“We are an extraordinary species, and we are capable of great things. History is full of evidence that when our backs are against the wall, all the great qualities of humanity, our compassion, our drive, our technical brilliance, and our ability to make things happen on a massive global scale, come strongly to the fore.”
These are the inspiring words of Paul Gilding, an Australian environmentalist, entrepreneur, and eco-optimist, in his book, “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.” As you might guess from his title, Gilding also has some sobering words in his book about our unsustainable global economic values and practices. It’s a well-researched and written book with a remarkably non-judgmental tone. In a refreshing way, he doesn’t choose to lay blame here or there, because no one alive today single-handedly defined our current economic system of excesses. He’s just saying that we get to be the ones who change and rescue the world from these excesses. Lucky us!
“We’ve been borrowing from the future, and the debt has fallen due. We have reached or passed the limits of our current economic model of consumer-driven material economic growth. We are heading for a social and economic hurricane that will cause great damage, sweep away much of our current economy and our assumptions about the future, and cause a great crisis that will impact the whole world and to which there will be a dramatic response. We know this to be true.”
Another redeeming feature of Gilding’s work is that he presents data without the assumption that it will effectively persuade very many people to change their behavior. He trusts that soon there will be an awakening that will be a global game-changer. Between now and then, however, we’ll most likely go through some turbulent times within and among nations as limited resources go to the highest-bidder or to the strongest military force, and as massive numbers of refugees flow across borders to survive. A global awakening and response can certainly happen quickly and effectively with our current technology…and this response will be enhanced with new breakthroughs we cannot even imagine today.
“…we will also see the best humanity can offer, great compassion, extraordinary innovation, and millions of people digging deep and finding their capacity for brilliance and innovation. This is because scientists, researchers, business leaders, community organizers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, and youth are all out there now, building the future we need. They just need our permission and support to take their work to mass scale.”
Gilding expresses what most of us know in our hearts…when we humans are confronted with a great challenge, we find the strength, creativity, perseverance and unity we need to prevail over it. This time it will require a truly global response where all voices and concerns must be included. For those who are skeptical about this becoming a reality, it already happens in our communities and around the world on a local basis…all that needs to be adapted is the scale and connectedness.
“The good news gets better. The global nature of the problem means only a global solution can fix it, and that means we are going to come together as a people like never before. Protecting national interest will have to be confined to the sporting field. Again, not just because we might choose to, but because it is the only way we can address the challenges we face. Getting through to the good side of this crisis, however, is going to require us all to engage.”
The most important take-away from Gilding’s book for me comes in that word…‘engage.’ Public engagement on a massive, global basis will be essential, because decisions about the ‘global commons’ cannot be made from within the narrow confines of national, ethnic or religious interest. This opens the door for a unique contribution in this global effort by all disciplines of the dialogue and deliberation community.
First, we need to create a global issue framing capacity to produce materials with a global perspective rather than just local or national, crafted by and for global practitioners. Second, we need to inspire and support a far-reaching and inclusive, deliberative conversation effort with multiple entry points and methods. Third, we need to connect the outcomes of small group conversations around the world, compiling and summaring the values, frustrations and hopes of citizens for a better appreciation of our dilemmas, and for increased creativity in problem-solving.
The crisis of the commons is gathering like a perfect storm with climate change, economic uncertainty and geopolitical instability. Thomas Friedman in the New York Times characterized Gilding as an ‘eco-optimist’…and I believe this is a great term for a new breed of local practitioners in global learning. If you don’t see the need, that’s okay…you will soon enough to make a difference. A global response is already being prepared, and you’ll have plenty to do when you’re ready to join the effort. But…if you want to be ahead-of-the-curve, it’s time to get busy now.