Review of Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption

At the time I finished reading The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding, CBC news carried the story that we have lost 50% of the Great Barrier Reef due to degradation of the ocean environment off the coast of Australia. This news was on top of the ongoing stories of unprecedented crop losses in the U.S. midwest due to long term drought and the ever increasing loss of arctic sea ice the extent and speed of which has left climate scientists stunned and fearful for the implications this will have on the arctic environment and traditional global climate patterns.

These events serve to add to the growing fear held by many that we seem to be inevitably heading to the abyss of uncontrolled and unpredictable climate change which will threaten the very existence of human civilization as we know it. It is very hard to maintain a positive outlook when feeling so overwhelmed by the constant unfolding of bad and dire environmental news. This is well exemplified by the article, Is Climate Change Hell Now Inevitable? by environmental writer John Atcheson, published on the Common Dreams website.

This book by Paul Gilding serves as an antidote to this darkness felt by many of us about our human future. His focus is to get beyond despair, beyond the doom and gloom and get to hope and get motivated to seek out and work together on solutions which in his view are quite doable. His hopeful message is not borne out of ignorance of the serious circumstances we find ourselves in. Very much the opposite. He has a very clear understanding of the science of climate change and that time is not on our side. He is aware that climate change is a clear and present danger due to the poisoning of our atmosphere and oceans by burning fossil fuels.

He argues we have a choice to make. We can choose despair and do nothing to improve our future or choose hope and start working on solutions which he further argues throughout the book are attainable and doable and which will provide for a healthy future for all humans and the planet.

In his view the first step we need to make is to realize that our obsession with unlimited growth as a measure of success is no longer tenable and that our addiction to consumerism as a measure of personal and social happiness is a false promise and ultimately destructive behaviour. It is these beliefs and behaviours which underpin our carbon intensive energy system and economic model and which the environmental evidence clearly shows is bringing us down the road of ruination. To quote Paul Gilding, “The problem is the delusion that we can have infinite quantitative economic growth, that we keep having more and more stuff, on a finite planet. We cannot, and that is just a fact.”

As with all who write about climate change he notes we need to stop burning fossil fuels NOW and move to a mix of renewable energy such as solar, wind, geothermal and other emerging technologies and work hard to get us back down to 350ppm of CO2e and then work on actually removing carbon from the atmosphere. He argues we already have many of the technologies to develop a new economic model based on renewable energy systems which will be benign in their impact on the environment and lead to a high quality of life for all humans. He outlines a strategy or game plan and time lines which he says will get us moving in the direction of positive solutions but it will take a huge effort and commitment akin to the marshalling of resources needed to fight fascism during WW2. In his view we can transition from our untenable situation of the present day to a better future–we need avoid despair and adopt hope and effort.

This is a valuable book to read even you don’t agree with all of the steps and needed actions he suggests because he does give us an emotional and psychological boost that not all is lost but that in reality we are quite capable and have the tools to move forward in the face of this incredible challenge of climate crisis. By moving forward he means developing a new economic model based on clean energy which delivers a good quality of life for all and is respectful of the planet.

Barry Beaupre