Extra-metabolic energy use and the rise in human hyper-density

Joseph R. Burger, Vanessa P. Weinberger, Pablo A. Marquet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Humans, like all organisms, are subject to fundamental biophysical laws. Van Valen predicted that, because of zero-sum dynamics, all populations of all species in a given environment flux the same amount of energy on average. Damuth's 'energetic equivalence rule' supported Van Valeńs conjecture by showing a tradeoff between few big animals per area with high individual metabolic rates compared to abundant small species with low energy requirements. We use metabolic scaling theory to compare variation in densities and individual energy use in human societies to other land mammals. We show that hunter-gatherers occurred at densities lower than the average for a mammal of our size. Most modern humans, in contrast, concentrate in large cities at densities up to four orders of magnitude greater than hunter-gatherers, yet consume up to two orders of magnitude more energy per capita. Today, cities across the globe flux greater energy than net primary productivity on a per area basis. This is possible by importing enormous amounts of energy and materials required to sustain hyper-dense, modern humans. The metabolic rift with nature created by modern cities fueled largely by fossil energy poses formidable challenges for establishing a sustainable relationship on a rapidly urbanizing, yet finite planet.

Original languageEnglish
Article number43869
JournalScientific Reports
StatePublished - Mar 2 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Extra-metabolic energy use and the rise in human hyper-density'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this