The Climate Emergency and the Election: A Pathway to WWII-Scale Mobilization

Published on

The Climate Emergency and the Election: A Pathway to WWII-Scale Mobilization

"Our primary obligation this election cycle is to create a context in which we can deliver a WWII-scale climate mobilization as rapidly as possible, before uncontrollable global warming kicks in and civilization begins to completely collapse." (Photo: Joe Brusky/flickr/cc)

This week I will turn 28, and thoughts of the future are weighing heavily on my mind. Clinging to the idea of a relatively stable future, people encourage me to get real, grow up, and focus on myself — to make a lot of money, have a family, and live out a gratifying and stable upper-middle class life. While I understand the appeal of this vision, its narrowness, amorality, and blind confidence in the crumbling status quo does not inspire confidence.

For the past three years, as co-founder of The Climate Mobilization (TCM) movement, I have been studying major global threats — especially the climate emergency and the crisis of ecological overshoot. These problems are considerably more urgent than is publicly recognized. We face the end of global economic growth, a runaway overheating of the planet, the premature deaths of billions of people, the utter devastation of the natural world, and the collapse of our civilization in the coming decades — well within my projected lifetime and the lifetime of my girlfriend, brothers, close friends, and cousins. When I plan for the future, I focus on preventing these looming catastrophes from annihilating me and virtually everything and everyone I love.

Yet I approach almost every day with a sense of momentum, excitement, and hope. I work around the clock with an unbelievably talented group of people across the United States and the world to trigger the WWII-scale mobilization that can solve these crises on the scale and with the speed required to protect us. Our strategies — and our success to-date — give me a relatively hopeful perspective on the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

WWII-scale Climate Mobilization is Now Mainstream

This summer, we fought to include our call for a WWII-scale climate mobilization in the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform (see pg. 45). Thanks to our efforts (and in particular those of Russell Greene), the platform declares a “global climate emergency,” and in response, calls for a climate emergency summit within the first 100 days of the next administration as well as a WWII-scale climate mobilization:

We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.

Following the platform’s ratification at the party convention in Philadelphia, Bill McKibben published a cover story in The New Republic that called for a WWII-scale climate mobilization and drew attention to our amendment to the Democratic Party platform. A week later, I published a draft 110-page Victory Plan that explores how exactly such a WWII-scale mobilization could restore a safe climate and reverse ecological overshoot through a variety of drastic, emergency measures (including a fossil fuel phase-out by 2025, a shift toward plant-based diets, a job guarantee, a massive carbon dioxide sequestration effort, and a campaign to preserve half the earth). And last week, McKibben called for hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets to force the Democrats’ to hold the climate emergency summit and launch the WWII-scale mobilization promised in the platform!

"We are a broken people, destroyed by our own cynicism, desperate for quick fixes, obsessed with our imagined victimhood and helplessness, and totally at a loss for how to save ourselves."

These are tremendously exciting developments. While experts have known for a long time that a WWII-scale mobilization is the answer to the climate emergency, it has generally been perceived as a politically impossible dream. Even many in the climate movement have been concerned that calling for a WWII-intensity response could alienate the public and sow the seeds for failure. Now we are realizing that as a movement, it is our job to demand what is necessary, inspire people to action with a hopeful vision of victory, and transform society’s understanding of what is possible.

Given these developments — and many others that I haven’t yet mentioned — we believe that if we commit to building the greatest social movement in history in the coming weeks and months, the climate movement can become powerful enough to force the federal government to commence a WWII-scale mobilization to save civilization next year. And not only can we trigger this mobilization next year, we are certain that we must.

If I was not engaged in this hopeful turn of events, my predominant emotion right now would be disgust — with mainstream liberals, Hillary Clinton, Baby Boomers, the media, and Donald Trump. Emotionally, I would probably stand somewhere close to the Bernie-or-Bust camp, feeling betrayed and fulminating with anger.

There is a huge amount to be depressed and angry about. We face the greatest calamity in history, and our presidential campaign has produced a fascistic demagogue and a patronizing centrist with no evident intention of solving any of our massive structural crises, as her primary goal seems to be sustaining a status quo that cannot survive.

Who is to Blame for the Crisis?

It is too easy to start assigning blame in a moment like this. This crisis represents a collective failure—on a grand scale—of the American people and our institutions. Almost all of us have contributed to this mess (with the exception of the very young), albeit on vastly different levels.

Elites have run the economy into the ground with their endless greed, self-serving economic theories, and hubris. The Democratic Party has repeatedly sold out young and working people and foisted an uninspiring, divisive, and visionless politician onto the American public when heroic, unifying leadership is needed. Boomers, on the whole, have failed to stand up and protect their children from the impending collapse of civilization, a much worse crime than their parents’ prosecution of the Vietnam War. In the face of Bernie Sanders’ defeat, many Millennials are descending into nihilism. Republican voters have allowed a clownish billionaire to prey on their fantasies, prejudices, and fears. The Republican Party has betrayed America, moving our nation a long way toward fascism by sowing racial discord and resentment of intellectuals, and by destroying the government’s ability to regulate the economy. Leftists and populists, more concerned with generating spectacles of moral purity than delivering real-world transformation, have failed to create and lead well-organized mass movements that deliver society out of the crisis. Mainstream liberals have failed to engage realistically with the tremendous scale of our present problems, choosing baseless optimism, neoliberal identity politics, finger pointing at their opponents, and terrifically inadequate solutions over responsible engagement with the real world. Environmentalists have not only failed to persuade the government to stop and reverse the ecological crisis, they have largely failed to even honestly describe the full extent of the emergency or the drastic measures required to save civilization.

We are a broken people, destroyed by our own cynicism, desperate for quick fixes, obsessed with our imagined victimhood and helplessness, and totally at a loss for how to save ourselves — and everyone and everything else impacted by our behavior — from spiritual, economic, and ecological oblivion.

Rescuers or Perpetrators?

I strongly disagree with the American public’s pervasive sense of victimhood—the conviction that we have been betrayed and are blameless victims of an evil system. If we continue on our present path—and historians still exist in the future—will we really be regarded as victims? We, the American people, have been the premiere world leaders in wrecking the climate and the global environment, albeit on vastly different scales according to age, power, resources, and other factors.

Each of us has the most serious moral responsibility to lead the world out of this mess and save as much life as possible. Sober analysts believe that the ecological crisis could kill billions of innocent people and render much of the planet uninhabitable—easily the greatest act of collective evil in human history. We must choose now whether we will be rescuers, or perpetrators.

Given this moral duty, our primary obligation this election cycle is to create a context in which we can deliver a WWII-scale climate mobilization as rapidly as possible, before uncontrollable global warming kicks in and civilization begins to completely collapse. It is true that Jill Stein is the only presidential candidate still running that advocates a WWII-scale climate mobilization (Bernie Sanders also called for such a response). Her climate platform is far superior to Clinton’s. But Stein is polling an average of 2.4% with just over a month left until Election Day, down from an average of nearly 5% in late June. She doesn’t appear to be generating the massive momentum needed to suddenly take her to 45%.

It seems that neither of the two presidential candidates capable of actually winning intend to take measures remotely powerful enough to save us. And, of course, Trump has made it clear he intends to incinerate the planet as quickly as he can.

If We Want a Mobilization Soon, There’s Only One Choice on Election Day

Despite this, it is abundantly clear to us that a critical step on the way to initiating a WWII-scale climate mobilization within the next year is the election of Hillary Clinton to the presidency. A vote for Hillary Clinton is the best way to ensure that we can continue our work building a movement for a WWII-scale mobilization without a devastating attenuation of political possibilities due to a sudden, further curtailment of our civil liberties and a mass demoralization of the section of the public that is currently in favor of organizing to stop the climate emergency.

We are under no illusion that Hillary Clinton has any intention of initiating a WWII-scale climate mobilization powerful enough to save us. Democrats are warning that Trump will rip up the non-binding Paris Agreement (which is on track to deliver a civilization-destroying 3.5°C warming of the planet) and Obama’s woefully inadequate Clean Power Plan. Since Clinton supports these baby steps, calls for half a billion solar panels installed by 2021 (we should be producing well over half a billion solar panels ever year, not every four years), and says she accepts climate science, we should vote for her in order to assure continued “climate progress,” they argue.

This misses the point. We are organizing in every sector, and the need for WWII-scale climate mobilization is catching on like wildfire. Our next goal is to have the leaders of business, labor, the military, world religions, the academy, the media, and civil society join the grassroots in demanding a WWII-scale mobilization to restore a safe climate by the end of this year. If parallel, extraordinarily potent movements of the 99% and the 1% (we are working every day to create both) arise demanding an immediate WWII-scale mobilization to save civilization, we believe that Hillary Clinton will have little choice but to answer the call. It will become her only option. And for all her faults, it’s clear to us that Clinton has sufficient competence to organize a full-scale mobilization of the economy. We just need to transform society and force her hand.

If Trump is elected, however, there will be scant hope for the near-term commencement of a climate mobilization. Even if we succeeded in organizing every sector and class in favor of WWII-scale climate mobilization, even if Donald Trump wanted to lead such a mobilization, it is our assessment that he is emotionally and intellectually incapable of the task.

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that a President Trump would ever allow such a radical, transformational movement to build. Trump and his cabal of reactionary capitalists and crypto-fascists would likely deploy the comprehensive national security state expanded over the past two administrations to brutally shut down the climate movement, and harass, imprison, violently attack, or even kill dissidents who challenge the hegemony of corporate capital.

Most importantly, Trump’s election would kill hope—a critical ingredient in any mass movement—among the broad swath of the public that has not yet lapsed into proto-fascism. How would you feel if you wake up on Wednesday, November 9th to start your day in an America governed by President Donald J. Trump and the Republicans?

The ahistorical and deeply misguided theory that things must get worse in order for revolutionary movements to rise up has been debunked repeatedly. Erik Hoffer’s “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements” demonstrates that it is often at moments of rising expectations and improving conditions that mass movements capable of transforming society emerge. Occupy Wall Street did not emerge in 2008 or 2009, but in 2011, after a very modest recovery had occurred. People were too busy losing their homes and their jobs immediately after the financial crisis to intellectually and emotionally absorb what had just happened, much less to organize a powerful movement in response. In this case, the election of Trump and the empowerment of an American fascist movement would be a psychological and civil catastrophe that could set our movements back for years—a delay we simply cannot afford. We would be constantly on defense, organizing to stop the latest fascist aggression. A mass movement must deliver hope of near-term transformation and a realistic vehicle for delivering on that promise. It must be constantly on offense.

Buying Time for the Climate Mobilization Movement to Grow and Succeed

Consider the first year of a Clinton presidency. Sanders’ campaign has raised the hopes of virtually an entire generation (the Millennials) and millions of working class people for a near-term transformation of the economy. That is a tremendous victory that should not be dismissed. With millions of Americans becoming politically active, Sanders in the Senate acting as a megaphone for the populist movement, and Clinton widely distrusted and disliked by the general population, a Clinton presidency could prove an extremely fertile ground for movement-building. In addition, popular movements are considerably more politically sophisticated, independent, radical, and better organized than they were last time around. In 2009, Obama was bizarrely regarded as a messiah and treated with kid gloves by virtually everyone except the Republicans. At the Obama administration’s request, leading environmental groups even agreed to downplay discussions of “climate change” in favor of de-contextualized demands for “clean energy” and “green jobs” for Obama’s entire first term!

Under a Clinton administration, we will have all the popular energy—and the tools needed—to bend the arc of history. Thanks to the movement power generated by the Sanders campaign, a tiny group of us managed to execute a maneuver that placed the framework for the transformation that will save civilization directly onto the Democratic Party platform. The Democrats’ platform and McKibben’s article provide the vehicle we need to raise expectations and channel the unfocused populist energy coursing through America into the only solution that can save us — economic mobilization to solve the ecological crisis.

A Clinton administration buys us a little breathing room to build up the huge, well-coordinated mass movement needed to save civilization. A Trump administration will very likely slam the door shut. All the massive potential for raising expectations for a mobilization through the vehicle of the Democrats’ platform and our Climate Mobilization campaign — as evidenced by McKibben’s widely disseminated TNR article — will be destroyed in an instant if Trump wins.

The movement for an emergency, WWII-scale climate mobilization has reached a tipping point. This is all happening. The only thing that can effectively stop it in its tracks before the end of the year is a Donald Trump presidency, which will destroy hope and potentially drastically curtail civil liberties. If you vote and/or organize for Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, or Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton, please understand that you are making it less likely that we will be able to effectively deliver a mobilization, since you will be making a Donald Trump presidency more likely. It is our moral obligation to be strategic in the fight to save civilization. Please consider not just voting for Clinton but organizing to ensure that she wins. 350 Action and NextGen Climate have created an easy way to organize for Clinton on a climate basis by calling and texting young people in swing states. Sign up here.

How the Candidates Can Contribute

It is also the Democratic establishment and Hillary Clinton’s obligation to abandon carbon gradualism and to run a considerably more effective campaign. Clinton should immediately announce a televised listening session (or multiple sessions) with young people on the climate emergency, jobs, and the future. After the listening session(s), Clinton should announce that she is holding the climate emergency summit and declare her support for a WWII-scale climate mobilization and a job guarantee. This could inspire young people, who are sick of being bullied and dragged into a miserable future, to turn out for her. They deserve a future, and Clinton has not promised to protect their future. So far, she has patronized young people and promised gradualism on the climate emergency and the economy — a recipe for catastrophe across the board. No wonder 44% of Millennials are considering voting 3rd party.

If Clinton comes out for a WWII-scale climate mobilization, Jill Stein could legitimately declare victory (since mobilization is her most important campaign plank) and call it quits on her campaign prior to Election Day. She will have played a historic role in advancing the need for a climate mobilization and will almost certainly be celebrated as an American hero for subordinating her campaign to the greater good of the people and all of creation. On the other hand, if Stein wins 2% of the vote, and Clinton loses very narrowly, liberals could blame her (fairly or unfairly, depending on what happens in various swing states) for flipping the election to Trump and for destroying America. That scenario would be a disaster on so many fronts it is unthinkable.

Everybody has a role to play in this great mobilization to save civilization. We must assume responsibility for the future and act as though everything is on the line, because it really is this time. That means making wise, strategic choices, taking responsibility for actually solving the crisis, and welcoming everyone into a beloved community that breathes new life into our sick nation and dying civilization.

Join us at and

Ezra Silk

Ezra Silk

Ezra Silk is Director of Strategy and Policy for The Climate Mobilization. He lives in Portland, ME.

Share This Article