The Great Disruption - Paul Gilding

BOOK: The Great disruption, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, London, 2011

AUTHOR: Paul Gilding – Is an Australian by birth who is an Advocate for sustainability, Head Greenpeace International, Consultant to major corporations, Member Cambridge University’s Programme or Sustainability Leadership, Blogger and runs newsletter “the Cockatoo Chronicles”

OVERVIEW: The author’s stated objective is to help alert us to the changes that are now inevitable as a result of the affects of human activity on the planet.

His starting point is that despite 50 odd years of science and talk about the limits to growth very little has been done to address the problems that have been evident for some time. Consequently the pursuit of global economic growth has caused the planet to reach the limits of its capacity to absorb humanity’s impact. This will unleash a crisis that will be recognized in two phases.

The first will be that economic growth is not possible. The initial response will be denial while we try to restart growth but in the end its death will be realized and accepted. This will be followed by the second phase which will involve recognizing that the affects of climate change are not temporary. This realization will be reinforced by physical, social, economic and political impacts throughout the world.

The responses by the international community will then be swift and dramatic as power elites see the threats to their power bases. The author describes the collection of world responses as akin to a “one degree war plan”. By this he means that the worlds Governments will mobilize their resources and human ingenuity on a footing that will not be unlike a mobilization of national resources when a country is at war. This mobilization will achieve extraordinary things remarkably quickly. It will eliminate net CO2 emissions but the period will be messy and involve a realignment of national competitiveness, new technologies, destruction of old industries, creation of new industries and cleaner cities. Importantly it will avoid global economic and social collapse that in its absence may otherwise have resulted.

Even so this will not be enough on its own because climate change is just a symptom of a much larger environmental malaise and we will have to do more. The author describes the malaise in terms of a framework developed by the Stockholm Resilience Centre which involves nine planetary boundaries (of which climate change is just one. These boundaries, which are all under pressure and will have to be addressed, are Climate change, stratospheric ozone, Land use, Freshwater use, Biological diversity, Ocean acidification, Nitrogen and phosphorous inputs in to the biosphere and oceans, Aerosol loading and chemical pollution. The boundaries are in effect a series eco-system limits that can be used to define, measure and evaluate the health of the planet.

There will also be limits on resources including those on minerals, fuel, land, and food as the climates throughout the world change under the influence of global warming and world population growth. With each of the planet’s systems operating near or beyond its capacity limits and its natural resources under pressure the existing economic paradigm will have to give way to a “New economic system”. In contrast to the destructive growth driven current economic paradigm the new system will have to involve a steady state economy with a new focus on growing personal welfare and happiness as opposed to material goods. It will also mean that equality in economic terms will be paramount as any gain by one nation will inevitably mean a loss to another, a situation that has previously been avoided because economic growth has been able to meet all competing demands, wants and aspirations of different countries and people.

REVIEW COMMENTS: Although the science of man made global warming been agreed within the scientific community there are differences at the margin. These include the timing and extent of warming and their future affects.

The author makes the starting point for his book clear namely that as it is now too late to avoid the significant adverse affects of humanity induced climate change we should immediately start considering how we should deal with the likely problems. Although the arguments in his book make this position easy to accept, he paints an overly optimistic view of the responses of different nations to the impending crises. It is true that we are all together in the planets climate/environmental survival boat. Hence it is reasonable to assume that the pressures of the crises will force cooperation to occur between nation states in resolving problems as illustrated by the game theory problem of the “prisoner’s dilemma”. History has shown though that where power and self interest are involved irrational and destructive behaviour can result and if these behavioural traits do emerge, quite frightening outcomes could result. As the future under these circumstances does not really bear thinking about we can all only hope that the author’s behavioural assumptions are correct, if his enironmental predictions prove to be correct. I have some doubt that they are.

Given its optimistic assumptions, the book conveys an optimistic note. It defines the crises facing the world, identifies the causes, predicts possible outcomes and even outlines solutions albeit in general terms, to the very important challenges that are or which will soon face us all. In doing so he makes clear that the cause of the problem is our growth driven economic system (together with the profligate behaviour it encourages), and proposes a solution which will involve nothing less than revolutionary changes to our value system and the way we live. The author has produced a thoughtful, albeit optimistic work.

POINTS FOR NOTE: (For reviewer only)

  1. The Ehrlich equation P 54

REVIEWER: Brian Harrisson.

16th May, 2011