Paul Gilding’s Optimistic Question: Is Victory At Hand For The Climate Movement?


Long-time readers remember Paul Gilding, former executive director of Greenpeace International, from Tom Friedman’s 2009 column on how the global economy is a Ponzi scheme. More recently, he joined The Post Carbon Institute, which led to this memorable headline:  “Obscure Expert Joins Little Known Think Tank To Battle Issues Most Prefer To Ignore.”

He’s got a new piece on his blog, “Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement?” Here’s an excerpt:

There are signs the climate movement could be on the verge of a remarkable and surprising victory.  If we read the current context correctly, and if the movement can adjust its strategy to capture the opportunity presented, it could usher in the fastest and most dramatic economic transformation in history. This would include the removal of the oil, coal and gas industries from the economy in just a few decades and their replacement with new industries and, for the most part, entirely new companies. It would be the greatest transfer of wealth and power between industries and countries the world has ever seen….

To summarise:

– The science shows how we are not just failing to slow down climate change, but are in fact accelerating towards the cliff.
– In response, mainstream organisations focused on the global economy are becoming increasingly desperate in their calls for action, fearing the economic consequences if we don’t.  They are arguing that the only way the world can avoid the risk of breakdown is to transform the economy urgently and dramatically.
– Our capacity to do so is now real and practical, with the technologies required already being deployed at very large scale and at competitive cost. The size of the business opportunity now on offer is truly breathtaking.
– In response, the financial markets are waking up to the transformation logic – if the future is based in renewables and these are price competitive without subsidy, or soon will be, the transformation could sweep the economy relatively suddenly, even without further government leadership.
– This then puts in place an enormous and systemic financial risk – in particular investments in, or debt exposure to, the multi-trillion $ fossil fuel industry.
– This risk is steadily being increased by activist campaigns against fossil fuel projects (worsening each projects’ financial risk) and arguing for fossil fuel divestment (putting investors reputation in play as well).
– In response investors and lenders will reduce their exposure to fossil fuels and hedge their risk by shifting their money to high growth renewables.
– This will then reinforce and manifest the very trend they are hedging against.
– Thus it’s game on.

Is that it? Can we now sit back and expect the market deal with this?

Most definitely not….

You can read the whole thing here.

92 Responses to Paul Gilding’s Optimistic Question: Is Victory At Hand For The Climate Movement?

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe quoted Paul Gilding: “… the removal of the oil, coal and gas industries from the economy in just a few decades … the greatest transfer of wealth and power between industries …”

    Which is, of course, exactly why the fossil fuel corporations’ campaign of deceit, denial, obstruction and delay is intensifying. Remember that every single DAY they can perpetuate business-as-usual means hundreds of millions of dollars in profit.

    And as denial of the problem itself becomes increasingly untenable and ineffective, that campaign is shifting to attacks on the renewable energy industries that will, and must, replace the fossil fuel corporations.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Gilding must have been smoking something if he smells victory. The rest of us smell methane from gas, slurry from tar sands, and neurotoxins from coal, positioned to continue heating the planet for decades.

    Greenpeace, one of the last of the brave green outfits, now takes corporate money, and it shows, even though Gilding left a while ago.

    Talking about a transition off fossil fuels in a matter of decades through the magic of the market is a meme that could have come from the Peabody PR department. We need to go after fossil fuels now, through rules and carbon taxes, if the world is to have any chance to duck catastrophe.

  3. SecularAnimist says:

    Mike Roddy wrote: “Talking about a transition off fossil fuels in a matter of decades through the magic of the market is a meme that could have come from the Peabody PR department.”

    Um, Mike. With all due respect, did you bother to actually READ Gilding’s article?

    Like, for example, the part where he says “Can we now sit back and expect the market to deal with this? MOST DEFINITELY NOT.” (Emphasis added.)

  4. The primary reason I don’t believe this post is the fact that none of the major business publication or television outlets has devoted time to the issue or change in direction. When Nightly Business Report, Mad Money, WSJ, the Economist, Ali Velshi, etc. start making this part of their regular reporting, I will be a believer. NYT’s Nocera changing his mind is too much to hope for.

  5. fj says:

    All you have to do is start building vehicles that weigh less than one hundred pounds. Then we’d have carbon zero transportation.

    Wait a minute. We have done that already.

  6. Icarus62 says:

    I don’t want to be defeatist but is there really the slightest chance that we can power the world at anything like the current level of energy consumption, with ‘renewables’? Are we really going to cover the world with a billion wind turbines, replace hundreds of millions of liquid fuel vehicles with electric vehicles, and carry on merrily as before? I don’t think so, and in fact if that *was* practical, wouldn’t the fossil fuel companies be all rushing to get out of the dirty carbon fuel business, with its ever-decreasing resource base, and into all these wonderful inexhaustible sources of energy like sunshine and wind?

  7. Mike Roddy says:

    I stand corrected, Secular, and you’re right, I quickly skimmed Gilding’s piece and missed that part.

    What I did fail to find is aggressive policy recommendations for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. Without major carbon taxes, change is not likely in the time frame required. Divestment and more research doesn’t constitute, in Gilding’s words, “game on”. It’s wishin’ and hopin’, without a stiff and internationally negotiated carbon tax. This is the obvious solution, and one that corporate “Greens” tiptoe around.

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    I agree that Gilding’s pretty mainstream points are being ignored by the media, Wes. That’s because those outlets are joined at the hip with the fossil fuel companies.

  9. john atcheson says:

    “Victory” is an elusive goal. For one thing, the beaches have already been overrun– quite literally — and that loss is essentially permanent in anything other than geologic time. So, eve if we do the abrupt change Gilding describes, we will not achieve victory. The best we can hope for is some sort of compromise with catastrophe at this point.

    We should still seek to accomplish even that limited goal, of course, but victory? That boat sailed.

  10. Sasparilla says:

    Read the full article, which is very nice (I’ve read his book too, which I liked). It makes a very important point, Wind and Solar are achieving financial parity in different markets with fossil fuel power generation costs (continuing this decade and beyond) – this is the market based start of the transition to renewables that will destroy the fossil fuel industries in the end. He’s guessing this would take 60 years if left to the market.

    He thinks this can happen in 20 years (literally transition totally out of fossil fuels by 2035) and his faith seems to be put in large multinational governmental organizations (IMF, World Bank, IEA) now realizing we’ve blown 2.0C and knowing we must not let 4.0C occur – and making this happen (magically apparently – we need alot of magic in the U.S.).

    I personally think Mr. Gelding is being outrageously naive here. These world organizations wield little no power to make the U.S. or Canada or China or India not burn coal, not mine the tar sands, not burn oil. If the world was controlled by them, we might be okay…but their masters are actually the massive corporations that run the globalization pyramid and at the top of Olympus there sit the fossil fuel industries and they will never allow such a worldwide transition to occur from the top down. JMHO…I hope Mr. Gilding is right instead of me, but I doubt it.

  11. Mike Roddy says:

    4 mgw wind turbines are common now, and a megawatt powers 1,000 homes in the US. A million total wind turbines (enough for the whole world) is doable, since the world makes tens of millions of cars every year.

    Fossil fuel companies won’t get into renewables, because it’s they are getting super wealthy raking in the money from existing customers. Besides, petroleum engineers have no idea how to design wind and solar systems.

  12. Sasparilla says:

    I agree Icarus – we’re accelerating fossil fuel extraction, while climate action is losing more and more political influence by the year – Mr. Gelding is off in some ivory tower land that isn’t close to reality (happening as the Obama administration announces its opening up new public land to oil shale extraction).

  13. SecularAnimist says:

    Icarus62, I urge you to better inform yourself about the potential of renewable energy, because your “defeatist” worries are baseless.

    There is no need to “cover the world with a billion wind turbines” or any such nonsense. In the USA, by far the most energy-gluttonous nation on Earth, covering commercial, flat rooftops with PV could generate as much electricity as all the nuclear power plants in the country. Concentrating solar thermal power plants on just 5 percent of the USA’s deserts could generate more electricity than the entire country uses. The same is true of the commercially harvestable wind energy resources of just four midwestern states.

    The renewable energy economy is not a future of energy shortages — it is a future of abundant, cheap energy, in which MORE people all over the world will have access to MORE energy than they do now.

    As for the fossil fuel corporations, they are fossils. Their entire business model is based on extracting, processing, transporting and selling FUEL — an ever-dwindling, ever more costly supply of fuel. With renewable energy, THERE IS NO FUEL. Which makes the entire business model of the fossil fuel corporations, and everything they do, and everything they KNOW HOW to do, completely obsolete. They fully understand this, which is exactly why they are fighting so hard to delay the transition — because they know it means their extinction.

    Renewable energy is more like the IT industry — it’s all about the technology, in this case the technology for converting an abundant, ubiquitous supply of FREE wind and solar energy into the useful forms of electricity and heat.

    There will be giant energy companies in the renewable energy future — but they won’t be extractive industries like coal and oil. They will be tech companies, like Google, Intel, Samsung, FirstSolar, etc.

  14. fj says:

    Just stop turning those liquid fuel vehicles on and the world’s roads will be safe breaking the human transport monopoly they enforce with death, destruction and grave massive injury.

    Net zero transport and transit will easily follow.

  15. Sasparilla says:

    All valid points Secular and this transition will occur (we’ll have parity with Wind cheaper than anything in the U.S. by the end of the decade if not sooner), but a transition off fossil fuels in 20 years (this is WW2 or beyond in scale) because large Multination Governmental Organizations are going to make things happen?

    It doesn’t seem close to plausible as they don’t run the show, I’d love it if it was, but its not. Meanwhile the U.S. government opens new public lands to oil shale extraction.

  16. BobbyL says:

    I read Mr. Gilding’s book “The Great Disruption” and thought he was right on target arguing that no real action would occur until there was a monumental collapse of civilization. Then he lost me. At end of the book he argues the world would somehow get it together and create a much different civilization but one that would be sustainable. I found it hard to believe the optimistic ending but other than that it was good reading. For some reason since writing this very good book he has flipped flopped and now claims The Great Disruption can be completely avoided. And not only can The Great Disruption be avoided but even surpassing 2C can avoided. I would say that he was on to something when he wrote The Great Disruption but now he has completely lost it. My guess is that by accepting his position at the Post-Carbon Institute he is simply ignoring his own views and churning out what he believes his employer wants. I can’t think of any other explanation for this total turnaround. His new found optimism that we are well on the way to avoiding some really bad things just does not fit the facts.

  17. fj says:

    The world is run by nature and natural systems and not massive corporations including the fossil fuel industries.

  18. fj says:

    Views change.

    Was it Churchill? :

    “When all else fails reason prevails” . . .

    or, was that what he said about America?

  19. Sasparilla says:

    You’re right fj, but that’s not what Mr. Gelding is saying will make this 20 year transition occur – its these large Multinational Governmental Organizations he is saying will make it happen but, they take their orders from their countries governments who, for the most part, take their orders from the most powerful parts of industry with fossil fuels at the top – this is why these orgs that are going to save us still fund new coal plant construction etc. in the developing world.

  20. Sasparilla says:

    Guy Pearse in the comments (Mar 22nd) says it really well in response to Mr. Gelding’s article:

    It’s too long to past in, but worth the read.

  21. I totally agree that when climate action happens it will happen very quickly because:

    1) big social shifts often happen as tipping point events

    2) real climate progress requires a global commitment to act.

    3) climate impacts are unfolding non-linearly.

    All three make me think that change will be very rapid when it happens. Is it close at hand? Who knows. There are signs both ways.

    My guess is that, as with Arctic Sea Ice and Gay Marriage, we won’t recognize the tipping point until we are past it.

  22. BobbyL says:

    Pearse does say it well. The Guardian did an informal survey in 2009 of climate scientists and many thought we will hit 4C. If anything, since then things have only gotten worse. There was no real action at the Copenhagen climate summit that December and the same arguments that prevent action continue. By the way, it is Gilding not Gelding. Are you a horse racing fan?

  23. fj says:

    Paul Gilding:

    “The IEA forecast that the revenue loss . . . for the global coal industry would be $1 trillion every year by 2035.”

    (Kind of suspect they’ll get the message before that.)

  24. fj says:

    I did say we had them where we want them a long time ago.

  25. Mike Roddy says:

    Good one, Secular. You’re right, it’s all about cash flow from fuels. Fossil fuel companies have surprisingly small construction infrastructure, and tend to sub it out. They love to burn stuff, including us.

  26. Mike Roddy says:

    I agree, Sasparilla. Sooner or later we are going to have to confront the fossil fuel companies with a hostile attitude. Today even the Democrats approach them with hat in hand.

  27. Have to agree with your assessment. That said, It’s good to see the optimism out of Gilding here.

    I had to pinch myself after reading the article. Can we really be winning? I hope so!

  28. Mark E says:

    Gilding talkis of reducing the timeframe to 20 years, but let’s say we make the switch to carbon-free instanteously.

    And then we keep trying to grow the economy, and new limiting factors emerge, while new disequilibriums threaten the global ponzi scheme.

    Only when we seriously talk about stead-state economics will we start to see a glimmer of victory. Otherwise, even the most ideal clean-tech house of cards will come crashing down

  29. Paul Klinkman says:

    Gilding is really optimistic.

    That said, the nuclear industry quickly cancelled a trillion dollars worth of nuclear construction. People got arrested. More people got arrested. The police and conservative politicians assumed that TV camera crews were in charge of the whole movement, so they went out of their way to beat them up. A popular movie on nuclear meltdowns came out just as Three Mile Island melted down. The nuclear industry was able to turn on one or two nukes out of spite, but otherwise the whole house of cards collapsed. Nuclear was entirely surviving on government subsidy and getting more expensive all the time, so the American nuclear industry collapsed. In other countries where life is cheap and the population docile, nuclear flourished. Going overseas was the only way that the industry survived.

    What we see with climate change is first, if you were Charles and David Koch’s precious little boys in the last election, you lost every single race. Climate denial is a ticket out of the Capitol building.

    Second, the real price of gas is $12/gallon if you count all the wars, propping up of foreign governments and hidden subsidies. Oil can’t compete on a level playing field with renewables. If the price of oil keeps going up, the subsidies won’t be enough.

    Worse, if the government is nearly broke and if chopping Social Security to bits is the third rail of politics, then the government has no other choice but to cut its vast handouts to its crony oil friends. I know that the cuts will really hurt some billionaires badly, but it’s going to happen eventually.

    Finally there’s the climate knocking at the door, not quite a Three Mile Island in its immediacy but the knocking is persistent, scary and the prognosis is just plain catastrophic. It’s sort of like when smoke is pouring out from under the hood. Yes you’re still rolling forward but you’d better pull over right now.

  30. Joan Savage says:

    Can the huge pension funds and mutual funds even find enough clean investments at this time to displace their stake in fossil fuels? I foresee incremental baby steps, not a leap.

    Millions of retirees with pension plans plus millions of small stakeholders all rely on stable dividend incomes from the big fuel companies, so what replaces that income flow?

    Clean investments are often growth stocks. How many of them return significant dividends?

    What might be another avenue for change is that energy companies’ have the option of internal investment in non-fossil energy as they retire older refineries and power plants.

  31. fj says:

    Scientists estimate that a tropical cyclone releases heat energy at the rate of 70 times the world energy consumption of humans and 200 times the worldwide electrical generating capacity, or equivalent to exploding a 10-megaton nuclear bomb every 20 minutes.

    What were you saying about Three Mile Island?

  32. Daniel Coffey says:

    For those who are aware of the $25 million given to Sierra Club by big players in the natural gas industry between 2007 and 2010, consider what will happen in the near future.

    Environmentalism will “crack down” on large-scale solar PV, wind and geothermal just enough to put them in bankruptcy or vulnerable to acquisition.

    Then fossil fuel money will acquire them, or enough to control them.

    And then let the great arbitrage begin between oil, coal, natural gas and electricity from renewable energy sources.

    Even now, it’s just developers who do the front end work and then other big money comes in and buys the renewable projects when they succeed.

    As for rooftop solar PV leasing, that is in the process of seeking money via “securitizing” and acquisition by investors and pension funds, etc. You think that thing on your roof it owned by small mom and pop firm X, but its really just part of a large portfolio, just like your mortgage.

    When you think you are winning, you are not paying attention to what is happening on the ground.

  33. M Tucker says:

    You will be able to recognize whatever change might take place in the type and scale of electrical generation the nations of the world are building now and what the mix will be in the next 5 to 10 years. 70% of China’s electricity is now produced by coal and they are still building coal plants. India seems to want coal. In the US the individual municipalities and counties are responsible for making the final decision in negotiation with the utility company. For instance Los Angeles wants to end electrical supply from coal but it looks like they are asking that a natural gas plant be built. They are not asking that the electricity be produced from wind or solar or wave power.

    Since these thermal plants have a lifetime of about 30 to 50 years this will give you some idea of what the mix will look like in the next 20 years. Paul Gilding’s piece is persuasive and well written and extraordinarily optimistic but reality is always much more complicated and it is hard to deny facts.

  34. MarkF says:

    The failure of petroleum and coal companies to become involved in renewable energy is an excellent example of utter lack of imagination, planning, and complete incompetence at the top levels of industry.

    I can imagine a time, when it will be against the law to burn oil for many of it’s current uses.

    If that happens, oil companies will be out of business.

  35. BobbyL says:

    What does your statement about the Sierra Club have to do with anything? They did take the money to fund their Beyond Coal Campaign when Carl Pope was the executive director and when they considered natural gas as a bridge to the future. But all that has changed. They turned down another large sum of money from Chesapeake Energy, Pope was replaced by Michael Brune, and they no longer consider natural gas to be a bridge to the future. They were a leading organization in the Washington DC protest against the Keystone pipeline. The Sierra Club is fighting to end the use of fossil fuels as a source of energy. They are promoting the use of solar, wind, geothermal, tidal energy, wave energy, etc.

  36. Sasparilla says:

    Thank you for the correction BobbyL, my bad.

  37. Sasparilla says:

    Very good points Paul.

  38. SecularAnimist says:

    Sometimes people are so married to hopelessness and despair, they get so attached to being in that place, that any glimmer of hope seems like a threat.

  39. EDpeak says:

    Disclosures: 1. My reactions to Gilding’s interviews/writings featured on CP have been skeptical at best about the proclaimed optimism. 2. While I have not had direct ties in years, I was an official PCI Fellow in the mid to late 2000s.

    That said, I can think of a lot of reasons besides “he is just saying it b/c he thinks it will make his employers happy,” even beyond the obvious point that people tend to check for at least some significant overlap in views before joining such a group, so presumably they were in sigificant agreement before he was hired.

    As I said in disclosure 1 I’m actually quite skeptical of his optimism. For example think of the “in just decades” cited here. Might be quick enough to be amazing in economical history books. But might very well be far too late, despite the “just” in terms of what climate needs.

    What are some more plausible reasons for his proclaimed optimism? One can think of many. Among them: strategic optimism to keep from debilitating depresssed mindset is seen in many people – or “in many of us” I should says even more pessimistic/”realists” like myself are not immune to it. Second, if the truth were told, there’s something called strategic Proclamantion of optimism: you hope that by proclaiming that what you hope for/want is “inevitible” that this will make it more likely to happen. Think of a short seller “talking down” a stock that the company is “doomed” He/she might believe it, but they are also hoping that their talk will in fact made the hoped-for outcome more likely. Is that a sin? I think it can be done irresponsibly and it can also be done in a minor, in advertent way that is mostly based on one’s personal assessment behind the optimism. It’s case by case and depends on the details. As I said, in just the quote above, one can even agree with the “[it might happen in] just decades” and still be pessimistic about the climate outcomes and how bad they will be (though “less worser” than they would have otherwise been)

    But there’s enough to criticize in some predictions without (in this case, unwarranted, imo) jumping to conclusions or assumptions about “saying it just to please his employer”

  40. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Totally correct Barry. It’s the well known S curve with a very slow build up which few notice unless they are looking for the signs, and then ‘bang’, it’s the accepted majority position, ME

  41. Turboblocke says:

    M Tucker: Gilding links to this report which shows that the lock in of new FF plants is not a certainty: “On May 17, 2010, E.ON, the biggest electricity utility in Germany, opened a brand new 860MW combined cycle gas-fired power station in Bavaria, which it had built at a cost of $520 million. Less than three years later, having hardly been used and losing money, the owners of Irsching-5 (pictured below) are threatening to close it…

  42. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Spot on Paul. I use TMI as one of the most dramatic examples of a point of discontinuity in history. One moment, nuclear is powering ahead as the future of the world, next moment, you can’t give them away, ME

  43. Scott Waugh says:

    Guy Pearse reply on Paul’s blog page (part 1 of 2):

    “Paul, I agree with many of your sentiments and on the need to reduce a likely 60 year timeframe to 20 years or less. However, I could hardly disagree more with your ‘victory is at hand’ assessment of where things are currently at. And I think many of the people you define as enthusiastic members of the climate movement are in truth committed to letting the market fix it (with whatever timeframe that involves). Thus, to my mind, this is classic ‘brightsiding’– the sort of thing that impresses corporates looking for a pet sustainability guru, or a keynote speaker for their next conference. It also risks feeding complacency and delusion.

    Let’s focus a bit more on what people are doing than on what they might be saying. The World Bank might be saying 4 degrees mustn’t be allowed to occur but they are merrily financing dozens of new coal fired power stations around the world. The IEA might be saying that we’d need 2/3rds of remaining fossil fuels to remain in the ground to stay under +2 degrees, but they’re certainly not saying they expect that to happen. On the contrary—their projections confirm we’re on a very different path. And the IEA statement comes with the caveat that the carbon is unburnable unless carbon capture and storage is deployed on a large scale – something the IEA still champions. Ask the IEA what they expect and it’s not a rapid exit for fossil fuel, but responses like: ‘by 2050, we’ll still be relying on fossil fuels for 75% of our energy’.”

  44. Scott Waugh says:

    Guy Pearse reply on Paul’s blog page (part 2 of 2):

    “HSBC might ‘talk’ about unburnable carbon, but they hold the largest share of Rio Tinto Ltd, in recent years they abandoned their own carbon neutrality pledge, and since 2005 they’ve been among the world’s top 20 banks financing coal fired electricity and coal mining. Another with that dubious honour is UBS, which you suggest is warning us of coal’s imminent demise. Sure, UBS might expect shutdowns in some coal-fired power in the EU – perhaps this explains their focus on China (where among banks UBS has been the biggest non-Chinese financier of coal fired power companies). In truth, the coal industry and its financiers have long been resigned to stagnant developed country markets—they’re busy enjoying the coal boom happening elsewhere.

    If we were at the tipping point you claim, you’d be able to point to lots of corporations credibly saying the overall carbon footprint of the products being sold under their brand is shrinking, or will soon. Researching Greenwash, I scoured the world for such climate-friendly heroes – there are next to none. On the contrary, like western governments looking to outsource their emission reductions by importing carbon credits, most multinationals are overwhelmingly disowning a rapidly growing carbon footprint, largely by offshoring ‘non-operational emissions’ to the developing world.
    If we were at the tipping point you suggest, we’d have leading politicians from the two major parties and senior business leaders demanding a halt to the expansion in coal exports – can you name one? Ministers would be amending environmental laws to take the emissions impact of new coal mega-mines into account, not just the impact on water resources. Australia wouldn’t be about to elect a government committed to dismantling a pitifully modest emissions mitigation effort. China wouldn’t still be building a new 1GW coal-fired power station or so each week, global coal use wouldn’t be rising at 5 ½ per cent annually, and emissions wouldn’t be growing at breakneck pace.

    I agree with your assessment that we face a 60 year transition if this is left to the market, and that this timeframe needs to be dramatically reduced. But to suggest that we’re turning the corner on emission reduction—that victory may be at hand—when in reality we’re still galloping down the adaptation path because emissions reduction is too hard politically, seems a bit unfair on your readers.”

  45. fj says:

    And, based on the Sierra Club’s success stopping big coal Bloomberg gave it 50 million dollars to do more of the same.

  46. PeterM says:

    Gilding has joined Mark Lynas as an ‘optimist’ that sees us dodging the bullet on AGW. To be cynical perhaps $$$ he comes into play.

    In Gildings book he sees our carbon emissions peaking in 2020- and then a rapid decline beginning. I see no evidence of this as of yet- the drilling and digging schemes continue unabated globally. Maybe Gilding knows something I do not. Someone says now Gilding feels we can avoid the scenarios of the ‘Great Disruption’. How so seems to be a mystery to me at this time.

  47. Sasparilla says:

    I hope he’s right PeterM, but short of some truly awful crisis between now and say the end of the decade, his optimistic supposition of how we’ll transition off fossil fuels by 2033 seems hard to reconcile with what we’re seeing & what is being planned for the world on the CO2 end.

    In the mean time, we need to count on having to chain ourselves to the White House gates for many years regardless of what Mr. Gilding thinks. I’m hoping we can shift things by the time the initial arctic ice melt through occurs…we can’t wait till the 2020’s for something awful to happen – it just doesn’t appear we have the time anymore.

  48. Merrelyn Emery says:

    There are many small pieces of evidence for his view, I read many of them here. Try the falling prices for renewables and their increasing adoption, try attitudes changing away from denial and increasing protests against coal, fracking and pollution. On their own, they are small but add them up and they indicate a rapid shift in values, ME

  49. BobbyL says:

    If Gilding now thinks the main argument in his book The Great Disruption is wrong, that is, that people would not react until disaster actually struck, I would like to hear him say so and explain why he was wrong. He needs to explain why he discarded that view and has now embraced instead the extremely optimistic view that we recognize the danger and are actually on the verge of significant action. And he needs to explain if he was so wrong before why should we should have any faith in his reasoning now.

  50. Ernest says:

    I’m somewhere between Gilding’s optimism and the pessimism in these posts. Yes, “all hell can break lose” (in a sense) if solar and wind becomes cost competitive or even cheaper than fossil fuels. The tipping point comes in price. Renewables will gain an increasingly larger share. But short of a cost miracle in grid storage, or the willingness to upgrade US infrastructure (don’t hold your breath) in terms of transmission lines for “load balancing”, we will still at least need peaking gas plants to deal with the variability of most renewables.

    On the other hand, transportation fuels is another matter. Electric vehicles are just barely becoming viable. Batteries have yet to compete in cost and range of liquid (oil) transportation fuels in terms of energy density and convenience. Biofuels can be tricky in terms of land use and food production. Cellulosic and algal biofuels also have yet to prove the competitiveness in terms of cost and scalability.

    Gilding’s book is predicated on a climate “Pearl Harbor”. What I’m afraid of are a lot of little “Pearl Harbor’s” which we get acclimated to and fail to take action.

    One salient point in Gilding’s post is we have a binary choice. This is not an “all of the above” strategy. Basically, we have to declare war against the fossil fuel industry (though not demonize its people). This is a fundamental change in what powers the world’s economic system. There will be a lot of resistance.

  51. Paul Gilding says:

    BobbyL and EDpeak
    Thoughtful questions so a few responses. Firstly yes, there is a very strategic question about optimism, I’d rather use the word belief. If we believe we will fail, we will most certainly fail. That’s the nature of political movements. Having said that I strongly believe in the arguments I laid out as to why we have a rational reason to be optimistic.

    Of course BobbyL, as you wonder, does that mean I think there won’t be crisis or disasters? Not at all. I think we are surrounded by them today, everywhere we look. So if you’re criteria is everything will be fine, then we have already lost!

    But if your criteria as mine is, is based on whether civilisation will emerge broadly intact as a cohesive group, then we have a way to go to determine that. There are only messy outcomes from here on.

    So my views on crisis have not changed at all since the book. The crisis is hitting us and we are responding, but it doesn’t happen in a day.

    As to the rather funny comments about my motivation being $ or being with the Post Carbon Institute. My role at the latter is as unpaid fellow and I’m not sure now I could possibly benefit financially from the arguments I’ve put elsewhere?

    Thanks for your thoughts everyone on this comment list!

  52. Paul Gilding says:


    Strongly agree. My book focuses on two phases. First is we address climate change, late but effectively (in the sense that we avoid collapse). Then we wake up the end of growth and the critical need to move to steady state. Richard Heinberg also wrote a great book on this inevitability and why.


  53. Paul Gilding says:

    Why do people always go to the “must be $ in play”?. How are you suggesting I get some $ benefit from this argument? Let me know as I could use the money! (joke)

    And I don’t at all align with thee view we can dodge the AGW bullet, and the views I gave in the Great Disruption have not changed at all. The question now is does civilisation survive, not do we we avoid the crises I’ve written about. But it’s now relative.

  54. BobbyL says:

    Thanks for the explanation Paul. I read your book awhile ago and didn’t realize that you believe The Great Disruption has already begun. As I remember your book it was predicted to occur some time in the future, perhaps 20 years from now. I think that is the source of my confusion. And my own view is it has not yet begun. I see hints here and there of what we might be in store for but nothing yet that would evoke a total transformation. And I doubt if there will be a positive response. There seem to be too many people in the US willing to fight against government regulations until they go to the grave, too many who believe everything is in God’s hands, and too many committed to the view that life is about status seeking. Hopefully I am wrong and your belief in people taking action will prevail.

  55. Sage Rad says:

    There is no strategy in Gilding’s piece. I do not see the path to victory that he assures us is at hand. He does not mention a carbon tax. Where is the special sauce? Feels like false hope.

  56. Spike says:

    The UK wind resource alone is said to be capable of meeting our electricity mneeds threefold. And we have abundant wave and tidal resource (see link), will soon have good connections to Norwegian hydro and Icelandic geothermal, and even solar will contribute as prices become more accessible and fossil fuel power more pricey.

    Sadly our junior energy minister talks about “putting coal back into the coalition”. Brain death would be an advance for these guys.

  57. Spike says:

    I think to compare gilding to Lynas is grossly unfair on Gilding.

  58. Lou Grinzo says:

    Like others here, I have a lot of respect for Gilding’s work, and in fact I put Great Disruption on any short list of books I recommend. But I also find it ever harder to reconcile any optimism he exhibits with the real world evidence.

    As long as we’re seeing an ever-tighter embrace of fossil fuels (see below), we won’t come close to making the worldwide transition we all know is desperately needed. We will continue on our current path, locking in ever higher levels of atmospheric CO2 and human and economic cost, and, perhaps worst of all, increasing the odds that we’ll cut loose one or both of the Big Feedbacks (methane hydrates and permafrost), right up to the point where the realized impacts are painful enough to overcome our inherent denialism and the economic power of entrenched forces.

    I note that the IEA sent out a press release in December that said:

    PARIS, 18 December – Coal’s share of the global energy mix continues to rise, and by 2017 coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said today as it released its annual Medium-Term Coal Market Report (MCMR).

    Although the growth rate of coal slows from the breakneck pace of the last decade, global coal consumption by 2017 stands at 4.32 billion tonnes of oil equivalent (btoe), versus around 4.4 btoe for oil, based on IEA medium-term projections. The IEA expects that coal demand will increase in every region of the world except in the United States, where coal is being pushed out by natural gas.

    “Thanks to abundant supplies and insatiable demand for power from emerging markets, coal met nearly half of the rise in global energy demand during the first decade of the 21st Century,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “This report sees that trend continuing. In fact, the world will burn around 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal per year by 2017 compared to today – equivalent to the current coal consumption of Russia and the United States combined. Coal’s share of the global energy mix continues to grow each year, and if no changes are made to current policies, coal will catch oil within a decade.”

    China and India lead the growth in coal consumption over the next five years. The report says China will surpass the rest of the world in coal demand during the outlook period, while India will become the largest seaborne coal importer and second-largest consumer, surpassing the United States.
    The report notes that in the absence of a high carbon price, only fierce competition from low-priced gas can effectively reduce coal demand. “The US experience suggests that a more efficient gas market, marked by flexible pricing and fueled by indigenous unconventional resources that are produced sustainably, can reduce coal use, CO2 emissions and consumers’ electricity bills, without harming energy security,” said Ms. Van der Hoeven. “Europe, China and other regions should take note.”

    She noted that the report’s forecasts are based on a troubling assumption, namely, that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) will not be available during the outlook period. “CCS technologies are not taking off as once expected, which means CO2 emissions will keep growing substantially. Without progress in CCS, and if other countries cannot replicate the US experience and reduce coal demand, coal faces the risk of a potential climate policy backlash,” she said.

    As US coal demand declines, more US coal is going to Europe, where low CO2 prices and high gas prices are increasing the competitiveness of coal in the power generation system. This trend, however, is close to peaking, and coal demand by 2017 in Europe is projected to drop to levels slightly above those in 2011, due to increasing renewable generation and decommissioning of old coal plants.

    Amid concern about the impact of Chinese uncertainty on coal markets, the report offers a Chinese Slowdown Case. This scenario shows that even if Chinese GDP growth were to slow to a 4.6% average over the period, coal demand would still increase both globally and in China – indicating that coal demand is not likely to stop growing even with more bearish economic perspectives.

  59. Michael Dowd says:

    Wow, this post moved me to tears.

    Just this morning my science writer wife, Connie Barlow, and I finished reading aloud to each other John Michael Greer’s book, “The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered,” which we loved! (In the past two months we’ve also read “The Great Disruption” and the latest from James Hansen, Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Joe Romm, and Richard Heinberg, among others.)

    I will now be telling everyone that this post of Gilding’s is a “must read”.

  60. BobbyL says:

    I think this is pretty much in line with a recent report from the World Resources Institute which made headlines by finding that 1,200 new coal-burning plants have been proposed including about 900 in China and India.

  61. SecularAnimist says:

    What’s most interesting to me is that Gilding’s article is not so much “optimistic”, as it is full of actionable intelligence regarding trends in the right direction (towards a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels and their complete replacement with non-carbon renewable energy sources) — trends that can, and must, be reinforced and accelerated.

    And what is the response here?

    For the most part, it is NOT enthusiasm or urgency about digging in to do the hard work needed to reinforce and accelerate those positive trends.

    Rather, it is complete rejection of any hope whatsoever, rejection of even the suggestion of hope that we can succeed in phasing out fossil fuels and their associated CO2 emissions in time to make any difference at all.

    And this rejection even reaches the point of baselessly accusing Gilding of deliberately lying, for money.

    I see a lot of people committed to failure. People who are apparently determined to fail, no matter what.

    When your opponent convinces you to embrace defeat as inevitable, he has no need to defeat you. You will defeat yourself.

    The Koch Brothers certainly have nothing to worry about if their opposition is made up of such pathetic defeatist whiners, who are so wedded to failure that they attack anyone who dares suggest that they might succeed.

  62. BobbyL says:

    I think the pessimism comes from our experience over the last 20 years as governments failed to act when confronted by science describing a serious potential threat. We are now used to governments not acting and take it for granted but actually it came as a surprise. Twenty years ago, around the time of the first IPCC report, scientists were so convinced that governments would respond that they didn’t even bother studying in depth what would happen if we exceeded 4C. It was only about 15 years later that the reality of inaction sunk in that they began scrambling to do the studies which led to a major conference in 2009 I don’t see the pessimism changing to optimism unless governments demonstrate a sense of urgency. Right now it appears that numerous political obstacles are holding sway and not only will governments allow the global warming to reach 4C but seem to have no plan to limit it at all. Global emissions keep climbing by about 3% per year. Nothing I’ve seen suggests that this trend will soon be altered. I don’t think there are too many people who can remain positive when faced the facts. In disaster movies someone always saves the world but so far that script is not being followed to avert a real global disaster.

  63. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Goodonya Sec, ME

  64. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Spot on Sec, ME

  65. PeterM says:

    You would have to see a very rapid slowdown in the use of fossils fuels today to avert 2 degrees above the PI level. While I applaud those being optimistic- the facts and reality as we stand today are different then ‘good morning in America plenitudes’. If we had started in 1978 with Jimmy Carter in reducing use of fossil fuels, instead of buying into the feel good optimistic scenarios of Ronald Reagan (which some here still believe in) we would not be on the brink today.

  66. BobbyL says:

    Maybe I am wrong but haven’t we already failed. Former IPCC chairman Bob Watson says staying under 2C is pretty much out the window. In 2009 he said nations should prepare for an average rise of 4C. Climate scientist Kevin Anderson from the UK says staying under 2C is now out of the question and even staying under 4C will be very difficult. He has criticized leaders who still maintain that staying under 2C is a goal. I think the first step is to acknowledge our failure and then see what can be done to stay under 4C. And, take Bob Watson’s advice of preparing for 4C whatever that entails.

  67. Simon Moffitt says:

    With due respect Paul even with your years of experience and knowledge in this area I find you optimism bizarre. If humans on Easter Island couldn’t spot the obvious and relatively simple point, that cutting down all the trees on an island is a bad thing, then do you really think in our complex global society with diffuse power systems will collectively get their act together to deal with this?

    Human history,psychology and self interest is against it. Apart from the fact our global economic system is based on consumption and cheap fossil fuels. Do you really think we can transition to a zero carbon zero growth non consumption based economy that keeps within planetary boundaries in that time frame, let at all, with likely massive climate and Geo-political disruption, when that and peak resource restraints are hitting left right and center?

    Throw in food security and a transition away from industrial agriculture when the current population relies of fossil fuels to be feed. Just look at the carbon credit and REDD+ abuses let alone the fossil fuel political corruption in the US.

    When you talked about needing to go to hell and back before we got it together I thought you were onto something. I questioned then how easily we would get it together when all this is happening when might makes right and global exploitation of people and resources has been our historical Modus operandi.

    You may talk about the Great Disruption has started but I would like to see what you will have to say when we are in the teeth of it and we have millions of refugees, people starving and mega storms and heat waves hitting us. Let’s see if your optimism holds up then.

  68. Beyond2030 says:

    I believe this whole optimism vs. pessimism vs. realism discussion is not particular relevant.

    I am hoping to become a father soon and so I MUST believe in a positive outcome, even though it is sometimes difficult to do so. This is what I like about Paul Gilding’s article as well as his (for me) monumental book The Great Disruption – he describes our path forward as the only viable option, meaning that THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE. I notice that a lot of people tend to forget this when they speak about these issues: They focus on how hard it will be to achieve the necessary changes, claiming it will never happen because of this and that, but what they are forgetting is that they are implying that there is a choice, while there is none. Unless you are referring to the option of just waiting for it all (civilization that is) to end. But if you already have children or going to have children soon, that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

  69. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Gilding the lily’ I calls it. The battle is lost, truth be told, but the war goes on, between the destroyers (who have always won up until now)and the nurturers. I don’t rate our chances, much, either, but the other side are the orcs, so let’s get at ’em!

  70. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Joined at the hip-pocket, Mike.

  71. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘2035’!!- soft denialism, as one would confidently expect from Mr Gilding.

  72. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s all about marketability.

  73. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The turn against environmentalism by the two Rightwing parties is resembling a Holy War these days. Egged on, as in all things malignant, by the Murdoch media and the ‘business community’, Greens are the target of the month, environmental protection is being sent back to the Stone Age, and climate destabilisation is almost never mentioned. If you think things are crook in the US of A, spare a thought for your loyal Antipodean flunkies.

  74. BobbyL says:

    There is great disagreement among climate scientists about what is achievable so it may come down to who you believe. I think an important contribution of the pessimists is their view of the current situation (which I share) that indicates we should start preparing for 4C. While optimism is needed for success, it is important to not get so caught up in the optimism that you ignore preparing for an highly undesirable outcome which appears to have a high likelihood, i.e., 4C or higher.

  75. fj says:

    Best way to prepare for 4C is to go net zero immediately.

  76. SecularAnimist says:

    BobbyL wrote: “There is great disagreement among climate scientists about what is achievable …”

    What is “achievable” depends entirely on the rapid deployment of efficient renewable energy technology to very quickly replace fossil fuels, and on implementation of agricultural and forestry practices to begin sequestering carbon in soils and biomass — as well as on the economic, political and social factors that may delay or accelerate these efforts.

    Climate scientists, by training, have no particular expertise in any of those areas, so their views regarding them have no more merit than yours or mine.

  77. fj says:

    Gilding is essentially saying that the politics is now starting to catch up with the science ending that bizarre period of governance by the prior administration taking great pride and expressing it loudly that it was not reality based.

    A nice reality indeed.

  78. BobbyL says:

    I would hope the climate scientists are able to make predictions better than I can. They should know more about positive feedbacks such as thawing permafrost in the Arctic and peat bogs in Siberia, and the lag in the system because most of the heat is initially taken up by the oceans. And they should know more on how well the oceans are continuing to take up carbon dioxide and what is happening to carbon sinks like forests. They also should know more about how long greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere and the effects of aerosols. And they have computer models to find out what happens with given inputs and are experts at understanding all the graphs that are available. While their knowledge is limited of course I think they are in a good position to make educated guesses. They certainly are in the best position to say what is no longer achievable.

  79. BobbyL says:

    Please explain how to do that.

  80. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Nuclear war-toe-to-toe with the Russkies!’ There might be more survivors of a nuclear war than those from a climate catastrophe.

  81. DRT says:

    If you haven’t yet, add Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce” & “Natural Capitalism” to the list, and then try ‘Cradle to Cradle’ by William McDonough & Michael Braungart.

  82. fj says:

    You really do not know do you?

    First stop using vehicles that weigh hundreds or even thousands of pounds per person moved; makes absolutely no sense.

    Less than one hundred pounds is a good place to start.

  83. fj says:

    Second super insulate your home.

  84. fj says:

    Third, get real political. Carbon zero cities until the Federal government is forced to move.

    Bloomberg’s C 40 cities organization is a good place to start. Go for 2020 not 2030s.

  85. fj says:

    Get educated: Alex Steffen’s “Carbon Zero: Imagining Cities That Can Save The Planet” ($3.99 Amazon ebook; was available free from Grist,

  86. fj says:

    Climate scientists have not been proposing solutions at scale.

  87. fj says:

    The closest thing at scale has been stopping Keystone XL.

  88. fj says:

    Realizing that stuff was happening in 2003, advocacy should have been for net zero transportation and buildings and net zero as much as possible.

  89. fj says:

    Joe Romm stood out with a unique sense of urgency for immediate action at the two or three conferences I saw him at.

  90. fj says:

    Individuals, communities, cities, states, nations scale up.

    Rule of law is a good thing.

    The Bill of Rights is a good thing.

    Democracy is a good thing.

    You have to know what it is to act and not depend on the “experts” or someone out there to do it for you.

  91. fj says:

    These things did come about because everyone listened to the arguments you have been using.

    And you have to admit that civilization has advanced considerably because of this.