FROM outside our borders, the climate crisis doesn’t look anything like the meteors or space invaders that Todd Stern imagined hurtling toward Earth. It looks, instead, like a long and silent war waged by the rich against the poor. And for that, regardless of what happens in Copenhagen, the poor will continue to demand their rightful reparations. “This is about the rich world taking responsibility for the damage done,” says Ilana Solomon, policy analyst for ActionAid USA, one of the groups recently converted to the cause. “This money belongs to poor communities affected by climate change. It is their compensation.”

The only way to stop global warming is for rich nations to pay for the damage they’ve done - or face the consequences

November 16, 2009 “Rolling Stone”—One last chance to save the world—for months, that’s how the United Nations summit on climate change in Copenhagen, which starts in early December, was being hyped. Officials from 192 countries were finally going to make a deal to keep global temperatures below catastrophic levels. The summit called for “that old comic-book sensibility of uniting in the face of a common danger threatening the Earth,” said Todd Stern, President Obama’s chief envoy on climate issues. “It’s not a meteor or a space invader, but the damage to our planet, to our community, to our children and their children will be just as great.”

That was back in March. Since then, the endless battle over health care reform has robbed much of the president’s momentum on climate change. With Copenhagen now likely to begin before Congress has passed even a weak-ass climate bill co-authored by the coal lobby, U.S. politicians have dropped the superhero metaphors and are scrambling to lower expectations for achieving a serious deal at the climate summit. It’s just one meeting, says U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, not “the be-all and end-all.”

As faith in government action dwindles, however, climate activists are treating Copenhagen as an opportunity of a different kind. On track to be the largest environmental gathering in history, the summit represents a chance to seize the political terrain back from business-friendly half-measures, such as carbon offsets and emissions trading, and introduce some effective, common-sense proposals—ideas that have less to do with creating complex new markets for pollution and more to do with keeping coal and oil in the ground.

Among the smartest and most promising—not to mention controversial—proposals is “climate debt,” the idea that rich countries should pay reparations to poor countries for the climate crisis. In the world of climate-change activism, this marks a dramatic shift in both tone and content. American environmentalism tends to treat global warming as a force that transcends difference: We all share this fragile blue planet, so we all need to work together to save it. But the coalition of Latin American and African governments making the case for climate debt actually stresses difference, zeroing in on the cruel contrast between those who caused the climate crisis (the developed world) and those who are suffering its worst effects (the developing world). Justin Lin, chief economist at the World Bank, puts the equation bluntly: “About 75 to 80 percent” of the damages caused by global warming “will be suffered by developing countries, although they only contribute about one-third of greenhouse gases.”

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Global Research, November 17, 2009
Rolling Stone - 2009-11-12

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© Copyright Naomi Klein, Rolling Stone, 2009


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Setting aside the morality of building high-tech fortresses to protect ourselves from a crisis we inflicted on the world, those enclaves and resource wars won’t come cheap. And unless we pay our climate debt, and quickly, we may well find ourselves living in a world of climate rage. “Privately, we already hear the simmering resentment of diplomats whose countries bear the costs of our emissions,” Sen. John Kerry observed recently. “I can tell you from my own experience: It is real, and it is prevalent. It’s not hard to see how this could crystallize into a virulent, dangerous, public anti-Americanism. That’s a threat too. Remember: The very places least responsible for climate change—and least equipped to deal with its impacts—will be among the very worst affected.”