“When it comes to the challenge of climate change, the falsehood of today’s naysayers is only matched by the complacency of our political system,” Sen. John Kerry said in a powerful speech on the Senate floor yesterday. “We should be compelled to fight today’s insidious conspiracy of silence on climate change—a silence that empowers misinformation and mythology to grow where science and truth should prevail.” Are you listening, President Obama and members of Congress? [Video of the speech below]
First part of the text:
Twenty years ago this month, a Republican President of the United States helped bring together all the world’s largest economies in Rio to confront the issue of global climate change. The President was unequivocal about the mission. George Herbert Walker Bush said simply, “The United States fully intends to be the world’s preeminent leader in protecting the global environment. We have been that for many years. We will remain so. We believe that environment and development…can and should go hand in hand. A growing economy creates the resources necessary for environmental protection, and environmental protection makes growth sustainable over the long term.”
When he was asked about his own target for subsequent meetings of the global stakeholders, he could not have been clearer. He said the United States “will be there with specific plans, prepared to share, but more important, that others who have signed these documents ought to have specific plans. So I think this is a leadership role. We are challenging them to come forward. We will be there. I think the Third World and others are entitled to know that the commitments made are going to be commitments kept.”
How dramatic and sad it is that twenty years later, shockingly, we find ourselves in a strange and dangerous place on this issue—a place this former President wouldn’t even recognize.
Thomas Paine actually described today’s situation very well. As America fought for its independence, he said: “It is an affront to treat falsehood with complaisance.” Yet when it comes to the challenge of climate change, the falsehood of today’s naysayers is only matched by the complacency of our political system.
It is well past time that we heed Thomas Paine’s admonition and reaffirm the commitment made by the first President Bush. As a matter of conscience and common sense, we should be compelled to fight today’s insidious conspiracy of silence on climate change—a silence that empowers misinformation and mythology to grow where science and truth should prevail. It is a conspiracy that has not just stalled, but demonized any constructive effort to put America in a position to lead the world on this issue, as President Bush promised we would and as Americans have a right to expect we will.
The danger we face could not be more real. In the United States, a calculated campaign of disinformation has steadily beaten back the consensus momentum for action on climate change and replaced it with timidity by proponents in the face of millions of dollars of phony, contrived “talking points,” illogical and wholly unscientific propositions and a general scorn for the truth wrapped in false threats about job loss and taxes.
Yet today, the naysayers escape all accountability to the truth. The media hardly murmurs when a candidate for President of the United States in 2012 can walk away from previously held positions to announce that the evidence is not yet there about the impact of greenhouse gases on climate….
The level of dissembling—of outright falsifying of information, of greedy appeal to fear tactics that has stalled meaningful action now for twenty years—is hard to wrap one’s mind around. It is so far removed from legitimate analysis that it confounds for its devilishly simple appeal to the lowest common denominator of disinformation. In the face of a massive and growing body of scientific evidence that says catastrophic climate change is knocking at our door, the naysayers just happily tell us climate change doesn’t exist.
Kerry doesn’t name names, but he’s not talking only about members of one party:
What’s worse, we’ve stood by and let it all happen—we’ve treated falsehood with complacence and allowed a conspiracy of silence on climate change to infiltrate our politics. Believe me—we’ve had our chances to act. But every time we get close to achieving something big for our country, small-minded appeals to the politics of the moment block the way.
The conspiracy of silence that now characterizes Washington’s handling of the climate issue is dangerous. Climate change is one of two or three of the most serious threats our country now faces, if not the most serious, and the silence that has enveloped a once robust debate is staggering for its irresponsibility. The costs of inaction get more and more expensive the longer we wait—and the longer we wait, the less likely we are to avoid the worst and leave future generations with a sustainable planet….
There’s much more to the speech, including a discussion of the collision between climate science and politics, and the evidence on impacts of global climatic disruption: a warming planet, health impacts, a changing Arctic, melting glaciers and permafrost, rising sea levels, drought and floods.
Sen. Kerry has been very good on the climate change science-policy connection for a long time, dating back to the 1980s. I recall, in 1991-1992, while he was still a Senator, Al Gore chaired a subcommittee on science, technology, and space, which he used to conduct an extraordinary series of detailed hearings on the science of climate change and ozone depletion. I went to as many of them as I could get to. Except for the ranking Republican member on the subcommittee, it was rare to see any other members in attendance, learning from the leading scientists in these seminar-like hearings, except for John Kerry.
Obama is not steeped in the climate change problem in this way. He appears unwilling or unable to learn how to communicate the problem effectively to the public, and without a core commitment to elevating its signficance in the public discourse. So it falls to Kerry to say things that the President himself should be saying.