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 http://www.postcarbon.org/our-people/william-rees/)
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.