Secretary Kerry: Leadership for a New Dark Age?

There was hopeful speculation that when President Barack Obama delegated to Secretary of State John Kerry the task of evaluating the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline on "national interest" criteria it would lead to approval of the project, to smooth relations with Canada if nothing else. But Secretary Kerry's February 16th speech in Indonesia has thrown the issue into doubt again. "Think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- all challenges that know no borders -- the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them." Furthermore, he embraced two major political points that are the real heart of the issue: "Climate change is happening and that human activity is responsible." and "It's absolutely true that industrialized countries -- yes, industrialized countries that produce most of the emissions -- have a huge responsibility to be able to reduce emissions, but I'm telling you that doesn't mean that other nations have a free pass."

The first point is key to the Green movement's desire to reduce living standards and combat the sin of materialism. The argument made a generation ago by other supposed "experts" was that civilization had to retreat because of inadequate resources. There was an impending "limit to growth." This has been proven false. So the argument had to change to where the use of abundant resources such as coal, oil, and gas from fracking, is itself an evil. The timing of Kerry's lengthy diatribe in behalf of these new "facts" may be attributed to a desire to rebut recent claims by Green groups that the Obama administration has not been taking climate change seriously.

On February 12, Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club released the results of their Freedom of Information Act requests from the State Department concerning the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Green groups claimed that the State Department was being influenced by pro-energy lobbyists to approve the project. Tim Dickinson in the February 13 issue of Rolling Stone charged that the White House had "quietly championed" the emergence of America as "the planet's dirty-energy dealer - supplying the developing world with cut-rate, high-polluting, climate-damaging fuels" The tough new limits on the amount of carbon dioxide new coal-fired energy plants are allowed to emit issued by the EPA last month in a further escalation of the "war on coal" has not appeased a Green movement that wants all energy production rolled back.

Kerry's second point comes right out of UN climate conferences. The largely Western countries (North America and Europe) have to be the ones to go into decline so the rest of the world can have room to move forward in a Green-restricted world. The People's Republic of China has been leading this argument. Beijing has used it to rally most of the world against the U.S., portrayed as wanting to keep the developing world down by not letting it use the cheap energy it used to gain ascendency.

In the global struggle for progress, Kerry noted, "We're the number two emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. The number one is now China" and expressed dismay that "much of the world still doesn't see or want to see the need to pursue a significant response to this [climate change] threat." especially in Asia. The geopolitical facts go beyond what Kerry acknowledged. What China is really saying is that if Western liberals have concocted a suicidal theory, then the West should bear the brunt of its foolishness. The rest of the world is not buying in. China will continue to grow as fast as it can, closing the gap with a stagnating West.

The result of this process of uneven development was revealed off the coast of Indonesia before Kerry arrived. On February 1, the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy sent a taskforce of three warships from its expanded Hainan base complex in southern China through the Sunda Strait in Indonesia, along the south coast of Java and past Christmas Island into the Indian Ocean. Two Chinese destroyers escorted the 20,000 ton Changbaishan -- China's largest amphibious assault ship -- and conducted five days of combat exercises. The task force then headed north through the Lombok and Makassar Straits into the Pacific. This voyage alarmed not only the states of Southeast Asia, but also India and Australia.

Kerry had been in Beijing two days before his speech in Jakarta. So it is clear that his attempts to persuade President Xi Jinping to join a campaign against the common enemy of climate change failed. Though the Beijing regime put out a statement claiming a desire for "the construction of ecological civilization" in cooperation with the U.S., there was no joint press conference or statement issued at the end of the talks that would have indicated any real meeting of the minds. At his solo press availability after meeting with the Communist leadership, Kerry stated that the Obama administration is "committed to building an historic bilateral relationship based on two most critical elements: one, practical cooperation, and two, constructive management of differences -- and there are differences, and we were honest about that today." He then listed issues discussed, on all of which Washington and Beijing are at odds: North Korea, climate change, Iran, human rights, cyber security, maritime disputes in Asia, and Syria, in that order.

China's claim to control the entire South China Sea poses the most immediate threat of confrontation. Kerry called on Beijing to "resolve these differences in a peaceful, non-confrontational way that honors the law of the sea." The PRC Foreign Ministry rejected this at its own Feb. 14 press conference where its spokesperson Hua Chunying said, "The US, who is not a party concerned in the South China Sea dispute, should honor its commitment of not taking sides on territorial sovereignty issue, be discreet in word and deed and do more for peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific, rather than the opposite." Hua also presented an interesting interpretation of the U.S.-Philippine alliance; it "should not harm the interests of a third party" meaning it should not be called upon to counter Chinese aggression.

While climates have changed many times in slow cycles over the centuries, the nature of world politics has not changed (see Geoffrey Parker's Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century for a pre-industrial example). Whatever the challenge, policy must be made on the basis of "national interest." China understands this and is becoming more ambitious as it sees America in disarray. A decision against the Keystone XL pipeline would only confirm to Beijing that the economic decline of the United States will continue, to be followed inevitably by a change in the balance of power favoring China and other nations still committed to material progress. Democratic senators now plan an all-night session (presumably using electric lights powered by fossil fuels) to make speeches similar to Secretary Kerry's remarks in Jakarta; but they will also fail to convince the rest of world to enter a new dark age where the ability to compete for the world's wealth is artificially restricted.

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