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The final section of Romm’s book is called “The Reckoning.” In it, he discusses the need for a WWII level and style mobilization:
But barring the two Political Miracles global emissions will hit 37 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide a year in the early 2020s, while global concentrations hit about 430 ppm, rising 3 ppm a year. We will have vastly overshot a safe level of carbon emissions, and misallocated trillions of dollars in capital constructing conventional coal plants, producing unconventional oil, and manufacturing inefficient vehicles. At that point, if we wanted to avoid climate catastrophe while avoiding economic collapse, we would have no choice but to scrap most of this polluting capital long before the end of its natural life, while replacing it with clean, efficient capital at a rapid rate.
This national (and global) reindustrialization 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 home front, 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 all in less than 5 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 such as 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.