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.

Author notes

1From the Symposium on Science as a Way of Knowing—Human Ecology presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Zoologists, 27–30 December 1984, at Denver, Colorado.