Act: Inspiration

William E. Rees: “The Fundamental Issue – Overshoot”

January 11, 2023

(Conversation recorded on December 6th, 2022)

Show Summary

On this episode, Nate is joined by systems ecologist William E. Rees. Professor Rees outlines why most of the challenges facing humanity and the biosphere have a common origin – ecological overshoot. Bill also unpacks “the ecological footprint” – a concept that he co-created, that measures the actual resources used by a given population. Bill also describes his experience as a leading thinker in public policy and planning based on ecological conditions for sustainable socioeconomic development, and the challenges he’s faced working in a system which (so far) rejects such premises. Is it possible for a different way of measuring the system to set different goals of what it means to be successful as a society?

About William E. Rees

William Rees is a population ecologist, ecological economist, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning in Vancouver, Canada. He researches the implications of global ecological trends for the longevity of civilization, with special foci on urban (un)sustainability and cultural/cognitive barriers to rational public policy. Prof Rees is best known as the originator and co-developer with Dr Mathis Wackernagel of ‘ecological footprint analysis’ (EFA), a quantitative tool that estimates human demands on ecosystems and the extent to which humanity is in ‘ecological overshoot.’ Dr Rees is a founding member and former President of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics; a founding Director of the OneEarth Living Initiative; a Fellow of the Post-Carbon Institute and an Associate Fellow of the Great Transition Initiative.

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Show Notes and Links to learn more:

PDF Transcript

00:40 – Bill Rees Works + Info


04:35Food chains/energy pyramids

04:52 Human’s dominant involvement in food chains/webs

11:05History of isolating humans from the rest of nature

11:33Social construction of reality – mental models

12:07Exchange value model (Circular flow model)

15:42Timeline of human population

17:57Population and economic growth over the last hundred years

19:28Boom-Bust Cycle

21:18500 billion fossil workers

21:30K-Selected species vs r-selected species


24:43Carrying Capacity

27:21Limits to Growth

28:39The substitution factor

29:02 Julian Simon

30:01Competitive Displacement

30:50Wild mammals are 3-4% of all mammals (Land + ocean is only 2%)

31:48Paul Ehrlich, bet between Paul and Julian

33:10Albert BartlettThe New Flat Earth Society

35:23The Social Conquest of Earth – EO Wilson

39:29 Systems Theory


40:39Carbon Dioxide is the largest waste product of industrial societies by weight (46 billion tons)

43:17Each city occupies between 100-1000x more land than the actual land it sits on

44:02Tokyo uses more biocapacity than the entire country of Japan

48:34Humans are evolved to be short sighted

51:18800 million people who don’t get enough food to eat every day

54:56Rachel Carson

56:40 Postmodernism

58:23Tomas Björkman, TGS Episode

59:17Different sects of economics

1:04:52 Humans need to have a hope, a motivation

1:05:35Ecological Tax Reform

1:07:07 Discount rate

1:09:40Half of all fossil energy used has been used since 1990 and 90% since 1940

1:12:22The stable relationships of many indigenous civilizations were created after the decimation of the initial environments

1:14:50Knowledge alone doesn’t change behavior

1:15:08Purchasing patterns of environmentalists vs average people

1:21:38There were 20 million horses working agriculture field in 1920

1:22:55The Ecological Footprint


1:26:41 Ecological footprint of the whole human civilization + the amount of biocapacity available on Earth is between 11-12 billion hectares

1:34:18Economist claiming that climate change will only decrease GDP 3% due to agriculture

1:36:47Josh Farley + TGS episodes 1 + 2

1:37:28Bjorn Lomborg

1:38:05Bill Rees + Bjorn Lomborg Nature debate

1:42:25 Western Countries subsidizing EV cars

1:42:50 Ecological and ethical comparison of EVs and ICE cars

1:45:07 Tikopia


Teaser photo credit: Predator bluefin trevally sizing up schooling anchovies, in the Maldives. An illustration of the population dynamics of fisheries. By Bruno de Giusti – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5 it,

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens

Nate is a well-known speaker on the big picture issues facing human society and currently teaches a systems synthesis Honors seminar at the University of Minnesota ‘Reality 101 – A Survey of the Human Predicament’   Nate is on the Boards of Post Carbon Institute, Bottleneck Foundation, IIER and Institute for the Study of Energy and the Future.  Previously, he was lead editor of The Oil Drum, one of the most popular and respected websites for analysis and discussion of global energy supplies and the future implications of the upcoming energy transition. Nate’s presentations address the opportunities and constraints we face after the coming peak of global economic growth. On the supply side, Nate focuses on the interrelationship between debt-based financial markets and natural resources, particularly energy with and the unique (and so far unplanned for) risks from the coming ‘Great Simplification’.  On the demand side, Nate addresses the evolutionarily-derived underpinnings to

Tags: ecological economics, Ecological Footprint, ecological overshoot