Saturday, July 09, 2011

The following is a segment of an interview with NPR's Terry Gross and Lester Brown. Brown recently wrote an article entitled, "The New Geopolitics of Food" appearing in Foreign Policy Magazine, and he founded both the World Watch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute.

Given the fact that Brown has been fighting the good fight since the early '70s, Gross asks him the following question:
GROSS: So you haven't given up. Not much has changed for the better, you say. But you haven't given up. Do you consider yourself a man who is constantly frustrated by what you see?

Mr. BROWN: You know, I probably should be. But sometimes you're asked if you're an optimist or a pessimist, and someone answered that question recently and said it's too late to be a pessimist. And I think that sums it up well. But one of the things I do is go back and look at the economic history of World War II, and realize that we totally restructured the U.S. industrial economy almost overnight.

The attack on Pearl Harbor came on December 7th, 1941. It was extraordinarily successful in military terms, sinking, you know, sinking a large part of the U.S. Pacific fleet that happened to be at anchor there.

But then a month later, January 6th, 1942, President Roosevelt gave his State of the Union address in which he laid out arms production goals. He said we're going to produce 45,000 tanks, 60,000 planes, thousands of ships. And people just couldn't relate to that because we were still in a Depression mode economy at the time.

But what Roosevelt and his colleagues knew was that the largest concentration of industrial power in the world at the time was in the U.S. automobile industry. So after his State of the Union address, he called in the leaders of the industry and said because you guys represent such a large share of our industrial capacity, we are going to rely heavily on you to help us reach these arms production goals.

And they said well Mr. President, we're going to do whatever we can. But it's going to be a stretch producing cars and all these arms too. He said you don't understand. We're going to ban the sale of automobiles in the United States. And that's exactly what we did. And we'd been producing three million a year even during the Depression.

We banned the sale of automobiles. So from early 1942 until the end of 1944, there were essentially no cars produced in the United States and we exceeded every one of those arms production goals. In the end, we didn't produce 60,000 planes, we produced 229,000 planes.

I mean, even today, it's difficult to visualize how we could do that. But the encouraging thing is that we did that and it didn't take decades to restructure the U.S. industrial economy, it didn't take years. We did it in a matter of months. And if we did that then, then certainly we can restructure the energy economy much more rapidly than most people think and thus, be able to stabilize climate before it spirals out of control.
Real change is possible, and yet so many behave as if it's a lost cause, that we're doomed. They don't say this aloud, nor do they probably admit to it privately. Rather it's more likely an indirect admission that occurs subconsciously, with a good dose of cynicism and more so a whopping helping of selfishness. It's much easier to silently cave to the belief that we as a country, much less we as a planet, simply do not want to sacrifice those comforts and routines comprising our day-to-day lives. Needless to say, I suspect a much larger percentage of these folks are conservative and/or Republicans (see the John Kenneth Galbraith quote at the masthead of my blog).

But it's refreshing to read Brown's words of hope. Not platitudes or empty sentiments, but a documented example of a prior time not long ago when we were faced with an emergency and rose to the occasion.

The one problem is a tragic event like Pearl Harbor was a clarion wake-up-call, one with sudden and forceful impact. It literally changed the course of events at the time and ultimately history. Climate change is much slower moving and in effect more of a silent killer, like carbon monoxide poisoning. Before you know it, it's too late.

Sadly we're not treating the effects of climate change as we would if they collectively equated to a singular attack on our soil, ala Pearl Harbor or 9/11, two events that we know catalyzed significant actions for change.

By the time we realize as a nation that we need to take drastic steps, it may be too late, irregardless if we stop everything and come together to solve the problem.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But what if climate change is just a tool to gain control of the food supply...Goldman Sachs and other big banks are buying up arable land in africa and south america including the aquifers in South America...Hey, They are shutting down vocational school spending, here...Are we being governed or subjugated???? What better way to hedge against a coming revolution then to control the food????