by Eric Worrall
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry at the Scottish Global Dialogues in Edinburgh, Scotland
JOHN KERRY, SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR CLIMATE
SCOTTISH GLOBAL DIALOGUES
AUGUST 24, 2023
Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for inviting me to share some thoughts with you today. Mark Muller Stuart, I am especially grateful for your role in making this possible, and thank you to the Signet for hosting.
First Minister Humza Yousef: thank you for your generous introduction.
And thanks to all of you for taking time away from the frolicking of the festival and for having the common sense to use the Signet Library as a refuge. I see a number of familiar faces…It’s great to be among friends, both old and new.
I was reading the lineup at the Fringe Festival: death-defying acrobats, famous actors, side-splitting comedians, clowns…It’s like being back in American politics.
It is particularly appropriate to be here in Scotland where, less than three hundred years ago, from Hutton to Hume, groundbreaking thinking contributed to the enlightenment not just of a country or continent, but of civilization itself.
It was here that James Hutton first found in the exposed rock face of Jedburgh, scientific proof visible to the naked eye of the transition from ocean bed to land, back to ocean bed, and finally evidence of the land he could see and experience and which we still treasure today.
In so doing, he may well have been the world’s first climate scientist.
The Enlightenment transformed thinking to win acceptance of the principle that science-based evidence, not vested power promulgating its own tradition, is the foundation of the laws of the universe. It won broad acceptance for the notion that any theory should be established by observation and that hypotheses should be tested against the evidence.
Hutton, David Hume and Adam Smith were not alone.
Across the sea, in 1755, an earthquake flattened Lisbon, set it aflame, and then caused a massive tsunami that swept the Tagus (TAH-Gus) River into the city, killing more than 40,000 people.
The ruling order said there was only one explanation as there had been for every earthquake or flood that preceded it: divine retribution for earthly pride and sin.
But Voltaire stood up and argued that science and evidence proved that nature’s hand, not the hand of a vengeful God, was responsible for the movement of the earth’s crusts and that if we studied the earth’s plates, we might avoid future massive loss of life. His advocacy triumphed in a principal debate of the day.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, in 2023, we again stand on the precipice where Hutton and Voltaire once stood.
Despite a vast array of empirical facts beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, despite thousands of scientists’ lifetime work accumulating hard data, and without a single piece of peer reviewed, documentation to the contrary, we are again witnessing another moment in which the persuasive force of evidence and with it, earth’s future hangs in the balance.