“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones…”
is the editorial/admin staff of Creative Politics, and the pen name used for the original Federalist Papers making the case for the US Constitution in the 1780s. The founders of Creative Politics are a father and son team, both left-handed.
Genius is no longer required to know the weapons World War III or IV will be fought with. Hurricanes, typhoons, and tornadoes. Droughts, floods, crushing heat waves, blasts of polar air. Rampant wildfires, ubiquitous new forms of gas warfare that target civilians and cognition, sabotaged water supplies, crimes against both humanity and nature, which have become one through violence, not covenant. And plagues, of heretofore unimaginable scope and variety.
Some say COVID-19 signals the start of WWIII, and when they say this, they’re envisioning World War II, the only world war close enough in memory to exist and be existential; “the good war” they think, hopefully. But in reality the pandemic has much more in common with the first of our global conflagrations, WWI, right down to the uncanny resemblance between the individuals most responsible for them. Both were predicted for years before they happened, the inevitable results of highly artificial and therefore unsustainable states of affairs. Both were initiated by a single incident in a relative backwater that inexorably took on a life of its own, in a simple, almost linear chain reaction that was always there to see.
Part of our Revivalist History series, in which we search for clues as to what we should do next in what we, as Americans have–as usual–forgotten we did before. Zinn only knows we’ve achieved some pretty amazing things under the influence of novelty and change. Do you remember when? Did you always want to be an archaeologist, but never found the epoch?
The real “invisible enemy” in both was and is greed, right down to the vector itself, whether mindless acquisition of unnecessary colonies or, in the case of our current struggle, levels of income inequality not seen since, well, the period immediately preceding and following the 1914-18 hostilities, cynical conflicts where ideology, while trumpeted, was/is window-dressing at best and worst (not that wars driven by ideology are any better for it). Like COVID, World War I was disjointed, a chaotic, every-country-for itself affair, much of it completely senseless, in which life was treated as shockingly cheap among even the most “advanced” and “civilized.” How different are today’s “essential workers”–ordered by law and contract to risk their lives every day so their bosses can collect even more coin from the shelter of their enclaves–from the infantry ordered by their “betters” to rise up out of the trenches and charge across no-man’s land to be slaughtered, again, and again, and again, a ‘philosophy’ that, in the literal end, resulted in more soldiers dying on Armistice Day than on D-Day in World War II? Dying by the RNA of an organism that is a mockery, a parody of life, as remorselessly indifferent as infinite space, while their debauched modern-day trench commanders take bets on how many will fall.
The great Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote his best known work, The Second Coming, during the darkest days of the stalemated sieges. The crescendo, in particular, seem as if it could literally have been written yesterday:
Yeats wrote these lines weeks after watching helplessly as his pregnant wife nearly died of influenza, and normally it would be too ‘on the nose’ to point out that WWI, like the present day, featured a deadly pandemic, but it’s worth noting that in both cases, the resulting destruction was made immeasurably worse by governments–including, in both cases, our own–dismissing, dissembling about, and covering up the danger involved. In fact, the 1918 influenza, which most now believe likely originated in rural Kansas, became mistakenly known as the “Spanish flu” because the Spanish government was the only one that allowed its press to publicly report what was going on, something that should give pause to those quick to redirect their own government’s incompetence onto the Chinese.
Just as World War I was widely declared “the war to end all wars,” there’s been no shortage of public intellectuals trumpeting the long overdue, sweeping, and generally positive changes they expect COVID to produce as a result of all it has chewed through and laid bare. And one key difference between 1920 and 2020 gives them at least a hugger’s chance of vindication: the self-reflection and contemplation forced upon us by lockdowns and quarantines, in particular the extent to which it has compelled many of us to reconnect with nature, and nature to reconnect with us. Much of humanity was stunned at how quickly the plants and animals of the oft-mourned Anthropocene took back the earth, seas, and skies within the period, however brief, in which we’ve been forced to stop and think; it makes fatalism (aka the fourth stage of climate change denial) look laughingly presumptuous and arrogant.
In fact, in our present existential situation, it’s difficult to walk through a woodland or past a stream without stopping to realize that virtually every plant or animal we see would be more missed by the rest of nature than ourselves, because, Native Americans excepted, we’ve never made any effort to be a part of the natural world, rather than trample and dominate it for our own purposes. For our fellow terrestrial denizens, we are nothing more or less than weather, as ephemeral, random, and mercurial as clouds and their consequences; our fellow mammals are going to keep crossing our roads no matter how many we thoughtlessly kill with our cars, birds and butterflies will continue to migrate no matter how daunting we make the gauntlet. Many of the ‘species’ we’ve ‘identified’ and ‘named’ (as if we really have that authority over creatures whose every sense, including many we cannot even fathom, is superior to our own) may be in sharp decline, but given the perverse satisfaction such feelings of power and control can inspire, we can only hope COVID, like the Ghost of Christmas Future, is in the process of providing us with the bracing realization that in the end, we are merely destroying ourselves, not the orb we’ve been permitted to rent, not rend.
More broadly, perhaps it will expose us as the evolutionary refugees we are, no different than the neotropical avian migrants that left the fierce competition of the rainforest in search of a better life when they, as we, spread across the globe. When a new virus is unleashed on the world, destroying everything in its path, we call it “novel,” a child among microbes that will never be as successful or persistent as its forefathers until and unless it evolves to co-exist with its host (like the common cold corona), not kill it. We don’t consider such a virus more advanced; we consider it immature. And even when it progresses to such a stage of equilibrium, it will be deserving of no more than the nod of acknowledgment given to initiates by those already there; new mousetraps in evolution and nature are usually not better, just different, and we are deluding ourselves in a foolishly self-serving way if we believe otherwise. Just as we do when we’re naively impressed with lethality as a measure of strength or power, and think we’re actually “at war” with microbes when such wars are merely failures on the part of microbes involved.
The aftermath of World War I is a cautionary tale that echoes down to us as well. In its ‘resolution’ at Versailles, lessons overripe for the taking were methodically elided out of the peace in favor of the same zero-sum acquisitiveness that launched the travesty to begin with, with the underlying causes of the conflict either unaddressed or excised so incompletely that metastasis was inevitable. In the detritus of our present predicament, scattered before us like thrown bones, there are already warning signs we’ll need to hit bottom again before we learn. For us, the housing market crash of 2008 was our Versailles moment, as Wall Street received massive bailouts while Main Street was foreclosed on, sowing the seeds that have germinated to produce the same bitter hops of populism that arose in Weimar Germany. Those in charge of “too big to fail” piously vowed that this was the ‘bailout to end all bailouts.’ Yet here we are again, a little more than a decade later, and once again, and not just for the second time, major corporations on the exchanges have mainlined huge cash infusions from the government while hundreds of thousands of small businesses around the country are shuttered.
Getting out in nature, we come to realize that habitats disrupted by thoughtless violence–the gashes a new highway through the wilderness creates, for example–rarely provide fertile ground for something better. Instead, like an open wound, they attract omnipotent invasives instead–toxic bacteria, runaway algae, sharp-bladed, thick-stalked weeds. With its economic underpinnings ignored, the War To End All Wars fostered and compelled an advance in authoritarianism from monarchy to the more pervasive, more sophisticated, aptly named totalitarianism of Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mussolini’s Italy, and more.
In our postmodern world, it’s similarly become clear there’s a pandemic within the pandemic, in which the generation 2.0 of authoritarians around the world rapidly seize the novel opportunities presented to apply the latest tools of their craft and further consolidate their power in ways Orwell most likely dreamed of, though a minimum level of competence does appear to be required to take full advantage. No model of governance has risen more out of the fog of fomites than China’s state capitalism; as democracies have faltered, Beijing has been rushing in to fill the vacuum. Even the most enlightened democratic responses to the plague–strong, coordinated central leadership, lockdowns and quarantines, social distancing, contact tracing–are setting precedents and creating new levers of power that can easily be deployed by aspiring strongmen to strike at such fundamental norms of democracy as freedom of assembly and personal privacy. By year’s end, 70% of the nations of the world had seen democratic freedoms curtailed, the worst setback for our most cherished ideals since The Economist’s Democracy Index was established.
In the 1920’s, disgust with the pointlessness of The Great War led the U.S. into a period of profound isolationism at a time when, as Woodrow Wilson understood, the opportunity and necessity for our engagement with the world was, in fact, never greater, if for no other reason than to prevent the much more devastating world war that followed. That’s what it finally took to make Wilson’s League of Nations a reality, in the form of the post-war United Nations, an institution whose existence, whatever else one may say about it (nobody likes the referees) has been accompanied by nearly eighty years of relative peace since its inception. WWI only killed enough of us to make us cynical, not enough to shock us into ongoing commitment, and for countries like England, the steep costs of the war–a generation lost–only became fully apparent many years later. We can only hope that reports of COVID cases lasting months, “long-haulers” with permanent organ and neurological or cognitive damage done, don’t become its parallel.
Flash flooding forward from ’20s to 20, it took only days after the novel coronavirus emerged for isolationism, in the form of xenophobia, to follow like a chemtrail in its wake, with the contagion deployed as justification for the Mexican border wall, deportations, border closings, immigration suspensions, hate crimes against Asian-Americans, attacks on international institutions and treaties, and more. Large majorities of Americans, who are generally pro-immigrant, supported the border closings and halt to legal immigration; if the disease continues to crackle and flare for months or years (e.g. if vaccines are not as effective as we expect and/or millions cannot be persuaded to get them), it’s quite possible these positions will harden and become a new normal, especially now that there’s no longer a surplus of jobs we need immigrants to fill. Meanwhile, pleas that the primary lesson of COVID is the need for more globalism, more international cooperation, not less, are falling on millions of newly deaf ears. The logic of the globalists is unassailable, but when 200,000+ of your fellow citizens die because of the sale of an animal most have never heard of in a grotesque meat market half a world away, in a backwater we’ve never heard of either, the logic of isolation is tough to surmount, and literally visceral besides.
And yet it’s also worth remembering that deep within the wall-to-wall, trench-to-trench, hand-to-hand obscenity of the First World War, there was one moment that seems to genuinely deserve to be called a miracle in the truest sense of the word, one we can hope will be replicated here and now as well: the spontaneous, wholly unofficial and unsanctioned Christmas truce of 1914, in which more than 100,000 soldiers on the Western front laid down their arms, sang carols to each other, exchanged gifts, even played football in no-man’s land (though one sullen young Austrian corporal was less than amused). In our current donnybrook, the battle has been joined to the point where we are all combatants, all over the world. Unlike the grunts of more than a century ago, we haven’t spent months firing state-of-the-art weapons at each other, no matter how many things we say we’ve “weaponized.” We’ve already largely stopped pointlessly displacing our quotidian anger at each other (the car horn has virtually disappeared from the soundscape in many places, except as a form of applause, though like a wildfire reviving from the embers when relentlessly blown upon, it’s audible with increasing frequency); would it truly require a miracle–or more–for we, the people of the world, to insist, most definitely without the blessing of our present-day commanders, on an honest, fair, and sustainable economy? A real free market economy, not a capitalist oligarchy? Have we at last reached the state of abundance, exposed and made clear by the withdrawal of its scraps, that finally compels workers of the world to close ranks? Or are we destined to forever repeat the cycle of periodic cicadas, the longest-lived members of the phylum with whom we currently share what passes for world dominion with the microbes, to spend nearly all of our lives groping in the dark, nursing comfort and protection, emerging, at last, into the light where we can finally see, where we finally ‘get it,’ just in time to die?
We won’t have to wait long to find out the answer, because it appears we’ve already passed through the world war interregnum, and WWIV is upon us. As WWI turned out to be a dress rehearsal for II, many scientists believe the coronavirus is merely the front edge of the real existential struggle, the fight to spare the planet as we know it from the ravages of climate change. As The Atlantic’s Ed Yong put it more pointedly, “Humanity has squeezed the world’s wildlife in a crushing grip—and viruses have come bursting out.”
It’s said that every war starts with at least one of the two sides making the mistake of fighting the war before. Today’s world is a time-compressed one in which existence increasingly looks like a trolley car approaching the speed of light. Our past–influenza, the Depression, the ’60s–snaps forward like an accordion while 500 year extreme weather events pile back from the future like Chinese traffic jams, and technologies accelerate, if not the rate of discovery, the rates of awareness, dissemination and adoption that represent reality. Heat of all kinds increases the velocity of everything from the atomic level up, and in the blur of rapid change, time slows down. Every day seems like a week, every week like a month, every month a year. Which means the very speed that seems to be killing us gives us, in the reality of possibilities, extra seconds between the seconds, extra minutes between the minutes, extra hours between the hours to find and implement ideas and concepts that, like World War II, not only solve the immediate problem before us but a whole lot more.
In this environment, WWIII and IV are more like fronts than a succession; even more strangely, this is a good thing, not just because the two are as closely related as I and II (so there will less re-fighting required and more opportunities for flycatching), but because the human–and especially American–tendency for rapid onset ahistoricism will likely not have opportunity to take root before it’s pulled up and exposed. We’ve just seen COVID blitzkrieg all the world’s health systems, for example; without the detriment of time, we’re unlikely to create a Maginot Line or Pearl Harbor to protect us against the impacts of CO2. But this can’t compare for Escherian sci-fi novelty with a battlefield theater in which we’ll be trying to rescue our adversary, Gaia, from our common enemy–us–before she destroys us instead.
At the same time, if WWII, in which 85 million perished, 60-65% of them civilians, more than four times as many as in WWI, was “the good war,” what superlative would be appropriate for a conflict in which the goal is, instead, to save the lives of many times more? It would hardly seem to be a war at all if not for the fact that we have no more treacherous and indomitable opponent than ourselves. When Americans despair of averting climate catastrophe, it’s not because they don’t believe solutions exist; it’s because they don’t believe the world’s leaders have the will to do what’s necessary. Our 1942 leadership quietly feared as much about we, the people, when they sent our green troops, who had seen no action in a quarter of a century, up against Rommel in North Africa. It turned out to be one of many ways in which WWII, so different and distant, provides guidance on how to win the greatest challenge of modern times.
We Are All Whoville
Since the last world war, we’ve fought a series of warons. The war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terror, of course, but also the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. World War I was in many ways a waron, too. What they have in common is disappointment, a failure to achieve their goals, and an even greater failure to have the electrifying effect on the future (which we’ll discuss below) that the last world war did. Why? Because a waron is a war that other people fight, while the rest of us watch, intermittently.
By contrast, World War II was an existential event in which literally everyone had a role to play, whether fighting it, supplying it, or making significant sacrifices in many other ways. And just as Americans made do with less gasoline, fuel oil, coal, firewood, rubber, sugar, butter, nylon, silk, leather, and more in support of the WWII war effort, winning the climate war will depend, above all, on every one of us making significant changes in our daily lives. The result may well be a renewal of our founding principles.
Just as we have deniers, FDR and his government had widely entrenched isolationists to deal with, led by a hero, aviation superstar Charles Lindbergh, far more lionized than any politician today (advice to deniers: consider how the isolationists are viewed by history). As a result, change is going to require something activists on neither “side” of our current divide are going to want to hear: bipartisanship. Not so much so as to reach compromise–as in WWII, it’s too late for that now–but to synthesize points of view and ideologies, much as we and other nations synthesized products of all kinds to deal with wartime shortages.
Idiologues think climate is just a GOTV problem—we outvote the “other side,” we ram laws down their throats, problem solved. But like all environmental challenges, climate change is subject to what ecologist Garrett Hardin famously called “the tragedy of the commons,” in which the rational point of view about an imperiled resource is that one’s own contribution to the problem is so small it’s hard to view it as a contribution at all, and because it’s so small, someone else can pick up our slack–in fact They should, because They can better afford to, the problem affects Them more, and/or They were the ones who decided it was a problem to begin with. Further, once these kinds of thoughts gain entry, it’s only rational to assume others have had the same notions, and to expect that, as a result, They probably aren’t doing Their share to solve the problem, so why should we put ourselves at a disadvantage?
We see this tragedy play out in many different ways and forms in our society, not just with respect to climate–people not turning out to vote because they don’t think their vote makes a difference, for example (let someone else waste Their time doing it)–and it is, in fact, the reason why we have environmental laws; seventeen years in the ground and Hardin is still undefeated against libertarians everywhere. But these laws work because they’re highly targeted in their effects, on specific industries, particular consumer behaviors. What happens when you pass laws that affect every aspect of life without general agreement about their necessity and fairness?
Ask the most feared agency in the government, the IRS, which estimated it was losing $500-$600 billion in revenue every year to tax avoidance until it decided it might not be a good idea to publicize updated numbers anymore. That’s nearly a quarter of the amount the IRS succeeded in collecting in 2011, the last year they made these estimates available, and the revenuers have much greater capacity to monitor our incomes and enforce their laws than anyone will have over all the full range of daily behaviors that need changing for the climate.
The reality is that a (relatively) decentralized government like ours has never shown–despite liberals’ fondest wishes–that it can mandate and enforce large-scale changes in human behavior, not even when it has the backing of the Constitution (as it did in the case of Prohibition). And currently a significant proportion of Americans are still in one of the four+ phases of climate change denial.
So, what is a government to do? Leveraging fairly basic powers of technology to make government radically more transparent and participatory, as we’ve rather cheekily but seriously recommended to the IRS, would go a long way towards building the trust and consensus required for shared compliance–certainly the pandemic would have done less damage had our health experts taken this approach. Like all wars, this one will be fought by the young, who will ultimately determine whether we succeed or fail, as always, but to do so, they’ll need to be given the powerful weapon they deserve anyway, given it’s their future, not ours, that will be most affected—the right to vote–and we’ve elsewhere laid out how this could be done responsibly, eviscerating, we believe, all self-serving opposing arguments along the way.
Less theoretical solutions appear to be at hand as well. In recent years and weeks, for example, we’ve seen signs that sexism in the workplace and racism everywhere could finally be headed back under the rocks, or at least that changes unthinkable a decade ago are underway. Again, technologies from mobile phones to social networks to data visualization have played a significant role in these positive upheavals (there’s a reason both establishment Democrats and Republicans trash tech), as has the world-weary but critical definition of luck–preparation meeting opportunity. In both cases, pre-existing hashtag organizations–#metoo and #BlackLivesMatter–have been able to leverage shocking incidents (or a series of them, especially in the case of BLM) to galvanize supermajorities of the public to demand serious accountability and significant change.
Unfortunately, in the case of climate, by the time there’s a case as clear-cut and outrageous as Harvey Weinstein or George Floyd, it will likely be too late. We also don’t know yet how sustainable these movements are, how vulnerable they are to backlash. The more we look at World War II, the more what was accomplished by nearly total social cohesion seems like a miracle on the order of the Christmas truce, if not many orders of magnitude more powerful. Some would say it’s the only time in our history that we’ve truly been the united states. Sustainability was never an issue–support for the war was as strong on its last day as on its first, despite many dark weeks and months, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and the most formidable and determined foes we’d ever faced, faced on their continents, not ours. Because at least such a level of cohesion is what will be required in the case of climate, much of the rest of this essay is dedicated to sussing out how it was achieved and might be replicated to save humankind from worldwide oppression, if not extinction, once again. It’s in that ‘all for one’ spirit that we’re also asking you to tell us what you think we need to add to our prescriptions to get closer to the way forward.
No Deal, Just Pastabilities
If we wanted to invent an approach to climate change that’s least likely to generate the kind of consensus required, it would be hard to surpass the moonshot stake in the ground currently on the table, aka the Green New Deal. In the name of reducing carbon emissions, this legislation would:
- Guarantee a job to all Americans
- Substantially raise the minimum wage
- Guarantee family & medical leave
- Guarantee paid vacations
- Guarantee retirement security for all
- Guarantee access to healthy food
- Provide every American with safe, affordable housing
- Provide every American with free health care
- Provide every American with free higher education
- Mandate strong racial, gender, age, and locational affirmative action at every level of the economy
- Mandate labor union and workers right protections throughout all sectors
And more. And that’s just the broad brushstrokes. Within these sweeping high-level dicta are what business owners might call ‘micro-aggressions,’ like requiring them to provide ‘job ladders’ within and between their company and others, so as to insure that no American will ever be ‘stuck in a dead-end job.’ In toto, it’s enough to make some demand a rebranding in the name of truth in advertising–the Celadon New Deal, perhaps. Don’t get us wrong–there isn’t a single item on this list that we object to on its merits. But when its authors and supporters invoke memories of World War II and its aftermath to justify it, it’s clear those reminisces are more than a little gauzy.
Yes, it’s true that the mobilization of resources for World War II led to creation of “the greatest middle class in history,” but that was never the plan or the goal. There was one goal and one goal only: beat Hitler (and then Japan). This was the existential threat everyone could agree and focus on; everything else fell out of it. The military leader of the conflict, Dwight D. Eisenhower, famously observed that “Plans are worthless. Planning is everything,” and the pasta-inspired expression “throw it against the wall, and let’s see what sticks,” coined by Madison Avenue ad agencies in the 1950’s, was almost certainly based on life experience acquired in the previous decade. By then we were also beginning to understand the phenomenon eventually described as “creative destruction.”
To be sure, while conflict may be a natural state of affairs for nations (which leads to the question of whether nations are still necessary in the Internet age), war is clearly unnatural for its human participants, as evidenced by the lifelong psychological damage it causes, even to those firing missiles from drones thousands of miles away. That said, in spite of this anchoring drag of carnage, a very partial list of seminal inventions born out of WWII, a.k.a. the most devastating conflict in history to date, so far includes: computers, ATMs, penicillin, superglues, ground coffee, weather forecasting (thanks to the creation of satellites and radar), ballpoint pens, commercial air travel (jet engines, pressurized cabins), photocopying, synthetic oil, contraceptives, latex gloves, sneakers (and other products made possible by the development of synthetic rubber), plastics, polyester, plywood, acrylics, helicopters, drones, semi-automatic weapons, nuclear energy, cell phones (born out of Motorola’s walkie-talkies), nutrition science, operations research, simulators, presentation technologies, and many other elements of modern education & training (including STEM), modern logistics & mass production, space travel, atropine, sulfanilamide, blood plasma, morphine, amphetamines, skin grafts, the use of metal plates for fractures, M&Ms, Saran wrap, oil cans, jeeps, duct tape, aerosols, microwave ovens, even bikinis, Slinkys and Silly Putty, to name a few.
The military rationale for some of these is obvious, for many less so, and each of these innovations has spawned so many others that the end result is indistinguishable from the modern world we live in. All were simply products of an unusually demanding parent (necessity); none were part of any legislation or plan developed before or after Pearl Harbor. Also worth noting is the extent to which they were bottom up, not top-down, in origin, and the unusual extent to which ideas from all sources and quarters were considered. Wi-fi was developed during the war by the bombshell actress Hedy Lamarr (as a way to facilitate ship-to-ship communications); Hollywood sound engineer Charles Hisserich invented sonar; three Teletype employees came up with a way for our forces to accurately and rapidly produce and decipher coded messages; two Woods Hole oceanographers created a device to help our submarines more accurately fire their torpedoes. Henry Kaiser, prime contractor for the Hoover Dam, was called upon to manufacture warships, though he had never built a watercraft of any kind, and became the father of modern ship-building. Requiring 30,000 employees, he decided to attract and support them by creating the first employer-provided health care plan as we know it today–Kaiser Permanente. Even the animal kingdom got involved, from psychologist BF Skinner’s pigeons (used to create avian-powered guided missiles, albeit never deployed) to snapping shrimp, pound-for-pound the loudest animals in the ocean, whose vocalizations, played on speakers mounted on US submarines, enabled us to hide from the Japanese version of sonar.
Were there many ideas that were tried that failed? Buried in the gargantuan budgets of the war, there were surely any number of Solyndras, SpectraWatts, ECOtalities, and A123s, but this was never cause for pause, let alone political grandstanding, and even when the Darrell Issas (R-CA) and Trey Gowdys (R-GA) of the day tried to turn up the partisan heat, they discovered those Solyndras often had as much bite as bark. As would the right-wingers who turned Barack Obama’s green energy investments into a highly manufactured hothouse scandal, if they were to call executives from Amonix, BrightSource, Azure Dynamics, and others they declared as bankrupt boondoggles as they feverishly, as temperatures rose, worked to stop his green energy program in its tracks. Or just call Stephen Chu or Ernest Moniz, Obama’s Secretaries of Energy, who turned out to be surprisingly shrewd businessmen for physicists (a decidedly mixed blessing, given the high opinion physicists already had of themselves and their field). While DOE had set aside $10 billion to cover anticipated losses on what was supposed to be merely basic investment to move the ball beyond where private equity was willing to kick it, the program ended up turning a nice little profit instead.
Likewise, while some–maybe even all–of the elements of the current Green New Deal may inevitably fall out of the climate war, or their necessity may become overpoweringly self-evident, to include them in advance risks the same blowback on a macro level that ultimately stymied Obama’s relatively small initiative. More importantly, as WWII shows us, it’s likely we have no idea in advance what’s naturally going to be transmuted or precipitated out by a true world war; what actually does could be completely different, and better. It’s of ultimate importance that we give ourselves space and time to find out, as the growing success of many of those Obama investments tagged as “losers” are showing us again.
But perhaps we’re being a little too hard on Green New Dealers, particularly if we separate the concept honestly into its real two components: green and deal. It can be argued that the 1930’s New Deal primed the pump for all the good that came out of WWII, that what was accomplished in that conflict was just another case of preparation meeting opportunity. And just as new media-driven time compression has collapsed WWIII and IV into fronts in the same conflagration, the case can be made that the green revolution and the new new deal really do need to be compressed into one package.
Certainly there are macroeconomic supports for this. One of the most infamous emissions from the previous worst administration in US history (as measured by the total quantity of venality and incompetence multiplied by the import of the time served) was this pearl: “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” As usual, even when they were right, they were wrong. Reagan didn’t teach us that: World War II did. At the height of the war, the defense budget alone was 40% of our GDP and the national debt exceeded the size of the entire economy, a milestone we’re on the verge of passing ourselves. In fact, the debts run up in tackling a global challenge like WWII or climate change together with the rest of the family of nations are almost by definition meaningless, because we owe these IOUs to each other, not some alien race from another planet. How many WWII veterans do we imagine went around collecting on all the times they saved each others’ lives? Any such exchanges were motivated, instead, by the most honorable of all emotions–gratitude–and over the years have been joined by a different form of the same exchange: understanding and forgiveness between former enemies.
More profoundly, World War II taught us that money and other forms of liquid capital are ultimately meaningless, except as a means of keeping score among those for whom that’s become the meaning of life. In the kind of existential battlefield world war represents, even the wealthiest among us can find themselves offering their kingdom for a horse. And when right-wingers argue that we “can’t afford” to solve climate change, they’re talking through their red hats. What we can and can’t afford to do is limited only by the supply of labor available to do the work.
Which isn’t to say this isn’t a problem. It certainly was in World War II. With practically every able-bodied man engaged in the fighting, the nation faced severe shortages of labor available to generate supplies for them. The result was the beginning of the modern feminist movement, and another few degrees bent in the moral arc of justice, as women and minorities were recruited to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs and professions that had previously been reserved for white men.
Since then, of course, we’ve become a nation of dual-income families stretched to its limits. There’s certainly more labor available, particularly in the inner cities and vast swaths of forgotten America, requiring only a relatively modest investment in human capital to unlock if we were able to start defining the deserving poor the way the rest of the world does, but if that’s not enough, and the Lord (and the 1%) tell us we’re on our own, from whence will our salvation come?
We’d argue that, by classic divine coincidence, it could easily arise, ironically, from the very source we fear could eliminate labor (and then the human race) entirely: artificial intelligence and robotics. AI could provide a nearly infinite supply of additional labor, freeing up humanity to take on the roles in the green economy it cannot–i.e. all those jobs that can never be outsourced or automated that certify the ground-level promise of change. A simple acceleration of existing trends in the field could and would allow us to solve the problems of climate change while still running, “as is,” the economy the wealthy have convinced many of the rest of us is what we know and love.
And what of the inevitable second shoe; what happens to human labor when climate change is solved, and all those robots and algorithms are looking for something else to do? Actually, next up could be a paradisiacal state of affairs that makes the post-WWII emergence of the middle class we’re all so proud of seem hopelessly naive. A world in which no human being on earth is used to do the work of a machine, in which everyone does what they actually want to do for a living, creating collectives, companies, and guilds together (which we’ve already been doing on the Net for decades now, preparing the way), in which everyone receives a passion-based education at the level only children in elite private schools and wealthy suburban public school systems receive today, along with free healthcare (because automation has reduced costs in every industry to the point where we can afford these things), and more. Ironically, it could become a true free market–which capitalism is antithetical to–with a true invisible hand, rather than the hand we can feel in our pockets every day, a market in which all of us, deploying the wisdom of crowds–not just an arbitrary few oligarchs with their own agendas–decide what’s best for the nation economically and politically.
The only roadblock? The darksters who value money and power far more than the communities who made their wealth possible, who have used everything from racism to the latest technologies to deflect attention away from their accumulations, buying off and financially burying politicians who stand in their way, who would prefer to keep all the spoils of automation for themselves, as they have for years. They’re also the reason we can’t yet append “good-paying” as Homeric epithet to “green jobs” yet.
What would WWII do? In 1941, the ratio of CEO pay to the pay of the median worker in their companies was 63:1, and by war’s end it was down to 41:1, as the direct result of aggressively progressive wage and price controls. For comparison, the same ratio is more than 300:1 today, and climbing almost every year. Overseeing the development of what Roosevelt called “the arsenal of democracy” were nearly three hundred CEOs who took a salary of one dollar a year from the federal government. Apparently, the policymakers realized it was hard to expect everyone to pitch in and sacrifice to win the war unless everyone was really paying their fair share. Here endeth the lesson–and begineth the prescription.
CEOs are fond of saying, when morally challenged, that they’d be happy to do X if they knew all their competitors were doing X, too, knowing they’ve rigged the government such that they’ll never have to make good on the offer. World War II shows us that nevertheless, in extreme times, even the wealthiest can be compelled to make good. So why not take the opportunity to set a maximum level of wealth, not just a minimum wage? Be participatory about it, as we’re urging throughout; let our fellow citizens at the top of the sovereignty chain propose the number and the rules, negotiate it out to a real agreement. Those who are only motivated by money and power shouldn’t be running companies anyway–the best never are, in our experience working with them, and there’s a lot of talent at least as qualified and capable as the dead wood populating most C-suites.
In the end, one-percenters might actually find it more meaningful to compete with their peers over who can get the most out of said fixed quantity of liquidity than it is to chase more and more of the same into complete emptiness, and potentially epiphanic to get as angry at the cheaters as the rest of us are already. If nothing else, the theater would be edifying for the rest of us to observe.
We Aren’t The World
In addition to being overstuffed, the Green New Deal is also remarkably self-absorbed, in fairness two qualities that often go together. World War II was truly a world-wide conflict, in which nearly every nation in the world played a real role. For example:
- After France fell under Nazi control, large numbers of Algerian Muslims defected from Vichy control to fight for the Allies, playing a particularly critical role in the invasion of Italy
- Papua New Guinea tribesmen and woman ferried supplies to Australian soldiers on the front lines fighting the Japanese, as well as tending to the wounded, as in the iconic photo at right.
- Sudanese forces joined with the Indian horse brigade to drive Italy out of Sudan, then invaded and helped liberate Ethiopia from the Italians as well.
- Despite enduring the most cruel and incompetent colonial rule in all of Africa, the Congolese remained loyal to the Allies after the early fall of Belgium, its colonial overseer, and provided vast quantities of raw material, including the uranium used to create the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- Brazil hosted the largest U.S. airbase outside our borders, and its naval forces helped the US and Britain wipe out Nazi U-boats in the South Atlantic
- The Cuban navy escorted hundreds of Allied ships through hostile waters in the Battle of the Caribbean and rescued more than 200 victims of German U-boat attacks.
- The Cyprus Regiment, consisting of more than 30,000 volunteers, was the first to support the Western front. Its mule drivers carried supplies to areas inaccessible to vehicles.
- El Salvador’s General Consul to Geneva worked with a Hungarian partner to save up to 40,000 Jews from the death camps by providing them with false papers identifying them as Salvadoran.
- Troops of the Gambia Regiment fought alongside Britain and the U.S. to liberate Burma from the Japanese
- Like Sudan, Ghanaian troops played an important role in driving the Italians out of Ethiopia, and its capital, Accra, was a significant way station for Allied aircraft traveling between the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific.
- Haiti supplied the Allied forces with food and five members of its air force joined and became integrated into the legendary Tuskegee Airmen division. Honduras likewise supplied the Allies with food and raw materials and sent troops, 150 of whom were killed.
- Two and a half million Indians volunteered to fight alongside the Allies, 87,000 were killed, 64,000 wounded, and many received awards for gallantry. Millions more gave their labor to help with the cause; India was our base of operations for attacking the Japanese in China, and as such was subject to numerous Japanese bombing raids.
- Nearly 100,000 Kenyans were drafted, and like the Ghanaians, helped push the Nazis out of Africa and the Japanese out of Burma.
- Malta was the most bombed location in the war and its people also endured a naval blockade that nearly starved them; the island was nicknamed the “Mediterranean Stalingrad” and after the war, King George of England awarded the entire country the George Cross “for acts of the greatest heroism or for most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger.” The cross later became woven into the Maltese flag.
- 250,000 Mexicans joined our armed forces and tens of thousands came to the country to work as farm laborers to fill in for Americans otherwise occupied in the struggle, which continues to this day. Overall Mexico supplied us with more strategic raw materials than any other country (how soon we forget, even as we continue to remind the French that we bailed them out in two world wars while neglecting to consider that we’d never have been a country to begin with without them)
- Sixteen battalions of the Nepalese army fought on the Burma front, and the nation contributed guns, equipment, hundreds of thousands of pounds of tea, sugar, and other raw materials to the Allied war effort.
- Newfoundland fishermen and sailors helped patrol the shipping lanes between the US and Europe while others fought by land and air in North Africa, Italy, Normandy, and northwestern Europe. 900 lost their lives.
- Many Palestinians volunteered to fight in the Syria-Lebanon campaign, which is where Moshe Dayan, later famously Israel’s Defense Minister during the decisive Six Days War, lost his eye and adopted his trademark eyepatch.
- The Peruvian navy patrolled the highly strategic Panama Canal to help prevent it from falling into enemy hands
- Many Samoans served alongside New Zealand’s armed forces against the Japanese; their one light gunned boat, the HMS Fa’i, sank seven Japanese ships, and their home guard sank two Japanese subs as they tried to slip into the country’s main port.
- The Saudis, whose king was a friend of FDR’s, supplied the Allies with vast quantities of oil (as did Venezuela), and when the Italians bombed their refineries at a Dhahran in response, they allowed us to build the Dhahran air base, which has remained strategically vital to us in the Middle East ever since, even though it’s now fully under Saudi control.
- Three South African infantry divisions and one armored division fought in Europe and elsewhere, and the South Africans trained more than 30,000 aircrews for the Allies, more than any other country except Canada.
- Botswana, Lesotho, and eSwatini natives provided critical logistical support to the Allies in the North African and Italian campaigns. Initially recruited only for labor, they ended up taking on anti-aircraft artillery operations and other combat duties.
- 100,000 Tanzanians joined the Allied war effort, and their nation became an important source of food throughout the war.
And these are just a few examples. In the climate war, it will be much more critical to have the people of every nation involved if we’re going to win. In fact, we believe that what we call Somnium’s Law (only because we haven’t yet found anyone else to give the credit to) applies: For every incremental dollar spent, other things being equal, the greatest economic benefit will be achieved by spending or it on or giving it to the poorest among us, because it will make the most difference in changing their lives for the better and therefore provide the greatest ultimate benefit to us all. A dollar spent in Cameroon (where the average income is $785/month) installing solar so that people there don’t use firewood for energy (which generates 2-3x more CO2 than coal or natural gas) is going to do a lot more for the climate than a dollar can do to change anything here. A dollar in the United States doesn’t even buy a candy bar anymore. More to the point, because we need to make every dollar count–and time compression in general–we’re going to need a Marshall Plan during the conflict, not just afterward.
Ask the average American what the Marshall Plan was and if they know it at all, they’re likely to say one of two things: that it was a program by which we re-built Europe or a program where we gave money to Europe to rebuild itself. Neither is true. Our government wasn’t involved in the rebuilding at all, none of the money went to any European government, and none of it was given. Every penny went to either an entrepreneur or an established business, not in the form of grants, but loans, most of which were paid back. As such reimbursements occurred, the money was loaned out again and again in virtuous cycles.
The Green Fund established by the Paris Climate Agreement is Marshall’s worthy successor, only more so. Contrary to the lies of the Trump administration, no one is obligated to contribute anything to the Fund, though so far the world’s developed nations have put in or pledged nearly $20 billion, which is a drop in the bucket in our federal budget, let alone our economy, but is more than 75 countries’ entire GDPs, and more than half of Cameroon’s. Put another way, if you took that entire $20 billion and pumped into Cameroon, it would be like injecting more than $10 trillion into our own economic system.
But as the commercial goes: that’s not all. Because the money governments are pledging is just seed money, no more than 20% of the total to be raised. The rest will come from private companies motivated by the investment opportunities, and by both the seeding and infrastructure their governments are providing to recruit, organize, and manage the keiretsu or communities of companies involved, as well as protection from the corrupt practices of many of the governments in the countries whose people need the investment. Many of these companies are puzzled as to why Trump, a businessman, is disadvantaging his own country’s enterprises in what they believe will be the gold rush of the 21st century, akin to the first Industrial Revolution; it’s no accident that even the coal industry’s leaders lobbied him to stay in the Paris accord.
In this light, it’s important to remember what the real purpose of the Marshall Plan was–to prevent the Soviet Union from taking advantage of a devastated Western Europe in expanding its influence all over the world after its lightning acquisition of all of Eastern Europe as its satellites. Sound familiar? It should, because while we’ve gone about our usual self-absorbed way, China, our main economic, political, and, increasingly, military competitor has been taking advantage of the vacuum we’ve left behind to rapidly expand not only its influence but control over strategic resources throughout the world. Having realized that in the 21st century, the spreadsheet is more powerful than the sword, they’ve done this primarily through their Belt And Road Initiative to re-establish, via massive infrastructure investments in more than 70 countries, the trade routes of antiquity that flourished the last time they were the world’s dominant power.
But like the novel coronavirus they’ve (unwittingly?) unleashed on the world, they’re new to the game and have made mistakes that threaten to kill the economies–and therefore the lifeblood–of their hosts. In particular, they’ve loaned vast sums of money to dictators in these client nations, because, understandably, they believe the leaders of authoritarian states always know the best use of the nation’s assets. The monies, in turn, have been spent on vast infrastructure boondoggles that cannot possibly raise the countries’ GDP enough to pay off even the interest on these loans, let alone the principal (interestingly, but not surprisingly, the same thing is happening in China itself, albeit with less graft), and the Chinese are finding themselves compelled to take ownership of more and more of these countries’ assets as collateral, effectively destroying them, as far as their inhabitants are concerned, just as Europe was leveled by the Second World War. That’s the charitable version of the story anyway.
Through the Green Fund, we can bring to bear–on the 21st century’s most economically transformative opportunity–the best that real market economies have to offer, graft-free, because like the Marshall Plan of days past, all the money in the fund either goes to or comes from companies who, unlike authoritarian regimes, have a categorical imperative to deliver real products, on time, under budget, and actually deliver the benefits promised, not to salt aid away in numbered Swiss bank accounts for the inevitable day when their nation’s immune system has finally had enough and casts them out. As we like to say in business, it’s a two-fer: an opportunity not only to beat back climate change, but beat back the creeping model of state capitalism under the hot lens of worldwide competition, forcing our private sector champions, and those of other free market economies, to work off the fat of cronyism themselves and live up to the ideals that make business a noble profession.
And if they don’t? Then it may be worth considering the conclusion the French and British came to on the eve of war with Hitler, that the only offensive weapon they could deploy against him was economic. Similarly, when we entered the fray after Pearl Harbor, our first battle took place on Wall Street, where FDR used antitrust law to break up cartel arrangements/partnerships between American and German companies that covered aluminum (Alcoa & I.G. Farben), rubber (Standard Oil & Farben), optics (Bausch & Lomb and Zeiss), tungsten (General Electric & Krupp), light bulbs (Corning & Phillips), potash (DuPont & Allied Chemical), magnesium (Dow Chemical & Farben), and more. And yes, it took making an example of Alcoa & Standard, plus a few well-placed uses of the t word, to get many of these corporations to set aside profits and stop arming the enemy. Some, notably the Koch family, never really did. But from these beginnings unspooled a multi-front economic conflict so baroque Wikipedia has been complaining since 2018 that the article about it is too long.
We went after raw materials, not finished products–in the context of war, even highly manufactured items like lenses and light bulbs are as raw as aluminum or steel (and there’s something both awe-inspiring and profoundly sad in that). In recent years, opposition to climate change has spawned a powerful disinvestment movement, but attacking the fossil fuel industry head-on like this is like a battle between finished products, and as climate scientist Bill McKibben observes, that kind of a fight alone happens in “too slow motion” because in full flower, limited only by the human imagination, both sides will be too evenly matched for one to achieve quick victory.
By contrast, the premise of the Economic War of WWII was that the precursors to weaponry were the soft underbelly of the Axis’ war engine where opportunities for asymmetry lay. As it happens, the same is true of the fossil fuel space. Surprisingly, for such large and profitable companies, the chink in the armor is money. They need it to keep exploring for and exploiting their finds; they need it backstopped in the form of insurance, too. And just as aluminum and steel didn’t do battle with the Allies, the banking, asset management, and insurance industries have no special loyalty to oil, coal, and gas companies that would cause the financial sector to fight for them; like water seeking nothing more than its own level, all they care about is ROI, return on investment. If financing fossil fuel companies puts a dent in their bottom line because it causes other customers to pull their funds, they’ll quickly find somewhere else to put their money, leaving those enterprises literally high and dry. That’s where disinvestment needs to go; it’s our own version of the Economic War, and we can declare it today.
All that said, there’s one not-so-secret WWII weapon that we’d be loath to ignore, much as we’d like to: propaganda. In that armageddon of yesteryear, the new media of the day–the motion picture industry–went both high and low in the support of the war effort, from crude, unfortunate fare such as Japanese Relocation and A Challenge To Democracy (both justifying the Japanese internment) to timeless masterpieces: Casablanca, The Great Dictator, The Sullivans, and Mrs. Miniver, among others. All told, more than 200 officially acknowledged (and funded) propaganda films were cranked out during the course of the war, with a few made even after it ended, just to make sure no one missed the message or got wobbly after VJ-Day. The same Frank Capra who produced such classic left-wing fare as Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and It’s A Wonderful Life wrote and directed an entire series titled Why We Fight. Beloved children’s animator and visionary Walt Disney, apparently precogging Miramax, created the decidedly un-Disney Education In Death: The Making Of A Nazi. Screwball comedy maestro Preston Sturges brought down the house with Safeguarding Military Information. And Eleanor Roosevelt earned her guild card penning Women In Defense, narrated by no less than Katherine Hepburn.
Even the most artless items in this oeuvre might occasion some wist as we consider how to replicate the impact of a fiercely optimistic auteur like Capra in the hard-gnawed cynical age we inhabit now, a time in which it takes several weeks of holiday with family to make us vulnerable, once again–dammit–to Jimmy Stewart’s star turn in Bedford Falls. And yet some things that worked then still work today. Memes, for example, though back in the day they were known as “posters.” Moreover, while we may be killing fewer trees for our reading pleasure, we are so deluged with information we can’t help but read more words than we ever did back in the day (it’s why English teachers were overrepresented among the early adopters of online services), even if, for some reason, researchers refuse to consider any activity that doesn’t involve books, magazines, or newspapers as reading.
Overall, our new media is at about the same stage of maturity as films were back in that day, if maturity is defined as years in existence, though maturity is multi-faceted in our context. If it’s defined as wisdom, score one for the celluloid boys & girls. But where the craft of persuasion is concerned, it’s fair to say that social media, by leveraging hundreds of thousands of iterations, billions of sessions, trillions of data points, and 70+ years of intervening interdisciplinary brain research, has honed the art of manipulation into a science, and an addiction to boot. To the point where simple cash infusions can make even a small-time Texas web designer, throwing virtual darts blindfolded, appear to be more on his game than great wartime directors like Capra and Ford. Meanwhile, if you told WWII’s great poster-makers about virality (after explaining to them what a virus is), they could be among the first humans ever to be willingly kidnapped by time-traveling aliens.
So that’s the actually promising lay of the land–how might we specifically leverage it on behalf of the war for climate?
For starters, we could envision an app like Noom, but for a different kind of weight loss, the weight of the world. Call it Nus (Noom is moon spelled backwards). There are any number of websites and apps that allow you to calculate your carbon footprint–the best we’ve seen so far is Berkeley’s Cool Climate calculator. But a one-time footprint calculation, no matter how sophisticated, is about as likely to change our energy use as a BMI calculator is to result in weight loss. Meanwhile, a 2016 study of 35,000+ Noom users, published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, found that 78% lost weight after using the app for nine months. Noom itself reports that its users lose an average of 18 pounds in just 16 weeks, 64% lose 5% or more of their body weight, and 60% keep the weight off for a year or more. Of course, Noom users are, in theory, literally intrinsically motivated whereas climate is an external beneficiary, not to mention a commons, so it might be necessary to combine all the “tricks” their app deploys to “fool” users into losing weight with everything online community builders have learned over decades about how to effectively use recognition (both positive and negative) to get individuals to make communal causes their own. But it would likely be worth the extra virtual kilometer: by maximizing external motivation, which, contrary to what most dieters think, is what actually drives most dieting, the result could be like Noom on rainbow pills. And there are plenty of sectors and companies likely to benefit substantially enough from the resulting behavioral changes to be enthusiastic sponsors of a robust external rewards system that includes the king of external motivators: cold hard cash.
Or we could use all we’ve learned, all the tools new media offers us, to go a rather different, more positively karmic route. Not so long ago, in the decade or two before Facebook and its ilk, like sorcerer’s apprentices, decided that the means–aggregation and engagement–were the end, online technologies in general, and online communities in particular, offered the greatest potential in recorded history to ascend the heretofore unwalkable tightrope of effecting fundamental change without falling, like Lucifer and his followers, into The Who’s lament. As scalably as actually necessary and advisable (i.e. not everyone has to–or should–weigh in on everything in one firehose of a newsfeed), online community-based governance could make policy-making more creative, more iterative, more deliberate and far more inclusive, all vital–especially the last–when you’re trying to rebuild society on a foundation rather than sand and rubble. It couldn’t possibly be worse than the dysfunctional grandstanding and gridlock we have now.
You can see a bit of proof of concept in initiatives like the Participatory Budgeting Project, in which $300M+ in public funds has been allocated by 400,000+ citizens across the US and Canada, and in the rave reviews for the Democratic Party’s roll call at its virtual convention, which may well portend greater levels of participation for party members in general when next the parties convene to hammer out their platforms. How might we expand on these promising green shoots to allow hundreds of millions of citizens to play a meaningful role in determining where and how trillions of dollars are expended without overwhelming everyone involved? Are there structural elements of online contests and crowdsourcing applications that could be used to get there? We certainly plan to find out (come join us).
More generally, we believe we’re on the cusp of a third wave of online community development. With the exception of the original AOL, which was decades ahead of its time (from a technological perspective, mobile apps are its progeny, like birds from dinosaurs), the first wave, as if often the case, sought to mimic the existing world, to maintain a bridge that would allow us to cross into the new. The so-called real world was top-down then (still is), and therefore so were the first websites–publishers published, consumers consumed. The second wave, the social web, was decidedly bottom-up–user-generated content became the cryptocurrency of the realm, and we all see the unsurprising result, when companies and their investors seek to maximize profits by maximizing the exploitation of free labor (as the saying goes, if the product is free, you are the product) with as little support–one size fits all, blank sheet tools–provided as possible. Like television in the 1970s, 80s, and the first part of the 1990’s, quality has degraded like a bankruptcy–first gradually, then all at once, as the social ecosystem collapses under the weight of cognitive waste produced.
But like television before it, this only puts the medium at the cusp of a new, much stronger golden age than the original one of its early days. Like much of life and social progress, the Net’s waves have followed a classic Hegelian pattern, first thesis (top-down) followed by antithesis (bottom up). The next wave will be synthesis, which means, in this context, the expertise and experience that made the top-downers the authorities they were/are will be channeled into interest and context-specific, scalable, platforms, tools, scaffolding, and support that enables users to maximize the creativity and quality of their contributions, which will, in turn, maximize their value to their fellow users and thereby raise the quality of the medium as a whole.
Businessfolk tend to be cynical about the importance of quality, but as Big Five tech companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google all demonstrate, in the end quality wins. That said, the originators of those enterprises would all say the path to quality is painstaking and slow–as Steve Case, AOL founder, used to say in the early days, “the Internet is full of 10 year overnight success stories.” There will be far fewer opportunities to take one simple idea, consider the market for it to be the entire world, and grow it rapidly into a so-called unicorn (a start-up with a billion dollar valuation); we were already starting to see this before the pandemic hit.
And when such opportunities do arise, they will be increasingly based on the third wave model. Instagram is a great example–we know it today as just Facebook’s photo-sharing app, but there were dozens of photo-sharing platforms already in the marketplace when Instagram started; in fact, Instagram itself didn’t start out as a photo-sharing application; it “pivoted” into becoming one when its original business model failed. So how did it end up on top, purchased by Facebook for $1B, a price that now looks like a steal? They made photo “filters” available to users, which allowed them to easily take their original, fairly mundane photographs, enhance, and convert them into a wide variety of styles; suddenly users had tools that allowed them to produce photos that looked far more professional and/or artistic than before.
When the initial users sent these images to friends, naturally they were asked how they did what they did, which turned each new Instagram user into an evangelist for the platform to all of their friends, and within a year, the company had more than 100 million users. But going forward, there will be less catching lightning in a bottle like this and more catching lightning bugs in a jar; new entrants into the online community space, if they want to grow to unicorn size, will look much less like utilities, and a lot more like studios, with many interest-specific communities/platforms/products.
Our company, New Voices, aims to be a 3.0 leader, and in addition to Creative Politics, we have a number of other projects in various stages of development, many, if not most, related to addressing the challenges of climate in one way or another, if only obliquely. Here are a few of the more relevant ones, to give you more of a flavor of what Web 3.0 could look like and how it could help us win what we can only hope really is the war to end all wars. Many are about stimulating creativity, because that’s the raison d’etre of the company, but also because climate change is the raison d’etre for creative politics, above all others–it’s both the issue that inspired the site and where creative approaches are most needed. Most of the names are provisional–we prefer to go the Native American route where naming is concerned. If you’re interested in getting involved in any of the initiatives we describe, we’d love to have you join us–just click on the link associated with any of the concepts and tell us how you’d like to engage.
A njange is a traditional African savings society in which a group agrees to chip in a certain amount of money each month into a common pot. Every month, in a set rotation, one member of the group gets the money in the pot, a bundle that’s typically big enough to start or invest in a business, make a down payment, etc. In other words, peer pressure and support achieves what self-discipline on its own can’t. Using online community and escrow tools (to protect against potential bad actors), we’d bring this concept online, where it could be used to support investments in energy conservation and renewable energy upgrades in participants’ homes and businesses, especially if we were partnered with relevant providers…
As we’ve discussed, too often people do nothing because they don’t believe what they do makes a difference. This platform, which starts with the premise that your real net worth is based on the good you do in the world, minus the harm, not how much money you have, would use an individual’s contacts, their professional history, and social media mining to create a 21st century victory garden for every participant, one that grows as each action they’ve taken in the past, no matter how insignificant it seemed at the time, has more and more impact. A teacher’s “difference garden” would grow based on the achievements of past students, for example…
Birds are literally climate’s canaries in coal mines; they’re also highly charismatic. We know from experience that when people care about birds, especially specific species, not just birds in the abstract, they’re more inclined to protect them, and with them the climate. It stands to reason that if we can convert more non-birders to casual birdwatchers, and more birdwatchers to birders, all over the world, they could become one of those currents that make a difference. In serious active development, Uncountabirds will use birding’s twin flames of passion–guides and lists–to bring our country’s most popular recreational pastime fully into the 21st century…
A critical problem facing climate warriors is the atrophy of basic research in our country, thanks in part to long-time political grandstanding, set to the mocking steady drumbeat of the Golden Fleece Awards. The reality is that fundamental research is not the ultimate taxpayer rip-off (the Department of Defense is), but rather it’s the seed, the cotyledon of innovation. The Goldyledon initiative is about restoring a basic research mindset of query and exploration in the general public, starting with systematic community-based proofs that each and every Golden Fleece ever awarded was a mistake. What do woodpeckers have to do with it? You’ll just have to find out…
The outmoded concept of economic growth is consistently wielded like a weapon by the petrosaurs and their supporters to keep us from the green economy that will actually outgrow theirs as we outgrow them. It’s time for them to be disarmed. People have been talking for years about getting rid of GDP as a measure of anything for years, there have been more than a dozen alternatives developed (the OECD’s is our current favorite), what are we waiting for? A: A political movement to settle on a new measure and force policymakers and the media to start using it instead. HDP will be that movement–it even already has a sticker you can plaster everywhere to help generate momentum…
It’s clear from the last four years that one thing our polity badly needs is a shared body of facts to work with, and a shared environment to work on them. One thing Americans across the spectrum will still do together is play games. Enter Cicero, a gaming environment in which issues, not states, have electoral votes and you win them by answering a majority of questions about the issue correctly, questions that are truly fair and balanced, optimistic, grounded in both history and innovation. And that’s only what might be called the “exploratory committee” level of a game experience to include the inline creation of parties, issue ad campaigns, community-contributed content, and more. We created a version of this game for middle school civics classes some years ago, with limited, extremely boring (read: standards-based) content, and the metrics were nevertheless through the duomo–90%+ of users said they’re recommend it to friends, for example, with even higher percentages saying they’d recommend and play it even more if we added the features we were contemplating…
One thing we’ve learned in the last four years is that politics can be exhausting in its scope and speed, and even if Trump quietly disappears into the clubhouse, the challenges he kicked onto the green for better lies (rather than taking them head-on) are going to acquire the chaos and confusion of battlefields. Stamina would be an app that would allow groups of friends to divvy up the political landscape, allowing each individual to focus on one area in depth and share the best insights/ideas for policy and action (their own and what they find) with the group, knowing others they know and trust are doing so for other issues they care about–then organize, with themselves as the seed/core community…
If we’re going to prevail in the challenges we face, we have to be less divided. There’s nowhere in America that’s more fractious and acrimonious than Twitter, and arguably no more politically embittering, scarring experience online than being the victim of a Twitter mob or caught in the cross-fire of a Twitter flame war. FDTW, aka the Twitter Fire Department, would be an online network of individuals across the spectrum dedicated to protecting those being mobbed and putting out the flames, with an important twist, liberal firefighters (publicly identifying themselves as such) would be defending conservatives who are under attack and vice versa. Don’t agree? Don’t join. But understand that “equivalence” has nothing to do with this, nor does who “started it,” and when you attack (or are attacked), we hope to be there…
Beyond this, we don’t have to agree on everything, but we do have to start knowing and respecting each other more. There are a lot of great programs out there that bring red and blue Americans together, but they’re episodic and don’t scale. Comity would be an app that matchmakes liberals and conservatives based on shared interests outside politics across all major social media platforms to ensure continuous, scalable engagement, leverages the latest thinking from the medium’s and academy’s best minds (whom we know) on motivation and community-building to maximize adoption and activity, and arms participants with best practices, as expressed in text and technology, on how to have productive political conversations (we know the people to talk to), as well as how to manage the attendant emotions, from top experts in SEL (whom we also know). Oh, and btw, uses anonymized text analytics (we’re related to people to talk to) to identify and redistribute the ideas and approaches proving to be most effective in finding common ground. Will we be talking to you, too? 🙂
If we’re going to clear the air, literally, the distinction between “celebrities,” “elites,” and the rest of us, both in terms of who is celebrated and who decides this, needs to be erased. Famapopuli, a.k.a. the People’s Hall of Fame, started with a simple question: “Why isn’t [insert band name here] in the R&R Hall of Fame if Traffic is?” but the questions are much bigger and less frivolous (depending on what band you inserted) than that now, questions like: Why isn’t a Hall of Fame for plumbers, for electricians, for landscapers, for nurses? And if there are, why aren’t they all in one place where we, the people, can find them, with high production values so we’ll want to? How might our fellow citizens feel about expertise if it were properly recognized outside the academy?
Short for The Machiavelli, the world’s first online museum of politics, to be funded by Facebook, Google, and Twitter in fractional atonement for the damage they’ve done to our democracy, where, as in our best museums today, visitors will learn by doing, in this case absorbing in the process, to the intracellular level, the media and political literacy needed to never be fooled by disinformation, “just politics,” and the whole greasy, ever-inflating bag of dirty tricks again, the nature of which is why it has to be online; an offline musee could never keep up with the information arms race between government and the governed. In fact, it needs to–and will be dedicated to–ending that race, on a positive note, by recognizing and rewarding the campaigns, both within its confines and the wider world, that persuade, motivate, and empower without manipulation or dishonesty.
Thanks to the Net, political campaign are increasingly financially powered by we, the people, but most of our contributions are blown on TV ads (because campaign condultants get a cut of every ad buy) that haven’t worked since the 20th century, and nothing gets done in government without the approval of the 1%. Rippletide (a tidal wave of those “tiny ripples of hope” we put out every time we contribute, would be a platform/service that would allow small donors to pool and direct their contributions, forcing politicians to spend our donations more efficiently, give us a proper seat at the table, and take action on the many solutions that 70-80% of us agree on–many climate-related–that darksters and special interests have been blocking…
Government can’t police polluters and bad corporate actors alone; traditionally, we the people have used the legal system to complement its efforts. Our most powerful weapon has been the class action lawsuit, which in recent years pro-business (at all costs) courts have eviscerated as a tool for us. When confronted with uncomfortable conversations, businesses like to “take it offline;” we’ll be doing the opposite. Using a combination of load-balancing techniques developed by crowdsourced expert systems, reciprocity technologies developed for e-commerce/online finance, and online community-building best practices, Class Action will galvanize rapid, sustainable, and scalable collective action that will make the corporate-judicial state wish it had left OG class action alone. Bottle, meet genie…
Who doesn’t at least secretly believe they can predict the future? Soothplayers is a game environment where players can test their mettle in a variety of categories by answering simple questions about the near term future–the number of named hurricanes there will be, what will happen to a specific company’s stock price, who will win the National League pennant, etc.–with new questions in every category every day. Over time, they’ll establish “dispersion averages” (or something else other than batting averages) and we’ll establish leaderboards. Along the way, each player will start laying out their long-term visions for the world so all can see what our best predictors think is coming next as they develop, through gameplay, the kind of forward-looking mindset we’re all going to need to have…
If you’ve spent any time on the site, you know this one’s already up and running–in fact, some of you have already been contributing to it. From tobacco to climate and beyond, language has been a full set of tools for the merchants of doubt, and our side–the human side–has had some notable screw-ups in this area–how long will it be, for example, before deniers accept that hot air kicking the polar vortex downstairs to us is a serious climate problem, after we spent decades talking about “global warming.” In politics, words have power, which is why politicians are always creating them. Together we have to make ours better, and try not to have too much fun doing it…
There are few things more certain to stimulate creativity and inculcate new levels of tolerance than seeing the world from a new perspective. Anytown will be a place where pets can talk to pets, birds to birds, trees to trees, houses to houses, cars to cars, and those who want to slum it can trek, in Internet time or less, into each other’s neighborhoods. You may think you’ve seen something like this online, but you haven’t–a place where dogs can create their own home pages may have won a Webby for Best Community once, but the community part of that offering (and every other like it) flopped, and today it’s just a print magazine. Why? Because this is the poster cat of Web 3.0 high concepts–it can’t work without a lot of scaffolding, and we’re not just talking about your fingers typing what the walls have always wanted to say…
Imagine an ever-growing user-generated “field guide to dreams,” including actions taken in response and their results, daily maps of what was dreamed about all across the nation, dream communities for people who have similar kinds of reveries, a dream & dreamer hall of fame, a fully functioning wishing well for kids, even an insomniac’s café for those who can’t sleep at all. Many parts of our brain are actually more active when we sleep–in the name of leveraging every resource we have against existential threat, isn’t it time to listen to and share what they’re trying to tell us? No dreams, no future…
Quietly, a people’s revolution in music has been taking place over the last decade; playlists have democratized the creation of music and creativity more generally. Now they need their “Rolling Stone,” where we can learn from the best and actively curate (i.e. not just collect, but prompt) this new musical genre, because great playlists can get you where you need to be and keep you there for as long as you need to be–we created nearly everything you see on this site under the influence of our Fired Up list (along with several others we hope to share soon), and we have many bars to go before we sleep…
One of the most useful cintamani we can pack and carry to guide and support us in the journey through chaos we’re facing is a worldview, yet too few of us have ever systematically thought through our own–if we’ve thought about it at all, leaving us as exposed to the elements as sleepwalkers. Mondial will be the first app/service that helps us put finger to pixel to create one comprehensively, festoon it with panmedia like a bower, share it, find like-minded fellow travelers–and contradictions requiring synthesis–in each of its dimensions, and more TBD…
The lack of true transparency is a major barrier to restoring faith in expertise. In an era in which even top research periodicals “publish by press release,” and information space is practically infinite, Proof would apply carrot and stick community-based pressure on the media not to publish research and survey results from providers who aren’t willing to make available (within applicable privacy constraints, and in user-friendly form) the raw data sets on which their conclusions are based, along with a universal tool set to allow readers to analyze the data themselves, with links to this combination of tools and data in every article in the popular press that references the research, raising science literacy in the process…
A pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg, with its nuanced, intricate patterns, and in tech and entertainment, an Easter egg is a psychic or virtual reward hidden in plain sight. In Pysanka, we’d create, collect, and celebrate the subtle and sophisticated (as opposed to the increasingly coarse and bombastic) in the arts, in sound, in writing, in science, seeking to cultivate greater observance/awareness in us all, helping find solutions that may only initially be visible in the corners of our minds, and a better, slower way of life…
Americans have long bonded over sports, which transcend ideological boundaries. But lately specific sports and specific teams have become increasingly ideologically siloed like the rest of life. Enter Allsport, which takes what we still easily bond over–fantasy–to the next level by requiring participants to field teams each week comprised of players from multiple team and individual sports, using fantasy football roster construction and scoring as template, breaking down barriers in the process, and helping return sport to the shared American experience it once was.
If we’re going to work together with the world on this problem, it would help if we got to know the world better, and not just the elites we see here and in the halls of government. Kinspir would be a platform that would enable villages and village-adjacents around the world to share their day-to-day lives, culture, and more with the rest of us humans, in a structured way that would facilitate use and cross-cultural understanding, e.g. through the use of top 10 lists, brackets, diaries, recipes, comparative collages, and other well-established online formats, and include light, mobile-optimized communications/community tools. Participating villages would get a private space to connect with their diasporas as a community and a share of sponsor revenue, which should be substantial based on local CPMs…
Amerigo Vespucci was the first to map America, hence our name. Vespucci is a gaming platform for mapping the Internet; anything and everything is online, so anything can be a map–a traditional geography, a periodic table, Leibowitz’s grocery list, a beautiful or ugly Hawaiian shirt–anything that illuminates any small multidimensional corner of the terra incognita that is the vastness of the Net. When a critical mass of maps has been created and stitched together, we’ll be able to “see” the Internet in multiple dimensions for the first time (e.g. from the perspective of different groups, different causes, etc.). And then things will really start to get interesting for our increasingly visual species…
We believe games are going through the same Hegelian process that the Net has, akin to other visual media. Like pre-Renaissance art, they were originally necessarily abstract, then techniques allowed them to become increasingly realistic. Now everything in our state of play–from the new generation of highly sophisticated board games that have revived the genre to mobile apps using the world around us as their canvas–mark a synthesis of abstract and real, not unlike the art movements from impressionism to the present day. Post-Modern Games will be the place for those who believe anything can be a game–and should be, to help us feel our way forward into the future…
There are two great religious/spiritual traditions for which there is no great online portal–animism and mysticism, in all their forms. The first teaches us to become one with nature, the second to reject easy and absolute certainties. Brought together in cyberspace, they could form the perfect faith to keep in climate times…
Believe it or not, there’s no great site online for the 10% of the population that’s left-handed, and no great creativity portal either. We consider all creatives to be lefties (even if, for some reason, they write with their right) and very much vice versa, a place where creativity in all forms is recognized, curated, celebrated, supported, and engendered, where–and because–collaboration, not competition, is the realpolitik of new media.…
And that’s just a sampling. We hope it gives you a sense of why we strongly believe a 3.0 virtual world can and will be not only highly complementary in strengthening creativity and motivation needed in the years ahead, but at least as vibrant as the post-petro IRL world has the potential to be, and we invite you to help make it IRL too, not only with respect to these ideas, but your own.
Of course, not everyone is as enamored of technology as we are; more problematically, it’s reasonable to assume that those who aren’t are also disproportionately likely to be deniers or dazers, and the most resistant to change.
Furthermore, even technophiles are susceptible to a corollary in time to the tragedy of the commons in space–call it the Tragedy of the Hourglass. If you’ve ever watched one of these timepieces drain, you’ve no doubt noticed that at first the grains appear to be falling so slowly it seems the time horizon for complete transfer from the top to bottom bulb is practically infinite. And if you’re focused on the narrow neck that represents, for lack of a better analogy, the days of our lives, this perception continues until, sudden as a stroke, the flow of sand stops. Just as we regard our individual contribution to pollution as so insignificant against the vastness of the commons it’s not worth worry, so we dismiss all the quotidian units of time that mark our own existence, as if Zeno’s puzzle were not a paradox, but reality. Especially in our country, there’s always tomorrow, until there isn’t.
It’s long been known that humans are poor at assessing future risk, and what we’re describing may well be contributory, but the hourglass illusion is actually a more fundamental problem, especially if we hope to turn back the conga lines of hurricanes in every language before they evolve into Fates, because the quotidian opportunities we throw away so cheaply are, must be, the bedrock of our salvation. With jaundiced eyes, when we look back at the work of the WWII propaganda artists, it’s hard not to conclude that their most miraculous work, as irreproducible as the tints of a Titian, lies in the extent to which they were able to convince Americans, many of them still living in Depression-era conditions, to invest in the future by purchasing war bonds. Many still live in such conditions (we all have access to a time machine–it’s called a car), but can you imagine history even rhyming today, people digging deep to buy bonds from the government?
Well, actually, yes we can. Consider the rise of everyman everyday political donations the Net has enabled; fully 38% of the money Biden has raised, 45% of Trump’s haul, and 22% of all political spending this year has come from small donors. And “green bonds,” first issued in 2012, modeled on war bonds, and designed to support greening initiatives of all kinds, are flourishing, raising $250+ billion worldwide for sustainability in 2019 alone. If we assume 15% of these bonds were bought by Americans (our share of the world economy, pre-COVID), which seems conservative, given our environmental interests and per capita resources (our 15% is held by just 4% of the world’s population), but this, as it turns out, is a quibble. By the logic described, we’re crediting ourselves with $37.5 billion worth of green bonds purchased/year, if 2019 is representative of investment going forward. In World War II, 80 million Americans bought $185.7 billion worth of war bonds over four years, an average of $46.4 billion a year. That’s $670+ billion in today’s dollars. The good news and bad news are the same: we have a long way to go.
How do we get there? WWII was ‘only’ four years, and every year of those four, it’s a safe bet that many of the Greatest Generation buying bonds probably thought the boys would be home for Christmas. Everyone knows WWIV will last decades, and it’s not money we need so much as behavior, from everyone, not just 57% of the population. How do we get people to properly value the future, day by day?
Americans may not be able to properly visualize the impact of climate change, but every time we go to a fast food outlet or supermarket, we can clearly see, behind the counters (and at the tables), the onrushing consequences of our paltry retirement savings, which we’ve been well-educated since birth to believe are entirely our responsibility. As our population continues to age, it’s no wonder then that Americans’ biggest financial regret is not having saved enough for what increasingly look like their golden arches years. Currently, most will have little more than Social Security to live on, and even that is in jeopardy, thanks to all the times its kitty has been raided to pay for the defense of the overseas assets of the wealthy (because the government no longer believed the people would buy bonds again), and their unwillingness to chip in the same portion of their income as those who made that income possible. When something is called an “entitlement” that needs to be “reformed,” we can read the writing on the wall of the shared bathroom that lies on the path before us–rightly, more than three quarters of Americans are concerned the program will not be there for them.
It needs to be emphasized that for the vast majority of our people, the failure to save is an inability, not a moral defect, and not for lack of trying. The real cause is screw-up after screw-up by the so-called Masters of the Universe, who themselves have been bailed out not once, not twice, but seven times since 1980, with none held to the same standards of personal responsibility the average American holds him/herself accountable for. Our citizenry’s latent willingness is the catalytic ingredient that, when combined with fear and responsibility, leads us to believe there may be a way for us to finally save for retirement–by saving the planet.
What we would propose is the creation of a market, based on the expected value of the economy (and therefore tax revenues) at some defined point down the road if everyone does everything in their power to mitigate the climate challenge, versus the value of the economy if nothing is done. Then give every American an equal share in this market, so we’re really all in this together (thereby not only producing more motivation but reducing another existential threat, income inequality, in the process), a share that in essence becomes the 401k they never had, where their matching contribution is produced via the labor of mitigation. Along the way, the failure of the wealthy to contribute the same share of their income into the public retirement pot for decades gets paid back, which should be the response to any objection.
The expected value the market is based on would be no more than an educated guess, of course. Like all markets, it would be subject to downward revision if people aren’t doing what needs to be done and upward revision if there are breakthroughs and/or people do more than expected to mitigate. In general, when people have a stake in markets, it impacts behavior–it’s a major reason why Donald Trump has had and continues to have such a strong core of support. For Trump supporters, despite all else he has done, “the economy” is far and away the most important issue facing the nation, and that’s really shorthand for the stock market, the only element of the economy that really “boomed” far more under Trump than Obama.
But if numbers on a ticker are too abstract to be motivating for some, even when something as visceral as retirement is on the line, we could make the future more tangible, in a limited way, and let them reach out and pull at least a little piece of it back into the present. Just as 401ks allow early withdrawal up to an annual limit, we could let people cash in a portion of their share, yearly if they want. But just as you can only cash in what you’ve already accrued in your retirement account, anyone who wants to redeem a piece of their account would have to show proof that they’ve done enough mitigation towards the future value of the economy to have earned what they want to take out. Some such plans also require you increase your annual contribution to make up your withdrawals; we could do that here as well, and require those who take out sums early to boost their behavioral contributions to the national vaccine.
If and when you visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum, you may find that the most affecting exhibit resides on a modest black and white television screen behind the desk where you purchase tickets. On it you’ll see a seemingly endless scroll of text–a list of all the laws the Germans enacted against the Jews in the 1930s. Just when you think they’ve thought of every possible way to punish, humiliate, and crush these people of god, another screen of statutes appears. It’s as if, when the Nazi leadership woke each day, the first order of business, on which the morning repast depended, was to come up with yet another way to screw the Jews; the list is that breathtaking in its mind-numbing obsession, ingenuity, and thoroughness.
There are World War II comparisons to the present day that are decidedly inappropriate, even obscene. As we see it, topping the list, and doing damage to physicists’ claims to intellectual primacy, is Trump climate advisor William Happer’s claim that the “demonization” of carbon dioxide is analogous to the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews. More apt, especially given 44.46’s unbounded determination to treat the presidency like the only venue where he’s enjoyed actual success, reality television, including insistence on a relentless staff-wide imperative to generate at least one new storyline every day, would be to compare his persecution of the planet to the machinations of Hitler’s minions. Hardly a day seems to go by when his administration doesn’t take another action to undo yet another environmental protection (ed. note–even in defeat), if not proactively encourage, even mandate, more destruction of our land, our plants, our fellow travelers in the animal kingdom. It’s not hard to picture the same brainstorming breakfasts, albeit with a less healthy bill of fare, or to envision a similar televisual scroll appearing one day (how about tomorrow?) on YouTube, if history keeps moving faster than museums can be built, or if we simply decide to stop letting history happen first.
But it’s not a Hitler analogy we want to make. A truly fundamental truth about WWII that’s rarely taught, let alone driven home in American history books or curricula, is that 80% of the European war was fought on the Eastern front. Our ally in that fight, Joseph Stalin, was arguably even more bloodthirsty than Hitler (though the latter had a much deeper bench where hate was concerned), certainly would have been our arch-enemy if the Axis didn’t create a common foe and, in fact, proved to be so almost before the blood was dry. It’s not unreasonable to say that we couldn’t have won the war without him, or at least not without costs that none of the combatants might ever have recovered from.
A world war requires millions of people to be willing to sacrifice to the edge of their existence and beyond. That can happen out of love or it can happen out of fear. In the case of Trump and Stalin–both men of relatively low intellect but abundant cunning, broad of beam and appetite, rich in crude, blunt, and brutal ways, who demand absolute loyalty that’s never returned, whose leadership is therefore characterized by paranoia, never-ending purges, cults of personality rather than ideology, a conjoined love of country (Russia), ultimately alone–fear has always been the fuel of choice. It was said of the Russians in WWII that the reason they fought so fiercely was that they knew if they retreated as much as a step without authorization, they would wish the Nazis had killed them anyway.
We all know this conflict can’t be won unless we’re all in it together. Donald Trump is the titular head of 40% of the population in the nation producing the most CO2 per capita this–and that–side of the Emirates. We’re also the sovereignty that is, by far, the most responsible for the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, which imposes ‘above and beyond’ moral obligations, if we want the rest of the world to be in this fight together with us. And yet this 40% of Americans believes, belligerently, that there’s no need for this battle to be fought at all, and sure as hell no reason for us to “screw ourselves” by doing anything more than anyone else is doing, cogbergs be damned, beliefs he has exploited, stoked, and manufactured.
We certainly believe, with bated breath even, that a lot of good can come out of the upcoming chasmic struggle, but world wars are always desperate times, so we have to ask: what if Trump is our Stalin, our Papa Don? Creative Politics’ editors and founders are multi-generational, and one of us hails from the generation that knows all too well it will bear the full brunt of climate catastrophe, and for this reason, among others, despises Trump more–much more–than any other cohort. It’s too late for him to convince them to vote for him or even to sit this one out, no matter what he says or does (the 18,000+ lies and hundreds of what Republicans used to call ‘flip-flops’ don’t help) but this young founder says, without hesitation, that if Trump did a 180 (which he’s done many times in his life when it serves his interests, including on climate) and became a climate champion, he would forgive him everything else, legally that is, and thinks others in his generation would do the same. And that’s saying something, because Gen Zers are not feeling particularly live-and-let-live these days, and many don’t see why they have to wait until November to oust a man who has broken every other democratic norm there is, not to speak of taking actions that have led to the historically lengthy and wide-ranging list of pending criminal and civil actions likely to greet him in January if they decide, instead, to let him perish politically by millions of cuts from the edges of their ballots. (ed. note, since publication, the young did, in fact, turn out in droves to turn him out, though not as much as they might have)
Deus Ex Machina
In Ancient Greece, playwrights, for whom the medium of theater was still relatively new, often ran into cul de sacs in their scripts, points in their stories where they could not think of a satisfying or satisfactory way to unravel, spool out, and resolve the web of conflicts they had created. At such points, it was common practice to use a machine to lower an actor playing one of the Greek gods onto the stage from above, a deus ex machina–god from the machine, to decide how the play should end.
In literature today, the term is used derisively to describe a contrived plot element, but it remains a vital element of world wars, desperate as they are; the one thing, the one weapon of otherworldly, never seen powers that in one Alexandrian stroke could cut through the mind-numbing complexity of modern warfare. In WWI, the Germans believed it was poison gas, which, like everything else in that mindless conflict, merely increased the level of agony without providing any resolution. Channeling their inner wolf or, more accurately, their inner Wile E Coyote, they also thought bombing England from hot air balloons might do the trick. In the end, the deus ex machina proved to be our entry into the war, or more accurately–and appropriately, for such a cynical enterprise–the Germans’ mistaken belief that Woodrow Wilson, the deus manque lowered from a German-built passenger ship in Brest, would be able to deliver a just peace, and Wilson’s mistaken belief that he could do so as well.
In WWII, with the same black and white clarity that distinguished the two sides, everyone knew from the outset what the deus was: Shiva, the destroyer of worlds, the unleashing of the power of gods that was the atomic bomb. The bomb wasn’t necessary to end the war, but deploying it certainly saved hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides. The question is whether this end-around was worth it, a question we may not be able to answer for many, many half-lives to come. On the positive side of the ledger, there has been no world war or use of these weapons since. On the other hand, to believe that this will continue requires a faith in the stability of mankind that, under the circumstances, greatly exceeds that of a deep geologic repository. The deadly duos, the United States and Russia, India and Pakistan, have both come close to igniting nuclear apocalypse on multiple occasions, hundreds of pounds of weapons-grade plutonium, potentially dozens of suitcase nukes, and between 50-100 actual full-sized nuclear weapons have “gone missing” since the start of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Russian state economy in the early post-Soviet era resulted in many Soviet nuclear scientists losing their lucrative gigs and turning to the global market for remuneration, the most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world is currently controlled by a man who has wondered aloud what the point of nuclear weapons are if you don’t use them. For example. (ed. note: and could easily be again).
The atom features prominently among the deus ex machinae for the climate war as well, in this case nuclear energy, even though we now know that the Russians came within hours of making much of Europe uninhabitable for a thousand years at Chernobyl, know that if this “clean energy” is to reach a gordian level as a solution, countries whose capacities and competencies are far more limited than the Russians would be building and running these plants and, in many cases, because of the quantities of water required for cooling, doing so all along the world’s coasts, at a time of rising sea levels and ever more powerful extreme weather events (see Fukushima, Japan). But if you really want to bring a thin smile to the lips to the gloomiest of climate Cassandras, the magic words are “solar geoengineering.” The idea, at least in its initial form, is that we would pump massive quantities of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, where it would be converted to sulphuric acid, which forms very small droplets that would scatter back some portion of the sun’s rays before they reached us, producing a cooling effect across the planet. We’d get brilliant sunsets as part of the deal, but our blue skies would be bleached white, and acid rain would be constantly precipitating out all over the world’s food supply. Those are just the known consequences, and for all that, in the end, it might not work.
Mythologies all around the world are full of cautionary tales about the consequences of taking shortcuts to reach difficult goals, and for good reason. Just as we routinely undervalue long-term benefits, so too we are often blind to long-term risks and, more broadly, unintended consequences in much shorter time horizons, as the Germans realized the first time the wind changed direction in Ypres. The recent best-seller Drawdown identified “the 100 most substantial solutions to reverse climate change.” And to paraphrase the words of one of our first war heroes, we have not yet begun to fight. The creative ferment we believe would happen in a real world war on climate should add hundreds more glimmers in the eye that could add to this already substantial arsenal. In this battle, there are only four loose words that can sink our ship for sure: “that won’t solve it.” But only if they’re the last words, and not the stimulus for more. With the benefit of 75 years of hindsight, perhaps what the final act of WWII teaches us, above all, is that to make great leaps forward, more than a mushroom or two–and many more than a thousand flowers–will need to be allowed, encouraged, compelled to bloom. The truth is there are at least 7.8 billion (and counting) solutions to climate change. Which ones are you cultivating?
Creative Politics is the world’s first community-based political incubator, synthesizing the best of liberal and conservative ideals with technology and history to generate policies, strategies, applications, and actions for the post-modern era that are well outside the beltway, and well beyond just talk. All Creative Politics blog posts are collaborative, living documents, the way Madison and Hamilton would create them if they were writing The Federalist today. We welcome, nay urge, your feedback in the comment/discussion section below, and will be using it (with credit) to make what you just read more and more real–thanks much for your time and insights; they will go unpunished!
Times Wall Street and the 1 percenters have caused financial catastrophes just since 1980 that disproportionately impacted the average American, directly or indirectly, trying to save for retirement include: the savings and loan debacle (1986-95), the stock market crash of 1987, the junk bond crash (1989), the Tequila Crisis (1994), the Asian debt crisis (1997-98), the Long Term Capital Management fiasco (1998), the dot.com crash (1999-2001), and the housing crash (2008). Times Wall Street et al were bailed out include the S&L debacle, the 1987 crash, the Tequila Crisis, the Asian debt crisis, Long Term Capital, the housing crash and, it has to be said, the COVID crisis, in which more than 100,000 small businesses have closed, tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs, while the lion’s share of relief has gone to major corporations, resulting in the first time in memory that a major economic crisis has been accompanied by a boom in stock prices.