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Message to Durban: Declare War on Climate Change

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The Wars on Drugs and Poverty in the 1960s were obviously not literal wars involving guns and bombs. They were wars of conscience and responsibility - a recognition that there is an illness, an evil, an injustice that damages the fabric of society. A recognition that we have to seek it out, hunt it down, find its origins, and kill it off. This is what we are trying to do now in the war on terror. No less, in fact much more, is required to fight climate change. We need all the governments, stakeholders, business leaders and foot soldiers like you and me to be on the right side of this war - to be the good guys.

Think of it like this:

If a terrorist group sporadically attacked our infrastructure and downed power lines for millions of people at a time, creating billions in losses and bringing daily activity to a standstill (think October freak snowstorm in northeast, this week's windstorm in SoCal) - would we not hunt that group down and put an end to it? Would this not be a 9/11 event?

If a terrorist group blew up New Orleans, bombed it into an apocolyptic state, would this not be a Pearl Harbor event?

If a terrorist group torched huge sections of the western US, taking out homes and threatening major population centers, would we take that sitting down?

And what if we knew that this was just their calling card, that they were getting stronger and bolder and that if we don't nip them in the bud, these terrorists would become too powerful to stop later on?

Would we not act right now?

Some of the players in Durban get it - they've seen the devastation and the data and are connecting the dots. They feel the urgency. They understand that we are dealing with a terror that is man-made but we are not going to track these men down in caves in Afghanistan. Some countries are willing to be on the front lines to fight the new form of global terror. They realize that by default we are all part of the problem and so this is a war that must be waged on our technology, on our energy sources and ultimately on our life style. It's a war that is not about tearing down but about eliminating the causes of the current crisis - it needs to be a war on waste and inefficiency, and a phasing out of the fossil fuel economy.

But why doesn't everyone at Durban, all the world climate negotiators, all the people in the know (or who should know), get it? Get it that we are unleashing a climate that is increasingly unruly and destabilized. Get it that to put this genie back in its bottle will take a world-wide Marshall Plan.

Part of the problem is about dependency, people and countries too drunk on a carbon high to know how destructive our emissions are. Why end the party early - lets have another toast to the climate skeptics and drink on. It will take even more terrible climate events and even more proof to sober these people up, which of course will be too late.

But on top of that there is a huge elephant in the Durban living room that is preventing an all out war on climate change. The elephant of course is China and all that it represents. We have created the China monster by free trading to the point where they hold most of the economic cards and emit the world's motherlode of carbon. Its utter nonsense that they should get a free pass in any new treaty. Canada is right to object, but just boycotting the agreement is a cop out - its playing politics rather than waging war.

What would waging war on climate change look like with respect to China? That's simple - a very old military tactic. Economic embargo. We don't trade with anyone that is not a good guy in the fight against climate change. But this doesn't have to be an aggressive, fist shaking stance. We don't want to go to war against China, only against climate change.

Perhaps what's needed is a League of Green Traders, as opposed to free traders. The good guys buy and sell within the league and play by rules that aggressively attack the climate problem. Everyone is invited into the league, the terms of engagement clear. Countries that want the economic advantage of not controlling carbon would be outlaws, pariahs and not allowed into the EU or North American marketplace. Instead of desperately seeking cheap labor, the multinationals would be desperately seeking green suppliers. I doubt that it would take China very long to come around.

So, rather than only putting a few cards on the table, Durban needs to be addressing the whole concept of how we do business on a global scale. The current system of free trade puts the decision of capping emissions into the hands of multinationals as they are the ones choosing where to invest. And to them capping emissions is a nice concept but it does nothing for this quarter's profitability. China is a convenient engine for that profitability and at the same time, serves as a convenient scapegoat for inaction on climate change. A League of Green Traders could potentially wrestle power from the multis and put it into the hands of decision-makers who want their cities and societies to survive the ravages of climate change.

So, its good that the conversation is shifting and some countries are debating the China problem. But we only have about a millisecond for debate. The time to wage war has come.

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