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William E. Rees

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William Rees
BornDecember 18, 1943 (1943-12-18) (age 80)
EducationPh.D in population ecology
Known forCreating the ecological footprint concept

William Rees, FRSC (born December 18, 1943), is Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia and former director of the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) at UBC.

Rees taught at the University of British Columbia from 1969–70 until his retirement in 2011–12, but has since continued his writing and research. His primary interest is in public policy and planning relating to global environmental trends and the ecological conditions for sustainable socioeconomic development. He is the originator of the "ecological footprint" concept and co-developer of the method.


William Rees received his PhD degree in population ecology from the University of Toronto. He founded SCARP's '"Environment and Resource Planning" concentration and from 1994 to 1999 served as director of the School. Rees' book on ecological footprint analysis, Our Ecological Footprint (co-authored with then PhD student Dr Mathis Wackernagel), was published in 1996 and is now available in English, Chinese, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Latvian, and Spanish.

Much of Rees' work is in the realm of ecological economics and human ecology including behavioural and cultural barriers to sustainability. He is best known in these fields for the co-development of ecological footprint analysis with his then PhD student Mathis Wackernagel.[1] The ecological footprint is a quantitative tool that estimates humanity's ecological impact on the ecosphere in terms of appropriated ecosystem (land and water) area. This research reveals the fundamental incompatibility between continued material economic growth and ecological security, and has helped to reopen debate on human carrying capacity as a consideration in sustainable development.

Academic, policy and research interests[edit]

Rees is a founding member and recent past-President of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics. He is also a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, a co-investigator in the "Global Integrity Project" aimed at defining the ecological and political requirements for biodiversity preservation, a founding director of the One Earth Initiative and a Director of the Real Green New Deal project. A dynamic speaker, Rees has been invited to lecture on areas of his expertise across Canada and the US, as well as in Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Indonesia, Italy, Korea, the former Soviet Union, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden and the UK.

Rees' academic interests are in the following subject matter fields:

  1. Human bio-ecology and the ecological basis of civilization including the role of energy in the expansion/sustainability of the human enterprise.
  2. Ecological economics: Biophysical realities in resource allocation and distribution
  3. Global change and the dynamics of societal collapse.
  4. Why high intelligence (e.g., the capacity for logical thought and reasoning from the evidence) plays so small a role in societal decision-making particularly pertaining to sustainability.[2]


Rees has said that the "enlightenment project," rooted as it is in Cartesian dualism,[citation needed] has resulted in a techno-industrial society that sees itself as somehow separate from the biophysical world.[3] This dualism and its expansionary-materialist worldview are the basis of many of the "environmental problems" facing humankind.[2]

Awards and honours[edit]

Rees has received a Dean's Medal of Distinction (UBC Faculty of Applied Science 2016) and the 2015 Herman Daly Award in Ecological Economics (USSEE). In 2012 he was awarded the 2012 Blue Planet Prize (jointly with Dr Mathis Wackernagel), the 2012 Kenneth Boulding Prize in Ecological Economics (ISEE), and an honorary Doctoral Degree, Laval University. Previously he was a recipient of a 2007 Trudeau Fellowship, an annual prize awarded by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation "...in recognition of outstanding achievement, innovative approaches to issues of public policy and commitment to public engagement", and in 2006 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC). Rees was a member of the winning team receiving the City of Barcelona 2004 Award (Multimedia Category) for the exhibition Inhabiting the World. In 2000, The Vancouver Sun recognized him as one of British Columbia's top "public intellectuals." In 1997, UBC awarded William Rees a Senior Killam Research Prize.


  1. ^ Wackernagel, M. (1994), Ecological Footprint and Appropriated Carrying Capacity: A Tool for Planning Toward Sustainability. Ph.D. Thesis, School of Community and Regional Planning. The University of British Columbia. Vancouver, Canada.
  2. ^ a b University of British Columbia William E. Rees. School of Community and Regional Planning.
  3. ^ "Don't Call Me a Pessimist on Climate Change. I Am a Realist". resilience. 12 November 2019.

Representative publications[edit]

  • Merz, J.J., Barnard, P., Rees, W.E., Smith, D., Maroni, M., Rhodes, C.J., Dederer, J.H., Bajaj, N., Joy, M.K., Wiedmann, T., Sutherland, R. 2023. "World scientists' warning: the behavioural crisis driving ecological overshoot." Science Progress. 106: https://doi.org/10.1177/00368504231201372.
  • Barnard, P., Moomaw, W.R., Fioramonti, L., Laurance, W.F., Mahmoud, M.I., O'Sullivan, J., Rapley, C.G., Rees, W.E., Rhodes, C.J., Ripple, W.R., Semiletov, I.P., Talberth, J., Tucker, C., Wysham, D., Ziervogel, G. 2021. "World scientists' warnings into action: local to global." Science Progress. 104: https://doi.org/10.1177/00368504211056290
  • Rees, W.E. 2020 “MegaCities at Risk: The Climate–Energy Conundrum”, chapter in: Sorensen, A and Labbe, D (eds.) The International Handbook on Megacities and Megacity Regions. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
  • Rees, W.E. 2020. “Scorched Earth”, foreword to H. Washington, What Can I do to Help Heal the Environmental Crisis, London: Earthscan (Routledge), p. xxii-xxvi.
  • Rees, William E. (March 2020). "Ecological economics for humanity's plague phase". Ecological Economics. 169: 106519. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2019.106519. S2CID 209502532.
  • Rees, W.E. 2019. “Avoiding the ‘Endarkenment’”, foreword to J Bell and J Marlow, Sketches of the History of Science, Montreal: Champlain St-Lambert, p. ix –xi.
  • Rees, William (26 June 2019). "Why Place-Based Food Systems? Food Security in a Chaotic World". Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development: 1–9. doi:10.5304/jafscd.2019.091.014.
  • Rees, W.E. 2019 “End Game – The economy as eco-catastrophe and what needs to change”. Real-World Economics Review ( March 2019) at http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue87/Rees87.pdf
  • Rees, W.E. 2018. “Planning in the Anthropocene”, Chapter 5 in: M Gunder, A Madinipour and V Watson (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Planning Theory. New York: Routledge.
  • Rees, W.E. 2017. “Going Down? Human Nature, Growth and (Un)sustainability,” Chapter 22 in: PA Victor, B Dolter (eds), Handbook on Growth and Sustainability. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
  • Rees, W.E. 2013. “Ecological Footprint, Concept of.” In: Levin S.A. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, second edition, Vol. 2: 701–713. Waltham, MA: Academic Press.
  • Rees, William (October 2010). "What's blocking sustainability? Human nature, cognition, and denial". Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy. 6 (2): 13–25. Bibcode:2010SSPP....6...13R. doi:10.1080/15487733.2010.11908046. S2CID 8188578.
  • Rees, W.E. 2010. “True Cost Economics”. Chapter in the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability, Vol 2, The Business of Sustainability. C. Lazlo et al. eds. Berkshire Publishing Group.
  • Rees, W.E. 2010 “The Roots of Our Crises: Does Human Nature Drive Us Toward Collapse?” Chapter 6 in: D Lerch (ed), The Community Resilience Reader. Washington, Island Press (for the Post Carbon Institute.)
  • Rees, W.E. 2006. "Ecological Footprints and Bio-Capacity: Essential Elements in Sustainability Assessment." Chapter 9 in Jo Dewulf and Herman Van Langenhove (eds) Renewables-Based Technology: Sustainability Assessment, pp. 143–158. Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons.
  • Rees, W.E. 2006. "Why Conventional Economic Logic Won't Protect Biodiversity." Chapter 14 in D.M. Lavigne (ed.). Gaining Ground: In Pursuit of Ecological Sustainability, pp. 207–226. International Fund for Animal Welfare, Guelph, Canada, and the University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland.
  • Rees, W.E. 2004." Is Humanity Fatally Successful?" Journal of Business Administration and Policy Analysis 30-31: 67-100 (2002–2003).
  • Rees, W.E. 2003. "Understanding Urban Ecosystems: An Ecological Economics Perspective." Chapter in Alan Berkowitz et al.eds., Understanding Urban Ecosystems. New York: Springer-Verlag.
  • Rees, W.E. 2002. "Globalization and Sustainability: Conflict or Convergence?" Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society 22 (4): 249–268.
  • Rees, William E. (October 1992). "Ecological footprints and appropriated carrying capacity: what urban economics leaves out". Environment and Urbanization. 4 (2): 121–130. Bibcode:1992EnUrb...4..121R. doi:10.1177/095624789200400212. S2CID 153374382.
  • Moore, J and W.E. Rees. 2013. “Getting to One Planet Living”. Chapter 4 in: State of the World 2013 – Is Sustainability Still Possible? Washington, World Watch Institute.
  • Kissinger, M. & W.E. Rees. 2010. “An interregional ecological approach for modelling sustainability in a globalizing world—Reviewing existing approaches and emerging directions.” Ecological Modelling 221(21):2615-2623.
  • Kissinger, M & W.E. Rees. 2010. “Importing terrestrial biocapacity: The U.S. case and global implications.” Land Use Policy 27: 589–599.
  • Kissinger, M & W.E. Rees. 2009. “Footprints on the Prairies: Degradation and Sustainability of Canadian Agriculture in a Globalizing world.” Ecological Economics 68: 2309–2315
  • Wackernagel, M. and W. Rees. 1996. Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. New Society Publishers.

External links[edit]