President Barack Obama couldn’t have made it more clear in his inaugural address: America must lead the world in responding to climate change.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he said. But he said the United States must do more than respond; America must lead the global effort.
“We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise,” he continued.
Obama’s appointment of Sen. John Kerry as his next secretary of state put action to his words. Kerry made limitations on greenhouse gas admissions a top priority of his career in the Senate, including a failed attempt to pass cap-and-trade legislation. He has represented the U.S. at international climate change summits.
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With Kerry, Obama has a strong ally, one who understands the climate change issue and shares the president’s belief that global warming represents one of our nation’s most imminent dangers, as well as the potential to be yet another foreign policy quagmire
Kerry will be tested on this issue early. Sometime this year, the secretary of state will advise the president on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. In deciding on whether to allow TransCanada to build the 1,700-mile pipeline carrying oil from Alberta’s oil sands to the Gulf Coast, Obama will rely heavily on Kerry’s analysis of risk factors.
How the pipeline might affect climate change figures to play a key role in Kerry’s recommendation. How the pipeline and the oil it could carry figures into international relations must also be factored into his recommendation. And events in the Middle East at the time of a recommendation could further complicate the recommendation and the message it carries.
Kerry will have challenges abroad, too. With study after study confirming that climate change is bringing dire physical and economic consequences, Kerry will have to persuade nations exploding with industrial development to join more-developed nations in protecting our planet.
It won’t be an easy sell in places such as China or India, where environmental issues don’t rate top priority as they work to close the economic gap against the United States. After all, the U.S. became the dominant world economy, only to turn around and to tell developing nations not to power their economy the way we did.
Not that Congress seems any more enlightened. Legislation to reduce global warming and to power our economy with green jobs and climate-friendly industries has not made much progress, despite polls that show 70 percent of Americans are worried about climate change.
The president and his new secretary of state have chosen a difficult policy position, but a necessary one.
As the president said, “This is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet.”