Citizen Action Monitor

Economic mobilization can deliver a victory over the climate crisis, says sustainability expert

Paul Gilding is confident his approach to planning an economic mobilization can eliminate net CO2 emissions by 2030.

No 2371 Posted by fw, September 14, 2018

Paul Gilding

“People engaged in the climate debate are often bewildered by society’s lack of response. How can we ignore such overwhelming evidence of an existential threat to social and economic stability? Given human history, we should never have expected anything else. Humans have a consistent tendency that when change is uncomfortable we delay action until a threat becomes a crisis. The scale of the threat or the existence of powerful evidence makes little difference. … What is relatively new is that scientists and experts are increasingly acknowledging that nothing less than a massive global mobilisation on a WWII scale is required to address the catastrophic risks posed [by climate change]. … Yes, it’s frustrating that these things take time. Therefore, knowing we can still “win” is key. Towards this end I co-wrote nearly 10 years ago a journal paper, ‘The One Degree War Plan’ showing how achieving 1 degree of warming was surprisingly realistic with a WWII style mobilisation. Recently along the same lines, The Climate Mobilisation developed a ‘Victory Plan’ to show what a WWII style economic mobilisation across the USA could look like.”Paul Gilding, Climate Code Red

Who is Paul Gilding? Paul is a Fellow at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, senior advisor to Breakthrough: The National Centre for Climate Restoration (Australia), and author of The Great Disruption. Gilding has spent 35 years trying to change the world. Despite the clear lack of progress, the unstoppable and flexible optimist now travels the world alerting people in all walks of life to the global economic and ecological crisis now unfolding around us, as the world economy reaches and passes the limits to growth.

Paul is confident we can get through what’s coming and in fact thinks we will rise to the occasion, with change on a scale and at a speed incomprehensible today. He tells us to get prepared for The Great Disruption and “the end of shopping”, as we reinvent the global economy and our model of social progress. When’s he’s not busy saving the world, Paul returns to his farm in southern Tasmania where he lives with his wife, where they grow blueberries and raise chickens, sheep and their children.

Can Paul save us? This is not the first time Paul has seen “victory at hand.” (See below for a link to his 2013 article).  I’m a skeptical rationalist. The problem as I see it is that, in the context of the climate crisis, these dark times are without precedence. The complexity of the climate crisis in beyond compare, far beyond the challenge of World War Two that Gilding compares it to. And time is short. One writer labeled climate change as a “wicked problem:

“We can’t define the problem, evaluate possible solutions, pick the best one, hire the experts and implement. No matter how much we may want to follow a routine like that, it won’t succeed. Institutions may require it, habit may favor it, the boss may order it, but wicked problems don’t care.”

Moreover, I have come under the influence of highly respected British climate scientist, Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who, in 2017 said this:

“I think there’s a 95% chance that we’ll go to hell in a handcart with about 4°C or something like that. But there’s a 5% chance we will succeed. And that 5% chance isn’t random. That 5% chance is a choice. So we can choose to fail, or we can choose to succeed. I work in this area because I think we can still choose to succeed. Of course the signs are not looking particularly good.”

I believe, with Anderson, that situations, and the level of our knowledge of them, determine our place along an optimistic — pessimistic continuum. Given my current level of understanding about the climate crisis situation, I’m definitely with Anderson — far along towards the pessimistic end of the spectrum.

What you have to admire about Paul is that while those of us in rich societies are in full “shop ’til you drop” mode, he never gives up trying to save the world. A slightly abridged version of his latest article is reposted below along with my added subheadings and images. Or read the unabridged version on Climate Code Red’s website by clicking on the following linked title. Read it below or online and decide whether Paul’s approach to dealing with the climate crisis is worthy of your support and promotion in your own community.

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When we look at the crisis rationally, the only logical response is to declare a climate emergency by Paul Gilding, Climate Code Red, September 13, 2018

If you are puzzled by society’s apathetic response to the climate crisis, keep reading …

People engaged in the climate debate are often bewildered by society’s lack of response. How can we ignore such overwhelming evidence of an existential threat to social and economic stability?

Humans habitually delay action to a threat until our very survival is in peril

Given human history, we should never have expected anything else. Humans have a consistent tendency that when change is uncomfortable we delay action until a threat becomes a crisis. The scale of the threat or the existence of powerful evidence makes little difference.

World War Two is the best example of a threat that became too great to ignore

There are countless examples – personal health issues, a business’ declining success, or global financial and credit risks. Historically, though, World War Two (WWII ) remains the best analogy.

Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do what is necessary to address an impending crisis

The evidence of the threat posed by Hitler was overwhelming and the case for action crystal clear. However, many were still deeply resistant to acting. Only when the threat became overwhelming – until it was accepted as an imminent crisis – was Britain triggered into action. When it was, Winston Churchill led the critical shift in thinking, arguing that no matter how uncomfortable, expensive or challenging to the status quo, sometimes you just have to do what is necessary. Not your best, or what you can afford, or what’s “realistic” – but what is necessary. In his case, that was going to war and assuming victory was possible.

The subsequent allied war effort was ‘transformational’, bordering on the impossible

And so began one of the fastest and most dramatic economic mobilisations and industrial transformations in history. As a result, something that was rationally bordering on the impossible was achieved.

Similarly, accelerating climate change appears to be driving us towards the transformational action stage

I would argue we are approaching a point where this same cycle will play out on climate change – and we will get to the transformational action stage.

The city council of Darebin, Australia “gets it” and is doing what is ‘necessary’

Perhaps surprisingly given the global implications of what’s at stake, a good indicator of this is the council of Darebin, in Melbourne, where I am addressing a Climate Emergency conference this week.

What is relatively new is that scientists and experts are increasingly acknowledging that nothing less than a massive global mobilisation on a WWII scale is required to address the catastrophic risks posed [by climate change].

Very soon we must choose between taking action, or bearing the consequences of denial and delay

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and a senior advisor to Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Union recently argued that Climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.”

The consequences of climate impacts are becoming all too obvious – e.g., Hurricane Florence

All around us examples of what these consequences might be are increasingly tangible. Whether it be wild fires in northern Sweden, refugee crises, extreme ice melt in the Arctic, submerged airports in Japan or severe droughts, people are feeling climate change live.

The four-step process to action is always the same – it begins with identifying threats, ends with action planning and response

My key argument is that this process – identified threats, resistance and avoidance, stronger and stronger evidence, acceptance of crisis and then dramatic response – is pretty much how these things always unfold. And so it will most likely be on climate change.

The context of the climate crisis will create the leaders we need across all sections of global society

Many argue we need a Churchill to lead us, that only a strong leader can take charge in a crisis and show us the way forward. Or maybe we need a climate “Pearl Harbour” – a major single event. This is not how systems usually change, but especially not in a globalised and connected world. Yes, we need leadership and across all sections of society. But the “Churchills” emerge from a context and the context shift we need is to accept we have a crisis. Critically, this acceptance is a distributed social phenomenon, not a technical question of science or evidence.

Darebin council examined the scientific evidence, declared a climate emergency, and came up with a plan

This brings me back to Darebin in Melbourne. This local council looked rationally at what the science told them – that we face a crisis and the only logical response is to declare a climate emergency. And so they did. In consultation with their community, they then developed the Darebin Climate Emergency Plan.

Darebin’s process exemplifies how social systems change – and the process is spreading to cities in the US

Why is this significant? Because this is how systems change. Ideas take hold and spread. Darebin has since been followed in the US with a small but growing list of elected bodies in regions and cities also declaring a climate emergency. First came Montgomery County, Maryland , since joined by Richmond, Berkeley and Los Angeles in California, and Hoboken, New Jersey.

System change is not spontaneous – it’s a result of active organizing

This is not emerging spontaneously, but through active organising by groups dedicated to the task like The Climate Mobilisation.

Gilding insists a WWII style economic mobilization can deliver a climate change “win”

Yes, it’s frustrating that these things take time. Therefore, knowing we can still “win” is key. Towards this end I co-wrote nearly 10 years ago a journal paper, The One Degree War Plan, with Professor Jorgen Randers, showing how achieving 1 degree of warming was surprisingly realistic with a WWII style mobilisation. Recently along the same lines, The Climate Mobilisation developed a “Victory Plan” to show what a WWII style economic mobilisation across the USA could look like.

The first step is to convince people that the climate crisis is real and urgent

So on the surface, Darebin Council inviting a group of experts like myself to suburban Melbourne to discuss what a climate emergency means might not seem much. But it is a crucial part of a process whereby we first normalise the idea that we face an existential crisis.

Next step is to convince them to do what is necessary – economic mobilization to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2035

Next we will come to accept that the only rational response is a WWII-like economic mobilisation to eliminate global net carbon dioxide emissions within a decade or so.

Find this hard to imagine? It is. But as we learnt from Churchill in 1940, when we shift our thinking to “what is necessary”, what we can achieve is quite extraordinary. Or as Nelson Mandela said: “It always seems impossible, until it’s done.” 

Breaking news: On 12 September, Moreland Council became the second local council, after Darebin, to recognize the climate emergency crisis, and passed an acknowledgement we are in a state of climate emergency. This will be embedded in next Council plan and Zero Carbon Evolution framework.

SEE ALSO

Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement? By Paul Gilding, paulgilding.com, March 20, 2013

What lies beneath: The understatement of existential climate risk, by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop, Breakthrough: National Centre for Climate Restoration, Melbourne Victoria Australia, 2018

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