In First Big Speech, Kerry Sounds Like A Climate Hawk With The Courage To Reject Keystone XL Pipeline

A month ago I wrote that the “confirmation of climate hawk Kerry as Secretary Of State may doom dirty Keystone XL Pipeline.”

Now John Kerry has delivered his first big foreign policy speech as Secretary of State (here) — and he shows no sign whatsoever of backing down from the moral urgency that has made him a true climate champion.

Here’s the key excerpt (from prepared text):

The stories we need to tell – of standing up for American jobs and businesses and standing up for our American values – intersect powerfully in the opportunity we have to lead on the climate concerns we share with our global neighbors.

We as a nation must have the foresight and courage to make the investments necessary to safeguard the most sacred trust we keep for our children and grandchildren: an environment not ravaged by rising seas, deadly superstorms, devastating droughts, and the other hallmarks of a dramatically changing climate.

And let’s face it – we are all in this one together. No nation can stand alone. We share nothing so completely as our planet.

When we work with others – large and small – to develop and deploy the clean technologies that will power a new world, we’re also helping create new markets and new opportunities for America’s second-to-none innovators and entrepreneurs to succeed in the next great revolution.

So let’s commit ourselves to doing the smart thing and the right thing and truly commit to tackling this challenge.

Because if we don’t rise to meet it, rising temperatures and rising sea levels will surely lead to rising costs down the road. If we waste this opportunity, it may be the only thing our generations are remembered for. We need to find the courage to leave a far different legacy.

Does this sound like a man who is going to launch his term as Secretary of State approving the expansion of one of the dirtiest sources of fossil fuels in the world? His repetition of the word “courage” makes it sound like he is talking directly to the President.

Keystone is the key that unlocks a huge pool of carbon-intensive fuel most of which must be left in the ground — along with most of the world’s coal and unconventional oil and gas – if humanity is to avoid multiple devastating impacts that may be beyond adaptation.

Kerry starts as Secretary of State with a clean slate. But approving Keystone would be like dipping that slate into the dirtiest, stickiest tar imaginable. It would be the opposite of courageous, it’s not what Kerry wants to be remembered for, and I don’t think he will do it.

UPDATE: Here’s the video, which captures the passion behind his words:

47 Responses to In First Big Speech, Kerry Sounds Like A Climate Hawk With The Courage To Reject Keystone XL Pipeline

  1. Thank you John Kerry!

    In the last few weeks both the President of the United States and the US Secretary of State have made bold, clear, public statements that preventing disastrous climate change is a moral imperative.

    This is a fundamental change in the discussion and the one required to make progress in time.

    The benefits to burning fossil fuels are mostly given to the people burning the carbon while the damages from the resulting climate pollution are smeared out over generations.

    It has driven me to distraction that the allowed arguments against climate pollution have all had to be economic ones diluted by “net present value”.

    America didn’t rise up to fight the immoral energy system of slavery because it was cost-beneficial to those using slave power.

    McKibben has been very successful in my view in large part because he has had the courage to defend the moral argument. He often says it is the right thing to do to leave the planet in roughly the same shape it was handed to you by your parents generation.

    Kerry: “So let’s commit ourselves to doing the smart thing and the right thing and truly commit to tackling this challenge.”


  2. SecularAnimist says:

    Unfortunately, there is nothing in that “key excerpt” about reducing the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels.

    Kerry talks about “investment” and “deploying clean technologies” to “create new markets and new opportunities” for American business. All of which is fine, and all of which Obama has been promoting throughout his first term.

    But of course, Obama has also been promoting a dramatic expansion of US fossil fuel extraction throughout his first term, and continues to do so, sometimes in the same breath that he acknowledges the threat of global warming.

    Unfortunately I don’t see anything in Kerry’s speech that suggests that will change.

  3. Dan Ives says:

    I hope you are right, Joe. I don’t want to see Keystone XL approved.
    But I still think the odds are that it will be. Maybe Kerry will recommend against it, but I wouldn’t rule out Obama over-ruling him. Keystone XL is just too easy to spin and avoid the political consequences. They can hype up the (limited) jobs and boast about increasing “North American energy independence” – this relatively new, and troubling, talking point. Basically, it can be done with small political consequences. Or they will work out a faux deal with the GOP and approve Keystone XL in return for some policies they want. Who knows?
    We’ll see, I guess. Like I said, I hope I’m wrong. But I think you are being a bit too selective with your reasoning.

  4. The Kerry-recommends-against-but-Obama -approves-anyway scenario is quite plausible. Good-cop-bad-cop. It would signal the shift, and warn developers of increasing risk.

    But of course, signals are not enough. Action is required. We have to start somewhere. I hope Obama has “courage”–and an alternative to offer to the pro-KXL folks, including our Canadian friends. I would hope there was some big-time diplomacy happening simultaneously with Kerry’s speech to strike some kind of deal with them.

    I don’t know what that deal would be, but the Canadians are extremely important allies, and should be brothers and sisters in arms against climate disruption. We need to keep them with us, and not just p*ss them off.

  5. Joe Romm says:

    It would be a knife in the back to Kerry, and make Obama look like a coward.

  6. Leptoquark says:

    I really wish that, if Obama is going to approve KXL, he would at least get something good for it, namely, this would be a fabulous opportunity to say to Canada “We’ll approve KXL as long as you sequester the excess CO2 generated by tar sands processing”. You could even require them to sequester all carbon generated from tar sands. This would do two things, first of all it would give a big boost to sequestration research, which has been unfocussed and half-hearted up to now, and secondly it would establish once and for all a robust, real-world example for the rest of the world that we can do sequestration if we really want to.

    If TransCanada and Harper want KXL so badly, let’s make them work for it.

    We could also have them set up an international carbon trading mechanism to offset tar sands carbon, which would be useful as well, but I would prefer nuts-and-bolts sequestration, mostly so that it could be deployed in China as part of a bilateral US/China climate treaty.

  7. “If TransCanada and Harper want KXL so badly, let’s make them work for it.”

    But they have worked for it. They’ve spent millions on lobbyists and thousands of hours setting up slimy relationships with American politicians on both sides of the isle.

  8. Agree. To be clear, I mean we should be doing some diplomacy with Canada to offset the “no” Obama should deliver.

  9. “I don’t know what that deal would be, but the Canadians are extremely important allies, and should be brothers and sisters in arms against climate disruption.”

    Actually, most Canadians are. When you hear the right-wing talking points about how “the Canadians” want the pipeline, they are not talking about most of the Canadian people, especially those living to the east or west of Alberta. They’re talking about the right-wing, oil soaked government, which his its political and financial base in Alberta.

    We could tell those folks where to go and in a couple years, when the country rears up and kicks out the oil puppets, “the Canadians” will love us more than ever.

  10. Jan says:

    They are both politicians, and talk is cheap (sorry, but the best rhetoric goes only so far). Unless they explicitly committed to stopping it, they can find ways to spin an approval and both be fine and point to some other supposed climate achievements or blame someone/something.

  11. I’m not responding to our right wing here, but to Canadians themselves. They do have a rightist government whose explicit economic policy is to maximize their natural resources. And even outside Alberta, the country depends on those resources for revenue.

    I agree that most Canadians want action on climate change, but they’re as conflicted at the national level as us. They don’t want to feel an economic pinch, which retarding the development of the tar sands will mean. I’m not suggesting we do anything directly economic, but offer some other opportunity or partnership or something to maintain and strengthen the relationship, which will suffer when Obama says no.

    Plus, TransCanada has big economic problems for which KXL is a (if not the) strategic solution. They are a key economic engine for Canada, and having them in trouble is a national problem, somewhat equivalent to what GM was for the US in 2008.

    Obama can’t just say no. That would be as bad a diplomatic move as he could make. That’s why I hope (expect, actually) that there’s some behind-the-scenes diplomacy happening to cushion the blow.

  12. M Tucker says:

    Obama makes the decision. Obama has the approval or disapproval responsibility. Kerry is safe.

  13. Joan Savage says:

    Kerry puts climate change as the top legacy issue of our generation / generations.

    I hope he keeps that priority.

    The southern leg of the Keystone XL drains the glut of oil at the Tulsa hub. That’s already in the works.

    It’s only the northern leg of the Keystone XL that’s still on hold. I wouldn’t count 100% on it being blocked by Kerry.

    In the face of the uptick in US domestic extraction of fossil fuels, it could look hypocritical in the world view.

    We’ll see.

  14. The whole point of the pipeline is to feed the refineries in Texas. Canada could just refine at home solving everything, but that’s not what the big boys want. Kerry may “get” to say no. Who cares if the Big O says yes. Canucks have all their eggs in this basket.

  15. Sasparilla says:

    That’s a very good point about the southern leg of the XL already being built, Joan.

    The part of the XL to drain the excess tar oil from the midwest (where its currently trapped and causing the tar oil to sell for much lower than world oil prices) is already being built (since it doesn’t cross any U.S. borders it doesn’t need administration approval) – so that part (raising tar sand oil pricing to world pricing levels and making tar sands a profitable venture) is already happening no matter what President Obama does.

  16. Sasparilla says:

    Joe, I’ll be so happy if you’re right…and you seem to have grown more “positive” about it as time has moved on. I’ll still be stunned if the Administration goes that way, but I’d love to be stunned.

    I’d be much happier if the two tar sands pipelines (one is the XL domestic part) from the midwest to the Gulf Coast (which will make the tar sands oil profitable) weren’t happening – the less profitable non conventional oil (tar sands for example) is, the better – unfortunately for the tar sands, that ship has sailed. Keeping the volume down (XL veto) is the next best thing.

  17. Mike Roddy says:

    I met Kerry in DC in 1998, and he struck me as sincere man, committed to doing good for the people. If he OK’s Keystone I will be shocked. But then, it’s Obama’s decision, who is less trustworthy.

  18. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Nice sentiments about ‘we are all in this together’. Let’s hope this translates into a more agreeable and productive stance at the next COP, ME

  19. fj says:

    Yeh, one of those billionaires really likes the Heinz brand name, might be Warren Buffet; says it has international cache and they are throwing $billions at some kind of buy out or something.

    Teresa Heinz and John Kerry sure make a lovely couple.

    Happy days.

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    How, precisely, are the Canadians to sequester the CO2 produced by processing the tar sands? As far as I know such sequestration, after capture and compression, has never yet been done on such a scale, and there are already indications that it is quite simply infeasible.

  21. M Tucker says:

    What is the Seaway pipeline? You have to remember you can’t keep the big oil under control…they are always two steps ahead.

  22. Sasparilla says:

    I apologize for placing it here, but I don’t want this to be missed (came in under everyone’s radar). So much for 2.0c being safe…

    Scientists in Siberia have determined via geologic records (in Siberian caves) that permafrost melting/feedback (in the past) started at about .6c-.7c warming (about where we are) and became wide scale (all permafrost) at 1.5c of warming.

    Here’s the article:

  23. Climate Hawk says:

    Words are cheap, it’s action that counts. The Drone Ranger is the “decider” and Kerry will do what he’s told. The news today about Obama’s budget priorities was not encouraging and then there’s that golf trip with oil execs on Sunday. I do hope you’re right, Joe.

    It’s important to remember, however, that even if they nix the pipeline, the fight against the pollutocrats will be far from over.

  24. BobbyL says:

    Isn’t this new environmental review only about rerouting the pipeline in Nebraska because of potential water pollution problems? I can’t recall anyone from the Obama Administration saying climate change would factor into the decision. The only ones saying that seems to be us. Clearly the original proposal was turned down because of the threat of water pollution. Has anything really changed?

  25. Jelly Jam says:

    Words are great. I hope he plans on coupling his words to actions. No to KXL.

  26. fj says:

    As enormous the changes in the natural world we will face so will be the transition to a civilization as of yet unknown.

  27. Leif says:

    There is a lot more wrong with tar sands than just green house pollution. There is evidence of ground water contamination from tailing ponds and river pollution. There is evidence of numerous small leeks along the pipe line itself. There is also the obvious forest pillage and wildlife disruption on a massive scale. Socially enabled capitalism is a failed paradigm.

  28. Leptoquark says:

    Actually, there’s quite a bit of room down there.


    Quote “The US Department of Energy publishes a national atlas of storage capacity by state. The calculations assume that even in areas that look promising for CO2 storage, only 1-4% of available geologic capacity will actually be used for CCS. Even with this limitation, the DOE still estimates overall potential for storage in the US to be at 3,600 to 12,900 billion metric tons of CO2. To put that in perspective, the United States’ current annual CO2 emissions are about 5,814 million metric tons per year. That is why, despite the challenges, CCS is such a potentially important opportunity in the fight against climate change.”

    The whole point of requiring TransCanada et al. to sequester the carbon would be to get sequestration up and running for the rest of the world.

  29. Sasparilla says:

    Very true.

  30. Bob Geiger says:

    To the extent that there is a meme which says that climate is the top legacy issue, then we will get serious action out of Obama. When Kerry speaks like this, he helps create such a meme.

  31. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I strongly suspect it to be a boondoggle, designed to keep coal extraction going, but on further reflection, it would be good if it succeeded, although total decarbonisation is absolutely essential. Safe sequestration would be useful as we extract CO2 from the atmosphere to return to a safer level, by some technological means. I prefer planting billions and billions of trees, for lots of reasons, but it won’t be up to the whole task.

  32. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Unknown? Why not just go back to the one that we had for thousands and thousands of years that kept the planet and people in good shape? Its parameters are well known and can be translated into modern times. It is being lived, and re-created, in little pockets by people all over the world, and hopefully, these people who will be among the survivors, ME

  33. prokaryotes says:

    It makes me sad that it is even news that someone is strong on protecting our future environment. This is all common sense actually, and only because of special interest and our swarm addiction to fossil based products we have to evaluate every step of common sense energy transition.

  34. fj says:

    My understanding of history is that the vast majority of people had very difficult lives and had to work all the time and without the rule of law, life was very brutal and much more unfair than now; and today’s two billion extreme poor probably more closely mirrors much of the populations of the past.

  35. Joan Savage says:

    Which one is the Seaway? The new pipeline to the Pacific?

    In other news, Enbridge is reversing one of its existing pipelines to ship tar sand oil to the east coast.

  36. Ken Barrows says:

    Nice speechwriting. Does it mean Keystone is on the fast track to oblivion? Doubtful.

  37. Bill Morby says:

    The simplest way to kill the KXL is to require that all oil and refined products from KXL oil must remain in the USA. We all know that the claims that the KXL will reduce our dependence on ” foreign oil” and “will lower gas prices in the USA” is a farce. Refined products will be exported to who ever pays the highest price. We already export large amounts of fuel to Central and South America from Texas refineries. Jobs and energy independence are the claims of the KXL backers, but we know it is all about the money.

  38. M Tucker says:

    It is not hard to find out. Wikipedia even has an entry. What is hard is to find out in advance what the oil companies plan to do.

  39. Leptoquark says:

    I agree that it’s a less-than-desireable solution in that it helps keep the “coal-fires burning”, but the reality is that the coal plants, especially in China and India aren’t just going to go away, since they represent enormous sunk investment. We (meaning humanity) needs to be getting sequestration up and running for the existing and near-term coal fleet, while at the same time, switching massively to renewables and possibly nat gas. Our ultimate goal should be what I call “sustainable baseload”, which would be a combination of wind and solar on a large geographic scale, and natural gas (as long as we can crack down of fugitive emissions).

  40. Merrelyn Emery says:

    That is certainly true of the last few hundred years and in some parts of the world. It is not true of the thousands of years before that when what we call Aboriginal or Indigenous peoples lived very comfortable, equal and aesthetically rich lives, looking after their land, to which they were intimately connected, and their people with a very sophisticated and strict systems of laws, ME

  41. Jan says:

    Sorry, but words on this do nothing for me anymore. I think there is a deal in the works where the EPA will push through (or at least do enough to say they tried) rules on carbon for existing coal plants in exchange for approving the pipeline. They can always validate it by saying the emissions saved from the rules enacted will offset the emissions from the pipeline (even though we are already burning tarsands here every day) and will produce “jobs” even if it really isn’t true. Elections are next year and you can’t do both and expect Democrats in states with oil to get donations or votes. Anything coming out of DC will be clearly political. I have no more faith that people in DC one the whole really care for this planet.

  42. fj says:

    It is my understanding that what you describe is largely a myth which was a result of looking at small numbers of people and when sufficiently large numbers were taken these people were actually very violent.

    The idea is that the rule of law has probably saved about one billion lives in the last one hundred years despite two world wars and many violent conflicts.

    You also seem to discount the great value of scientific advances which are accelerating . . .

  43. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I think your understanding is a result of reading an inadequate sample of studies and of not knowing the people you are talking about. There is now a vast literature from around the world. I do not discount scientific advances which I covered by “translated into modern times”, ME

  44. fj says:


    Are you suggesting that we consider civilizations from thousands of years ago that no longer exist translated to our time with regard to scientific advances and use them to provide a model for our global civilization of seven billion people?

    Interesting concept. Run with it.

    I’ve read recently that there is an indication that there have been many innovations in human history that have been lost because of one reason or another.

  45. fj says:

    One example might be the pot-in-pot refrigerator or zeer pot which was known about in 2500 BC Egypt and India in 3000 BC.

  46. Merrelyn Emery says:

    They still exist fj, badly damaged in some cases but hanging onto their cooperative principle and proven practices. e.g. we are gradually learning from them about fire management to keep the eucalypts under control which avoids the massive, intense bushfires we have experienced since the European invasion but the arrogance of many makes this slow work, ME

  47. Addicted says:

    I think the key point here is no matter how bad things were for civilization, the trend for the last couple of millenniums has largely been towards improvement.

    There were always setbacks, but because of the local nature of problems, there were parts of the world which continued the march of improvement. As an example, some of the bigges setbacks clearly were the 2 world wars. However, the reality is that those wars never descended on American shores (the closest they got was Pearl Harbor) so while Europe was regressing, the US could still advance.

    The major issue with climate change is its global nature. So if we do get this wrong, we are all screwed, and there won’t be any pockets which are immune from it (even parts which are not hurt by the change in the climate will be overwhelmed with climate immigrants).