Segments in this Video

William Rees Introduced (01:22)


Dr. William Rees invented ecological footprint analysis. Earth has limits, so the economy must have limits; currently the West consumes more than its share of earth's productive capacity.

Human Ecology (01:46)

For a long time, ecology studied pristine nature, without humans. Human ecology considers human beings as a species within ecosystems.

Carrying Capacity (01:55)

Rees got a position where he could teach human ecology, a new field. He drew on the concept of carrying capacity, seeking to determine maximum human population in an ecosystem.

Economists Reject Malthus (02:03)

An economist told Rees that economics had abolished Malthusian ideas of carrying capacity; technological innovation and trade with other ecosystems were the answer.

Trade Shifts Problems (02:53)

Rees rejects trade as a solution to humans going over carrying capacity; ecological deficit in one place requires surplus in another.

Ecological Footprint (02:06)

The ecological footprint measures how big a planet would be needed to support a particular person.

Globalization as Neo-Colonialism (02:34)

Global inequities are related to some people having larger ecological footprints than others. Rich countries make up for carrying capacity deficits through trade and buying of land in poor countries.

Growth and Inequality (01:46)

Growth is not solving poverty. Most of the new wealth created by globalization goes to the already wealthy; globalization hurts many ordinary people.

Calculating Footprint (02:05)

Rees explains the calculation and of the ecological footprint of a country.

Globalization Erodes Resources (02:45)

Producer countries compete for global market share, driving down prices. This increases consumption, and hence production, but drives down surpluses producers need to husband their resources.

Economists Don't Value Resources (02:28)

We pay the cost of extracting resources, but don't pay for the resources themselves. Economists assume we can always find substitutes when we run out of resources.

Fish Depletion (01:54)

As we deplete fish stocks, we move onto other fish- fishing down the food chain. The export market drove the North Atlantic cod collapse.

Excessive Consumption (02:33)

North Americans use 7-9 hectares of land per person. There are only 13.5 billion hectares of productive land and ocean on earth.

Reducing Consumption (02:01)

If we assume growth will solve poverty, we can justify high consumption levels. If not, we have to give some up so Third World people can raise their living standards.

Managing Economy (04:30)

It is technically easy for the rich world to consume less through efficiency improvements. We can achieve objective and subjective well-being measures without high GDP.

Resource Depletion (01:25)

Rees doubts that we can keep finding substitutes when we deplete resources. We may reach a tipping point through a crisis such as climate change.

Malleable Wants (04:13)

Depression and WWII rationing trained people to live on little. Post-War, Edward Bernays taught corporations to manipulate our subconscious to consume; we need social engineering in the opposite direction.

Waiting for Crisis (01:37)

People have the intellect to plan, but their instincts to wait until crises hit are stronger. This makes it difficult to get them to act on the environment until it is too late.

Drive to Consume (05:38)

Rees argues that for evolutionary reasons, people are driven to consume all resources available, even though our intellect tells us we should not do so.

Triune Brain (04:10)

Humans' reptilian brain stem is responsible for instinctive behavior. The mammal brain introduces emotions. The cerebral cortex is responsible for intellect. The reptilian brain drives our response to crises.

Need for Global Plan (03:16)

Human intellect is at war with other urges. We have created legal institutions such as marriage to control our urges. We must create international institutions to plan our future.

Self-Interest and Common Good (01:48)

Individuals are evolutionarily driven to satisfy individual self-interests, or tribal interests. Today, serving the common interest of humanity is necessary to individual survival.

Memetic Maladaptation (02:56)

Economics assumes self-interest, creating a cultural narrative that encourages consumption. Culture is now the primary driver of evolution; we need a culture that overrides our maladaptive genetic drive to consume.

Behavioral Problem (02:27)

The environmental crisis is solvable technically, but we have a behavioral problem. Rees discusses literature on why governments act unwisely despite having knowledge to do better.

Rewriting Cultural Narrative (01:36)

Only by changing cultural narrative can we evolve fast enough to respond to environmental crisis. We can self-consciously rewrite our cultural narrative for the first time.

Controlling the Narrative (01:39)

Coal and oil companies have rewritten the narrative so people reject climate change.

Business Pages (01:48)

Front pages tell us about environmental problems, but the business page ignores them; and business pages are highly influential.

Hard-Wiring (04:27)

As the brain develops, cultural values an individual picks up become hard-wired into it. People seek out experiences that reinforce their beliefs.

Cultural Adaptation (02:52)

Knowing the way culture is hardwired in our brains allows us to change our values to adapt to changing circumstances.

Remnant (02:28)

Small, marginalized movements for living sustainably may become a remnant that leads us back after crisis. We will not destroy life, but could destroy the possibility of civilization.

Rewiring Brain (02:05)

It is difficult to rewire people's brains to change beliefs; Rees sites Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions." Catastrophe can change people's beliefs.

Katrina and 9/11 (03:09)

Public opinion failed to connect Hurricane Katrina to climate change. 9/11 was trivial compared to Katrina but galvanized the U.S. because of the cultural narrative of American supremacy.

Leadership (01:36)

Rees considers what kind of climate-related catastrophe would trigger a U.S. or British leader calling for a change to our economic paradigm.

Additional Resources & Credits: Ecological Footprint: William Rees (00:57)

Additional Resources & Credits: Ecological Footprint: William Rees

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Ecological Footprint: William Rees

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If you divide the productive capacity of the Earth by the number of people on the planet, you can estimate the share of the planet’s capacity that each human being is entitled to. Consumer societies of the West are taking up far more than their share of the Earth’s resources, while the Third World is taking up far less. This episode of The Green Interview features William Rees, the originator of ecological footprint analysis—designed to measure the demands that countries place on the productive capacity of our planet. Rees says manipulative advertising socially engineers us to consume, and we need to socially engineer a new cultural narrative to rewire our brains in support of the global common good.

Length: 86 minutes

Item#: BVL58262

ISBN: 978-0-81609-842-2

Copyright date: ©2010

Closed Captioned

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