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Sunday, September 25, 2016

We Need A World War II Effort To Tackle Global Warming And The Great Recession

If the government doesn’t go bold on the environment, the economy and the earth will continue to suffer.

The news from the world of global warming science is grim. We need to keep the planet from warming by more than 2 degrees centigrade or the climate could become extremely dangerous. To stay below that level would require a drastic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in the next several years. Many commentators, from Al Gore to Thomas Friedman to Lester Brown, have argued that we need a World War II type effort to prevent the worst of global warming. Such an effort would have the bonus effect of reviving the economy. When FDR was confronted with a world war, he converted as much as one third of the economy to that effort, with the federal government in the lead. The result: fascism was defeated along with what was left of the Great Depression. Can we do something similar today?

When World War II started, the federal government converted several industries, including the automobile industry, to make tanks, planes, and other military goods. A planning department was set up, and all resources that were necessary for the war effort were carefully counted and controlled. At the peak of the war, about one third of all output (GDP) in the United States went into the military. One third of today’s economy would be about $5 trillion dollars.

While there is a debate about whether the war actually ended the Great Depression, it certainly finished off the scourge of high unemployment. The construction of new machinery for the factories laid the groundwork for the post-war boom, as well as enlightened policies like the G.I. Bill, which paid for college for returning soldiers and made housing loans available through the government.

Today we have a different problem, but it could become just as deadly as a world war. Modern global civilization will become difficult if not impossible to maintain if the planet overheats, according to a new report. Our society is not designed to deal with increasing sea levels, indefinite droughts in some areas and unpredictable deluges in others, forests destroyed by warm weather pests, dead oceans, and disappearing glaciers that lead to the destruction of many of the world’s most important rivers.

  • kurt.lorentzen

    I have to admit that I was expecting yet another environmental rant with no basis in economic reality and no realistic plan. But I have to admit this article is well thought-out and addresses, in broad terms, both some solutions and their viabliity. I question whether a national wind co-op could supply electricity equivalent to what we now produce with coal, even if supplemented with solar arrays. And if we’re going to produce only organic crops, without petroleum-fueled farming equipment or transporation, that will add significantly to the requirement for more alternately-sourced energy. There are plenty of practical problems with this concept, but at least the author attempts to address the primary issues that are always raised as reasons NOT to pursue clean, non fossile-based energy. Regardless of your stance on global warming, it’s undisputable that we are reaching the end of easily-extracted oil, and separating oil from sand and shale or drilling in deep water will be very costly and lead to high prices. I’m all for committing to energy independence and if we can do that while at the same time creating jobs directly in the industry and in supporting roles, and protect our fragile environment, all I can say is, “What are we waiting for”?