The Corner

John Kerry Brings the Gospel of Global Warming to the World

In the 19th century, European colonists set out across the world with Bibles tucked under one arm and blueprints of European parliamentary government under the other to teach the great unwashed the fundamentals of civilization.

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry is continuing that tradition — by preaching the Gospel of Global Warming to the rest of the world. 

“Shortly after Mr. Kerry was sworn in last February, he issued a directive that all meetings between senior American diplomats and top foreign officials include a discussion of climate change,” reported the New York Times this week.  “He put top climate policy specialists on his State Department personal staff. And he is pursuing smaller climate deals in forums like the Group of 20, the countries that make up the world’s largest economies.” 

What prompted the Times report was a sermon that Kerry delivered to the Vietnamese last week on the Mekong Delta. “Decades ago, on these very waters, I was one of many who witnessed the difficult period in our shared history,” he said in a gingerly reference to his Swift boat service during the Vietnam War. “This is one of the two or three most potentially impacted areas in the world with respect to the effects of climate change.” 

The Times gave ample space to Jake Schmidt, international climate-policy director for the Natural Resources Council, who enthused about the ways the rest of the world is responding to Kerry’s initiatives. “There’s a lot of scar tissue from the U.S. saying it will do stuff [about reducing carbon emissions],” said Schmidt. “They’re still waiting to see what we’re going to do, but the skepticism is much thinner than it was a few months back.”

So what exactly is the Obama administration doing about climate? Well, it’s outlawing new coal plants and shutting down old ones, putting tens of thousands of people out of work in impoverished parts of America and endangering what’s left of our country’s manufacturing economy. Lucky for them, the unregulated development of gas and oil on private lands is producing other fossil fuels that can take up some of the slack. (NRDC and other environmental groups are doing everything they can to stop that as well.)

But what about nuclear energy, the only non-fossil fuel that has a reasonable chance of replacing coal as the world’s source of base-load electricity? Even James Hansen, the original Paul Revere of global warming, sent a letter to the major environmental groups last November telling them it is pointless to talk about reducing carbon emissions without embracing nuclear power. How are we doing on that?

Well, oddly enough, the Vietnamese to whom Kerry was lecturing last week have already signed an agreement with the Russians to start construction on their first reactor in 2014. The South Koreans – who may now be the best nuclear technologists in the world — will be providing $1 million in training and equipment. China just agreed to loan Pakistan $6.5 billion to build a new reactor, with several more planned. The Chinese themselves have 26 reactors under construction. The U.S. did sign an agreement last October to share nuclear technology with Vietnam, but the suspicion in Asia is that we may have done it only to prevent the Vietnamese from developing their own nuclear infrastructure. Right now we are in a prolonged, testy negotiation with Korea trying to prevent them from enriching their own uranium and recycling their spent fuel, even though both technologies are readily available to them. 

In short, despite the licensing of four new reactors in Georgia and South Carolina, the United States is rapidly falling toward the bottom of the pack in developing nuclear technology. (Germany and Japan are out ahead of us.) We closed down two perfectly good reactors at San Onofre, Calif., in 2012 that had 40 years of life left in them, and more reactors will probably close in the next few years than will be completed. Gregory Jaczko, who served long enough as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to close down the Yucca Mountain nuclear-fuel depository at the behest of Senate majority leader Harry Reid, is now touring the country saying we should close down all our reactors. 

So just as the missionaries and colonists of the 19th century eventually learned that the backward masses whom they were attempting to civilize were often the inheritors of civilizations far older than their own, so Secretary of State Kerry may eventually learn that his submissive audiences are not as benighted as he imagines. There are now 72 reactors under construction around the world — four of them are in the United States. Maybe they have something to teach us.

— William Tucker is author of Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Long Energy Odyssey.

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