The Great Disruption is here
By Paul Gilding
ABC Environment | 22 Feb 2011
Global fuel and food shortages will disrupt our economies, but it is then that we will pay attention to environmental problems. Credit: NASA.
When we look back at this period of history, we will see that it was a time of Great Disruption. But from the chaos, a better place will emerge.
WHY DIDN'T MORE of us see it coming? After all, the signals have been clear enough - signals that the ecological system that supports human society is hitting its limits, groaning under the strain of an economy simply too big for the planet. But we didn't and, as a result, the time to act preventatively has past.
Now we must brace for impact. Now comes The Great Disruption.
It is true that the coming years won't be pleasant, as our society and economy hits the wall and then realigns around what was always an obvious reality: you cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. Not 'should not', or 'better not', but cannot.
We can, however, get through what's ahead - if we prepare. I wrote my forthcoming book, The Great Disruption, to help us do that. My conclusion in writing it was this: not only can we make it through, we can come out the other side in better shape.
First, though, back to the present. There are countless analyses and metrics that clearly describe and record what is happening - our children will surely look back at what we can see now and ask, "What were you thinking?" One is oil prices, again on the way up, driven by surging demand in the developing world. Peak oil, long considered a fringe theory, is now widely acknowledged as inevitable, if not underway.
Leaked US diplomatic cables show evidence that oil reserves have been overstated, along with German military reports framing the connected security threat and comments by the UK energy secretary that the risk is real. No surprises here. Consumption has been outstripping the discovery of new reserves for a long time and as production peaks, prices will rise - probably dramatically - with major economic consequences. Obvious to those who look.
An even more obvious concern is food. More than anything else, I believe food will come to define our entry into this period. Food prices, after hovering around long-term highs for several years, are now passing the extreme peaks of 2008 as climate chaos takes hold.
With our population growing and our diets moving to more energy- and grain-intensive meat production, supply was already tight. So, when record heat waves and drought hit Russia, crashing their wheat harvest and leading to an export ban, the global price response was rapid.
Next was Brazil. Did you hear about the so-called 'one in one hundred-year' drought in 2005 in the Amazon? Well there was another one in 2010, but this time worse. It appears that the Amazon, last year, was a dramatic net emitter of greenhouse gases rather than an absorber. Strange days indeed.
But actually not that strange, and certainly not surprising - you increase the thickness of the Earth's blanket and it gets warmer. Despite the wishful thinking of some, the global climate is behaving as the climate models forecast it would - a bit worse than expected but broadly in line. Indeed, 2010 tied with 2005 as the hottest year on record and, by year's end, the sea temperature off Australia was the warmest ever recorded.
With warm oceans releasing more water vapour, we saw floods of biblical proportions hit the agricultural regions of Queensland, killing 22 people and impacting an area larger than France and Germany. The floods were quickly followed by the most intense cyclone ever to hit Australia. Not good for food supplies, so expect prices to keep rising, especially considering that this was not a localised problem. Climate chaos is now worldwide, with an unprecedented 19 countries breaking temperature records in 2010.
Think that was just a bad year? Think again. Writing at Salon.com, Andrew Leonard argued recently that this may all come to a head in China. He quotes the UN, who've just warned that a severe drought is "threatening the wheat crop in China, the world's largest wheat producer, and resulting in shortages of drinking water for people and livestock." According to a Xinhua report, if serious rain doesn't fall by the end of this month, the key grain producing region of Shandong will face its worst drought in 200 years. Of course, 200 years ago they didn't have 1.3 billion mouths to feed. Imagine China facing a food shortage and, with plenty of money in the bank, going on a global shopping spree to feed itself. This, argues food expert Lester Brown, could be China in 2011. Enjoy your daily bread while you can still afford it.
Maybe it will rain there again soon - but next time? People are starting to understand that this type of thing is not a one off. Commenting on rising food prices, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times recently: "The evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we're getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we'll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come."
But don't panic. We will wake up soon. Not because the ecosystem is showing signs of major breakdown. Not because people are drowning. No, we will wake up because something much more important to us is now clearly threatened. When you try to create infinite growth on a finite planet, only two things can change: Either the planet gets bigger, which seems unlikely, or the economy stops growing. It's the end of economic growth that will really get our attention.
There is surprisingly good news in all of this. We as humans have long been very good in a crisis. We ignore our health issues until the heart attack; our unwise lifestyle choices until the cancer diagnosis. We ignore our badly designed financial system until the economic crisis; or the threat of Hitler until the brink of war. Again and again, we respond to problems late, but dramatically - and, crucially, effectively. Slow, but not stupid.
This is a good attribute, given what's coming. We're going to have to transform our economy very rapidly, including our energy, transport and agricultural systems. This transition - to a zero net CO2 economy - will soon be underway and the business and economic opportunities for those who are ready (and risks to those who aren't) are hard to overstate.
That's why China is getting ready to win this race, with significantly more impressive programs to capture the opportunity than most Western countries. They understand that in the new world that is unfolding, being a 'solar power' will define geopolitical strength. Maybe the United States will start late, but strongly, surging out of Silicon Valley with a technology boom ready to disrupt and reinvigorate the world again. Time will tell - and probably sooner than you think.
There's much more to this than technology, though, with some exciting cultural and political challenges ahead as well. In a growth-constrained world, our current central economic policy of 'keep calm and carry on shopping' is looking increasingly wrongheaded. It's certainly insufficient for continued human development. (More good news there, however, because all the research suggests that shopping, or more specifically accruing more money and more stuff, is a very poor way to increase your happiness, once you're out of absolute poverty.)
In response to the now inevitable crisis, we will demand our governments think more deeply. We will have to adopt policies known to improve quality of life, like encouraging community, social inclusion and - the most heretical idea of all - greater equality and a steady state economy. Interesting times indeed.
Taking all this together, we can now say with a high degree of certainty that change is going to start coming thick and fast. Change in our economy, in our politics, and in our lives. Change that will be challenging, but that will ultimately lead us to a better place.
So get ready for the ride. The Great Disruption is now underway.
Paul Gilding is a writer, advisor and advocate on climate change and sustainability. This article was first published at his website, The Cockatoo Chronicles.
Mr. Gilding makes an excellent case for The Great Disruption.
But, I think we need not look THAT far...mercury poisoning will do it, faster and more surely.
Here, they are trying to force mercury light bulbs on us...to replace incandescent, by law.
The local news experts noted unprecedented resistance but put it down to the fact that we will lose the heating effects of incandescent bulbs, and thereby increase our power needs and costs.
I feel the idiots are running the asylum.
How can we stain mercury? ...Maybe purple?
Or, give everyone discriminating metal detectors which identify exactly where a mercury bulb lamp has been thrown...or fallen...in order to know what buildings to avoid.
Have you ever shaken down a mercury thermometer, and hit a sheet with it?
Any kid you know ever taken the mercury out of a thermostat, to play with it?
You got a mouthful of mercury amalgams?
...And smarmy dentists and doctors who laugh at the idea a person is poisoned? ...Who don't know that a 'mercury test', given at a lab, only measures the CIRCULATING mercury...NOT the stuff laid down in the tissues.
Can you tolerate the mercury used to purify your gold ring, or a chain?
Read the article on mercury published by Greenpeace, and then see the Rudolph pin with the mercury light bulb nose they also sell. One department can't read another?
For those of us dying of mercury poisoning sooner than most, there is no other answer. They KNEW a long time ago that the damn stuff is coming down in the RAIN, for God's sake!
Today I read that water that goes into the aquafer stays there for about 1,400 years.
Mercury doesn't break down, they say, so we are poisoned by the stuff they've ALREADY tossed into the environment...now we can look forward to the, what?, 6,000 pounds they will produce for sale this year.
Then there is the burning of coal.
And, the burning of our dead...cremation being a great environmental source.
But, don't worry...or look to the doctors who are supposed to be minding the the store.
We have to diagnose and heal ourselves.
Wait until you can't buy a house without a document swearing there has never been mercury scattered there...or that no one with a mouthful of mercury Amalgams (like me) has visited.
Don't go to a dentist who doesn't take responsibility for his industry and what they have done.
Did you know that there was once a huge controversy over making amalgams out of mercury, etc., or not? But those who won didn't have to swear to clean up after themselves.
You know, I had never had a cavity by age eighteen. I worked in a dental supply house.
My co-workers suggested I needed to go for a 'check-up'. A dentist handed me a mirror to watch while he broke a piece off a beautiful white molar with a metal explorer, and declared it 'soft' and needing filling.
My husband is 86, I am 72. He is healthy as a horse. The only difference between us is that he had all of his teeth out over forty years ago.
One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist...
You got a dentist you want slapped? Send him to me.
Hi Fledgling, if you can't get incandescent bulbs, go for LED, there has been a lot of advancement in LED lighting, and it is even more energy efficient than CFL's. They cost more initially, but last for many years.
Mercury contamination in our environment and ourselves, is a huge problem, one which people like to ignore.
The coal industry rarely mentions the amount of mercury it puts into the environment daily. People think that energy from coal is cheap, but people will be paying a very high price indeed, and the price is not in dollars, but in their own health, and the health of their children, and every living thing on this planet.
...But I haven't reeducated myself on the subject, yet...too busy relearning to walk...and supporting myself.
Trouble is, you see, all the cover-up...doctors and dentists just charge all they want and pretend they don't know what causes these things...and there is NO CURE, anyway.
My supposed doctor's parting shot was that I could come in and he'd cut off my legs. ...Because my way of keeping myself healthy wasn't working, he said...and there was no way he'd help me with any of that, anyhow...
However, I've become even more dedicated...and fearless.
I wish you all the best with your recovery Fledgling, and I'm glad you have dedication, and courage, these are important virtues, and these days we need all we can get.
Doctors have their uses, but I will never give up my power to one, ever again. Its so important to do your research, with doctors, dentists, or anyone, including alternative health people, its your health and your body, and should always be your choice.
Spud, have you read Hawkins' Power vs Force? very sensiible, it struck me--also pretty earth-shaking imagining a mainstream use of energy to determine truth. wow. I've been dowsing for years, and have always thought it as very natural thing, but the idea of it as being accepted broadly is pretty exciting.
I haven't read the book Chiron, but its on my list for this year. I started honing my energy reading skills, using mainstream media for practice. Very effective, and I've learnt over the years that what is in the energy is never wrong, even if the person is saying something completely opposite to what the energy is telling me.
I've not tried dowsing, but I know a lot of people on CZ use this method. I don't think the method really matters, as long as the energy gets through.
What is happening around the world today, is something that I have seen building for a number of years now, there is a changing of consciousness, that is undeniable.
Those that cannot or will not change with the energy, will perish.
My post "Gulp" (above) bothered me for a couple of days, being too much of a personal complaint. I was thinking of 'canceling' it in embarrassment.
At the same time I'd like to message the local government people responsible, with a piece of my mind...and I've been wondering how much I could make, suing a couple of people.
Today I remembered the dentist who was taken to task for giving a patient AIDS...and then how rapidly all dentists got all that facial/breathing protective equipment. That was when dentists awoke to the dangers of working on 'silver' fillings, but not to the dangers of HAVING 'silver' fillings.
I remember a dental assistant, and her employer, admitting to dentists being in a bad place, between a rock and a hard place, because there was no replacement for filling material...except real 'tooth'.
On the other hand, I believe there are dozens of ways to retrieve sanity, and well-being, many of which we haven't yet heard of.
That's what has been keeping me going for the past couple of years...every once in a while it occurs to me that I only need to ask within for others to realize the whole truth, to 'get' it.
I have this strange idea that there are many of us who do 'get' lots of truths, and more who will, and that we run the world, or set standards for logical thinking.
I talked to a friend who 'knows' a while back, and we spoke of guardian angels and how everyone has one, even drunks. Angels wait patiently for us to call on them, I think, and, I think, 'the other side' is far more beautiful and powerful than any misdeed man can conjure.
When I fall to complaining, these notions often come to my rescue, and I regain my peace and balance.
"Gulp" has felt like an embarrassment for a couple of days, to the point that I was thinking of renaming myself "Freebird" and mending my ways.
That's been the hardest thing...so-called 'professionals' who don't act like it. I wonder if they are simply at a crossroads and feel they need to defend themselves with sarcasm.
Anyway, I don't know what I'll do with myself, but if anything works I'll let you know, chop chop.
Thank you, all, for your support and thoughtfulness.
I need to tell you that I've had wonderful proof that other's thoughts of support make a huge difference in a person's feelings of well-being.
Try wishing someone well (even silently) in a situation where they don't expect it. Watch how they react. It's amazing.
It's 3 a.m. here and I'm going back to bed and think about guardian angels.
That's another thing...get lots of sleep, enfolding yourself. And read Jose Silva. ...He may just be right.
Dear Fledgling, you are entitled to have a complaint, and voice it if you wish. We are all human, and we all know what frustration is like, so don't be hard on yourself :)
As Chiron reminded me today, with the beautiful music she posted, there are many ways to gain peace and balance, and we should seek out these ways daily, hourly, or by the minute.
I like to end my day with joy, this is my way of balancing, and there is joy in so many things, from the thanks of my Partner for a well cooked meal, to the giggles I get from chatting with my Grandchildren before they go to bed, and sharing their world full of excitement and wonder. Even giving the dogs a pat before I go to bed, or listening to a beautiful piece of music, (thanks Chiron).
I agree Fledgling, that people are waking up to the truth, and there are big changes happening in our world and in our world consciousness. Its exciting, and I'm glad everyday that I'm here to experience it, the good and the bad, and the just plain silly.