At conference, Kerry calls for environmental action

Thursday, September 10

The United States is ill-prepared to handle the potential impact that climate change could have on the country, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Thursday morning at the Jack Morton Auditorium.

Loosely comparing climate change to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Kerry argued that the U.S. is no more prepared today than it was eight years ago to handle the climate change issues that “will shape our future.” He reminded the packed crowd of the memo that former President George W. Bush received only a month before the 9/11 attacks, warning of a possible terrorist strike. The memo went unnoticed.

“Time is short. There are our warnings,” Kerry said, referring to the work of international scientists. “This is our memo. This is our August memo.”

Kerry – whose address was the keynote of a conference on climate change and its impact on national security – discussed the potential impact that climate change could have on international humanitarian issues, such as food shortages, receding coastlines and genocide.

Lessening the effects of climate change will benefit the country in the long term, he said.

“When we see a threat on the horizon, we need to act,” Kerry said. “There is no excuse to be taken by surprise in 2009.”

Kerry emphasized that he and others are “working to connect the dots,” but “science is screaming at us as rational human beings to take note at what is happening.”

Throughout his speech, Kerry offered many examples and facts to support his desire to confront climate change.

In particular, he mentioned Newtok, Alaska, a small town of 340 people that was forced to move nine miles inland because their coastal town was eroding and melting. These, Kerry argued, were some of the first environmentally displaced people in the U.S. – a term he said Americans will hear much more about as the climate continues to change.

Discussing Newtok, Kerry – who ran against Bush in the 2004 presidential race – poked fun at former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

“No longer can the people of Newtok see Russia from their house – if they ever could,” Kerry said, drawing laughter from the audience.

Kerry also focused on the economic advantages that would beset America if greener jobs were created.

“In Germany, more people work in alternative energy than the auto industry, which used to be their biggest industry,” Kerry said. “With 15 million Americans out of work, we do not need a more compelling reason.”

The biggest concern Kerry had was “closing the imagination gap on climate change” so real change in the country and the world could happen.

“It is no doubt that the 21st century will have a green economy,” Kerry said. “The question is – will America lead?”

The conference was put on by the American Security Project – a non-profit organization designed to promote understanding of national security and foreign policy issues. The Elliott School of International Affairs also helped organize the event.

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