Expansionists treat the economy as an open, growing,
independent system which, because of technological Innovation,
lacks any fundamentally important connectedness to the ‘
environment’ (which is therefore treated as infinite).
(Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society. Vol 22, No. 4. August 2002, 249-268 – Reprinted with Permission, Copyright Sage Publications, 2002)
Unsustainability is an old problem – human societies have collapsed with disturbing regularity throughout history. I argue that a genetic predisposition for unsustainability is encoded in certain human physiological, social and behavioural traits that once conferred survival value but are now maladaptive. A uniquely human capacity – indeed, necessity – for elaborate cultural myth-making reinforces these negative biological tendencies. Our contemporary, increasingly global myth, promotes a vision of world development centred on unlimited economic expansion fuelled by more liberalized trade. This myth is not only failing on its own terms but places humanity on a collision course with biophysical reality – our ecological footprint already exceeds the human carrying capacity of Earth. Sustainability requires that we acknowledge the primitive origins of human ecological dysfunction and seize conscious control of our collective destiny. The final triumph of enlightened reason and mutual compassion over scripted determinism would herald a whole new phase in human evolution.
William Rees received his PhD in population ecology from the University of Toronto and has taught at the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) since 1969-70. He founded SCARP’s ‘Environment and Resource Planning’ concentration and from 1994 to 1999 served as director of the School. Prof Rees’ teaching and research focus on the public policy and planning implications of global environmental trends and the necessary ecological conditions for sustainable socioeconomic development. Much of this work is in the realm of human ecology and ecological economics where Prof Rees is best known for inventing ‘ecological footprint analysis.’ Dr Rees’ book on the concept, Our Ecological Footprint (co-authored with then PhD student Dr Mathis Wackernagel) was published in 1996 and is now available in English, Chinese, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Latvian and Spanish. Prof Rees is a founding member and recent past-President of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics. He is also a co-investigator in the ‘Global Integrity Project,’ aimed at defining the ecological and political requirements for biodiversity preservation. Building on these interests, his present book project examines factors that seem to drive the repeating cycle of human societal collapse. A dynamic speaker, Prof Rees has been invited to lecture on areas of his expertise across Canada and the US, as well as in Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Indonesia, Italy, Korea, the former Soviet Union, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden and the UK. In 1997, UBC awarded William Rees a Senior Killam Research Prize in acknowledgment of his research achievements and in 2000 The Vancouver Sun recognized him as one of British Columbia’s top “public intellectuals.”