Index Composition

This index is composed of nine components that are synthesized to produce the HPI. All indicators used in this index are based upon publically available data sets. Under each of the spheres we identify potentialities for and burdens on a sustainable humanosphere. Fig 1. illustrates the interlinking potentialities and burdens.

Fig 1. Components of the Humanosphere Potentiality Index (HPI)

A. Geospheric factors

Incoming solar radiation accounts for almost all the energy available to the Earth since the formation of the geosphere. Energy is most intense across equatorial regions and scarce at higher latitudes and is a prominent factor that makes up geospheric potentiality. Air and water circulation is another factor that represents the geographic potential for a sustainable humanosphere. The last factor is greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The surge in CO2 emissions over the last century have risen drastically as a result of human activities to affect the global circulation of the atmosphere and will impact upon heat and rainfall patterns. As a burden indicator, we take GHG emissions as the greatest burden placed upon geospheric potentialities by human activities.

B. Biospheric factors

We have taken two elements as constituting factors for a sustainable humanosphere: biomass and biodiversity. Forest biomass represents approximately 90% of all global living plant biomass and it represents “active capital” that can generate “interest” in the form of new growth or net primary production (NPP)*. We use biodiversity as another constituting factor of the biosphere. At present, the Earth is witnessing the highest levels of biodiversity over the past 540 million years. This diversity is an essential resource for future human societies and other species. As a burden indicator, we take biological resource use as a burden on biospheric potentiality. Human appropriation of net primary production (HANPP)** has been adopted as an indicator expressed in terms of the amount per capita in each country. We have done this based on the assumption that an increase in HANPP has resulted in the loss of biomass and biodiversity.

C. Societal factors

We have taken care relations and population as two constituting factors for a sustainable humanosphere. In human societies care is at the heart of social relations and fundamental for individual and collective social well-being. Without care societies cannot reproduce and replenish themselves. We have chosen household size and female-to-male population ratio (FMR) to express care relations. Although a very crude indicator, household size was selected based on the rationale that people who are in regular close proximity to the cared for will be primary determinants of regular care. FMR is also used to represent sex disparity in care in some societies and how household-level decisions about organization and distribution of care affect well-being and can strain the population structure in some countries.

We also take population as a potential of human society rather than see it as a threat to sustainable development. In industrialized nations, we are seeing decreasing population growth rates at a global level as well as the “greying” of populations. The challenges of declining populations will become acute in some parts of the industrialized world in the near future. This will especially so in newly industrializing countries where care for the elderly will become a major welfare concern. We propose to view populations as a transformative potential rather than as a threat. As a burden indicator we have chosen unexpected deaths. These can impact heavily on societal potentialities depending on where and how they occur. Within this indicator geospheric activities that place a burden on societal potentialities are mean crude death rates that result as a cause of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and volcanic actors; biospheric activities are represented by three major infectious diseases (tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria); and human related activities are represented by conflicts, homicide and suicides.

* The rate at which all plants in an ecosystem produce net useful chemical energy.

** Our societies form a part of the Earth’s NPP cycle and place considerable influence on it. HANPP is a socioecological indicator that quantifies our effects and impact on nature as a whole.