Changing the World: Using the Humanity System idea

Tuckson, Michael | November 4, 2014 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

global networking

Paul Ehrlich’s first visit to Australia in 1970 drew me away from doctoral studies in palaeoecology towards a tutorship in human geography and a new life increasingly in human affairs. In two geography subjects, Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s seminal text Population, Resources, Environment that addressed human ecology was used alongside more obviously social and geographical texts. At this stage, almost fresh from the natural sciences, I cheerily called for the integration of the social sciences. Subsequently, the exotic allure of Thailand enticed me away, first for fieldwork towards an MA and later for work as an advisor in ‘rural development’ in Thailand and Laos.

In my journey from natural science into the social sciences I eventually came to see human ecology and the social sciences as together describing critical parts of the whole system that I began to call the ‘humanity system’. The system includes all of human thought, action and the short and long-term consequences.  To build a general theory, apart from concepts from human ecology, human geography and standard social science subjects such as economics, sociology and politics, it is necessary to include ideas from technology, psychology, philosophy and anthropology, archaeology, history, education, military affairs, ‘urban affairs’ and law in the analysis.

The humanity system is best studied starting at least 200,000 years ago, including a-temporal concepts as they become relevant through time. Humanity systems evolved from nature harvesting through farming to city-centered systems, through ‘traditional’ and modern stages. With population growth, humanity systems have now replaced much of the biosphere with farming, mining, and rigidi-structure largely in arable regions of the world and degraded the rest of the biosphere.

None of the specialized subjects which populate the social sciences, nor human ecology, by themselves can fully explain our life on planet Earth. An integrating theory, which recognizes the influence of Nature, emotion, power and force, and avails itself of the best relevant ideas in each of the relatively specialized disciplines, is needed. It must be recognized that some of the theory of the social sciences is based on values influenced by emotion such as wealth, luxury and ethnic and national prestige.

The scientific reports on global warming and climate change, particularly the papers by James Hansen, through the 2000s became more disturbing. This led me to realize that the global humanity system required rapid change if humankind was to attain an ecologically sustainable state and survive in the long term. However, it was also clear that the near dominance of corporations, including the private mass media, over world politics was going to make progressive change extremely difficult. Many corporations and associated wealthy individuals have been donating directly and indirectly to political parties, funding ‘public relations’ and arranging ‘revolving doors’, so distorting public democracy.

Oreskes, Hoggan and others have accumulated firm evidence that it was the tobacco and fossil-fuel corporations that orchestrated climate denial with the help of so-called think-tanks following Hansen’s address to the US Congress and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Denial was not a grass roots process but largely a top down one, organized by a few apparently adverse powerful personalities and spread through the business-run media and even some government-state media. It is this sort of understanding combining at least human ecology and political economy that is required as an early step if we are to overcome denial.

We all have free will or creative action capacity to varying extents enabling us to decide to be brave and generous, and make an enhanced contribution towards changing the world. Although millions of local change contributions, both concerning human relationships and human ecology, must be made, sustainability is necessarily global. Thus inter-cultural communication is critical.

To promote such a change, universities could offer an integrating general course to all first year students. In research, we need specialists who first study (not research) widely in order to harmonize their techniques and theories with integrating theories so generalists can lead teams of such specialists. Academics and others could form teams starting on gloriously multi-disciplinary campuses. Team members could initiate a dialogue among themselves before venturing forth to conduct dialogue with important seniors in the world outside and to teach the public.

For further discussion see my new book Changing the World which can be purchased from

Michael Tuckson is now a writer. For most of his working life he was an advisor in rural development in Thailand and Laos, and government and university staffer in Australia. He has degrees in geology, palaeoecology and human geography.

MAHB-UTS Blogs are a joint venture between the University of Technology Sydney and the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to

MAHB Blog:

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedIn
The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.
  • We need to define what sustainability means. Here are 3 possibilities:

    1) Continued Existence of Humans – I don’t understand why anyone worries about human extinction. This situation is not #3 below. This is the situation where we average less than 2 babies for long enough that our numbers drop to 0. There is no reason to fear this. We will all die someday, and everyone will die before anyone experiences human extinction. You probably are talking about something more interesting than this.

    2) Existing Without Consuming Resources Faster Than They Renew – This is trivial to achieve. All we have to do is wait for the resources to run out. This situation is the bulk of human history. Throughout history humans have discovered different resources and have consumed them faster than they renew and wiped them out. In the past say 200 years we figured out how to consume fossil fuels and it is only a matter of time before they run out and we will be sustainable again. Unless you have some aesthetic fascination with a planet that has lumps of oil and coal and uranium and some specific average temperature, I don’t see how this matters.

    3) Minimizing Premature Death – Clearly you must mean something more interesting than #1 and #2 above. I assume you have recognized that if we consume resources faster than they renew, and we depend on these resources to keep our numbers alive, then when those resources run out our numbers will be forced down to some lower level. Let’s examine that situation.

    Let’s say that we figure that without fossil fuels, we can only manage to keep 1b humans alive. (this is not a bad estimate because the last time we kept all our numbers alive without fossil fuels, our numbers were below 1b). Let’s say that we estimate these will run out in 200 years. (This is horribly simple, but the simplicity does not discredit the correct conclusion). From this is is easy to calculate the average number of babies adults must have in order to have our numbers drop from the current 7.2b to 1b over 200 years. Obviously this number is less than 2. If we average more than that number we will kill (premature death) exactly proportional to how much more above that number we average. Births will kill. When we average more than that minimum value, we are attempting to drive our population number higher than it is capable, and that kill.

    There is nothing that will ensure we do not exceed that number.

    Let’s back up in time. Let’s say it is around 1800 when Malthus was writing his famous essays. Let’s say that we could see the future and knew we would learn how to get oil and burn it in tractors and make fertilizers and refrigerators. Let’s say that we calculated that with these fantastic discoveries we would be able to keep 7.2b humans alive in 2014. Let’s do the math and discover the number of babies adults would average to bring the numbers from the population in 1800 to 2014. If we exceed that number, then people will be killed. We exceeded it, because there is absolutely NOTHING that stops us from averaging too many babies. We have been killing as a consequence of uncontrolled fertility for 200,000 years of human existence.

    Those deaths are obvious. It is estimated that 6 million children die each year from starvation related causes. Those deaths are exactly what one expects if one comprehends the theory of evolution, comprehends that nothing stops us from averaging too many babies, and comprehends that these people would have lived if the other 7.2b people had not prevented them from getting the sustenance that grows on this planet.

    This premature death fueled by too high an average number of babies, is required for the theory of evolution to make sense. Darwin was able to figure out his theory only after he comprehended that Malthus was describing a relentless attempt at increasing the population size in a finite space that had to result in premature death. Sadly, it seems Malthus did not comprehend it. He invented plausible mechanisms whereby the poor reduced their fertility in times of hardship. He did not manage to examine whether those mechanisms had a chance of ensuring the birth rate was brought low enough to stop the killing. Population scientists ever since, including Ehrlich, have continued this bogus belief that somehow we manage to limit our fertility.

    We need to know this. Every human on this planet needs to know this. So, I agree that “inter-cultural communication is critical.” However, this communication starts with me getting this concept across to someone. We can then get this concept across to someone else, and eventually we can collect enough to convince someone like Ehrlich who will in turn lend more credibility to help get all population scientists to comprehend this.

    We need population scientists to comprehend that births are killing and insist these concepts be taught to every child in the world. Almost every child in the world is taught how a gun works.

    No children are taught how uncontrolled reproduction in a finite space kills.

    • I might add that there are plenty of things that minimize the fertility rate in order to minimize the premature death caused by averaging too many babies. Evolution will create all sorts of behaviors that will minimize those starvation deaths, but evolution cannot, and does not minimize that to zero deaths.

      I suspect that minimization, which shows up in humans as taboos about births out of wedlock and shows up in Malthus’ theories as to how the poor make fewer babies, has fooled us into thinking it is minimized to zero.

    • Laurenc

      Spot on, regarding the cost of reproduction as a right. It only takes one fertile couple to defect. Defectors will reproduce more rapidly than those who don’t. Historically, the rapid reproducers typically eat the slow reproducers, one way or the other.

      If we are to survive with an intact environment, we will have to have a social structure which limits population by encouraging individual choice. (I believe 1 billion is the sustainable number.) Education has a short term effect; it remains to be seen how long it provides the “transitional” magic.

      We need, I think, to really understand basic human propensities, take them in to account instead of believing we can use “Enlightenment” magic on people, and design a society which puts the environment in local hands, and causes local people to rise or fall with their environment.

      • Laurenc, were you replying to my comment?

        “spot on, regarding the cost of reproduction as a right”. This is encouraging. It seems that you are agreeing that uncontrolled fertility is causing premature death, which naturally raises the question of whether we should have the right to have any number of offspring as we please. Everyone thinks it is a right, but then nobody knows that births are killing.

        Your subsequent comments left me scratching my head. If we properly comprehend that uncontrolled fertility is equivalent to murder, then I don’t see why society would be satisfied with simply “encouraging individual choice”. You seem to understand that any group that passes along a belief to more than an average of 2 descendants, that group is going to overpopulate the planet even if everyone else has zero, so why would we be satisfied with individual choice with respect to how many babies one creates?

        In addition, if we manage to comprehend these concepts, and teach them to everyone, then the social structure will be different. The set of morals that we live with will be slightly different. There will be one more: we cannot create as many babies as we damn well please. This is somewhat analogous to the morality that it is wrong to hold someone, regardless of their skin color, in slavery. That moral was added to the USA about 170 years ago, and I wouldn’t describe that education as “enlightenment magic” that is short term.

  • John Merryman

    In their annul essay contest, Foundational Questions Institute switched from their usual physics based concerns and asked “How Should Humanity Steer the Future?”
    Having been drawn to physics as a way of understanding the fundamental forces driving humanity, it well suited my interests. As I see it, one must be descriptive, before one can be prescriptive and that is what I tried to do with my entry:
    John Merryman

  • Michael,

    Give me your email address.

    I want to send you a comment

    David Anderson