Secretary of State John Kerry gave perhaps his strongest climate speech in Indonesia Sunday. He called climate change the “world’s most fearsome” weapon of mass destruction and said “the science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie. It’s warning us; it’s compelling us to act.”
At the same time, a must-read new analysis by Oil Change International finds that “all of the scenarios used by the State Department” in their Final Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline “result in emissions that put us on a path to 6 degrees C (11°F) of global warming according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).” Talk about mass destruction!
IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol famously said of 11°F warming, “even school children know this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.”
Kerry’s Jakarta climate speech, the first in a series on the urgency of action, would appear to be utterly irreconcilable with a decision to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, a decision that rests almost entirely on Kerry’s shoulders. Kerry explained:
When 97 percent of scientists agree on anything, we need to listen, and we need to respond.
Well, 97 percent of climate scientists have confirmed that climate change is happening and that human activity is responsible. These scientists agree on the causes of these changes and they agree on the potential effects. They agree that the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide contributes heavily to climate change. They agree that the energy sources that we’ve relied on for decades to fuel our cars and to heat our homes or to air condition our homes, to — all the things that provide us electricity like oil and coal — that these are largely responsible for sending those greenhouse gases up into the atmosphere…
And they agree that, if we continue to go down the same path that we are going down today, the world as we know it will change — and it will change dramatically for the worse.
You can watch the whole speech here:
Sunday’s speech is utterly at odds with State’s logic-twisting Keystone-friendly Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. For instance, Kerry says:
One of the arguments that we do hear is that it’s going to be too expensive to be able to address climate change. I have to tell you, that assertion could not be less grounded in fact. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Serious analysts understand that the costs of doing nothing far outweigh the costs of investing in solutions now. You do not need a degree in economics or a graduate degree in business in order to understand that the cost of flooding, the cost of drought, the cost of famine, the cost of health care, the cost of addressing this challenge is simply far less — the costs of addressing this challenge are far less than the costs of doing nothing.
Well, since the costs of addressing climate change “are far less” than the cost of inaction — and since fossil fuel combustion is the primary cause of climate change — it seems pretty self-evident that the cheapest climate strategy is to leave the dirtiest pools of carbon in the ground. And there aren’t many bigger, dirtier pools of carbon than the Canadian tar sands.
“We can make good on the moral responsibility we all have to leave future generations with a planet that is clean and healthy and sustainable for the future,” Kerry told the audience in Indonesia. “You have a saying, I think, here in Indonesia, ‘Luka di kaki, sakit seluruh badan’… it means ‘when there’s a pain in the foot, the whole body feels it,’” he continued. “Well, today in this interconnected world that we all live in, the fact is that hardship anywhere is actually felt by people everywhere. We all see it; we share it.” Well, Keystone is more than a pain in the foot.
I’m not sure if Kerry has thought through the international implications of approving Keystone, as I pointed out last year. The United States has already undermined its standing to cajole other countries into climate commitments by expanding oil and gas drilling as well as coal exports. But none of those were Kerry’s decision, whereas Keystone is.
Kerry said in Jakarta that for the problem of WMD, “We all have to approach this challenge together.” Then he added, “The bottom line is this: it is the same thing with climate change. And in a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
Climate change is indeed the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction. And that makes the tar sands a hydrogen bomb, and it makes Keystone a loose nuke delivery system or a poorly guarded WMD. We need to keep the tar sands locked securely under ground where it can’t harm our children and future generations.
The U.S. has a serious shot at hitting the 2020 target of a 17 percent cut in CO2 emissions from 2005 levels that Obama made for the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen — a target embraced in his Climate Action Plan (but utterly ignored by State’s EIS). That requires the President to embrace strong emissions reductions from existing coal-fired power plants. But let’s not pretend that target is either especially hard to hit or scientifically meaningful (see “Developed Nations Must Cut Emissions In Half By 2020, Says New Study“).
That is to say, the fact Kerry can go to the other big emitters and commit to meeting Obama’s pledge is a necessary minimum condition to achieve a climate agreement, but it is not sufficient. He needs some moral standing. He needs to be able to demonstrate to the world the U.S. understands that far deeper cuts are needed post-2020 and that means not sticking new spigots into huge, dirty carbon pools like the tar sands.
Kerry needs to show that his words are more than words, that he actually believes climate change is the most fearsome WMD. Kerry must recommend to Obama that Keystone be killed.
Kerry started as Secretary with clean hands on climate. But approving Keystone would be like dipping his hands into the dirtiest, stickiest tar imaginable — they could never be cleaned again.