LEAD A USEFUL LIFE, BE HAPPY, AND BE NICE TO OTHERS – Paul Gilding
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?”
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
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.