System Failure: We Are Approaching the End of Society As We Know It -- And That May Be a Good Thing
Continued from previous page
TM: You compare our response to climate change to our response to Hitler. That's highly provocative. I've mentioned it to friends who react rather strongly. Why do you think it's a fair comparison?
PG: I think there are very few examples in history where we have genuinely felt existentially threatened, and Hitler was one of those. From a social perspective, from the point of view of freedom, from the point of view of basic morality and ethics, everything that Hitler stood for confronted the very essence of our beliefs. Therefore, if you ask how much we were prepared to expend our energy, our finances, and our mental, physical and organizational capacities in response, the answer was "whatever it took."
Climate change and the broader issues of resource constraint are going to be the same. We are facing an absolutely existential threat to our civilization. Many forecasts show that if we don't address climate change very strongly, if we don't get the food supply system under control, if we don't stop consuming resources at this rate -- we are facing a genuine collapse of civilization. I don't mean the end of humanity as a species. I mean the end of civilization as we know it, and a breakdown of society, and a sustained period of what James Kunstler calls "The Long Emergency."
When else have we felt that everything we stood for was under threat? The answer is Hitler, the answer is WWII. The mobilization that we need in response is comparable. And unfortunately, same as with Hitler, we won't respond until the crisis is so in our face it's undeniable. The good news is that when we do respond, it will be on a comparable scale.
TM: You make the point that the evidence for climate change has been accumulating for years and is now irrefutable, yet there are still many in denial. Prior to Pearl Harbor, the evidence of Hitler's threat had likewise accumulated; yet there was denial. Acknowledgment meant a second world war, which the US and others wanted to avoid. In the current case, the choice of slowing down and turning back growth is seen as similarly negative by many.
PG: No one questions the ability of the United States to mobilize when it gets its act together. A quote from Winston Churchill is one of my favorites, "The US can always be relied upon to do the right thing, after it's exhausted all other possibilities." We're hoping that the technology revolution, the social revolution and the financial investment will be led by the US.
If it doesn't happen, I think that means the decline of the US as a world power. The future is now so clear and China and others are moving ahead so fast. I think we are at the sort of very special moment in history when big decisions are being made that will have an impact for a good century to come.
TM: You're from Australia. From your outsider perspective, why is the US slower to move to clean energy in the kind of forceful way that Germany or China have?
PG: We have a bit of this behavior in Australia as well. The US is so addicted to oil, so addicted to coal and fossil fuels and cheap energy, that denial becomes stronger. Per capita CO2 emissions on a numerical basis are higher than almost anywhere in the world -- apart from Australia it should be pointed out -- and therefore the change must be bigger. When the change is bigger, when the impact is greater, the denial gets stronger.