Commentary

Kerry is right about climate change

February 21, 2014 

Secretary of State John Kerry is a prophet on the threat of climate change. Let’s hope the right people pay attention.

Kerry has taken his message about climate change on the road as he travels around the world. He says he also intends to instruct U.S. diplomats, wherever they are stationed, to make climate change a priority from now on.

Kerry often talks climate change to audiences in developing nations, which now are emitting more than half the world’s greenhouse gases. Last year, for example, he raised the issue while making a speech in India.

And last week, he raised it again, in a big way, with a group of students and government officials at an Americcan cultural center in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Indonesia, he said, is in a region that is among the most vulnerable in the world to the catastrophic effects of global warming.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that the entire way of life here is at risk,” he said.

But the speech reverberated well beyond the archipelago of Indonesia because Kerry asserted that climate change is “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”

That was certain to raise the hackles not only of the climate-change deniers but also those who still view our enemies in geopolitical arena as the greatest threat to U.S. security: “Climate change worse than terrorism? Nonsense!”

The statement, in fact, prompted New Gingrich to demand that Kerry resign. Gingrich, the CNN host and former GOP presidential candidate, tweeted that Kerry “is out of touch with reality” and accused him of “making policy in a fantasy world.”

But Gingrich is the one engaging in fantasy by downplaying the threat of climate change. As Kerry noted, “the science is unequivocal, and those who refuse to believe it are simply burying their heads in the sand.”

Kerry told the audience in Jakarta that 97 percent of the world’s scientists agree that the climate is heating up in large part because of human activity. The science, he said, is as conclusive as gravity, as certain as the natural laws that cause your hand to be burned by touching a hot stove.

Eight of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred within the past decade, he said. “Or think about it this way: All 10 of the hottest years on record have actually happened since Google went online in 1998.”

And Kerry had alarming projections for Indonesia. Melting ice caps could raise sea levels by up to three feet by the end of the century, he said, putting 40 percent of Jakarta underwater.

And before that happens, the rise of ocean temperatures and ocean water acidification could kill off nearly half the fish population, a prime source of food for Indonesians. Killer typhoons, such as the one that struck the Philippines last year, could become the norm.

Kerry was refreshingly blunt about the deniers. He called them a “tiny minority of shoddy scientists and extreme ideologues.”

So, is labeling climate change the world’s worst weapon of mass destruction an exercise in extreme hyperbole? Actually, it’s an entirely apt analogy.

Nothing else has the potential to wreak such global devastation. Absent serious efforts to reduce manmade greenhouse gases, nothing is more certain than climate change to severely alter life on this planet.

And Kerry isn’t the only one saying that. Nearly the entire scientific community is warning that the effects of climate change are almost certain to create “stressors” that contribute to political instability and violence worldwide.

Consider this statement: “Empirical evidence ... suggests that a general warming trend is probably affecting weather and ecosystems, exacerbating the impact on humans. This warmer atmosphere, wetter in some areas, drier in others, is consistent with increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. In recent years, local food, water, energy, health and economic security have been episodically degraded worldwide by severe weather conditions. These include more frequent or intense floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, cyclones, coastal high water and heat waves. ... Scientific work in the past few years has shown that temperature anomalies during growing seasons and persistent droughts have hampered agricultural productivity and extended wildfire seasons. In addition, intense storms including typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones ... contribute to greater damage and threaten ever-increasing urban populations and economic development.”

Some crazy environmentalist tree-hugger? No, that was a statement by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper.

Maybe Gingrich should suggest that he resign.

James Werrell, Herald opinion page editor, can be reached at 329-4081 or, by email, at jwerrell@heraldonline.com.

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