I finished reading Paul Gilding’s book The Great Disruption earlier today and I believe it is the most important book I have read since Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers and would heartily recommend both. In the absence of the book I have found a video of a 30 min talk Paul gave to the World Affairs Council (with another 35 mins of Q&A). Or you can view the abridged 16 min version at the bottom.
The main ideas of the book are that the environmental movement has failed to cause a cultural change that will enable us to take pre-emptive action and avoid the serious impacts of climate change and resource depletion. Despite decades of effort, the world is still in denial. But when looking at human psychology and serious world events this is not actually surprising. As Paul argues – we are slow, but not stupid. The obvious prior example is World War II. Hitler and the stirring of Germany was not a new idea when war was declared in 1939. Prior to that there was much denial about the real threat of Germany, most notably the political policy of appeasement. But once war was declared things changed remarkably quickly and policies and achievements that seemed impossible before all of a sudden happened. Paul believes we are in much the same situation and it will take a great deal of climate pain for the world to wake up from its state of denial. Once this happens the world will go to war decarbonising our economies and it will happen at a pace that seems incomprehensible now. Paul argues that this will happen because there is no other choice. This is the key problem now, there is a choice.
But the story doesn’t end there. Paul argues that the climate problem is not the base problem, but the symptom of a much larger issue – the worldwide pursuit of endless economic growth on a finite planet. The economic model on which we base our societies is flawed and at some point needs to change to a steady state economy. Again this is not a new idea, it was acknowledged my many of the fathers of economics. But listening to politicians of today, the mantra of growth is so firmly embedded in our attitudes that it will take many years of failed growth for the idea that we have reached our planetary limits to sink in. While the transition will likely be unpleasant, the destination of an economy that has limits on the resources it uses and the pollution it produces is a positive one. It will mean a redistribution of wealth and a more equitable society. Despite the commonly held view that more money equals happiness (true only if it pulls you out of poverty), research shows that more equitable societies are much healthier societies. It could mean that advances in productivity translates into less time working.
One can argue that the book has a slightly optimistic outcome, one where we are successful in meeting the climate challenge. We could fail, just a few different decisions taken in WWII might of resulted in the citizens of the UK saluting the Fatherland. It does gloss over the difficulties to come. But (again as Paul touches on) if we are to be successful in meeting the upcoming challenges we will have to be outwardly positive and optimistic even if we sometimes inwardly doubt ourselves. It is equally incorrect to assume that society will just collapse without a fight and we are often pessimistic of what we can achieve when we really put our minds to it.
Where the truth lies I don’t know, but this book has articulated many of the feelings I have on where the world is at. You can argue about the details but the underlying ideas in the book are spot on. It is an important book as it has helped me come to the realisation that those of us not in denial need to spend less time fighting those that are (as the evidence will become overwhelming) and more time preparing for the great disruption.
I urge you to buy the book The Great Disruption. The link goes to amazon so you have the most amount of reviews to read, but please try and buy from your local bookstore (unless you have a kindle/ipad).