A WARTIME MOBILIZATION
As much as I admire Lester Brown… and YES we have to mobilise….there
are a number of issues here
in the 1940’s – America was a much different place –
1)the culture was far (FAR) more aquiescent to authority,
2)there were identifiable external enemies, (Japan and Germany)
3)petroleum was at peak production
4)environmental regulations were nil.
5) the population was less than half of what it is today.
so the probability of those dynamics being repeatable, is, I suggest, nil.
Hugh from Running on Empty Oz http://groups.yahoo.com/group/roeoz/message/49203
"we have met the enemy…and he is us" Pogo
Earth Policy Institute
Plan B 3.0 Book Byte
December 3, 2008
A WARTIME MOBILIZATION
Lester R. Brown
There are many things we do not know about the future. But one thing we do
know is that business as usual will not continue for much longer. Massive
change is inevitable. Will the change come because we move quickly to
restructure the economy or because we fail to act and civilization begins
Saving civilization will take a massive mobilization, and at wartime speed.
The closest analogy is the belated U.S. mobilization during World War II.
But unlike that chapter in history, in which one country totally
restructured its economy, the Plan B mobilization requires decisive action
on a global scale.
On the climate front, official attention has now shifted to negotiating a
post-Kyoto protocol to reduce carbon emissions. But that will take years.
We need to act now. There is simply not time for years of negotiations and
then more years for ratification of another international agreement.
It is time for individual countries to take initiatives on their own.
We know from our analysis of global warming, from the accelerating
deterioration of the economy´s ecological supports, and from our
projections of future resource use in China that the western economic
model–the fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy–will
not last much longer. We need to build a new economy, one that will be
powered by renewable sources of energy, that will have a diversified
transport system, and that will reuse and recycle everything.
We can describe this new economy in some detail. The question is how to get
from here to there before time runs out. Can we reach the political tipping
points that will enable us to cut carbon emissions before we reach the
ecological tipping points where the melting of the Himalayan glaciers
becomes irreversible? Will we be able to halt the deforestation of the
Amazon before it dries out, becomes vulnerable to fire, and turns into
What if three years from now scientists announced that we have waited too
long to cut carbon emissions and that the melting of the Greenland ice
sheet is irreversible? How would the realization that we are responsible
for a coming 23-foot rise in sea level and hundreds of millions of refugees
from rising seas affect us? How would it affect our sense of self, our
sense of who we are? It could trigger a fracturing of society along
generational lines like the
more familiar fracturing of societies along racial, religious, and ethnic
lines. How will we respond to our children when they ask, "How could you do
this to us? How could you leave us facing such chaos?"
As we have seen, a corporate accounting system that left costs off the
books drove Enron, one of the largest U.S. corporations, into bankruptcy.
Unfortunately, our global economic accounting system that also leaves costs
off the books has potentially far more serious consequences.
The key to building a global economy that can sustain economic progress is
the creation of an honest market, one that tells the ecological truth. To
create an honest market, we need to restructure the tax system by reducing
taxes on work and raising them on various environmentally destructive
activities to incorporate indirect costs into the market price. If we can
get the market to tell the truth, then we can avoid being blindsided by a
faulty accounting system that leads to bankruptcy. As Øystein Dahle, former
Vice President of Exxon for Norway and the North Sea, has observed:
"Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the
economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the
market to tell the ecological truth".
As we contemplate mobilizing to save civilization, we see both similarities
and contrasts with the mobilization for World War II. In this earlier case,
there was an economic restructuring, but it was temporary. Mobilizing to
save civilization, in contrast, requires an enduring economic restructuring.
Still, the U.S. entry into World War II offers an inspiring case study in
rapid mobilization. Initially, the United States resisted involvement and
responded only after it was directly attacked at Pearl Harbor on December
7, 1941. But respond it did. After an all-out commitment, the U.S.
engagement helped turn the tide of war, leading the Allied Forces to
victory within three-and-a-half years.
In his State of the Union address on January 6, 1942, one month after the
bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt announced the country´s arms
production goals. The United States, he said, was planning to produce
45,000 tanks, 60,000 planes, 20,000 anti-aircraft guns, and 6 million tons
of merchant shipping. He added, "Let no man say it cannot be done".
No one had ever seen such huge arms production numbers. But Roosevelt and his
colleagues realized that the world´s largest concentration of industrial
power at that time was in the U.S. automobile industry. Even during the
Depression, the United States was producing 3 million or more cars a year.
After his State of the Union address, Roosevelt met with automobile
industry leaders and told them that the country would rely heavily on them
to each these arms production goals. Initially they wanted to continue
making cars and simply add on the production of armaments. What they did
not yet know was that the sale of new
cars would soon be banned. From early 1942 through the end of 1944, nearly
three years, there were essentially no cars produced in the United States.
In addition to a ban on the production and sale of cars for private use,
residential and highway construction was halted, and driving for pleasure
was banned. Strategic goods–including tires, gasoline, fuel oil, and
sugar–were rationed beginning in 1942. Cutting back on private consumption
of these goods freed up material resources that were vital to the war
The year 1942 witnessed the greatest expansion of industrial output in the
nation´s history–all for military use. From the beginning of 1942 through
1944, the United States far exceeded the initial goal of 60,000 planes,
turning out a staggering 229,600 aircraft, a fleet so vast it is hard even
today to visualize it. Equally impressive, by the end of the war more than
5,000 ships were added to the 1,000 or so that made up the American
Merchant Fleet in 1939.
In her book No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes how various firms
converted. A sparkplug factory was among the first to switch to the
production of machine guns. Soon a manufacturer of stoves was producing
lifeboats, merry-go-round factory was making gun mounts; a toy company was
turning out compasses; a corset manufacturer was producing grenade belts;
and a pinball machine plant began to make armor-piercing shells.
In retrospect, the speed of this conversion from a peacetime to a wartime
economy is stunning. The harnessing of U.S. industrial power tipped the
scales decisively toward the Allied Forces. Winston Churchill often quoted
his foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey: "The United States is like a giant
boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it, there is no limit to the power
it can generate".
This mobilization of resources within a matter of months demonstrates that
a country and, indeed, the world can restructure the economy quickly if
convinced of the need to do so. Many people–although not yet the
majority–are already convinced of the need for a wholesale economic
restructuring. The purpose of my book Plan B 3.0 is to convince more people
of this need, helping to tip the balance toward the forces of change and
# # #
Adapted from Chapter 13, "The Great Mobilization," in Lester R. Brown, Plan
B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (New York: W.W. Norton & Company,
2008), available for free downloading and purchase at
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Lester Russell Brown (born 1934) is an environmental analyst who has
written over twenty books on global environmental issues. His works have
been translated into more than forty languages. He is the founder of the
Worldwatch Institute and founder and president of the Earth Policy
Institute, which is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington,
One of his best known works is Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress
and a Civilization in Trouble. The recipient of forty honorary degrees and
a MacArthur Fellowship, among numerous other awards, Brown has been
described by the Washington Post as "one of the world’s most influential
In 1991, the American Humanist Association named Brown the Humanist of the Year