Our work in the world - wrestling with despair and hope

For this month’s Transition Book Club meeting, we used Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World as a springboard for a wide-ranging conversation. [For a synopsis of the book, skip to the bottom; continue reading for more on our discussion.]

Our conversation about the book ran the gamut from the 99% movement and global uprisings, to our collective emotional response to global crisis, to our own personal stories of trying to figure out where we, as individuals, fit into this world as transformation unfolds around us.

We agreed that much of the content of Gilding’s book was not new to us – most of what we have read acknowledges the reality of the coming crashes and provides various warnings and proscriptions – but his tone and attitude were markedly different. He takes a very optimistic view of humanity’s ability to respond to these looming crises – a view we felt mixed about.

On the one hand, we agreed that it is crucial to lift up concrete, positive visions of how we can (or must) actually respond to the climate crisis – especially when writing to a business class/global elite audience (where Gilding spends much of his time). On the other hand, we were worried that a) Gilding may be a little naïve about how desperately the global power elite will (irrationally) fight to maintain a wildly imbalanced system b) that he may be overconfident in humanity’s ability to engage rational, long-term strategy and action in the face of colossal challenges.

One thing Gilding definitely gets right, however, is the reality that, in order to overcome our denial about climate change, we humans need to spend some time in despair and hopelessness before we can reach the stage of motivated action. He describes his own struggles with despair when he looked at the big picture and our apparent failure to change our collective ways. His story resonated with many of us, and we noted our own oscillations between despair and hope as we come to grips with the realities of transition.

We discussed current organizations that are skilled at helping people out of denial and through this despair – including faith communities, and interpersonal consciousness raising groups like the “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream” symposium. Some faith communities are hierarchical and can be institutionally antiquated, but they are very good at holding people through grief, and helping us to cope in community. Likewise “Awakening the Dreamer” is a powerful one-shot experience, helping overcome denial, and fostering connection with fellow human beings – but as it currently exists, it is truly one-shot, and lacks the structure to keep people together and build longer term community.

We had an “aha!” moment when we realized that the model for such a long-term community already exists in Resilience Circles. If we could pair up the “Awakening the Dreamer” folks with the Resilience Circle folks, throw in some nuts-and-bolts from the Transition Towns movement, and organize through pre-existing community organizations (such as faith communities, neighborhood organizations, etc), we might really have a solid nucleus for organizing nodes on the global network of problem-solving, mutual aid, and resilience in response to the coming crashes. These nodes could work in tandem with the global uprisings for just economic and political systems (and folks like Rebuild the Dream) to bend our governments and corporations toward sustainable practices, and a world with liberty and justice for all – including our mother earth upon whom we all depend.

We came to the realization that, while each of us has our own personal location already in this global network (Paul Hawken calls it the “largest social movement in the world”), many of us still aren’t sure what our own contribution or next step will be, and that grief and hopelessness are definitely still present in our own lives. With this recognition, we chose as our next book, Joanna Macy’s Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World. We will read this relatively short book, possibly engage one or two activities outlined therein, and use it as a framework for discussing implications of the global transition’s implications for our own lives and work.

I found this month’s book club uplifting and resonant; it’s so good to have a group to help keep you sane. Maybe Gilding is right to be optimistic after all. I suppose it’s up to us.


Book synopsis: In “The Great Disruption,” Gilding lays out the scenario for the worldwide changes we are beginning to see in the global ecosystem and economy. He believes that we are in a series of epochs he calls “Scream, Crash, Boom.” Climate scientists and environmentalists have been screaming about human-induced climate change since the late 1950s.

We are now coming to the end of this “scream” as we reach the limits of traditional economic growth, and the limits of how much carbon and other pollution the earth can absorb. This will precipitate the crash of the economy and ecosystem. (In fact he argues that the financial meltdown of 2008 and the ensuing recession mark the end of the growth of expansionist, materialist, consumer-driven globalized capitalism.)

This “crash” period will be so rapid and overwhelming that everyone – from international institutions to the family next door – will drastically change their lives and attitudes to reduce their carbon footprint and come back into balance with the earth’s systems. Essentially consumerism will come to an end, and the material standard of living in the West will go down – we will have to “downsize” our homes, our TVs, our travel, our penchant for cheap and easy food and entertainment – but our quality of life will actually be enhanced – we will live in a cleaner environment, spend more times with loved ones and community, and we will pursue growth in global well-being rather than global GDP.

This “boom” will look like governments and industry taking a “war footing,” a la the response to global threat of fascism in WWII. We will rebuild our every sector of our economy – energy, transportation, housing, agriculture, entertainment, etc – from the ground up to enhance ecological sustainability and economic well-being. We will do this because, Gilding argues, it is the only rational response to the immense challenges of our times.

Newsletter Signup


User login