Bad language

The problem with modern doomsayers is that they sound so reasonable.

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The Great Disruption

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

The problem with modern doomsayers is that they sound so reasonable. Paul Gilding’s ‘end is nigh’ argument is filled with facts and maths and quotes from reliablesounding scientists. And his main proposition—that the world is heading for an ecological and therefore economic catastrophe— seems sound enough. He says that population growth, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of habitat and failure of oceanic carbon sinks has now gained so much momentum that the great disruption of the world economic system is inevitable. The question is not if or when, but how long and what can we do to cope?

My problem with this book is not technical. I can’t judge the specific science or the economic data; I expect it’s as reliable as it gets. And anyway, Lord Stern has predicted as much with all the sobriety of a government banker.

Nor is the idea of disruption on a global scale that difficult to believe. Humanity has experienced plagues, epidemics and even an ice age.

We are indeed at the beginning of a disruptive time. But haven’t we always? Every generation believes it’s on the cusp of something big, that this moment in history is a defining one. Gilding’s important message is bundled with a millennial fervour that humanity is breaking through to a higher evolutionary plane.

This language and the belief system behind it comes straight from Battlestar Galactica and pretty much every doomsday story ever written. It’s language that rings warning bells among sensible people that we’re dealing with nutters and zealots who, given the scale of their mission, are prepared to surrender the freedoms we have won in the last 500 years: speech, trade, movement and the vote. This is pure gold for the naysayers and sceptics who will use everything to hold back change on important matters like carbon caps or deforestation or the myriad real critical environmental concerns.

My problem with this book is not the facts, it’s the language. Gilding’s great disruption is important, so stop romancing about a new dawn and stick to the grim reality. Leave the fantasies to the movies.

Vincent Heeringa

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