I’m usually quite skeptical of books or media movements that predict impending doom. This time, reading the book, The Great Disruption, by Paul Gilding, he’s got me thinking soberly about the future of humanity. I bought the online book for less than $10 (now up to $13.50), and I’ve been reading one of the 20 relatively short chapters every day. What first caught my eye about Gilding’s message was his prediction that economic growth is no longer sustainable as a national goal. Here is something that I had thought many times. The news would come on, and I’d be saying to my partner, “They should be talking about quality of life, not economic growth.” However, as I began to read Gilding’s book, I saw that his arguments were not just the usual moral ones (like how wrong it is that millions of children starve to death), but also—at least he claims and provides the statistics to prove his point—arguments from the science of the consequences of an earth full to overflowing with greedy humans. The main point that Gilding keeps returning to, again and again, is that the consequences of overpopulation, climate change and, yes, the pursuit of growth for all nations, instead of pursuing sustainability, these consequences are soon to deluge the inhabitants of the earth in almost unimaginably catastrophic ways.
I won’t try to convince you of the validity of his arguments here. But on the outside chance that even one of you will give his book a chance, I am publishing this recommendation. He’s got me thinking hopefully again about alternative sources of energy, but he’s also got me thinking that, despite the apocalypse to come, there is hope for humanity. He believes that once the leaders of a few nations get behind the idea of putting us on a war footing towards the enemy—us and our unsustainable lifestyles—a decades-long struggle to slow, stop, and eventually reverse environmental degradation will begin. He often uses the metaphor of World War II as a comparison.
This will be The Great Disruption, then, Gilding thinks. You should look at his and others arguments that our politicians’ glib and continued use of growth as a national goal as a solution to our problems is simply a reflection of their denial of undeniable scientific facts. And while the book starts out grim, Gilding picks up another theme, mid-book, that once a critical mass of humanity accepts the need for sacrifice and, yes, altruism and sharing, change will come, and not too late to save the planet. I hope he’s right about this second theme, and I’m pretty sure that sooner or later, something like The Great Disruption will occur.
Of particular interest might also be the last four chapters of his book. It is here that Gilding will probably loose 90% of his potential readership, and yet, the ideas are good to consider. In Chapter 16, he talks about the end of shopping, since our belief in the perpetual need for new and fancier or prettier things is what keeps a lot of this self-destructive social machine working. Is there life after shopping? According to Gilding, yes, there is, and a better life at that. Try convincing your daughter of this fact! Chapter 17 has Gilding not only questioning the biblical prediction that the poor will be with us forever, but suggesting that giving up growth as a global goal will pave the way for the eventual end of poverty. I’m not entirely convinced that such altruism can be dredged up from the collective human soul, if there is such a thing. However, you should take a look at his well-thought out arguments that the growth model has consistently not only not delivered on its promise to increase the general wealth of humanity, including the poor, but also, the growth model has made things much, much worse, and ruined the planet in the process. They are good arguments, not to lightly be cast off. Chapter 18 is a free market advocate’s worst nightmare or biggest joke, depending. He argues for a modified form of unlimited capitalism, with governments regulating markets for the good of all. Well, hmm. That would be so nice, and Gilding thinks the impending Great Disruption will force our hands in this direction.
I’m just now working on Chapter 18 and I’m looking forward to finishing the book. I have to thank you, Paul Gilding. You trawled for fellow advocates, and you turned up one old former Greenpeace advocate and peace song singer lost in a relatively aimless retirement of bridge playing and opera enjoyment. You’ve got me thinking, you’ve got me hoping again. God, how I hope you’re even partially on the right track.