Sunday, December 14, 2008

Professor Rees and the Overloaded Ship

These are uncertain, even frightening, times with both the economy and the environment spiraling downward. How bad is it? Where are we headed? Are there solutions?
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with William Rees, University of British Columbia professor and one of the developers of the ecological-footprint concept. I asked him to shed light on these questions.

Rees feel that the past year has been catastrophic. “Climate change, for example, is progressing much faster than predicted by the models of the International Panel on Climate Change,” he said. And there are many other serious environmental problems, and virtually all are getting worse.

When I asked about possible solutions, Rees’ answer was simple – in theory. “We need to abandon growth in developed countries and limit growth in the third world,” he said, “The era of exuberant consumption is over.” He pointed out that the human ecofootprint is 30-40% larger than what the planet can support. We’re rapidly drawing down the globe’s capital, depleting soils and oil, wiping out fish and other species. “The ship is already overloaded,” he says, “and more goods, even efficient one, will sink the ship.”

Rees feels that Americans and Canadians need to decrease their environmental footprint by 80%. That’s a deep and painful cut. It will be impossible to meet this target without also decreasing population growth. Yet our leaders ignore this vitally important issue. Rees feels it is disgraceful that Canada has no population policy. It’s a taboo topic.

Many people believe that controlling population requires draconian, police-state methods. Not true! It can all be done by a voluntary approach. In North America all it requires is education, improved family-planning services and tax penalties for families that have more than two or three children.

There is no need for population to be a taboo subject. Let’s start talking about it.

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