Kerry decries ‘politics, sheer politics’ of climate denial

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 7, 2016

John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday warned that rising sea levels brought about by global warming threaten to devastate lower Manhattan. Speaking to a Bloomberg clean energy summit in New York, he argued that paying for clean energy in the short term is cheaper than paying the consequences of global warming in the long term. Photo courtesy of the Department of State.

Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday implored business leaders to invest more of their money and influence into hastening a global clean energy transition, saying that “unless we harness the power of clean, renewable sources … the consequences will be absolutely devastating.”

In his second major policy speech on climate change since nearly 200 nations reached a global climate agreement in Paris in December, Kerry told about 1,000 investors and other business leaders at Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Future of Energy Summit in New York that a transition to low-carbon energy is critical.

Without one, he said, “we are going to self-inflict harm to infrastructure, food production, water supplies, ecosystems, health — potentially to life as we know it on this planet.

“And the fact is, when we talk about the future of energy, we are actually talking about the future of everything,” he said.

Kerry’s remarks were meant to inspire an audience already supportive of clean energy to tackle the significant challenges facing cleaning up the world’s power supplies. That includes helping fast-growing economies in the developing world achieve their energy goals without furthering reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

But U.S. politics are also a major obstacle.

Citing the iconic U.S. inventor and businessman Thomas Edison, who is credited for building the first modern power station on lower Manhattan’s Pearl Street in 1892, Kerry said Edison would view today’s deployment of clean energy technology as evidence that “an energy revolution that he dreamt about is actually underway.”

But where science and innovation has built upon Edison’s legacy and advanced power production and delivery in ways unimaginable a century ago, Kerry said the politics around energy remain entrenched in special interest lobbying and hyper-partisanship that eschew science in favor of protecting the status quo.

Referring to coal and other fossil fuels whose combustion emits greenhouse gases that drive climate change, Kerry lamented that it took “decades to understand that what can seem like the cheapest sources of energy in the short term actually has insurmountable costs in the long term.”

Only more recently, he added, “has the awareness grown that unless we harness the power of clean, renewable sources like the sun, the wind, the ocean, the consequences will be absolutely devastating.”

Unless the world abates emissions, he warned, the very street where Edison opened his central power plant could be washed away.

“Much of lower Manhattan — where Pearl Street Station once stood — could be flooded by the end of this very century, during the life span of babies born today,” Kerry said.

Yet Washington has consistently failed to lead the nation toward carbon-free energy because Congress can’t agree on the causes and effects of climate change, even as scientific consensus has become clearer that the Earth’s climate is in flux and that the consequences of warming will be profound.

“Basic physics — the kind that kids learn in high school — tells us that when temperatures go up, glaciers and ice sheets melt faster, and sea levels rise faster,” Kerry said.

“Now, you’d think that people in positions of public responsibility would get it after 30 years, and maybe they do,” he added. “But politics, sheer politics, keeps them from admitting it, which is in and of itself a new kind of irresponsibility.”

Yet Kerry said he takes hope from the recent U.N. meeting in Paris, where more than 180 nations pledged to make measurable cuts in carbon emissions, sending “a clear signal to all sectors of our economies around the world that the future of energy must be low-carbon.”

By committing to a clean energy transition, those nations will “unlock a global marketplace for clean energy the size of which the world has never seen before,” with trillions of dollars of new investment at stake and energy security for billions of people worldwide, he said.