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.

11 thoughts on “LEAD A USEFUL LIFE, BE HAPPY, AND BE NICE TO OTHERS – Paul Gilding

  1. The complexities of the issues we are facing are mind-boggling. It doesn’t help that we have two opposing forces: those who remain invested in the greedy backwardness of the fossil fuel era and those who have awakened and are desperately trying to forge a new way. The plane of duality, over and over again. I am currently reading Charles Eisenstein’s book “Sacred Economics”. He has amazing insights on the nature of money, property, gifting that seem to underlie our current dilemmas. When 62 individuals possess 50% of the planet’s wealth, it appears that the efforts of millions of organizations to achieve significant change are encountering a giant tsunami. Nevertheless, we have to creatively engage to find a way…for our survival and the survival of the planet.

    • I apologize for not responding earlier to your comment Annette. The post on The Great Disruption was difficult for me – as I said at the beginning, my notes sat for a year. What I didn’t say is why. I thought some people might ultimately take it is a bit too dark or depressing. Your (and others) thoughtful and encouraging responses are appreciated and helpful for me. Delving into the introduction of “Sacred Economics”, I was reminded of the quote by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin… “Nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.” Thanks again, Annette, and all the best for 2017 and beyond.

  2. Deep ecology, radical transformation, and a complete paradigm shift from capitalism to cooperation cannot be legislated top down or from the outside in. And I don’t think we have time to “fake it ’til you make it”. The fact that the President-elect of the USA is who his is makes me think that very few people want to change or would want to change. So that’s pretty depressing. What I can do is my own practice, my own transformation and try to live with as much integrity as I can.

    • Thanks, Priscilla. Time is indeed, running out. Or some might say, it already has. We are now living in a Plutocracy, where the rich are the rulers. As you so humbly point out, we still have ourselves, our own personal agency. And to paraphrase Gandhi, if we could change ourselves, so too could we change the world. For myself, the cycle of shock, frustration, helplessness, and struggle repeats itself…. it’s just that I thought the world (we) would have had it more together by now. Argh…. I still have hope, and occasional bouts of happiness… 🙂 I’m so glad to be in solidarity with others (as yourself) and in knowing that the world isn’t just made up of people who are “all for ourselves” or of a “survival of the fittest” mind-set.

  3. Bruce, I went through that road a few years ago. I joined a local (and moribund) transition group and helped re-launching it just to see it attacked by radicals and people who have no idea of what compassion and deep listening is. As a result, it became a very reclusive group and while there are people doing some things here and there, the impact is not enough to change anything. I also revamped all my house with new light bulbs, cut the heating and learned to grow and preserve food. I learned so much in my quest for resilience that I started presenting workshops and sharing with others. I joined the local alternative currency and the time bank, I’m part of many local and international permaculture groups and even helped Holmgren to translate his document “Crash on demand”. I also read Paul’s book as well as many others down a similar road.
    The impression I was left was that the “solutions” presented were small and pale compared to the giant issues we face. They were also not fully doable: there is evidence that renewables can’t scale to the level needed to fuel our current society, much less the demand we expect in only a few years. Not only that: renewables also require energy and resources to be build and deliver much less and are less stable. The only solution is educate people so they demand and expect less energy and learn to live like in the past, when we didn’t have a fridge and a dryer in every household and a trip to the mall was nonexistent (because there were no malls, only local producers and stores)
    Also, fossil fuels have a really bad name: they are much more than fuels, they are the base resource for most of what sustains our civilization these days: they are the base for plastic and similar stuff.
    What I have found is two things: 1) we need to live in peace with the idea that this project of “growth” and “progress” is going down and pretty fast, it will take many with it: people and ecosystems and 2) the only way to get a chance to make any difference at all is to repair the cultural relations, to re-connect with ourselves, each other and nature. Because the problem was never energy or resources, the problem is our disconnection.

    • I needed a bit of time to process your comment Silvia. Your personal commitment and example is so important, even though it seems to you futile at times. I know this not only from what you have shared here and in your blog posts, but also similarly, because I have been at this since I was a kid of 10 years old… (close to 50 years now). That is, in demonstrating how through conservation & renewables that a different and peaceful world is possible. Although in many ways I think that the boat has sailed in regards to the current worsening crisis of climate change, higher wasteful consumption and some peoples desire for more in a world when so many have next to nothing.

      As you also infer (and I believe it’s ironic and so true) that hydro carbon molecules are largely disparged and yet they are extremely durable being around millions of years.. And yet we merely burn them or produce silly or useless plastic consumer goods (or worse i.e. armarments), instead of using them for durable and important products that will help us transition towards a more just and equitable world for all, including “the beautiful creatures” as Bruce Cockburn sings.

      This is extremely disheartening – just to think of what could have been if we (others and ourselves) had chosen a different path.

      In my darkest moments, I realize that if we get to the 5 degree Celsius increase in the mean average temperature on the planet since pre-industrial levels that the earth will become inhabitable to most life as we know it – not just human life, but even most forms of bacteria that sustains decomposition and hence regeneration. James Hansen calls this the Venus syndrome, and many of his fellow scientists have determined there is a real possibility this could occur, if world societies continue business as usual.. Or, unless of course if we actually become serious and begin some transition away from burning fossil fuels.

      A simple solar cooker, simple solar hot water heaters, simple gardening (like your perma-culture expertise) and bartering and building and so on, does make a difference. And I will never give up on this strong belief. Small things matter…. My wife and I have a solar hot heater that is 35 years old, and it’s far more durable than any standard electric water heater which usually burn out or leak after 20 years. Some of our solar electric panels are almost as old, and still producing at about 80% capacity, all clean energy (relative to non-renewables). Our micro Hydro turbine has been producing up to 1 kw of electricity for most of the past 7 years with almost zero maintenance. This is because modern electric motors are very durable, which will serve electric vehicles well. On the other hand, we had many difficulties with our wind turbine over the years, and eventually it was blown over in a wind storm. So, indeed, no one technological choice is a panacea. One important key, as you well point out, is that people use less energy to begin with. This is two sided coin – first by both conscious conservation choices( i.e. driving slower and less often , wearing a sweater, and washing our dishes by hand, etc). second, by the use of more efficient goods – i.e smaller cars or only having energy efficient appliances (if you really need these things in the first place!)

      Fritz Schumacher (author of Small is Beautiful) toured the United States in the mid 70’s not long before he died. He ended his tour with meeting President Jimmy Carter and some of his staff, and they actual heeded and implemented some of Schumachers’ ideas and wisdom… here’s an excerpt from his book Good Work, which was a collection of his lectures from that tour….

      “As our modern society is unquestionably in crisis, there must be something that does not fit. (a) If overall performance is poor despite brilliant technology, maybe the “system” does not fit. (b) Or maybe the
      technology itself does not fit present-day realities, including human nature. Which of the two is it? This is a very crucial question. The assumption most generally met is that the technology is all right-or-can be put right at a
      moment’s notice–but that the “system” is so faulty” it cannot cope…

      I suggest therefore that those who want to promote a better society, achieve a better system, must not confine their activities to attempts to change the “super- structure” rules, agreements, taxes, welfare, education, health services, etc. The expenditure incurred in trying to buy a better society can be like pouring money into a bottomless
      pit. If there is no change in the base–which is technology–there is unlikely to be any real change in the superstructure.

      People say to me: Before you can make headway with your intermediate technology you must first change the system, do away with capitalism and the profit motive, dissolve the multinationals, abolish all bureaucracies, and reform education. All I can reply is: I know of no better way of changing the “system” than by putting into the world a new type of technology- technologies by which small people can make themselves productive and relatively independent.

      Or is there a better way? If so, let’s have it. Expansion of nationalization, welfare, redistributive taxation? Local government reform? Changes in political representation? Planning? Yes, all these things have their points, and we have had plenty of them, and the more things change the more they remain the same, unless they get worse!”

      And sadly, things have got worse since then …. now we even have Trump, although we probably shouldn’t be suprised by this,… Obviously most before him (even the well meaning leaders) have been part of the Plutocracy of the rich with their naive chorus for ” a growing economy.”…. To the planet It’s like cancer: War, Genocide, Biocide, and dare I say, Suicide?

      As you so well concluded in your comment, “the only way to get a chance to make any difference at all is to repair the cultural relations, to re-connect with ourselves, each other and nature. Because the problem was never energy or resources, the problem is our disconnection.”

      Thanks Silvia. You have helped me in many ways. Here for example, to reflect deeply. In 2017 and beyond may we continue in solidarity with others in this epic struggle of our age, towards renewal and peace on the face of this beautiful planet earth.

      • Happy New Year 2017 Bruce…thank you for your response. You also made me think and I truly respect what you are doing. Having real demonstrations of what can be done is an excellent way to “sell” the idea of true sustainability to people: allowing them to know that life can be as joyful or even more when living with less stuff and wasting less energy, water, etc. My point is about scale and about the long-term unsustainable reality of renewables as we know them today. You are right that we as individuals can’t change an entire system or wait for it to change in order to think on technologies, we need to work on both.
        Hugs from this snowy corner of BC 🙂

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