Humans pride themselves as being the most ‘intelligent’ species on Earth yet, despite a half century of stark warnings by many of our best scientists, the human enterprise remains in a state of potentially fatal ‘overshoot’. The human enterprise is exploiting ecosystems far beyond nature’s regenerative and waste assimilative capacities; we are growing by liquidating the biophysical basis of our own existence. Remarkably, the global community shows little sign of taking the corrective action necessary to avoid potential disaster. I argue here that this seeming paradox is perfectly natural, that H. sapiens is inherently – and even predictably – unsustainable. The human ecological predicament is the product of base human nature reinforced by an ingrained, increasingly global, but radically maladaptive growth-based cultural narrative. Modern techno-industrial (MTI) society cannot be ‘reformed’ to mesh harmoniously with biophysical reality. Hubris, born of humanity’s clever success in manipulating the material world, blinds us to symptoms of impending systemic collapse. The behaviour of politicians and ordinary people often springs from wilful ignorance or deep denial, papered over by unwarranted confidence in technological solutions. Aspirations to high intelligence aside, H. sapiens is not primarily a rational species – but there is a way forward.

Bio Note: Dr William Rees is Professor Emeritus and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning. He is the co-developer, with his graduate students, of the concept of the “ecological footprint.”