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But we could plan and implement a planetary response to climate
change. Some observers are fond of saying that if America once embarked
on the Manhatan Project to create the nuclear bomb, why couldn't it do
the same to create a new energy economy? One problem with this com-
parison is that today the United States, or more likely the international
community, would need to create several equivalents of that project,
invent a range of new technologies, and implement them on a wide scale.
We need a Manhatan, a Brooklyn, a Queens, a Bronx, and a Staten Island
Project, just to get started. But the further irony is that the goal of that
earlier project was to create a devastating weapon; the goal this time—
and a far more difficult one—is to prevent destruction. Of course, in that
era American government officials argued that they needed a weapon to
prevent the Nazis, and then the Soviets, from destroying the nation. They
hoped to use destruction to ward off destruction. This time around, we
have no convenient weapon we could use to blow up climate change.
This demand for a different kind of national—or more likely, interna-
tional—project will require us to alter our relation to the technological
breakthroughs of the modern era. In the Manhatan Project and thereaf-
ter, the United States hoped to secure its dominance by taking the logic
of destruction to its limit and becoming the supreme master of annihila-
tion. Although the development of a nuclear weapon was certainly new,
it nevertheless operated within the general flow of history, toward the
ever-greater capacity to destroy. It arose as well from within that broader
historical dynamic, the creation of many technological innovations—the
production of the automobile and the airplane, radio and television, dig-
ital systems and the Internet—which took for granted another version
of the power to destroy, to use the Earth's resources without reserve for
human benefit. Climate change will not allow us to go with this flow, for
it demands that we make technological breakthroughs that will roll back
the patern of destruction. It demands that we contest the entire momen-
tum of the modern era, indeed the celebration of the “modern” itself.
On many different counts, then, climate change represents a major
shift from a danger that has become quite familiar to us. In retrospect,
the nuclear era seems positively saturated with moral clarity—with a
clear and present threat, the prospect of an instantaneous and absolute
end, a public that readily agreed that such a threat existed, a specific
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