The usual suspects are very pleased that Joe Biden has chosen former Secretary of State John Kerry as his “climate czar”. Which is a bit odd even to any lingering fans of czarism because Kerry is (all together now) not a climate scientist. He may claim “Ninety-seven percent of the world’s scientists tell us this is urgent” (at Boston College in May 2014) but he’s spectacularly ignorant about what scientists tell us. Thus in a speech in Jakarta on Feb. 16, 2014 he said “Try and picture a very thin layer of gases – a quarter-inch, half an inch, somewhere in that vicinity… way up there at the edge of the atmosphere. And for millions of years – literally millions of years – we know that layer has acted like a thermal blanket for the planet – trapping the sun’s heat and warming the surface of the Earth to the ideal, life-sustaining temperature…. about 57 degrees Fahrenheit, which keeps life going.” How does he think plants on the surface get CO2 when it’s way up high? How does he think we had an “Ice Age” with Earth at the same temperature for millions of years? Or, if it’s really been 14° C all along, how we ever didn’t have one? And if only this unusually chilly temperature “keeps life going”, how does he think dinosaurs staggered through the Mesozoic, or multicelled organisms spread in the Cambrian? Your majesty, your ignorance is naked.
Kerry is a font of unexamined climate cliches. In Jakarta he also said “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”. But he also said they said “it is happening faster than they ever predicted” so their agreement on the effects, if unanimous, was also plainly defective.
Climate Home News, while gushing that Kerry’s “appointment was broadly welcomed by climate advocates, who see him as a strong ally”, did grouse that “the framing of Kerry’s role as responding to a ‘national security threat’, with all its militaristic implications, does not hold much promise for vulnerable communities in need of solidarity.” To which the sober-minded might suggest that if Mr. Kerry really did save the planet it would be good enough for one czar and someone else could deal with vulnerable communities in need of solidarity now that they at least had a planet that could keep life going including theirs.
The sober-minded might also have a question or two for Kerry. Including, since he did tweet in response to his selection that “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is”, exactly what urgent national security threat he thinks it poses? Will the marines’ helmets melt? Will the carriers be swept away by typhoons? Will floodwaters submerge America and elevate China?
Metaphorically they might. The Wall St. Journal worried editorially that Kerry, a man who “never drives a hard bargain, as his Iran nuclear deal showed”, will weaken the U.S. by rejoining the Paris Accord without insisting that China accept binding restrictions. He talked what passes for tough with him about how “all nations must raise ambition together”. But as the Journal noted, under Paris “the People’s Republic doesn’t have to reduce carbon emissions at all until 2030, while the U.S. will have to impose vast new rules to cut emissions. Chinese leaders will be only too happy to make future promises on climate in return for American acquiescence today to their security priorities of Taiwan, the South China Sea and Huawei. Sending Mr. Kerry to negotiate with Chinese President Xi Jinping on climate is a recipe for returning home dressed in a barrel. An obsession with climate will turn a U.S. security strength into a vulnerability.”
A fair point. But we worry that Kerry has no idea what he’s talking about much more broadly. For instance in this cosmic interview moment where, asked “What should the tragedy of COVID-19 teach us this Earth Day?” he replied “It’s a tragically teachable moment. I don’t say this in a partisan way. But the parallels are screaming at us, both positive and negative. Just think about it. This moment in life is inseparable from this moment on earth.” Like wow man.
We also worry that Kerry has no idea what his boss will do, and neither does his boss. It is either a healing virtue or proof of a lifetime of political slipperiness that Biden seems to be pleasing everybody with a range of appointments and a certain flexibility in his rhetoric. For instance back in 2019 he said to make climate policy “irreversible” between 2021 and 2030 meant “doing away with any substance for fossil fuels – number one. Number two, holding them [fossil fuel executives] liable for what they have done, particularly in those cases where your underserved neighborhoods and – you know the deal, okay. And by the way, when they don’t want to deliver, put them in jail. I’m not joking about this.” But he probably was joking, or at least not being serious.
Bloomberg notes that some alarmists want Biden to “bolster” Kerry by proclaiming an “environmental national emergency” that would let him “circumvent Congress”. And some opponents of the Green New Deal fear what Biden might do. But his room for maneuver is not very large. For as the New York Times’ “Climate Fwd.” observed to its credit on Nov. 4, “The “green wave” that environmentalists had hoped for failed to materialize.”
Voters had a complex mix of motives in a very tight election, and even many who voted for Biden were voting for centrist Joe not radical Joe. Also, talk is easy, action hard; as NBC headlined a Nov. 9 story in its nicely neutral “Climate in Crisis” section, “Environmentalists say Biden’s win was ‘crucial’ for climate progress. Now what?” What indeed?
Apparently “‘The climate movement was very clear-eyed about just how crucial this election was, so I think that made anxiety run pretty darn high,’ said Katharine Wilkinson, editor-in-chief of Project Drawdown, a coalition of researchers and scientists who are working on climate change solutions. ‘Science tells us we don’t have time for another four years of a Trump administration. We don’t have time for four more years of bailing out failing fossil fuel companies and four more years of moving backwards.’”
We didn’t know “Science” had an opinion on American elections. But it might have one on John Kerry being in charge without understanding even the most basic aspects of the subject. Remember, he’s also the man who said that “You could just as easily replace the words ‘climate change’ with ‘COVID-19’; it is truly the tale of two pandemics deferred, denied, and distorted…. The financial devastation of climate-change-related disasters has increased 150 percent, costing the world $2.25 trillion. It’s projected to grow exponentially if the world stays on today’s unsustainable trajectory. Yes, climate change is a threat multiplier for pandemic diseases, and zoonotic diseases…” and on down the list of exaggerations and errors, all of it second or third hand.
As for what to do NBC went to the experts who say. “Persuading the world to trust America again when it comes to its international commitments will be a challenge in light of Trump’s legacy of withdrawals from multilateral treaties and organizations.” But “Experts say there are some immediate moves they hope to see.” Starting with rejoining Paris. “But rejoining the Paris accord will be just the first step for Biden, experts say.” He’s also meant to pressure or bribe Third World countries to take directions from the United States on climate. And get his own country to net zero by 2050. Which is a strange ambition if we’re already facing irreversible changes due to past GHG accumulations and now we’re going to let them continue for 30 years and see how many tipping points we can tip over?
The New York Times’ “Climate Fwd.” also worried that Trump’s wasted four years might be a tipping point or set of same: “Over the past four years, the global level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere crossed a long-feared threshold of atmospheric concentration. Now, many of the most damaging effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and more devastating heat, droughts and wildfires, are irreversible.” So we can stop?
No, of course not. We must reverse the irreversible: “as Mr. Biden works to enact domestic climate change rules and rejoin the Paris accord, emissions attributable to Mr. Trump’s actions will continue, tipping the planet further into a danger zone that scientists say will be much harder to escape.” So we’re tipping further toward tipping points. Bummer.
An obsessive focus on climate comes with some costs; a publication called SpaceNews worries that “Biden administration expected to emphasize climate science over lunar exploration at NASA”. Which could cede the lead to China on our natural satellite even if someone reminds Biden that the moon is said to be made of green cheese. Or not.
Two professors of politics wrote in The Conversation that “Joe Biden’s presidency is likely to be dominated by “the three Cs”: COVID-19, China and climate change. Each one of these behemoths could make or break him.” And they conceded that “Despite wildfires and hurricanes, this was not the long-awaited climate election” despite the fact that “Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris campaigned on the promise of a two trillion dollar investment over the next four years…. to put the US on course to a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035 and carbon neutrality” and also “linked aggressive emissions reductions to social and environmental justice measures… It was forged in collaboration with the Bernie Sanders campaign and supporters of a Green New Deal.” Which of course sounds like a big win for alarmists.
Unfortunately the big bad Republicans in the Senate stand in the way. “But if Biden can link action on climate to economic regeneration, jobs, environmental justice, and a proactive foreign policy with both China and Europe, he could yet fulfil both his domestic and international agendas.”