There’s a moment in Paul Gilding’s TED talk that will have your hairs standing on end (TED says the talk is “equally terrifying and hopeful”, and they’re right). Despite 50 years of climate change warnings and living way beyond our means; still we’re doing very little. He poses the question: When your kids ask what you did in 2012, what will you say?
Paul has been fighting for the environment for more than three decades. He’s passionately led countless activist campaigns, served in the Australian military, taught at Cambridge, blocked industrial waste discharge pipes, headed Greenpeace globally, and advised some of the world’s largest corporations on how to make sustainability a core part of their business.
Over the years he’s been called a “corporate sell-out”, “dangerous radical”, “starry-eyed idealist, ruthless pragmatist”, and given his wide-ranging career – a “confused soul”. But in Paul’s mind there is no contradiction or confusion in the things he’s done. His end game of trying to make the world a better place has always been the same.
These days, Paul travels the world with his acclaimed book The Great Disruption, which puts an end to the notion that infinite growth on a finite planet is feasible. He believes a global crisis that will lead to major economic transformation is inevitable, but ever the optimist, he argues we’re an amazing bunch and if we work together, this could be our finest hour.
You’ve said the ‘Earth is full’. What do you mean by that?
The Earth’s capacity to provide for our needs – a stable climate, food, water and so on – is overloaded. We are currently using resources at rate 150 per cent of what they can be replenished, and the system is starting to break down.
Are the cracks starting to show?
They certainly are and can be measured in things like extreme weather, higher than average temperatures, food supply shortages, spiking oil and produce prices, diminishing arable land – the evidence is all around us.
That all sounds pretty dire, what can we do?
A great deal! We need to get ready for the inevitable crisis-like response as it will certainly come, because then we’ll need to act very quickly. So the more we prepare with things like renewable energy and local food supplies, the better off we’ll be.
Fear generally brings on a fight or flight reaction. What do you say to those who choose to fly? Those who say, if the end is nigh, I’m going to kick up my heels while I can!
It’s an understandable emotional reaction in theory, but most people aren’t serious when they say that. They know that their kids will live with the consequences of what they do today and very few people are actually capable of ignoring it once they wake up to what’s happening
So what is the future for cities like Sydney?
It can be a great future if we prepare and build resilience now. We know what to do, so we just need to get on and make things happen now that will make tomorrow easier.
What gives you the greatest hope for the future?
Young people are waking up. Movements like Occupy and Bill McKibben’s 350.org show that young people are not going to ignore the crisis but are going to respond. Likewise the incredible investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency shows we’re more than capable of doing what’s needed.
We’re lucky enough to have Paul is headline our next City Talk 2012 on Monday 30 April. Read our City Talk article for all the details on how you can hear from this very inspiring environmentalist first-hand.