Canadian resource economist William Rees is far from a political agitator. His claim to fame comes from pioneering the “ecological footprint,” a technical method for determining, essentially, how much ecosystem it takes to support each human life on the planet. Nevertheless, Rees, a professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia, gave a fiery speech to a group of international journalists last month in which he accused the world’s wealthiest individuals, corporations and governments — the “1 percent” in the parlance of the Occupy movement — of eco apartheid.
Seeking to insulate themselves from the worst impacts of global warming, the wealthy are scrambling to secure the best remaining cropland, water rights, mineral and fossil fuel deposits, and other dwindling resources in Africa and elsewhere, while blocking climate legislation that could threaten their business interests, Rees told the gathering at the GreenAccord environmental conference October 19.
“In my worst moments, I think the rich know exactly what they’re doing,” said Rees, offering an ecological variation on a theme sounded last spring by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, author of a study showing that 1 percent of Americans now control 40 percent of the country’s wealth.
“But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way,” Stiglitz wrote in a May 2011 essay titled: “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%” that inspired this fall’s Occupy movement.