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Will there be shopping in a post-climate change world?

Is economic growth as we've known a thing of the past as the impact of climate change kicks in? Helen Lobato considers the arguments raised by former Greenpeace head, Paul Gilding.

As the Federal Government prepares to announce the details of the long-deliberated carbon tax, the Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet  says that his government remains addicted to strong economic growth. But is business as usual really possible in our post-carbon world?

Speaking on Lateline,  Paul Gilding, the author of The Great Disruption said that economic growth is dead in a post-climate change world. He predicts the end of our current economic model of growth along with its wasteful consumerism. The author and former CEO of Greenpeace International says that plans to grow the economy three or four times by 2050 can’t happen because it is just not possible. ‘It would defy laws of physics, biology and chemistry’, he said.

Climate change is a symptom of a greater problem, says Gilding. The real problem is thesacred tenet of global capitalism’, the belief that we can have increasing economic growth on a finite planet. 

The challenges we face are much broader than climate change, argues Gilding. The problem is that we are addicted to economic growth and believe that we can continue to grow our economies – producing more and more stuff, despite the physical planetary limits.

Knowledge about the limits to economic growth is not new. The Limits to Growth report was published in 1972, detailing the consequences of runaway population and economic growth in the setting of limited resources. It concluded that humanity is dependent on the natural world, with collapse being inevitable should our ecological footprint continue.

Gilding likens the global economy to a ‘giant ponzi scheme’ where as the money runs out the whole scheme collapses. Even so the IMF is predicting the global output per capita to triple by 2050 and we have already passed the limits of the planet’s capacity to support our economy.

The world is in denial about the speed and scale of the threats we face, claims Gilding. He predicts the coming of ‘the Great Awakening’ preceded by a major world crisis leading to a global emergency that will last for several decades. Gilding does not think it’s the end of humanity but rather the end of economic growth as we know it.

The immediate response to the ‘great disruption and the awakening’ will be to ‘decouple growth’ from carbon emissions making a cleaner more efficient economy while leaving the economic and power structures firmly in place. But once ‘the elephant in the room’ is faced, Gilding suggests  we will mount ‘a war-like’ response where large parts of the old economy and power structures will be destroyed and shopping for pleasure will be a thing of the past.

The immediate future is not pretty; the environmental debt needs to be repaid. There will be a loss of jobs along with a substantial loss of life. Gilding predicts that what he refers to as the ‘one degree war’, needs to commence by 2018 and that planetary recovery could take up to 100 years.  

The world is in for a bumpy ride. Just don’t expect your politicians to tell you so.

Helen Lobato is a final-year Bachelor of Media Studies student at La Trobe University. This piece first appeared on her blog, Allthenewsthatmatters. You can follow her on Twitter: @allmediamatters

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