The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World - Paul Gilding (2011)
Chapter 10. The One-Degree War
Like most advocates for action on sustainability, I’ve had days when I find it hard to imagine the world waking up as comprehensively as it must to address these issues effectively. Indeed, while I’ve been writing this book, some argue the tide is going firmly the other way. The Copenhagen Conference failed to deliver tangible progress, the science has been under attack again, opinion polls are going the wrong way, and there is little evidence that governments will translate widespread and genuine concern and understanding into real action. The boiling frog is indeed getting hot!
So why am I so confident the world will respond and that when it does, it won’t be too late? I answered the first question in the last chapter, but the second question needs a more detailed response—will it then be too late? This question has been the focus of a great deal of my research over recent years. However, not only do I describe here a technical answer to the question “Will it be too late?” but I have become convinced in the process of investigation that this is more or less how the future will unfold. It is how we will both survive the impending sustainability and climate crisis and begin the process of building a new economy and society. This is where we come into our own.
This research led me to a new understanding of what’s possible. Up until this point, like most advocates for action in this area, I shared the assumption that society was capable of letting the situation reach a point where it would be “too late,” a point where we would not be capable of stopping a runaway process of ecological collapse. This risk of a runaway breakdown is perhaps the most important issue in this whole area. It is of great concern to scientific experts seeking to understand whether there are tipping points where the global ecosystem takes over and acts on such a scale that nothing we do can have any influence.
I am pretty confident such points exist, but I am also now firmly convinced we will act before we reach them. I wasn’t always so sure. It was only when I understood what a true crisis response could achieve that I realized just how dramatically we can, and I believe will, respond when we do. It is not a pretty picture, but it is a realistic one.
In doing this research, I was joined by my friend and colleague Professor Jorgen Randers, professor of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian School of Management. I mentioned Jorgen in chapter 2 as one of the original authors of the Club of Rome report The Limits to Growth. He has been a tireless advocate for action on sustainability since that book was published in 1972 and became the bestselling environmental book of all time. He is deeply experienced in these issues and from many points of view. Along with his MIT PhD and his current professorial role, he has been a company director, a business school president, deputy head of the World Wildlife Fund (a global NGO), and an investment manager.
Jorgen and I are on the core faculty of the Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Program, an in-depth seminar for corporate executives run by the Cambridge University Programme for Sustainability Leadership. After one of these seminars in 2007, Jorgen and I, joined by my wife, Michelle, took some time out and went mountain bike riding in the Barrington Tops National Park in Hunter Valley north of Sydney. Over dinner one evening, the three of us were discussing how we saw the global response unfolding as the economy moved beyond the limits to growth. We had first discussed this issue a year earlier with the team at my advisory business, Ecos Corporation, brainstorming what a global crisis response might look like.
With thirty-five years of focus on that very topic, Jorgen had a great deal of wisdom to share. Indeed, in 2004 he had published, with his colleagues from 1972, the thirty-year update to The Limits to Growth titled Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update, where they explored this very question.
Around the time of our discussion, there had been greatly renewed public attention on climate change and sustainability. Governments and the corporate sector were engaged deeply on these issues, and the public, driven by major climatic events and high-profile campaigners like Al Gore and Tim Flannery, had put the issue at the forefront of public and political debate. So many experts argued we’d turned the corner and would now start to see serious political action.
Jorgen was skeptical of that view. He had seen the issue ebb and flow over many decades, from the 1970s oil shock through various peaks of attention in the 1980s and 1990s to the then emerging global financial crisis. He was convinced the world still wasn’t ready for the type of transformational action required to shift the global economy. He mounted a convincing argument, so our conversation moved to when we thought real action was likely to occur and what the science told us about the implications of acting at that stage. Would it be too late? If not, what type of response would then be necessary to prevent societal collapse?
Our first conclusion was that the world was probably still a decade or so away from really engaging with a comprehensive response. We knew what this meant, given the lags in the global ecosystem and what the latest scientific research was saying about accelerating impacts. Any response that hoped, at that late stage, to stabilize the global ecosystem would have to be breathtaking in scale, certainly compared with any proposal on the table in 2007. Otherwise it would indeed be “too late” because the lagging impacts would overcome anything less. So we knew immediately we were talking about an economic and social mobilization comparable to that in a world war.
Two things occurred to us as we explored this idea further over the coming days, while cycling and walking through the mountains. First, there would have to be a major global crisis before such a response would be implemented, because nothing else would drive the dramatic shift in the political context that would be necessary. Second, we knew of no mainstream global research under way to define the response that would then be needed to be effective. All the work being done was based on what Churchill called “doing our best” rather than “what was necessary.” The science was clear on what was necessary, and we knew even the most dramatic proposals on the table in 2007 didn’t come close.
These conclusions gave us some important insights into how the future would unfold and also set us a clear task to take on.
The fact that a crisis would be needed before society responded actually meant such a crisis was inevitable. As we covered in the last chapter, the momentum of change in the physical system will inevitably cause the Great Awakening, which will in turn trigger a societywide crisis response. This meant the scale of response we foresaw, impossible to imagine in 2007, was not just possible but actually highly likely. History suggested as well that when it emerged, it would do so apparently suddenly, with most people caught by surprise.
That in turn meant the world at this time would urgently need a well-considered crisis response plan but wouldn’t have one. So we decided to start the process by writing our version of such a plan and putting it into the public domain. Over the following two years, we did so.
Our prime objective was to encourage other experts to engage on the approach, ideally motivating government policy makers to dedicate adequate resources to a comprehensive version of such a plan, even if just as a contingency. Our other objectives were to alert climate advocates, businesspeople, and the community in general that such a warlike mobilization was at least likely, and therefore we all needed to prepare for it.
We concluded our work and after peer review put it into circulation in 2010 via the academic publication The Journal of Global Responsibility.1 This paper provides the foundation for what I present here.
As we covered in the last chapter, there will be two types of responses when the Great Disruption gets into full swing. First the old economy, recognizing the scale of the threat, will try to right itself. This will be a fight for the survival of that system and its associated power structures. Systems fight hard to protect themselves. What I describe here is the centerpiece of how I believe the response of that system will unfold.
Remember that at this time, the world will have woken up to the fact that we are at risk of collapse. There will be acceptance that action can no longer be delayed, because if it is, key tipping points could be passed that would put survival at risk. There will be sufficient present impacts to eliminate any serious political debate about the causes or the risks—in fact, at this point there will be powerful political forces, in business, the military, and the community more broadly, demanding urgent and dramatic action. This demand will be sufficient to overcome the vested interests’ fight for protection of their economic wealth.
There are parallels in this to the context in which World War II was declared both in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Therefore, World War II contains many lessons for us here, above and beyond great Churchill quotes.
When this situation emerges, the first question to be answered will be Churchill’s “what is necessary.” While it is obvious that the challenge we face is much broader than climate change and goes to the essence of our socioeconomic model, climate change will be the prime focus. There are two reasons for this. First, the system will correctly judge that climate change is the most immediate, clear, and present danger and that if it is not effectively addressed, economic and social collapse will prevent anything else from being dealt with. Second, the system will incorrectly believe that we can continue with our present economic model if we decouple growth from CO2emissions and make our economy greatly more efficient in material consumption. As we’ve discussed the data indicates this is not true, but the system will not be able to cope with that reality, because it will threaten power structures and philosophies too completely; so denial of this will continue for a while longer.
Given that the first point is true, however, there will be great benefit in having society focus sharply on greenhouse gases and climate change. It will, after all, as we will see, require an extraordinary level of focus and effort to be effective.
So with this in mind, what will be necessary?
To the objective observer, the climate science is clear on what is necessary. The framework for this science generally translates into how many degrees centigrade we can allow the average global annual temperature to rise above the level it was before the Industrial Revolution. This then translates into a maximum allowable level of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to keep below that given temperature target. This concentration level is generally measured as CO2e (all the main greenhouse gases converted into their equivalents in impact to CO2, the key greenhouse gas of concern). While this science is imprecise because of uncertain feedbacks, it is currently assumed that to have a reasonable chance of achieving two degrees of warming, the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere must be kept to less than 450 ppm CO2e.
Using these measures, allowing even two degrees centigrade of warming is too dangerous. Although broadly accepted as an important goal by policy makers, including the 2009 Copenhagen Conference and hundreds of global corporations, few mainstream science groups actually argue that this is a “safe” level. Rather, it is assumed to be “the best we can do” based on the analysis of what is politically “realistic.” Two degrees will in fact lead to widespread environmental, social, and economic disruption, including widespread threats to food supplies, dramatic increases in extreme weather, and a significant rise in sea level. Most important, we would still face the risk of runaway warming threatening the stability of civilization. So two degrees of warming is an inadequate goal and a plan for failure.
The logical, science-based response is to set a target that gives society a “safe” outcome. Based on currently available science, bringing global warming back to below one degree centigrade above preindustrial levels can be considered reasonably “safe” for humanity on a crowded planet. Returning below one degree of warming, in other words, is the solution to the problem. It is “what is necessary.”
Therefore, Jorgen and I concluded that when the crisis hits and the scale of the threat is understood, society will demand a plan to achieve no more than one degree of long-term warming. It was interesting that in our research we concluded that the CO2e concentration required to achieve this was around 350 ppm. This is the same level being called for by scientists such as James Hansen of NASA and also endorsed as the likely end target by many others. It is also the focus of many in the global climate movement, particularly around Bill McKibben’s 350.org. Many scientists in the heavily politicized arena of climate understandably prefer not to enter the public debate on what is a safe target, given that even two degrees creates such resistance. However, I’ve now had enough private conversations with world-class scientists to be confident that the scientific community will before long settle on this as the upper end of the right target range.
It is interesting to consider the context of risk here. The nature of emissions reduction curves (how an end target translates into annual reductions to get there) means it’s very hard to strengthen targets later. So the logical approach to uncertainty, given what’s at stake, is to have a tighter target and then lift it later if the science firms up. So from every rational view, one degree is the right place to start at this stage.
Some respond to such a target as unachievable, believing we are inevitably on our way to two degrees or more. In considering this view, it is critical to differentiate between what people believe is politically “realistic,” which is a subjective judgement, from what would be technically possible if we decided to address the issue with our full capacity.
In a 2010 issue of Nature Geosciences, two Canadian scientists used existing models to demonstrate that if we stopped all emissions tomorrow, temperatures would stop increasing almost immediately and decrease over time.2 In summary, the only warming that is truly “locked in” is that we choose to create by continuing to emit. A separate study in Science in September 2010 found that if all existing energy and transport infrastructure was used for its natural lifetime, but no new infrastructure emitting greenhouse gasses was created, warming would peak at 1.3 degrees and then start declining.3 Again, the conclusion is that we can physically do this—we just have to want to do it bad enough.
So if one degree is what is necessary and more than this is defined as the “enemy” for our “one-degree war,” what action is required to win the war, and would the required action be possible to achieve? In other words:
1. Is an agreement to achieve such a plan politically conceivable?
2. If it were, is it technically and economically possible to reduce global greenhouse gas concentrations to a level that will bring warming back below one degree?
Clearly, agreement to a one-degree war plan is hard to imagine in today’s world. However, in both World War II and the recent financial crisis, there are clear examples of how fast things can change and how apparently intractable opposition and resistance can quickly evaporate. In the case of World War II, the speed of response by the United States was extraordinary. For example, whereas in 1940 U.S. defense spending was just 1.6 percent of the economy (measured as GDP), within three years it had increased to 32 percent, and by 1945 it was 37 percent. But the GDP increased itself by 75 percent in that time, making the observed increases even more extraordinary.4 Similarly extraordinary political decisions were made to direct the economy. For example, just four days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the auto industry was ordered to cease production of civilian vehicles.5
Gasoline and tires were rationed, campaigns were run to reduce meat consumption, and public recycling drives were held to obtain metals for the war effort. Yes, there was still plenty of resistance, but the political leadership of the day, with public and business support, simply overrode it for the greater public good—because the consequence of failure was unacceptable.
So it can be done. But how would it be done? It is unlikely that the one-degree war would result from a universal global agreement. The process around the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen meeting shows how difficult global agreements are. This difficulty in reaching consensus is often put to me as evidence that we will fail to act on climate change. My response is to ask, “Can you think of other examples where a major military action or economic transformation was driven by a consensus global agreement?” On what basis did we ever believe such an approach would be possible with climate change, especially when many participants have actively sought to undermine it?
We didn’t seek a single global agreement to free trade before any action was taken, for example. If we had done so, we would probably still be negotiating on the preamble fifty years later! Instead we started with consultative bodies like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); we negotiated agreements between individual countries and then expanded them to regions. Meanwhile, very, very slowly, we built the global infrastructure for governance of trade, taking from 1947 with the formation of GATT until 1995 to form a body with enforcement power, the World Trade Organization (WTO). More than sixty years after GATT, even the WTO is still not global in impact, with even China joining only in 2001—that alone took fifteen years of negotiations.
So on climate change, an even more complex economic issue and with significant business opposition to change, it is hard to imagine we would jump straight to a single, legally enforceable, global agreement even in a crisis.
When we do decide to launch a rapid response, it is far more likely that a small number of powerful countries, a kind of “Coalition of the Cooling,” will decide to act and then others will follow. Some will follow in order to align with the major powers, and some will be under military, economic, and diplomatic pressure to join.
In a technical sense, this process is easy. A full 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions will be covered if three “countries” (China, the United States, and the EU-27) agree to act. If we add another four countries (Russia, India, Japan, and Brazil), the coalition will control 67 percent of global emissions.6 Add a few friends and we soon move to more than sufficient impact to tackle the problem. We saw this start to emerge in Copenhagen, and while it will be messy and will ebb and flow over coming years, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the primary way progress will emerge.
The answer to the first question is therefore clearly yes. When we accept the crisis, we are capable of taking the political decisions required to get to work on the action plan. So is there an action plan that would work?
What our work showed is that based on current knowledge and technology, a one-degree target is completely achievable and at an acceptable cost compared with the price of failure. It would be very disruptive to parts of the economy and to many people, and it would require considerable short-term sacrifice, but it certainly “solves the problem.”
So from both questions, our political decision-making capacity and our technical/economic capacity, the issue is not humanity’s capacity to act, but the conditions being such that humanity decides to act. Identifying this point is simple: When the dominant view becomes that climate change threatens the viability of civilization and the collapse of the global economy, a crisis response will rapidly follow. Then society’s framework will change from “what is politically possible” to Churchill’s “what is necessary.” Until then, little of real substance will happen except getting ready for that moment.
What would such a “war plan” look like? Can we forecast the likely response that will be implemented when the moment comes? Jorgen and I thought so. In designing our draft plan, we estimated a start date of around 2018, not as a precise prediction, but we needed a start date to model our response and its impact, and 2018 was our best judgment on when this would emerge. Post-Copenhagen, it still seems like a reasonable forecast.
We concluded that at that late stage, four types of actions would be required to take control of the crisis:
1. A massive industrial and economic shift that would see the elimination of net CO2e emissions from the economy within twenty years, with a 50 percent reduction in the first five years.
2. Low-risk and reversible geoengineering actions to directly slow temperature increase, to safely overcome the lag between emissions reduction and temperature impact.
3. The ongoing removal of around 6 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year for around one hundred years and the long-term storage of this CO2 in underground basins, in soils and in biomass.
4. Adaptation measures to reduce hardship and geopolitical instability caused by then unavoidable physical changes to the climate, including food shortages, forced migration, and military conflict over resources.
It is a symptom of the magnitude of the task that even with the dramatic action proposed in our one-degree war plan, warming would continue above one degree until the middle of this century, before falling back to plus one degree centigrade by 2100.
We suggest fighting the one-degree war in three phases:
1. Climate War. Years 1–5. Modeled on the action following the entry of the United States into World War II, this would be the launch of a world war level of mobilization to achieve a global reduction of 50 percent in greenhouse gas emissions within five years. This crisis response would shock the system into change and get half the job done.
2. Climate Neutrality. Years 5–20. This would be a fifteen-year-long push to lock in the 50 percent emergency reductions and move the world to net zero climate emissions by year 20 (that is, in 2038 if we start in 2018). This will be a major global undertaking, requiring full utilization of all technological opportunities, supported by behavior and culture change.
3. Climate Recovery. Years 20–100. This would be the long-haul effort toward global climate control—the effort to create a stable global climate and a sustainable global economy. Achieving this will require a long period of negative emissions (i.e., removing CO2 from the atmosphere) to move the climate back toward the preindustrial “normal.” For instance, some refreezing of the arctic ice cap will require removing CO2 from the atmosphere through geoengineering actions, like burning plantation wood in power stations and storing the emissions underground using carbon capture and storage (CCS). We believe humanity can complete the stabilization job in the first decades after 2100.
We tested our suggested emission cuts in the C-ROADS global climate model developed by Climate Interactive, an initiative of Ventana Systems, Sustainability Institute and MIT’s Sloan School of Management.7 This confirmed that implementation would deliver broadly the following results:
• The CO2e concentration falls below 350 ppm by the end of the century, after peaking at around 440 ppm.
• Global temperature does temporarily rise above plus one degree centigrade in midcentury, then falls below plus one degree centigrade around the end of this century.
• Average sea level rises by 0.5 meters around 2100 and continues rising to a peak of 1.25 meters around 2300. This is still very disruptive and might trigger a tighter target, but 1.25 meters over three hundred years is at least more manageable than current forecasts with good preparation given the longer time frames.
In broad terms, what this all means is that the climate would be stabilized and manageable for global society. There would still be substantial changes to the climate, disruption to the economy and food supplies, and great loss of biodiversity. However, it would be manageable and it would reduce the risk of the collapse to a tolerable level. It would also allow stronger action if the science indicates the situation is worse than expected.
So it seems it is possible to design a plan that would achieve the required reductions. Of course this is just indicative. What is needed is a multiyear detailed modeling and planning exercise on a scale only governments could afford to devise. Our point was simply to show what is possible. So what types of real-world actions does our plan indicate would be required?
We proposed a dramatic and forceful start of the one-degree war, for two reasons:
1. There is disproportionate value in early actions.8 As the impact of emissions is cumulative, cuts taken earlier in a program save much larger and more disruptive reductions later.
2. History indicates that successful responses to crises tend to involve urgent, dramatic actions rather than slower, steady ones. This engages the public and breaks the tyranny of tradition.
The one-degree war plan therefore proposes a series of global measures to achieve a rapid halving of CO2 emissions during the initial five-year C-war, through linear reductions of 10 percent per year. The C-ROADS model indicated that it takes cuts of 50 percent by 2023 to reach our goal. Even then, this cut must be followed by reductions to zero net emissions by 2038 and net absorption, each year for the rest of the century, of 6 GtCO2e/year (gigatons of CO2 equivalents per year). While the initial 50 percent in five years is very challenging, it is certainly doable. Critically, a slower start would make it challenging to achieve the one-degree goal.
The good news is that cutting by 50 percent by 2023 can be achieved with the types of initiatives that studies like those by international management consultancy McKinsey & Co indicate will cost society less than €60/tCO2e.9(ton of CO2e). The bad news is that making these cuts at a faster speed will, by conventional wisdom, increase the cost. This is based on infrastructure having to be scrapped before the end of its useful life and because technologies will have to be implemented before they are commercially mature. If this is accurate, it is the unfortunate consequence of acting late, as we will be. Delaying action would, however, just make that worse.
There is a counterargument that was not possible for us to model, but we were inclined to support, that a warlike mobilization of the global economy to transform our energy and transport infrastructure will not only be affordable, but may in fact trigger so much innovation and economic activity that it ends up being positive economically. This is argued by many analysts in this area, who see renewable energies as so immature that they will inevitably become not just cheaper than today, but cheaper than fossil fuels even without a carbon price. I cover this further in coming chapters.
Certainly the types of approaches proposed in the one-degree war plan would unleash massive innovation and scale, so this would rapidly be proven either way. It is the case in previous wars that innovation drove new industries and great efficiencies because the determination to achieve an outcome forced major breakthroughs in technology and overcame normal commercial development impediments.
This debate is largely of academic interest only, as the crisis then present will dictate that the approach has to occur, largely regardless of the cost. I don’t imagine there was much of a cost-benefit analysis done on the Manhattan Project when the U.S. government decided it needed to produce an atomic bomb. So we can safely leave to history the judgment of relative costs of CO2 reduction.
To provide a flavor of what we can expect to see when the type of response we are forecasting occurs, I will list some edited excerpts from our plan. They indicate the types of actions that would be required in the first five-year period to get the global economy on the path required to ultimately bring global temperature increase below plus one degree centigrade.
Cut deforestation and other logging by 50 percent
Reduce by one half the ongoing net forest removal and land clearing across the world, including tropical deforestation. At the same time, concentrate commercial forestry operations into plantations managed to maximize carbon uptake. This will require significant payments to developing countries, for the climate services provided by their intact forests, but is surprisingly cost-effective and doable.10
Close one thousand dirty coal power plants within five years
Close down a sufficient number of the world’s dirtiest coal-fired power plants to cut the greenhouse gas emissions from power production by one third. We estimate this implies closing down one thousand plants,11 resulting in a parallel reduction in power production of one sixth. (Power production would fall proportionally less than emissions, because the dirtiest plants emit more CO2 per unit of energy.)
Ration electricity, get dressed for the war, and rapidly drive efficiency
In response to lower power supply, launch an urgent efficiency campaign matched with power rationing. Include a global campaign to change the temperature by one to two degrees centigrade in all temperature-controlled buildings (increase/decrease according to season). Make this part of the “war effort” as a public engagement technique, with large immediate power savings. On the back of this, launch an urgent mass retrofit program, including insulating walls and ceilings, installing efficient lighting and appliances, solar hot water, and so on across both residential and commercial buildings. This would have significant short-term job creation impacts.
Retrofit one thousand coal power plants with carbon capture and storage
Install CCS12 capacity on one thousand of the remaining power plants. This huge investment would be much simpler through international standardization. The CCS technology will also be needed for removal of CO2 from the atmosphere later in the one-degree war (generating power using biomass and sequestrating the CO2). CCS is not yet commercially viable and will require heavy government intervention. However, Jorgen strongly believes CCS will be mandated because it is a simple, albeit expensive, way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whereas I’m more skeptical, as I will cover in chapter 12. It’s not important at this stage, as all technologies will develop and actions taken will adapt accordingly.
Erect a wind turbine or solar plant in every town
Build in every town of one thousand inhabitants or more at least one wind turbine. If there is no meaningful wind, build a solar thermal or solar photovoltaic (PV) plant instead. Beyond the CO2 and renewable technology acceleration benefits, this would have the powerful impact of giving most people in the world a tangible physical connection to the “war effort.”
Create huge wind and solar farms in suitable locations
Launch a massive renewable energy program focused primarily on concentrated solar thermal, solar PV, and wind power—on land and offshore. Given the urgency, the initial focus will need to be on those areas with most short-term potential for mass rollout, with finance supported by global agreement. The DESERTEC initiative for large scale renewable energy generation in north Africa connected to the European grid provides an interesting concept of what would be possible with a multilateral focus.13 On a global scale, various studies have shown how we could move to a 100 percent renewable energy system relatively rapidly. A recent global study showed how this could be achieved by 2030 with full base-load coverage. Of particular interest is that it concluded it would actually be cheaper than fossil fuels and nuclear power, due to the considerable efficiencies inherent in an energy system based on renewable generation and electricity use.14 All such modeling exercises are problematic and subject to controversy, but there is certainly massive potential in renewables with a war effort–type approach.
Let no waste go to waste
Ensure that all used materials are recycled and reused, at the very least to recover the embedded energy. To force this, limit production of virgin aluminum, cement, iron, plastics, and forest products—possibly through international agreements to restrict their use through higher prices or a special global emissions tax on virgin materials. Drive public recycling as part of the war effort (there are good examples here also from World War II, where mass public recycling drives focused on key materials).
Ration use of dirty cars to cut transport emissions by 50 percent
Launch large-scale replacement of fossil-fuel cars with chargeable electric vehicles—running on climate-neutral power—along with a massive boost in fuel-efficiency standards, bans on gas guzzlers, and greater use of hybrid cars. Public repurchase and destruction of the most inefficient vehicles (“cash for clunkers” schemes) may help speed the transition and help address equity issues. Given the time it will take to scale up production, there will need to be rationing of the purchase of gasoline and diesel and other restrictions on their use such as special speed limits on fossil-fuel cars. Such restrictive measures would help drive acceptance of electric and efficient vehicles that would be free of such controls—the fast electric car can wave as it passes the old gas guzzler on the freeway!
In World War II, fuel in the United States was rationed at four gallons (per vehicle per week), then reduced to three gallons, and finally reduced in 1944 to two gallons. Alongside this, a national 35 mph speed limit was imposed, and anyone breaking the limit risked losing his fuel and tire rations. The government ran marketing campaigns to support these measures, such as advertisements asking, “Is this trip necessary?” and education campaigns on “how to spend a weekend without a car.”15 It seems there were early-day environmentalists at the U.S. Defense Department!
Prepare for biopower with CCS
Interestingly, the C-war may not see a large increase in the use of biofuels for land transport (not even second-generation fuels made from cellulose). It seems better for the climate to grow the cellulose and burn it in power stations with CCS, thereby removing CO2 from the atmosphere while making power and heat. For this reason, boosting cellulose production (in plantations and elsewhere) will be key.
Strand half of the world’s aircraft
Reduce airplane capacity by a linear 10 percent per year through regulatory intervention and pricing to achieve a 50 percent reduction in airline emissions by the end of year 5. This will force the rapid development of biofuels for aircraft because of the commercial imperative to do so and force a cultural shift to electronic communication and away from frivolous air travel.
Capture or burn methane
Put in place a global program to ensure that a significant proportion of the methane from agricultural production and landfills are either captured for energy purposes or at least burned to reduce the warming effect of that methane by a factor of 23.
Move away from climate-unfriendly protein
Move society toward a diet with much less climate-unfriendly meat—through public education backed by legislation and pricing. This should be not against particular meat, but against the associated emissions, so that preference is given to protein produced with lower emissions. There are large differences among protein types—emissions differ from soy, chicken, pork, and beef (and within beef, from grass vs. grain fed, particularly noting the emerging science that cattle grazed in certain ways can dramatically increase soil carbon). Therefore science-based policy should be established to encourage the most impactful behavior change and for meat to be rated CO2e/kg and priced accordingly. We note that the U.S. government ran an effective “meat-free Tuesday” campaign during World War II. There is now already a community-based Meatless Monday campaign.
Bind 1 gigaton of CO2 in the soil
Develop and introduce agricultural methods that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and maximize soil carbon. This will require significant changes in farm technology and farmer psychology, and we are unlikely to get far during C-war. But the effort should be started immediately in preparation for the large-scale binding of carbon in forestry and agriculture that will be necessary from year 5 onward in order to remove CO2 from the atmosphere over the rest of the century. In both cases, the object will be to grow as much plant material as possible and ensure that the bound carbon ends in the soil or in subsurface storage, not back in the atmosphere. Currently, global forests bind some 3 GtCO2e/yr. Hopefully—through the use of fast-growing tropical plantations, supplemented with industrial growth of algae—we could achieve the binding (and safe storage) of some 6 GtCO2e/yr from forestry and agriculture combined in future decades.
Launch a government- and community-led “shop less, live more” campaign
In order to free up finance, manufacturing capacity, and resources for critical war effort activities, a large-scale campaign to reduce carbon-intensive consumption, or at least stabilize it, would be of great help. This will align well with the general need to shift the economy away from carbon-intensive activities toward climate-friendly experiences. We would propose a bottom-up and top-down campaign to highlight the quality-of-life benefits of low-carbon lives with less stuff.
While all these actions may seem draconian or unrealistic by the standards of today’s debate, they will seem far less so when society moves to a war footing and a focus on “what is necessary.” Once more, World War II demonstrated that seemingly unachievable actions quickly became normal when delivered in the context of a war effort. They ranged across dramatic increases in the level of taxation, the direction by government of manufacturing, and engagement campaigns to drive public behavior shifts. So once more, the plan asserts that the challenge is not to find appropriate actions, but to make the decision to move on the problem.
The full plan, available from the Journal for Global Responsibility Web site,16 provides further details on these and other actions that would be required. These include how we could raise $2.5 trillion per year by year 5 via a global carbon tax and how this could be used to finance the measures required to compensate the poor, reduce disruption, and create the new industries and employment required. We also cover the types of multinational decision-making bodies that would be required, including a Climate War Command, and more detail on the actions required after the first five-year war, including major reversible global geoengineering projects to reflect sunlight and remove CO2 from the atmosphere and stabilize the global climate.
The point is not to say that Professor Randers and I have the right plan or have defined all the right actions. What we sought to establish, and the point I’m making here, is that a study of history indicates that we will, in the end, embark upon a crisis response to climate change, and when we do, we can see through our plan that quite extraordinary reductions and management measures are practical and achievable. The plan also indicates the economic cost will be considerably less than unchecked climate change.
Of course, there will be significant disruption as old industries are closed and dislocation as people are moved on to new economic activity. But in a real war, such losses are caused by the decision to go to war. In our case, losses would occur anyway, because climate change would inevitably drive the collapse of the economy if strong action wasn’t taken.
The exciting thing about such a plan is that, unlike in a real war, deciding to launch the one-degree war doesn’t cost any lives. Instead it saves millions of them. It doesn’t shift economic resources onto wasteful though necessary activities, it redirects them to build exciting new industries that will enhance the quality of life for the people of all countries involved. It doesn’t waste a generation of youth and leave the survivors traumatized, it educates a generation in the technologies of the future and drives productive innovation that builds new companies and industries.
It is a war we have no choice but to fight and great benefit to gain from declaring.