A recent Grist headline sounds like at least two members of Congress are starting to treat climate change like the emergency that it is: “Two senators want the U.S. to start selling war bonds — to fight climate change.” But a closer look reveals that Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are really admitting defeat rather than putting forth a plan to actually win the war.
The “Climate Change Adapt America Bond Act,” introduced at a Capitol Hill press conference on April 27, would authorize the Treasury Department to issue up to $200 million annually to help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change. That sounds great, but the key word is adapt. Why not issue war bonds focused on mitigation to avoid having to adapt in the first place? That is what Margaret Klein Salamon, director of The Climate Mobilization, an advocacy group calling for a WWII-scale mobilization to restore a safe and stable climate supportive of human civilization, is asking.
Speaking to Grist, Salamon called the legislation “a defeatist strategy — as if war bonds were sold to Americans so they could better adapt to Nazi rule rather than actually attempt to win the war.” She also criticized the $200 million figure, noting that $185 billion worth of war bonds were purchased during World War II, a figure that with inflation would be equal to more than $2 trillion today.
“In 1942, 85 million patriotic Americans purchased War Bonds to support our country’s war effort. We need that same commitment today to protect ourselves against the potentially devastating effects of climate change,” Sen. Boxer said at the press conference. Added Sen. Durbin: “This bill will help people fight climate change by buying bonds, which will in turn help communities prepare for and deal with the damaging effects of climate change.”
The Climate Mobilization is calling for net zero emissions by 2025, restoring ecosystems to draw down excess atmospheric carbon and ending industrial agriculture, among other initiatives that would engage every American citizen in a war-time effort until a safe climate is restored, similar to the all-hands-on-deck effort the government instituted to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II.
In a paper titled “Leading the Public into Emergency Mode: A New Strategy for the Climate Movement,” Salamon makes the case for a WWII-scale mobilization and cites examples of what took place in the United States during the Second World War, when “conservative business titans joined labor leaders and liberal bureaucrats — after years of bitter acrimony over the New Deal — to focus America’s industrial might against the Nazis and Imperial Japan. Factories were rapidly converted from producing consumer goods to producing tanks, guns, bombs, and planes — shattering all historical records for war production.”
Salamon writes that while young men fought abroad, women surged into factories to produce war material, scientific research accelerated on behalf of the war effort, more than 10 percent of the population relocated for war jobs, and more than 40 percent of vegetables were grown at home, in Victory Gardens.
“Citizens invested their available cash reserves in war bonds. Taxes were also increased significantly, particularly on high earners, who paid a steep ‘Victory Tax,’ the most progressive tax in American history. The top marginal income tax rate on the highest earners reached 88% in 1942 and a record 94% in 1944. A tax on excess corporate profits provided about 25% of revenues during the war,” writes Salamon.
And what would the United States look like if we mobilized on the scale of WWII to combat climate change? Writes Salamon about the homefront during WWII: “The entire country was suffused with a sense of national purpose, and a great amount of energy.” Imagine if we did that for fighting climate change.