“Only choice” is a powerful phrase. It’s a moral statement, really. If it’s the only choice, then to choose anything else would be wrong and condemnable, foolhardy and inexcusable. Perhaps that’s why a recently resurfaced clip of former Democratic nominee for president, former secretary of state, and now climate envoy for the Biden administration John Kerry has received some renewed attention.
The video features Kerry in Iceland in 2019, where he had traveled on a private plane to accept an award for . . . his climate advocacy. An Icelandic reporter, recognizing the incongruity of it all, confronted Kerry:
Reporter: I understand you came here with a private jet. Is that an environmental way to travel?
Kerry: If you offset your carbon, it’s the only choice for somebody like me who is traveling the world to win this battle.
Kerry went on to tout his climate-related accomplishments, including his negotiation of the Paris Agreement, insisting that international travel is a necessary evil of his work. He then rebuked his questioner, saying “I’m not gonna be put on the defensive.”
Given Kerry’s status as a public figure beholden to the American people, I’d prefer to keep him there. If you believe, as Kerry says he does, that climate change represents a nearly imminent and existential threat, then of course international agreements need to be negotiated and world leaders will need to travel to make them. But if it’s an existential threat, wouldn’t you want to negotiate agreements that do something about it? Kerry never shuts up about the Paris Agreement, but it does next to nothing to curb emissions. Sure, it sets goals for doing so, but it’s a non-binding treaty that goes easier on countries ramping up emissions (China and India) while setting stricter standards for those already making significant cuts (the United States.) Were I the alarmist Kerry is, I would count Paris among my greatest failures, not successes.
Moreover, at the time of Kerry’s little trip, he was not traveling to negotiate a deal or talk strategy. He was in Iceland to do what John Kerry does best: feel pride and importance in being John Kerry. And to feel really important, one simply must fly private. Those tawdry first-class seats on a regularly scheduled commercial flight just won’t do.
Maybe you think this is a cheap shot at Kerry. But I’m not sure there’s anything more detestable than a fabulously wealthy and immensely powerful man insisting that a private plane is the “only choice” for traveling to an award ceremony for a non-accomplishment like the Paris Agreement, while telling working-class Americans he’s helped strip of their jobs on the Keystone Pipeline — another symbolic, ineffectual measure — that he’s trying to provide and help them make “better choices.” So for me, lambasting John Kerry is the only choice.