Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Gilding on The Great Disruption

So I’ve done it: I finally managed to finish Paul Gilding’s eye-opening book (and, given how busy I am just now, managed to post this!), “The Great Disruption:  Why the ClimateCrisis Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.”  You might remember I referred to Paul’s TED talk a few weeks ago. Well, after watching that, I immediately bought the book and now, while travelling, have finally managed to finish it.

Um:  it makes you think.

In the book, Gilding builds a convincing case that humanity is on a collision course for a Great Disruption in the next 10-30 years.  He argues that our collective ecological footprint is 140% of the Earth’s carrying capacity and that this alone means that we’re living in a seriously, unsustainable deficit.  Indeed, it’s not just this that we’re over-using, but all the major life-sustaining natural resources including water, pollution-free air, ecosystem services, and of course fossil fuels (to name a few).  He argues that we’ve passed the point where we’re going to be able to avoid some serious climate and environmental disruption and he points out that at some point we’ll all recognize—probably through some horrific environmental event—that we’ve got to do something. 

Once this happens, Gilding argues that humanity will mobilize resources and efforts, much as the West did, most recently in World War II, and we will collectively declare war against climate change.  We will lose many millions (or billions) of people and likely more than 50% of the biodiversity on earth. We will suffer great political upheaval.  It will be bad, but, he argues, it must happen because we have done nothing to stop it. 

However, once we decide to act, we will limit the Earth’s temperature rise to 1°C by rapid and wide-scale cuts in carbon use. We will do this under duress because we must; the alternatives are even worse. His war on Carbon will reduce carbon massively over 5 years.  It includes (and I quote liberally from pages 135ff):

•Cutting deforestation and other logging by 50%

•Closing 1000 dirty coal power plants within 5 years

•Rationing electricity, ‘getting dressed for the war’ and rapidly driving increased efficiently

•Retrofitting 1000 coal power plants with carbon capture technology

•Erecting a wind turbine or solar power plant in every town

•Creating huge wind and solar farms in suitable locations

•Letting no waste go to waste

•Rationing the use of dirty cars to cut transportation emissions by 50%

•Preparing for biopower with Carbon-Capture-Sequestration

•Stranding half of the world’s aircraft

•Capturing or burning methane

•Moving away from climate-unfriendly protein

•Binding 1 gigaton of CO2 in the soil

•Launching a government- and community-led “shop less, live more” campaign

After the first five years, there are even more things that must be done to capture carbon and continue to reduce it so that we’re living in a ‘net-zero carbon world’.  Sound draconian; the options are even worse…even more massive human fatalities and increased suffering.

He argues that humans are really good at getting together to change when real change is needed and that our mostly to-date inefficient attempts at international treaties to control carbon will quickly scale up and start working when they have to, but unfortunately, not before.

Yet, his story does not end there.  We will have to reinvent our lives and for this he sees great promise.

I quote from page 185:

“But in telling that whole story, we have a ways to go yet.  It may seem like a fair bit to cope with—the economic crisis of the Great Disruption, followed by the one-degree war and the complete transformation of the global economy to zero net carbon, all happening in parallel to a global realignment of geopolitical power, accompanied by widespread military and social conflict from ecosystem breakdown.  All that, however, is just act one.”

One really good insight from his view of the future is that solar power is equalizing and equitable. Solar power is somewhat uniquely equalitarian:  you don’t need a power grid to have solar power thus it can be an important (and powerful, excuse the pun) way to help folks in developing countries with limited infrastructure.  And, if developing countries don’t have to compete for oil and gas, solar energy will help them develop even faster. 

Gilding also summarizes evidence (that I’ve discussed in the book and blog) about why we’ll need to end consumerism, end a growth-based economy (he notes that even classical economists always viewed a stable future where growth ended and a stable-state economy was created), and make the world a more equitable world by cutting income disparity.  Partly, this will come through those with income having to earn less because the economic system is fundamentally broken. But he paints a promising picture (more time for family, more time to relax, better income equality). 

I’m not sure I buy all of this.  Frankly, it seems to be a group selected argument to hope that we’ll raise up and cooperate, rather than get stuck in a selfish tragedy of the commons.  If major religions can’t get it together now and help end poverty, why will we do it in the future? Gilding says we must, there are no other ethical options, but we’ve ignored massive poverty to date…why will the future be any different?

Gilding makes his living as a business consultant and he’s well versed in economics.  Thus, he develops his argument about how executives should re-focus to capitalize on the total re-organization of our world’s economy. He’s not a quack; this book is worth reading and thinking about. He has the ears of business and economic world leaders.  And he offers promising suggestions on business plans that will make the world a better place.

Discussion Questions
Read this book.  Share the TED talk.  Discuss his thesis.  Don’t believe it?  What does your future look like? How will you prepare for it?  How will we end poverty and income disparity?  How will we detoxify the earth?

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