It's curious what makes you read a book. I have such a backlog of 'must reads' that I am always trying to resist the constant temptation to impulse buy. But then, often I have heard about a book, only to forget the name, where I heard about it, and wanted to read it after all. There was a bit of a buzz about The Great Disruption by Australian Paul Gilding on Twitter. But I think I picked up on attractive comments such as 'the end of shopping' and 'a deeply optimistic message' and took the plunge.
I seem to be desperate to find the ultimate answer to our problems, seeking out these answers to the environmental crisis, but also about many other aspects of life. Disappointingly the answers are never entirely there. Only part of the answer. Maybe it's simply the stuff of existence; solutions are fleeting, vague, visible only in restrospect.
So I read the book with a great appetite. I wanted to believe the optimistic message that we'll be ok, when I was feeling mighty gloomy about the environmantal calamity in front of us, even sometimes losing the will to continue my own personal lifestyle campaign. No one else does it, why fight the tide going the other way? So this book came at the right time. Gilding is an entrepreneurial environmentalist, former Executive Director of Greenpeace International, who went on to create his own corporate consultancy. He appears to be a systems theorist, but really one of these highly networked polymaths who can draw on many disciplines.
Briefly, his argument is that we'll get to a crisis point, the "Great Disruption", followed by the "Great Awakening", which will cause everyone to wake up. It will be too late for many species and there will be much death and distruction but we'll still stop and change. He equated it to the mobilisation and alliance-making of the Second World War. We will all work together to work towards a 1 degree of global warming, which he provides details on what we have to do. The usual..cut deforestation, car & air travel and so on.
How the world will function is less clear. He proposed the zero-growth model (or the steady-state economic model). The theory being that our growth-driven society is what causes us to use up all our resources in this irresponsible manner. The analysis is good but, as usual, the solution was short on meat for me. I believe it; the growth model is the problem. But, how are we really going to get this change underway? How will we work and live, and trade? It's not clear enough. But, I do really recommend this. It's compelling stuff. I took away from it that I want to develop my knowledge, continue living the way I feel is right, structure my business similarly and hope that this sea-change will happen and be part of it having established a reputation before it becomes a big trend with critical mass.
The zero-growth model needs fleshing out. Our economies, as indeed all global economies are based on this, however flawed, system and we'd be opting for the slow lane if we opted out of it. The alternative isn't clear in practice unless you espouse a seductively charming pre-industrialisation model. Next I suppose I'll have to read Professor Tim Jackson's Prosperity Without Growth.
On a more practical level I really recommend is How To Live a Low Carbon Life by Chris Goodall. It had been a gift and I'd been told it was the best guide to how to live a low carbon life. Surprisingly readable, though maybe I was thirsty for this information.
I don't agree with what he says about wool (that it consumes more carbon in the production). It consumes considerably less in the use phase than cotton as it absorbs dirt less. However, it is thorough and comprehensive and I took away a few key messages. One was that typically when people invest in low-carbon generating products or change their infrastructure, they then indulge in other ways. For example, they insulate their houses and they then enjoy a lovely warm toasty house, rather than turning down the heating to save more money. The other standout message was that it's trips to our friends that really make a difference to our carbon footprint. It's true - and hard to give up. It's difficult to say, 'Sorry I can't come and see you as I am reducing my carbon footprint'. 'Most people' would not understand, find it a bit annoying, and probably tease you or at least raise and exasperated eyebrow.
So I think long and hard about my own choices. Then when it comes to it, act rather spontaneously. Or, do you? You think long and hard and then you act suddenly and maybe that thinking has influenced it. I like to think so. A year ago I was very earnestly trying to live the message and tried to share a car with my partner, and got the bus to work in Farnham. This was so unusual for someone under 70 that it felt quite novel. However, waiting sometimes half an hour for the last bus (at 5) and the first only leaving at 10 it was a sacrifice. I'm not sure if it was because it felt like a lonely struggle. I did enjoy it but then, as my life gradually became very stressful, I just thought I'd had enough of being earnest and started driving again. I can't help feeling, though, that doing it on my own was a large part of the burden.
I knew I needed to replace my car; it was costing me too much in repairs and it was consuming too much petrol for my needs. It lacked glamour too. I nearly got an electric car with the idea of hiring a car for long journeys; so I'd need to plan carefully and this would make me drive less. But then I discovered you couldn't take dogs in hire cars so that was a no-no. (We'll leave the environmental impact of having a dog to another post). Then I found came across the Fiat 500 - which had all these environmental credentials. Low CO2 emissions, low petrol consumption, no car tax, no congestion charge. Having lived in Italy for 5 years, I have a lot of affection for the original 'Cinquecento' and this has lots of that charm. The design is delightful, retro cool, with lovely interiors.
I know it's not good to drive, but if you do then best to do it in a thoughtful way. On that note I might also encourage you read Emotionally Durable Design by Jonathan Chapman. It's all about the use side of products. They should endure emotionally (you want to keep them, use them, wear them) so you value them rather than dispose of them. I enjoy my new car, and so, incidentally, does Miss Doggy. This emotional connection to the products you have is a key factor in how I approach my work.
It was a significant step as I had wanted to give up the car, but living outside London, 5 miles from the nearest station, with irregular bus services, it was a struggle. Also, as Chris Goodall says, you need to cut down on visiting friends. It's another hard one.
But, maybe, as Paul Gilding says, the time will come when we do all embrace this and I'll be there. But it is hard to be a lone voice in the wilderness. Maybe this sea-change will happen and we'll all start giving up cars or at least change our behaviour. I suspect that when we do change, and look back 5 years we think how unconscious we were. Then another five years will pass and we'll do the same big leap. I believe Paul, but I also believe that there will be much destruction, death and land erosion at the same time. So, I am optimistic that our behaviour will change. It will become socially unacceptable to behave in this carbon-binge way, and consequently easier to go with a the low-carbon flow. I hope my next car will be electric or that I'll even be able to live without a car at all.