Kerry Compares Climate-Change Advocacy to Gandhi, Churchill, Mandela, King, Lincoln

Speaking to the Atlantic Council at a climate change forum today, Secretary of State John Kerry compared climate-change advocacy to President Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr.

"For decades now, the science has been screaming at us, warning us, trying to compel us to act," Kerry said in the lengthy address.

He urged critics to "stop for a minute and just think about the basics."

"When an apple falls from a tree, it will drop toward the ground. We know that because of the basic laws of physics. Science tells us that gravity exists. And no one disputes that. Science also tells us when water temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it turns to ice. No one disputes that," he said. "So when science tells us that our climate is changing and human beings are largely causing that change, by what right do people stand up and just say, well, I dispute that. Or I deny that elementary truth."

"...Future generations will judge our effort, not just as a policy failure, but as a collective, moral failure of historic consequence. And they will want to know how world leaders could possibly have been so blind, or so ignorant, or so ideological, or so dysfunctional, and, frankly, so stubborn that we failed to act on knowledge that was confirmed by so many scientists in so many studies over such a long period of time and documented by so much evidence."

Kerry said to properly combat climate change "we need leaders with the political courage to make the tough but necessary policy choices that will help us all find the right path."

"And I am pleased to say and proud to serve with a president who has accepted that challenge, who has taken this head on," he added.

To those skeptical of shaping energy policy around climate change fears, Kerry said there's no reason to not do so.

"Suppose, stretching your imaginations, as it will have to be, that somehow those 97 percent of studies that I just talked about, suppose that somehow they were wrong about climate change in the end. Hard to understand after 20 years of 97 percent, but imagine it. I just want you to imagine it," he said. "What are the consequences we would face for taking the actions that we're talking about? And based on the notion that those might be correct, I'll tell you what the consequences are. You'll create an extraordinary number of jobs. You'll kick our economies into gear all around the world, because we'll be taking advantage of one of the biggest business opportunities the world has ever known."

"We'll have healthier people.... We'll have a more secure world because it'll be far easier for countries to attain the long-lasting energy independence and security they thrive -- they need to thrive and not be blackmailed by another nation, cut off, their economy turned into turmoil because they can't have the independence they need and the guarantees of energy supply," Kerry continued.

"We will live up, in the course of all of that, to our moral responsibility to leave the Planet Earth in better condition than we were handed it, to live up to even Scripture which calls on us to protect Planet Earth."

And the other side of the coin, if energy policies geared toward climate change aren't enacted?

"The answer to that is pretty straightforward: Utter catastrophe," Kerry warned. "Life as we know it on Earth."

Then he compared his climate change advocacy to others who took "certain kinds of risks in the course of public affairs and life."

"My heroes are people who dared to take on great challenges without knowing for certain what the outcome would be. Lincoln took risks, Gandhi took risks, Churchill took risks, Dr. King took risks, Mandela took risks," he said. "But that doesn't mean that every risk-taker is a role model. It's one thing to risk a career or a life on behalf of a principle or to save or liberate a population. It's quite another to wager the well-being of generations and life itself simply to continue satisfying the appetites of the present or to insist on a course of inaction long after all the available evidence has pointed to the folly of that path."

"Gambling with the future of Earth itself when we know full-well what the outcome would be is beyond reckless; it is just plain immoral, and it is a risk that no one should take. And we need to face reality: There is no Planet B."