Even before the announcement was official, environmentalists welcomed the news that President Obama would nominate John Kerry to succeed Hilary Clinton as the next Secretary of State, and for good reason. While best known overall for foreign policy, Senator Kerry has a long record of forceful statements in support of climate action policies, and he has not been shy about calling attention to the worst outcomes of willfully ignoring climate science. What’s also interesting, though, is how Kerry’s climate change position highlights the interplay of political power and marginalization with climate science.
John Kerry on Climate Change
Kerry’s current U.S. Senate profile leaves no question about his position on climate science and consequent policies, especially regarding foreign affairs and national security. Under the heading “Climate Change and Energy Security,” you’ll find unequivocal statements like this:
“America’s contributions to global climate change and our oil dependence are endangering our national security, our economy and our environment. But the global climate crisis is more than an urgent scientific imperative; it is also a tremendous economic opportunity to secure America’s leadership in creating the low-carbon global economy and our future prosperity”
“Carbon pollution threatens to damage our children’s health and radically and irreversibly alter our climate. It threatens to bring more famine and drought, worse pandemics, more natural disasters, and human displacement on a staggering scale. In an interconnected world, the instability that would trigger endangers all of us.”
Climate Change and Marginalization
Kerry’s current statements on climate change follow a long record of consistent statements going back through the years. In 2010, he warned of “a new element of chaos” in the already fragile lives of the world’s poorest populations. In 2009, he drew the connection between Himalayan glacier melt and international instability, and in a major address in 2008 he also argued that climate change was as dangerous a threat as nuclear weapons proliferation.
For a real window into Kerry’s thinking, though, you can go back to 2007 and look up a copy of the book he wrote with wife Theresa Heinz Kerry, This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future.
While raising alarms about the consequences of inaction, the book makes the case for optimism based on the successes that a few passionate, determined individuals can have in the face of overwhelming opposition.
In a Newsmax.com article about the book, Kerry demonstrates his awareness of the opposition in terms of its effect on political power:
“As a society, we are sliding dangerously backwards in almost every sector of environmental concern…. Even caring about the environment has been marginalized in recent years by a calculated assault from special interests.”
A detailed review on Daily Kos also picks out this passage:
“We no longer have the luxury of engaging in a debate that does not lead to action. We must put an end—an immediate end—to any discussion other than the one that will lead us forward. We simply have no choice but to face the facts, regardless of how unsettling they are. This is not just an ‘environmental’ issue; it is a moral issue and a matter of life and death.”
In other words, Kerry brings to the Secretary of State position not only decades-long experience in operating at the top levels of political power and a passionate determination to support scientific knowledge, but also an acute sensibility of the power of ordinary individuals to determine their own fate.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.