03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Should $50 Billion Fund War or Climate Impacts?

Where are the priorities of the U.S. and other developed countries? The $50 billion annual investment in Afghanistan ignores a better investment: funding those most affected by the changing climate created by human impacts.

It doesn't matter where you stand on planet Earth, all climate change impacts are local. To illustrate this point, the government of the Maldives recently held a cabinet meeting underwater to highlight the threat of rising water levels from global warming to their nation of islands in the Indian Ocean.

By contrast, in Nepal, a group of that country's top politicians held their Cabinet meeting on the slopes of Mount Everest to draw attention to the threat of melting glaciers from global warming.

All glaciers in the Himalayan mountains are in decline, say Chinese scientists. They warn that Tibet's high plateau 36,000 glaciers, which once extended for 18,000 square miles, could vanish before mid-century if present rates of warming persist. Research shows that more than 80% of the glaciers are in retreat. Of 4,077 lakes, now 3,000 of them have disappeared.

What does this mean for China, where drifting black coal dust from their power plants is accelerating glacial ice melt? It means a dramatic loss of water in the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. The Yellow, which supplies water to 50 big cities in China and 1.3 billion people, once stopped flowing for 226 days causing financial havoc and a deadly impact to lives and livelihoods along the river.

At the UN's conference in Copenhagen, the voices of indigenous people are repeating the call of their countries' leadership for help in managing impacts from climate change. However, they want the funds to come to their aid now. Indigenous groups are being helped in their efforts by numerous international non-profit organizations (NGOs), including Greenpeace, present at the conference.

For many indigenous people who reside in resource rich areas of the world, the impacts from climate change are two-fold. According to Cultural Survival, one major impact is the forced removal of these people from their land so that needed resources can be extracted. The second, is the attempt of governments to extinguish their native language and cultural heritage, thereby removing their cultural identity.

In Kenya, Nigeria, Panama, and developing countries across the globe, government militia cooperate with resource hungry nations like China, which is facing vast desertification from diminished water supplies, to clear the land of indigenous peoples. In Kenya, the killing and starvation of the Samburu tribe by the Kenya government to drive them from their land (reported by Cultural Survival) is similar to tactics employed by the U.S. government and its militia against Native Americans in the 1800s.

In Copenhagen, leadership from developing countries has called upon rich countries to transfer billions of dollars on an annual basis to help mitigate impacts from climate change. Bangladesh, for example, is asking for 15% of any climate funds when they become available. That country, which may see large parts of its coastal region submerge, sees itself as the worst victim of climate change.

If we have learned anything from the past, it is this. If the U.S. and other developed nations simply give money to the leaders of countries where there is widespread corruption, there will be no trickle down. Money will stay at the top.

What is needed is a bold departure from the past - perhaps impossible to achieve at Copenhagen - where billions of dollars are redirected downward, not upward. Those billions should be redirected to leadership, and to NGOs that have a long standing track record of helping those most in need, with documentation that their on-the-ground efforts have been successful.

It should help fund specific humanitarian projects that can truly help those most impacted by climate change.