Former secretary of state John Kerry speaks in San Francisco on climate change, distrust of government

Manooshree Patel/Staff

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Describing himself as a “skunk at the garden party,” former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry found himself in San Francisco speaking to an older, eager crowd Thursday afternoon.

Throughout the event, Kerry heavily emphasized his concerns about climate change and the direction of the world, especially with President Donald Trump in office. The event was hosted by the Commonwealth Club at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre, and the main topic of conversation was Kerry’s new book, “Every Day Is Extra,” which published this month.

Gloria Duffy, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Club, moderated the event and asked Kerry various questions regarding his experience as a Vietnam War veteran and his role as former president Barack Obama’s secretary of state. As event attendees filed in, volunteers collected question cards from the audience and sold copies of Kerry’s book for a signing after the show.

Kerry framed the conversation almost immediately by asking the audience, “How do we get our government back?”

The politician followed this question by stating that there exists a deep disappointment in and distrust of the American government that is held by many Americans — this, according to Kerry, is what fueled citizens to support Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders as presidential candidates.

Whenever Kerry expressed disdain for Trump, the crowd often chimed in with affirmative sighs or applause. Kerry made it a point to extensively discuss climate change — he jumped into a bit of a science lesson, as he pointed out how the temperature of the oceans is changing and causing multiple hurricanes to ravage American shores.

With regard to the Paris climate agreement, Kerry explained his role in negotiating with various countries about their participation. To the audience, he repeated that each nation that signed the treaty had decided its targets for reducing emissions — his point: No nation was forced into the treaty. This is why, he said, he was particularly upset when Trump pulled out of the Paris accord with the reasoning that the United States had been forced into it.

“This is insanity,” Kerry said. “Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of (the Paris agreement) is going to cost lives.”

Despite his disdain, Kerry encouraged the audience that there are always steps that can be taken to mitigate this “existential” yet “solvable” problem. As of right now, Kerry proposes developing a climate action fund to pay for underdeveloped countries to stop using coal-powered plants.

“We’re not making choices about our future,” Kerry said. “This is the most shocking, stunning abdication of responsibility.”

Beyond climate change, Kerry spoke extensively on the democratic philosophy of the United States, asking the audience to think about what it means to be a democracy.

“I still believe very, very deeply that if you work at it, if you vote, you can make a difference. We can make our democracy work,” Kerry said. Kerry then quoted founding father Benjamin Franklin: “A republic, if you can keep it. If you can keep it, that’s the work.”

Contact Malini Ramaiyer at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @malinisramaiyer.