U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaking at the Atlantic Council on 12 March. Credit: Randy Showstack

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took on climate skeptics in Congress with a 12 March hard-hitting speech about climate change, delivered at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington, D. C.

“When science tells us that our climate is changing and human beings are largely causing that change, by what right do people stand up and just say, ‘Well, I dispute that’ or ‘I deny that elementary truth’? And yet there are those who do so,” Kerry said, in a speech that is building momentum for an international climate conference in Paris, France, this fall.

“No matter how much people want to bury their head in the sand, it will not alter the fact that 97% of peer-reviewed science studies confirm that climate change is happening and that human activity is largely responsible,” Kerry said. “That is a dramatic statement of fact that no one of good conscience has a right to ignore.”

The Consequences of Climate Change

Scientists also have been very clear about the consequences of climate change, Kerry said. “Those same scientists also say that if we continue to march like robots down the path that we are on, the world as we know it will be transformed dramatically for the worse.”

Those consequences, he said, include sea levels continuing to rise, more intense and frequent extreme weather events such as hurricanes and typhoons, and disruptions to the global agricultural sector that Kerry said will threaten job security for millions of farmers and undermine food security for millions of families.

“We can expect prolonged droughts and resource shortages, which have the potential to fan the flames of conflict in areas that are already troubled by longstanding political, economic, religious, ideological, sectarian disputes. Imagine when they are complicated by the absence of water and food. These are the consequences of climate change,” Kerry said.

Climate change “is, indeed, one of the biggest threats facing our planet today.”

“Measured against the array of global threats that we face today, and there are many—terrorism, extremism, epidemics, poverty, nuclear proliferation, all challenges that respect no borders—climate change belongs on that very same list,” he stated. “It is, indeed, one of the biggest threats facing our planet today.”

Taking Action on Climate Change

Kerry said there is a window of time to take action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change but that the window is closing quickly.

“We will see if we can muster the political will to reach an ambitious comprehensive agreement” in Paris, he said, referring to the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will meet there from 30 November to 11 December. Kerry cautioned that an agreement in Paris would be a vital first step but that it would not eliminate the threat.

He pointed to President Barack Obama’s measures on climate change and called for other political leaders to make policy choices to reduce emissions and invest in clean energy. Kerry also called for international cooperation, for finding more ways for the public and private sectors to work together, and for “real cost accounting.”

“The bottom line is, we can’t only factor in the price of immediate energy needs,” he said. “We have to include the long-term cost of carbon pollution. We have to factor in the cost of survival. And if we do, we will find that pursuing clean energy now is far more affordable than paying for the consequence of climate change later.”

Inaction Would Be More Than a Policy Failure, Kerry Says

Kerry said that if the world does not deal with the threat of climate change soon, future generations should not forgive the failure to act.

If people don’t act, “future generations will judge our effort not just as a policy failure but as a collective moral failure of historic consequences.”

“Future generations will judge our effort not just as a policy failure but as a collective moral failure of historic consequences,” he said. “They will want to know how world leaders could possibly have been so blind or so ignorant or so ideological or so dysfunctional and, frankly, so stubborn that we failed to act on knowledge that was confirmed by so many scientists, in so many studies, over such a long period of time, and documented by so much evidence.”

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2015), Kerry blasts climate skeptics and urges action, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO026311. Published on 13 March 2015.

Text © 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0
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