Advice to a young climate blogger: Always use WWII metaphors.

RealClimate has an excellent post for aspiring climate bloggers, “Advice for a young climate blogger.” It has some incredibly useful advice and warnings, including “Bad things can happen to good bloggers.”

But there is one bullet point that I think is misleading:

Don’t use any WWII metaphors. Ever. This just makes it too easy for people to ratchet up the rhetoric and faux outrage. However strongly you hold your views, the appropriateness of these images is always a hard sell, and you will not be given any time in which to make your pitch. This is therefore almost always counter-productive. This can be extended to any kind of Manichean language.

Silly. You should probably avoid Nazi metaphors, but in fact WWII is the only plausibly-close metaphor for the scale of effort needed to stabilize at or below 450 ppm and preserve a livable climate [see “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 2: The Solution” or my book].

Indeed, at the press conference I participated in with Greenpeace and Sen. Sanders today (details to come), Sanders himself said that we have the technology to do this today (or will very soon) — which is of course a central point of this blog, but what we most need to do is deploy, deply, deploy:

I think there is an enormous amount of technology out there…. Go back to December 1941. America had to completely retool its economy in two years. So don’t tell me it can’t be done.

And one of the most important scientific studies published last year (see “Stabilize at 350 ppm or risk ice-free planet, warn NASA, Yale, Sheffield, Versailles, Boston et al“) concludes with this key paragraph:

The most difficult task, phase-out over the next 20-25 years of coal use that does not capture
CO2, is herculean, yet feasible when compared with the efforts that went into World War II. The
stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis. The greatest danger is
continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.

One of the most brilliant speaker is on climate in the country, MacArthur Genius Saul Griffith (who I will blog on later this month), makes the same precise point — the only metaphor for this effort that makes sense is World War II.

Indeed, we need both a WWII-scale effort and a WWII-style effort as I argue in the conclusion to my book:

This national (and global) re-industrialization effort would be on the scale of what we did during World War II, except it would last far longer. “In nine months, the entire capacity of the prolific automobile industry had been converted to the production of tanks, guns, planes, and bombs,” explains Doris Kearns Goodwin in her 1994 book on the World War II homefront, No Ordinary Time. “The industry that once built 4 million cars a year was now building three fourths of the nation’s aircraft engines, one half of all tanks, and one third of all machine guns.”

The scale of the war effort was astonishing. The physicist Edward Teller tells the story of how Niels Bohr had insisted in 1939 that making a nuclear bomb would take an enormous national effort, one without any precedent. When Bohr came to see the huge Los Alamos facility years later, he said to Teller, “You see, I told you it couldn’t be done without turning the whole country into a factory. You have done just that.” And we did it in under five years.

But of course we had been attacked at Pearl Harbor, the world was at war, and the entire country was united against a common enemy. This made possible tax increases, rationing of items like tires and gasoline, comprehensive wage and price controls, a War Production Board with broad powers (it could mandate what clothing could be made for civilians), and a Controlled Material Plan that set allotments of critical materials (steel, copper, and aluminum) for different contractors.

And one of my most popular metaphors from last year built on my response to Hansen’s paper, in an interview with the NYT‘s Andy Revkin for his blog (here):

We will need a WWII-style approach, but that can only happen after we get the global warming Pearl Harbor or, more likely, multiple Pearl Harbors.

Revkin then asked “What kind of wake-up call does Mr. Romm think is conceivable on a time scale relevant to near-term policy?”

And the result was this post, “What are the near-term climate Pearl Harbors?“We need to use all of the best metaphors possible since, as Aristotle wrote, “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor” and since climate science activists are not terribly good at messaging (see “Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1” and “Part 2: Why deniers out-debate “smart talkers”).

I realize that RealClimate was making a different point, but they overgeneralized.

Let me end with another WWII metaphor I sometimes use in my talks.

If the United States does not sharply reduce its own emissions over the next few decades and work with the other major emitters (developed and developing) to achieve the global reductions needed to stabilize at probably below 450 ppm, then you can be quite certain that no future Tom Brokaw will be writing a book titled The Greatest Generation about us. Maybe The Greediest Generation (see “Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme, are we all Bernie Madoffs?“).

16 Responses to Advice to a young climate blogger: Always use WWII metaphors.

  1. paulm says:

    This is not youthful rebellion. We see the catastrophe ahead
    Climate change has provoked a war between the generations. Younger members of the government need to choose their side

  2. roysv says:

    Joe, you are right again.

  3. Ben Lieberman says:

    As an historian and environmentalist I have argued strongly against comparing global warming deniers to Holocaust deniers on the grounds that the comparison is not accurate and that it will only allow deniers and apathetic commentators to take umbrage at those who make the comparison. That said what historical metaphors that can be accurately applied will be effective in propelling politicians and the public to take action to stop global warming now?

  4. Ben Lieberman says:

    Just to amplify my last question–I know that no one here has used the Holocaust denial comparison.

  5. Ben…

    I’ve used the term deniers and inactivists… but my new favorite (inspired by a post at The Guardian is climate change fundamentalists.

    But I’ll probably discover that someone else got there before me… I recent coined a slogan for a bumper sticker suggesting:

    A Shadow Grows in the West —
    Alberta is Mordor…

    And then discovered that the Council of Canadians referred to the Tar Sands are Mordor in a short video they created.

  6. paulm says:

    Scientist have got to stop dithering. We need clear unconfused speak from them…even though its probably to late now to miss the mess.

    Top scientist: don’t trust politicians on climate change
    Politicians were willfully ignoring and misunderstanding the science of global warming, a government adviser said today.

    said that the truth could be lost to political expediency or mischief and urged scientists to couch their conclusions in terms that could not be misunderstood or go unheard.

  7. David B. Benson says:

    “Six Degrees by Mark Lynas AND Heat: How we can stop the planet from burning by George Monbiot”:

  8. max says:

    I worry that one of the climate pearl harbors that is coming is crop failure due to drought. But to Greenpeace, Monsanto and other companies working to make crops better able to withstand drought are evil incarnate.

  9. paulm says:

    Could the collapse of the bee population world wide have a direct link to AGW?

    It probably is an indirect link, however, the fact that it is occurring globally could mean it is the ave rise in temp which is the cause.

    The bees are not allowed to migrate to cooler climes as their hives are managed….by us.

  10. Bob Wallace says:

    How much of today’s population understand “WWII effort”, “Pearl Harbor” or any of the other 1940s references?

    I was born during WWII and what I know about WWII is only from movies and books. Just like the Great Depression, WWII is history and a fading history.

    Perhaps it’s not as useful illustrative tool as some might imagine.

  11. Jeff R. says:

    Wrong, Joe. WWII metaphors fail to inspire Germans and Japanese, two important allies in this particular grand effort.

  12. papertiger says:

    RE: “Part 2: Why deniers out-debate “smart talkers”).

    Basicly it’s hard to lose a debate when your opponent ducks and runs. If any of you really believed in AGW, it wouldn’t be a struggle to get a debate.

    Re: the main topic.

    You can’t have a WWII style or scale effort, when you ban the use of nukes and block domestic production of oil, coal, natural gas.

  13. DavidONE says:


    > …I have argued strongly against comparing global warming deniers to Holocaust deniers…

    I don’t believe climate realists use the word to associate climate change deniers with Holocaust deniers. The word ‘denier’ is simply the most appropriate – they deny scientific reality. The Deniers like to make the association because it reinforces their persecution complex and also attempts to paint the realists as big meanies who are just calling people who disagree with them nasty names.

    Having said that, what they are also doing in denying the science is denying the very real catastrophe, ‘holocaust’ if you will, that will befall humanity and most life on this planet if we carry on blindly pumping carbon in to the atmosphere.


    I think the Guardian (who are doing a *wonderful* job at the moment of reporting climate science) article you are referring to – – suggested calling them ‘climate change creationists’. I don’t see the value in it – it just confuses a simple issue and plays in to the hands of the ‘sceptics’. They deny the science. They are Deniers. There’s no value in muddying the water by linking them to religious creationists (although there’s no doubt a big overlap between the two groups).

  14. DavidONE says:


    The best outcome of debating an idiot liar is that you win.

  15. Hmpf says:

    Jeff R., most of us here in Germany are quite glad you guys made the effort and won WWII. So, Joe, go ahead with the WWII metaphors. :-)

  16. Roger says:

    I like the WWII metaphors too, so why has nobody in the U.S. even begun to seriously think about ‘suggesting’ that the nearly broke car companies switch to making wind turbines, etc.–in at least one of their closed plants?

    Oh, I know why–after all, we’re not actually ‘at war’ to save the planet for our children and grandchildren–nobody has ‘attacked’ us. And that’s the problem–as Einstein hinted: we need a new way of thinking to survive!

    I’m starting to feel like an Easter Islander–thought we were smarter. . .