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Home » climate and security » Former Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz: “If You Wait Until You’re Boiling, You May Have Missed Your Moment”

Former Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz: “If You Wait Until You’re Boiling, You May Have Missed Your Moment”

C38208-20This past Friday, March 8, the Partnership for a Secure America hosted a discussion on Capitol Hill with George Shultz, former Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan and one of 38 distinguished signatories of a bi-partisan statement on climate change and security. It was a fascinating discussion, and included some great insights from the former Secretary. The recording of the event is not yet live, so we figured we would simply post some key quotes from Mr. Shultz’s remarks.

In regard to U.S. action on climate change:

“If you wait until you’re boiling, you may have missed your moment. You have to look and see what’s happening, and act on the basis of that.”

“And I think it’s essential that we apply the insurance policy – Ronald Reagan’s insurance policy concept [on addressing ozone-depletion], to our present circumstances [on addressing climate change].”

“One part of it is sustained support for energy R&D.”

“I think that you want all forms of energy to compete on a level playing field.”

“Part of the cost of energy is the carbon that is produced.”

“How can you possibly create a level playing field? By taking a step that makes all forms of energy bear not only their immediate costs of energy, but also the costs of the pollution they emit…So my proposal is to have a revenue-neutral carbon tax.”

“So I think that in the climate issue, we have to be a leader. We have to be. And when the U.S. takes a lead – take the Montreal Protocol experience – the U.S. led the science, the U.S. led the diplomacy, we located it out of this country, Montreal, so we didn’t say “look at us!” We just wanted to get it done. We had great consultation, I might say, between the Executive and Congressional branch, because as we were going along we said to our friends in Congress ‘Here’s this problem, what do you think? Here’s what we’re doing about it, what do you think?’ So when it came to be ratified, it was really not a problem. So I think we should go about it that way. We should find out, well, what can we do about this?”

In regard to the security implications of climate change:

“There are huge changes that are in the works if we don’t moderate what’s going on. Changes in heat levels. Some places can get very, very hot, and we’ve already experienced some of that. Even Vladimir Putin got out of Moscow a couple summers ago. So you’ve got that problem…”

“You’ve got – when the sea ice melts, as I was describing, that doesn’t change sea levels because the ice is in the sea anyway. But the icecap on Greenland is also melting, and that does affect sea level…If you have a rise in sea level, and then you have a [major] storm, as you do periodically, the consequences of the storm are much more severe…”

“I’m a marine, and during World War II I flew over the Pacific, and we flew over those islands, and they’re just little islands out there in the ocean…So you can create conditions that lead people to want to fight about things. If I suddenly find that I am losing all my land, I want to get somebody else’s.”

In response to a question regarding the possibility of a legally-binding global treaty that sets limits and includes an enforcement mechanism:

“We’ve done it before, why can’t we do it again? George H.W. Bush did that. Good work on conservation and the environment is in the Republican genes. We’re the guys who did it!”

In regard to climate change denial:

“I think on the global warming issue – the reason I mention the Arctic is that I respect science, but people are saying they don’t like the science and so on – so I’m saying ‘well, never mind the science, just use your eyes.’ A new ocean is being created. That’s not science, that’s just a plain observation. And if you look at the chart on the way in which the sea ice is disappearing, the most stunning thing in it is how in recent years, suddenly, there has been a shift. And the discontinuities are the thing you have to watch out for, because something may come and hit you faster than you believe because of the operation of a discontinuity.”

In response to a question about energy subsidies:

“I would wipe them out. Let everybody compete on a level playing field. Now, I don’t want to be too drastic about that…”

On sticking it to dictators:

“I drive an electric car. So, I say I‘m driving on sunshine. And it’s free. Take that Ahmadinejad!”


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