Our Lives, Well Lived – Charles Brandt, at 94


A Single Sacred Community:

An Interview with Charles Brandt – Hermit, Bookbinder, Ecologist


(photos by Charles, except as noted)


Charles Brandt has turned 94 on Feb. 19th, 2017. Speaking about contemplation or to the local meditation group he facilitates, he often quotes his fellow monk Thich Nhat Hahn…

 Boat on the lale - bruce witzel photo

(bruce witzel photo)

In Being Peace, Nhat Hahn says,

“Our world is something like a small boat. Compared to the cosmos, our planet is a very small boat. We are about to panic because our situation is no better than the situation of the small boat in the (stormy) sea… Humankind has become a very dangerous species. We need people who can sit still and be able to smile, who can walk peacefully. We need people like that to save us… You are that person… each of you is that person.”


Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 7.39.57 PM 2 - from Charles Brandt


The Catholic monk Thomas Merton once described Thich Nhat Hanh as “more my brother than many who are nearer to me in race and nationality because he and I see things in exactly the same way.”

In the mid 1950’s when Charles had intended to enter the Abbey of Gethsemini where Thomas Merton was novice master, he was advised by Merton “Don’t come here. We could make a good monk of you, but not a good contemplative.” Charles did become a Trappist, but in 1965 he left for Vancouver Island.


Comox Glacier (large)- by Charles Brandt


The well known Canadian activist Bishop Remi de Roo, who is now a good friend of Charles and also turns 94 on February 24, ordained Charles to the priesthood as a hermit monk in 1966 – the first time this happened in over 200 years.

This past November 21, 2016 Charles Brandt celebrated 50 years of his vows to the extended community of people and the earth. His testament on that occasion can be found here in Charles Brandt Speaks (part 3). At the event there were no less less than 10 tributes shared including Ecology, Spirituality and Sustainability (part 1) and These Fish, This Land, This Water (part 2).


A unique interview was conducted with Charles Brandt on Friday, February 12, 2016, and recently published in the Thomas Merton Annual Review. Below is a condensed version.


Conducted by Donald Grayston and David Chang


Charles Brandt is a Roman Catholic priest and hermit, a bookbinder and paper conservator, and an award-winning ecologist.

Since 1965, he has lived the hermit life, mostly at Merton House, his hermitage at Black Creek, British Columbia (a few miles north of Courtenay on Vancouver Island).


Charles Brandt Hermitage (thomas merton house)


When working elsewhere as a conservator, he would make his urban apart­ment his hermitage, always intending during those years to return to Black Creek.

Now 94, he says this: “I’m looking towards eternity now. . . . I’m not going anywhere. I love this spot. I’m permanent. I feel steady, in a sense, with life, and with my calling.”

He is a beautiful old man…


From the film (4)Turning Point - Thomas merton & Cahrles Brandt by Geoffry Leighton


Interview begins:


Donald Grayston: First of all, thank you very much for giving us your time, and let’s cut right to the chase: why be a hermit? How do you ex­plain yourself to yourself?

Charles Brandt: Part of it, I think, is tradition. You know I was a Trap­pist monk for eight years at New Melleray, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to making final vows. During Vatican II [1962-65], monks were trying to discover their roots. So there was a kind of a movement among the Trappists to explore their roots, and they discovered the hermits. We went back, just trying to discover our roots as monks.


DG: That was then, as the teenagers say, and this is now: so why be a hermit in the twenty-first century?

CB: It still has its place, and I think that anybody who prays benefits the whole body of Christ. Prayer touches everybody. The person next to me is affected by whatever I do. If I pray, that helps them, and it also helps the natural world. I’m very keen on the natural world, and I think that the human community and the natural world must go into the future as a single sacred community or perish in the desert, as Thomas Berry says. Praying, living a life of solitude and stillness, quiet, is good for my soul; it’s good for everybody, I think.


Sunrise, Oyster River Estuary. charles brandt photo


David Chang: Did your interest in spirituality and your interest in the natural world – matters of ecology – did they always go hand in hand, or did one come first and feed into the other?


CB: I was a Boy Scout, and I spent some time in the summer at Osceola Scout Camp in Missouri, where I was called into the tribe of Mic-O-Say. The Osage Nation lived in that part of Missouri; they [the Scouts] had braves and runners, and they called them Mic-O-Say. You would come down as a camper, and if you did well, and showed exemplary character, you were called into the Mic-O-Say; and so I was.

Roe Bartle, the mayor of Kansas City, was the chief, and said to me, “You’ve been called, you do not know why, nor will you ever know, but thus far you’ve been considered worthy”; and then he gave me something to drink, bitter with the sweet, turned me around several times, and told me to keep absolute silence for 24 hours. Then I was to report to Blue-Eyed Otter, the medicine man of the tribe. He told me to go out and sleep in the wild, and to make medicine, and to take vows to God, to [my] mother, and [my] country. In terms of country, I wasn’t thinking of Missouri or America; I thought of the earth, and that was a revelation to me.

So it was through birding and Scouting that I got into contact with the natural world, and it always seemed to go hand-in-hand with what I was thinking about. And when I was about five years old, we moved out of Kansas City to a farming area, in the countryside, in the wilderness. Every tree had a bird’s nest in it. It was amazing to me, my real first contact with the natural world, moving from the city to a farming area.


Yellow Headed Blackbird (male) - charles brandt photo


DG: So it was important for you to grow up on a farm, and then have this exposure through Scouting.

CB: Very much so. And were you asking about the natural world and the spiritual?

DC: Yes.

CB: When I was quite young, I felt that we should have contact with God, that we should be able to communicate with God. Nobody told me anything about that, it was just kind of an intuition. I would ask pastors, do you know God? And it was kind of embarrassing, you know, it was sort of hem and haw, and I took it for granted that they should be able to communicate with God.


Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 6.56.20 AM (2)

(photographer unknown)

DG: Do you know The Way of a Pilgrim?

CB: Yes.

DG: The pilgrim goes to his priest and then the bishop and neither knows what to say; finally he meets somebody who teaches him the Jesus prayer. You had a similar experience.

CB: Then somebody told me about The Man Nobody Knows, by Bruce Barton; and it was the first time I realized that Christianity was more than just an ethical thing, that Jesus was really Son of Man, Son of God, he was God, and that was a revelation to me that he was divine. He never says he’s God [laughs], but that’s the theology . . .

DG: Divinity and humanity together.

CB: That’s right.


Detail of the interior of the Abbey Church - Photo by Thomas Merton

(thomas merton photo – detail of abbey church)


DG: You did tell us in your Time Line that you started reading Thoreau when you were 13. Now, what kind of a kid reads Thoreau at the age of 13?


CB: My mother’s brother’s wife, my Aunt Hildred, did book reviews for The Kansas City Star. She did one on Walden, and I read it, and I got interested then in Henry David Thoreau. He went to the woods to find out what life was all about, and that was really quite exciting, and a real challenge for me; and I wanted to do something like that. That was probably my first inroad into the hermit life. Then again in high school, we had to do a project on what was our vocation; and I wanted to be a fire-watcher, to live in a tower. So again, I guess that was sort of leaning toward a solitary life.

DG: Which was something that Thomas Merton discussed with Dom James (his abbot) about doing at one point.

CB: That’s right. Dom James thought that would give him kind of a footing.


Thomas Merton Centenary Icon painted by John Giuliani

Thomas Merton, original painting by John Giuliana


DC: I want to ask a question about Thoreau. The first time I read Thor­eau, I had a particular view of him. A couple of years later, I read him again, and I appreciated him differently. Did you find that? Or, have you revisited him?

CB: I think the big thing about Henry David Thoreau – I’ve been to Walden Pond, and I saw where the hermitage was – was that he went to the woods, and gave us a deeper appreciation of the natural world, what’s out there. We take it for granted, when they [the colonists] first came to America, they came to use it, and to conquer the First Nations people, and to use the land. But Henry David Thoreau went out just to appreciate what was there. I think that’s perhaps his great contribution, and I think that’s a big thing we could do today: show people the natural world so they fall in love with it. That’s the only way we’re going to save the world: to appreciate it. It’s sacred, and we only love what is sacred. I think Thoreau helped us, along with John Muir and Emily Dickinson.


Bleeding Heart (cropped) - charles brandt photo


DG: In your second year in high school, you became quite interested in bird study, and you had a very special experience with a stream of warblers.

CB: It was Sunday morning. My Dad was not very appreciative of my not going to church, but I really became interested in bird study, and I was out along the Blue River. I saw birds of different colors, maybe five or seven different species. These were warblers of different species which migrate though in the spring, different species each with its own coloration, oftentimes moving through together. It was a quite amazing thing to me that that should exist, and that I should see that, and it was kind of a breakthrough for me. It was an experience that lifted me out of the ordinary run of life…


Young Warbler Orange-crowned, hermitage, June 6, 15, charles brandt photo


DG: Aldo Leopold spent a lot of time observing birds. Do you still do bird-sound recording at all?

CB: I don’t, but I have a friend in the valley who does. You need some really special equipment for that. At Cornell, we had a sound truck with a parabolic reflector. When I was at Cornell, I won a scholarship in bird-sound recording.


Mallards in flight! - Charles Brandt photo


CB: When I was in the Air Force, I learned to build radios, so I did a lot of work with preamplifiers, built a couple of those. That was my primary work for the bird-sound recording at Cornell. At the time, they had finished pretty much all the birds, and they were getting into recording amphibians, voices of the night, frogs and toads and crickets and things like that.


DG: That’s what Merton calls “the huge chorus of living beings.” It’s a wonderful passage, in which he describes the sounds of the night.


Saw Whet Owl - by Charles A.E. Brandt


DC: What is it about birds that provide an entry point to a larger ecologi­cal consciousness?


CB: There’s something really magical about birds. The fact is, they can fly, they can move. That’s really an enchanting thing, but I think once you get interested in any part of natural history, then it opens you up to everything, to rivers and trees and plants.

DG: Because it’s all connected.

CB: It’s all connected . . . our community here by extension includes plants and soil and all sentient life, so it’s everything that’s connected.


Red Flowering Currant (large)at the Hermitage April 1 2016 - charles brandt photo


DG: Do the Buddhists have something to teach us about that?

CB: Oh, absolutely. What do they call it? . . . dharmakaya? . . . everything is connected, everything is compassion, and everything is emptiness, but I think the big thing that Thomas Berry – I’ve read a lot of Thomas Berry – would say is that the big thing with the Buddhists is their respect for life; that all life is precious, and that’s really influenced me. I’m a fisherman, and I used to do fishing, catch and release, and I’ve given that up now, because I realized that once that hook gets into that mouth, they feel some pain, and the Buddhists want all pain to cease, all suffering. Thomas Berry was quite keen on Buddhists because of that…


Pink Salmon spawning grounds Sept 24 Oyster River - charles brandt


DG: Back to you. You entered active service in the US Army Corps, and later the Air Force, and you had a number of military experiences, including bombardier training.


CB: I was a navigator officially, but I did have bombardier training. You had to have bombardiering to be a navigator, so you could understand what the bombardier was [doing] . 

DG: How do you feel about that now, looking back on that military period?


CB: You know, I never thought much about it. The war (World War 2) was going on when I was in high school. My father was an officer in the Air Force and I’d hear a little bit about the war. I never took it seriously; I never thought about it. Went to William Jewell College, went to the University of Missouri, joined the reserve corps, then I was drafted.

I finally wound up training as a navigator, and then about halfway through the course, I began to think, well what is this about war? Is this really right? Should we be dropping these bombs? So I went in to see the chaplain – and this wasn’t really down on my record, I know that. I said I may be a conscientious objector, I don’t really know, I haven’t really thought it out. So the chaplain said well, you go and think about it for a while. Then, I was shipped out to gunnery training and then finally navigation training.


Southern Utah - bruce witzel photo

(b.witzel photo)

CB: Things were really moving right along, and I really didn’t have time [to think about it]. Today, I don’t say I’m a conscientious objector, but I’m nonviolent. That’s what Merton was. Merton was nonviolent. That’s where I think I would stand. Merton might say there might be a necessity to take a stand, but he was really nonviolent. So that’s where I stand, and I would be there from the very beginning, I think, had I realized what was taking place…


DC: I was just wondering, whether bookbinding, as a form of practice, has any contemplative value for you.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 7.36.12 PM[5]


CB: I think it does. Probably the best contemplative part of bookbinding is sewing the book. It’s a very relaxing, I think a very meditative, contempla­tive aspect of binding. Literature is disappearing at a great rate from our libraries all over the world, and it’s our written record of humanity. So if you’re preserving that, as I am, you’re preserving humanity, the culture, and I think that’s really quite worthwhile. It’s like preserving the earth. It’s not just a job, it’s something that’s conducive to the prolongation of civilization.

DC: It’s an act of beneficence.

CB: Yes, and it’s a slow, methodical work. You’re not in any hurry, not working with heavy machinery. Merton, that was one of his big gripes at Gethsemani.




DG: Here’s one more question. You spent a number of years away from here, doing archival and preservation work. How does that fit with being a hermit?


CB: After I’d been doing some bookbinding for a couple of years, I real­ized I didn’t have a lot of experience working with paper conservation, and I wanted to get more experience. I had a friend who had a friend in Massachusetts at the New England Document Center, Dr. Cunha. I wrote to him and asked if I could come, that I knew a little bit of bookbinding, and that I would offer that skill if he would teach me paper conservation.

So I was there for about a year, and I kept getting jobs. I became head of the bindery. But it wasn’t what I came for, and I wanted to learn how to do fine binding, you know what I mean? You do binding, then you put designs on it with tools, and it’s called finishing. I wanted to learn that. They had said, we can teach you that, but they didn’t have anybody there to do that. So I went to Ascona, in southern Switzerland.

While I was in Ascona, I got a telephone call from Ottawa, from the Canadian Conservation Institute, asking me if I would like to be interviewed for a job as conservator. That was a big chance, you know? So they flew me to Ottawa, and I got the job, and then they flew me back to Europe and I finished what I planned to do, and started working for the Canadian Conservation Institute. I did that for five years, and got a pension from that. Then I went from there to Winnipeg, and set up a conservation centre for the [provincial] government there.


From Book Arts, 2014 - volume 5, number 1


DG: During this time, what about the hermit life?

CB: Well, in Ottawa, I had a flat. I didn’t do much parish work, and when I got to Winnipeg, I said a daily Mass at the cathedral there for a couple of years. When I was in Ottawa, I spent most of my weekends in Combermere: that’s where the Baroness was (Catherine de Hueck Doherty, founder of Madonna House, was also a major influence on Thomas Merton).


(thomas merton photo)

CB: So I was really in contact with the life. I wasn’t just secular, and I was, like St. Paul, a tent maker. I was a bookbinder, and trying to live a contemplative life in a busy world.


Ottawa - bruce witzel photo

(bruce witzel photo)


DG: Did you feel stretched by that experience? Did you have a sense of pull back to this place?

CB: Oh yes. I was always moving back. I was always coming back.


Black Brants near Georgia Strait - charles brandt photo] (2)


DC: At this point in your life, how you would say you’ve grown or changed in your appreciation of spirituality in relation to ecology, and in relation to your place here in Black Creek?

CB: In a way, I’m looking towards eternity now. I’ll be 93 on February 19, [2016], so I’m not going anywhere. I love this spot. I’m permanent. I feel steady, in a sense, with life, and with my calling. And this is my place. I walk out and I know the trees, and I know the birds and the animals. They’re my friends. As I said, the human community and the rest of the natural world has to go into the future as a single sacred community. I feel that I’m part of this community where the natural world and people come and go; and if we don’t, as Thomas Berry says, we’ll perish.


Red-flowering Currant (large) 2, hermitage. March 16, 'l5, charles brandt photo


DC: So, you know the birds: do the birds know you? Do they have a sense you are a person who lives in their neighborhood?


Immature Trumpeter Swans - charles brandt photo


CB: I think the deer know me more than the birds, because the birds are more skittish. But in a way, I’m sure they accept me into their community.


Four-pointer (med. large) Comox June 25 2015 - charles brandt photo


Donald Grayston:

It’s wonderful to hear your story. Many thanks.


~ with cheers from Bruce ~


Postscript from Charles: 













Lake at dawn on Feb. 2, 2017 - bruce witzel photo


The greatest revelation is stillness


~ Lao Tzu ~

To be gentle and subversive – an alternative truth!

We will continue to fail in our ability to love until we recognize that it is the personal responsibility of each individual to learn how to love…

Love must be an integral part of all areas of our society, so that it can halt the march of isolation, separation and a hostile social order…

Petra Kelly (1947 –1992)




Considering this Saturday’s wide-spread peaceful protests against the new American Trump administration, activist Petra Kelly’s essay below on Social Defence written 25 years ago, still sing true today. 

Petra was born in Germany in 1947. Her step-father was an American army officer based in Germany, although Petra remained a West German citizen. The family returned to the United States in 1959. Petra was active in the civil rights movement during the 1960’s.  During Robert Kennedy’s bid for the US presidency she was a campaign organizer. 

After studying political science at the American University’s School of International Service in Washington, D.C., Petra returned to Europe. During the 70’s she worked on Public Health Issues and Environmental Protection in Brussels for the European Community Commission. Later, 

Petra Kelly was a leader in the peace and anti-nuclear movements  when I heard her speak in Vancouver in the mid 1980’s. She was also deeply involved with ecological and human rights issues, helping form the German Green Party and becoming among the world’s first green parliamentarians in 1983. In the late 80’s and early 90’s she helped organize support for both the Free Tibet Movement and the Chinese Democracy Movement.Tragically, she was murdered in 1992.


Listen up! Here an excerpt of her life-work.


Wildlife near Carbondale, Colorado 2 - bruce witzel photo


On Nonviolent Social Defense 


Social defense is practical and pragmatic. It requires excellent preparation, organization, and training; a courageous, creative, and determined citizenry; and a radical commitment to democratic values. Independent, resourceful, freedom-loving people that are prepared and organized to resist aggression cannot be conquered…


In the 20th century, we have seen several examples of the effectiveness of nonviolent social defense. The home-rule movement led by Gandhi mobilized so much grassroots pressure that the British were forced to withdraw from India. The civil rights movement created profound changes in U.S. society. Philippine “people power” overthrew Marcos non-violently. And in Eastern Europe, it was citizens’ movements, not political or military powers, that toppled the state security systems.


Full demilitarization can only come about in a society in which power is shared at the grassroots. In the nineteenth century, Henry David Thoreau called upon free citizens to engage in civil disobedience and nonviolent actions whenever there is an injustice. Civil disobedience and nonviolence are an integral part of any democratic society. Even in Western democracies, the state seems invincible, and as individuals, we often feel powerless, unable to have much effect. We must remind ourselves that the power of the state derives solely from the consent of the governed. Without the cooperation of the people, the state cannot exist. Even a powerful military state that is nearly invulnerable to violent force can be transformed through nonviolence at the grassroots. Noncooperation, civil disobedience, education, and organization are the means of change, and we must learn the ways to use them. Direct democracies will come into being only when we demand from our leaders that they listen to us. This is fundamental to Green politics. Power is not something that we receive from above. To transform our societies into ones that are peaceful, ecological, and just, we need only to exercise the power we already have.


Like the militaristic mode of defense, social defense demands courage and the willingness to place the interests of the community ahead of individual self-interest, relying as it does on well-organized, tightly bonded affinity groups in every neighborhood prepared to conduct acts of nonviolent resistance on short notice. Every neighborhood must know how to conduct resistance and subversion. This method of democratic security requires little material apparatus but a lot of organization and training…


Faith that we have a natural disposition to love, that we are possessed of moral conscience, and that all life is sacred, are at the foundation of nonviolent action, and we can see their power in practical application. The political techniques of nonviolence — noncooperation, civil disobedience, grassroots organizing, fasting, and so forth — derive their power from the faith and confidence that through the integrity and self-sacrifice of our actions, we can awaken our opponent’s conscience and bring about a change of heart. Gandhi was uniquely creative in applying nonviolence as an effective force for political and social change. For him, nonviolence was always active, powerful, and dynamic, and had nothing to do with passivity or acceptance of wrongful conditions. He acknowledged the influence of the nineteenth century Indian women’s movement in the development of his approach. Because women’s contributions to nonviolence are often unrecognized, this influence is especially encouraging.  He was also directly influenced by Jesus’ gospel of love and the writings of Tolstoy, Emerson, and Thoreau.


Violence always leads to more violence, hatred to greater hatred. Nonviolence works through communion, never through coercion. We must win over, not defeat, our opponent through openness, dialogue, patience, and love. Our real opponent is not a human enemy, but a system and way of thinking that give some people the power to oppress. Each struggle is part of a larger vision, one of building a society dedicated to the welfare of all. Gandhi felt that India could only become healthy with strong, politically autonomous, economically self-reliant villages. He was critical of industrialism for dehumanizing workers, splitting society into classes, and taking work from humans and giving it to machines. And he saw that any centralized production system requires a state that is restrictive of individual freedom. To him, the spinning wheel represented the dignity of labor, self-sufficiency, and humility needed to guide the people of India in the work of social transformation. Gandhi’s influence runs deep in the Green movement. Satyagraha and all it implies have inspired and informed our vision of nonviolent change.


All forms of structural and institutional violence — the arms race, warfare, economic deprivation, social injustice, ecological exploitation, and so forth — are closely linked…


A nation’s policies, values, institutions, and structures comprise the preconditions for violence or for peace. Gandhi said, “Nonviolence is the greatest force (hu)mankind has ever been endowed with. Love has more force than a besieging army.” Martin Luther King, Jr. added that this power of love is physically passive but spiritually active — that “while the non-violent resister is passive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive towards his opponent, his mind and his emotions are constantly active, constantly seeking to persuade the opposition.” Nonviolence is a spiritual weapon that can succeed where guns and armies never could. “Democracy can only be saved through nonviolence,” Gandhi said, “because democracy, so long as it is sustained by violence, cannot provide for or protect the weak. My notion of democracy is that under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest. This can never happen except through nonviolence.”


Excerpt from Thinking Green (1993), by Petra Kelly



petra kelly1412360 (3)



The Sacred Black Hills of the Dakota - bruce witzel photo (2)



In this world there is nothing softer or thinner than water.

But to compel the hard and unyielding it has no equal.


Waterfall in Yosemite - bruce witzel photo (2)



That the weak overcomes the strong, that the hard gives way to the gentle :

This everyone knows, yet no one acts accordingly.


Lao Tzu

Holiday Reflections

This past week Francis and I returned from Christmas with our family in Alberta. I haven’t flown for a good decade and you can see the return flight to the Pacific Coast was beautiful – though I used up so much carbon credit, or love miles as George Monbiot calls such a trip.

January 7, 2017 - A view of Comox Valley - my birth place.

January 7, 2017 – A view of Comox Valley – my birth place.


It's good to be back home safe on the ground on our beloved Vancouver Island.

It’s good to be back home safe on the ground on our beloved Vancouver Island.

As always, Francis has some wonderful holiday reflections and photos on her blog and you may find it enjoyable to check out about High River Alberta. We made the headlines in their local newspaper, so read on. To each of you, please take care in 2017. Peace and fellowship – Bruce.


Saint Benidict's Anglican Church (2), High River Alberta, Jan. 04, 2017 - bruce wtizel photo

Grandkids change so fast. The opportunity to reconnect with where they are in their lives is a precious one. We took Emma and Brit on a snowy outing to the High River Cemetery. More about why in a later blog. Emma was so excited to run between the gravestones and brush off the powdery snow so she could read the inscriptions. She is at that wonderful stage when the ability to read has clicked and she can’t wait to decipher the written word anywhere she finds it. The day was quite cold and when Brit headed back to the car, Emma looked disappointed. She told me, “I don’t want to leave.” I told her we would come back in the summer and spend as much time as she liked. She said, “Can I wear a dress?” I felt that would be perfectly fine.

High River Cemetery

A couple of snow angels visited…

View original post 614 more words


 Permculture flower


“We can choose this moment of crisis to ask and answer the big questions of society’s evolution like, what do we want to be when we grow up?”

– Paul Gilding






A year ago at Christmas I read the book The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World published in 2011. The unusual title caught my eye, although I hesitated checking it out. The Birth of a New World part of the title won me over. I took notes and here is my report.


The author, Paul Gilding tells us early on: “It’s hard to hold paradox in our heads – that things are desperately dangerous and urgent but we must act positively and full of hope.”




He warned the reader not to be disheartened by The Great Disruption the earth is currently going through. Covered in the 1st half of the book, this section details how humanity has screwed the planet up big time.


What the world is experiencing in The Great Disruption is like a death or loss, with its five stages of grief (the Kubler-Ross model) – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.




Gilding says that “grieving is an appropriate response” for the world we’ve destroyed and the resulting pain, “but sustained despair is not.”


And then, like taking a breath of fresh air, the 2nd half of the book shifts to a new paradigm of opportunity, hope and love. Gilding calls this the The Great Awakening.


Pacific coast sunset - bruce witzel photo


“We all know what we need to do,” Gilding writes. “Shop less, live more. Build more community… Make our lives more connected… Make good companies better, make bad companies go broke… Elect good political leaders and throw out bad ones. Roll out technologies that work and phase out those that don’t.”


A_New_Harvest,_with_Wendell_Berry,_Henry_County,_KY,_2011_-_photograph_by_Guy_Mendes                                                       Wendell Berry

The Great Disruption is Similar to World War Two


The Great Disruption initially gives a bleak prognosis of the current climate crisis and what it means for the world. The resources of the planet are finite and the present model of economic growth is unsustainable. Even the notion of sustainable growth is at odds with itself.


Looking towards Mount Hood and downtown Portland, Oregon - bruce witzel photo (2)


Gilding compares the situation today (of climate change) with World War Two. Much of the world was in denial of the military build-up and expansionism of Nazi Germany and other Axis powers. However, upon long overdue realization the allied Nations rapidly mobilized against overwhelming odds. People joined together and made incredible sacrifices because there was no other choice. Paul Gilding says the world is in that situation again. Except today, the enemy is us.


prominent_quote05PaulGilding1000 - Copy


He asserts that “most of all, we need to stop waiting for someone else to fix it. There is no one else. We are the system, we have to change.”


Towards a New World


Who is this us Gilding speaks of? And how does this us change?


“My notion of democracy,” he affirms, “is that under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest… No country in the world today shows anything but patronizing regard for the weak… Western democracy as it functions today is diluted fascism… True democracy cannot be worked by 20 men sitting at the center. It has to be worked from below, by the people of every village.”


4 seated bicycle in Bend, Oregon (2)- fran guenette photo


If I remember correctly, it was about midpoint of the book that it shifted as thus. I was amazed and excited, turning page after page of innovative and practical examples and solutions, happening now and rapidly expanding. The list is long and encouraging.


Here is a small sampling:




Networking and Social Capital to build resilient community through bartering, car sharing, community vegetable plots, street parties, and free-cycling, to name a few.


ScreenCapture of Freecycle website-2


Another example is recycle banks (like recycling loyalty programs), where companies measure the amount of recycling with electronic tags and then homeowners and businesses are credited accordingly. These credits are used by individuals to cover the cost of different fees in the local municipality. Everyone benefits from reduction in wasteful landfill costs and recycle banks have had excellent results. 




New models of financial institutions that use transparent and Ethical Banking, investing only with companies that have sustainability, social accountability and climate solutions at their core. For example, Tridos Bank in the Netherlands has a mission statement that says in part that they “seek to help create a society that promotes peoples quality of life and has human dignity at its core.”

They have an active international department, supporting microfinance and fair trade initiatives across the developing world. Tridos returns are so consistent that they limit what percentage any one investor can hold to reduce the risk to their stated mission. Mid 2016 assets were 12.6 billion Euro (13.1 billion U.S.) 

An example of an NGO that uses microfinance as a tool for change and social justice is kiva.org which is a simple way for individual to lend or borrow money. 907 million dollars have has been loaned  by 1.6 million people to 2.2 million borrowers in 82 developing nations, with a 97.3% repayment rate.






Re-emergence of co-operatives like Fonterra Dairy which accounts for 7% of New Zealand’s GDP. Or Sweden’s Sodra with its 52,000 forest owners – they recovered so much waste energy from their forestry and pulp operators they now produce more energy than they use, in synergy with wind turbines on their forest lands.


Air generator and lake sunset -bruce witzel photo




World energy savings of upwards of more than $100 Trillion by 2050 according to the International Energy Agency. One example of this is the company Easy Being Green. In one year its 200 employees installed more than 5 million free energy efficient lightbulbs and water saving devices by generating and selling carbon credits that reflected the energy saved. This prevented 4 million tons of CO2 entering the atmosphere and homeowners now have lower energy bills.


LED and CFL energy efficient lightbulbs - bruce witzel photo

                     Energy efficient lighting - bruce witzel photo


Gilding points out, “The main message here is not the many exciting ideas but the extra ordinary capacity of human ingenuity… to take these solutions to scale at an amazing pace.” He believes that “Companies will respond when consumers and investors change their demands.”


microfinance & ethical banking


And in speaking of investing and in particular the amorality of money, Gilding reminds us that although it has been used for bad, it also can be used for good.


Conclusion – The Great Awakening


As The Great Disruption winds up its final thesis, the author posits the following scenario:


“For the immediate future this will be our most important task. We will have to roll out new technologies on a massive scale to prevent the climate from tipping over the edge. We will mobilize mindboggling amounts of money, people and focus to this task… as fast as we possibly can. This will be seen as a massive economic transformation… But it will not be a true transformation. That genuine transformation will start at the same time but build more slowly… a steady state, sustainable economy built on the pursuit of quality of life, a more equitable sharing of the world’s wealth, and learning to operate in harmony with the ecosystem’s capacity to sustain us. We will build an economy around a simple idea – having happier lives… and of a life being well lived.”


Gilding asks “Will we succeed?”


Boy in Kaslo BC - Fran Guenette photo


His answer: “Yes, if we decide to.”




After reading this book I actually felt happy and encouraged, something everyone needs. It presents a realistic viewpoint that the current Great Disruption will lead to a Great Awakening. Although this transition is not without incredible sacrifice and suffering, it is also full of promise and hope. I highly recommend the book, as a signpost to this new era.


Cheers ~ Bruce


Bruce at Cluxewe River musicfest - fran guenette photo


Postscript – Official Book Synopsis


A global climate crisis and with it, the end of economic growth – is no longer avoidable. The Great Disruption began in 2008, with spiking food and oil prices alongside the starkest evidence yet of dramatic ecological change. The mess were in, however, is not as simple as fossil fuels and carbon footprints. We have come to an end of a world economy based on consumption and waste where we lived beyond the means of our planets resources.

The Great Disruption is a bracing, honest look at the challenge humanity faces, but it also offers  deeply optimistic message. The coming decades will see loss, suffering, and conflict as our planetary overdraft is paid. Yet they will also bring out the best humanity has to offer: innovation, compassion, resilience, and adaptability. The crisis will inevitably change our economic model and the way we live our lives.

Paul Gildings tough minded, truly big picture view reminds us that our greatest triumphs have always come at our darkest times.

Paul Gilding is a member of the core faculty for Cambridge University’s Programme for Sustainability Leadership. He has served as the head of Greenpeace International and advised both fortune 500 companies and community based NGO’s.

A Christmas Album (Wishes from Bruce)


North Vancouver Island snowscape - bruce witzel photo (2)



Deck in the snow @ the lake - bruce witzel photo



LED's Lights on our deck - bruce witzel photo



Peace on earth -bruce witzel photo


Christmas star  @ the lake - bruce witzel photo


Bruce with his new Christmas gift from Dougie - Fran Guenette photo








          Christmas Cheer

              from Bruce







river near winter harbour - bruce witzel photo

%d bloggers like this: