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John Kerry climate speech
Beginning Wednesday, delegates from around the planet will meet in Brazil for Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. As pointed out by FishOutofWater in his too little noted post, many observers don't hold out much hope for it. For instance, World Wild Life Federation Director Jim Leape said Tuesday:
Despite a late night negotiating session, the revised text is a colossal failure of leadership and vision from diplomats. They should be embarrassed at their inability to find common ground on such a crucial issue.  

Now it’s up to world leaders to get serious about sustainable development and save this process. If they approve what’s on the table now without significant changes, they’ve doomed Rio+20 to ridicule.

Why has this happened? In a ferocious 55-minute speech on the Senate floor today, Sen. John Kerry tells us in some detail. As Ben Jervey at DeSmogBlog writes, he did not "mince words." You can watch the entire speech here. Some key points:
Mr. President: Twenty years ago this month, a Republican President of the United States helped bring together all the world’s largest economies in Rio to confront the issue of global climate change. The President was unequivocal about the mission. George Herbert Walker Bush said simply, “The United States fully intends to be the world's preeminent leader in protecting the global environment. We have been that for many years. We will remain so. We believe that environment and development...can and should go hand in hand. A growing economy creates the resources necessary for environmental protection, and environmental protection makes growth sustainable over the long term.”

When he was asked about his own target for subsequent meetings of the global stakeholders, he could not have been clearer. He said the United States

“will be there with specific plans, prepared to share, but more important, that others who have signed these documents ought to have specific plans. So I think this is a leadership role. We are challenging them to come forward.  We will be there.  I think the Third World and others are entitled to know that the commitments made are going to be commitments kept.”
How dramatic and sad it is that twenty years later, shockingly, we find ourselves in a strange and dangerous place on this issue—a place this former President wouldn’t even recognize.

Thomas Paine actually described today’s situation very well. As America fought for its independence, he said: “It is an affront to treat falsehood with complaisance.” Yet when it comes to the challenge of climate change, the falsehood of today's naysayers is only matched by the complacency of our political system.

It is well past time that we heed Thomas Paine’s admonition and reaffirm the commitment made by the first President Bush. As a matter of conscience and common sense, we should be compelled to fight today’s insidious conspiracy of silence on climate change—a silence that empowers misinformation and mythology to grow where science and truth should prevail. It is a conspiracy that has not just stalled, but demonized any constructive effort to put America in a position to lead the world on this issue, as President Bush promised we would and as Americans have a right to expect we will.

Mr. President, the danger we face could not be more real. In the United States, a calculated campaign of disinformation has steadily beaten back the consensus momentum for action on climate change and replaced it with timidity by proponents in the face of millions of dollars of phony, contrived "talking points," illogical and wholly unscientific propositions and a general scorn for the truth wrapped in false threats about job loss and taxes.

Yet today, the naysayers escape all accountability to the truth. The media hardly murmurs when a candidate for President of the United States in 2012 can walk away from previously held positions to announce that the evidence is not yet there about the impact of greenhouse gases on climate. [...]

The level of dissembling—of outright falsifying of information, of greedy appeal to fear tactics that has stalled meaningful action now for twenty years—is hard to wrap one's mind around. It is so far removed from legitimate analysis that it confounds for its devilishly simple appeal to the lowest common denominator of disinformation. In the face of a massive and growing body of scientific evidence that says catastrophic climate change is knocking at our door, the naysayers just happily tell us climate change doesn’t exist.

In the face of melting glaciers and ice caps in the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica, they say we need to “warm up to the truth.”

And in the face of animals disappearing at alarming rates, they would have us adopt an “ostrich” policy and simply bury our heads in the sand. [...]

The conspiracy of silence that now characterizes Washington's handling of the climate issue is dangerous. Climate change is one of two or three of the most serious threats our country now faces, if not the most serious, and the silence that has enveloped a once robust debate is staggering for its irresponsibility. The costs of inaction get more and more expensive the longer we wait—and the longer we wait, the less likely we are to avoid the worst and leave future generations with a sustainable planet. [...]

So, we can pass legislation at the state level to ban planning for sea level rise. It might be easy politics, but it’s not smart politics in terms of protecting our country. Just ask those living in Tuvalu and the low-lying nation of Kiribati. Think they could use some advance planning to deal with the “King” tides that may soon drown out life on their shores? You bet. But instead of learning from them, we’ve succumbed to the siren call of short-term interests.

That speech ought to be the topic of an entire debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney come this fall. But far too many people, too many progressives among them, are silent about climate change. Even if they accept its reality, as most do, they see it as a side issue. Something either too big to handle or for which there is no solution. At least not one for which they are willing to radically alter business as usual.

With CO2 content of the atmosphere now at 400 parts per million, every world leader ought to be in Brazil for this conference. With a fresh urgency. With an aggressive agenda. With determination not to, once again, kick the can to the next conference.

Why they aren't has a lot to do with complacency and silence. Ours and theirs.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue Jun 19, 2012 at 03:28 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Change News Roundup, DK GreenRoots, and RoadtoRio.

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