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World Leaders Fiddle While the World Burns: Time for a New Climate Strategy


Obama’s climate czar Carol Browner said last week there will be no U.S. climate protection legislation before the Copenhagen conference and that she doesn’t know if a global agreement on binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions can be made in Copenhagen.  She added that she had hope for progress because the world’s top leaders recognize global warming is a problem.  

As the torturous Copenhagen negotiations and the already-inadequate U.S. climate protection legislation falter, the earth is being imperiled by a failure of its political systems.  We know what needs to be done to halt global warming; we have the technology and resources to halt it; we know the consequences of not doing what we know must be done.  If the "world’s top leaders" recognize that "global warming is a problem" and do nothing about it, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

 

While the earth burns, the "world’s top leaders" are standing around pointing the finger at each other like a bunch of arsonists trying to distract the world’s attention from their handiwork.  The U.S. attacks China for its growing carbon emissions.  China, backed by130 other third world countries, justly attacks the developed countries for their failure to take responsibility for their damage to the planet’s atmosphere – but then continue their plans to build new climate-destroying coal-fired power plants week by week.  The EU piously condemns the U.S. position, but doesn’t care enough to take the Americans on.   

 

The failure of current climate protection strategies tells us that the current strategy of lobbying governments to fix global warming will not work.

 

In the past, the failure of establishments to solve problems that they and their people recognize has often led to the emergence of radical movements demanding real change.  Remember, for example, how betrayed government promises for racial equality and nuclear disarmament helped spawn the civil rights, ban-the-bomb, and new left movements of the 1960s.  

 

The complicity of governments and the corporations and investors for whom they are so often speaking to halt the destruction of our biosphere may similarly help spawn a new climate protection movement: a convergence of those in the environmental, labor, food, globalization, anti-poverty, peace, student, and other movements who grasp urgency and believe radical action as the only way forward.

 

We have learned a great deal more about the science of climate change and what must be done to halt it.  But we have barely begun to discuss what kind of political change is necessary to do what must be done.  Here are some principles to discuss for an alternative climate protection strategy:

 

1.  Existing institutions, specifically states and markets, have decisively proven themselves unable to halt the plunge toward destruction of the biosphere.  

 

2.  National and world political systems are as dysfunctional for survival today as feudal principalities were for protecting their people in the face of capitalism and the modern nation state.

 

3.  States are not legitimate if they allow their terrain or their institutions to be used to destroy the global environment.  They have no right to govern.  They are climate outlaws whose authority it is not only our right but our obligation to challenge.

 

4.  Property rights are not legitimate if property is used to destroy the global environment.  Corporations that emit greenhouse gasses have no right to their property.  They too are climate outlaws whose possessions it is not only our right but our obligation to challenge.

 

5.  A climate protection movement must be conceived, not as governments agreeing to climate protection measures, but as people imposing rules on states, markets, and other institutions.  We can begin to apply these rules locally by direct action wherever we are; we can support each others’ action around the globe; and we can support the right of all the world’s people to monitor and halt climate destroying emissions.  

 

6.  The legitimation for policy and action must be global necessity, not just national or other limited interest.  

 

7.  The blockades of coal facilities by direct action that have recently emerged in countries around the world form a brilliant beginning to this process.  A new climate movement must expand that effort to impose climate protection rules by direct action.

 

8.  Governments, corporations, and other institutions that threaten the survival of the planet should be subject to global popular boycotts and sanctions.

 

9.  National and international economic policies must be redesigned to maximize global resources going to climate protection, rather than competing over the location of "green" production.

 

We need to make true for climate protection what President Dwight D. Eisenhower said about peace:  "I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it."  Popular demand forced competing governments to agree to a nuclear test ban treaty.  Today global popular demand for climate protection should utilize the same dynamic to tell governments and corporations that they will be regarded as nothing but outlaws if the continue to destroy the earth’s environment.

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