Bad for Bizness

john-kerryWe learned a lot about the issue agenda of John Kerry from his first major foreign policy speech as Secretary of State. Although cast as the strong advocate for action on global warming in the Obama administration second term, he barely mentioned the single most daunting problem that confronts our species. Instead his theme was that the U.S. State Department existed to tell the rest of the world that America was open for business. Oh yeah, and the department can’t do its work without its meager share of the Federal budget.

In a 6800 word speech delivered at the University of Virginia on February 20th, Kerry devoted all of 316 words to global warming in a brief tangent from the main themes of promoting trade and the State Department budget. Just as in President Obama’s latest Inaugural Address and State of the Union Address, the phrase ‘global warming’ was missing altogether. The word ‘climate’ was used only twice, and in neither instance as part of the phrase ‘climate change.’ In clear contrast, Kerry used the word ‘investment’ 16 times, the word ‘job’ 14 times, the word ‘budget’ 13 times, the words ‘market’ and ‘trade’ 8 times each.

It gets worse. In the two paragraphs ostensibly about global warming, the issue was addressed in terms of opportunities for American businesses rather than as an unfolding crisis necessitating international cooperation to limit carbon emissions. He’s a sample: “When we work with others, large and small, to develop and deploy the clean technologies that will power a new world – and they’re there waiting for us, $6 trillion market, huge amount of jobs – when we do that, we know we’re helping to create the new markets and new opportunities for America’s second-to-none innovators and entrepreneurs so that we can succeed in the next great revolution in the marketplace.” While there is nothing wrong with making a reasonable profit by providing something that people need, Kerry’s speech seems to suggest that the U.S. State Department is uninterested in global warming unless it turns a fast buck.

For a strikingly different take on the nature of this public policy problem one need only the August 31, 2009 op-ed column by a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts named John Kerry. There is the focus is national security: “Climate change injects a major new source of chaos, tension, and human insecurity into an already volatile world. It threatens to bring more famine and drought, worse pandemics, more natural disasters, more resource scarcity, and human displacement on a staggering scale.” After noting the then upcoming Climate Conference in Copenhagen, he concluded with a strong warning: “This time we have to connect the dots before we face catastrophe.” Note the irony. As U.S. Senator, John Kerry looked to international diplomacy to prevent further harm. As the Secretary of State, John Kerry looks to international commerce to benefit from the harm.

That global warming is no more a priority in the second term than it was in the first was made abundantly clear when Obama snubbed 40,000 environmental activists who rallied at the National Mall on the 17th and 18th to fly down to Florida to play golf with lobbyists from Big Oil. Rather than effective action on the difficult public policy of our time, we can only expect ever weaker and more evasive language.

John Kerry - Caricature by DonkeyHotey via his Flickr photo stream and used under creative commons license.
John Hickman

John Hickman

John Hickman is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where he teaches courses on war crimes, comparative politics, and research methods. He holds both a PH.D. in political science from the University of Iowa and a J.D. from Washington University, St. Louis. Hickman is the author of the 2013 Florida University Press book Selling Guantanamo.