Climate of war

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2008, 12:00am

Winston Churchill is renowned as a soldier, statesman, artist and cigar smoker. The man, arguably the most famous-ever Briton, could also well prove to be the brains behind saving the world from the ravages of global warming.

Churchill died in 1965, but his legacy is all around. The strategies he formulated in the early 1940s to protect Britain from German invasion remain relevant to warfare and business. His political prowess is still admired by aspiring leaders.

However far-reaching his beyond-the-grave influence, though, equating history with the relatively recent phenomenon of climate change would seem far-fetched. Not so, if the reasoning of British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson is applied.

Sir Richard advocated at a UN General Assembly debate on the impact of global warming on Monday that a war room modelled on that set up by Churchill in 1940 would be the ideal way to find a solution. Bringing together the world's greatest minds in an environmental nerve centre with the common goal of creating 'an overall battle plan' would catalyse and scale up ideas, he said. Proving his faith in the idea, he put up US$25 million for a war chest and called on the 20 richest governments to match the amount.

The Branson approach is grounded in entrepreneurial muscle, the best possible data and the power to mobilise resources and influence policy. Throw in a war mentality with a Churchillian figure at the helm and theoretically, the solution should be at hand.

Current UN-led efforts do not offer such urgency or optimism. They rely on government will and effort to meet targets and despite the rhetoric, economics is still foremost ahead of the environment for administrations.

Politicians have seen the light on global warming. They are calling resoundingly for action; the frontrunners for the US presidency on the Democratic and Republican sides are eager for the nation to break with the Bush government's refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

The drawback is that the legislative processes in many nations, notably the US, can be painfully slow. This makes meeting goals on reducing climate change-causing pollution difficult - raising questions that perhaps scientists have set the bar too high.

There is no doubt, though, that urgent action is necessary. Polar ice is melting at an alarming rate, low-lying land is disappearing under rising seas and weather conditions becoming increasingly unpredictable.

A war mentality to tackle the crisis is necessary.

So, welcome to the world of Churchill. He was swept into power as prime minister in May 1940 and within weeks, the battle of France had been lost and Britain faced invasion. With the air force at half its desired strength, an urgent strategy was needed.

Churchill brought in experts and listened to their views. Aircraft could not be produced quickly enough to stave off the threat of German bombers, so maximising resources was the only solution.

Much of the infrastructure was in place, but it had to be integrated. A cabinet war room in central London was chosen for the task, and from there the effort was co-ordinated through expertise, intelligence and technology. Britain was attacked the following year, but Churchill's strategy paid off. His stature today is in large part down to the success of his war room.

Climate change equates with invasion. Neutralising it will take a masterful strategist backed by a dedicated team of experts, up-to-the-minute information and the latest technology.

Churchills are not born every day. There are, however, people capable of fighting global warming with a war mentality. Former US vice-president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Al Gore is one; ex-British prime minister Tony Blair is another.

Time is running out. The search has to begin in earnest to find the best person to confront the global warming invasion with unwavering determination.

Peter Kammerer is the Post's foreign editor