by Judith Curry
The science is unequivocal, and those who refuse to believe it are simply burying their heads in the sand. We don’t have time for a meeting anywhere of the Flat Earth Society. And in a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction. – John Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave a lengthy speech on climate change last week while visiting Indonesia [link to full text]. I wasn’t paying much attention to this until this quote appeared on Twitter:
“We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific facts,” Kerry told the audience at a U.S. Embassy-run American Center in a shopping mall.
Then I read the whole speech. I decided to respond to this speech, and excerpted the points from his speech that I felt were incorrect or unjustified. Then the realities of this week’s schedule sunk in, and I decided just to highlight these excerpts as points of discussion for a blog post.
Excerpts from Kerry’s speech:
The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie. It’s warning us; it’s compelling us to act. And let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the science is absolutely certain.
So when thousands of the world’s leading scientists and five reports over a long period of time with thousands of scientists contributing to those reports – when they tell us over and over again that our climate is changing, that it is happening faster than they ever predicted, ever in recorded history, and when they tell us that we humans are the significant cause, let me tell you something: We need to listen.
When 97 percent of scientists agree on anything, we need to listen, and we need to respond.
These scientists agree on the causes of these changes and they agree on the potential effects.
They agree that the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide contributes heavily to climate change.
And they agree that, if we continue to go down the same path that we are going down today, the world as we know it will change – and it will change dramatically for the worse.
And the results of our human activity are clear. If you ranked all the years in recorded history by average temperature, you’d see that 8 of the 10 hottest years have all happened within the last 10 years. Think about it this way: all 10 of the hottest years on record have actually happened since Google went online in 1998.
Now, that’s how fast this change is happening. And because the earth is getting hotter at such an alarming speed, glaciers in places like the Arctic are melting into the sea faster than we expected. And the sea is rising – slowly, but rising – and will rise to dangerous levels. Scientists now predict that by the end of the century, the sea could rise by a full meter.
Now, climate change also tragically means the end of some species. The changing sea temperature and the increasing amount of acidity – the acidity comes from coal-fired power plants and from the pollution, and when the rain falls the rain spills the acidity into the ocean. And it means that certain species of fish like cod or sardines can no longer live where they once lived.
Climate change also means water shortages. And if you have these enormous water shortages, then you have a change in the weather – because of the weather patterns, you’re going to wind up with droughts, the lack of water. And the droughts can become longer and more intense. In fact, this isn’t something around the corner – this is happening now.
We are seeing record droughts right now, and they’re already putting a strain on water resources around the world. We’ve already seen in various parts of the world – in Africa, for instance – people fighting each other over water, and we’ve seen more conflicts shaping up now over the limits of water. Back in the United States, President Obama just the other day visited California, where millions of people are now experiencing the 13th month of the worst drought the state has seen in 500 years. And no relief is in sight. What used to be a 100-year or a 500-year event is now repeating itself within 10 years.
Furthermore, climate change means fundamental transformations in agriculture worldwide. Scientists predict that, in some places, heat waves and water shortages will make it much more difficult for farmers to be able to grow the regular things we grow, like wheat or corn or rice. And obviously, it’s not only farmers who will suffer here – it’s the millions of people who depend on those crops that the farmers grow. For example, the British government research showed that climate change may have contributed to the famine that killed as many as 100,000 people in Somalia just back in 2010 and 2011.
And scientists further predict that climate change also means longer, more unpredictable monsoon seasons and more extreme weather events.
Ladies and gentlemen, I saw with my own eyes what the Philippines experienced in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan and I will tell you it would be absolutely devastating if that kind of storm were to become the normal thing that happens every single year in many places.
On top of the unspeakable humanitarian toll, the economic cost that follows a storm like that is absolutely massive. I don’t mean just the billions that it costs to rebuild. So it’s not just about agriculture – it’s also about technology. It’s about our global economy. It’s about potentially catastrophic effects on the global supply chain.
Now, despite all of these realities – despite these facts – much of the world still doesn’t see or want to see the need to pursue a significant response to this threat. As recently as 2011, a survey of city officials here in Asia found that more than 80 percent of the population said they did not anticipate climate change hurting their cities’ economies.
And despite more than 25 years of scientific warning after scientific warning after scientific warning – despite all that, the call to arms that we heard back in Rio back in 1992 – despite that, we still haven’t globally summoned the urgency necessary to get the job done. And as a result of this complacency, last year the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere reached the highest point in human history – despite all the warnings.
Now, I know that these are some dramatic scientific facts – statistics. But think of it this way: If the worst-case scenario about climate change, all the worst predictions, if they never materialize, what will be the harm that is done from having made the decision to respond to it? We would actually leave our air cleaner. We would leave our water cleaner. We would actually make our food supply more secure. Our populations would be healthier because of fewer particulates of pollution in the air – less cost to health care. Those are the things that would happen if we happen to be wrong and we responded. But imagine if the 97 percent of those scientists are correct and the people who say no are wrong. Then the people who say no will have presented us with one of the most catastrophic, grave threats in the history of human life. That’s the choice here.
Notwithstanding the stark choices that we face, here’s the good thing: there is still time. The window of time is still open for us to be able to manage this threat. But the window is closing. And so I wanted to come to Jakarta to talk to you because we need people all over the world to raise their voices and to be heard. There is still time for us to significantly cut greenhouse emissions and prevent the very worst consequences of climate change from ever happening at all. But we need to move on this, and we need to move together now. We just don’t have time to let a few loud interests groups hijack the climate conversation. And when I say that, you know what I’m talking about? I’m talking about big companies that like it the way it is that don’t want to change, and spend a lot of money to keep you and me and everybody from doing what we know we need to do.
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.
Now, President and I – Obama and I believe very deeply that we do not have time for a meeting anywhere of the Flat Earth Society.
Finally, if we truly want to prevent the worst consequences of climate change from happening, we do not have time to have a debate about whose responsibility this is. The answer is pretty simple: It’s everyone’s responsibility. But, ultimately, every nation on Earth has a responsibility to do its part if we have any hope of leaving our future generations the safe and healthy planet that they deserve.
The bottom line is this: it is the same thing with climate change. And in a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.
The fact is that climate change, if left unchecked, will wipe out many more communities from the face of the earth. And that is unacceptable under any circumstances – but is even more unacceptable because we know what we can do and need to do in order to deal with this challenge.
The Chinese see firsthand every single day how dangerous pollution can be. And the devastating human toll pollution, it takes comes with a very hefty price tag: Air pollution already costs China as much as 8 percent of its GDP because two things happen as a result of the pollution: healthcare spending goes up and agricultural output goes down.
The solution to climate change is energy policy. The solution to climate change is as clear as the problem. The solution is making the right choices on energy policy. It’s as simple as that. [G]overnments will find that the cost of pursuing clean energy now is far cheaper than paying for the consequences of climate change later.
JC comments: Well clearly, Secretary Kerry does not read Climate Etc. or testimony from relevant Congressional hearings. And he has also over interpreted the confidence of the IPCC findings. There is one statement I agree with:
The solution to climate change is as clear as the problem.
The climate change problem is not at all clear, especially with regards to impacts, and the solutions are even less clear.