When Tom Raftery pointed me to this gloomy assessment I had to go back and remind myself of what I found hopeful in Saul Griffith’s extraordinary energy talk at ETech.

Saul concedes a 2-degree-C rise in temperature by 2033. The question is what it will take to hold the line. He thinks we’ll need to build and deploy something like this mix of clean new energy production:

100 sq meters of solar voltaic cells per second for the next 25 years (2TW)

50 sq meters of solar thermal mirrors per second for the next 25 years (2TW)

1 100 megawatt wind turbine every 5 minutes for the next 25 years(2TW)

1 3 gigawatt nuclear plant every week for the next 25 years (3TW)

3 100 megawatt geothermal steam turbines every day for the next 25 years (2TW)

1250 sq meters of bio-fuel-producing algae every second for the next 25 years (.5TW)

Can we do it? The recipe calls for 11.5 terawatts of new (and carbon-free) power supply over the next 25 years, and we created 6 in the last 25 years. So, it’s “within the scale of what we know how to do.”

Now consider these existing capacities:

Cans. We produce 110 billion aluminum cans per year. Turned into thermal mirrors, that’s 200GW solar thermal/year. “If you make Coke and Pepsi into solar thermal companies, in 10 years you get to your 2 terawatts of solar thermal. It’s within our industrial capacity to do that.”

Phones. “Nokia makes 9 phones/second. Within Nokia + Intel + AMD there is roughly the capacity to make the needed photovoltaics.”

Cars. “GM makes 1 car every 2 minutes. GM + Ford = 1 wind turbine every 5 minutes.”

Of course it’s crazy to imagine retargeting our industrial capacity in such dramatic fashion, and turning it on a dime, isn’t it?

Not necessarily. For months I’ve been meaning to blog a segment from a Lester Brown podcast, which I can’t find now, but here’s the same point from his book Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization:

In his State of the Union address on January 6, 1942, one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt announced the country’s arms production goals. The United States, he said, was planning to produce 45,000 tanks, 60,000 planes, 20,000 anti-aircraft guns, and 6 million tons of merchant shipping. He added, “Let no man say it cannot be done.”

No one had ever seen such huge arms production numbers. But Roosevelt and his colleagues realized that the world’s largest concentration of industrial power at that time was in the U.S. automobile industry. Even during the Depression, the United States was producing 3 million or more cars a year. After his State of the Union address, Roosevelt met with automobile industry leaders and told them that the country would rely heavily on them to reach these arms production goals. Initially they wanted to continue making cars and simply add on the production of armaments. What they did not yet know was that the sale of new cars would soon be banned. From early 1942 through the end of 1944, nearly three years, there were essentially no cars produced in the United States.

In addition to a ban on the production and sale of cars for private use, residential and highway construction was halted, and driving for pleasure was banned. Strategic goods—including tires, gasoline, fuel oil, and sugar—were rationed beginning in 1942. Cutting back on private consumption of these goods freed up material resources that were vital to the war effort.

The year 1942 witnessed the greatest expansion of industrial output in the nation’s history—all for military use. Wartime aircraft needs were enormous. They included not only fighters, bombers, and reconnaissance planes, but also the troop and cargo transports needed to fight a war on distant fronts. From the beginning of 1942 through 1944, the United States far exceeded the initial goal of 60,000 planes, turning out a staggering 229,600 aircraft, a fleet so vast it is hard even today to visualize it. Equally impressive, by the end of the war more than 5,000 ships were added to the 1,000 or so that made up the American Merchant Fleet in 1939.

In her book No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes how various firms converted. A sparkplug factory was among the first to switch to the production of machine guns. Soon a manufacturer of stoves was producing lifeboats. A merry-go-round factory was making gun mounts; a toy company was turning out compasses; a corset manufacturer was producing grenade belts; and a pinball machine plant began to make armor-piercing shells.

In retrospect, the speed of this conversion from a peacetime to a wartime economy is stunning. The harnessing of U.S. industrial power tipped the scales decisively toward the Allied Forces, reversing the tide of war. Germany and Japan, already fully extended, could not counter this effort. Winston Churchill often quoted his foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey: “The United States is like a giant boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it, there is no limit to the power it can generate.”

This mobilization of resources within a matter of months demonstrates that a country and, indeed, the world can restructure the economy quickly if convinced of the need to do so. Many people—although not yet the majority—are already convinced of the need for a wholesale economic restructuring. The purpose of this book is to convince more people of this need, helping to tip the balance toward the forces of change and hope.

And FDR engineered that transformation in less time than we’ve been occupying Iraq. So as Jan 20 approaches, I find myself wondering if maybe, just maybe, the new guy can galvanize a similar response.