Developing a future balance of nature and society

Crafoord Prize 1987 HT Odum's goals (from Box 1 of UF Library Odum Special Collection)
Crafoord Prize 1987 HT Odum’s goals (from Box 1 of UF Library Odum Special Collection)

In 1987, H.T. and Eugene Odum were jointly awarded the Crafoord Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The Crafoord Prize is the Nobel equivalent for the biosciences, math, geosciences, and astronomy.

Howard Odum was one of the first to realize seriously the dangers of using fossil fuels. In his book “Environment, Power and Society” (1971) and “Energy Basis for man and Nature” (1976),he developed the theory that the processes of ecological systems are dimensioned according to the amount of solar energy reaching the earth, and that extra energy increases in various forms cause damaging disturbances.

In “Systems Ecology” (1983) he stresses man´s responsibility in the biosphere, a responsibility for what may be termed a permanent economy. The “work” that nature performs for man, for example in the production of forests, fish and clean water must in his view be made use of, not dissipated through interference that can cause unforeseeable future damage (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1987).

When asked about what he would do with the prize, H.T. Odum said,  “Perhaps we can obtain matching funds and establish the program that we have long discussed on Developing a Future Balance of Nature and Society. We could do such research projects as:

  1. finding ways to make the economy of humans and that of nature cooperative

  2. planning for the lower energy world that is coming

  3. find public policies which can maintain economic prosperity when growth is no longer possible.” (Odum, 1987)

More than twenty-five years later are we any further along as a society in our understanding or prioritization of this research need?

  • kmm

    I just found this website from an article on so I am not familiar with the contents, yet. Are we any further along? I think so, but only in a roundabout way. I have given a lot of thought to human motivations and the principal of “maximum energy usage” which I would paraphrase as the idea that people will use the maximum energy available to them for whatever purpose seems to justify the usage or brings the greatest benefit (however that is defined). But why, for example, does China seek to immitate western industrial development when it is clearly poisoning their country? Yes, they do consume prodigious amounts of energy and build fantastic monuments, but can they think of no better way to manage things? Well, the answer must be that humans actually lack imagination and cannot devise new social structures, heirarchies, or economies from thought and reasoning. There must be examples and the examples must be successful in providing benefits and a strong desire to belong — to be on the winning side. Somehow a society whose norms are environmentally sound must be able to prevail over a society that destroys the environment but amasses the greatest possible energetic power. There is a lot here to investigate, so I’ll be busy for a while.

    • Welcome, Kmm. Come in, look around. China is committed to our path because of maximum power. Yes, maximum power is the key to all of this, because that is how complexity develops. The problem is that maximum power dictates that we produce the energy and use it, and since we have powerful tools, we can continue to expand the process way past its due date. And when we use the energy, because there is so much surplus, in energy-rich countries, that means a lot of wasted energy. Increasingly, that energy in some way contributes to feedbacks that potentiate more energy production in some way. Think about the last 45 years in America, since 1970. We have experienced an expansion of consumerism that amplifies global trade and resource production. We have experienced a media storm that is devoted to and driven by that consumption process. We have promoted oil imperialism and military expansion, where we police countries that have resources we want (take a look at the list). We have become the global financial system’s core hub, which allows us to manipulate every market in our favor. What is the United States about at this late date? It is about consumption and oil imperialism rather than freedom and democracy. Our beliefs about our manifest destiny and entitlement have become our values and our destiny. We could do so much better, but we won’t, and China won’t, until we’re forced to by circumstances.

      “Your beliefs become your thoughts,
      Your thoughts become your words,
      Your words become your actions,
      Your actions become your habits,
      Your habits become your values,
      Your values become your destiny.”― Mahatma Gandhi