Senator John Kerry: What Gov. Sarah Palin Forgot

Senator John Kerry

Senator John Kerry

Writing in this morning’s Washington Post, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wrote, “many in the national media would rather focus on the personality-driven political gossip of the day than on the gravity of these challenges.”

Unfortunately, her promise to roll up her sleeves and tackle serious issues is followed by a column that focuses on everything but the single grave challenge that forms the basis of all of our actions: the crisis of global climate change.

Yes, she manages to write about the climate change action in Congress without ever mentioning the reason we are doing this in the first place. It’s like complaining about the cost of repairing a roof without factoring in the leaks destroying your home.

The global climate change crisis threatens our economy and our national security in profound ways. Governor Palin need look no further than the view from her front porch in Alaska to see how destructive this crisis can be. The small native village of Newtok is being literally wiped off the map because of a melting permafrost and disappearing sea ice. The New York Times reported nearly two years ago:

“The earth beneath much of Alaska is not what it used to be. The permanently frozen subsoil, known as permafrost, upon which Newtok and so many other Native Alaskan villages rest, is melting, yielding to warming air temperatures and a warming ocean. Sea ice that would normally protect coastal villages is forming later in the year, allowing fall storms to pound away at the shoreline.
Erosion has made Newtok an island, caught between the ever widening Ninglick River and a slough to the north. The village is below sea level, and sinking. Boardwalks squish into the spring muck…..The ragged wooden houses have to be adjusted regularly to level them on the shifting soil.

Studies say Newtok could be washed away within a decade. Along with the villages of Shishmaref and Kivalina farther to the north, it has been the hardest hit of about 180 Alaska villages that suffer some degree of erosion”

Since then, the citizens of Newtok voted to move their village to higher ground nine miles away.

Around the world, the effects are already being felt. The Himalayan glaciers, source for almost all the major rivers of India and China, are shrinking, putting the future water resources of billions of people in doubt. Shifting weather patterns may turn the American “breadbasket” into a dustbowl. And stronger storms and rising sea levels can devastate coastal communities across our country and around the world.

All of these effects (and many, many more) will have a devastating effect on our economy and threaten our national security. For example, just imagine the situation in India and Pakistan if the rivers on which the region depends for agriculture dry up. Imagine how much worse the problems of poverty, terrorism, and instability would become in that situation.

Reading Gov Palin’s op-ed too often it sounds like the only threats America faces are solely economic. But that’s not what our intelligence experts and military leaders tell us. General Anthony Zinni, a rock-jawed military man and former commander of our forces in the Middle East who is tough to peg as any sort of climate alarmist warned that without action — and I quote — “we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll.”

We can’t afford to ignore this reality — in an op-ed column or in our public debate over an entire piece on legislation designed to meet these challenges. An op-ed on Guantanamo policy that fails to acknowledge the existence of terrorists would not be taken seriously. Neither should an op-ed on energy reform that fails to mention the irrefutable reality of climate change.

And, unfortunately, even in the areas Gov. Palin does focus on, she gets things wrong. She focuses on energy production, but ignores the huge expansion of new, clean energy sources made possible through smart energy reform legislation.

She says that, “The Americans hit hardest will be those already struggling to make ends meet.” That’s incorrect: The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis says, of the measurable costs, “Households in the lowest income quintile would see an average net benefit of about $40 in 2020, while households in the highest income quintile would see a net cost of $245.”

Governor Palin also states of energy reform legislation: “It is an enormous threat to our economy.” Once again, this is just wrong. Palin confidently claims job losses are “certain,” she somehow neglects to mention that jobs in our emerging clean energy economy grew nearly two and a half times faster than overall jobs since 1998. And objective analysis indicates, at most, a nominal cost to the economy and, at best, a significant benefit.

And here’s the big thing: almost all of these models don’t take into the account the enormously destructive effects of doing nothing. This legislation will be a clear win for the economy — and for our future economic security.

We need a 21st century economy that is powered by clean, renewable energy sources, and uses that energy efficiently and wisely. But the reality is that we will reform our energy economy not only because of the upside, but also because we must do so if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe. Our climate demands it, our economy needs it, and our security depends on it.

To get this right, we need an honest debate that focuses on the real issues. Both Democrats and Republicans will be better off if Governor Palin joins the debate we need to have — one about climate change as well as energy security — rather than leaving so many important details on the editing room floor.

Senator John Kerry
Huffington Post

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