This is an excerpt from Seth Klein’s A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, just published and now available here. The book outlines Klein’s “battle plan”, a set of valuable lessons for the climate mobilization from Canada’s Second World War experience.
(This post features 6 of Klein’s 14 key strategies for Canada’s climate emergency mobilization.)
The Battle Plan
“To execute a successful battle, we need a plan—a roadmap to guide us through the stages of climate mobilization. From my study of Canada’s Second World War experience, and in particular how we successfully mobilized on the home front, the following key strategic lessons emerge,” writes Klein.
Sarah Harmer has a terrific new song out called New Low that captures the climate mobilization moment. Check out the video for it here.
Adopt an emergency wartime mindset, prepared to do what it takes to win
Something powerful happens when we approach a crisis by naming the emergency and the need for wartime-scale action. It creates a new sense of shared purpose, a renewed unity across Canada’s confederation, and liberates a level of political action that seemed previously impossible. Economic ideas deemed off-limits become newly considered, and we open ourselves up to fresh ways of thinking. We see the attacks on our soil for what they are. And we become collectively willing to see our governments adopt mandatory policies, replacing voluntary measures that merely incentivize and encourage change with clear timelines and regulatory fiat in order to drive change and meet ambitious targets.
Rally the public at every turn
“This is the roadmap out of climate crisis that Canadians have been waiting for.” — Naomi Klein, activist and New York Times bestselling author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine
Many assume that at the outbreak of the Second World War everyone understood the threat and was ready to rally to Mackenzie King’s call. But that was not so. It took leadership to mobilize the public. In frequency and tone, in words and in action, the climate mobilization needs to look and sound and feel like an emergency. If our governments are not behaving as if the situation is an emergency, then they are effectively communicating to the public that it is not. As occurred in the war, our governments need to develop and execute multifaceted advertising programs that boost the level of public “climate literacy” and outline and explain their policy responses. The news media and educational institutions need to reimagine their approach to this crisis, and we must demand that they do so. We need to marshal the cultural and entertainment sectors, which requires major public funding for arts and culture initiatives that seek to rally the public. And we need to better include the public in decision-making as we refine our climate policies, through the use of citizen assemblies and other means of democratic engagement.
Spend what it takes to win
A benefit of an emergency or wartime mentality is that it forces governments out of an austerity mindset and liberates the public purse. The Second World War saw an explosion in government spending. In order to finance the war effort, the government issued new public Victory Bonds and new forms of progressive taxation were instituted. Yet these new taxes and what remains to this day historic levels of public debt did not produce economic disaster, as is so often claimed. On the contrary, they heralded an era of record economic performance. As we confront the climate emergency, financing the transformation before us requires that we employ similar tools.
Reject the straitjacket of neoliberal economic thinking
The previous lessons all share a common thread — the casting off of free-market economic ideas and assumptions that have kept us from doing what we need to do in the face of the climate emergency. During the war, given the urgency and scale of the task, both the general public and private-sector leaders understood that the economic transformation had to be state-led. Canada’s Second World War government was by and large a free-market oriented administration (indeed, that orientation had severely constrained government action during the Depression of the 1930s, at the price of great hardship). But in the face of the urgent need to confront fascism, its leaders were no longer ideologically rigid. They were prepared to embrace a level of economic planning, public investment and public enterprise that seemed previously unimaginable.
Once an extended emergency is truly recognized, all the institutions and machinery of government are focused on the task of confronting it. During the Second World War, King appointed a powerful war subcommittee of cabinet to oversee the government’s efforts. We need a Climate Emergency War Cabinet Committee today, and a Climate Emergency Secretariat in the Prime Minister’s Office and each premier’s office, coordinating our emergency response as a whole-of-government approach. Just as we have created a governance architecture for fiscal planning, budgeting, budget consultations and accountability in the present, so too we need to build similar systems for carbon budgeting. We need new federal-provincial-municipal cost-shared programs focused on the climate crisis, including a new federal Climate Emergency Just Transition Transfer to collaboratively fund new green infrastructure and job training initiatives, with funding going disproportionately to the provinces with the most heavy-lifting to do in this transition. We need to breathe a new, ambitious spirit into the civil service. During the war, C.D. Howe created end runs around the existing civil service to expedite wartime production. That was effective but also produced its own problems. The challenge now is to transform the public service — to recruit and promote the people willing and able to make bold things happen quickly. We need visionary and creative people in key leadership positions in the civil service and to bring in outside experts, civil society leaders and entrepreneurs as needed to drive change and oversee the necessary scale-up. And we need all political parties to advance policy agendas that are truly consistent with what the science demands of us.
Everyone has to do their bit
The Second World War was a total war effort. It was not merely prosecuted by government, the military and war manufacturing firms. All households played their part. Every company in the country made adjustments. All institutions were engaged. The same is true today. Households will need to shift their consumption, their transportation and how they heat their homes. All companies and institutions, public and private, need transition plans. Thousands of young people want a role to play, and many could find meaning in a new national Youth Climate Corps. And social movements will need to keep governments’ feet to the fire at every stage.
To get the full scope of the battle plan, Klein’s book is a must-buy! Click here to order A Good War: Mobilizing for Canada’s Climate Emergency.
This article was previously published in Below2C
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.