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Is the human race running a fever?

No-one with their eyes and ears open could miss the fact that economic and material prognostics are all pointing downwards for the world economy. Some may turn to fortune tellers and stock-market analysts, or even listen to politicians, at these times, but do any objective measures actually exist? A study in 2003 seems very pertinent today.

What do thermometers and spygmanometers actually measure when a physician uses them to test one person's health? They actually measure outward signs of microstates in the human body in thermodynamic terms of temperature and pressure. The measurements only mean something when compared to a range of averages over a wide number of bodies.

Taking a similar approach, but applying it to entire species, marine ecologists, Charles Fowler and Larry Hobbs, worked out a series of tests to assess the health and prognosis of our species and others in, "Is Humanity Sustainable?"

They wrote, "Avoiding abnormal or pathological conditions has long been standard practice in medicine. In recent decades, this has become recognized as a critically important tenet of management at all levels of biological organization. That is, management and restoration have the objective of keeping components of complex systems (e.g. individuals, species, ecosystems and the biosphere) within their normal range of natural variation in much the same way we do medically with body temperature, body mass, pulse or blood pressure for the individual human."

Objective assessment requires, of course, that humans be considered as "part of ecosystems and the biosphere, subject to the same natural laws and benefiting from the same supporting services as other species."

Does Homo sapiens fall "within the spectrum of variation observed among species"? Fowler and Hobbs tried to test whether the human species falls within the normal range for comparable species, using a range of measures that are also applicable to other species.

This scientific study proposed that the "principles and tenets of [good] management require action to avoid sustained abnormal/pathological conditions. For the sustainability of interactive systems, each system should fall within its normal range of natural variation."

"This applies to individuals (as for fevers and hypertension, in medicine), populations (e.g. outbreaks of crop pests in agriculture), species (e.g. the rarity of endangerment in conservation) and ecosystems (e.g. abnormally low productivity or diversity in 'ecosystem-based management')."

Almost every test showed that the human species was not ecologically normal. Tendencies in the human species usually varied way beyond the safe range.

The authors wrote, "For example, our population size, CO2 production, energy use, biomass consumption and geographical range size differ from those of other species by orders of magnitude."

These differences must have practical consequences, but these are not well known.

The full study may be downloaded at http://journals.royalsociety.org/content/cnvwhur9u2crk6le/fulltext.pdf

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