WASHINGTON (CN) – In a lively congressional hearing Tuesday, former Secretary of State John Kerry scolded lawmakers rejecting scientific consensus on climate change and warned the Trump administration was actively undermining national security by downplaying the data behind it.
“I ask you to stop and think about this. Lives are already being lost. People are being killed in mudslides, fires and floods. You have a host of dangers already being lived out by Americans,” Kerry told members of the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
The hearing on climate change and its relationship to national security was often fraught with intense debate between Kerry and Republicans on the committee, including Representative James Comer of Kentucky.
Comer blasted New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s signature Green New Deal proposal after Kerry spent several minutes offering impassioned testimony about the financial cost that comes with increasingly destructive climate change and the need to pursue bigger, bolder solutions.
“This is a dangerous moment for us,” Kerry said, noting that the U.S. spent $265 billion to clean up after hurricanes that dumped 33 trillion gallons of rainfall on Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee in just a matter of days in 2017.
Comer insisted his focus on climate and national security was rooted in concerns over costs to U.S. taxpayers but he claimed the Green New Deal supports “printing more money and opening more banks” as a way to pay for a green overhaul of U.S. infrastructure and the economy.
“There are a lot of different proposals on how to proceed. But I don’t know if any are coming from your side of the aisle. Do you have a plan? I think you said you’re not sure of the science, but my focus is on how we’re going to move forward,” Kerry responded.
He continued, “We all have differences on one piece of legislation or another, but in proposing what she proposed together with Senator [Ed] Markey [of Massachusetts], Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has in fact offered more leadership in one day or one week than President Trump has in his lifetime on this subject.”
President Donald Trump’s push to assemble a Presidential Committee on Climate Change to undermine the assessments of long-established, widely accepted science troubles him, Kerry said.
Since his own time working on Capitol Hill, Kerry said he couldn’t recall any hearings Republicans held on climate science, its impact or solutions to the fallout.
“They were mostly on Benghazi if I recall,” Kerry said. “I really think we should stop with the politics.”
Comer defended himself, saying he was only concerned with how the U.S. would pay for a plan like the Green New Deal.
Carbon pricing would be a start, the former secretary of state told the committee, noting that the concept of carbon pricing itself was promulgated by conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute.
“Let’s debate it. Let’s put it on the floor,” Kerry said.
Ocasio-Cortez also called for more honesty when discussing climate issues.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t address some of the comments and I’m flattered so many people across the aisle seem to be enamored by a non-binding resolution presented by a freshman congresswoman three months ago, but despite this fixation, it seems they have not yet read the contents of the proposed resolution,” Cortez said of her 14-page proposal.
Several Republicans on the committee Tuesday described Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution as socialist, a claim she also rebuffed.
“It is not responsible to proclaim anything we dislike as ‘socialism.’ Especially when my colleagues across the aisle are willing to subsidize fossil fuel corporations…. I’m not sure how that is somehow smart but subsidies for solar panels are ‘socialist,’” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s just bad faith and incorrect. It’s important to support and propose bold action.”
Both Kerry and fellow panelist, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, urged “bold action” and acknowledged that “no nation in the world” is currently doing enough to meet the goal of holding the earth’s temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.
“As long as we do nothing we are complicit in our acts of omission and we are contributing to people dying and trillions of dollars in property damage. We will change the state of life on this planet” if we don’t act, Kerry said.
Other Republicans, like Representative Carol Miller of West Virginia – whose top political donor in 2018 was mining and extraction corporation Jennmar – expressed frustration that the U.S. would ever consider involving itself in any agreement to combat climate change with nations like China that fall short of meeting emissions goals.
“How is change possible without the help of other nations?” Miller asked.
While China may still be a serial polluter, it is also one of the greatest investors in renewable energy, Hagel said.
“They are filling the vacuum the United States has left behind,” he said.
According to a 2018 report by the United Nations, China spent $126 billion on renewable green technology the year before, three times the amount invested by the U.S. China is already on track to invest $360 billion by 2020 and at least $6 trillion by 2030.
“Oil and gas will continue to be used in the years to come but the truth is, solar today is cheaper than coal. It just is,” Kerry said. “And the marketplace made its decision – it’s not Congress that has decided coal plants are closing. It is the market. There isn’t an American bank that would finance a coal-powered plant in America.”