Explaining climate change
Back in 2009, Stanford engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson and transportation scientist Mark Delucchi, of the University of California at Davis, laid out “A Plan for a Sustainable Future” in Scientific American. It would get the world to an all wind-water-solar economy by 2030.
Later the deadline was moved back to 2050, but what stuck was not so much the details of the engineering plan as the casual estimate of the degree of national effort required. “Society has achieved massive transformations before,” they wrote, and pointed to industrial mobilization in World War II as one example.
Metaphors of war now show up frequently in discussions of climate change. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, for example, likens the plight of Alaska to being “on the front lines of climate change.” And, of course, the most prominent example of the metaphor or comparison is the “Green New Deal” itself, that is, House Resolution 109. It calls for a “national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal.” The alarmist journalist David Wallace-Wells has admonished us in “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Global Warming,” that to meet the “economic devastation” that faces us “we have no New Deal revival waiting around the corner, no Marshall Plan ready.” Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren likens the necessary “industrial mobilization” to “how we mobilized our industrial base during World War II.”
As far back as 1910, the great philosopher of Pragmatism William James recognized the unequaled power of patriotic feeling aroused by war to elicit self-sacrifice and determined effort. In a brilliant and influential essay he called for a “moral equivalent of war” to be dedicated to peacetime purposes. James is the true patron saint of the current assumption that only a national resolve equal to the task of world war will create the political effort necessary to conquer climate change. No wonder Sen. Warren now characterizes her policies as “economic patriotism.”
But William James, who was no politician, overlooked an underlying condition that must be present if these calls are really to stir the nation’s prodigious energies: bipartisanship. World War II was not a Democratic or a Republican war. Both Republicans and Democrats fought in it. Neither Democrats alone nor Republicans alone won World War II. America did.
Implicit in these analogies to war, is the idea that it will be expensive and require sacrifice (remember war rationing?) at times to meet the climate challenge. If so, we cannot rely on coercing almost half of the American electorate, that is, the Americans whose favorite lost the election. We need goals and programs that will arouse the best in a great majority of Americans — a real mandate. We need the unique and awesome energies of both political parties to lead the way. It will require clear-eyed recognition of the problem and consuming dedication for America to meet this challenge as America met the challenges of the 1930s and 1940s. Bipartisanship is a necessity.
I am writing this op-ed on the Fourth of July. People in State College are celebrating, no matter their party affiliation. We need to continue that spirit beyond the single day of the joyous Fourth into the difficult and challenging future that awaits us.