Book Review: A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, by Seth Klein
I’m using my time at home now to read and comment on some of the many books we have bought in the last two or three years. If this were a college course, they might be called out of date. But if you will never read these books yourself, enjoy and comment upon the ideas in this book review. Or, if you want to read these books yourself, either ask the library, or ask me to borrow a book.
A Good War uses the measures taken during WWII as a blue print for the fight of our lives today, against an enemy which has no face, uniform, symbol, or nationality. Climate change, runaway climate change, climate change that makes living on Earth impossible, is real. Scientists continually update their predictions about the speed of the melting of the icecaps and glaciers. This is a given: that we are in an emergency situation and must use emergency measures. This book makes the case that there are already solutions available to turn this nightmare around, and we must start using them now.
Weary from the First World War, and struggling with an economic depression, Canadians did not want to get into another war in the 1930s and used many psychological attitudes, from denial to appeasement, to avoid the hard call. Our equivalents today are the anti-science crowd and the oil and gas industry supporters. We have many ways of excusing ourselves: blaming China for coal pollution, feeling relieved that most of us live in the northern hemisphere and above sea level, assuming that technology will come up with a solution soon, continuing to fly, and descending into a culture of impossibility – “that feeling that we are collectively unable to rise to this task.” We tell ourselves that Canada’s emissions are relatively small compared to other countries, but…”on a per capita basis, Canadians are the highest GHG emitters in the world…” And, on top of that, Canada’s economy, (certainly Alberta’s economy), is based upon exporting fossil fuels to other countries.
On the other hand, a public opinion poll of 2,000 representative Canadians, carried out in July, 2019 by Abacus Data, showed that the public is ready to support systemic solutions to the climate crisis that go farther than what governments are willing to do now. The Abacas Data survey results, provided in this book, reveal that most Canadians are on board with the social changes required to make a just transition to a green economy, to take in climate refugees, and although most had never heard of the Green New Deal, when they learned what it was, they supported it. Climate communications experts Louise Comeau and George Marshall found, after reviewing many climate change polls, that people were becoming more aware of climate disasters and that they were bored with dry statistics proving a point – they responded to passionate, ethically based, empathetic arguments and examples. Following from this, Klein has presented the type of solutions that stand a good chance of drawing mass public support.
While some argue that a “war metaphor” turns people off, others, including Margaret Klein Salamon, Ph.D in clinical psychology, point out that many people who lived through the Second World War found it to be the best years of their lives. It provided meaning to their lives, it united people, as everyone, rich or poor, had the same rations, and everyone was employed doing something for the cause. The rest of this book proceeds to put forth what it would take to use the media to educate and motivate the public to join together for a Good War.
This book is dense, jammed full of serious issues that are not easily resolved. For example, in Part 2, Chapter 3, “…Marshalling Public Opinion…” Klein puts his toe in the murky waters of the morality of rhetoric (Plato), propaganda (Orwell), and the arts in appealing to our emotions over our brains. For someone who wants to explore this nuanced area see “Two Ways of Looking at Propaganda,” John H. Brown, CPD Blog, June 29, 2006. Also in Part 2, “Confederation Quagmire…,” Klein faces the issue of Provincial jurisdiction (the same issue faced in the U.S. with “states rights.”) A country that spans the continent, with enormous geographical differences, ethnic and cultural identities, and population inequalities is beyond challenging when solidarity is required, as it is when facing an emergency. Part 3, Chapter 6, “Paying for Mobilization, Then and Now,” revolutionizes just about everything, using the Bank of Canada, creating Crown Corporations, selling bonds, and giving financial incentives to corporations, cities, and individuals who switch from fossil fuel use to green energy alternatives. This chapter could be a book in itself and could sustain a book club in discussion for a year.
This is one of the most researched books I have encountered on the subject of how to meet the climate challenge immediately. The sources are so numerous that I would strongly suggest owning the book in order to return to it over and over. It is a beautiful book, full of lucid arguments, statistics, and a can-do attitude. I get the same feeling from reading it as I do when watching a BBC film set during WWII in Britain when people in all walks of life talked proudly about “doing their bit.”
Canada has become increasingly divided. Computers, cell phones, air conditioning, subculture identification, the working poor vs the top 1%, rising populations of the hungry and the homeless, and then the Covid 19 epidemic all tend to leave us to experience our despair alone. What I want, and I think what most of us want, is to “do our bit.” We want to pull together not apart. We need a larger sense of meaning than our own family and job. Surely, turning to heal our planet so that we can continue to live on it is something that can activate our deepest passions. But not if it is merely encouraged – it has to be embraced emotionally and the government must be involved with the carrot and the stick.
I read this book to confirm and elaborate my convictions. I am not a climate denier. The only thing that raised a red flag for me was the 2019 Abacus Data Survey. So much of the book rests on the results of that survey. Klein must establish at the beginning of the book that the “people” want immediate action, that, while lowering CO2 and methane emissions, will grow a more egalitarian society where everyone benefits, not just a few. I feel the questions asked in the survey encouraged more positive answers. But then that is what is needed. During the war “defeats as well as victories were reported, but there was no pretense of neutrality.” “…media outlets in the Allied countries modeled a form of “patriotic press.” For example, the press can treat the benign term “climate change” as the climate catastrophe it is. In May 2019 The Guardian swapped language to make it more compelling with terms such as “climate crisis,” “climate emergency,” and “climate breakdown.” In October 2019, in Victoria, BC, the CBC radio morning show started posting a “daily CO2 reading” into the stock market report. These are examples of the many solutions suggested in “A Good War” which are actually workable – a needed therapeutic for our cynical pessimistic times.