Thursday 14 April 2011

Paul Gilding at The RSA - Where are 'we' in The Great Disruption?

Paul Gilding is talking tonight at The Hub Kings Cross on his new book The Great Disruption. Its free, but you need to sign up and is chaired by Ed Gillespie from Futerra. My wife and I went to his RSA talk last night; he's great to listen to!

I agree with a lot of Gilding's analysis, we are coming towards the end of global economic growth, it is a scientific fact. The world's capability to produce enough for the 7 billion of us currently on Earth is diminishing rapidly, I'm in total agreement. The world's economy is going to contract, it is going to be disrupting! I've not read the book yet, but the most interesting thing to me at last night's event was the use of the word 'we' by Gilding and the chair, Martin Wright. They seemed to be talking about the global 'we'; 'we' as a species, and argued that this 'we' will eventually, collectively, act to cope with the great disruption. I admire the optimism.

At the end of the Q&A, Wright asked the audience to put their hand up if they agreed with the following statement: 'We're going to go through a serious shit storm and then we'll eventually emerge, slightly weather beaten, but basically in tact in about 70 years time.' (I'm paraphrasing!) I didn't put my hand up, because I assumed he was talking about the global 'we'. My hand would have (regretfully) shot up if he'd been referring to 'we' the rich 1 billion.

Why? Well I was left wondering if anyone really cares about GLOBAL economic growth; I mean is there anyone out there activitely on a mission to sustain global economic growth? Or, is it just the cumulative result of lots of people autonomously caring about personal, national and corporate economic growth? Surely it is and always will be. The upshot of this is that as the global economy retracts people/politicians/CEOs will do everything they can to delay the death of their most immediate economies, in fact they already do this daily. As these more immediate economies are under threat from increasing oil prices, impacts of Climate Change, new regulations, redundancy or whatever other crisis they face (which many already are) the instinct is to act selfishly to cope with or diminish the emerging threats. There is little incentive to care about the detriment your actions will have on others(1). The rich 1 billion, in its various overlapping guises as nations, corporations and wealthy individuals, has been doing this for decades, most noticeably for us, here in the UK, through the government's ongoing foreign policies. The result of all this is the growth of between country and within country inequality. More threat (and more perception of threat) intensifies this process; fear breeds protectionism, resource grabbing and self preservation. This is one of my concerns about creating a 'fear' of climate change.

But, will individual economies/nations/people/businesses acting in their own self interest between now and 2050 add up to a global collective movement capable of navigating the great disruption with all the estimated 9 billion people in tact? It seems to be a hope some are clinging to right now. But, the consumer culture fuelled demise of our ecosystem services and natural resources suggests it won't. What will probably happen is that the current weakest economies will collapse and the stronger more powerful economies will swoop down to mop up their scraps to keep their economies going as long as possible. It is a frankly terrifying future prospect and one that makes me feel quite ill.

Is there any hope? Yes, I strongly believe, like Gilding that the Earth has the carrying capacity to feed and shelter 9 billion people, in a more equal, less consumerist, world it would be possible. We might even be able to still enjoy some of Robert Tressell's 'benefits of civilisation' too. Part way through his talk last night Gilding said that for this to be possible 'we simply need to change the way we think'. He was of course talking about the need for us all to appreciate that the true ways to wellbeing are found not through shopping, hedonism, celebrity and power, but through giving, caring, connecting and playing. The 'simply' part was an enormous understatement, but I totally agree and it's why I passionately work to do this everyday with Global Footsteps, Becoming Green and most recently Common Cause. It is a far from 'simple' task, but its not impossible and Gilding cites some precedents for this happening. If the global 'we' is successful in doing this I'll be a delighted 80-year-old come 2050, if not I will be able to sleep at night knowing I was one of the those who was trying to make it happen. Paul Gilding, Martin Wright and Ed Gillespie are three others amongst a growing crowd who will also be able to look themselves in the mirror and say 'I tried'.

1. Other than pissing them off so much that they rise up against you and even then you can avert that threat by owning weapons of mass destruction

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