Climate Mobilization, The Concept, in the Media

The Climate Mobilization’s advocacy for a WWII-scale effort to fight climate change received mainstream media focus in October 2015 with Atlantic magazine’s publication of Venkatesh Rao’s “Why Solving Climate Change Will Be Like Mobilizing for War.” Rao doesn’t mention TCM by name. But he characterizes the climate challenge this way: “There is only one successful precedent for the kind of technological mobilization we are contemplating: the mobilization of American industry during World War II.” That’s straight out of TCM’s year-plus-old mission statement. The call for a massive and swift decarbonization program has clearly entered primetime. While the Atlantic article is perhaps the most prominent indication to date that the idea is catching fire, it’s by no means the only example.

Back in September Michael Hoexter published a sweepingly programmatic piece in New Economic Perspectives "A US Climate Platform: Anchoring Climate Policy in Reality." Hoexter argues that climate change requires “a massive, unprecedented emergency mobilization from the United States government and population as well as other nations and international organizations such as the United Nations. The required massive effort will apply both moral and financial means to mobilize people and resources to preserve a habitable world.” The piece provides a synoptic rationale for emergency action. Hoexter notes that his “platform would seem to fit with the strategy of the relatively new group, The Climate Mobilization,” and that he’s a TCM economic and strategy advisor. 

That the Atlantic story signals a trend is also evident in a commentary Kevin Anderson published in Nature Geoscience online, also in October. Anderson concludes that “even a slim chance of ‘keeping below’ a 2°C rise, now demands a revolution in how we both consume and produce energy. Such a rapid and deep transition will have profound implications for the framing of contemporary society and is far removed from the rhetoric of green growth that increasingly dominates the climate change agenda.” Anderson emphasizes a point that Rao and Hoexter discuss in passing: the probability that decarbonization will entail a sharp overall drop in energy use and therefore a degree of economic degrowth. This is of course a somewhat controversial aspect of the mobilization debate.

But no less an eminence than Bill Gates foresees a large increase in energy consumption—of non-carbon fuels. He tells interviewer Brandon Krim, also in the October Atlantic, that he’s investing $2 billion in “early-stage, clean-energy research,” a kind of “moon-shot” endeavor that will require large-scale government participation. This is Gates’ version of mobilization. He’s cheerful about the prospect that government needs to be involved. He concedes that the job is too big for private enterprise alone. 

Yet another angle comes from the October 19 issue of Reason magazine, where Ronald Bailey, a libertarian polemicist, addresses points Rao makes in Atlantic (“War on Climate Change,Reason, October 19). Bailey summarizes the climate-change crisis lucidly enough but concludes that “Rao does not try to answer the critical question: Will government solutions to global warming be worse than global warming itself?” Really? That’s the burning issue of our time? It seems that some libertarians consider an expanded government a hotter form of hell.

But on the whole, October’s media coverage of the climate-mobilization theme reflects growing awareness that society must unite, with nods to the one precedent we have for the job: scaling up to fight WWII. The illustration accompanying the Atlantic story says it all. Uncle Sam rolls up his sleeves with a glint in his eyes: wrench in hand, windmills turning in the background.

 From around the Web. Compiled by Susan Cahalan

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