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

The Secret Power of the Stall in Copenhagen

Did the Group of 77 developing countries stage their walkout as part of a "negotiating dynamic" as Natural Resources Defense Council's Jake Schmidt suggests? Or is what we are seeing in Copenhagen part of a larger breakdown in global diplomacy unless genuine steps are taken to mitigate impacts of climate change?

In light of this breakdown in Copenhagen, and a growing mistrust of the outcome, is it time for the world's wealthiest countries to consider conversion of their military forces into a Climate Corp?

The timing of the walkout couldn't have been more pointed. It coincided with an announcement by United States energy secretary, Steven Chu. that the United States would spend $85 million over five years to spread renewable and nonpolluting energy technology in developing countries.

By contrast, in fiscal year 2008, nearly 21% of U.S. federal dollars, or $613 billion, was on defense. Multiply this over five years, with 9% increase per year (on average) and the total projected spending on the military is over $3,195 billion. Compare this number with the $85 million offered by the U.S. for climate change, and the $350 million total commitment over five years by a consortium of rich countries and you can understand the outrage.

Now image a world in which impacts from climate change are the biggest driver of social disruption and diplomatic breakdown. Would it make sense, from this perspective, to redirect a portion, say 50% of the world's military budgets toward a Global Climate Corp?

Let the armies of the world clean up the land, and toxic waste sites. The U.S. alone has hundreds of toxic superfund sites, many of which have contaminated or threatened drinking water. In the state of Idaho, for example, the cost to clean up a single site, the St. Maries Creosote Superfund site, is estimated at more than $12 million. That cost will be carried by the City of St Maries and Carney Products Co Ltd, as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Let the world's navies clean up the "ocean deserts" ... the dead seas choked by the plastic waste of industrial societies. Let a combined effort by the U.S. and Russian air forces clean up the trash bin in outer space, now filling up with dead or dying spacecraft and bits and pieces of metal clutter.

Redirecting some of the monies now spent to arm the militaries of the world into a Climate Corp would have a secondary benefit.

In addition to cleaning up our own mess around the world, this rich world action would provide inspiration for the next generation. It's a 21st Century self-discipline and ethic based on "Do as I do."

That is, It offers the developing world a "hand up" into a toxic free world, not simply a hand out.