Human Society – A Conceptual Framework

The framework depicted in the Figure below is designed to facilitate thinking and communicating about the social changes necessary to achieve biosensitivity. It is an elaboration of the ‘Biosensitivity triangle’ (see Figure 1 ‘The Biosensitivity triangle’ in A Biosensitive Society). The framework reflects the fact that there are essentially two quite different aspects of human society in which changes will be necessary, designated the physical dimension and the cultural dimension respectively.

It is Human activities that directly influence human and ecosystem health. In some instances, the relationship is quite simple. Tobacco smoking in individuals results in lung disease. Deforestation results in loss of biodiversity.

In others, the relationship is more complex. For example, the use of fossil fuels as an energy source results in increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This leads to climate change, which, among numerous other effects, brings about changes in the geographical distribution of certain mosquitos, and the consequent introduction of mosquito-borne diseases in human populations in areas which had previously been free of these diseases.

The number of humans (under Human population in the Physical Dimension section further down this page) in a given area is also an important factor affecting human and ecosystem health.

While it is human activities that directly affect human or ecosystem health, these activities are strongly influenced by the cultural dimension of society. The assumption in governments that economic growth is what matters most leads to activities on a scale and of a kind that seriously interfere with ecosystem health.

New understanding in a Prevailing culture can lead to changes in cultural arrangements, and hence to changes in human activities. Scientific knowledge about the effect of CFCs on ozone levels in the atmosphere, and of the undesirable consequences for life on Earth, was eventually embraced by the prevailing cultures worldwide, leading ultimately to the Montreal Protocol of 1987. This. in turn, led to new and effective cultural arrangements prohibiting the production and use of CFCs.

The effect of variables in the cultural dimension on human and ecosystem health are always, of course, indirect, in that they only have impact through their influence on human activities. Government policies, an aspect of Cultural arrangements, determine whether a new coal mine goes ahead, and this in turn determines whether the coal will be combusted, leading to further greenhouse emissions and further global warming. An economic system that demands ever-increasing use of natural resources and production of wastes, is ecologically unsustainable in the long term.

Cultural arrangements, such as government policies and the economic system, are themselves a function of the worldview and priorities of the prevailing culture. A worldview that sees economic growth and jobs as more important than the threat of climate change results in governmental polices that will hasten global warming and the collapse of civilisation.

The survival of human civilisation will be dependent on big changes in the worldviews and priorities of the prevailing cultures across the globe.


Prevailing culture

This includes the shared worldview, beliefs, knowledge (including knowledge of how things work and of technologies), values and priorities of a human population. It is a major determinant of cultural arrangements and human activities, and it therefore indirectly influences human and ecosystem health.

Cultural arrangements

This group of variables is another aspect of human culture. It includes such factors as the economic system, governmental regulations, legislation, the institutional structure of society and educational programs. Cultural arrangements are largely determined by the prevailing culture.


Human population

This category of variables describes the state of the human population at any given time. It includes such variables as population size and the geographical distribution of the population.

Human activities – collective

This group of variables covers all kinds of human behaviour, such as use of extrasomatic energy, farming, manufacturing, retailing, travelling, construction of buildings and making war.


This category includes all human-made objects, including machines, electronic devices, vehicles, buildings, clothing, books and works of art.


When exploring the relationships between aspects of human society and human and ecosystem health, it is useful to have at hand working lists of the health needs of humans and of ecosystems. The prevailing conditions in human society must satisfy these various needs.

Examples of such working lists are presented in Tables 1 and 2.

For a rationale behind this list, see Evolution and Human Health

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