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John Kerry Marches On

November 15, 2007

Like Al Gore, John Kerry positively thrives the further he gets from the White House—or, the further he gets from the White House press corps. Like Gore in 2000, Kerry was written off by national political writers as a viable contender in the Democratic presidential primaries. Yet out on the campaign trail, he won the Democratic mantle—only to disappear into the black hole the national news media reserves for political has-beens, after he narrowly lost to the incumbent.

But, like Gore’s born again civic activism that won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Kerry keeps popping back up. Among the new crop of books in supermarket displays of best sellers, potboilers, bodice rippers and celebrity-worshipping is “This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future” by John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry. Judging by the ground covered in this save-the-Earth book, published earlier this year by Public Affairs, Kerry didn’t spend much time moping after losing the election for leader of the Free World.

“We were inspired to write this book during the 2004 presidential campaign,” Senator Kerry and his wife, Teresa, write in the introduction. “In community after community, state after state, we encountered Americans who were concerned about the environment and hopeful that together we could reverse our downward course. This book is a reflection of that grassroots enthusiasm as well as our own long-term commitment to these issues.”

That commitment is lauded by none other than Al Gore, in a collegial book jacket endorsement: “Both John and Teresa have been long time leaders in the battle to save the Earth’s environment. Way back when it was not at all fashionable, indeed when very few people in the world were even paying attention to it, both John and Teresa were providing outstanding and courageous leadership.”

The Kerrys write about their shared interests in environmental issues and about activists whose work they admire. Their book describes a very different perspective than the political news junkies’ caricature of a politician widely derided for “flip-flopping” on major issues, such as the war in Iraq. Before he became the spokesman and political punching bag for Vietnam Veterans Against the War—that’s when he went from waging a war to protesting it, circa 1971—Kerry helped organize students in Massachusetts to participate in the first Earth Day celebration in 1970. His interest in environmental issues led him to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where he met Teresa, who was a delegate of the first President Bush’s. The enviro-issue they championed was riding high politically—the US Senate unanimously approved the Rio-inspired treaty on climate change, which was ratified by 188 other countries.

Then the climate radically changed in Washington. The Kerrys lay out what happened on the environmental front under the second Bush administration and what citizen groups across the country are doing to counteract destructive federal policies that fuel the smoke stacks spewing acid rain, turn fishing streams into sewers for factory farming and ancient mountains into slag heaps for open-pit coal mining, among other assaults on what remains of America’s natural heritage.

Among the activists whose work they highlight are Rick Dove, a retired Marine colonel and commercial fisherman who became the Riverkeeper of the Neuse River in North Carolina after a massive fish kill occurred in the wake of humongous hog farms going into production upstream; Ellen Parker and other members of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, who pressed for studies to find out why breast cancer rates were higher on Cape Cod than in the rest of the state; and Majora Carter, who founded Sustainable South Bronx, which runs programs to train local residents of her New York City neighborhood in “green collar” skills, such as remediation of contaminated former factory sites.

Among positive grassroots developments, Teresa Heinz writes, is the transformation of Pittsburgh from sulfur-belching factory town to one of “the ‘greenest’ cities in the nation.” With a kick-start by the Heinz Foundations, which she heads, a forest of green-design buildings and a beehive of environmental research centers have replaced rust-belt ruins of the long-defunct steel industry.

The book includes an energy savings and greenhouse gas-reduction plan that Kerry is promoting in Congress with Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. It includes suggestions for what ordinary folks can do—from buying compact fluorescent light bulbs to reducing cruising in gas-guzzling cars. “We cannot win the war on terror and get serious about global climate change and energy security,” Kerry argues, “if we do not take bold steps to actually break our oil addiction.”

“Americans have made great issues the centerpiece of our national life before—civil rights, human rights, nuclear war. Each of those at one moment became the lens through which we looked at the world,” the Kerrys note, urging readers to join the now mushrooming green campaign. “Together we can make this moment on Earth the moment when we all decided to not just talk about the planet, but to save it.”

For more information: www.thismomentonearth.com.

Selected Works

Poetry
A tonic spray of poetry, verses that a Vietnam war veteran lives by.
Prose
A pragmatic, common-sense handbook for civic action at the community and international levels.