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Senator Kerry Talks On Environment, Diplomacy

Agnes Borszeki--The Tech
Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.)

By Naveen Sunkavally

"Never in my political life have I run into [that] kind of anger and suspicion," said Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) of other countries' responses to United States' proposals at the recent Kyoto environmental summit.

Kerry spoke about government, technology, and global warming to an audience of about 100 people on Saturday in Kresge Auditorium. His primary goal was to instill a sense of great concern for the environment within the students in the audience. To do this, Kerry drew upon his experience as a Senate observer at a conference on global warming in December at Kyoto.

He began by talking about the origins of the environmental movement. "Students came together and created the movement" in the 1970's, Kerry said. By bringing environmentalism to the forefront of politics and making it a "cutting edge issue," students then helped in the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, emission controls for automobiles, among other legislation.

Students today need to get the same "sense of passion" that students had 25 years ago, Kerry said. "Grass roots - that's what Earth Day is all about."

Kerry said that student support was necessary to overcome the politics of Washington and big corporations. "We have people in the U.S. Senate who do not believe that global warming is a problem today; those who do believe it is are not willing to bite the bullet."

Kerry blasted people for dismissing global warming. He cited a study by the University of Massachusetts that concluded 1997 was the warmest year in 600 years. He said that the rising sea level could have drastic consequences for the wetlands and other ecosystems. "El Nio is most likely related to global warming," he said.

Kerry also said that 94 percent of virgin forests had been destroyed in the United States, and that there were few nations on earth with more than 50 percent of their virgin forests intact. More destruction of the Amazon rain forests occurred last year than in any previous year, he said.

Kerry says apathy doomed Kyoto

Kerry said that the lack of concern for the environment in the United States has given the country very little credibility in dealing with other nations about the environment.

He noted that other nations felt that the U.S. was orchestrating a grand conspiracy against them by trying to foist environmental regulations on them while not strengthening its own at the same time. The most outspoken of these nations were China, Mexico, Korea, Brazil, and India, he said.

As a result, Kerry said that it was difficult to convince nations to accept proposals that would encourage environmental technology transfer between the United States and other nations. He said that it was also difficult to convince other nations to stop building pollution-producing power plants and work to decrease emissions.

Most of these problems were caused by the Republican party, Kerry implied. Kerry lambasted former president Ronald Reagan for killing the Energy Institute and cutting funding for research into renewable resources. Those cuts, he said, put the United States behind Germany and Japan in the research race.

Speaker of the House Newt "Gingrich (R-Ga.) and the Republicans initiated the greatest single assault overtly" on environmental legislation," Kerry said. "It was really shocking: They tried to throw out the Clean Water Act."

"There are people in the Senate who voted against the Clean Air Act," Kerry said. Since George Bush's presidency, emissions in the United States have dramatically risen, he added.

The real reason the United States fought the Gulf War was to protect oil interests in Saudi Arabia, Kerry said. "We are more dependent today on imports of oil than [we were ever] before," he said.

Kerry urged students to vote Republicans out of the House during the November elections so that environmentalism could be given a higher priority.

Kerry said that legislators "dance around issues," giving as an example a recent debate over education between Republicans and Democrats in which "people just talked past each other."

Kerry decried the current economics of environmentalism. He said that society was operating at the level of "robber-baron capitalism" instead of "enlightened capitalism."

Kerry also attacked the media, saying that they were only concerned with superficial issues and conflict.

The speech was sponsored by Share a Vital Earth (SAVE), the Office of the President, the Technology and Policy Program, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was part of the Earth Day and Spring Weekend festivities.