William E. Rees

William E. Rees
University of British Columbia - Vancouver | UBC · School of Community and Regional Planning

BSc, PhD

About

139
Publications
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Introduction
Skills and Expertise

Publications

Publications (139)
Article
Humanity must commit to transformative change on all levels in order to address the climate emergency and biodiversity collapse. In particular, stabilizing and ultimately reducing the human population size is necessary to ensure the long-term wellbeing of our species and other life on Earth. We show how this transition can be accomplished in an equ...
Article
Using an eight-dimensional indicator index, we evaluate the trajectories of resilience of 160 countries over 20 years. Our highly-granular analysis of the current state of the world shows what must happen to control climate change and switch from quantitative to qualitative growth. Assessing the resilience of a country is a complex task prone to op...
Article
Full-text available
Just a few weeks ago, climate change had re-emerged to jostle with the pandemic for top spot in the public's list of 'things to worry about'. Mainstream media were again urging ordinary citizens to limit their use of fossil fuels (FF)-walk, cycle or take transit to work; fly less; insulate your houses, etc., etc. Concerned individuals re-committed...
Preprint
Overshoot, not climate change, is the existential eco-threat facing humanity. Humanity is consuming even renewable 'resources' faster than ecosystems can regenerate and polluting beyond nature's assimilative capacity. We are consuming and polluting the biophysical basis of our own existence. Making no excuses for vastly excessive consumption by the...
Article
Full-text available
As many of the criticisms in this rebuttal echo those in the earlier Diesendorf rebuttal, to which we thoroughly responded, we direct Fthenakis et al. [...]
Article
Humanity’s demand for resources exceeds Earth’s carrying capacity (ECC), defined as the total regenerative and assimilative capacities of our planet. Cities are key hubs for mitigation since they host almost 60 % of the global population and are responsible for most of global demand for energy and material resources. Considering experts’ calls for...
Article
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‘We have kicked the can down the road once again – but we are running out of road.’ – Rachel Kyte, Dean of Fletcher School at Tufts University. We, in our capacities as scientists, economists, governance and policy specialists, are shifting from warnings to guidance for action before there is no more ‘road.’ The science is clear and irrefutable; hu...
Preprint
Full-text available
For leaders, planners and people around the world facing uncertainty about actions to resolve our planetary crises, we offer a concrete framework for action. We take the six core areas identified for urgent action by humanity from our 2019 paper in BioScience, World Scientists Warning of a Climate Emergency, and convert these into a framework for c...
Article
Full-text available
(Replaces preprint) We have kicked the can down the road once again-but we are running out of road.'-Rachel Kyte, Dean of Fletcher School at Tufts University. We, in our capacities as scientists, economists, governance and policy specialists, are shifting from warnings to guidance for action before there is no more 'road.' The science is clear and...
Article
Full-text available
We add to the emerging body of literature highlighting cracks in the foundation of the mainstream energy transition narrative. We offer a tripartite analysis that re-characterizes the climate crisis within its broader context of ecological overshoot, highlights numerous collectively fatal problems with so-called renewable energy technologies, and s...
Article
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This "comment" article, stimulated by the geometric spread of the SARS CoV-2 (CoViD-19) virus, explores universal ('fractal') population dynamics (including the current 200 year fossil fueled human population outbreak), climate change and ecological overshoot. It posits that in the absence of a coordinated cooperative contraction of the human enter...
Article
Full-text available
At the time of writing, the CoViD-19 pandemic was in its second wave with infections doubling every several days to two weeks in many parts of the world. Such geometric (or exponential) expansion is the hallmark of unconstrained population growth in all species ranging from submicroscopic viral particles through bacteria to whales and humans; this...
Chapter
This chapter probes the gap between the rhetoric of Vancouver-as-sustainable-city and the evidence that tells a different story. Specifically, we explore whether Vancouver is sustainable as defined by operating within ecological carrying capacity using two metrics: 1. ecological footprint, 2. consumption-based emissions inventory measuring greenhou...
Article
Full-text available
CoViD-19 is just one a symptom of a larger systemic problem -- human ecological dysfunction. The human enterprise is in overshoot, greatly overtaxing the productive and assimilative capacities of the ecosphere. Nevertheless, most governments and ordinary citizens are hoping for, or working toward, a speedy return to 'normal'. This article argues th...
Article
The human enterprise is in potentially disastrous ‘overshoot’, exploiting the ecosphere beyond ecosystems’ regenerative capacity and filling natural waste sinks to overflowing. Economic behavior that was once ‘rational’ has become maladaptive. This situation is the inevitable outcome of humanity’s natural expansionist tendencies reinforced by ecolo...
Article
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This article documents urban civilization's dependence on fossil fuels and argues that, at present, no viable green alternatives are available.
Article
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Techno-industrial society is founded on a ‘socially constructed’ myth of perpetual economic growth propelled by the cult of efficiency, expanding trade, and continuous technological progress. But this neoliberal vision has resulted in an increasingly unsustainable entanglement of nations in a world compromised by ecological overshoot. Today, many c...
Article
Full-text available
Five reviews of Doug Saunders' Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians Are Not Enough, published in the Forum section of Canadian Studies in Population
Article
This article uses the concepts of human carrying capacity and natural capital to develop a framework to evaluate a city’s ‘ecological footprint’. It argues that prevailing economic assumptions regarding urbanisation and the sustainability of cities must be revised in light of global ecological change.
Chapter
It has often been said that the ‘discovery’ and opening up of the New World rescued Europe from early decline. The most obvious basis for this claim is the renewed abundance of resources ranging from gold, silver and other minerals, to timber and guano (natural fertilizer) essential for the growth and maintenance of civilization.
Book
Full-text available
This research report provides a conceptual and empirical overview of the emerging field of eco-city frameworks. It conceptualises the rise of indicators, standards and frameworks for sustainable urban development from the twin perspective of innovation and governance. The empirical research encompasses over 40 frameworks used globally. The report c...
Chapter
Many of us live in cities where we easily forget that nature works in closed loops. We go to the store to buy food with money from the bank machine and, later, get rid of the waste either by depositing it in the back alley or flushing it down the toilet. Big city life breaks natural material cycles and provides little sense of our intimate connecti...
Article
Ecological footprint analysis (EFA) quantifies the ecosystem area required to support specified human populations. EFA shows that rich countries use two- to five- times their per capita equitable ‘Earth-shares’; that the ecofootprints of high-income countries generally exceed their domestic biocapacities; and that the human enterprise as a whole is...
Article
Full-text available
In a Formal Comment, Rees and Wackernagel defend their global Ecological Footprint calculations against criticisms in this issue of PLOS Biology that they are potentially misleading.
Article
Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA) at the city or regional scale does not typically include air travel due to a lack of readily available data. However, knowing the “load” placed on nature by various lifestyle choices, including air travel, is essential if we hope to enable society to live sustainably within ecological limits. This paper provides...
Article
Full-text available
Ecological footprint analysis (EFA) can be used by cities to account for their on-going demands on global renewable resources. To date, EFA has not been fully implemented as an urban policy and planning tool in part due to limitations of local data availability. In this paper we focus on the material consumption component of the urban ecological fo...
Article
As the world urbanizes, the role of cities in determining sustainability outcomes grows in importance. Cities are the dominant form of human habitat, and most of the world's resources are either directly or indirectly consumed in cities. Sustainable city analysis and management requires understanding the demands a city places on a wider geographica...
Chapter
Full-text available
In Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond asks the obvious question of a forest-dependent society: "What was the Easter Islander who cut down the last tree thinking?" For those familiar with the human tendency to habituate to virtually any conditions, the answer might very well be "nothing much". The individual who cut dow...
Chapter
Techno-industrial society and modern cities as presently conceived are inherently unsustainable. This conclusion flows from the energy and material dynamics of growing cities interpreted in light of the second law of thermodyna­mics. In second law terms, cities are self-organizing, far-from-equilibrium dissipative structures whose “self-organizatio...
Conference Paper
H. sapiens shares two critical innate propensities with all other species: the tendency to occupy all accessible habitats and the tendency to use up all available resources. Humans are also a quintessential ‘patch disturbance’ species—a species whose normal activities intensely modify their immediate habitats (through competitive exclusion, local e...
Article
This paper develops a theoretical interregional approach to sustainability in an interconnected world. We make the case that achieving sustainability – living equitably within the limits of living systems – requires the recognition of our ecological interdependence and interconnectedness across regions and the resultant need for supra-regional poli...
Conference Paper
Neoliberal economics does not reflect biophysical reality: the economy is a fully embedded, dependent growing sub-system of the non-growing ecosphere and is thus consuming the ecosphere from within. Sustainability requires that we reconstruct economics on a foundation of ‘far-from-equilibrium’ thermodynamics, panarchy theory (the theory of adapti...
Article
Full-text available
We examine relationships between bird communities and habitat structure along a gradient of urban habitats in Vancouver, B.C. Bird species diversity, evenness of species abundances, and numbers of species increase with foliage height diversity and total vegetation as they do in "natural" habitats. Few ecological niches for birds are enhanced by man...
Article
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We recorded observations on the relationships between Puya raimondii and the associated bird community in a dry grassland habitat in the high Andean plateau (altiplano or puna) of southeast Peru. From field evidence, we hypothesize that P. raimondii benefits from its association with birds through enhanced nutrient supply. Both bird droppings and d...
Article
Full-text available
The human population is rapidly urbanizing, leading many observers to conclude that humans are leaving nature and the countryside behind. This is a perceptual error consistent with the technological optimism inherent in the prevailing expansionist cultural worldview. By contrast, ecological analysis reveals that modern cities are actually increasin...
Article
In recent decades international trade has become a major source of supplying the need and wants of billions of people around the world. Virtually everyone now consumes resource commodities and manufactured products imported from ‘elsewhere’. In effect, globalization and trade enable consuming populations to support themselves on the output of dista...
Article
Full-text available
In 1992, 1,700 of the world’s top scientists issued a public statement titled The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. They reported that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.” More than a decade...
Article
As the world economy ‘globalizes’, trade has become a major mechanism by which much of the human population supports its needs. While trade in resource commodities (natural income) can increase the well-being of people in both exporting and importing countries, it can also lead to depletion of natural capital and the loss of ecosystems integrity. I...
Article
Human societies depend for their survival on goods and services provided by both local and global ecosystems. For most of history, people used mainly local resources. Increasingly, however, globalization and trade enable consuming populations everywhere to support themselves on the output of distant ecosystems. This is potentially problematic becau...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Background/Question/Methods Like all species, populations of H. sapiens tend to expand to occupy all accessible habitats and to consume all available resources. However, humanity’s competitive superiority has enabled our species to become the dominant macro-consumer in most major ecosystem types on the planet—we may now well be the both most succe...
Article
The ‘Canadian prairies’ represent one of the world's great breadbaskets, supplying people all over the world with agricultural commodities ranging from various grains, through legumes and oilseeds, to both grain and grass-fed meat products. However, the expansion and intensification of Canadian agriculture in the last century has significantly alte...
Article
Full-text available
The world is on the brink of an unprecedented growth-related ecological crisis that could well undermine prospects for global civilization. Nevertheless, the global community seems ‘in flight from thinking’ about the implications of the threat and unwilling to contemplate the policy remedies necessary to change the course of history. Biological and...
Article
Nation-level Ecological Footprint accounts are currently produced for more than 150 nations, with multiple calculations available for some nations. The data sets that result from these national assessments typically serve as the basis for Footprint calculations at smaller scales, including those for regions, cities, businesses, and individuals. Glo...
Article
Redesigning metropolitan areas as bioregional city-states can reduce our human footprint
Article
Full-text available
Extreme poverty has been reduced, but 40% of the world's population still live on less than two dollars per day and 850 million people remain underfed. Meanwhile, the rich enjoy unprecedented levels of consumption, and obesity is a significant public health problem. The standard solution to poverty is economic growth but evidence that humanity has...
Article
The Norman Wells project involved a tenfold expansion of the Norman Wells oilfield and construction of a 324-mm (12-inch) pipeline extending 870 kilometres up the Mackenzie Valley to northern Alberta. Completed in May 1985 after years of controversy, Norman Wells expansion was the first of several large hydrocarbon production and transportation pro...
Article
Full-text available
Article
Addressing the ecological crisis depends on there being a public consensus as to its severity and sufficient public concern to motivate political action. A significant influence on public representations of ecological issues is what has been termed the brownlash, which works to minimize the seriousness of ecological problems and to fuel a backlash...
Article
Pulp production accounts for a major part of the Canadian forest industry. Because of the ecological damage caused by the industry, there has been growing interest in the use of agricultural residues as an alternative or supplementary fibre source for pulp making. The purpose of this study is to determine whether the use of crop residues has the po...
Chapter
IntroductionEco-Footprint AnalysisInherent Strengths in EFAAnswering the CriticsSummaryReferences
Article
I examine the impact of expanding international trade and migration on prospects for global sustainability from a strictly biophysical/ecological/behavioral perspective. My starting premise is that techno-industrial society is inherently unsustainable. Humans have a natural propensity to expand to occupy all accessible habitats and use all availabl...
Article
Full-text available
The role of environmental degradation in the collapse of human societies.
Article
The role of science in addressing the fundamental issues confronting society is being increasingly challenged. The optimism that placed humans on the moon is being eroded by an evolving concern that science and technology are at best distractions and at worst root causes of some of the threats to our sustaining ecosystems. This bulletin represents...
Article
Full-text available
This paper argues on both theoretical and empirical grounds that, beyond a certain point, there is an unavoidable conflict between economic development (generally taken to mean 'material economic growth') and environmental protection. Think for a moment of natural forests, grasslands, marine estuaries, salt marshes, and coral reefs; and of arable s...
Chapter
Full-text available
Techno-industrial society and modern cities are inherently unsustainable. This conclusion flows from the energy and material dynamics of growing cities interpreted in light of the second law of thermodynamics. In second law terms, cities are self-organizing, far-from-equilibrium dissipative structures whose 'self-organization' is utterly dependent...
Article
Despite our pretensions to science, modern industrial society is as myth-bound and mystical as any that has preceded it. Our prevailing cultural myth includes a dangerous vision of global sustainability and poverty reduction centered on unlimited economic expansion, free trade and technological fixes. This paper dissects the modern myth, exposing i...
Article
Full-text available
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 behavioral traits that once conferred survival value but are now maladaptive. A uniquely human capacity - indeed, necessit...
Chapter
This paper recognizes declines in fisheries and the biodiversity of the world’s oceans as symptomatic of human ecological dysfunction. The ultimate cause of the problem are the dominant values of modern society combined with basic facts of human ecology that are little-appreciated by either policy makers or the public. Humans are big social mammals...
Chapter
This paper starts from the premise that the current sustainability dilemma is at least partly rooted in gross popular ignorance of basic human ecology. Indeed, it is a deep irony of the human-induced environmental crisis that people have a dismally ill-developed understanding of themselves as ecological beings. The Cartesian dualism that underpins...
Article
The human population is rapidly urbanizing, leading many observers to conclude that humans are leaving nature and the countryside behind. This is a perceptual error consistent with the technological optimism inherent in the prevailing expansionist cultural worldview. By contrast, ecological analysis reveals that modern cities are actually increasin...
Article
Full-text available
We have reached a unique juncture in human ecological history, one requiring a radical reconfiguration of planning values and goals. The "ecological footprint" of the global economy is already larger than the planet, yet a quarter of humanity still lives in poverty, the human family is expanding by 90 million a year, and material demands everywhere...
Article
Full-text available
This paper develops a human ecological perspective on cities and urban regions. It describes the role of cities in the expanding human ecological niche and its implications for sustainable urban development. I have used a new technique, ecological footprint analysis, to convert the material and energy flows required to sustain the human population...

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Projects (3)
Project
The human enterprise is in ecological 'overshoot' and on track for collapse in this century, yet improved knowledge and data have only marginal effects on decision-making. The growth ethic and techno-optimism prevail in the face of trends and related evidence. This project strives to understand the failure of environmental science (rational analysis) to seriously affect national/global economic and 'development' policies.