Thomas Friedman's Op-ed piece, "The Earth is Full," in todays New York Times was both deeply sobering and, at the same time, oddly hopeful.
Friedman writes, "You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornados plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?"
The only answer, according to the Austrialian environmentalist, Paul Gilding, author of the new book “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World,” can be denial.
Gilding expects dramatic changes in the way we live on Planet Earth. We are irrevocably headed for a Great Disruption, he says, due to the simple fact that, “If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees. If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth’s CO2 blanket, the Earth gets warmer," all of which, he says will change the way the planet's whole ecosystem behaves, with social, economic, and life support impacts." It's not speculation, Gilding asserts, "this is high school science.”
The more hopeful part of his message, however, is that as these impacts hit, “our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilizing as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades.”
The consumer-driven growth model that has led us to where we are today, Gilding believes, is irrevocably broken. But his conclusion is that we will be forece to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less.
“How many people,” Gilding asks, “lie on their death bed and say, ‘I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,’ and how many say, ‘I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?’ To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff.”
Are we really ready for that? Gilding thinks we're closer than you might think. "We either allow collapse to overtake us," he says, "or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.”