The “War on Climate Change” is Coming… Again – Kit Knightly 8/3/23


Last week, a senior member of Parliament for the UK’s Labour Party went on television demanding the UK – maybe even the entire world – be on a “war-like footing” to combat climate change.

Speaking on the BBC’s flagship political magazine Newsnight, Barry Gardiner MP argued for unity of purpose against climate change’s “existential threat”:

“…if this were a war we wouldn’t be arguing about whether the Labour strategy or the Tory strategy were better, we would be working together to try and win […] Well, it is a war. It is a war for survival and climate change threatens everything […] So actually instead of playing party political games about who is up, who is down, what we need to be doing is saying let’s get together, let’s mobilise on a war footing and that is what is needed…”

Two days later, the exact same thoughts were expressed in a Financial Times column by Camilla Cavendish, former head of David Cameron’s Downing Street policy unit and Kennedy School of Government alumnus:

The answer is surely to invoke a wartime spirit, and make the fight against climate change a joint endeavour against a common enemy. If the public and political will is there, human ingenuity can prevail, with remarkable speed. In the second world war, America transformed its manufacturing base to produce tanks and ammunition. The Covid pandemic resulted in the discovery and development of vaccines at scale, saving millions of lives.

It’s interesting to note the comparison to Covid, but we’ll come back that.

The campaign isn’t isolated to the UK, in fact it kicked off on the other side of the Atlantic, with the Inquirer running an article headlined “President Biden should address the nation and declare war…on climate change” on July 16th, which argued:

Biden and his aides need to grab that metaphorical bullhorn and call the TV networks to announce a prime-time address from the Oval Office that will declare a national emergency — in essence, a state of war — to fight climate change.

Joe Biden himself called climate change an “existential threat” on July 27th.

The invocation of metaphorical war is of course nothing new.

“War” is a very important word in the world of politics and propaganda. It has – or is assumed to have –  an immediate effect on the collective public mind; an instant connection to generations of shared memories, that promotes feelings of conformity and solidarity.

Some psychological study or focus group clearly figured this out decades ago, and as such the word “war” is frequently used to control narratives.

In Western “democracies” the deployment of the W word is code for bi-partisan agreement, attempting to breed faux solidarity between the same people they encourage to hate each other 90% of the time, whilst branding any dissenters as outsiders who are a threat to the safety of the group.

More pragmatically, being “at war” creates an “emergency” which justifies “temporary” suppression of human rights and freedoms and permits increases in the powers assumed by the state….

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