Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Moral Courage

It is a rare that one has the opportunity to be in a room with a great leader, with someone who is articulate, passionate, and willing to show both courage and emotion on the international stage. Today was such a day.

Secretary Kerry started a briefing – his last at a COP as Secretary – by graciously thanking Special Envoy Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. delegation to the COP, and all the international partners - on this, his last speech to a COP as Secretary. He talked about returning to COP23 as citizen Kerry. He told a story of Churchill and Roosevelt traveling to Marrakech during WWII -- through active combat and with plenty of scotch - to view the sunset on the Atlas Mountains. He later would quote Churchill about not just doing what is right, but what is required. And he would go on to quote Pope Francis. This was not a typical briefing.

Kerry spoke of progress - in the UNFCCC, in clean energy innovation and adoption, in the strong message that the Paris Agreement has given the private sector. But he also spoke of the work that is yet to be done, sharing dramatic observations from his recent trips to the Arctic and Antarctica along with frightening statistics of the predicted new demand for energy, especially in southeast Asia, much of which is slated to come from coal.

The Secretary chastised countries that, with one hand, pat themselves on the back for all the progress they are making, but then, with the other hand give money to support the building of new coal-fired plants in developing nations. He expressed the need for urgency and more ambitious action given the pace at which the planet is changing and gave dramatic examples of the costs of inaction.  Countries, Kerry noted, couldn't "bask in the glow of Paris." And they could not fail, as this "would not be political failure, but a moral failure."

And then the moment when the audience held its breathe - when Kerry chose to speak about the fear and uncertainty people were feeling after the U.S. election. He, of course, couldn’t predict what will happen, but noted that he could say with confidence that issues look quite different when you are in office compared to the campaign trail. He challenged the new administration and anyone who is “conflicted about which road to follow” to “see for themselves, to do their own diligence, to see why so many are moving on this.” He urged them to talk to economists about the risk of inaction, Fortunate 500 companies, military leaders, farmers, faith leaders, and young people. And he told them that “above all, consult with the scientists who have spent their lives working on this” and not let their work be in vain.

Repeatedly, Kerry said that climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but that it is one that will exacerbate conflict around the world. He urged people to talk with the intelligence community about global stability, increasing food prices and risks to human health. To talk with the mayors from cities in the southern states who are dealing with sunny day floods and to conservative business leaders who are holding their supply chains responsible for the ecological and carbon footprints.

Kerry had begun his briefing-turned-speech by saying that climate change was a personal issue for him. Many thought he was referring to how much he had worked on the international negotiations under the UNFCCC, but instead, he reflected on the first Earth Day and the teach-in he participated in, the first climate conference in Rio where he met his wife, the moment in Paris when he thought the "world had finally found the way forward" and this past April - again on Earth Day. On that day, he had invited his daughter to the United Nations in New York City where he would sign the Paris Agreement on behalf of the United States. This towering politician of international renown talked about playing with his granddaughter as he awaited his turn. In a spontaneous decision, he carried her on stage with him so that she would be part of the important moment in history and a symbol for the audience of what is at stake.

This all brought to mind this poem by Rudyard Kipling
If: A Father's Advice to His Son

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!”

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