On March 7, 2014, a letter from John Kerry was sent to all 275 U.S. embassies and across the state department. “Protecting our environment and meeting the challenge of global climate change is a critical mission for me as our country’s top diplomat” said Secretary of State John Kerry in the letter, urging “chiefs of mission to make climate change a priority for all relevant personnel and to promote concerted action at posts and in hosts’ countries to address this problem.”
This action has stirred a political stew in Washington. On March 10, 2014, Senators stayed up all night speaking on the urgency of climate change.
Newt Gingrich (who was formally active in supporting climate change action) has called for John Kerry to step down as secretary of state. In the media, from the op-ed section of the Wall Street Journal to the Facebook feed of Think Progress, the climate change debate has been recharged.
These groups include think tanks like Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. There is concern that industrial benefactors will pay them to produce reports supporting industry positions.
One of the most transparent examples has been the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, known as the NIPCC. The NIPCC is a group closely funded by the Heartland Institute.
Their name is based off the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, one of the leading authorities on climate change.
The IPCC produces reports every few years on the status of climate science for policy makers. TheNIPCC equates itself as being on par with the IPCC. In comparison, the IPCC reports have over 500 lead authors, 2,000 expert reviewers, and each line of each report must be agreed upon by all participating countries including major oil producers (the IPCC is run by the United Nations).
The NIPCC had 3 lead authors, 8 reviewers, and does not receive such oversight. The Heartland Institute receives millions of dollars every year from groups like the Charles G. Koch Foundation.
John Kerry’s climate change legacy
John Kerry has a history of making his opinion on the issue of climate change known. He has overseen the state department during the past year as scrutiny over the Keystone XL pipeline has intensified.
The Keystone XL pipeline was proposed to transport fossil fuels harvested from tar sands in Alberta, Canada. It was on the verge of being approved, when in 2010 activists swarmed Washington and created enough pressure for the project to be postponed. Earlier this year, the state department released its environmental impact statement, which claimed that the pipeline would have no considerable impact on the climate.
The report has been disputed, as James Hansen a NASA climate scientist has said that the pipeline would be “game over” for the climate. It has been estimated by Think Progress that the pipeline will carry and emit 181 metric tons of CO2 per year, which is equivalent to 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.
John Kerry assumed the office of Secretary of State on February 1, 2013. When he was sworn in, he left behind a 28 year career in the U.S. senate. While in the senate, he had been chairman of both foreign relations, and the small business and entrepreneurship committees.
Kerry represented Massachusetts, typically a strong hold for the Democratic Party. In recent years, it has become a strong hold for climate activism. Groups like 350 Massachusetts (supported by the Better Future Project) and Students for a Just and Stable Future have been extremely active in fighting against the Keystone XL pipeline.
Kerry has always been clear that he supports action on climate change. In 2007, he claimed that the idea of global warming as a “hoax” is funded by big oil and the GOP.
In 2003, he called for 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, and spoke about inventing “our way out of oil dependence” as opposed to “drilling our way out.” He also opposed the nuclear waste dump in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. On the campaign trail in 2004 Kerry said of the Bush Administrations plan to use Yucca mountain for nuclear waste: “Yucca Mountain to me is a symbol of the recklessness and arrogance with which they are willing to proceed with respect to the safety issues and concerns of the American people”.
Kerry’s voting record
Politicians rhetoric can be hollow unless backed up by a voting record. Kerry’s voting record provides evidence of his support for action on climate change. Some of the more prominent votes cast by Kerry include voting yes to addressing CO2 emissions without considering India and China in May 2008 (The Bush administration argued that the U.S. should not curb its emissions if China and India do not).
While in the senate, Kerry voted against barring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating green house gas emissions in 2011, which would have prevented the recent coal power plant regulations had it passed. In 2003, he voted to keep climate change as a topic in the EPA “State of the Environment” report.
Kerry has released a seven point plan for the state department to follow. This plan is part of an effort to generate momentum coming into the next round of U.N. climate talks.
The U.N. climate talks of the last decade have grown increasingly desperate, the magic number widely recognized by scientists to keep the planet’s temperatures in a comfortable range has been 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Last year there was a reading as high as 400 parts per million. This means that for every million molecules in our atmosphere, 400 of them are CO2 molecules. This has been a rapid increase in the amount of CO2, as in 1900 CO2 was 295 ppm.
Kerry’s rhetoric and voting record demonstrate a strong desire to tackle climate change. The environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline released by the state department however has many environmentalists questioning not just Kerry, but the Obama Administration’s commitment to this major issue. It is clear that Kerry’s legacy on this issue is still being written. That legacy, and indeed the legacy of the entire of the Obama administration will largely be determined by whether they can either break or circumvent the gridlock in Washington on this issue. The longer they take, the hotter it gets.