After a decade of brutal political trench warfare, the surreal debate in the U.S. on the reality of climate change is over. A Democratic Congress looking to put climate in play in 2008, serious buy-in for federal regulation from a band of corporate heavyweights, and a rash of climate conversions from the likes of Pat Robertson and Frank Luntz (author of the infamous strategy memo advising Bush administration operatives how to muddle the climate change debate) demonstrate that a significant and probably permanent shift in climate change political gravity has taken place within the last year.

U.S. environmentalists have a very brief opportunity to reshape our climate agenda in order to meet the demands and seize the opportunities of new circumstances, and the stakes could not be higher. It is likely that the actions of U.S. environmentalists in the next two or three years –- more so than any other group of people on the planet -– will determine whether a functional global response to abrupt climate change is advanced.

The Bright Lines exercise applies standard campaign-planning methodology, usually referred to as “walking backward from the problem,” to develop an alternative U.S. climate strategy based on the global standard of action to avert abrupt climate change — or “bright line” — defined by Jim Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies [see Hansen publications]. The “Bright Lines” alternative is practical, plausible, and appealing, and offers better odds of averting abrupt climate change then our present effort.

To have a shot at advancing a functional, global solution, U.S. environmentalists must take three quick actions: acknowledge that cataclysm is probable, withdraw from what we are doing now, and focus all our resources and energies in one cooperative and desperate effort to win a sea change in American social and political view. If we think in terms of joint, strategic action within a three-year timeframe, the realm of what is possible is significantly expanded beyond our present aims. U.S. environmentalists have sufficient resources, for example, to use the 2008 presidential race to completely rewrite the U.S. climate narrative. We cannot do so, however, if our agenda is dictated by what is winnable this year in Congress.

Three barriers to vigorous, cooperative action by U.S. environmentalists were identified in the analysis:

  1. Cognitive barriers that prevent even experienced environmentalists from acknowledging that collapse of civilization and extinction of more than half of remaining species is a distinct possibility in the lifetime of our children;
  2. Institutional barriers that inhibit swift, determined, and cooperative action; and
  3. Structural barriers that prevent U.S. environmentalists from undertaking global and national strategic planning and action.

All three barriers are addressed in the Bright Lines analysis, with these objectives:

  1. To challenge the efficacy and rationale of our current climate agenda by advancing a comprehensive alternative;
  2. To demonstrate that decisions taken in the U.S. within the next three years will determine whether a functional global solution is advanced, and
  3. To present an “open source” climate strategy and campaign plan that might win the support of major U.S. environmental organizations and foundations.