William E. Rees

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William E. Rees : biography

December 18, 1943 –

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

Rees has taught at the University of British Columbia since 1969-70. 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.

Awards and honours

Rees was awarded the 2007 Trudeau Fellowship Prize, 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 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 in acknowledgment of his research achievements.


Academic, policy and research interests

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

  1. Human bio-ecology and the ecological basis of civilization
  2. Ecological economics: Biophysical realities in resource allocation and distribution
  3. Global change and the dynamics of societal collapse.University of British Columbia . School of Community and Regional Planning.

Rees also presently serves on the National Board of Advisors of the Carrying Capacity Network, an organization that advocates immigration reduction to achieve U.S. population stabilization and resource conservation, and calls for "national revitalization attained through fostering education, family, community self-reliance, tradition, and national unity."

Biographical information

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. He is best known in these fields for the co-development of ecological footprint analysis with his then PhD student Mathis Wackernagel.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. 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.


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


  • 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.
  • Wackernagel, M. and W. Rees. 1996. Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. New Society Publishers.