The Great Disruption

Paul Gildings, an Australian ecologist, has written “The Great Disruption”, a book that addresses climate change and its consequences.

In writing this extensive book on climate change, Gildings maintains a balance between optimism and pessimism.  He is convinced that the climate clock is ticking, and, whatever we do, the world  will be facing a climate crisis by 2018.  He characterizes this assessment as realism, rather than pessimism.  Considering his experience as a scientific commentator and lobbyist, “realism” is probably a fair description of his conclusions.

He is definitely not an alarmist.  Although he frequently uses the words “hit the wall” in connection with climate change, he foresees the nations of the world will recognize the state of crisis and adopt a “war economy”. This time the war will be against those institutions and consumer practices that have created the climate crisis. He does not minimize the effort or the sacrifices that will be required, or the potential that we may not be able to avoid disaster.

To Gildings, it is a matter of perspective.  In an interview he said:

“When I say reassuring, this is against the scale of the collapse of civilization.  Not reassuring as in “all will be okay” but reassuring as in if we get this
wrong, we are talking about global economic collapse and the potential for breakdown in a very serious way of civilization.  That’s what I think we can still prevent.”

But he continually appeals to his readers to have hope, because without hope we cannot maintain the focus on what must be done, and accept the limitations on our lifestyle that the doing will require.

The role of government is crucial to his justification for hope.  Like other writers, he refers to the tremendous war effort of countries like the United States, where an estimate 37% of   the economy was devoted to the war effort.  To quote from Gildings:

“Government attitudes will resemble those in war, with a level of determination and focus that will see change occur messily and inefficiently
but quickly and reliably.  . . . To implement this change quickly, government will have to direct the market to achieve a given level of emissions reduction in a certain time frame.” (p 170)

There were two subjects that I thought needed some further elaboration.

First, the paragraphs quoted above sound very much like an economy ruled by government regulation for the benefit of all.  Twenty five years ago we would have called this political system communism.   Gilding’s professed faith in the free market system seems incongruous with his proposal for extended state regulation.

Second, a recent study appearing in the Journal Nature suggested that there was a link between climate and violence.  When food shortages occur, nations will
attempt to obtain food for their people by war and conquest. “It is difficult to see why that won’t carry over to a world that’s disrupted by global warming.”
(Mark Cane, Climate scientist.)  Hope, or pious hope, will not change that reality.

These comments do not detract from the book.  To quote from the final message from the late Jack Layton to the Canadian people: “Hope is better than fear”.

Peter Jones

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