With the Copenhagen summit on the verge of failure, it might be a good time to rethink our approach to dealing with global warming.

Why do we have a complete lack of planetary awareness and solidarity at Copenhagen and an inherent nationalistic reflex where each country or continent tries to put the blame on others and demands others to carry the burden? Because our political leaders are still thinking within their national boundaries and national interests. They call this “sovereignty”. Even their discourse on the need for more globalisation is embedded in a defensive reflex of “adapting” to this trend instead of actively trying to rethink a country’s interest in an age of global interconnectedness and dwindling resources.

From this 20th century perspective of “my country first”, the climate/energy revolution becomes a competitive sacrifice. All political leaders and lots of business chiefs still firmly believe that “who moves first, loses” (see the debate on border carbon taxes to compensate for the competitiveness loss when one country moves faster than another in terms of climate mitigation). It is time to leave this old thinking behind.

As Thomas Friedman argues well in his book “Hot, Flat and Crowded”, first mover countries (and companies) will be the long-term winners, not losers. In a recent interview with CNBC, Friedman said he told Chinese leaders to wait with the energy revolution, so that all the green technologies and innovations to deal with the future energy challenge will be developed in the US. This is exactly the new knowledge which should inspire political as well as business leaders. Unfortunately, the trend is going in the other direction as China seems to become the world leader in lots of areas of the green economy, and Western economies hesitate under the increasing counter-revolution of business lobbying. One can even wonder whether the Chinese do not have an interest of having the Copenhagen process fail or at least by delayed as long as possible. Because, in the end, it can force through the transition to a green, resource-constrained economy without having to deal with strong lobby groups or unwilling citizens. As such, it seems more and more clear that authoritarian regimes are more capable of dealing with the “unsustainability” challenges.

The transition to a new low-carbon, low-resource throughput society will be inevitable. It can be postponed by bad decisions but there is no escaping it, so you better prepare for it early and go for the immediate short pain than the long decline in the future.What we need is a new race, like we had the “race to the moon” and the “arms race”; only this time it will be a race to a new age of low-resource-use prosperity. The countries (and businesses) which will take the leadership in this race, will be the ones surviving and prospering in the 21st century.

The positive thing is that lots of new entrepreneurs as well as sub-national political elites in towns and cities seem to have understood this much faster than our national so-called leaders (look at the rise of the Transition Towns movement, the actions of the C40 coalition of cities and the leadership of some regional leaders – e.g. Schwarzenegger in California).

Let’s follow their example and get ready for the sustainability race. May the best country win 🙂