Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Ecological Sustainability: A New Look at an Old Paradigm

Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Ecological Sustainability: A New Look at an Old Paradigm

Article excerpt


This paper identifies the Resource Buffer Theory, which articulates the pattern of the asymmetric distribution of resources in our biophysical environment1. The paper discusses the theory's development, connections, complications, utility, and potential for tackling the challenge of sustainability. I suggest how we might better manage our natural resources by making use of a 400-hundredyear-old paradigm2 in the form of a quote from Sir Francis Bacon (1620) called to my attention 50 years ago: "Nature to be commanded must be obeyed." More recently, and prompted by Marsh (1874), a keynote address,3 and much reading, I became concerned about how many forested acres-and other resources-we as individuals use and need in direct- and indirect-use environments. In addition, examination of resources that support individuals and populations in light of the Resource Buffer Theory presents evidence of excessive human numbers, the importance of the inorganic carbon buffer, and the massive extent of the human impact on carbon dioxide. The challenge of the Resource Buffer Theory lies in understanding its importance in our many environments, what it is that we must do to successfully apply Bacon's paradigm, and how we might go about it in order to ensure human sustainability.

Commonality in Our Resources

Professionally aware of the lop-sided distribution of the planet's water resource (Black 1996:10),4 I noted that several resources follow that pattern. In fact, allour resources are asymmetrically distributed (Black 2004): the universe's dark matter and dark energy;3 Solar System mass;6 Solar System planetary mass;7 energy received on Earth;8 biological/reproductive processes; and of course, the nature of the basic building block of the universe, the atom.9 Even time-and human relationship to it-seems to be similarly distributed (Diamond 1992:169).

Thus, from this atomic-to-cosmic blueprint a theory emerges that helps explain how we live and thrive as individuals and in our community environments. The Resource Buffer Theory (Black 1995) is that for every resource where people rely on an infinitesimally small percentage of the resource for survival as individuals, the vast remainingpercentage serves as a buffer that maintains environmental conditions that promote survival of the spedes.


The Resource Buffer Theory is attested to by its descriptive truths and by its complementary connections to other theories advanced to explain the evolution and nature of our multiple environments.

The buffers10 are shock absorbers, absorbing impacts of disturbances. In addition to the many services of the oceans, for example, Earth's life is protected by Jupiter's (and the other giant planets') presence that attract most of the Earth-pummeling debris (comets, asteroids, and meteors). At the other end of the environmental spectrum the vast spaces in the tiny molecules of life provide protection as they permit the passage of radiation through the voids.

The Resource Buffer Theory supports John Lovelock's (1988) concept of Gaia, that as conditions eons ago promoted life on Earth, life in turn modified the very conditions that enabled it in a positive feedback loop.

The buffers are often the un-owned "commons" (Hardin 1968) such as the oceans, forest and grasslands, tundra, and what we often refer to as open space or barren or vacant land. Thus, they harbor bountiful reserves of natural resources, but are simultaneously looked upon as exploitable, often not a viable option for sustainability; they all require careful management.


I define "sustainability" as being continuously maintained by its inherent characteristics and its interacting environment. Many equate the general term 'sustainability' with 'sustainable development,' which emplaces a human value on the definition. However, sustainability should be defined in terms of human existence. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.