Always use WWII metaphors
RealClimate has an excellent post for aspiring climate bloggers, “Advice for a young climate blogger.” It has some incredibly useful advice and warnings, including “Bad things can happen to good bloggers.”
But there is one bullet point that I think is misleading:
Don’t use any WWII metaphors. Ever. This just makes it too easy for people to ratchet up the rhetoric and faux outrage. However strongly you hold your views, the appropriateness of these images is always a hard sell, and you will not be given any time in which to make your pitch. This is therefore almost always counter-productive. This can be extended to any kind of Manichean language.
Silly. You should probably avoid Nazi metaphors, but in fact WWII is the only plausibly-close metaphor for the scale of effort needed to stabilize at or below 450 ppm and preserve a livable climate [see here or my book].
Indeed, at the press conference I participated in with Greenpeace and Sen. Sanders today (details to come), Sanders himself said that we have the technology to do this today (or will very soon) — which is of course a central point of this blog, but what we most need to do is deploy, deply, deploy:
I think there is an enormous amount of technology out there … Go back to December 1941. America had to completely retool its economy in two years. So don’t tell me it can’t be done.
And one of the most important scientific studies published last year (see here) concludes with this key paragraph:
The most difficult task, phase-out over the next 20-25 years of coal use that does not capture
CO2, is herculean, yet feasible when compared with the efforts that went into World War II. The
stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis. The greatest danger is
continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.
One of the most brilliant speaker is on climate in the country, MacArthur Genius Saul Griffith (who I will blog on later this month), makes the same precise point — the only metaphor for this effort that makes sense is World War II.
Indeed, we need both a WWII-scale effort and a WWII-style effort as I argue in the conclusion to my book:
This national (and global) re-industrialization effort would be on the scale of what we did during World War II, except it would last far longer. “In nine months, the entire capacity of the prolific automobile industry had been converted to the production of tanks, guns, planes, and bombs,” explains Doris Kearns Goodwin in her 1994 book on the World War II home front, No Ordinary Time. “The industry that once built 4 million cars a year was now building three fourths of the nation’s aircraft engines, one half of all tanks, and one third of all machine guns.”
The scale of the war effort was astonishing. The physicist Edward Teller tells the story of how Niels Bohr had insisted in 1939 that making a nuclear bomb would take an enormous national effort, one without any precedent. When Bohr came to see the huge Los Alamos facility years later, he said to Teller, “You see, I told you it couldn’t be done without turning the whole country into a factory. You have done just that.” And we did it in under five years.
But of course we had been attacked at Pearl Harbor, the world was at war, and the entire country was united against a common enemy. This made possible tax increases, rationing of items like tires and gasoline, comprehensive wage and price controls, a War Production Board with broad powers (it could mandate what clothing could be made for civilians), and a Controlled Material Plan that set allotments of critical materials (steel, copper, and aluminum) for different contractors.
And one of my most popular metaphors from last year built on my response to Hansen’s paper, in an interview with the NYT‘s Andy Revkin for his blog (here):
We will need a WWII-style approach, but that can only happen after we get the global warming Pearl Harbor or, more likely, multiple Pearl Harbors.
Revkin then asked “What kind of wake-up call does Mr. Romm think is conceivable on a time scale relevant to near-term policy?”
And the result was this post, “What are the near-term climate Pearl Harbors? “We need to use all of the best metaphors possible since, as Aristotle wrote, “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor” (see here) and since climate science activists are not terribly good at messaging (see here and here).
I realize that RealClimate was making a different point, but they overgeneralized.
Let me end with another WWII metaphor I sometimes use in my talks.
If the United States does not sharply reduce its own emissions over the next few decades and work with the other major emitters (developed and developing) to achieve the global reductions needed to stabilize at probably below 450 ppm, then you can be quite certain that no future Tom Brokaw will be writing a book titled The Greatest Generation about us. Maybe The Greediest Generation (see here).
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