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Dr. William Rees on ‘The Dangerous Disconnect Between Economics and Ecology’

From The Institute for New Economic Thinking:

The world economy is depleting the earth’s natural resources, and economists cling to models that make no reference whatsoever to the biophysical basis that underpins the economy. That’s why ecological economics is needed, says William Rees in this INET interview.

Standard economics portrays the economy as a circular flow: households pay money to firms in exchange for goods and services, and firms pay wages to households in exchange for labor. Textbooks describe this circular flow as self-perpetuating, capable of infinite expansion. William Rees argues that the textbooks get it wrong; he says the production of our goods and services depends on the extraction of material from ecosystems, causing resource depletion on the one hand, and excess pollution on the other.

William Rees, best known in ecological economics as the originator and co-developer of ‘ecological footprint analysis’, says the United States is using four or five times its fair share of the world’s total bio-capacity. In order to bring just the present world population up to the material standards enjoyed by North Americans, we would need the biophysical equivalent of about three additional planet earths.

More here.

Being organized and our ecological footprint

Organized people tend to maintain a smaller ecological footprint.

With organized people, I am not referring to those who need to have the right tool for everything nor those who want everything tucked in their own containers. I am talking about those who plan and prepare for the day ahead.

Single-use items. There are times I do something unplanned, so I do not have a reusable bag with me when buying a few groceries or a reusable water bottle when going out for sports. I sometimes also forget to bring an umbrella during the rainy season so I end up buying another one at a convenience store. Those are single-use items that I wouldn’t have needed if I just did some planning and preparation.

Transportation. I also try to minimize my ecological footprint by preferring mass transit (trains, buses, the local jeepneys) over for-hire modes (taxicabs and the local motorized tricycles) especially when I am traveling alone, but I always end up riding a taxicab when going to work because I would be late otherwise. Count one vehicle driving 10 km each time I have a meeting just because I am not able to manage my time properly.

I may be an advocate of environmentalism, but my personal ways are really still a work in progress. I am able to moderate the less urgent aspects of my daily living just fine, but I am still a ditz and it gets in the way of minimizing my ecological footprint.

Being organized does not just affect us and the people whose days intertwine with ours. It bears an impact on the more passive but responsive environment too.


Degrowth thinkers and activists advocate for the downscaling of production and consumption—the contraction of economies—as overconsumption lies at the root of long term environmental issues and social inequalities.

'degrowthists' aim to maximize happiness and well-being through non-consumptive means—sharing work, consuming less, while devoting more time to art, music, family, culture and community.

Degrowth opposes sustainable development because, while sustainable development aims to address environmental concerns, it does so with the goal of promoting economic growth which has failed to improve the lives of people and inevitably leads to environmental degradation.

Resource depletion

As economies grow, the need for resources grows accordingly.

There is a fixed supply of non-renewable resources, such as petroleum (oil), and these resources will inevitably be depleted.

Renewable resources can also be depleted if extracted at unsustainable rates over extended periods.

Many people look to technology to develop replacements for depleted resources. [and to increase resource efficiency]

Proponents of degrowth argue that decreasing demand is the only way of permanently closing the demand gap.

Ecological footprint

It compares human demand with planet Earth’s ecological capacity to regenerate.

It represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste.

According to a 2005 Global Footprint Network report:, inhabitants of high-income countries live off of 6.4 global hectares (gHa), while those from low-income countries live off of a single gHa.

In order for world economic equality to be achieved with the current available resources, rich countries would have to reduce their standard of living through degrowth.

The eventual reduction of all available resources would lead to a forced reduction in consumption. Controlled reduction of consumption would reduce the trauma of this change.

"The Rebound Effect"

Technologies designed to reduce resource use and improve efficiency are often touted as sustainable or green solutions. However, degrowth opposes these technological advances on the ground of what is referred to as the “rebound effect” This concept is based on observations that when less resource-exhaustive technology are introduced, behaviour surrounding the use of that technology will change and consumption of that technology will increase and offset any potential resource savings. In light of the rebound effect, proponents of degrowth hold that the only effective ‘sustainable’ solutions must involve a complete rejection of the growth paradigm and a move toward a degrowth paradigm.

Origins of the movement

The contemporary degrowth movement can trace its roots back to the anti-industrialist trends of the 19th century, developed in Great Britain by John Ruskin, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement (1819–1900), in the United States by Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), and in Russia by Leo Tolstoy (1828–1911).


Supporters of economic liberalism believe that economic growth brings about the creation of wealth, by increasing employment, improving quality of life, and providing better education and healthcare, in other words, there should be more resources in order to make and improve on more things. From this point of view, degrowth constitutes economic recession and is a destroyer of wealth.

Supporters of the self-regulation of the market believe that if a particular non-renewable resource becomes scarce, the market will limit its extraction via two mechanisms:

  • an increase in price (supply and demand) …. [this occurs after things have run out]
  • an increase in funding for the development of alternatives (i.e. renewable energy, recycling, etc.)

The concept of degrowth is viewed as contradictory when applied to lesser-developed countries, which require the growth of their economies in order to attain prosperity. In this sense the majority of supporters of degrowth advocate the attainment of a certain, acceptable level of well-being independent of growth. The question of where the balance lies (i.e. how much the developed nations should degrow by, and how much the developing nations should be allowed to grow), remains open.

Supporters of scientific progress argue that it will solve the problems of energy supply, waste and the reduction of raw materials. This ideology draws inspiration from the Enlightenment to develop an optimistic technologist vision

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This video includes a brief discussion of Permaculture Zone 5, which can often be overlooked - especially in urban designs. 

Key Points -

  • Zone 5 is left for nature to take its course
  • One of the key aims of good Permaculture design is to reduce the area of land required to sustain humans; and increase the area of land left to nature
  • We can gain some yields from zone 5, such as foraging abundant plants and fungi - but we must only take a sustainable yield or else destroy the very resources that we depend on
  • The value of nature is much greater than we give credit

More info available at

Today is Earth Overshoot Day!

What does that mean?

Well, according to data from the Global Footprint Network, humanity is surpassing nature’s budget for the year, and is now operating in overdraft.

They say:

Similar to the way a bank statement tracks income against expenditures, Global Footprint Network tracks human demand on nature (for example, for providing food, producing raw materials and absorbing CO2) against nature’s capacity to regenerate those resources and absorb the waste. Its calculations show that, in approximately nine months, we have surpassed a level of demand on resources that the planet would be able to sustainably support this year. 

For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by depleting resource stocks and accumulating CO2 in the atmosphere. 

“That’s like spending your annual salary three months before the year is over, and eating into savings year after year. Pretty soon, you run out of savings,” said Global Footprint Network President Dr. Mathis Wackernagel. 

Our ecological overspending has become a vicious cycle, in which we draw down more and more principal at the same time our level of demand, or “spending,” grows.

“From soaring food prices to the crippling effects of climate change, our economies are now confronting the reality of years of spending beyond our means,” said Dr. Wackernagel.

“If we are to maintain stable societies and good lives, we can no longer sustain a widening budget gap between what nature is able to provide and how much our infrastructure, economies and lifestyles require. “


Read more…

WWF Living Planet Report: Know more about our ecological footprint

Today, August 22, is Earth Overshoot Day, marking the date when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year. We are now operating in overdraft. For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Throughout most of history, humanity has used nature’s resources to build cities and roads, to provide food and create products, and to absorb our carbon dioxide at a rate that was well within Earth’s budget. But in the mid-1970’s, we crossed a critical threshold: Human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce.

The fact that we are using, or “spending,” our natural capital faster than it can replenish is similar to having expenditures that continuously exceed income. In planetary terms, the costs of our ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day. Climate change—a result of greenhouse gases being emitted faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans—is the most obvious and arguably pressing result. But there are others—shrinking forests, species loss, fisheries collapse, higher commodity prices and civil unrest, to name a few. The environmental and financial crises we are experiencing are symptoms of looming catastrophe. Humanity is simply using more than what the planet can provide.

Earth Overshoot Day is an estimate, not an exact date. It’s not possible to determine with 100 percent accuracy the day we bust our ecological budget. Adjustments of the date that we go into overshoot are due to revised calculations, not ecological advances on the part of humanity. The when is less important than the what.


Four paragraphs from the Global Footprint Network’s article, 'August 22 is Earth Overshoot Day'. You can read and learn more here, including about your own ecological footprint and responses to this predicament including examples of cities, countries, and businesses that are transitioning to ‘one planet living’. The BedZed neighbourhood in the UK is one well known example.  


(Infographic source: Global Footprint Network)

Living Large on a Small Planet: Change in P.O.V?

Overshoot Day: Living too Large on a Finite Planet by Jon Hoekstra (LiveScience) [edited/shortened version]


August 20, 2013, marks Earth Overshoot day— the estimated date when the people on Earth have used up the planet’s annual supply of renewable natural resources and reached its carbon-absorbing capacity. After that point, people are using more than the planet can sustain. It’s a one-day reminder of a year-round problem — humans are living too large on a finite planet….

To get a feeling for what humanity’s global footprint looks like, consider the land people use to feed themselves. People presently use 38 percent of the planet to grow crops and raise livestock (check out Navin Ramankutty’s animation of global cropland for a “wow” visualization). Many of the agricultural lands are in places that were once temperate grasslands. So much habitat has been turned under by the plow that temperate grasslands are the most imperiled and least protected habitat types on the planet. Future frontiers of agricultural expansion will most likely be in the tropics as people clear high-biodiversity tropical forests to raise cattle, grow soy and install palm oil plantations.

By 2050, the human population is projected to be about 9 billion people. Over that same time, demand for food, water and energy are expected to double….

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

A Change in Perspective, A Planetary Consciousness

We need a change in consciousness.  Some people are calling such a change “globalism” — as opposed to “tribalism” and “nationalism.”  Carl Sagan was calling for this.  We need to understand that it’s all connected.  Not just that all humans are connected, but that the whole planet is an interconnected, interdependent system made up of living and non-living components.  Damage too many of the components, the system breaks down.  We need other living things in order to survive, just as much as we need air and water.

Something to think about.

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Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.51 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and five months to regenerate what we use in a year (Global Footprint Network 2010).

What is Biocapacity?

Biocapacity is shorthand for biological capacity, which is the ability of an ecosystem to produce useful biological materials and to absorb wastes generated by humans.

What is the Ecological Footprint?

The Ecological Footprint is a resource accounting tool used to answer a specific resource question: How much of the biological capacity of the planet is required by a given human activity or population?

This following map compares each country’s total consumption Footprint with the biocapacity available within its own borders.


Julien showed me this because we’re working on creating an eco-sustainability workshop. If everyone in the world was like him we would need 4 worlds. If everyone was like me we would need 3.41 worlds:( I think a big factor that made my results better than his is the fact that being vegetarian is more environmentally friendly than eating meat, but it still makes me so depressed. My friends think I’m some “environmental activist” although I clearly am not and could do so much more. Could you imagine the results for people who pay no attention at all to their damage? I think everyone should take this quiz to realize that every little thing we do contributes to the imprint we leave on the world. Plus, there’s a ton of ways shared on how we could improve.