Welcome to a Different Planet


Rosie the Riveter. Poster by J. Howard Miller for the War Production Co-ordinating Committee, 1942
Rosie the Riveter. Poster by J. Howard Miller for the War Production Co-ordinating Committee, 1942

The depth of our crisis came home to me at a conference of environmental journalists last fall, where one climate scientist after another spoke about the dangers confronting migratory birds, water supplies, agriculture and food supplies, coastlines—every strand of the web of life. Their words were carefully chosen, but their voices revealed their alarm.

How bad could it get? In spite of increasingly sophisticated models, no one can predict exactly. But as the temperature rises, there is increasing disruption to the interconnected systems that keep our climate stable and within the narrow range that can support life. The shrinking of the polar ice cap and the opening of the Northwest Passage are among the clearest signs yet that the planet is warming faster than climate models predicted.

The good news is it’s not too late to act. We have the technology and, in much of the world, we have the social stability to act. And we have precedents. When the United States mobilized for World War II, car factories turned to building tanks and trucks. Americans planted 20 million victory gardens, recycled rubber, and brought women into the workplace to build battleships.

We’ll need to mobilize in the same way to combat the global threat of climate change—especially here in the United States where we are among the largest greenhouse gas polluters. Here is some of what it will take:

  • We need to turn car factories into wind turbine factories, and hire young people and those displaced from the fading oil and coal industries to operate them, to install renewables, and to retrofit buildings.

  • We need to shift taxpayer subsidies away from oil and coal production, to climate-friendly solar, wind, and other renewables.

  • We need to stop all construction of new coal plants unless technologies that capture CO2 and sequester it are proven effective.

  • We’ll need to switch from most liquid fuels to electricity generated using clean renewables. (There are sustainable biofuels, but food-based biofuels are not among them.)

  • Any new buildings, transportation, and factories should be climate neutral so we avoid locking ourselves into destructive climate impacts for years to come.

  • We need to use more brains and fewer BTUs. We can get a long way to a climate-neutral economy just by being more efficient with the energy we use.

  • Justice must be at the core of our work. Decades of excessive fossil fuel use enriched some people; those who missed out on that abundance will not forgo a path out of poverty while the wealthy continue to over-consume. To win this race against time, we’ll need everyone, including the poor. That means the wealthier will have to cut their own energy use while helping to finance the efforts of the poor to leapfrog over the fossil-fuel age straight to green jobs and renewables.

barefoot photographers of tilonia
"One Way or another the choice will be made by our generation..." Lester Brown

Climate scientist James Hansen famously said we have 10 years to reverse climate disrupting trends, or we will be living on a very different planet.

The reality is that we will be living on a different planet either way. If we continue as we are, it will be a planet of extreme weather, rising sea levels, large refugee populations, and violent conflicts over remaining land and resources. If we make the needed changes, it can be a planet of widely shared, renewable energy technologies. We might find that a less materialistic, more locally based way of life taps a whole new level of creativity as people seek out the smartest, most sustainable, and most beautiful ways to make or grow what we need. And our grandchildren will thank us for leaving them a world where they too have a shot at a good life.


Sarah van Gelder wrote this “letter from the editor” as part of Stop Global Warming Cold, the Spring 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is executive editor of YES! Magazine. Photo of AUTHOR
Si! en espanol logo

Lea este artículo en español ::
Read this article in Spanish

No Paywall. No Ads. Just Readers Like You.
You can help fund powerful stories to light the way forward.
Donate Now.