Dr. William Rees in Nanaimo

Dr. William ReesDr. William Rees of the University of British Columbia spoke in Nanaimo last night as a guest of the Nanaimo and Area Land Trust and Friends of Plan Nanaimo. His talk was well received by the 150 Nanaimoites present.

Dr. Rees is internationally known as the formulator of the concept of the “Ecological Footprint,” a measure of land and water needed to support life. He explained how only 1.8 hectares of land are available for each individual worldwide. Yet every Canadian consumes eight hectares worth of production, four times our fair share. The city of Vancouver requires 344 times its land area to sustain itself. Cities like Vancouver and Nanaimo offload their industrial pollution to developing countries. China’s ravaged environment subsidizes our lifestyle by producing the cheap goods we consume every day. Eightly to ninety percent of the food on our tables depends on fossil fuels to get here.

As consuming organisms, British Columbian cities are highly vulnerable to the oil-dependent supply lines which deliver our fruit and vegetables from California. Localities will eventually collapse if they exceed their carrying capacities. Dr. Rees is an advocate of local production for local consumption, even if it means higher prices in the short term. At the moment, too many of us are living high on the hog. Biodiversity is being lost at a shocking rate as humans appropriate the world’s resources.

Dr. Rees discussed the “comfortable myths” spread by politicians and corporate leaders as opposed to the “harsh realities” we will all be facing sooner than we expect. Unfortunately, too many occupants of the halls of power see only profit-making opportunities in the disasters to come. This week Canadians have seen how Stephen Harper and John Baird came up with a totally inadequate climate change plan, claiming that anything more would be “too expensive.” As David Suzuki and others have pointed out, the price of inaction is far higher.

Only grassroots pressure will force our politicians to take effective action to address the very real ecological crisis that is approaching. Instead of wasting billions of dollars on corporate tax cuts and an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, our government should be promoting self-sufficiency and sustainable growth. We must change the way we do things before it’s too late. Unfortunately, some of our politicians are only concerned about being reelected. That’s the general message I took away from Dr. Rees’ lecture and none of the above should be considered a direct quote from his talk.

POSTSCRIPT: It’s a sad commentary on the state of our local news media that neither of Nanaimo's main newspapers saw fit to report on Dr. Rees’ visit. Fred Pattje of Friends of Plan Nanaimo speculates that the Nanaimo Daily News didn’t cover the event because of the paper’s longstanding bias against FPN, which co-sponsored the evening. The Daily News also refused to print a letter to the editor from Fred questioning their silence. The failure of the Nanaimo News Bulletin to report on Dr. Rees’ speech is more difficult to explain as a reporter from the paper was on the panel which replied to Dr. Rees that night.

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