Paul Gilding: The Earth is full

Let me begin with four words that will provide the context for this week, four words that will come to define this century. Here they are: The Earth is full. It’s full of us, it’s full of our stuff, full of our waste, full of our demands. Yes, we are a brilliant and creative species, but we’ve created a little too much stuff — so much that our economy is now bigger than its host, our planet. This is not a philosophical statement, this is just science based in physics, chemistry and biology. There are many science-based analyses of this, but they all draw the same conclusion — that we’re living beyond our means. The eminent scientists of the Global Footprint Network, for example, calculate that we need about 1.5 Earths to sustain this economy. In other words, to keep operating at our current level, we need 50 percent more Earth than we’ve got. In financial terms, this would be like always spending 50 percent more than you earn, going further into debt every year. But of course, you can’t borrow natural resources, so we’re burning through our capital, or stealing from the future. So when I say full, I mean really full — well past any margin for error, well past any dispute about methodology. What this means is our economy is unsustainable. I’m not saying it’s not nice or pleasant or that it’s bad for polar bears or forests, though it certainly is. What I’m saying is our approach is simply unsustainable. In other words, thanks to those pesky laws of physics, when things aren’t sustainable, they stop. But that’s not possible, you might think. We can’t stop economic growth. Because that’s what will stop: economic growth. It will stop because of the end of trade resources. It will stop because of the growing demand of us on all the resources, all the capacity, all the systems of the Earth, which is now having economic damage. When we think about economic growth stopping, we go, “That’s not possible,” because economic growth is so essential to our society that is is rarely questioned. Although growth has certainly delivered many benefits, it is an idea so essential that we tend not to understand the possibility of it not being around. Even though it has delivered many benefits, it is based on a crazy idea — the crazy idea being that we can have infinite growth on a finite planet. And I’m here to tell you the emperor has no clothes. That the crazy idea is just that, it is crazy, and with the Earth full, it’s game over. Come on, you’re thinking. That’s not possible. Technology is amazing. People are innovative. There are so many ways we can improve the way we do things. We can surely sort this out. That’s all true. Well, it’s mostly true. We are certainly amazing, and we regularly solve complex problems with amazing creativity. So if our problem was to get the human economy down from 150 percent to 100 percent of the Earth’s capacity, we could do that. The problem is we’re just warming up this growth engine. We plan to take this highly-stressed economy and make it twice as big and then make it four times as big — not in some distant future, but in less than 40 years, in the life time of most of you. China plans to be there in just 20 years. The only problem with this plan is that it’s not possible. In response, some people argue, but we need growth, we need it to solve poverty. We need it to develop technology. We need it to keep social stability. I find this argument fascinating, as though we can kind of bend the rules of physics to suit our needs. It’s like the Earth doesn’t care what we need. Mother nature doesn’t negotiate; she just sets rules and describes consequences. And these are not esoteric limits. This is about food and water, soil and climate, the basic practical and economic foundations of our lives. So the idea that we can smoothly transition to a highly-efficient, solar-powered, knowledge-based economy transformed by science and technology so that nine billion people can live in 2050 a life of abundance and digital downloads is a delusion. It’s not that it’s not possible to feed, clothe and house us all and have us live decent lives. It certainly is. But the idea that we can gently grow there with a few minor hiccups is just wrong, and it’s dangerously wrong, because it means we’re not getting ready for what’s really going to happen. See what happens when you operate a system past its limits and then keep on going at an ever-accelerating rate is that the system stops working and breaks down. And that’s what will happen to us. Many of you will be thinking, but surely we can still stop this. If it’s that bad, we’ll react. Let’s just think through that idea. Now we’ve had 50 years of warnings. We’ve had science proving the urgency of change. We’ve had economic analysis pointing out that, not only can we afford it, it’s cheaper to act early. And yet, the reality is we’ve done pretty much nothing to change course. We’re not even slowing down. Last year on climate, for example, we had the highest global emissions ever. The story on food, on water, on soil, on climate is all much the same. I actually don’t say this in despair. I’ve done my grieving about the loss. I accept where we are. It is sad, but it is what it is. But it is also time that we ended our denial and recognized that we’re not acting, we’re not close to acting and we’re not going to act until this crisis hits the economy. And that’s why the end of growth is the central issue and the event that we need to get ready for. So when does this transition begin? When does this breakdown begin? In my view, it is well underway. I know most people don’t see it that way. We tend to look at the world, not as the integrated system that it is, but as a series of individual issues. We see the Occupy protests, we see spiraling debt crises, we see growing inequality, we see money’s influence on politics, we see resource constraint, food and oil prices. But we see, mistakenly, each of these issues as individual problems to be solved. In fact, it’s the system in the painful process of breaking down — our system, of debt-fueled economic growth, of ineffective democracy, of overloading planet Earth, is eating itself alive. I could give you countless studies and evidence to prove this, but I won’t because, if you want to see it, that evidence is all around you. I want to talk to you about fear. I want to do so because, in my view, the most important issue we face is how we respond to this question. The crisis is now inevitable. This issue is, how will we react? Of course, we can’t know what will happen. The future is inherently uncertain. But let’s just think through what the science is telling us is likely to happen. Imagine our economy when the carbon bubble bursts, when the financial markets recognize that, to have any hope of preventing the climate spiraling out of control, the oil and coal industries are finished. Imagine China, India and Pakistan going to war as climate impacts generate conflict over food and water. Imagine the Middle East without oil income, but with collapsing governments. Imagine our highly-tuned, just-in-time food industry and our highly-stressed agricultural system failing and supermarket shelves emptying. Imagine 30 percent unemployment in America as the global economy is gripped by fear and uncertainty. Now imagine what that means for you, your family, your friends, your personal financial security. Imagine what it means for your personal security as a heavily armed civilian population gets angrier and angrier about why this was allowed to happen. Imagine what you’ll tell your children when they ask you, “So, in 2012, Mom and Dad, what was it like when you’d had the hottest decade on record for the third decade in a row, when every scientific body in the world was saying you’ve got a major problem, when the oceans were acidifying, when oil and food prices were spiking, when they were rioting in the streets of London and occupying Wall Street? When the system was so clearly breaking down, Mom and Dad, what did you do, what were you thinking?” So how do you feel when the lights go out on the global economy in your mind, when your assumptions about the future fade away and something very different emerges? Just take a moment and take a breath and think, what do you feel at this point? Perhaps denial. Perhaps anger. Maybe fear. Of course, we can’t know what’s going to happen and we have to live with uncertainty. But when we think about the kind of possibilities I paint, we should feel a bit of fear. We are in danger, all of us, and we’ve evolved to respond to danger with fear to motivate a powerful response, to help us bravely face a threat. But this time it’s not a tiger at the cave mouth. You can’t see the danger at your door. But if you look, you can see it at the door of your civilization. That’s why we need to feel our response now while the lights are still on, because if we wait until the crisis takes hold, we may panic and hide. If we feel it now and think it through, we will realize we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Yes, things will get ugly, and it will happen soon — certainly in our lifetime — but we are more than capable of getting through everything that’s coming. You see, those people that have faith that humans can solve any problem, that technology is limitless, that markets can be a force for good, are in fact right. The only thing they’re missing is that it takes a good crisis to get us going. When we feel fear and we fear loss we are capable of quite extraordinary things. Think about war. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it just took four days for the government to ban the production of civilian cars and to redirect the auto industry, and from there to rationing of food and energy. Think about how a company responds to a bankruptcy threat and how a change that seemed impossible just gets done. Think about how an individual responds to a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness and how lifestyle changes that previously were just too difficult suddenly become relatively easy. We are smart, in fact, we really are quite amazing, but we do love a good crisis. And the good news, this one’s a monster. (Laughter) Sure, if we get it wrong, we could face the end of this civilization, but if we get it right, it could be the beginning of civilization instead. And how cool would it be to tell your grandchildren that you were part of that? There’s certainly no technical or economic barrier in the way. Scientists like James Hansen tell us we may need to eliminate net CO2 emissions from the economy in just a few decades. I wanted to know what that would take, so I worked with professor Jorgen Randers from Norway to find the answer. We developed a plan called “The One Degree War Plan” — so named because of the level of mobilization and focus required. To my surprise, eliminating net CO2 emissions from the economy in just 20 years is actually pretty easy and pretty cheap, not very cheap, but certainly less than the cost of a collapsing civilization. We didn’t calculate that precisely, but we understand that’s very expensive. You can read the details, but in summary, we can transform our economy. We can do it with proven technology. We can do it at an affordable cost. We can do it with existing political structures. The only thing we need to change is how we think and how we feel. And this is where you come in. When we think about the future I paint, of course we should feel a bit of fear. But fear can be paralyzing or motivating. We need to accept the fear and then we need to act. We need to act like the future depends on it. We need to act like we only have one planet. We can do this. I know the free market fundamentalists will tell you that more growth, more stuff and nine billion people going shopping is the best we can do. They’re wrong. We can be more, we can be much more. We have achieved remarkable things since working out how to grow food some 10,000 years ago. We’ve built a powerful foundation of science, knowledge and technology — more than enough to build a society where nine billion people can lead decent, meaningful and satisfying lives. The Earth can support that if we choose the right path. We can choose this moment of crisis to ask and answer the big questions of society’s evolution — like, what do we want to be when we grow up, when we move past this bumbling adolescence where we think there are no limits and suffer delusions of immortality? Well it’s time to grow up, to be wiser, to be calmer, to be more considered. Like generations before us, we’ll be growing up in war — not a war between civilizations, but a war for civilization, for the extraordinary opportunity to build a society which is stronger and happier and plans on staying around into middle age. We can choose life over fear. We can do what we need to do, but it will take every entrepreneur, every artist, every scientist, every communicator, every mother, every father, every child, every one of us. This could be our finest hour. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Paul Gilding: The Earth is full

  1. I hate it how he doesn't even tell what resource is actually going to run out? Show those studies and stop fear mongering. I want to hear about what is really going on.

  2. If you look at the likes and dislikes to this speech, about one in four viewers do not like it, meaning they disagree with Paul Gilding. I wonder what their exit plan is when the economy collapses totally, and human civilization begins to crumble, then disappears completely. A needlessly growing economy and human over-population will be the end of our species. Cockroaches will indeed rule the planet.

  3. We wrote a song called "Rise" inspired by this TED Talk. We sent it to Paul Gilding and he said: I'm honoured and delighted it motivated you! Here's a link to the song.

  4. look up the pacific garbage dump they say it is the size of the USA killing marine life all that plastic sludge being thrown into the ocean

  5. People will wake up when "money"  does not fix your problems……….Mad Max will happen for maybe 2 to 5 years until disease takes the population.

  6. This is nonsense, disproven. People have been claiming the sky is falling since the 1800s and their predictions about overpopulation never come true. These people do not factor in human ingenuity, and are working only to advance the interests of the globalist elite who want the state to regulate reproduction. Some even advocate sterilization and genocide.

  7. This presenter, like many presenters, is well aware that he would not have a platform unless he ended with a positive ending. This is what most people have come to expect and is the kind of pitch they crave.

    This presentation was made almost five years ago and we remain on pretty much the same trajectory as was taking place then. No mention was made about passing thresholds beyond which no recovery is possible. That likely happened over a decade ago and almost no-one is willing to admit to that. The massive release in CO2, from our fossil fuel use, continues and we are now seeing the consequences of much of the dumping that took place around 40 years ago. There is no possibility of a turn-around now. The current predictions of recovery are now based upon assumptions that within a decade an unprecedented new technology will be developed and deployed on a massive scale to drain the excess CO2 out of the Earth's atmosphere. This is magical thinking from a species under great stress.

  8. We all agree that every person ever born deserves a fair shot at a happy, healthy life.  We all need to feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and worth with respect to the rest of society.  Our big brains have evolved love, empathy, and compassion and that's a beautiful thing.  Given our current level of awareness, knowledge and technology;  We have the responsibility to drastically reduce the birth rate of human beings on this planet and bring our population down to a sustainable level where everyone can feel that sense of purpose without feeling they are exploiting others.  We in the western world have been spoiled.  We have grown accustomed to a comparatively lavish and gluttonous level of consumption that the rest of the world now sees thanks to globalization and the internet.   Most people in the rest of the world wants in some ways what we have, and many are working very hard to get it.  Unfortunately, our planet does not have the resources for all the people inhabiting her to live like Americans.  In order for everyone who lives off of the limited resources we have here to have a comfortable, fulfilling, free, content existence;  there needs to be much fewer individuals competing for said resources while simultaneously adapting ourselves to be content with much simpler lives. 

    My wheels are spinning on the best ways to accomplish this.  I'm not having kids, trying not to waste or consume more than I need, and trying to live simply.  I try to encourage others to do the same.  I believe in loving life and all humans, not just your own "kind".   I believe not making more humans is the best way to make life more convivial for every other human on a crowded, resource limited, technologically advanced and competitive world.  I believe in economically incentivizing people not to have children by taxing having them.  I believe in stopping the process of incentivizing people to have children economically, religiously, and culturally.  I'm brainstorming a unified, resource based global society (instead of the current polarized, economic based one) where all educated and rational people (I know that's subjective and the tricky part!) vote democratically on who should be allowed to have a child.   Each region maintaining a sustainable quota in line with global health.  Is this crazy?  I would love to hear ideas!  Especially about how to get there from here!

  9. Overpopulation will be the defining fact of the 21st century.

    For what it's worth, the only school of economics that resolves all these growing problems in a humane and non-contradictory way seems to be Steady State Economics (see former World Bank economist Herman E. Daly).

  10. the quality of life is f*cked when millions of people live in a very small amount of area…just as in mumbai which is a city with millions of people living in. just to reach a market down the street, we pass through thousands of people ;D

  11. Another Malthusian diatribe. The antidotes for this pervasive and factually incorrect philosophy are many, but my favorite is seeing the world from the air. Go flying between any two cities in the US.

  12. Stop capitalism. Done, end of story. Humans are not a "bully species" like the Malthusians of the world would have us believe. Complete nonsense. The reality is that systems matter. Until we are ready to contemplate and really understand systems, social and ecological, we are fucked.

  13. Educate women and the birth rate will go down automatically… and rather spread condoms in Africa than catholicism

  14. I have thought since I was 17, that there should always be no more than 2 billion humans living here. A year later the first EARTH DAY was born. Few took heed . I did.

  15. How is it possible that this video only got 250,000 views? If this is our attitude towards his warning – we are screwed!

  16. What a crap speech. "I'm not going to give you any facts, studies, or evidence. Instead, let me focus on fear." He actually said that and still, we had to sit and listen to that crap. Imagine you stood up and said that in your presentation to your peers. You'd be laughed off the stage.

    This isn't true. For actual studies and a palatable and entertaining YouTube video with provided studies and facts see the Kurgestat video on the issue.

  17. MANDATE VASECTOMIES! And gun down and exterminate all conservatives: all religionists & all Wall Street welfare-sucking financial terrorists & their apologists & cheerleaders.

  18. This is brilliant, long overdue. A 2013 poll of 2,000 UN scientists showed them agreeing that overpopulation is the world's biggest problem, bigger than and a cause of climate. Not surprisingly, the consumer-driven media ignored this. Thank you Paul Gilding, and than you for posting this.

  19. A key is to voluntarily have no children, Having a child is a great privilege but the planet has definitely reached it's carrying capacity for people, it is just a fact. We are also living much longer and in first world nations, while also very healthy, my dad is 74 in excellent health, works full time, volunteers, gardens, recycles, he is so emotionally/psychologically healthy and engaged with the community around him. Many people are living like this and will so I think well into their 100's. Thus people are living longer, but the key is to have no or one child or adopt a child whom needs a forever home or donate/volunteer with organizations that help other species at risk.

  20. The break down which the speaker is aptly speaking of is happening 1000's of species are going extinct every year! We are in many scientists state the sixth wave of extinction and yet people keep having kids, people need to stop. Live healthy happy, environmentally sustainable lives without kids, I think it is selfish to have children at this stage. It is a privilege to have a child, if the earth cannot handle more people than it is not our right to have a child we must except the planet's limitations.

  21. Many scientists agree that the Earth at it's maximum population can support 9.6 Billion people, before mass starvation happens.

    We are currently at 7.600,812,087 Billion people.
    I have print screened a world population clock back in 2014 and the population stood at around 7.1 Billion.
    That is half a Billion in just roughly 4 years!
    meaning the population goes up roughly 135,000,000 every year

    So if early 2018 has a population of 7,600,812,087 people
    in 2019 the population will roughly be 7,735,812,087
    2018 – 7,870,812,087
    2019 – 8,005,812,087
    2020 – 8,140,812,087
    2021 – 8,275,812,087
    2022 – 8,410,812,087
    2023 – 8,554,812,087
    2024 – 8,680,812,087
    2025 – 8,815,812,087
    2026 – 8,950,812,087
    2028 – 9,085,812,087
    2029 – 9,220,812,087
    2030 – 9,355,812,087
    2031 – 9,490,812,087
    2032 – 9,625,812,087

    In just around 15 years time we will reach that maximum.
    bare in mind I have not increases the rate at which the population increases due to more and more people breeding. So it will be sooner than stated.
    People won't just sit around and starve, so I believe around 5 years before 2032, people will fight for resources. Countries won't fight each other, but individual people will fight each other and the in-group instinct will separate factions into races (mainly multicultural countries in the west).

    So around 2028, you can expect mass civil wars which will engulf the world, that would make WW2 look like a nose bleed! In just 10 years time from now!

  22. People aren't able to turn this around. If we did the impossible we'd slow it down. I can't wait to see the end of our species honestly we're the ones causing almost all the pain and suffering and unfairness in the world

  23. Thomas Malthus predicted overpopulation in 1800 and Paul Ehrlich made the same prediction in 1968. Neither of them came true.

  24. Your fools to believe in overpopulation the concept of killing off our species is madness your sick to agree with it if we stopped investing in death and spent on life and education and productive science and evenly distributed wealth theses ridiculous problems would diminish

  25. bullshit, fucking sell out to your overlords. We need more people, smart ones, who can actually do something.

  26. The earth is full of what? Full of the BS that emanated from your mouth. You are a UN operative paid to publicize Agenda 21 and Agenda2030.

  27. This is silly. The economy is still growing and life is getting better for most people thanks to more and more countries adopting free markets. Just look at the progress China has made since the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping. Overpopulation is a myth. Free markets solve poverty and feed the world.

  28. This guy is in denial. "Limitless technology" means limitless destruction to the planet. It's time to live our best lives now while civilization is still up.

  29. "Just keep banging away, making another useless, mediocre, not gonna invent nothing, useless kid.

    Don't use realise that by the third loser kid, you don't have the DNA to make somebody special?"

    Bill Burr

  30. not a word about overpopulation. 1-3 billion would be a suitable number and he wants 9?! One-child policy gives results in 9 month.

  31. And now at the end of 2018, what's changed? T-Rump pulls the US out of Paris accord and goes full on business as usual! Only with even more military spending. It's game over chimps!

  32. Some people here still haven't sussed it. This isn't about solar power, electric cars, re-usable shopping bags or all of us becoming vegetarians. Even if we do succeed in reducing our hunger for resources by, let's say, 25% (which is an illusion, just look at the Kyoto protocol), in a few decades the population will have grown by 30% or even 40%, making all of our efforts and savings useless. By 2060 there will be 10 billion people. All wanting food, a house, a car and the latest iPhone. I probably won't be around anymore but children that are born today WILL see the biggest cataclysm in the 3 million year history of mankind. Good luck!

  33. Most people prefer to get on with their individual lives and leave the bigger picture and its problems for others to sort out. He's a good fellow and 'twill all be well. Trust Mother Nature – she will work it out although some of her harsh decisions can be hard to take and like God she never gives a toss about individuals no matter how many there are.

  34. 62 years ago when I was 25 I heard David Attenborough on the BBC saying how much the world population had increased in his life and now as Sir David Attenborough he is warning about the increasingly rapid rise with more urgency. Being impressed I thought I should have no offspring and kept to it but to suppose that the mass of humanity might think similarly when procreation is such a strong urge is silly. Already millions of children on this planet go to bed hungry. Anyway a serious problem for the whole world to solve. Cleaning up the oceans will be a doddle in comparison.

  35. The solution is beyond the sky. Waiting there for us. The challange is to get there before our civilization comes to an end.

    Also erasing the parasites on Earth would help too. But you know, "human rights" and stuff…

  36. some ideas:
    – implement a one-child policy EVERYWHERE throughout the world and have it implemented for at least a century until human numbers are down by at least a half. only lift it if terraforming becomes possible.
    – all countries should implement capital punishment by the death penalty – all those rapists and murderers in our jails taking up resources have to go.
    – there is no reason for keeping the elderly around. the humane way around this is that attitudes needs to change. when you feel your time is up, you should have the right to die. assisted suicide should be legal.
    – education and have the next generation learn the importance of this while they are young

    overpopulation is the root cause of:
    – wildlife going down by 50% since the 70s as more habitats are taken up by humans. what right do we have to render gods creatures extinct?
    – insect life going down by 75% since the 80s
    both of the above have catastrophic consequences because a healthy ecosystem and biodiversity is required for us to survive on. otherwise humans will run out of food to eat, considering loss of animal life and plant life taken up because of more living space needed.
    – plastic pollution in our ocean – there will be more plastic in the sea than sealife by 2050
    – deforestation happening at a rate at 1 football pitch per second. and if the amazon gets destroyed, this will have devastating effects in our atmosphere
    – climate change by human activity

  37. Over population and current economic model is endangering the biosphere that supports us. No doubt about it. However there is one thing in the speech that appears to be incorrect if we listen to CO2 GW skeptics. CO2 is not the cause of climate change, and this change is not proving to have the apocaliptic scale that was foreseen 20 years ago. That may give us time, to control population, and emend the destrutive course of current civilization…

  38. War is an outdated way to reduce the population. Human developed diseases will be the next step.
    Lets face it..we can't tell the stupid negros in Africa to STOP breeding. We can't stop the fucking Islam from adding to the problem by breeding. Or can we…?

  39. Solution is lets start working let the sweat come and build comunity kitchens and share with others create jobs, not machines

  40. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says the world will end in, like, 12 years. I, like, totally believe her. Cow farts, you know. NO CARS. NO PLANES, (except for important people, like AOC). Trumps a racist (even though he had black girlfriend).

  41. As the world's population continues to expand, we need to prepare for resource depletion and great environment, political and economic changes.….-message/volume-4/gr

  42. dont worry we're on the exploitation stage in a mouse utopian equivalent… soon we will be in the death stage

  43. Prefix. Natural Desasters in past 6 years with dramatically increasing events in past 18 months.
    Earth is a Living being & she knows we're in Plague proportions.
    Earth shift. You've heard of it. ( Not of our consciousness ).
    Earth she ft of Earths Consciousness.

  44. I definitely feel anger. And I look forward to punish the ignorant who brought us here. And NO we are not going to manage this in a peaceful way.

  45. The planet can only be saved if half of the human population disappears. The world is indeed more than full with humans. A good human is a dead human, "polar bear saying".

  46. Yet another expert that overlooks fundamental math. If we average more than 2, we kill children. For example, if we average 3 babies, 1/3rd of the children will fail to become adults. This is basic math given that we are in a finite space, Earth. For some reason that I cannot understand, our population experts and experts like Gilding seem to have the belief that somehow we will magically not average too many babies. Somehow they cannot comprehend that the groups of people suffering starvation related child mortality are proof that we are currently averaging too many babies world wide. There is one and only one solution to the problems he is describing. We must average less than 2 babies world wide until we no longer require the use of non-renewables.

  47. This Ted talk is blatant globalist propaganda in line with Agenda 21 and Agenda 2030. Man does pollute but Earth ISN'T FULL. We refuse to swallow your globalist propaganda for whom you are serving as a mouthpiece. Your boss at the U.N is hellbent on depopulation through geoengineering, GMO foods, flouridated water, vaccines and viruses that are not natural organisms but synthetic biological warfare to cause disease and cancer. Stop spreading your filthy propaganda and lies!

  48. Having worked with the Ecological Footprint for over a decade, I've turned to speculative writing on how this will play out … novel #1 Pinatubo II set in 2027 … researched to fit those science oriented

    Pinatubo II — Vince, the engineer

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