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8. Glossary

A glossary of terms used in the biosensitivity papers

A response of an individual or a population to an environmental threat that renders the individual or population better able to cope with the threat.


Components of the environment that are made by humans.

Biohistorical perspective

An outlook which reflects knowledge of the processes and history of life on Earth, including the interactions between humans and the living systems of the biosphere.


Biohistory is the study of human situations, past and present, against the background of the story of life on Earth.

Biological advantage

Favouring health, survival and likelihood of successful reproduction.

Biosensitive society

A society that is in tune with, sensitive to and respectful of the processes of life.


All the living organisms and populations on the planet and the physico-chemical materials and processes with which they interact and on which they depend.


Understanding of the processes of life, the human place in nature and the important ecological and health issues of the present day.

Carbon sequestration

The removal of carbon from the atmosphere – for example through photosynthesis or the action of soil fungi (biosequestration) or by various technological processes (technosequestration).


All human societies with economies based on farming (i.e. Ecological Phase 2, 3, and 4 societies). That is, all settled non-hunter-gatherer societies.


The accumulated knowledge, assumptions, beliefs, priorities and values of a human population or section of a population. It includes knowledge of language and of technologies.

Cultural delusion

A false or mistaken cultural assumption.

Cultural maladaptation

An activity that is due to a cultural delusion that regularly causes unnecessary human distress or unnecessary damage to other living systems in the biosphere.

Cultural reform

Cultural responses aimed at overcoming undesirable consequences of cultural maladaptations.

Cultural system

The abstract aspect of human situations which includes culture (language, beliefs, assumptions, values etc.) and societal arrangements (e.g. legislation, economic arrangements, institutional structure etc.).

Dominant culture

The culture that largely determines the patterns of human activity in, and economy of, a society.

Domestic transition

The transition in human history from the hunter-gatherer ecological Phase 1 to the early farming ecological Phase 2.

Ecological phases:

Phase 1 - the primeval or hunter-gatherer phase
Phase 2 - the early farming phase, beginning around 12 000 years ago
Phase 3 - the early urban phase, beginning around 9000 years ago
Phase 4 - the high-consumption phase, beginning around 200 years ago.

Ecologically sustainable

A population or society is ecologically sustainable when the ecosystems on which it depends, local, regional and global, maintain their capacity to satisfy the health and survival needs of that population or society over the short, medium and long term.

Ecologically unsustainable

A population or society is ecologically unsustainable when the ecosystems on which it depends are progressively losing their capacity to satisfy the health and survival needs of that population or society. Such a situation can come about either because the ecosystems are degrading or because the population is expanding beyond sustainable levels – in terms of supply of food and water.


The ideology that human wellbeing requires continual economic growth involving ever-increasing consumption of material resources and energy.

Evolutionary health principle

The principle that if an animal or plant is removed from its natural habitat, or if the environment changes in some significant way, it is likely that it will be less well adapted to the new conditions, and will consequently show some signs of physiological or behavioural maladjustment. This principle applies to all species including Homo sapiens.

Extrasomatic energy

Energy used by humans outside the human body in various technologies. It is thus distinct from somatic energy which is the energy used in metabolic processes within the human body and provided by food.

Greenhouse effect

The warming of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere due to the presence of certain gases in the atmosphere (e.g. water vapour, carbon dioxide) which capture heat radiating from the Earth’s surface and reradiate it downwards.


Members of the species Homo sapiens.

Industrial transition

The transition from early urban society (ecological Phase 3) to modern high consumption society (ecological Phase 4).

Natural habitat

The natural habitat of an animal is the environment in which the species evolved, and to which it is therefore genetically adapted through natural selection. For humans, the natural habitat is that of the hunter-gatherer, which was the only environment known to our species for many thousands of generations.

Natural environment

All the living systems in the environment including, for example, wilderness areas and farmland.


The process by which energy in the form of sunlight is captured in the leaves of green plants and converted into chemical form through the action of chlorophyll.

Shared knowledge

Knowledge shared by the majority of the members of a society.

Societal arrangements

The legislative, economic and institutional arrangements of a society.


The inputs, uses and outputs of energy and materials resulting from technological processes and taking place outside human bodies.

Universal health needs

The innate health needs of humans determined by the evolutionary background of the species (the evolutionary health principle).