Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Thomas Friedman, OBE, Master of Philosophy, Pulitzer Prize winner, author (From Beirut to Jerusalem), and economic, political and foreign affairs columnist, steps "outside the normal boundaries of analysis" in his New York Times article this week, and asks:

" What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.” 

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...

Over a billion people today suffer from water scarcity; deforestation in the tropics destroys an area the size of Greece every year — more than 25 million acres; more than half of the world’s fisheries are over-fished or fished at their limit.

"Just as a few lonely economists warned us we were living beyond our financial means and overdrawing our financial assets, scientists are warning us that we’re living beyond our ecological means and overdrawing our natural assets,” argues Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. But, he cautioned, as environmentalists have pointed out: “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”

One of those who has been warning me of this for a long time is Paul Gilding, the Australian environmental business expert. He has a name for this moment — when both Mother Nature and Father Greed have hit the wall at once — “The Great Disruption."

"We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder,” he wrote me. “No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.” We must have growth, but we must grow in a different way. For starters, economies need to transition to the concept of net-zero, whereby buildings, cars, factories and homes are designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks.

Gilding says he’s actually an optimist. So am I. People are already using this economic slowdown to retool and reorient economies. Germany, Britain, China and the U.S. have all used stimulus bills to make huge new investments in clean power. South Korea’s new national paradigm for development is called: “Low carbon, green growth.” Who knew? People are realizing we need more than incremental changes — and we’re seeing the first stirrings of growth in smarter, more efficient, more responsible ways.

In the meantime, says Gilding, take notes: “When we look back, 2008 will be a momentous year in human history. Our children and grandchildren will ask us, ‘What was it like? What were you doing when it started to fall apart? What did you think? What did you do?’ ” Often in the middle of something momentous, we can’t see its significance. But for me there is no doubt: 2008 will be the marker — the year when ‘The Great Disruption’ began."

I don't share their optimism, at least in the short term, and think we are looking forward to some extreme individual and collective disruption, with the prospect of increasing civil unrest and commensurate increase in authoritarianism. Already in Ireland, last in/first out, workers are marching through the streets of Dublin in the face of contracting public service wages and blood is spilt in the North for the first time since, well, since the economy took off. And that's before people need to fight for water and food.

Consumption is an old fashioned disease, for which the rich get innoculations, the fragile succumb. There is treatment, but recovery is slow. Gaia has consumption. Fasten your seat belts, there's a lot more blood to cough up yet.

In our blessed little corner, nothing so serious to report. The days are shortening quickly; we're on that part of the sine wave where day length change is greatest. At just over 30 degrees latitude, the Sydney area shortens its days with a nice balance of not too fast, not too slow, noticeable but smooth.

Autumn means a late flush after the floral quiescence of summer. The Native Honeysuckles (Lambertia formosa),  have started dotting the bush again with their scarlet tubules, full of nectar, a magic seven per flower. Last years seed capsules are now distinctive little horned devil heads, 

the Mountain Devils that for years were sold at gift shops in the Blue Mountains, mounted on white stick bodies fashioned from pipe cleaners, with dashing red felt capes. Whatever happened to pipe cleaners, whatever happened to pipes, whatever happened to Dad. 

And the forest floor has another story, something I haven't seen for weeks.

The ants are building up again. There's rain coming. And a Great Disruption.

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