Kerry Calls 'Global Warming' Biggest Threat Since Cold War

By Steve Brown | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - "Global warming" is America's biggest threat since the Cold War, according to Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who addressed an environmental conference in Washington, D.C., Thursday.

Calling the Democratic Party "soft-money lazy," he vowed to embark on a taxpayer-funded effort equal to the Cold War defense buildup to wean the country off fossil fuels.

"In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the leadership of America defined a threat," Kerry told participants at the EnvironDesign 7 conference. "So what did we do? We took a large amount of our national treasure - your tax money - and we held it out there and said, 'We need to be safe.'"

Kerry detailed how the money was applied to the buildup of bombs and military equipment during the Cold War, how the corporations involved provided secure jobs and how the employees of those corporations are now enjoying their retirement.

"I say that today, there is a different kind of threat that the leadership needs to define, and it is the threat, obviously, of global warming," Kerry said. "It is not appropriate that the United States should be the world's biggest scofflaw - the 25 percent polluter of the world - and have turned our back on the labor and initiative and effort and commitment and science of 160 nations over 10 years."

According to Kerry, the federal government has the "capacity to begin a framework which attracts people" in the same way former President Jimmy Carter recruited individuals for the Energy Institute in Colorado. Professors were hired by the institute to develop alternative energy sources with taxpayer funding, Kerry said.

"Then Ronald Reagan came in and pulled the guts out from under it, and we lost America's lead in alternatives and renewables to Japan and Germany. Now we're rushing to catch up again," according to the Massachusetts senator, who is now serving his fourth term.

Kerry said the effort to come up with alternative energy sources can be compared to the environmental protection movement of the 1960s, as well as the groundswell for African American civil rights.

"How did we get Richard Nixon to sign the Environmental Protection Act? Because it was his first choice and he wanted to? No. We, all together in this country, created what is called a felt need," Kerry said, urging environmentalists to make alternative fuels a voting issue in the next election cycle.

"We need to get back to the real business of American politics, which is getting people involved and invested in making choices and making a difference and holding politicians accountable," he added.

A spokesman for the Republican National Committee (RNC), who had not yet seen the text of Kerry's speech, questioned the sincerity of the senator's comparison between the threats posed by "global warming" and the Cold War.

"I would be curious to see what John Kerry said or if this was just another campaign quip," RNC spokesman Kevin Sheridan said, referring to Kerry's backtracking earlier this week of criticism he had leveled at President Bush.

On Tuesday, Kerry said his remark this past month in New Hampshire, about how America - like Iraq - needed a regime change, was intended as a lighthearted remark. "It was not about the president, and it was not about the war," Kerry insisted Tuesday. The regime change comment "was about the election," he said.

As for Kerry's comments Thursday on the environment, Sheridan said he "would dismiss this as just another campaign quip," adding that Kerry is "a little hard to take seriously."

"If [Kerry] was really serious about doing something for the environment, he would join President Bush and his call for funding hydrogen fuel technology, Clear Skies (Bush's market-based air pollution reduction plan) and healthy forests," Sheridan said.

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