Lester Brown and many others have said that, to prevent global warming from destroying civilization, we need a national and worldwide mobilization like that of WW II, but even more extensive. Most crucial for national mobilization would be leadership by the President and the major media, both of which need to enact new policies.
Excerpt from David Ray Griffin, Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? (Clarity Press, 2015)
Lester Brown's Plan B is subtitled Mobilizing to Save Civilization. To save civilization, he explained, would mean moving it from fossil fuels to clean energy. In another book, Brown said that this effort "will take a massive mobilization - at wartime speed." What would this mean?
Americans are most naturally led by this language to think of the mobilization for World War II. Joe Romm, speaking of the need for industry to switch to clean energy, wrote: "This national (and global) re-industrialization effort would be on the scale of what we did during World War II, except it would last far longer."
How much longer? Although many writers suggest that this transition would take 50 or even 100 years, Romm said:
If humanity gets truly serious about emissions reduction -- and by serious I mean "World War II serious" in both scale and urgency -- we could go to near-zero global emissions in, say, 2 decades and then quickly go carbon negative.
"[W]e need to mobilize like the WW II mobilization," added Ross Gelbspan, "but worldwide and even more thorough." The mobilization must be unprecedented, Brown agrees, "because the entire world has never before been so threatened."
It could be said that carrying out a worldwide transformation in a few decades is unreasonable; such a major transformation should be carried out in a less hurried way. That is correct. But now the transformation must be very rapid because the international community, led by the United States, failed to achieve it earlier.
Evidence that CO2 emissions will cause global warming began appearing in the 1980s; by 1988, scientists were sufficiently certain to form the IPCC; and in 1990, the IPCC said that to avoid an intolerable increase in the planet's temperature, CO2 levels needed to be stabilized at 1990 levels. This statement should have put politicians into action, because they, like military leaders, usually operate on the "precautionary principle," according to which, in matters in which carelessness could lead to disaster, we should choose to err on the side of caution. After the nations of the world failed to begin reducing CO2 emissions in 1995, they clearly should have done so in 1998, when the IPCC stated that it had detected a human "fingerprint." However, rather than following the precautionary principle, the political world did the opposite: Instead of working to stabilize the planet's CO2 level, it began increasing it more rapidly.
Because of this potentially suicidal behavior, the world now needs to reduce its emissions with extreme rapidity. In the words of IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri, "We have five minutes before midnight." This is why the United States, China, and the rest of the world must now act with unreasonable haste, working together as if -- in the words of the Economist - "some huge rocky projectile, big enough to destroy most forms of life, was hurtling towards the earth, and it seemed that deep international co-operation offered the only hope of deflecting the lethal object."
Although it will not produce its effects as suddenly as a giant asteroid, unabated global warming will be equally deadly. Worldwide mobilization is necessary, and if such mobilization is to succeed, the United States, China, and other countries will need to provide leadership. However, the discussion of leadership in this chapter is carried out almost entirely in terms of the United States.
For America to mobilize with sufficient speed and thoroughness, leadership will be needed by people and institutions of various levels. The two levels that are most crucial are the presidency and the media. (Congress could also provide crucial leadership, but it appears to be hopeless.)
There is no other single individual who is more important to the success of the needed mobilization than the president of the United States. Indeed, if the American president fails in this regard, global warming will continue to rise and we will be headed toward the destruction of civilization. So we must hope that our president acts with the needed wisdom, courage, and energy. There are a great number of things that our current president could and should do.
Declaring a National Emergency
In an article saying that a climate emergency exists, John J. Berger wrote: "An emergency has two basic components: it presents a grave threat to life, liberty, property, or the environment, and the situation requires immediate action." When the situation warrants it, an American president has the power to declare a national emergency, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt did in 1941.
"We have a planetary emergency," said James Hansen, pointing out that global warming could destroy civilization. Because the destruction of civilization would involve the destruction of the United States, the planetary emergency is obviously a national emergency. It would seem self-evident, therefore, that the American president should declare the climate emergency to be a national emergency and then act accordingly. In the words of Ban Ki-moon, "This is an emergency and for emergency situations we need emergency action."
However, American presidents have authority to declare emergencies only for the United States. And yet the mobilization of this county will not be able to prevent the destruction of civilization apart from the mobilization of other countries. Accordingly, in 2011, Bill McKibben and a large number of other environmental leaders, including Paul Hawken and Lester Brown, wrote a letter to the presidents of the United States and China -- the two countries that "dominate world carbon emissions." McKibben and his colleagues said:
It is time to publicly acknowledge that the continued burning of fossil fuels threatens the survival of civilization. . . . It is with a deepening sense of dread over the fate of future generations that we call on you to acknowledge the severity of the global climate emergency.
A growing number of individuals and organizations have called for the public recognition of this fact.
When U.S. presidents formally declare a national emergency, they have extensive authority to respond to the emergency. Because the climate emergency has been caused by excessive emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, emergency action would be to go full out - at World War II speed - to eliminate such emissions. As one article about this emergency says:
If we do not act now we could push the climate beyond tipping points, where the situation spirals out of our control. . . . Instead of stepping on or easing off the accelerator, we need to be slamming on the brakes.
After explaining the need for the emergency proclamation, the President should announce the new policies most needed to deal with the emergency:
All fossil-fuel subsidies will be turned into subsidies for the various types of clean energy.
In line with what virtually all economists have recommended, a price will be put on carbon, with the price beginning low (perhaps $10 per ton of CO2) and then increasing by at least that amount every year. (Some method, such as a rebate or a dividend, will be used to prevent the carbon fee from raising overall costs to poor and middle-class citizens.) Indeed, President Obama, who long seemed to have dismissed this idea, endorsed it in his interview with Tom Friedman for "Years of Living Dangerously."
These first two policies will largely take care of a third: To remain within the carbon budget, the energy policy of "all of the above," designed to reduce dependence on foreign energy, is to be replaced with "best of the above," designed to reduce and finally eliminate fossil fuels.
The electric grid will be radically upgraded to facilitate the distribution of the various types of clean energy.
The government will help accelerate the installation of various types of clean energy, so that soon the electric grid will be based entirely on clean energy.
At the same time that the grid is becoming green, electric vehicles -- motorcycles, autos, SUVs, vans, trucks -- will be improved, so that people can travel everywhere as easily as they had with gasoline and diesel.
High-speed rail, of the types pioneered in Europe, Japan, and China, will be quickly developed, for both passengers and freight. Besides cutting down congestion, high-speed rail will eliminate the need to use airplanes for trips of only a few hundred miles.
The government will help speed up the development of airplanes using fossil-free fuel.
During World War II, much of the country was mobilized. The Manhattan Project alone had 130,000 scientists. In addition:
[T]he president set staggering goals for the nation's factories: 60,000 aircraft in 1942 and 125,000 in 1943; 120,000 tanks in the same time period and 55,000 antiaircraft guns. In an attempt to coordinate government war agencies Roosevelt created the War Production Board in 1942 and later in 1943 the Office of War Mobilization. . . . War production profoundly changed American industry. Companies already engaged in defense work expanded. Others, like the automobile industry, were transformed completely. . . . Chrysler made fuselages. General Motors made airplane engines, guns, trucks and tanks. Packard made Rolls-Royce engines for the British air force. . . . The Ford Motor plant [built long-range bombers].
Carrying out the new policies needed for the present emergency will require an even greater mobilization, because it requires a complete change in the energy system. Fortunately, it has progressed far enough that we know it is possible. A big part of the American president's job is to motivate Americans, and leaders of other countries, to take on this most-difficult-of-all-times task.
By means of such policies, America could be put in position to do what President Obama said he wanted - "to take bold action to reduce carbon pollution" and "lead the world in a coordinated assault on climate change."
Recognizing the extent to which the media have been guilty of aiding and abetting companies that use deceitful propaganda in order to promote their own short-term benefits, even at the risk of destroying civilization, the media determines that it will no longer:
Suggest that climate scientists are divided on the reality and cause of climate change.
Frame reports by climate scientists within "two-sides" segments in which the views of denialists are treated.
Publish editorials expressing scepticism about climate science.
Ignore or tone down reports for the sake of not alienating advertisers.
Exclude climate change from television's Sunday morning talk shows, but instead make it central.
Ignore the connection to climate change while reporting extreme weather events.
Positively, the media will do everything they can to inform people of the reality of the climate emergency.
The media will treat the climate threat to the continuation of civilization as the overwhelmingly most important story of our time.
Just as U.S. newspapers and films did all they could to help the mobilization to prevent defeat by the Axis Powers, today's media will be committed to helping civilization from being destroyed by global warming.
The media will report on the various attempts to prevent a climate-caused catastrophe as seriously as it would treat attempts to prevent a meteor-caused devastation of the planet's life.
If some newspapers or networks persist in supporting climate denial, responsible newspapers and networks will criticize them, explaining why their behavior is irresponsible -- similar to supporting fascist propaganda during WW II.
Beyond correcting the defects in their previous treatments of the climate threat, the media will develop programs to educate people about climate change and inspire them to do what they can. For example, there could be:
High-quality series (such as Showtime's "Years of Living Dangerously") provided for the entire viewing public.
A talk show in which an informed host (such as Chris Hayes) talks with the world's leading climate scientists, along with politicians, economists, and others dealing with climate change, explaining, among other things, how the President's policies will get us started towards a solution.
A series, perhaps entitled "Climate Denial Expose," which explains that climate denialism has been orchestrated by the Koch brothers and the fossil-fuel companies; how they fund front groups, so the denials appear to come from ordinary citizens; and how much money they have funneled to members of Congress who support denialism.
An ongoing entertainment show featuring some comedian, such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or John Oliver, in which climate denial is lampooned.
Just as newspapers and TV news programs keep people informed about the stock market, they will keep people apprised of the atmosphere's CO2 concentration and the number of gigatons left in the planet's carbon budget.
Once the U.S. president and the major media call for national mobilization to deal with the climate emergency, hundreds of organizations will surely provide millions of people, including young people, to serve in the cause.
David Ray Griffin is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. He has written 30 books. His most recent book is Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? (Clarity Press, 2015).