It was Climate Action Day at the UN climate conference in Lima, Peru. A three-hour “high level” session featured a number of prominent elected leaders, UN officials, and climate activists. It gave me a chance to hear former star of stage and screen Al Gore twice more. Gore said that, “We are designing the future of humankind here in Lima and then Paris” next year. If that isn’t scary enough, U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew in a few hours later to give a speech in the main press conference room. It wasn’t an official speech to the COP, but was meant to show the delegates and the world that the Obama Administration is determined to make the negotiations succeed.
Chief State Department climate negotiator Todd Stern introduced his boss. He said that Secretary Kerry as a Senator had attended nearly every important international climate meeting beginning with the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. It was at that summit that nations agreed to save the world from global warming by signing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. After President George Bush signed it in June 1992, the Senate ratified it with little debate that fall, thereby making the U. S. the first country to ratify it. Stern went on to say that Kerry as Secretary of State pushes the climate issue with every foreign leader he meets with. That meshes with Kerry’s claim that climate change is “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
Secretary Kerry then gave an articulate but intellectually sloppy speech. He began by noting that Al Gore, who was seated in the front row, had been warning about global warming since 1992 and yet he woke up this morning to the news that California and Washington state were experiencing torrential, record-setting rains after a record drought. Kerry said that the science is screaming at us, and it’s therefore astonishing that we have people in the Senate who continue to doubt it. You don’t need a Ph. D., he said, to see that the world is changing.
Kerry said that he and President Obama were very aware that many developing nations feel that the major economies caused global warming and therefore have the responsibility to solve it, and that they accepted that. But although the U. S., China, and the European Union are the top emitters and therefore must do the most to cut emissions, it was still the case that every nation was going to have to help if greenhouse gas emissions were going to be cut to zero by the end of the century.
Mankind created the problem, and mankind can solve it. The solution is the total transformation of our energy sector. Kerry claimed that this was the greatest economic opportunity in the history of the world. The technology is already out there, and the cost of renewable and alternative energy is already cheaper than the real costs of fossil fuel energy, which include the horrifying impacts of global warming and asthma attacks.
Secretary Kerry went on to ask what’s the worst that can happen if Al Gore and all the scientists turn out to be wrong? We will merely totally transform the energy economy and become much more prosperous in doing so. But if the skeptics are wrong, the result will be catastrophe.
And that’s why we must have a successful outcome of the negotiations in Lima leading to a new international climate agreement to be signed at COP-21 in Paris in December 2015. Kerry expressed confidence they can get there in Paris because the two nations widely thought to be the leaders of rival camps–the U. S. and China–have now come to an agreement. “If we don’t lead, future generations will not forgive us.”
Kerry made many of the same points as Al Gore did in his several speeches at COP-20, and indeed he tried to out-Gore Gore. Among the many problems in the Secretary of State’s speech, I am most bothered by three. First, Kerry claimed that the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events have increased dramatically in the last few years. That is not the case. However, if it were true, then it is an example of the effect preceding the cause. That’s because global mean temperatures have been flat for the past eighteen years, even though greenhouse gas emissions have gone up dramatically.
Second, there is Kerry’s absurd economics. If the world is going to get rich by transforming the energy economy, then coercive policies required by international agreement shouldn’t be necessary. In fact, the scale and pace of transformation that Kerry and others claim is required would be colossally expensive. Moreover, those policies would keep billions of people in perpetual energy poverty.
Finally, I am concerned by Secretary Kerry’s casual attitude, which he shares with Al Gore and other alarmists, about the difficulties and unforeseen consequences and disasters that regularly occur when experts try to turn the world upside down in order to achieve their single-minded goal. The fact remains that the energy-rationing policies being promoted at COP-20 to save the planet from global warming would almost certainly be more damaging to human flourishing than the possible adverse impacts of global warming.