3. Biosensitivity - a vision
If civilisation is to survive there will need to be big changes in the scale and nature of human activities on Earth. Unlike the previous major ecological transitions in human history – the deliberate use of fire, the introduction of farming, the formation of cities and the industrial revolution – this next transition will have to be deliberately planned.
We must design and look forward to a society which:
- is based on understanding the story of life on Earth and the human place in nature
- is in tune with, and sensitive to, the processes of life – that is, in tune with our own biology and with the living world around us
- satisfies the health needs of all sections of the human population as well as those of the ecosystems of the biosphere (Figure 1).
We call this a biosensitive society.
Figure 1. Biosensitivity triangle
Some explanation is needed of why we have felt it necessary to coin the word ‘biosensitive’. The growing concern about our ecological predicament over the past few decades has resulted in a range of important new expressions coming into use. They include, for example, ecological sustainability, carbon footprint and being green.
Certainly, the new society must be ecologically sustainable, this is imperative in the long term; but ecological sustainability is surely the bottom line. We should be aiming for something much more agreeable than mere sustainability.
There is a need for a broader, more inclusive term which encompasses both human and ecological wellbeing and which evokes a positive vision of a society that is based on a real understanding of the living world and the human place in nature and that is truly in tune with the processes of life within us and around us. So, at least until someone comes up with a better term, we are calling a society with these characteristics a biosensitive society.
Readers are referred to Box A (below) which summarises the background to, and our use of the words ‘biosensitive’ and ‘biosensitivity’.
The transition to a biosensitive society will require sweeping changes in the intensity and nature of human activities. Biosensitivity will be the guiding principle in all spheres of human activity – individual and collective. This will mean biosensitive technologies, biosensitive cities, biosensitive buildings, biosensitive farming, biosensitive lifestyles, biosensitive governments, biosensitive population policies and a biosensitive economy.
The biosensitive society will have the potential not only to bring about a much-improved relationship between human populations and the natural environment, but also to provide a better quality of life for all people. It will mean healthier people and a healthier and safer planet.
Unfortunately the worldview and assumptions of the dominant cultures that determine patterns of human activity across the world today are incompatible with any transition to a truly biosensitive society. They are simply not attuned to ecological realities.
Major changes in the cultural system are therefore a prerequisite for the achievement of a biosensitive society.
Biosensitivity is defined as: being in tune with, sensitive to and respectful of the processes of life.
The essential characteristics of a biosensitive society
Two essential characteristics of a truly biosensitive society will be:
(1) promotion of physical and psychosocial health in all sections of the human population.
(2) promotion of health in the ecosystems of the natural environment.
All human activities (e.g. industry, transportation, farming) and all societal arrangements (e.g. economic system, government regulations) will be consistent with these two imperatives.
The dominant culture will embrace, at its heart, an understanding of the human place in nature and a profound respect for the processes of life. Biosensitivity will be what matters most.
The concept of biosensitivity is based on:
(1) A scientific understanding of:
A biosensitivity check list
Some essential characteristics of a biosensitive society
The following check list of some of the most essential features of a biosensitive society is based on the ‘Transition framework’ described in Section 7 of this series and depicted in Figure 2 below. This framework is designed to facilitate thinking about and planning for biosensitivity.
In a biosensitive society prevailing conditions will:
- satisfy the biological health needs of all sections of the human population (Box 7).
- satisfy the biological health needs of the planet’s ecosystems (Box 8).
At the level of Biophysical options (Boxes 3-6) a biosensitive society will mean:
Human population (Box 3)
- Global and regional populations at levels that do not cause progressive damage to the planet’s ecosystems (1000 million globally?) 
- No gross social disparities in health and wellbeing
Human activities – Collective (Box 4)
- Minimal use of fossil fuels as a source of energy
- Reduced per capita use of extrasomatic energy (high energy efficiency)
- A high proportion of energy used in society coming from clean sources (i.e. not resulting in emissions of carbon or production of dangerous radioactive by-products) 
- Widespread forestation to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to the preindustrial level through biosequestration and to induce cooling. Possible introduction of technosequestration for the same purpose 
- A supply of clean water (no pathogenic micro-organisms, pharmaceutical agents etc.)
- Prudent use of water and maximal use of recycled water
- No release of CFCs and other compounds that destroy the ozone layer in the stratosphere
- No release of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) or other harmful chemical compounds in quantities that interfere with human or ecosystem health
- No release of radioactive substances of a kind, and in quantities, that interfere with human or ecosystem health
- Minimal release of pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbon particles and tobacco smoke that adversely affect human or ecosystem health
- Minimal creation of wastes
- Maximal recycling of all material resources
- The return of nutrients in organic waste to the soil
- Effective public sanitation
- Reduced need for travel and transport
- Much greater use of bicycles
- Greatly reduced use of cars
- Increased proportion of travel by public transport and low-energy, non-polluting vehicles
- Increased transportation of freight by rail
Primary production and land use
- Cessation of deforestation globally and widespread reforestation
- Farming practices that encourage the bio-enrichment of soil
- Emphasis in farming and forestry on the protection of biodiversity
- Progressive rehabilitation of areas degraded in earlier periods
- The return of nutrients in organic wastes to the soil, ensuring that natural nutrient cycles are intact
- Greatly increased local food production (and permaculture)
The natural environment
- Large areas of natural wilderness preserved to maintain biodiversity (and as an accessible source of human enjoyment and understanding)
- Biodiversity protected in human settlements
- Fisheries organised in a sustainable fashion, protecting the diversity of marine life
- Maximal photosynthesis within urban systems
- The elimination of all weapons of mass destruction
Human activities ─ Individual (Box 5)
Lifestyles (including conditions of work) will be in tune with human biology and will be consistent with the health of ecosystems.
In tune with human biology
Human health needs will be satisfied across all socio-economic and ethnic groups. Especially important are:
- Clean air (not contaminated with tobacco smoke, hydrocarbons, formaldehyde, sulphur oxides, lead etc.)
- A natural diet (e.g. a diverse range of foods of plant origin and some cooked lean meat, some eggs and possibly insects; absence of noxious contaminants or additives; calorie intake neither less than nor in excess of metabolic requirements)
- Clean water (free of contamination with harmful chemicals or pathogenic microbes)
- The absence of harmful levels of electromagnetic radiation
- Minimal contact with microbial or metazoan parasites and pathogens
- Adequate protection from extremes of weather
- Noise levels within the natural range
- Patterns of physical activity that involve short periods of vigorous muscular work and longer periods of medium and varied muscular activity
- Emotional support networks that provide a framework for care-giving and care-receiving behaviour, and for the exchange of information on matters of mutual interest and concern
- The experience of conviviality
- Opportunities and incentives for creative behaviour
- Variety in daily experience
- An environment and lifestyle conducive to a sense of personal involvement, purpose, belonging, responsibility, challenge, comradeship and affection
- An environment and lifestyle which do not promote a sense of alienation, anomie, deprivation, boredom, loneliness, or chronic fear or frustration.
There is ample evidence that humans can lead rich, enjoyable and healthy lives with vastly less per capita consumption of non-renewable resources and energy than is the case in our society today.
Consistent with the health of ecosystems
Lifestyles will be consistent with the health needs of ecosystems. This will mean:
- Emphasis on sources of enjoyment that are not environmentally costly (such as growing food, gardening, making music, singing, dancing, art, theatre, reading, bushwalking, sport, athletics, convivial social interaction)
- Little emphasis on activities that are environmentally costly (such as consumerism, energy-costly travel and motor sport)
- Little or no use of devices powered, directly or indirectly, by polluting batteries or fuels
- Greatly reduced acquisition of manufactured goods
- The deliberate selection of goods and services with low environmental impact
- Energy efficiency in homes and all domestic energy derived from clean sources
- Active involvement in local community activities – including food production, local entertainment and sport, learning and planning circles, tree planting, protection of biodiversity and caring for neighbours
Artefacts (Box 6)
- Buildings designed to minimise use of energy
- New urban and suburban areas designed so that buildings are oriented to make the best use of solar energy
- The built environment designed to encourage convivial social interaction
- Local activity centres that encourage community interaction and involvement in local biosensitive activities
- Built environment and parks designed to encourage walking, running and cycling
At the level of Cultural options (Boxes 1 and 2) it will mean:
Societal arrangements (Box 2)
The above biophysical changes in human activities will require big changes in societal arrangements, including:
- The first priority in government policies will be to ensure that society is biosensitive. These policies will:
- result in massive reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases
- result in big increases in the proportion of energy from clean sources
- provide alternative employment for persons whose present occupations are seen to contribute to ecological and social unsustainability
- respond to unemployment by increasing job sharing rather than by creating new unnecessary jobs that result in greater use of energy and resources and greater impact on the environment
- reduce consumption of material resources and energy
- improve human health in all sections of the population
- introduce effective measures to reduce current disparities in health and wellbeing in human populations
- introduce incentives to reduce population growth – leading eventually to a significant reduction in the total number of people on the planet
- result in the restoration and maintenance of soil quality and biodiversity
- An economic system which
- is founded on economic theory that is based on a sound understanding of the processes of life that underpin our existence and of the biological limits to human activities on Earth
- results in the satisfaction of human health and wellbeing needs at much lower rates of energy and resource use and waste production than those typical of affluent societies today
- does not result in a continuously increasing rate of use of material resources and energy or continuously increasing rate of discharge of pollutants into the environment
- is sensitive both to the health needs of the ecosystems of the biosphere and to the health needs of the human population
- reduces existing disparities in human health and wellbeing by improving the conditions of life of disadvantaged members of society
- Educational arrangements that ensure that a basic understanding of the story of life on Earth and the human place in nature is shared by all members of the community
The dominant culture (Box 1, below)
The dominant culture of a biosensitive society of the future will embrace, at its core, a basic understanding of the story of life on Earth and the human place in nature and a profound respect for the processes of life. Biosensitivity will be what matters most.
This cultural shift in understanding and priorities will be the pivotal factor in the transition to a biosensitive society. It is a precondition for all the other necessary and wide-ranging changes across the system.
1. The actual number of humans that the biosphere can support in the long term will depend on their patterns of resource and energy use and waste production. Many ecologists consider that the planet could support around 1000 million people indefinitely if their technologies were biosensitive (e.g. using clean, non-polluting sources of energy and protecting biodiversity and the biological integrity of soils). In Australia the number of people that could be supported ecologically is partly dependent on how much of the food produced is sent overseas (at present about 70 per cent). The more food that is exported, the smaller the number that is ecologically supportable in Australia. Back to text
2. There are those who advocate replacing fossil fuels with nuclear power. It is indeed a sad situation if we have become so addicted to high levels of use of extrasomatic energy that we are forced to replace one polluting source of energy with another – and one that undoubtedly holds extremely high risks for humankind. Back to text
3. Biosequestration of carbon is the removal of carbon from the atmosphere by natural means involving photosynthesis. Technosequestration is the removal of carbon from the atmosphere by technological methods devised by humans. However, technosequestration techniques should be used only if they have been shown definitely to have no undesirable side-effects. Back to text