Questions & answers

Back in the dim dark ages, the early 80’s to be exact, I read a book by American ecologist, Paul Ehrlich, called The Machinery of Nature. It was my first introduction to ecology—the study of ecosystems and ecosystem functioning.

It blew me away. While biology had been my favourite subject at school, I had never been taught to consider life on earth from a holistic, systems-oriented approach. Science in those days was inherently reductionist and still is to some extent. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never met anyone of my generation who thinks in systemic terms.

Ehrlich’s book was a library book. I desperately needed a copy of my own, so I could read it again and again. The local bookshop didn’t have it. I seriously considered telling the library I’d lost it and offering to pay for it, but luckily, I eventually bought my own copy. I still read it regularly (somehow I missed the most famous systems-thinking book of the time, The Limits to Growth, published in 1972).

The 80’s and 90’s were a period of growing environmental awareness for me. I read dozens of books on the subject. With an awareness of how human life-support systems functioned, it became obvious that human activities were in the process of destroying them.

I asked myself why would an intelligent species deliberately destroy its own life support systems. I’ve been searching for the answer ever since.

This video goes a long way towards providing answers. It’s long—an hour and a quarter, so perhaps many of you won’t bother with it. But do please share it on social media if you can (perhaps it’s a reason for me to finally embrace the joys(?) of the dreaded Facebook). I think people need to see it and understand where we’re going and why. Then maybe we can make the changes we need to make.

The speaker is William Rees.

William Rees is a bio-ecologist, ecological economist, former Director and Professor Emeritus of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning. His early research focused on environmental assessment but gradually extended to the biophysical requirements for sustainability and the implications of global ecological trends. Along the way, he developed a special interest in modern cities as ‘dissipative structures’ and therefore as particularly vulnerable components of the total human ecosystem.

Rees is perhaps best known as the originator and co-developer (with his graduate students) of ecological footprint analysis—the expanding human eco-footprint is arguably the world’s best-known indicator of the (un)sustainability of techno-industrial society. His book on eco-footprinting (co-authored with his former PhD student, Mathis Wackernagel) has been published in eight languages, including Chinese. (bio from



If you watched right through to the end you’ll have seen this on one of the final powerpoint slides :

“Privileged elites with the greatest stake in the status quo control the policy levers. Ordinary people hold to the expansionist myth. Society remains in paralysis.”

I remembered the photo I’d seen in the morning’s paper. One of the privileged elites. Not his best angle, perhaps. Arrogance personified?

I don’t want my future in the hands of people like this.



7 Responses to “Questions & answers”

  1. Bernadette Borg Says:

    Definitely one of the privileged elite.

    Unfortunately, none of our pollies seem to be any better. They only ever look at the short term, because their lives in the spotlight are only fleeting in the scheme of things and that’s all they really care about. We need powerful idealists and philanthropists who are in agreement on balancing all the issues, without sending us into the coming oblivion; who can come up with ways of sustaining the economy, but not at the expense of the environment.

    Our pollies have tunnel vision and everything they do is done to enable their own families and wealthy cronies, to use and abuse everything and everybody around them.


    • foodnstuff Says:

      The problem is not short-term thinking because as Rees says, that’s how we’ve evolved. We all think short-term to a greater or lesser extent.

      The problem is that these people have power over us. Of course we are stupid enough to vote them into these positions (not me, I don’t vote), but without power they would be, well, powerless. That’s why I don’t go with your idea of needing ‘powerful idealists’. Power is the real problem here, going hand in hand with greed and ignorance, in that what they do to everyone else, they do to themselves, because we all live on the same planet.


  2. Chris Says:

    Watched it. Challenging to follow and incredibly long, but worth it. He sums up why our species is on a fast-track to self annihilation. I think he also explains why we won’t be changing track as a species either.

    I suspect, even if we adopted everything he outlined as a solution, we would find the same psychopaths attempting to control the masses, through the new paradigm. Some people are not psychologically predisposed to find contentment in themselves. Therefore they have no off-switch to the relentless pursuit of power over others.

    This doesn’t equate into being “bad” people because they are driven to hold power, but they will never be able to settle into the kind of lifestyle Rees suggests, is the way to change our species fate. They will be looking to tweak the new paradigm, so they can gain the most control over others.

    I quite like Malcolm Turnbull, inasmuch as I don’t know him personally, but he has a solid marriage, a strong work ethic and at least attempts to find middle ground with differing sides of politics. It demonstrates working, collaborative, long term relationships are things he takes on seriously. No doubt he’ll have a range of flaws bound to surface, eventually too, but at least he’s not signally complete shut-down.

    To make the changes Rees is suggesting however, I think we need to make the steps first as communities. Because only then will the government change their minds on policy. Even though politicians love being sponsored by businesses, they like being voted into government, by Australians more. Communities need to be better organised, so their voice of change can be heard and understood.


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Glad you watched it, Chris. (I was going to say liked it, but that probably wasn’t quite the case). Your second paragraph was thought-provoking….psychopaths having no off-switch; a new way of looking at it for me.

      Yes, I believe communities is the way to go. But self-sufficient, self-reliant communities, providing for all their needs and walking away as much as possible from the system, not just existing as a vehicle for lobbying government for change. Be the change you wish to see in the world, as Gandhi said.

      Politicians need us, we don’t need them. We need to create communities that will take their power away from them and reduce them to being just one of us. Psychopaths won’t be allowed to survive in such a situation.


  3. Bernadette Borg Says:

    Human beings are not dissimilar to sheep, especially those without education. They are followers and will follow whomever they perceive as being ahead of the flock, at the top of the food chain, someone or something that has ‘power’ over them. Many have an obsessive relationship with their all ‘powerful’, all seeing God and still others fawn after more incarnate beings, our so called leaders.The point is, that most have an innate need to follow something or someone who seems to be ‘more’ than they are. Whether we like it or not, there are only a very few dissenting voices in that sea of humanity.

    I agree that power goes hand in hand with greed, but those who have it, are not so much ignorant as selfish and because of this propensity to think only in the short term and only about their own standing in human society (albeit purporting to act for the greater good) we will all no doubt be facing oblivion and no amount of bunkers will save any of us.

    I sometimes wonder, if we hadn’t been imbued with those ‘deadly sins,’ what might we have actually achieved with the brainpower each of us is supposed to be able to access. On the other hand, perhaps we were never meant to be more than we are and are just as expendable as every other extinct species that once roamed this Earth.

    Of course, it could never happen, but perhaps we actually need benign dictators (in complete agreement of course)?!


  4. lokisrevengeblog Says:

    Love your work here, great stuff.
    after tidying up a bit here’s all the old stuff I got
    arguments welcome


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