Book Review: A Good War by Seth Klein

Reviewed by Richard Lindgren, CELA Counsel

The science is clear and compelling. We have only a small handful of years left to substantially reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to limit global warming to a 1.5 o C increase, and to mitigate the adverse effects of climate breakdown on our environmental and socio-economic wellbeing.

In Canada, however, it increasingly appears that we are not on track to meet the GHG reduction targets that are required to achieve rapid de-carbonization of our society. Accordingly, we need to make swift, equitable and transformational changes in how we power and heat our homes, transport people and goods, build our communities, deploy our workforce, and manage our natural resources.

But are there any “lessons learned” from other existential crises that we can draw upon to help us implement the necessary measures in a timely manner? This question is the central focus of Seth Klein’s recent book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency (Toronto: 2020, ECW Press).

In particular, Mr. Klein examines how Canadians and their elected officials quickly made sweeping systemic reforms that enabled the country, in a relatively short period of time, to effectively confront the global threat posed by the Axis powers during World War Two.

He then explains how Canada’s war-time (and post-war) policies, plans and programs provide some useful precedents and important directions for the development of similar initiatives to combat global warming impacts that will affect all Canadians from coast to coast, especially northern and Indigenous communities.

Mr. Klein is not the first author to utilize a “war” analogy in the fight against climate breakdown, and he acknowledges that his book should not be construed as glorifying war or its horrific human consequences. Interestingly, despite his advocacy of a war-time mindset to expedite GHG reductions, Mr. Klein is optimistic about how we can galvanize the Canadian public, re-tool the economy, revamp politics, and ensure a just transition to a zero-carbon society despite the daunting challenges.

It should be noted that A Good War is not a treatise on climate science, which the author accepts as his starting point. Instead, the book contains thoughtful reflections on how we can derive important guidance from the political leadership displayed and the numerous measures taken to quickly place the country on a war-time footing from 1939 to 1945.

Mr. Klein also offers a comprehensive “battle plan” that outlines the strategies, policies and regulatory approaches needed to win the climate “war.” In addition, he correctly commends the climate leadership that is currently being demonstrated by Indigenous communities across Canada in their opposition to new or expanded fossil fuel infrastructure projects.

Similarly, the book properly notes that “the path forward has to be one of true cooperation and partnership, and one that honours and respects Indigenous title and rights” in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The book concludes with an epilogue that draws additional lessons from the Canadian governments’ wide-ranging emergency responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A Good War also includes two appendices that address the effects of climate “attacks” on Canadian soil, and the Canadian oil/gas sector’s “new climate denialism” (i.e. profess to accept the science but resist the necessary policy and regulatory steps). Mr. Klein’s personal website provides further information on the issues and opportunities explored by the book.

Armed with the historical information and policy analysis provided by Mr. Klein, Canadians and their governments should become well-prepared to mobilize against the existential threat of climate breakdown. The time for incrementalism or ineffective half-measures is over, and we need to collectively respond to the climate crisis as if our lives depend on it – because they do.