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Stunting growth

Uh oh, not another one. Authors have been churning out books on climate change and what the very real risks are should we chose to ignore the growing signs that all is not well in this wondrous world.

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The Great Disruption

By Paul Gilding
(Allen & Unwin, 2011) $40

Uh oh, not another one.

Authors have been churning out books on climate change and what the very real risks are should we chose to ignore the growing signs that all is not well in this wondrous world. But what makes The Great Disruption different is that it’s not offering advice on how we can avoid reaching crisis point. Too late for that says Paul Gilding, the Australian business expert who once headed Greenpeace International. The global crisis is headed straight for us at breakneck speed, there’s no turning back and you sure as hell better be ready for impact.

In fact, climate change is only a symptom of the very large and sticky situation we’ve got ourselves into. The real problem is one that is often obscured by the mass assault of consumerism and economic growth. After all, growth is a good thing, right? Perhaps not when you consider the Earth is full to overflowing.

One of Gilding’s main concerns is that our current economic model is underpinned by continued growth—and our belief that growth is infinite when the planet’s resources are only finite. But short-term interests are sweeping that reality under the rug.

We’re inevitably going to smack into a brick wall when the planet can no longer sustain our growth. It’s already groaning under our weight. The end of growth is something Gilding says our economic forefathers had already envisioned, and now that’s its imminent, we need to be ready.

Gilding says we’ll need to transform our economy, and fast. To get this point across, Gilding uses World War II as an analogy of what’s ahead of us in terms of the required stages of attack. It’s a war we have no choice in partaking in, but at least this war has benefits to be gained from declaring it.

Gilding’s One Degree War is something he conceived with his colleague Jorgen Randers. It puts forth some pretty bold but necessary goals, including cutting deforestation and logging by 50 percent, closing 1,000 dirty coal power plants within five years and retrofitting 1,000 coal power plants with carbon capture and storage.

The One Degree War is about limiting any future global temperature growth by absolutely no more than one degree—not the two-degree rate currently championed by global governments and corporations that Gilding describes as a “plan for failure”.

According to Gilding, we need to reach a point where we’re operating within a net zero economy. And while that will put limits on growth as we know it, it will open up new doors, particularly around the area of renewable energy. It won’t be all that bad says Gilding; we’ll quite enjoy watching the failure of old economy dinosaurs and the birth of new giants in the fields of renewable energy and technology.

But while these rapid advancements in clean technology will provide a temporary growth that will keep our economy ticking over, it still won’t solve the problem of consumption. A massive change in the values of society, namely in our obsession with material wealth, will need to change. Gilding’s answer to delivering a truly sustainable world isn’t one that will be easily swallowed by our consumerist society.

One solution offered is a move to a cap-and-trade system on key resources. The other is a tax on things we don’t want (like pollution), and removing the tax on those things we do want (employment). Speaking of which, Gilding suggests a move to more part-time work because it encourages employment, encourages less spending and increases our time spent on leisure activities, in sum making us all the more satisfied with our quality of life—presuming we are to shift our values to be more people- and activity-focused as opposed to material- and wealth-focused.

Those are just some of Gilding’s many proposals that, when you read them, seem to make ridiculously obvious sense. So strap yourself in, and get ready for a roller coaster of change: this is a stark, must-read book.

Deirdre Robert