The Great Disruption (11/7/11)

The Great Disruption Paul Gilding, Professor, Cambridge University Program for Sustainability Leadership Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow, Post Carbon Institute Growth as we’ve known it is over, say Paul Gilding and Richard Heinberg. “The idea that we can keep on growing the economy up against the physical limits of the Earth” – water, oil, and land – “is not physically possible,” says Gilding, author, The Great Disruption. “We’re in a trap really. If we grow the economy, then we’ll hit those limits again. Prices will go up. Oil prices will go up. Food prices will go up. And the economy will go down,” he says. “If we don’t grow the economy, we’re going to drown in debt. We’re going to take a while to find our way out of this morass that we’ve dug ourselves into.” Richard Heinberg, author, The End of Growth, has written that it took decades for nominal GDP to recover after the Great Depression. But the fallout of the Great Recession, he says, will be much worse. “I don’t think we’ll ever see growth the way we experienced during the decades of the 20th century.” “We have to create an economy that exists within nature’s limits,” he says. “We’ve been borrowing from the past, by way of fossil fuels. We’re also borrowing from future generations, by way of debt – all so that we can consumer as much as possible right now.” Gilding highlights one industry, solar, for which projections are increasingly optimistic. Globally, the industry is growing 40% each year, he notes, and every time the industry doubles, the price per watt falls by 20%. By 2020, he expects solar to be cheaper than coal. That’s not to say that energy incumbents will be easily swept aside. Oil firms are using every known trick, and developing more, to secure new deposits, Heinberg says: “We’re getting better and better at scraping the bottom of the barrel.”“They are fighting tooth and nail,” says Paul Gilding. “They are going to do whatever it takes to defend their cash. It’s up to government to overcome that, and to have the courage to stare them down and to enforce the change.” Such a stand is underway in Gilding’s native Australia, where parliament just passed legislation placing a price on carbon. Yes, the legislation is a compromise, with some carve-outs for energy-intensive industries, says Gilding, but “the key thing is that we’re going to cross that dreaded line that you haven’t crossed yet, which is that we’re saying nationally: you have to deal with the issue.” “I think our country has a larger capacity for denial,” says Richard Heinberg, an understatement that draws laughs. “I think we’re going to have to hit the wall before we see fundamental change.” This program was recorded in front of a live audience at The Commonwealth Club in San francisco on November 7, 2011 Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

by Climate One