EXCERPT: 'Hot, Flat, and Crowded,' by Thomas L. Friedman

The Australian Paul Gilding, a former head of Greenpeace who is now a leading environmental business expert, put it this way: We have been taking "a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder," he observed. "No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply." And those laws are telling us that we, as a species, cannot continue on the growth path we are on. We need a new normal—one that is much more sustainable and healthy for the Market and Mother Nature. The problem, he argues, is that it is very difficult to get human beings to appreciate and undertake the scale of change and innovation we now need without an even bigger crisis than the one we are experiencing. "History indicates that we don't accept large-scale change easily, especially when this change challenges our accepted beliefs," noted Gilding. "It generally takes a crisis to overcome our resistance. The challenge of sustainability, particularly climate change, has characteristics that make our normal resistance to change both deeper and longer lasting. It is an enormous system-wide challenge that affects every person and every country. It requires sweeping change in every aspect of our lives and our society. It also questions many fundamental beliefs about growth and the market economy and threatens some very powerful interests. All this deepens our resistance. Unfortunately this means the crisis will have to be very large and completely undeniable before we respond. This problem is also unusual in that the impacts lag the causes. Current global warming, for example, is caused by CO2 emissions from decades ago. So when the crisis is big enough to force change, it will also have great and unstoppable momentum. As a result it will be far more damaging, because the impacts will continue to worsen long after we act on the causes."

That is why it is doubly urgent for our leaders and We the People to heed our warning heart attack and develop a more sustainable way of creating wealth in harmony with our natural world—and to begin doing it now, while we have a chance to do it in a reasonably orderly way. If we wait for a climate Pearl Harbor, to make the scale of the problem obvious to all, it will be too late. The impacts and disruptions by then will likely be unmanageable. "This is no longer just an environmental issue," argues Gilding. "How we respond now will decide the future of human civilization. We are the people we've been waiting for. There is no one else. There is no other time. It's us and it is now."

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