Carter: ‘Nutcase’ deniers hamper climate efforts
ASPEN — Climate change was hardly on Jimmy Carter’s radar when he served as president in the late 1970s.
But it’s a major concern for him now, and so is the political obstacle climate-change deniers pose in responding to it.
“I would say the biggest handicap we have right now is some nutcases in our country who don’t believe in global warming,” Carter said Tuesday at AREDAY, or American Renewable Energy Day.
He predicted that such opposition will wane in just a matter of several years, however, in the face of ever-increasing evidence that climate change is occurring — from the melting of glaciers in Bolivia, to seawater rising up in storm drains in Virginia.
That evidence will put political pressure on politicians who continue to be holdouts, he said.
Carter also is hopeful that eventually the United States and China will agree on measures to address climate change.
“If they agree on anything, no matter what it is, the rest of the world will go along with it,” he said.
For now, Carter said, it’s the rest of the world, China included, that’s doing the leading on the issue.
“I think the United States is now the laggard in almost the entire industrial world in dealing with global warming,” he said.
Carter, 89, is on a book tour for “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.”
“This is the most important book I’ve ever written and it’s my 28th book,” he said Tuesday.
And while he touched on the issues raised in the book, in keeping with the event’s theme, much of his time was spent on energy- and environment-related topics. The American Renewable Energy Institute also presented him and his wife Rosalynn with a Lifetime Achievement Award for their efforts in that regard.
In introducing Carter, historian Douglas Brinkley described him as a conservationist president equaled only by Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt, an outdoorsman whose actions ranged from protecting large swaths of Alaska, to putting controls on strip-mining, to installing solar panels at the White House. Brinkley said that while the latter action drew some ridicule at the time (President Reagan had the panels removed), it “now looks prescient.”
Carter said the first his administration ever heard about climate change was in 1979. The focus during his time in office was reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil through conservation measures such as boosting the efficiency of buildings and appliances, and through pursuit of renewables.
Today the United States ranks at about the bottom in terms of renewable energy, at just 10 percent of its energy portfolio, he said, and it has no plan for responding to climate change. He said a nation that wants to be a true superpower must lead not just militarily and economically, but in areas such as climate change, human rights and advocating for peace.
He believes a carbon tax is the only reasonable approach to the climate change problem, and said China already is moving toward what effectively is such a tax. China is being driven on climate change by its own citizens because of the air-pollution and other energy-related impacts they suffer, Carter said.
Carter said President Obama hasn’t sought out his advice on climate change. And he said he was disappointed by Obama’s “wait-and-see” approach and lack of action during the first several years of his presidency.
“But lately I think he’s doing the best he can,” he said.
He pointed to measures to boost fuel-efficiency standards in vehicles, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximizing its use of existing law to take measures resulting in changes such as a shift by power companies away from use of coal.
On the issue of women’s rights, Carter listed a litany of concerns, from the prevalence of female genital mutilation and of parents’ killing of female newborns in some countries abroad, to domestic sex trafficking, and sexual abuse on U.S. campuses and in the military.
“You see that it’s not only in other countries but our country as well,” he said.
As for the religious impacts on the rights of women, Carter said Jesus was a strong women’s rights supporter and the Koran also is progressive in that regard, but individual verses from the Bible and Koran have been used to repress women.
With half the world’s population being female, repression, in areas such as education, hurts populations as a whole, Carter said.
But he foresees a groundswell inevitably leading to enhanced women’s rights in coming years, helped along in part by the more equal status women are achieving in areas such as the military.