The Great Disruption

Paul Gilding
The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World
Bloomsbury Press, New York • 2011

We've taken our planet to the limit, physically and economically. To those who say it's simply too late to save the world from collapse, sustainability expert Paul Gilding offers The Great Disruption. Missing from Gilding's work is the doom one might expect from a leading environmental activist who, among so many others, has been alerting the masses for years about a coming crisis. The Great Disruption includes no finger wagging, no "I told you so's." Instead, Gilding is remarkably optimistic. He focuses on, and believes in, the power of humanity to act after it wakes from its self-deluded slumber (with the help of an ice cold bucket of water to the face!)

Scientific experts conclude there are "tipping points where the global ecosystem takes over and acts on such a scale that nothing we do can have any influence." Gilding is confident we'll respond before "tipping," but just before. With our backsagainst the wall, we will finally act. The "disruption" started with escalating oil and food prices and dramatic environmental episodes in 2008. The culminating crisis event that will force humanities response will occur within the next decade.


This great awakening will bring challenge and hard work. The logical science-based "what is necessary" for life to exist on a crowded planet is to have global warming reach less than one degree above preindustrial levels. A massive industrial and economic shift is required to achieve the reductions, but it is a completely achievable solution and certainly an acceptable one compared to the alternative. A sampling of necessary changes include: rationing electricity, creating huge solar and wind farms, and stranding half of the world's aircraft. Gilding doesn't believe there will be universal global agreement on creating this one degree reality; instead he feels a small number of powerful countries will launch a rapid response, and others will follow.

The growth-based economy is finished, "at least in its current material form and indeed in any form for some decades to come." Once the great disruption is realized, old economy thinkers will fight for survival of the old system of growth, consumerism and greed. But Gilding is realistically hopeful. "To argue we are naturally greedy and competitive and can't change is like arguing that we engage naturally in murder and infanticide as our forebears, the chimps, do."

Yes, humans have certain genetic tendencies, yet we also have the unique capacity to make conscious decisions to overcome those tendencies. "We are still capable of evolution, including conscious evolution. Like climate change, economic change will hit hard and fast. It will affect people directly so denial will evaporate overnight. As a species, we're good in a crisis." The disruption will be colossal, but civilization won't collapse; it will transform.