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Kerry and Climate

Choice of new U.S. Secretary of State could affect policy

2 min read
Kerry and Climate

It's no secret that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (ailing today in the hospital) has done an outstanding job of executing U.S. policy in no small part because she has understood so well that policy ultimately is made in the White House, not her office. The downside has been that there was no real independent voice in U.S. foreign policy for the last four years. This will change with the accession of Senator John Kerry, a strongly independent personality with a well known track record.

One area in which that difference will make a difference is climate policy. Kerry was an early co-sponsor of cap-and-trade carbon reduction legislation, and he quietly used his considerable influence in the Senate to address global warming issues however he could. Climate change is one of the issues that Kerry feels personally passionate about. Six months ago, in a small Massachusetts newspaper, he wrote that the time for U.S. action on climate change is now. Quoting the Revolutionary War publicist Thomas Paine, who called it “an affront to treat falsehood with complacence,” Kerry continued, "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."

At the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, where Obama and Clinton showed up only to join with the Chinese to torpedo any prospect of mandatory greenhouse gas emission cuts, Kerry gave a speech in a session parallel to the main negotiations (which I happened to attend, covering the conference for IEEE Spectrum magazine). He was visibly touched by the warmth of the reception he received from international delegates, who evidently had some appreciation of where he stood.

Like Clinton, Kerry is a major figure in U.S. politics. The importance of his arrival at State far exceeds the significance of Lisa Jackson's departure from the Environmental Protection Agency. Though there has been muttering in the press that she is leaving in part because she was unhappy about the course that climate policy took under Obama, she surely knew all along that ultimately her voice would count for little in the formulation of that policy. Kerry's voice will count for more than a little.

How will he be able to make a difference? By telling the president, again and again, that it is time for the United States to give full support to those countries that have taken the lead in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, and to firmly commit the United States to taking similar action.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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