Kerry at Climate Talks: ‘Members of the Flat Earth Society Are on The Wrong Side of History’

By Patrick Goodenough | December 8, 2015 | 4:15 AM EST

Secretary of State John Kerry and Mashable science editor Andrew Freedman take part in a public event on the sidelines of the U.N. climate conference in Paris, France, on Monday, December 7, 2015. (Photo: State Department)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Paris Monday to lend his weight to ambitious U.N. climate change talks. He asserted the “need to make clear that those members of the flat earth society [who dispute global warming theory] are on the wrong side of history.”

“I am so hopeful that Paris will be a truly historic moment when we will ratify what people all over the world are coming to understand, and that is that uh, this is happening,” he told an event hosted by the tech news site, Mashable, and the U.N. Foundation.

“It’s happening now,” he said in reference to human-caused climate change. “It’s happening faster than scientists predicted it would, and it’s happening to greater degrees than scientists predicted it would.”

“And we need, as responsible leaders, to take account of science – not some cockamamie ideological hypothetical, but science,” Kerry continued. “And we need to make clear that those members of the flat earth society are on the wrong side of history.”

“We are going to make Paris the demarcation point where we begin to get the job done to save the planet, period.”

Tens of thousands of delegates from almost 200 countries have descended on the French capital for talks aimed at reaching a new, post-2020 global climate agreement, by Friday. President Obama attended the opening day on November 30, delivered a speech, and returned home the following day.

Keenly aware of the depth of opposition to new climate initiatives in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, the administration wants to avoid an agreement from Paris constituting a binding treaty, which would require Senate ratification.

Mashable science editor Andrew Freedman asked Kerry why U.S. negotiators were opposing language in the draft agreement that says parties “shall implement policies to meet Paris targets.”

“Is their view that the State Department is just concerned about triggering a Senate ratification requirement?” Freedman asked.

“Well, the frank and simple answer is that certain legal – certain terms have legal impact and certain legal impacts have political impact, and certain political impact can kill the agreement,” Kerry replied.

The goal of the talks is to reach agreement on reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change, in an attempt to keeping average temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. World leaders agreed at earlier talks that doing so was necessary to avoid potentially cataclysmic harm to the planet.

At Paris many activists are pushing for a more ambitious target – to keep temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Asked about this at Monday’s event, Kerry responded with enthusiasm.

“Do I sympathize with it? You bet I sympathize with it. I feel very strongly that when human activity that is a choice is potentially putting whole nation-states at risk, we better care about it,” he said.

Although two degrees was the declared target in line with the “science,” Kerry said, aiming for an even lower target would serve as an “insurance policy against that science potentially being wrong.”

But he also sounded a cautious note, saying aiming for a 1.5 degree target may be not be realistic or achievable.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to embrace as the – as the sort of principal target of this agreement that kind of a goal [1.5 degrees], because I don’t think it will be taken seriously and it may not be achievable,” he said.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

Sponsored Links