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Climate change

World War Two showed us the solution

Bombers being assembled in Baltimore. Popperfoto/Getty Images

Fixing the climate is going to take “sudden and drastic” action, says George Monbiot in The Guardian. Those who say this is impossible because there’s “no money”, governments are “powerless” and people won’t tolerate any more than the most “tepid” measures are dead wrong. As always, “political failure is a failure of imagination”. When President Roosevelt called on American industry to “outbuild Hitler”, the levels of production he demanded were considered impossible. But after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, “the impossible happened”. Entire civilian industries were retooled for war.

General Motors began turning out tanks, fighter planes and machine guns; Oldsmobile hammered out artillery shells. By 1944 Ford was producing a new long-range bomber every hour. In the short time America was at war, it produced 87,000 naval vessels (including 36 aircraft carriers), 296,000 planes, 102,000 tanks and armoured cars, and 44 billion bullets. Roosevelt called it a “miracle of production”, but it was also a miracle of civic duty. Meat, butter, sugar and shoes were rationed. Posters warned “When you ride ALONE, you ride with Hitler! Join a car-sharing club TODAY”, and “Waste helps the enemy: conserve material”. Everything – “chewing gum wrappers, rubber bands, used cooking fat” – was recycled. When governments and societies “decide to be competent”, they can achieve the impossible. “Catastrophe is not a matter of fate. It’s a matter of choice.”