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Human Ecology: The Subversive, Conservative Science

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/icb/25.2.469 469-476 First published online: 1 May 1985


Paul Sears identified ecology as a subversive science; William Ophuls, referring primarily to its human applications, called it a conservative science. Both characterizations are correct. Human ecologists aim to conserve natural resources, thereby making it possible for our posterity to enjoy a quality of life at least equal to ours. Frequently this kind of conservatism is at odds with the conservation of traditional religious beliefs, political practices, and social privileges: hence the aptness of the adjective “subversive.” The essence of human ecology is found in a few propositions of the sort that mathematician E. T. Whittaker called “postulates of impotence.” These lead to simplebut profound generalizations, of which a dozen are offered here.

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