Damon Gameau.
Pan Macmillan. Rrp. $34.99

Damon Gameau attempts to present climate change more positively as something we can successfully confront and combat. Gameau graduated from the Drama School, National Institute of Dramatic Art (Sydney) with a degree in Performing Arts in 1999.  He is best known for having directed and acted the lead role in “That Sugar Film”, which won the Best Documentary Award at the Australian Film and Television Awards in 2016. 

The book, “2040” is forwarded by Paul Hawken, himself an environmentalist, entrepreneur, author and activist.  Hawken is founder of “Project Drawdown”, a non-profit organization for the reversal of global warming. 

Paul Hawken the entrepreneur, has founded several companies, starting with one of the first natural food companies in the U.S., “Erewhon” (1966), which relied solely on “sustainable agriculture”.   In 1979, he co-founded “Smith & Hawken”, a retail and catalogue garden company.  In 2009, Hawken founded an energy company “Energy Everywhere”, focusing on “ultra” economical solar systems based on green chemistry and biomimicry.   In 1965, we are informed, he worked with Martin Luther King Jr in the Civil Rights Movement. Hawken has travelled extensively throughout the world.  He has won a pile of awards and recognitions, including an incredible six honorary doctorates.  In 2014 Hawken was named one of three “Pioneers of Sustainability”, along with Professors Peter Senge and Michael Porter.  

“2040”, by Damon Gameau, is largely built on Paul Hawken’s work.


In his forward to Damon Gameau’s book, Hawken adopts a  breath-taking entrepreneurial optimism one could only find in the United States, proclaiming “Every problem is a solution in disguise.  No exception.”  He is manically buoyant: “Given that global warming is the most gnarly, super-wicked problem ever faced by civilisation, it stands to reason that it contains an extraordinary number of solutions…” 

The Light Strikes

Damon Gameau doesn’t arrive from an environmental background, far from it, admitting “I did like being outdoors, away from the city, but nature was just ‘there’ (often a bit dull); it was a place to kick a football, or to stop and take a view on a long drive.”  In inner city Melbourne, he “did see the odd bin bird or slightly withered street tree”.  All that quite suddenly and completely changed, he informs us, after a fortnight in the Amazon with his missus, where “the concept of meaning first struck me…Most poignantly, I learnt of the jungle’s reliance on a web of interconnectivity for survival.  The trees ‘talk to each other’ via a network of fungi that grows between their root systems.”  He parenthetically confesses “(drinking deeply from a bowl of ayahuasca ‘fruit punch’ may also have been a factor)”.  Indeed Gameau, it seems, did get really stoned.   

“Doctor Gameau”

Damon Gameau proceeds to diagnose the planet’s health as if Earth was a patient receiving its results after a comprehensive medical check-up and blood tests: “You’re also growing a little too fast in terms of both population and economics for your own good.  This means you are unable to replenish the resources you are using each year.  You currently require 1.7 Earths’ worth of resources in a single year…but it is predominately the smokestacks that are driving your fever.  The digging up and burning of stored carbon is pouring 40 billion tonnes into your atmosphere every year.”  O.K. Doc., could you put a word in for me with the U.N.?  

The United Nations predicts the world’s human population is getting older and growing at a slower rate, but, by 2050, is expected to increase from the present 7.7 billion to 9.7 billion. 

Kids View

Damon Gameau lists and briedly discusses the top l5 solutions from Hawken’s “Project Drawdown, numbering them l5 to 1 which seems some introverted. 

  1. Afforestation, 

  2. Eat more food from tropical staple trees with the proviso that no forests are cut down to plant them

  3. Preserve all peatlands 

  4. protect and expand temperate forests as carbon sinks and reservoirs of biodiversity 

11.  practice regenerative agriculture, farming in ways which retain or increase soil carbon

10.  Rooftop solar to power your own house or community

9.  Silvopasture – integrate trees with pasture or forage crops to raise livestock.  Close feedlots.

8.  Solar farms; invest in large-scale solar power 

7.  Family Planning – empower women to control when and how many children they have

6.  Education for girls, fundamental to No. 7 

5.  Preserve and restore tropical forests

4.  Eat less red meat and avoid meat raised in feedlots.

3.  Reduce food waste going to landfill by planning meals more carefully, storing food correctly and reusing scraps and leftovers.

2.  Wind turbines – Install more of them 

1.  Refrigerant management – phase out all hydrofluorocarbons which is occurring through an international agreement. 

The author states 82% of the costs of global warming are borne by the poorer countries, often those that contribute least to emissions, but this does not take into account the clearing of tropical rainforests and tropical human birth rates resulting in a profound change in human demographics.  The wealthiest 7% of the world’s population are responsible for 50% of emissions.”  

Agnotology is the study of the spread of ignorance in a society.  Climate denial has been promoted by vested interests like the Koch brothers, the second richest family in the world.  These Kochs, Charles and David, each own a 42% stake in Koch Industries, started as an oil refinery owned by their father, Fred, and now expanded into a diversified conglomerate with annual sales of $US160 billion.  With a combined estimated fortune of $US 99 billion, these Kochs are second only to the Walton family, Walmart owners, whose fortune is a whopping $US152 billion. Are they happy yet?  The Koch’s extraordinary fortune comes primarily from networks of oil and gas pipelines and investments in other polluting industries like paper and plastics. Koch industries is ranked as one of the top ten polluters in the U.S., accountable for over 300 oil spills.  It has paid over $100 million in fines and been found guilty by a federal jury of stealing oil from Native America Lands.  The Kochs gave $60 million to climate denial groups between 1997-2000.  From 1998-2008, Koch-controlled foundations donated more than $196 million to organizations favouring policies which further enriched themselves.  The Koch brothers are known as “GOP Kingmakers” and have given millions of dollars to Republican candidates over the years, investing more in politics than virtually any other individuals in America.  The Kochs refused to back Trump in 2016, and vowed to hold him accountable for his violation of basic conservative tenets such as free trade, free markets and small government and, further, have been critical of Trump’s policies on immigration and infrastructure spending subsidies for fossil fuels add up to $5.3 trillion annually, or $10 million per minute.  

Land Clearing

70-80% of Amazonian land clearance is for cattle ranching.  A third of the world’s cultivated land is used to grow grains for livestock.  Project Drawdown recommends halving our per capita meat consumption from the present 110 g/day to 50-60 g/day.  Reducing meat in Western diets is considered essential to feed a rising global population where every ground ape gets a feed.  Plagues of our own species somehow differ from plagues of rabbits, rodents and cockroaches. 

Food waste now stands at 30% worldwide and 40% in the U.S.   .  Eat everything you buy, Gameau implores; don’t send it to landfill.  

Hawken advocates marine permaculture. “You could feed 10 billion people with the protein from marine permaculture alone” and sequester carbon at the same time.  

Some marine vegetation can grow up to .5 metres a day, yielding food, fertilizer, fabric, biofuel and even substitutes for plastic.  It’s not clear what species are to be grown where and what the impacts of “marine permaculture” might be on specific marine environments.  Are we to revegetate and restore kelp forests or establish new ones where none have ever been before?   Are we then to do to the sea what we’ve done to the land with similar consequence? 

Plastic Problem

Gameau laments that some plastic manufacturers exploit consumers who want “to do the right thing” by labelling their products as 100% degradable.  This is achieved by adding a chemical which hastens breakdown into smaller bits which still remain in the soil and wash into the oceans.  The author exhorts us to “avoid these like the plague”.  Biodegradable is similary a term often “misused and abused” as there aren’t any standards for the term in Australia.  

Paul Hawken asks “Is Global warming happening to you or for you?”  If it’s “happening to you”, you’re a victim that tends to blame someone else.  If it’s happening “for you”, you take 100% responsibility, unleashing your potential for innovation, imagination and creativity.  Hawken would have us think about climate change as an opportunity.  Start up a business and make a motza!    

GDP (gross domestic product) adds up the value of the goods and services that have been sold within a given time frame, usually a yearly quarter.   However, this doesn’t include the environmental damage incurred in that production, the impact on local small businesses from multi-national “super stores”, or the value of unpaid or voluntary work such as “mothering”.  The author proposes replacing GDP with GPI, “genuine progress indicator”, factoring in a range of environmental and social costs alongside GDP.  Gadeau also advocates Trade Transparency so citizens can make informed democratic choices; too many treaties, he says, are made in secret without reference to wider social and environmental concerns. 

The author advocates assisting farmers towards more “regenerative practices”.   The world’s cultivated soils have lost an estimated 50-70% of their original carbon stock, much of it released as CO2.  Paul Hawken comments “When the first settlers arrived in Iowa, the soil was 16 feet (4.8 metres) deep, today it’s 12 inches (39 cm).  We have basically been mining carbon from the soil.”  The United Nations estimates that, if current agricultural practices continue, most of the earth’s agricultural topsoil will be lost within 60 years. 

Aussie Invention

The best example of a Regenerative Agricultural system is Intensive Silvopasture, first developed in Australia.   Livestock is rotated among trees and legume crops in Silvopasture, sequestering the most carbon of all current livestock farming systems.  Restoring carbon in soils is anything but a speedy process or “quick fix” by any means, however good it sounds.   Consider that microorganisms digest up to 90% of the organic carbon entering a soil, during which process they respire the carbon back into the atmosphere as CO2.  Up to 30% of organic inputs can eventually be converted to humus, depending on soil type and climate.  However, in harsh Australia with its old, thin and nutrient-leached soils, this percentage is often significantly reduced.  To sequester carbon in soil, relatively inert and resistant organic matter or organic remnants such as charcoal are incorporated into the soil.  These can eventually constitute up to a tenth of the soil’s organic carbon.  

Purchasing Power

Damon Gameau advises “use your purchasing power”; what consumers purchase directs their economies.  Gameau also advocates curbing advertisements promoting unnecessary consumption and waste, while encouraging the promotion of repair, recycling and frugality.  

Gameau states debt must be reduced if we are to reduce the cancer of growth.  The lending reserve behind loans is a mere 10%, which means that up to 90% of the money in circulation is debt.   Gameau advocates a radical rethink of our monetary system, suggesting the banks increase the reserve behind their loans, aiming to achieve a 100% reserve, like restocking the vaults of Fort Knox.  This was advised back in 2012 by two IMF economists who believed this would also make the economy much more stable.   Gameau, appreciating how radical such a policy would be, reverts to his mantra.  “I repeat, if things begin to fall apart environmentally or economically, then radical ideas can quickly become common sense.”  

Gameau strongly advocates reforming social media, ensuring platforms aren’t manipulated by special or plutocratic interests so as to deliberately deform public opinion.   

Bernie Fraser, former Governor of the Reserve Bank, stated in 2017, “Australia is approaching a ‘danger point’ where the gap between rich and poor becomes so vast it could have awful, far-reaching consequences at every level in Australian society…” 

Gameau polemicises: Decentralise, strengthen democracy, steering towards “participatory democracy” and “getting the money out of politics”, restricting lobbying and campaign financing.  In the US, $3.3 billion per year is spent lobbying politicians, and “for every 1 dollar that public interest groups spend lobbying, corporations spend $34.”  However, it may well be necessary to centralise and concentrate power for any hope ameliorating climate change, despite the risk of despotism.  

The author insists we “Consider Emergency Mobilisation – “If things begin to fall apart environmentally or economically then radical ideas can quickly become common sense”:  a statement repeated a number of times in his book. 

A calm, peaceful, tightly organised and centrally directed approach with near full compliance will be required if we are to confront the complex problem of climate change.  An economic, social or environmental collapse could well finalise the catastrophe. 

In the section, “A New Way”, Gameau writes “Since the scientific revolution of the 1600’s we have viewed our world in a highly mechanistic way.  The earth is here to serve us, and we are here to conquer and extract things from it.  But increasingly, biology is reminding us of an older story that our ancestors knew to be true.  It is a story of interconnectedness, a story of dazzling co-creation between all forms of life.”  

Gameau advocates abandoning scientific and technical language in favour of “new words that will ignite and unite us…words (that) will evoke meaning and will spur us into more care and action.”  

Been There Done That

Technical language is precise, in my opinion, for very good reasons and specialisation has proliferated as our technology has grown increasingly complex and scientific knowledge has expanded.   It is advisable not to “dumb down the language”.  Damon Gameau doesn’t seem know that the “new way” he advocates had been instigated and extensively promoted by Alexander von Humboldt at the start of the nineteenth century.  Humboldt was one of the most famous men of his time, a “rock star scientist”, and a “generalist”, who combined many disciplines, including geography, ecology and what are now termed “social sciences”.  Although better remembered in South America, the “prescient proto-environmentalist” von Humboldt was largely forgotten, or ignored, in English-speaking countries until quite recently.  “The forgotten Father of Environmentalism”, Humboldt revolutionised our concept of nature as an interconnected living web, inspiring Goethe, Darwin, Wallace, Thoreau, Muir, Whitman, Simon Bolivar, Thomas Jefferson, Ernst Haekel (who invented the word ecology) and our own Ludwig Leichhardt among many others.  It is fitting that the world’s tallest tree grows in Humboldt County, California.     

Planet Ark Environmental Foundation’s survey revealed a dramatic shift from outdoor to indoor play in one generation.  U.S residents spend about 88% of their time indoors, completely detached from the natural world.   Almost 1 in 3 children had never climbed a tree or planted or cared for a tree.  For every 1 hr spent outdoors, 7 were spent in front of a screen.  “What if the single most important thing we could do to serve our planet was to teach our children to love it, to value it and to give it meaning?”  Jane Goodall observed, “Only if we understand we will care.  Only if we care, will we help.  Only if we help, shall all be saved.”  

Gameau considers we are in an “environmental transition phase” and takes umbrage against the expression “fight climate change”:  “We are part of the environment so why would we want to fight ourselves?…The way out of our predicament (fatalist environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth writes that problems have solutions and predicaments don’t) is to work with these natural cycles, not against them.  This would prevent the further release of stored fossil fuels while returning atmospheric carbon to a safe and familiar home, where it will be welcomed by our soils and plants who eagerly await its arrival and bear numerous gifts.”  

Overall, about 4% of the human population lack any conscience; there are an estimated 308 million sociopathic and psychopathic ground apes now on Earth; a serious impediment to any “new reality”.  

However Gameau realises that “Even if all emission stopped now global warming would still continue for centuries…We need to remove it (carbon) urgently.”   The author predicts that should we continue along our “current trajectory”, we can expect “…a future of an elite minority living behind gaited walls while the rest of society scrambles for resources on an increasingly uninhabitable planet.  Sadly, some of our societies are already there.”  

After this sobering conclusion, the reader is provided with a host of vegetarian recipes spanning the book’s final 76 pages, with appetizing photos.   Hopefully, at this point in the book, the reader hasn’t lost his or her appetite except for meat.  Bon appetit!  

John Stockard 

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