statueAmericans have a history of joining together in times of crisis. But the terminology of war is the most familiar rallying cry.

So it’s understandable that when he’s talking about global warming, John Edwards often implores Americans to be “patriotic about something other than war.” And when Al Gore accepted his Nobel Prize this week, he said, “We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war.”

So, where is America the strong, free, brave, visionary? Where is America, defender of the world’s climate?

The U.S. is not leading the charge at this week’s U.N. climate conference in Bali. American delegates have insisted they would not be a “roadblock” to a new international agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. Not be a roadblock? Was it irony or simply poor word choice?

Instead, the current U.S. Administration is refusing to endorse international mandatory emissions cuts, refusing to ratify Kyoto, using economic fear tactics, and refusing to budge until China and India lead the way. (Some reasons why the China argument doesn’t pan out, here, here, and here — and here are some compelling reasons why climate solutions can be a boon to the economy rather than a strain.)

As international leaders chart the roadmap for climate solutions, choosing to boldly not block their way is to take the most passive (aggressive?) course. It’s weak tea; a far cry from America as “beacon of light” in the world. In fact, when it comes to the big solutions for climate disruption — the U.S. doing the bare minimum may equate to one of the biggest roadblocks there is to solid international action. Because we’re big polluters, yes. But more importantly, because U.S. leadership could set the stage for action in a big way.

Here’s how the Christian Science Monitor put it (emphasis added):

… some environmental representatives privately say they suspect that the reference to [a specific range of reduced] CO2 levels eventually will get dropped [from Bali discussions] to keep the US from blocking an agreement that must be reached by consensus. Meanwhile, developing countries are waiting to see if the resulting road map signals intentions serious enough for them to agree to undertake greater efforts to curb the growth rate in their emissions.

Al Gore has said that the Bush administration is “the principal stumbling block to progress in Bali right now.” (emphasis mine.)

John Edwards felt the sting of irony too. Here’s what he said about it:

Our government should be offering the world more encouragement than the inadequate remark by the U.S. representative that our country would “not be a roadblock.” America should be a leader in development of a new treaty that arrests climate change to block the worst effects of global warming. That means binding emission reduction targets, protocols for technology transfers to support efforts by developing countries and an aggressive approach to stopping deforestation.

I don’t mean to set Edwards apart. He is not alone. Leaders of both stripes are calling on America to stand up and take a strong leadership role.

Furthermore, it’s the “troops on the ground,” rather than the top brass, who are setting the strategy for America’s war on climate change — for now.

In the U.S., for example, decisive state and city climate action is the strongest signal to countries around the world that U.S. citizens — if not their president –are indeed ready for decisive policy.

And entire regions are marching forward together. For example, the Western Climate Initiative (PDF) recently announced a goal of reducing overall emissions to 15 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020. Several other regional coalitions are doing the same (Midwest, Northeast).

So, the rallying cry is coming from the people, not the president this time.

As Climate Solutions‘ KC Golden once said: “[Climate change] is our Pearl Harbor. It may lack the pop of a sneak attack but here it is, and we need to respond with every ounce of vision and determination we can muster.”

Someday soon, maybe a vote against higher CAFE standards (or for continued Big Oil tax breaks) will be held up as an unpatriotic act on par with not supporting the troops.