Growth not part of a sustainable future

If we continue to populate the world at the current rate, we will use up all our natural capital, warns UBC professor.

We are living by depleting our natural capital such as soils, water and fish stocks, by 50 to 58 per cent and we take the growth that causes that for granted, warns Bill Rees, a population ecologist and UBC professor emeritus.

He was speaking to delegates at the Building Sustainable Communities conference continuing until Thursday in Kelowna at the Delta Grand, on some of the most important things he’s learned during his career.

“We live in a world of overshoot,” he explained. It may be less obvious here where we live, but in some other parts of the world it’s quite clear, and yet we continue to take growth for granted, and consider kick-starting the economy a good thing.

There’s been explosive growth in the past 150 to 200 years, compared to that of thousands of years prior, yet we take that as normal, when it’s actually the most abnormal of all time, he said.

Instead we should aim to decrease growth; create an economic recession to decrease carbon emissions and avoid global warming.

“Parts of the world are becoming uninhabitable already and hundreds of millions of people will be displaced when they can no longer live in their parts of the world,” he warned. Developing countries are the worst affected. “The rich are getting the gains while the costs go to the poor,” he said.

Our species has some amazing qualities, but he says he questions whether there is evidence of intelligent life on earth when he looks at some of our actions—or lack of it.

“We’re short-term opportunists, and our government is in denial about climate change. How can we be so at odds with our potential?” he questioned.

Despite being a scientist, Rees says the most important things he has learned have nothing to do with science.

For example, he says he’s learned that people are not primarily rational; that they accept new information only if it reinforces the status quo, and that reality is almost never as it seems.

Peter Furth of North Eastern University in Boston talked about sustainable transportation, noting that bike-friendly communities are good for the climate and people.

People like to be able to walk and bike and bike paths can reduce the use of cars and make a city more child-friendly.

Mass cycling requires a connected network of low-traffic, low-stress bike routes with stand-alone paths and roadside bike paths with barriers to separate them from traffic.

Although safe-cycling infrastructure is not cheap, he said it’s also not that expensive.

Gerben van Straaten of Walas Concepts in the Netherlands told about their work re-using old buildings instead of tearing them down and re-building.

“We’re trying to be first in and last out, not last in and first out, because that’s not sustainable,” he explained.

Instead, cradle to grave principles are used, so that a systems approach is taken, including socio, economic and financial engineering.

The company specializes in converting old and dysfunctional neighbourhoods into vital communities, using innovative concepts.



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