Ed. note: The Climate Mobilization Victory Plan, written by Ezra Silk, is a policy document that tangibly demonstrates how the U.S. could eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, contribute to a global effort to restore a safe climate, and reverse ecological overshoot through a massive WWII-scale mobilization. This document is currently in draft form and can be downloaded in .pdf form here. Please leave feedback on the Victory Plan here. The following piece is the foreword to the Plan which is written by PCI Fellow Paul Gilding.
For many years, a small number of scientists, scholars and activists have called for a WWII-scale mobilization to save civilization from climate catastrophe — an all-out effort far beyond anything proposed in today’s polite debates. This year, the idea has started to build serious momentum, with new advocates like Bill McKibben and Bernie Sanders and the adoption by the Democratic Party in the U.S. of the call for an emergency climate mobilization.
As mobilization starts to break into the mainstream, it is imperative that we discuss the specifics of this effort. In 2009, I co-authored, with Professor Jorgen Randers, the “One Degree War Plan” — a global and less comprehensive overview of the concept described herein. The One Degree War Plan showed we can realistically slash global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero in 20 years and then restore a safe climate through a carbon dioxide drawdown effort.
While it’s very positive that people are now signing on to the concept, it is critical that such a response be based on what the science demands. The hard truth is the climate has deteriorated significantly since 2009 and this appears to be now accelerating. There is no time left for multi-decade transition scenarios. At this late hour targets based around 2050, or calls for only zero emissions (without drawdown and cooling), are clearly not sufficient. They risk an unthinkable defeat by putting off the very concrete steps we need today. That is why I am so pleased that The Climate Mobilization has written this Victory Plan. It tangibly demonstrates how the U.S. could eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, contribute to a global effort to restore a safe climate and reverse ecological overshoot through a massive WWII-scale mobilization.
It’s important to understand what this means. WWII-scale climate mobilization is not just “a big effort.” It is not a major project or a key policy initiative like the Apollo Program or even the New Deal. It is a comprehensive, economy-wide approach that, if done correctly, represents the only realistic way we can overcome the climate emergency.
The mobilization called for in the “Victory Plan” is powerful and sweeping enough to provide effective protection in the face of civilization-threatening climate disruption. It is firmly based in the most advanced climate science, and offers an extensive overview of the policies necessary to be implemented in every sector. It may not have every measure right and it will further evolve as society researches and develops the plan, but it provides a clear and practical sense of what such an approach would really look and feel like. It shows us how we can win the war to save civilization.
When I published the “One Degree War Plan” in 2009, the very notion of action on this scale and in this style was dismissed. It was considered an interesting — almost entertaining — thought experiment. In the years since, people are slowly coming aroud to the idea. Whether motivated by the European refugee crisis, extreme weather events, global temperature records being smashed or just the mounting total weight of the evidence, they are coming to accept that not only is such a response necessary, it is also now conceivable.
Nevertheless, while you’re reading this plan many thoughts will occur to you, as your mind tries to reconcile the huge gap between what you read is needed and today’s reality. You will consider how “unrealistic” it is, how you “can’t imagine” political leaders acting in this way or how the incumbent business community “will never accept” this level of economic transformation. Before that process begins, I’d like to establish one idea very clearly in your thinking:
A mobilization on this scale is the only rational response to the level of economic, security and social risks posed by climate change. Anyone who looks at the evidence objectively would conclude that — and historians will look back and wonder why it took us so long to accept it. So be clear — a mobilization on this scale is simply inevitable, with the only question being when we get started.
Hard to imagine? Yes, it is.
But before you go there, you have to imagine the alternative. Without this response, we will see a descent through cascading climate change induced crises with military conflict, accelerating costs, massive refugee flows, nations collapsing and global food crises as the world spirals down into economic and social collapse. This would inevitably require heavy government intervention and quite probably authoritarian rule to manage.
With that prospect unfolding, do you really think we will stand by and do nothing but observe and talk about the difficulty of acting? Now that is “unrealistic” and that I really “can’t imagine.”
As people come to accept this is the binary choice we face, we are getting closer to mobilization each day. I’ve seen the climate change response evolve steadily since the late 1980’s — first from the vantage point of Executive Director of Greenpeace International and since then travelling the world as an author and speaker, alongside my work with the leaders of large global corporations on their strategic approach to sustainability. The response has never evolved faster than in the past few years.
Two recent developments illustrate the growing momentum:
In late July, the Democratic Party voted overwhelmingly to adopt mobilization language in its official platform. The platform declares a “global climate emergency,” and commits to “a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II.” This is an important moment —not because this guarantees that the next Democratic President will launch such a mobilization — but because it brings the idea into the mainstream debate and creates a foundation for future advocacy of the approach.
Then Bill McKibben, the leading voice of the American climate movement, published a full-throated call for WWII-scale climate mobilization, in which he states: “We’re under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII.”
With the concept gaining acceptance, many ask, what will be the trigger for action? Some believe we must wait for a “Climate Pearl Harbour” moment to initiate a WWII-scale mobilization. My study of history challenges this. The lessons of issues like civil rights, emancipation of woman and the end of slavery remind us that shifts of this scale don’t happen overnight. They evolve, unsteadily — pushed forward by a growing movement of dedicated supporters — before they achieve a symbolic moment that creates change. But those moments, like the bombing of Pearl Harbour or the march in Selma, Alabama —are just that, symbolic events creating political moments that allow society to shift. They are not the cause of the response but rather a spike in an ongoing and evolving process.
That’s why I am a big supporter of the work of the Climate Mobilization (TCM) and was so pleased to contribute to this document. It is always on the edges of the mainstream that such big ideas begin. While people like me write papers and books putting ideas into society, it takes an active movement, like the one TCM is working to build, to bring ideas to reality. In its two short years of existence, The Climate Mobilization has achieved impressive progress in bringing the need for WWII-scale climate mobilization into the mainstream.
Of course we still have a huge amount to accomplish before we really get to work. So I’d like to close by discussing how The Climate Mobilization, and the broader climate emergency movement can build the support necessary to make this mobilization a reality.
Those deeply concerned about climate risk should naturally be supportive of the dramatic approach outlined in this paper. After all, if you believe as I do, that climate change poses an existential threat to civilization, then the potential for a response like that described here comes as a great relief. We can still fix this! And here is a roadmap for how. However, there is a different reason to support the approach, and a different audience for the argument. And this is the key idea I want to leave you with.
A full-scale economic transformation driven by the urgency of climate change is very different from WWII in a profound way — one that means we can build allies for this cause in new and important places.
The WWII mobilization was launched in the face of tragedy and required enormous sacrifices in human life, economic cost and quality of life to respond. It was a deliberate but necessary tragedy to avoid a far worse tragedy.
A climate mobilization, by contrast, could result in enormous reductions in the loss of life, huge economic benefits including innovation, technology and massive job creation and all while leaving us with a much better quality of life. And it will do so with exciting new technologies like electric cars and batteries that engage and enthuse people. It will leave our energy costs lower and supplies more secure, our cities cleaner, more people employed, our health improved and our world more united by common purpose.
Common purpose is key. People who lived through WWII on the home front — so weren’t at the front line facing the human tragedy — speak almost fondly of the time. The sense of unifying purpose, the community working together to face down and overcome a frightening external threat, the shift in culture from self-focus and consumerism to collective focus and purpose, left them feeling their lives were better, happier and more worthwhile.
This crucial difference can significantly impact the arguments used — and the potential allies for — a full-scale climate mobilization.
The global economy is in deep and serious trouble. Growth in the current model is grinding to a halt. Inequality and the lack of progress of the Western middle class has laid the foundation for political extremism, xenophobia and isolationism. It has thus brought us phenomena like Trump, Brexit and other political movements that further threaten the global economy. Policies to address this sluggish growth have led to both increased financial system risks and an enormous debt load — one there is no realistic way to pay back, just because growth is so sluggish. The resulting instability forms the shaky foundation on which the impacts of uncontrolled climate change will land — creating an economic and social crisis that will likely tip the system over the edge.
The elites and policy makers are wringing their hands in despair. They broadly agree on the problems but have no serious solutions to propose, except more of the same failed trickle-down economics. In this context, a climate mobilization along the lines outlined in this paper provides a far smarter way forward and the basis for building a serious alliance between those concerned about economic and political stability, those who are inspired by the technology and business opportunities and those concerned about climate change.
So as you read this paper, recognise that the scientific and economic evidence of the risks posed by climate change demands nothing less than what is proposed here. It is, by itself, well justified. But also recognise that the approach could quite reasonably be seen as a mobilization to save the economy — and frankly it’s the best idea we have to do so.
I commend Ezra and The Climate Mobilization for their courage in taking up this cause and I hope all who read this will join us to help make that cause a reality.