Arizona State University Origins Project The Great Debate: Climate Change: Surviving the Future Tempe, Arizona

, 2 February 2013 Speech by John Ashton Climate Change and the Reclaiming of America For 100 years now, the United States has been the most powerful, the most wealthy, the most inventive nation in the world. Throughout that century and longer, in this great country, the future has never been something that just happens to you. It has been something that you build. Of all the peoples on this Earth, none has been so richly gifted as the American people with the capability - to borrow some words that soared one memorable November night into the sky above Grant Park – none has been so richly gifted with the capability to reach out and bend the arc of history in the hope of a better day. That precious capability has been based on a simple but wonderful idea. You believed that by using the power of reason with which all human beings are endowed - reason, inspired by curiosity, informed by science - we can understand the challenges we face, we can design solutions to our problems, and by this means we can ensure that the opportunities available to our children are better than those that lay in front of us. Progress, made possible by reason. A better day. What an inheritance for generations of young Americans! Since we are gathered in a University auditorium, I had better pause and make one important clarification. By “reason” I do not mean what passes for reason in the socalled rational agent models of a certain kind of economist. What I am talking about is the proposition that there is such a thing as reality; that it behoves us to pay close attention to reality; and that if we want our choices to have the consequences we intend, this is the only compass on which it is prudent to rely. Some 50 years ago, one July afternoon at Idlewild Airport before it became JFK, a small boy from England stepped off a BOAC flight from London - it was a Boeing 707 - and set foot for the first time on American soil. With his parents and younger sister he stayed for the rest of that Summer with Tommy and Sidney Marshall and their 5 children at the Green Forest in the Brandywine Valley near West Chester, Pennsylvania. The Marshalls were his mother’s second family. They had given his mother a home 20 years earlier, as an evacuee from wartime Oxford, and they gave her a first class American education for 6 years at Swarthmore High School. The Marshalls embodied the inheritance I talked about. Tommy was a highly successful industrial chemist with Dupont, as his father had been before him. Tommy’s brother John was a physicist at Los Alamos, where he had worked on the Manhattan Project. John’s wife Leona later remarried, to Willard Libby, who will be a familiar name in this gathering. In later years Libby stayed with us a few times back home in Newcastle (where, my mother reminds me, my Dad had trouble getting hold of Libby’s favourite brand of bourbon).

For an impressionable child staying with the Marshalls, the idea of progress made possible by reason informed by science was intoxicating. It hung heady in the Green Forest air. He wanted to bottle it, like the fireflies he remembers catching in jars with the Marshall children as August shadows lengthened under the trees in those golden childhood days. So I did put some of that vintage Marshall air into a bottle. I took it home to Newcastle, and I duly drank from the bottle, and that is probably why I knew before my voice broke that I wanted to be a physicist. As Lawrence kindly pointed out, after my training in theoretical physics I defected with indecent haste to the murkier worlds of diplomacy and politics. That is another story. I apologize tonight to those of you who are just starting out in science and hope that unlike me you do not fall so soon by the wayside. You have plenty of better role models, including several who sit behind me now. It seems to me that the argument America has been having about climate change is not actually an argument about climate change. It is an argument about progress and whether you still believe in it. It is an argument about whether you still have confidence in your ability to build your future. Above all it is an argument about whether you want to continue setting your course by the compass of reason informed by science – that very compass that has made America the strongest country in the world for 100 years. Do you still want, as a nation, to make reality-based choices even when they feel hard? Or do you want to pretend that reality is something different, something imagined, so you can choose what feels easier in the comforting shade of the walls some of you have built to keep reality from intruding? I recall during the first Administration of President Bush the younger an article by the journalist Ron Suskind. He had been telephoned by an official from the White House who, unhappy with something Suskind had written about a Bush policy, accused him of belonging to what he called “the reality-based community”. The official made clear that the Bush White House did not appreciate the reality-based community, and did not feel in any way beholden to it. “We make our own reality”, the official said. More recently, in America’s proudest State, a once-great political party called last year for the teaching of critical thinking in schools to be outlawed, on the grounds that the ability to think critically might challenge the student’s fixed beliefs and undermine parental authority. What kind of parent, what kind of Party, what kind of country would want to turn its children, its budding pioneers of discovery and invention, into pliant receptacles for received ideas? And for anyone who thought that these might be mere lingering fragments of a passing hallucination laid finally to rest last November, the outgoing Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, felt it necessary to write yesterday in his valedictory letter to DoE staff that “experiments that seek the unbiased truth” should be “the arbiter of any point of view”. Why should Secretary Chu need to point out such a thing? Not I suspect to celebrate an idea that has become so securely lodged as to be part of the national DNA. More likely because it is under attack from those who would subordinate reality as illuminated by experiment to some other more subjective arbiter of truth.

And when it comes to climate change, I have been earnestly told, even on this brief visit to Tempe, that it is all a hoax and a conspiracy by scientists to get money from the government – a view that would be easier to dismiss were not variants of it regularly being put forward, with all due solemnity, in the U S Senate. Anyone who knows anything about the scientific endeavour knows how ridiculous that is. But that it should be believed by any American seems to me a sign of danger. Your science has been your beating heart. As a young physicist in the seventies, my heroes were figures like Feynman, Weinberg, Gell-Mann, Penzias and Wilson in the Bell Labs, and of course Albert Einstein to whom you gave a home as the skies darkened over continental Europe. Without its scientists, America would not have been the strongest nation for a hundred years. To see anyone in this country turning on your scientists is like watching a once vigorous loved one falling into the grip of some inexplicable autoimmune disease. And American scientists, people like the late Charles Keeling, Wally Broecker there in the front row, Jim Hansen, Susan Solomon and Lawrence Kraus behind me, have done more than anyone to elucidate what is happening to the climate, to bring to our attention the peril in which we now find ourselves, and to show how we can best confront it. The world owes them a great debt. It turns out that what we need to do is not, as they say, rocket science. We need to build, in not much more than a generation, an energy system that is carbon neutral. That is, carbon neutral electricity, based largely on renewables and with no fossil power unless it is abated by carbon capture and storage; carbon neutral transport, off the oil hook at last; carbon neutral industry, with CCS where necessary; carbon neutral heating; and less wasteful use of energy across the whole economy. We have hardly started. But I promise you, the world is going to do this, and as we do it we will soon be celebrating a new golden age of electrification, in which we use electricity to do more things in smarter ways while moving to clean, emission-free generation. How Edison would have relished that! Some say that to do this, and to do it so fast, is impossible. But I have learned, in my journey from physics to politics, to be very discriminating, and very suspicious, when I hear the word “impossible”. It is one thing to challenge the laws of thermodynamics. At least in our neighbourhood of the Universe, they seem to set a clear and inviolable limit, part of the fabric of reality as we currently understand it. But the limits of the politically possible are quite another matter. Those limits, within the laws of thermodynamics, are what we choose to make them. When people point to them in making any case against reform and renewal, in this or any other area of policy, the first question to ask is “what is the interest of this person, who purports to know what we can and cannot do”? The next question is: “what is the public interest, the national interest?” And question three is: “where is the arc of history so we can bend it in the hope of a better day?” We are told, further, that a rush to build a low carbon economy will hit jobs and growth. It will be a self-imposed handicap in a global race against other nations that more sensibly put the bottom line first.

Well, the three countries that have so far made the greatest effort and the most progress towards an economy restructured around a low carbon growth model are Germany, China, and South Korea. Last time I looked all three were doing rather better than most in these difficult times. Yes, there are stresses. That is normal in any restructuring. But overall their aggressive approaches to carbon and to energy conservation certainly do not seem to be holding them back. Unfortunately my own country has not been doing so well. We may even be poised for the first time in our history to enter a triple dip recession. But even as the economy as a whole has been faltering, the low carbon economy in Britain has been growing at close to 4%. I grew up on Tyneside in the northeast of England. Once a crucible of heavy engineering, turning coal, steel and ships into prosperity, civic pride, and an outstanding soccer tradition, Tyneside in the 1960s and 70s was not a happy place. In some towns up to half the adult population was jobless. On a visit last Summer to see my mother, who still lives there, we took a boat down the River Tyne. We saw one of Europe’s great industrial rivers coming back to life with the rise of the low carbon economy. New supply chain installations for wind turbines destined for the North Sea. A new processing centre for shipments of biomass to be burned in converted power stations. The all-electric Nissan Leaf, soon to be made in Sunderland and shipped from the Tyne to customers around Europe. The truth is that in Britain the shift to low carbon production and consumption, far from killing jobs and growth, is one of the engines that will get our economy going again, and start spreading prosperity, including beyond the City of London finance hinterland of the southeast. I don’t know if the best way to secure our economic interests is to frame them in terms of a supply side race for competitiveness. I rather doubt it. But what is beyond question is that there is a low carbon race, and those who win that race will be the most successful - the most productive, the most nimble, the most innovative, the most resilient against price shocks, the best educated, and the best equipped to deal with the challenges we face today in a world that Tom Friedman has aptly described as “hot, flat, and crowded”. Of course, this dawn is not long broken in Britain or anywhere else. Even the frontrunners are still on the first lap. But wherever I go, I have to tell you that the US is not at the moment seen as one of those leaders. It has come to be seen as a follower and one that now lags ever further behind. Those who dispute the reality of climate change can be found everywhere, but the US is their heartland and because of them this is seen as the one great nation that has not yet made up its mind about whether it wants to act, let alone to lead. Moreover, a new narrative of abundance - a resurgent frontier narrative that draws directly from America’s foundational myths - has developed about unconventional oil and gas. Some of the best analysts, including Ray Pierrehumbert who is here tonight, have pointed out that there may turn out to be quite a gap between the reality and the expectation. But it is the expectation that is being communicated outside America. There is little accompanying signal, audible beyond these shores, of concern about

locking in a new generation of gas fired power stations unabated with CCS; crowding out investment in renewables; and putting off the electrification of the vehicle fleet. The carbon gain from displaced coal emissions, which is marginal and short-term, seems to be distracting attention from the long-term harm of transformation deferred. Some will no doubt point to the real, in some cases dramatic, progress being made in other parts of the US energy economy. Conservation in Massachusetts. Wind in Texas. Cap and trade (yes, cap and trade) and much else in California. But so far, at least as seen from outside America, none of this matches the momentum building up elsewhere. It was China that last year invested more in renewable energy deployment than any other economy, some $68 billion, up 20% on 2011. Last year, the US installed 1.8 GW of new solar photovoltaic generating capacity, equivalent to around 2 large power stations. This year, China intends to install nearly 6 times as much. Germany meanwhile has embarked on a deep restructuring of its electricity system, following the decision to phase out nuclear. There are now times, when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, when Germany is powered 100% by renewables. Yes, you heard that right. 100%. Ladies and gentlemen, the world is at an energy crossroads. The consumer economies Europe, China, Japan, Korea – are going to get out of fossil energy. Don’t confuse shortterm fluctuations with structural trends. The producers - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Canada, OPEC - see less interest in such a transformation and are working to delay it. America is both producer and consumer. But it cannot be on both sides of this fence at once. On which side of the fence - which side of history - will America choose to stand? Please understand me. I say all this not out of any sense of superiority, and certainly not as criticism. I say it as a friend of America, as someone whose life from childhood has been closely entwined with America and the stories it has told itself. I say it because I know that the only proper place for America in any global transformation is at the front making the waves, not in the slipstream at the back, and to see America as a follower makes me sad. I say it as someone who wants to see a strong, confident, reality-based America shaping the world; not an America whose destiny is being determined by others, consumed by anxiety and doubt, turning on those whose service it most needs if it is to recover its confidence and vision. I say it as an Englishman who, yes, is proud to declare that he loves America. So please do win the argument over what America should do about climate change. But don’t forget that this is one battle, a key battle, maybe the decisive battle, in a struggle with yourselves that is not about what America should do but about what it wants to be. Any victory you win on climate will be Phyrrhic unless you also prevail in the struggle to recommit your nation to the values of the Enlightenment that Americans and Europeans built together, an awakening that though in some ways incomplete is yet the greatest thing that human beings have ever accomplished. Progess, made possible by reason, informed by science. My inheritance. Your inheritance.

And I, and all your friends around the world, will be listening for the bugles as they blow at the height of this coming fray, listening and ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with the forces of a reality-based America. We will be listening for the voices that say: “don’t tell us this is impossible. Join us as we bend the arc of history.” We will be listening for the voices that say: “leadership is not about what you ask others to do. No great transformation was ever wrought by asking other people to do something. So let us now take back control of our destiny by building here in America the world’s first truly carbon neutral energy system. An energy system that really does end our dependency on foreign imports. A system whose construction, like the great projects of our past, drives innovation and renewal across our country. A system that sets the standards for the global transformation and makes American companies a force to be reckoned with as it proceeds around the world.” I don’t hear those voices yet, but I know I will. It is time for reality-based America to fight back, to take your country back. And climate change is the field on which your victory must be won. Allow me one final word. I can’t sit down tonight without paying tribute to a man who is simply one of the great scientists. Lawrence, I don’t know whether he is the godfather of global warming – I don’t want to find a horse’s head on my bed tonight – but he is certainly the undisputed King of the Carbon Cycle. I would not be here tonight, I would not have committed half my career, together with the years that hopefully remain, to this struggle, without the support and encouragement that Wally Broecker has given me from the moment I first sought him out some 15 years ago at the Santa Fe restaurant in Manhattan. Wally you are an icon of reality based America. To you and to Elizabeth I say: it fills me with pride that we are friends. John Ashton 3 February 2012 From 2006-12, John Ashton was the Special Representative for Climate Change for three successive UK Foreign Secretaries. He is a cofounder of E3G, a Fellow of the European Climate Foundation, a Distinguished Policy Fellow at Imperial College, London and a visiting professor at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. He is a Trustee of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, and of Tipping Point.

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