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Yes, We Can! Climate Lessons from A Good War

A year ago, millions of people took to the streets demanding real action to address the climate emergency. Inspired by Greta Thunberg and a dynamic movement of students and youth across the globe, Fridays for Future seemed to be an unstoppable force in world politics. And then… COVID-19 changed everything. Climate change took a back seat to the urgency of stopping the pandemic, as thousands died and millions lost their jobs. The world was turned upside down. Suddenly, using public money to address an urgent crisis became the only option. Strict health regulations and massive public investment to stop people from falling off the financial cliff became an accepted norm. The slogan “we are all in this together” side-swiped the neo-liberal mantra of “let the market decide.” Everyone is questioning why corporate greed should be privileged over the public good – and some of us started to look back to history for answers.

Seth Klein, founding director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) B.C., has produced a brilliant summary of a time in Canada’s history when our entire economy and society were harnessed in common cause to win an epic struggle against fascism – the Second World War. We have all heard about auto factories being transformed to produce tanks and the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” who built fighter planes. But few of us know the whole story of how public policies, public finance and public enterprise were central to victory. In his new book, A Good War, Klein details how Canada created 28 Crown Corporations to regulate the economy or produce needed war material. How regulations over-ruled the interests of individual capitalists to ensure a comprehensive approach to survival and how Canada went into an unprecedented level of debt to finance this effort because, in the words of one Cabinet Minister, “If we lose the war, nothing else matters.”

Klein started writing this book long before COVID-19 arrived. His central contention is simply this – if we understand the climate crisis to be an existential threat to humankind’s survival on the planet, then “if we lose this fight, nothing else matters.” And so he calls on all of us to let our imagination soar on the winds of past achievements when tough public policy was shown to be central to success. It’s not that he glorifies that time – as a pacifist and humanist, Klein also exposes the deep injustices that were part of that history. But his focus is to show that truly courageous steps can be taken if the political will exists, and how public opinion was shaped to support ambitious programs and legislated not voluntary, outcomes.

A Good War is the perfect antidote to the relentless efforts of the fossil fuel giants and their political servants to limit our ambition for effective action on climate. Klein offers a list of 20 recommendations that would make a dramatic difference in how Canada addresses this challenge. Klein wrote the epilogue as we started taking unprecedented steps to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, showing how measures that were recently said to be impossible are happening as a new history is being written in front of our eyes.

Social justice warrior Marvyn Novick used to describe his life’s work as “helping to provide working people with the intellectual confidence to fight for a more just future.” 

Klein’s work over the years has mirrored that sentiment. His book A Good War is a perfect read for anyone who wants to be well-armed in the struggle for the survival of humankind on this planet. It’s an inspiring gift to share with everyone you know.