows that whenever two nations have become engaged in warfare they have been advancing on converging lines of (resource acquisition for growing consumption or procreation) self-interest and aggrandizement. When the contact takes place, the struggle for supremacy, or even survival is at hand. This inevitable hour is approximately fixed and determined by the angles of convergence plus the sum of the relative (consumption / breeding war) speed by which the nations are moving along their respective lines. Thus it is that, when the angle of (breeding / consumption war) convergence of both or even one of the nations is acute and the speed or progress along one or both of the converging lines correspondingly great, war results in a few years or decades.” – Military Gospel according to Homer Lea; Homer Lea was the author of Valour of Ignoranceand The Day of the Saxon.


Overshoot Loop: Evolution under the Maximum Power Principle;
by Jay Hanson


Today, when one observes the many severe environmental and social problems, it appears that we are rushing towards extinction and are powerless to stop it. Why can’t we save ourselves? To answer that question we only need to integrate three of the key influences on our behavior: 1) biological evolution, 2) overshoot, and 3) a proposed fourth law of thermodynamics called the “Maximum Power Principle”(MPP). The MPP states that biological systems will organize to increase power[2] generation, by degrading more energy, whenever [social contract] systemic constraints allow it[3].

Biological evolution is a change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. Individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic (DNA/RNA, etc.) material from one generation to the next.

Natural selection is one of the basic mechanisms of evolution, along with mutation, migration, and drift. Selection favors genes that succeed at generating more power and reproducing more copies of themselves than their competitors. One of the key methods of selection is “kin selection.”[4].

“Kin Selection” is the evolutionary strategy that favors the reproductive success of an organism’s relatives, even at a cost to the organism’s own survival and reproduction. Here is the basic outline: genes cooperate to build cells, which cooperate to build bodies, which cooperate to form groups, which kill other groups and disperse themselves into the environment.

OVERSHOOT! Energy is a key aspect of overshoot because available energy is always limited by the energy required to utilize it.

Organisms are required by the Second Law of thermodynamics to dissipate energy.“Power” is energy dissipation for a purpose; proportional to: forces x flows = work rate + entropy produced.

Organisms evolved a bias to maximize fitness by maximizing power. With greater power, there is greater opportunity to allocate energy to reproduction and survival, and therefore, an organism that captures and utilizes more energy than another organism in a population will have a fitness advantage.

Individual organisms form social groups to generate more power. Differential power generation and accumulation result in a hierarchical group structure.

“Politics” is power used by social organisms to control others. Not only are human groups never alone, they cannot control their neighbors’ behavior. Each group must confront the real possibility that its neighbors will grow its numbers and attempt to take the resources from nearby groups. Therefore, the best political tactic for groups to survive in such a milieu is not to live in ecological balance with slow growth, but to grow rapidly and be able to fend off and take resources from others[5].

The inevitable “overshoot” eventually leads to decreasing power attainable for the group with lower-ranking members suffering first. Low-rank members will form subgroups and coalitions to demand a greater share of power from higher-ranking individuals who will resist by forming their own coalitions to maintain it. Meanwhile, social conflict will intensify as available power continues to fall.

Eventually, members of the weakest group (high or low rank) are forced to “disperse.”[6] Those members of the weak group who do not disperse are killed,[7] enslaved, or in modern times imprisoned. By most estimates, 10 to 20 percent of all the people who lived in Stone Age societies died at the hands of other humans.[8] The process of overshoot, followed by forced dispersal, may be seen as a sort of repetitive pumping action—a collective behavioral loop—that drove humans into every inhabitable niche.

Here is a synopsis of the behavioral loop described above:

Step 1. Individuals and groups evolved a bias to maximize fitness by maximizing power, which requires over-reproduction and/or over-consumption of natural resources (overshoot), whenever systemic constraints allow it. Differential power generation and accumulation result in a hierarchical group structure.

Step 2. Energy is always limited, so overshoot eventually leads to decreasing power available to the group, with lower-ranking members suffering first.

Step 3. Diminishing power availability creates divisive subgroups within the original group. Low-rank members will form subgroups and coalitions to demand a greater share of power from higher-ranking individuals, who will resist by forming their own coalitions to maintain power.

Step 4. Violent social strife eventually occurs among subgroups who demand a greater share of the remaining power.

Step 5. The weakest subgroups (high or low rank) are either forced to disperse to a new territory, are killed, enslaved, or imprisoned.

Step 6. Go back to step 1.

The above loop was repeated countless thousands of times during the millions of years that we were evolving[9]. This behavior is inherent in the architecture of our minds — is entrained in our biological material — and will be repeated until we go extinct. Carrying capacity will decline[10] with each future iteration of the overshoot loop, and this will cause human numbers to decline until they reach levels not seen since the Pleistocene.

Concise Example of Kin Selection and Group Selection.

Not only are human societies never alone, but regardless of how well they control their own population or act ecologically, they cannot control their neighbors’ behavior. Each society must confront the real possibility that its neighbors will not live in ecological balance but will grow its numbers and attempt to take the resources from nearby groups. Not only have societies always lived in a changing environment, but they always have neighbors. The best way to survive in such a milieu is not to live in ecological balance with slow growth, but to grow rapidly and be able to fend off competitors as well as take resources from others.

To see how this most human dynamic works, imagine an extremely simple world with only two societies and no unoccupied land. Under normal conditions, neither group would have much motivation to take resources from the other. People may be somewhat hungry, but not hungry enough to risk getting killed in order to eat a little better. A few members of either group may die indirectly from food shortages—via disease or infant mortality, for example—but from an individual’s perspective, he or she is much more likely to be killed trying to take food from the neighbors than from the usual provisioning shortfalls. Such a constant world would never last for long. Populations would grow and human activity would degrade the land or resources, reducing their abundance. Even if, by sheer luck, all things remained equal, it must be remembered that the climate would never be constant: Times of food stress occur because of changes in the weather, especially over the course of several generations. When a very bad year or series of years occurs, the willingness to risk a fight increases because the likelihood of starving goes up.

If one group is much bigger, better organized, or has better fighters among its members and the group faces starvation, the motivation to take over the territory of its neighbor is high, because it is very likely to succeed. Since human groups are never identical, there will always be some groups for whom warfare as a solution is a rational choice in any food crisis, because they are likely to succeed in getting more resources by warring on their neighbors.

Now comes the most important part of this overly simplified story: The group with the larger population always has an advantage in any competition over resources, whatever those resources may be. Over the course of human history, one side rarely has better weapons or tactics for any length of time, and most such warfare between smaller societies is attritional. With equal skills and weapons, each side would be expected to kill an equal number of its opponents. Over time, the larger group will finally overwhelm the smaller one. This advantage of size is well recognized by humans all over the world, and they go to great lengths to keep their numbers comparable to their potential enemies. This is observed anthropologically by the universal desire to have many allies, and the common tactic of smaller groups inviting other societies to join them, even in times of food stress.

Assume for a moment that by some miracle one of our two groups is full of farsighted, ecological geniuses. They are able to keep their population in check and, moreover, keep it far enough below the carrying capacity that minor changes in the weather, or even longer-term changes in the climate, do not result in food stress. If they need to consume only half of what is available each year, even if there is a terrible year, this group will probably come through the hardship just fine. More important, when a few good years come along, these masterfully ecological people will/not/grow rapidly, because to do so would mean that they would have trouble when the good times end. Think of them as the ecological equivalent of the industrious ants.

The second group, on the other hand, is just the opposite—it consists of ecological dimwits. They have no wonderful processes available to control their population. They are forever on the edge of the carrying capacity, they reproduce with abandon, and they frequently suffer food shortages and the inevitable consequences. Think of this bunch as the ecological equivalent of the carefree grasshoppers. When the good years come, they have more children and grow their population rapidly. Twenty years later, they have doubled their numbers and quickly run out of food at the first minor change in the weather. Of course, had this been a group of “noble savages” who eschewed warfare, they would have starved to death and only a much smaller and more sustainable group survived. This is not a bunch of noble savages; these are ecological dimwits and they attack their good neighbors in order to save their own skins. Since they now outnumber their good neighbors two to one, the dimwits prevail after heavy attrition on both sides. The “good” ants turn out to be dead ants, and the “bad” grasshoppers inherit the earth. The moral of this fable is that if any group can get itself into ecological balance and stabilize its population even in the face of environmental change, it will be tremendously disadvantaged against societies that do not behave that way. The long-term successful society, in a world with many different societies, will be the one that grows when it can and fights when it runs out of resources. It is useless to live an ecologically sustainable existence in the “Garden of Eden” unless the neighbors do so as well. Only one nonconservationist society in an entire region can begin a process of conflict and expansion by the “grasshoppers” at the expense of the Eden-dwelling “ants.” This smacks of a Darwinian competition—survival of the fittest—between societies. Note that the “fittest” of our two groups was not the more ecological, it was the one that grew faster. The idea of such Darwinian competition is unpalatable to many, especially when the “bad” folks appear to be the winners.[pp. 73-75] (Constant Battles: Why We Fight, by Steven A. LeBlanc, St. Martin, 2004)

“Dispersal” is important in biology. Many amazing biological devices have evolved to ensure it, such as the production of fruits and nectar by plants and the provision of tasty protuberances called elaiosomes by seeds to attract insects. Often a species will produce two forms:

A maintenance phenotype (the outcome of genes and the structures they produce interacting with a specific environment) that is adapted to the environment in which it is born, and (2) a dispersal phenotype that is programmed to move to a new area and that often has the capacity to adapt to a new environment.

According to the present theory, humans have developed two dispersal phenotypes in the forms of the prophet and the follower. The coordinated action of these two phenotypes would serve to disperse us over the available habitat. This dispersal must have been aided by the major climatic changes over the past few million years in which vast areas of potential human habitat have repeatedly become available because of melting of ice sheets.

The dispersal phenotypes might have evolved through selection at the individual level, since the reproductive advantage of colonizing a new habitat would have been enormous. They would also promote selection between groups. This is important because selection at the group level can achieve results not possible at the level of selection between individuals. One result of the dispersal phenotype includes ethnocentrism (the tendency to favor one’s own ethnic group over another) and the tendency to use “ethnic cleansing.” The other result, as previously noted, is selection for cooperation, self-sacrifice, and a devotion to group rather than individual goals. Factors that promote selection at the group level are rapid splitting of groups, small size of daughter groups, heterogeneity (differences) of culture between groups, and reduction in gene flow between groups. These factors are all promoted by the breaking away of prophet-led groups with new belief systems.

One of the problems of selection at the group level is that of free-riders. These are people who take more than their share and contribute to the common good of the group less than their proper share. Selection at the group level gives free-riders their free ride. They potentially could increase until they destroy the cooperative fabric of the group.

However, the psychology of the free-rider, which is one of self-aggrandizement and neglect of group goals, is not likely to be indoctrinated with the mazeway of the group. Nor is it likely to be converted to the new belief system of the prophet. Therefore, theoretically one would predict that cults and New Religious Movements should be relatively free of free-riders. Such an absence of free-riders would further enhance selection at the group level. Moreover, this is a testable theoretical proposition.

Cult followers have been studied and found to be high on schizotypal traits, such as abnormal experiences and beliefs. They have not yet been tested for the sort of selfish attitudes and behavior that characterize free-riders. If a large cohort of people were tested for some measure of selfishness, it is predicted that those who subsequently joined cults would be low on such a measure. Predictions could also be made about future cult leaders. They would be likely to be ambitious males who were not at the top of the social hierarchy of their original group. If part of why human groups split in general is to give more reproductive opportunities to males in the new group, it can also be predicted that leaders of new religious movements would be males of reproductive age. Female cult leaders are not likely to be more fertile as a result of having many sexual partners, but their sons might be in an advantageous position for increased reproduction.

Conclusion: The biobehavioral science of ethology is about the movement of individuals. We have seen that change of belief system has been responsible for massive movements of individuals over the face of the earth. Religious belief systems appear to have manifest advantages both for the groups that espouse them and the individuals who share them. It is still controversial whether belief systems are adaptations or by-products of other evolutionary adaptive processes. Regardless of the answer to this question, the capacity for change of belief system, both that seen in the prophet and also that seen in the follower, may be adaptations because they have fostered the alternative life history strategies of dispersal from the natal habitat.

Moreover, change of belief system, when it is successful in the formation of a new social group and transfer of that group to a “promised land,” accelerates many of the parameters that have been thought in the past to be too slow for significant selection at the group level, such as eliminating free-riders, rapid group splitting, heterogeneity between groups and reduction of gene transfer between groups. Natural selection at the group level would also favor the evolution of the capacity for change of belief system, so that during the past few million years we may have seen a positive feedback system leading to enhanced cult formation and accelerated splitting of groups. This may have contributed to the rapid development of language and culture in our lineage. (The Biology of Religious Behavior, edited by Jay R. Feierman, pp. 184-186)

Evolution of Coalitionary Killing, Richard W. Wrangham. ABSTRACT: Warfare has traditionally been considered unique to humans. It has, therefore, often been explained as deriving from features that are unique to humans, such as the possession of weapons or the adoption of a patriarchal ideology. Mounting evidence suggests, however, that coalitional killing of adults in neighboring groups also occurs regularly in other species, including wolves and chimpanzees. This implies that selection can favor components of intergroup aggression important to human warfare, including lethal raiding. Here I present the principal adaptive hypothesis for explaining the species distribution of intergroup coalitional killing. This is the ‘‘imbalanceof-power hypothesis,’’ which suggests that coalitional killing is the expression of a drive for dominance over neighbors. Two conditions are proposed to be both necessary and sufficient to account for coalitional killing of neighbors: (1) a state of intergroup hostility; (2) sufficient imbalances of power between parties that one party can attack the other with impunity. Under these conditions, it is suggested, selection favors the tendency to hunt and kill rivals when the costs are sufficiently low. The imbalance-of-power hypothesis has been criticized on a variety of empirical and theoretical grounds which are discussed. To be further tested, studies of the proximate determinants of aggression are needed. However, current evidence supports the hypothesis that selection has favored a hunt-and-kill propensity in chimpanzees and humans, and that coalitional killing has a long history in the evolution of both species.


According to various research studies, preventing Ecological, Economic and Climate Collapse, and possible or definite Near Term Extinction, requires a sufficient number of national politicians who are unconditional co-operators, and is not possible under the current Tragedy of the Commons social contract jurisprudence status quo, which rewards free-riders and conditional co-operators, while punishing unconditional co-operators (Astrid Dannenberg (2012): Climate Change Negotiations: Game Theory and Experimental Evidence; Presentation; Scott Barrett and Astrid Dannenberg (13 Nov 2012): Game theory suggests current climate negotiations won’t avert catastrophe; Gronewold Nathanial (20 Dec 2012) Game Theory: Climate Talks Destined to Fail; Scientific American.)

Our Ecological Footprint, by William Rees & Mathis Wackernagil


The Ecological Footprint is a measure of the “load” imposed by a given population on nature. It represents the land area necessary to sustain current levels of resource consumption and waste discharge by that population.


Some years ago, I read of a species of tiny woodland wasp that lives on mushrooms. It seems that when a wandering female wasp chances upon the right kind of mushroom in the forest, she deposits her eggs within it. Almost immediately, the eggs hatch and the tiny grubs begin literally to eat themselves out of house and home. The little maggots grow rapidly, but soon something very odd happens. The eggs in the larvaes’ own ovaries hatch while still inside their immature mothers. This second generation of parthenogenic grubs quickly consumes its parents from within, then breaks out of the empty shells to continue feeding on the mushroom. This seemingly gruesome process may repeat itself for another generation. It doesn’t take long before the entire mushroom is over-filled by squirming maggots and fouled by their bodily wastes. The exploding population of juvenile wasps consumes virtually its entire habitat which is the signal for the largest and most mature of the larvae to pupate. The few individuals that manage to emerge as mature adults then abandon their mouldering birthplace, flying off to begin the whole process over again.

We wrote this book in the belief that the bizarre life-cycle of the mushroom wasps may offer a lesson to humankind. The tiny wasps’ weird reproductive strategy has apparently evolved under extreme competitive pressure. Good mushrooms—like good planets—are hard to find. Natural selection therefore favored those individual wasps and reproductive traits that were most successful in appropriating the available supply of essential resources (the mushroom) before the competition had arrived or became established.

No doubt human beings also have a competitive side and both natural and sociocultural selection have historically favored those individuals and cultures that have been most successful in commandeering resources and exploiting the bounty of nature. There is also plenty of archeological and historic evidence that, like the over-crowded mushroom, many whole cultures have collapsed from the weight of their own success. Human societies as temporally and spatially far-flung as the Mesopotamians, Mayans, and Easter Islanders likely came to ruin by expanding beyond the capacity of their environments to sustain them. Like the forest wasps, they depleted their local habitats. Humanity as a whole survived, however, because there were always other figurative “mushrooms” elsewhere on Earth capable of supporting people.

Today, of course, humankind has become a global culture, one increasingly driven by a philosophy of competitive expansionism, one which is subduing and consuming the Earth. The problem is that, unlike the wasp, even the fattest and richest among us have no means to abandon the withered hulk of our habitat once consumed and there is no evidence yet of other Earth-like “mushrooms” in our galactic forest.

The good news is that—also unlike the wasp—humans are gifted by the potential for self-awareness and intelligent choice, and knowing our circumstances is an invitation to change.

The first step toward reducing our ecological impact is to recognize that the environmental crisis” is less an environmental and technical problem than it is a behavioral and social one. It can therefore be resolved only with the help of behavioral and social solutions. On a finite planet, at human carrying capacity, a society driven mainly by selfish individualism has all the potential for sustainability of a collection of angry scorpions in a bottle. Certainly human beings are competitive organisms but they are also cooperative social beings. Indeed, it is no small irony (but one that seems to have escaped many policy advisors today) that some of the most economically and competitively successful societies have been the most internally cooperative—those with the greatest stocks of cultural and social capital.

Our primary objective with this book is to make the case that we humans have no choice but to reduce our “Ecological Footprint.” We hope that it also conveys our essential confidence in the resourcefulness of the human spirit. People have great untapped potential to meet this greatest of challenges to our collective security. As William Catton stated in his 1980 classic, Overshoot: “If, having overshot carrying capacity, we cannot avoid crash, perhaps with ecological understanding of its real causes we can remain human in circumstances that could otherwise tempt us to turn beastly.” Indeed, we believe that confronting together the reality of ecological overshoot will force us to discover and exercise those special qualities that distinguish humans from other sentient species, to become truly human. In this sense, global ecological change may well represent our last great opportunity to prove that there really is intelligent life on Earth.

William Rees, Gabriola Island, Summer 1995; DieOff


“The best representation of our world, of what ‘is’, is not matter, but the connections between matter. These connections define ‘power-relationships’ — the ability of one entity to influence the action of another. The ‘law’ of evolution can therefore be restated as: if new patterns of forces can survive their impacts with one another, if they tend to hold together rather than tear apart, they then represent a stable collection of power-relationships which survive, self-replicate, and mutate into further new patterns which are in turn subject to the same law. … … So: if we are now becoming slaves to the machine-powered perpetuation of memes that are outgrowing their need for us (to the point that although catastrophic global warming and human extinction now seem inevitable, this is not something our meme-culture ‘cares’ about) can we, the human slaves, thanks to the genetic and memetic evolution of self-awareness, ‘liberate’ ourselves and defeat the meme-culture before it destroys us? In other words, can we consciously, collectively take control for the first time over power-relationships, and establish new power-relationships that put the genetic survival of the human race (and, hopefully, the survival of all other life on Earth on which that genetic survival depends) ahead of the reckless survival of the Frankenstein ‘civilization’ culture we have created?” — Jeff Vail; A Theory of Power; Resilience

“This balance between occupying so much power, and yet being so crippled by gut-wrenching paranoia, brings to mind the psychology of dictators. Indeed, in The Political Economy of Dictatorship Ronald Wintrobe argues that “the most likely personality characteristic of dictators is paranoia.” The dictatorship model, seen in a group context, may also provide a suitable lens through which to examine Jewish privilege and political behavior. Wintrobe argues that successful dictators solve the balance between power and paranoia (“the Dictator’s Dilemma”) by discovering or institutionalizing programs or mechanisms that: * Promote competition among other powerful groups in the country (divide and rule); * ‘automatically’ reward their supporters and monitor their support; * Fund these reward programs, sometimes via the systematic oppression of the opposition.” — Andrew Joyce; On Jewish Privilege and the Dictator Mentality; Occidental Observer

The Wasp Question, by Andrew Fraser; Review by Frank Salter


Andrew Fraser’s The WASP Question deals with the question of Anglo-Saxon life in the United States, Australia and everywhere across the world where they have settled. Having for the most part lost a sense of their own ethnic identity in a time of increasing globalism and international multiculturalism which values nearly every culture except their own, the ‘WASPs’ – White Anglo-Saxon Protestants – are alternatively mocked, attacked and ignored in their own lands.

Professor Fraser addresses the many questions involved in the matter with impeccable erudition and proposes possible solutions for the future. Constitutional and legal history, evolutionary biology and Christian theology all come into play as Fraser tackles one of the most burning questions of our time. As an analysis of the problems, and possible way forward, faced by a European ethnic group, the book will be of interest to anyone concerned about the fate of not just the Anglo-Saxons, but any specific cultural and racial identity in the postmodern, multicultural age.

The WASP Question is a groundbreaking contribution to the project of synthesizing Anglo-American constitutional and legal history with the evolutionary biology of ethnicity and a Christian ethno-theology. Fraser adds a new aspect to the modern ethno-pathology that now infects the Anglo-Saxon bioculture: “Civic patriotism cannot be sustained in multi-racial societies.” His radical critique of American constitutionalism exposes a major threat to the ethnic interests of America’s founding race—the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants who have since degenerated into an “invisible race” of deracinated WASPs.

Anglo-Saxon constitutionalism and its modern deconstruction are intertwined with excursions into history and genetics. Fraser explores the religious dimension of ethnic group strategies in a plausible historical and evolutionary frame. Evolutionary biology lends this book a magisterial view looking back to ethnogenesis in the England of Alfred the Great, and looking forward to a world made human by postmodern tribal solidarity, including that of the scattered Anglo-Saxon nation. The result is a fresh analysis of the ethno-religious foundations of the English people.

The WASP Question is valuable for focusing attention on the plight of Anglo-Saxon societies assailed by runaway materialism and imposed diversity. The book articulates a role for national religions in defending populations of ethnic kin. For Anglo-Saxons, that role is fulfilled by the orthodox Christian doctrine of nations. Fraser’s appeal to a patriot king who can restore Anglo-Saxons’ biocultural identity and ethno-religious autonomy is a provocative alternative.

Agree or disagree with Andrew Fraser’s prescriptions, his combination of originality and scholarship deserves to find a place in literature dealing with ethnicity, nationalism, constitutional history, biosocial science, and advocacy for Anglo-Saxon ethnic identity and biocultural continuity. Be prepared to read, reread and ponder.

–Frank Salter, author of On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethnicity, and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration.


Garret Hardin predicted in Tragedy of the Commons, that ecologically illiterate Masonic War is Peace social contract jurisprudence which punishes those who obey their duties and responsibilities towards the commons, and rewards cheater procreation and consumption, would ultimately result in nuclear war and the “disappearance of all conscience in the long run.”

“With complete freedom in reproduction, conscientious people will be eliminated.” — Garrett Hardin, The Feast of Malthus: Living within Limits & The Tragedy of the Commons; Kaffir Lily Riddle

Our Ecological and Human Footprint;

Compiled by John McCarthy SJ;
Social Justice Secretariat – Society of Jesus – Rome


Measuring Human Impact

We live on a human-dominated planet. As I write on October 3, 2007, the human population stands at an estimated 6.622 billion people.1 When General Congregation 35 begins on January 5, 2008, the predicted global population, under exponential rates of increase, will be over 6.641 billion people.2 Whether we like it or not, humans are stewards of the natural world.

Scientific assessments consistently point to the increasing pressure exerted by humans on every ecosystem of the world, including the climate itself.3 How best to measure this human impact? Traditional scientific approaches considered human impact in conceptual terms such as “appropriation of net primary productivity” or “exponential population growth.” Important as these concepts were, it was still difficult for people to grasp the gravity and extent of human domination of the planet. The usual scenario was to inform us of the extent of human appropriation of ecosystem goods and services. For example, we read that 50% of the globe’s surface has been converted to grazed land or cultivated crops, that more than half of the world’s forests have been lost in this land conversion or that we have built so many dams that nearly six times as much water is held in storage as occurs in free-flowing rivers.4 Important as these ecological nuggets are, if heard enough times however, they can become dull and tepid. Some consistent measure of ecological sustainability or the impact of humans on the planet had to be devised.

Two measures have been developed to show the effect of human activity on the earth. These are called the “ecological footprint” and the “human footprint.” Both metrics are similar in that they provide an assessment of human influence on natural ecosystems. A significant difference lies in the ability of each metric to consider the relationship between socio-economic justice and ecosystem functioning.

Ecological Footprint

The ecological footprint was first described by William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.5 The ecological footprint compares human demand on nature with the biosphere’s ability to regenerate resources and provide ecological goods and services such as arable land or potable water, for example. In other words, it considers the relationship between human consumption patterns and the capacity of the earth’s ecosystems to provide those resources. It does this by assessing the biologically productive land and marine area required to produce the resources a population consumes and to absorb the corresponding waste. The consumption of resources is converted to a normalized measure of land area called global hectares and is expressed on a per capita basis. For example, ecological footprints of the high, middle and low income countries have been calculated as 6.4, 1.9 and 0.8 global hectares/person.6 Figure 1 shows a map of relative consumption patterns by the nations of the world.7 The relatively high consumption patterns of Western Europe and nations such as the United States and Japan are obvious.

Human Footprint

The term “human footprint” was first developed by researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society Instituteand the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (Columbia University) in the United States. The human footprint is defined as a global map of human influence on the Earth’s land surface predominantly in terms of the loss of the wild8 or the human domestication of the planet.9 Humans have so tamed the planet that, as of 1995, only 17% of the world’s land area had no direct influence by humans as indicated by one of the following: human population density greater than one person/km2; agricultural land use; towns or cities; access within 15 km of a road, river or coastline; or nighttime light detectable by satellite (See Figure 2).10

Note that the human footprint is less obvious in the Polar Regions, the boreal forests of Canada and Russia, central Amazonia and the great deserts of the world. Whether you consider the ecological footprint or the human footprint, one thing is certain. Humans dominate the planet and all its life. Never before in human history have we faced such responsibility – and such possibility. Death or life – for people and for nature. The choice is now ours.

— Ecojesuit: Ecology and Jesuits in Communication is an online communication currently in Spanish and English detailing critical work of reconciliation and ecological concern; initiated by the Jesuit European Social Centre (JESC) and the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP).

» Jay Janson :: DieOff :: EcoJesuit :: CounterCurrents :: Occidental Observer :: Resilience :: Dr Astrid Dannenberg.