Center for American Progress Action Fund (CC BY-ND 2.0)

This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s Web page.

Secretary of State John Kerry was in Asia this weekend, and one of his emphases in China and Indonesia was the urgency of dealing with the climate disruption caused by carbon dioxide emissions, which he said is as great a threat as terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction:

“When I think about the array of global climate – of global threats – think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – all challenges that know no borders – the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them.”

Kerry gave this address in Indonesia both because that nation of 17,000 islands is among the more vulnerable countries in the world to climate disruption and sea rise and because Indonesia has, through forest-burning and other practices, become a major source of C02 emissions. Between 1990 and 2010, Indonesia put 13 billion metric tons of CO2 in the atmosphere just through burning forests alone. Jakarta, the capital, ranges from neighborhoods that are below sea level to some that are as much as 8 yards/ meters above. Since sea level will rise around a meter to 4 feet in the next 80 years, some important part of Jakarta is already doomed. Over the coming centuries, it will go completely under the waves.

Indonesia is a far more important country than most Americans realize. It is the world’s fourth most populous, after China, India and the United States, with 247 million people. It is a member of the G20, and is the world’s 16th largest economy, with nearly $900 billion in nominal gross domestic product annually, putting Indonesia between South Korea and Turkey. Indonesia is a mostly Muslim country that began a successful democratic transition in the late 1990s and has repeatedly elected moderate, nationalist parties.

It is refreshing to hear a US government official speak in these no-nonsense terms about this subject (Kerry’s boss Barack Obama has often been less emphatic, what with his ruinous ‘all of the above’ energy policies that make an increasing place for fossil fuels). In fact, the Kerry speech is worth reading in toto and I’ll append it below for the LR folks. He explains in simple language what is causing climate disruption.

Kerry also minces no words about the climate denialists (I’m looking at you, George Will and other Rupert Murdoch/ Fox cronies):

“First and foremost, we should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact. Nor should we allow any room for those who think that the costs associated with doing the right thing outweigh the benefits. There are people who say, “Oh, it’s too expensive, we can’t do this.” No. No, folks. We certainly should not allow more time to be wasted by those who want to sit around debating whose responsibility it is to deal with this threat, while we come closer and closer to the point of no return.

I have to tell you, this is really not a normal kind of difference of opinion between people. Sometimes you can have a reasonable argument and a reasonable disagreement over an opinion you may have. This is not opinion. This is about facts. This is about science. The science is unequivocal. And those who refuse to believe it are simply burying their heads in the sand.”

Kerry is correct that the “debate” over climate disruption is not an ordinary exchange of views and evidence. The “denialists” almost certainly know that they are wrong, and are engaged in dishonest discourse for economic reason. The value of a field of oil is now effectively zero, since it is crazy to get it out of the ground. A lot of people have Exxon-Mobil stocks. They shouldn’t because those stocks are worthless and just do not know it yet.

We need a consumer boycott of major media that give denialists a platform to lie. (After many ignominious performances, David Gregory at Meet the Press is the most recent trespasser against good climate journalism). Just because ‘on the one hand on the other hand’ is bad journalism when one of the two hands is plainly wrong

The only critique I have of the speech in Indonesia is that it places climate change on a level with terrorism and other security threats. It is much more pressing an issue, insofar as it will become the chief cause of those ills the secretary mentioned– of terrorism, poverty, and epidemics. As for weapons of mass destruction, putting that much CO2 in the atmosphere is like blowing up 400,000 atomic bombs every day.

The droughts, heat and sea level rise that climate disruption will bring will displace billions of people and will cause poverty and social violence, including terrorism. Climate change is not a co-equal challenge alongside those others. It is a generative threat, which will actively cause the other problems to accelerate.


Related video:

PBS: “Kerry urges developing nations to face climate change perils”

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