By Rudy Rogalsky

         “If we don’t win the war, nothing else matters” [C.D. Howe}


Four years ago, Seth Klein wrote A Good War as a model for dealing with climate change. In it, he described how during World War 2, Canadian governments  and people “remade the economy [through] retooling factories, transforming the workforce and creating common cause among Canadians for the war effort”. That “common cause” included a general acceptance of rationing and “doing without”.

That war effort is indeed an apt metaphor for the scope of the transformations and constraints needed if we are to have any hope of salvation from the ravages of climate warming. We need to transform to a human enterprise that is in synch with nature. 250 years ago, world population was a modest one million living amidst seemingly-boundless resources. Then, by 1928 population had doubled, by 1974 it doubled again and then doubled yet again with an increasingly insatiable appetite for resources that is far greater than what the earth can sustainably provide. We have known this for over 50 years and yet, despite annual warnings and countless international agreements, world emissions of green house gases have continued largely unabated.

Admiration for Canada’s war response needs to be tempered by consideration that Canadians had just been through the great depression and were well accustomed to living frugally and “doing without”. Much of today’s population will find future roads more difficult because we know only unparalleled  prosperity with its globalization, unlimited availability of food and consumer goods, ownership of more and bigger “stuff” and space to store it in. 

So, what societal changes are needed to make Klein’s Good War against climate change a reality? Please read the book, but one change is a precondition for success of all the others. That is that our political leadership, the media, the judiciary and the population accept unconditionally that the climate crisis is existential and must be won at any cost. C.D.Howe, who led Canada’s wartime restructuring, could have been talking about today: “If we lose the war, nothing else matters”.There can be no partial victory. The following are some essential pieces of the puzzle we must solve. 

  • For context, understand that the last 250 years of growth fueled by fossil fuels is the most atypical period in human history and that, for most of the last ten thousand years, earth’s temperature never varied more than 0.5oC above or below 14oC. We are presently about 3 orders of magnitude greater than that.
  • Organize! Organize! Organize! Civil society organizations are generally ahead of governments and corporations in knowing the depths of the crisis and understanding what needs to be done. Through coalescing of such minority groups, we could bring about a positive tipping point where their views spread to a quarter of the population and then become the majority view. Only by organizing can civil society set the agenda.
  • Use that power of civil society to bring about political “leadership” characterized by statesmanship and long-term thinking, public trust and total fixation on winning the war. Present politicians, in the main, are obsessed with perpetual growth and short term political and commercial advantage and they must either change or be changed. To elect such people in this emergency would be tantamount to a death wish.
  • Everyone—governments, corporations, citizenry—must adopt an emergency we-are-at-war mindset. 
  • Government and civil society organizations must marshal all the resources of communications media and the entertainment industry to rally and unify the public
  • Governments must mandate that Industrial productive capacity and resources must make only products that reduce or eliminate GHG emissions. Oil and gas exploration, fracking, oil sands production must end. There will be shortages of food and other “necessities” requiring rationing programs.
  • Don’t stop till we’ve won.

 One way or another, every person living in this century or beyond is going to experience conditions that have no parallel in human history. We may still lose the war that we have brought upon ourselves but we owe it to our children to try to win and if that’s not possible, to go down fighting.