Fire and flood. Drought and tornado. We talk with Australian environmentalist Paul Gilding who says we’re facing what he calls “The Great Disruption.”
Half a lifetime ago, Australian Paul Gilding was head of Greenpeace International.
Then the lifelong environmentalist went into business.
Now, Gilding is back with a message that the environment, and business, and all our lives are tumbling into a giant change. The tornadoes, wildfire, drought and flood the world is seeing are the trumpet blast, he says.
Climate change is upon us. It’s going to profoundly change the way we live. And much sooner than we think.
He calls it the Great Disruption. He says it’s here.
This hour On Point: Paul Gilding, on the new life he says we will live.
- Tom Ashbrook
Paul Gilding, veteran environmentalist and social entrepreneur. He’s the former executive director of Greenpeace International and founder of the environmental consulting firm ECOS. His new book is, “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.”
Chapter 1: An Economic and Social Hurricane
The earth is full.
Our human society and economy has grown so large that we have now passed the limits of our planet’s capacity to support us. There can be no further growth following the current model without tipping the system we rely upon for our day-to-day lives – for our present and future prosperity – over the cliff. This in itself presents a major problem. It becomes a much larger and more urgent challenge when we consider that billions of people are living desperate lives in appalling poverty and need their personal “economy” to rapidly grow to alleviate their suffering.
What this means is things are going to change. Not because we will choose change out of philosophical or political preference, but because if we don’t transform our society and economy, we face social and economic collapse and the descent into chaos. This science on this is now clear and accepted by any rational observer. While an initial look at the public debate may suggest controversy, any serious examination of the peer reviewed conclusions of leading science bodies shows the core direction we are heading in is now very clear. Things do not look good.
These challenges and the facts behind them are well known by experts and leaders around the world and have been for decades. But despite this understanding that we have passed the limits, it has been continually filed away to the back of our mind and the back of our drawers, with the label “Interesting – for consideration later” prominently attached. Well later has arrived.
This is because the passing of the limits is not philosophical but physical and rooted in the rules of physics, chemistry and biology. These are not preferences, these are strict laws set in science and not changeable. So now that we have broken the rules there are consequences – serious, significant and far reaching consequences.
If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees. If you put additional nitrogen into a water system you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the earth’s CO2 blanket, the earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet earth behaves, with social, economic and life support impacts. This is not philosophy, nor speculation, this is high school science. We’ve now passed the limits, so we need to get ready for what’s coming.
In all this, there is a surprising case for optimism. As a species, we are good in a crisis and passing the limits will certainly be the biggest crisis our species has ever faced. Our backs will be up against the wall, and in that situation we have proven ourselves to be quite extraordinary. As the full scale of the imminent crisis hits us, our response will be proportionally dramatic. This is why I don’t despair in the face of the science – it is precisely the severity of the problem that will allow us to realise our next great evolutionary potential, and that will drive a response that is overwhelming in scale and speed and will go right to the core of our societies.
This is the story we will tell here. It is a story that starts in the past, passes through the present and then extends into the future. The past is the story of warnings issued, and decisions made. The present, the story of today, is the factual result of our failure to heed those warnings. But rather than a platform for issuing recriminations, our present situation is the foundation for our future story, a story of great challenges and comparably great opportunity.
By coincidence this story spans my lifetime, having been born in 1959. However, this story is not about me but about us. It is about our world, what has been happening in it, the state it is currently in and what is going to happen next. It is not however a passive commentary about the world we live in. It is more a call to arms, a statement that we all now need to engage – to decide what kind of world we want to live in and what kind of contribution we can each make to define that. It is about a future we must choose.
Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing.