Should John Kerry be the first Climate Secretary? (He’s not even sure there should BE a Climate Secretary)

  • Published on April 24th, 2020

Adam Aton at Climatewire reports that former Secretary of State John Kerry isn’t showing much enthusiasm for the idea being tossed around by the presidential campaign team of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden for establishing a cabinet post of climate secretary. Last year, Kerry, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and 60 other prominent people founded World War Zero, a bipartisan organization with the goal of having 10 million “climate conversations” in 2020 to mobilize broad American support for addressing the climate crisis, protecting human habitat from its impacts, and reaching zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

John Kerry - Climate secretary?

By Meteor Blades

Biden said last week he was pondering establishment of a climate cabinet post that “goes beyond the EPA.” That pondering is apparently still underway since creating the post is not included in his “9 Key Elements of Joe Biden’s Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution” released this week.

At a Wednesday event sponsored by The Washington Post, Kerry said: “I have not heard that [Biden] was going to do that. I wasn’t aware of that. No thoughts about that at this point. In fact, I have questions about the creation of a new job to do it.” This contradicts the reporting in early March that Kerry “would love” to take the post if it were established.

Former vice president Biden has lately bolstered his position on what to do about the climate crisis, a move that longtime observers have depicted as being, at least in part, an effort to attract the November votes of young people who have for the past several years been in the vanguard of climate activism. Over the past nine months, Biden has strengthened his climate proposals. During the presidential primary elections, several Democratic candidates criticized him for taking too modest an approach, with many arguing that there can be no “middle ground” on dealing with climate. Likewise, youth-led activist groups such as the Sunrise Movement and The Climate Mobilization have pushed him to support policies with more aggressive goals, which he has done.

In a five-and-half minute video on Earth Day Wednesday, echoing the urgency that Sen. Bernie Sanders noted in the 2016 debates, Biden said: “You know there’s no more urgent crisis facing this nation, or the world, than the threat posed by climate change. We know it. We see it. […] We don’t have any time to waste. […] As president, I will use every authority available to me, I will accept no half-measures, and I will make it clear in this election that if you vote for me, you’re voting for a mandate for Congress to pass my climate plan. Quite frankly, we need to put the fear of God into Congress—that they will lose their seats if we do not act.”

Exactly how a climate secretary might operate is unclear. Currently, responsibility for climate policy is scattered across more than a dozen executive departments and agencies from the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, from Housing and Urban Development to Transportation. Numerous other nations have established top positions that are tasked specifically with dealing with the climate crisis, even though some of them have additional duties.

New Zealand is one nation that has set up a ministerial post solely concerned with climate matters. James Shaw, who authored the island nation’s zero carbon bill passed last November, is the first to serve in the job. On Wednesday, in an op ed column in The Guardian, he wrote:

Successive responses to economic crises have seen climate change and the natural environment we depend on for life on Earth as a nice-to-have, something to think about once we’ve got the economy back on track and there’s a bit more money to go round. […]

This means that action on climate change keeps being deferred, as economic shocks occur on average about every ten years. This time, we could do it differently. […]

This time, we could plan our recovery to create a clean-tech, high-value economy that works for everyone.

This is exactly what the United States could and should do when the deniers and delayers are ousted from the White House and the Senate.

(Crossposted with DailyKos. Image CC by DonkeyHotey on Flickr.)

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.

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