Should we be fighting the climate crisis like we fought World War II?

Over at the New Republic, Emma Foehringer Merchant writes about "climate mobilization" and asks Should We Respond to Climate Change Like We Did to WWII? She notes that in World War II the government essentially used its powers to get industry to stop making cars and start making tanks and planes, to ration needed war materials, and to basically take over the economy for the war effort. She writes:

Today, some environmentalists want to see a similarly massive effort in response to a different type of existential threat: climate change. These proponents of climate mobilization call for the federal government to use its power to reduce carbon emissions to zero as soon as possible, an economic shift no less substantial and disruptive than during WWII. New coal-fired power plants would be banned, and many existing ones shut down; offshore drilling and fracking might also cease. Meat and livestock production would be drastically reduced. Cars and airplane factories would instead produce solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy equipment. Americans who insisted on driving and flying would face steeper taxes.

Lester Brown describes how he started the Climate Mobilization movement, writing "Mobilizing to save civilization means restructuring the economy, restoring its natural systems, eradicating poverty, stabilizing population and climate, and, above all, restoring hope". The work continues on The Climate Mobilization, where they say "we need a WWII scale mobilization to restore a safe climate." However Merchant writes:

To compare the fight against climate change to WWII may sound hyperbolic to some, but framing it in such stark, dramatic terms could help awaken the public to that “physical reality”—and appeal to Americans less inclined to worry about the environment.

Ameria firstCharles Lindbergh/via

The trouble is, it doesn't feel like a war, unless it is like the War of the Roses that lasted for 32 years, or the Hundred Years War, which lasted, well, 116 years. It also doesn't take into account how the US actually did act before World War II: Years of active isolationism, Loud America Firsters and demagogues screaming about Jews and Japanese, blocking the arrival of refugees, ignoring the whole thing as someone else's problem for half the war until it gets blindsided at Pearl Harbor and it all blows up in its face after years of denial. Merchant concludes:

There are other reasons the war analogy doesn’t hold up. WWII mobilization was prompted by a sudden, immediate threat and was expected to have a limited time span, whereas the threat of climate change has been increasing for years and stretches in front of us forever. But perhaps the biggest difference is that our enemies in WWII were clear and easy to demonize. There is no Hitler or Mussolini of climate change, and those responsible for it are not foreign powers on distant shores. As [David] Orr says, “We’ve met the enemy and he is us.”

WWII was not prompted by a sudden immediate threat, it had been building for years and America just didn't want to deal with it, which is the real parallel here. Which is why David Orr is right.

we have met the enemyWalt Kelly/ Pogo/Public Domain

Actually, Walt Kelly said that first. But this does give me an opening to once again promote our great collections of posters:

photo posters world wars as templates future image maine

11 Great Posters from When We Used to Care About Wasting Food

It started with 11 Great Posters from When We Used to Care About Wasting Food, after an NRDC switchboard post on food waste. I have been collecting images of old posters for a couple of years, but had never categorized them this way, so took the opportunity to do a slideshow just on waste: More on TreeHugger It started a whole series.

Lots to eatHennepin collection/Public Domain


13 Great Posters on Preserving Food, When It Was Life or Death

Given the season, the next set encouraged canning and preserving. It has become a popular hobby and a great way to save money, but during World War I and II it was a critical part of the war effort. Twenty million American families had victory gardens, and when autumn came, much of that had to be preserved. More in TreeHugger

ride aloneAmerican Legion Collection/Public Domain

13 Great Posters From When Driving Was Considered To Be Almost A War Crime

This is a well-known classic now, but is just one of many, asking the question that still holds true, Should brave men die so you can drive? More in TreeHugger

All Fuel is ScarceSolid Fuels Administration/Public Domain

12 Great Posters From When Turning Down The Thermostat and Preparing For Winter Was a Patriotic Act

Turning down the thermostat and being careful with fuel use is a good idea any time, but in World War II it was a matter of life and death. Most of the recommendations in this poster still make sense: Winterizing your home, including insulating walls and ceilings, installing storm doors and windows and weatherstripping. Checking and cleaning your furnace can save a lot of energy, too. More in TreeHugger

We can do itAmerican Legion Collection/Public Domain

14 Posters of Women Who Worked For the War Effort

This one was an unscheduled addition to the slideshows, after Mitt Romney's comment about having a "binder full of women" but not finding many qualified to work for him. The meme went wild, so we had to do a slideshow demonstrating that women could do a whole lot. They weren't always accepted and they didn't get to keep the jobs when the men returned from fighting, but they could do it and did. More in TreeHugger

The buzzard waits for wasteHennepin collection/Public Domain

Recycling for Victory! 18 Great Posters From When Every Little Bit of Scrap Made a Difference

YIKES! That's dire. But it is the weirdest of the calls to reduce waste and recycle. It can make a big difference; many raw materials had to be imported by sea, which was dangerous; others needed a lot of energy that could be used for other things. More in TreeHugger

Keep CalmKeep Calm/Public Domain

Keep Calm and Carry On: 15 Motivational Posters From The Past That Are Just As Relevant Today

When Superstorm Sandy rolled in, I thought of all the motivators that kept people working, that tried to give a bit of comfort. I liked Gary Paudler's response to commenters who wondered why I think these are relevant in what they promoted:

Thrift, hard work, creativity, effort for the community, support of common, as opposed to purely individual goals. Conservation of resources and instilling the notion that everybody plays an important role.

More in TreeHugger.

'Make do and mend': Posters from WWI can inspire today

Sugar posterUnited States Food Administration/Public Domain

Actually, the posters from the first World War are not as dramatic but they are worth checking out too. Not bad health advice these days either. More in TreeHugger

Tags: Activism | Global Climate Change

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