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