By Steve Austin
Many believe that the climate crisis is now the greatest threat to civilization, surpassing nuclear war. At least with nukes, we have had 74 years of not using them as well as actually working to reduce their sheer numbers over time. With climate change, we have been making it worse every year and we are ramping up our CO2 emissions even as we know what is causing the crisis.
In an attempt to address the crisis, certain well meaning people have made calls for a World War 2 type mobilization, (see here too)where the might of government and society are put to full use to solve the crisis. This sounds great: everyone working together to defeat evil. No doubt, there is a deep connection to the idea: once we’ve defeated evil, we can get back to “normal,” just like in the 1940s.
Except it won’t work that way. There will be no “and now back to normal.” Ending the climate crisis will require us to mobilize and fight, not for a short time – less than 4 years in the USA’s case during World War 2 – but for decades, if not centuries. We have made such a mess of our habitat that it will take that long to restore any sort of balance.
Mobilizing for World War 2 required government control of everything – rationing food and fuel and other things, managing industrial production, drafting human lives. I have not heard of anything like that proposed to fight the evil of climate change. This could be due to the fact that no one really thinks it is that bad. Indeed, even the well meaning come across as using the climate crisis as a political ploy in order to introduce other – albeit rightfully needed – reforms. And that is another key point: mobilizing for war means that everyone is this country at least must agree that there is a common enemy. Yeah….right.
No, fighting climate change will be nothing like World War 2. If we are to succeed in fighting the evil, it will require us to understand that the cause is us – the way we live now makes us our own enemy. And if we mobilize, it will be to change everything about how our civilization works. Victory will be to live surrounded by the decay of the society that we built. This will not get us parades and peace dividends. We might get a saner, less destructive way of life, but with none of today’s conveniences let alone “necessities.”
There can be no “back to normal” and it is irresponsible to let people assume there can be. If this is the ultimate crisis of civilization, then we must be honest about what surviving it entails. There will be no short term push to victory, instead it will be a slog, every year doing with less than the last, until at some point the impact of our past actions have abated. This will require government – in a democracy, technically “us” – to agree to limit everything about our current lives. And it will mean that there will be some clear losers, those whose life and business are built upon pollution and greed, and what about them in a democratic system?
At best we are living with a chronic condition: the disruption we’ve caused to the climate system will take a long time to undo. At worst, this could be fatal: runaway climate is a distinct possibility and the tipping points into that condition are unclear. We must mobilize, to be sure, not for a typical war’s duration, but for the rest of our lives. I am personally in favor of everything related to Green New Deals and all the rest. It’s just important that we know what we are in for.
Or, I hear there Netflix has some great stuff coming soon.