A day late and a dollar short on climate change

The Great Disruption book cover

The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of shopping and the Birth of a New World by Paul Gilding, 292 pp, hardcover $25.

Though he predicts that the world’s nations won’t act to slow climate change in time to avoid disaster, Australian sustainability consultant Paul Gilding seems like a pretty cheery guy.

“Despite the evidence and the straightforward logic of the crisis being here now, or at least soon, denial is still the dominant response,” writes Gilding in his new book, The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World. “We won’t change at scale until the crisis is full-blown and undeniable, until the wind really kicks up speed.”

But eco-catastrophe is not eco-Armageddon. And even though Gilding predicts that we’ll wait until it’s very late, he doesn’t think it will really be too late.

Of course, things will be tough. Gilding compares the Great Disruption that started with the banking crisis of 2008 to James Howard Kunstler’s Long Emergency, an extended period of resource wars with refugees, nationalism and fear. But this period of peril will also have its upside and will “ultimately take human society to a higher evolutionary state, where we will address centuries-old challenges left over from our lower-order animal state — like poverty, consumerism, and conflict.”

Are we finished?

Recent history has given us ample reason to believe with Gilding that society will probably remain in denial about climate until something really bad happens. And recognizing that, I’m grateful for Gilding’s hopefulness:

Feeling despair and a sense of futility is not just an emotional response driven by personality type. According to some seriously wise and highly informed people [such as James Lovelock in the Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning or Clive Hamilton in Requiem for a Species], it is a rational conclusion, drawing on human history and the scientific evidence. While I have absolutely been in that space, I have now come out of it, and I think they are wrong.

Gilding’s solution, the end of economic growth, seems the only real approach out there to deal with both climate change and peak oil, which to his credit, Gilding doesn’t gloss over like so many writers on climate.

Easier said than done to change course after two centuries of expansion, but Gilding thinks attitudes will change quickly and denial will disappear at the zero hour.

And a small businessperson will lead them

What gives me pause is that Gilding’s solutions section sounds a lot like what you’d hear at a software industry confab from a high-priced sustainability consultant, which is what Gilding became after he left Greenpeace. Unlike Kunstler, who sees a near total collapse of industrial civilization where Asian pirates ravage the US West Coast, Gilding’s Great Disruption is not quite as, well, disruptive.

Instead, Gilding imagines the coming tribulation as a boom for innovation, a chance for the right kind of techy entrepreneur to make a killing in business. In this, he’s not that different from sustainability business boosters like Amory Lovins or Bill McDonough. And like such techno-optimists, I wonder if Gilding has sufficiently considered the threat to technology, manufacturing and computerization — not to mention global trade — represented by peak oil and energy depletion in general.

As to the “end of shopping,” which is what attracted me to Gilding’s book in the first place, let’s just say, with apologies to Mark Twain, that reports of shopping’s demise in Gilding’s book have been greatly exaggerated.

Sure, Gilding wants us to get over recreational shopping and extreme consumerism. But somebody’s got to be the market for all the hot new technology from his clients.

— Erik Curren

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  1. Auntiegrav says

    Let’s just say “The end of ‘shopping for Shopping’s sake’ ” and be done with the semantics.
    The root of human consumption is the lack of feedback mechanisms to moderate the behavior of shoppers. Shopping for bargains, shopping for entertainment, shopping for the sake of shopping: these are all symptoms of non-need based thinking (or non-thinking). The onset of the Long Descent (Greer) will focus more and more on needs as the inflated economics of capitalism give way to the real economics of subsistence. As houses in the exurbs become devalued by the unavailability of cheap energy, so will the rest of luxury be relegated to the few and far between items of very high price, but little value to the daily needs of living. As food becomes the major factor in everyone’s budgets, the idea of ‘shopping’ for food will give way to ‘waiting’ for food or ‘scrounging’ for food.
    Some variations of this will take place as we stair-step downard economically, but that’s the general direction we are headed, and not with ‘hardship’, but real death and competition for resources.

    • says

      Gilding does talk a bit about barter (Freecycle in particular) and also about cooperative economics in general but doesn’t go into a radical post-market or post-money future as much as someone like Greer or James Kunstler. But he does see that after an initial period of emergency response to climate change by the current economy with its profit motive, that we will develop a new kind of economy beyond getting and spending. So it may just be a question of speed and degree — how quickly and how deeply will things change?

      • Auntiegrav says

        Like the climate, I think, yes. It is a matter of speed and degree of change vs. speed and agility to adapt. Being a farmer, I see how long it takes to breed plants, to learn how to grow in a different soil if one moves to a different geological farm, and how much time it takes for people to even begin to consider methods which aren’t easier than the current paradigm. Convincing people to live on less fossil carbon might be a matter of seeing how many die during the transition. Nobody seems really willing to talk about that except perhaps as a drive-by comment or as a fictional novel. Serious consideration of the dieoff required to match demand to supply and climate stability will come only after the fact, I fear.

  2. Ed Patton says

    One helpful solution to the climate crisis would be to put in place a worldwide, voluntary,free
    sterilization program with substantial cash incentives after one or two children. This humane approach
    would be the best micro investment idea ever.
    It is not possible to fix the climate problem without moving at warp speed on this issue!

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