John Kerry launches star-studded climate coalition

World War Zero, John Kerry’s climate-change initiative, features members of both parties.
World War Zero, John Kerry’s climate-change initiative, features members of both parties.Erin Clark for The Boston Globe/File

WASHINGTON — Leaders of nations across the globe are failing to adequately address global warming, imperiling the future of their citizens, said former secretary of state John Kerry on Sunday in announcing his formation of a bipartisan coalition to push for immediate policy changes.

“There are great efforts out there; many environmental groups, young people, particularly, but no country is getting the job done,’’ said the former senator from Massachusetts on NBC’s “Meet the Press’’ with Chuck Todd. “I mean, the simple reality is that we are way behind, way behind the eight ball. Things are getting worse, not better.’’

The name of the coalition, World War Zero, is supposed to evoke both the national security threat posed by the Earth’s warming and the type of wartime mobilization that Kerry argued would be needed to stop the rise in carbon emissions before 2050. The star-studded group is supposed to win over those skeptical of the policies that would be needed to accomplish that.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are part of the effort. Moderate Republican lawmakers such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, and John Kasich, the former governor of Ohio, are on the list. Stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, Sting, and Ashton Kutcher round out the roster of more than 60 founding members. Their goal is to hold more than 10 million “climate conversations” in the coming year with Americans across the political spectrum.


Schwarzenegger joined Kerry on the talk show Sunday. He cited California’s growing economy even with some of the strictest environmental laws in the United States.

“It just shows to you the power that we have by going green and the kind of jobs we created,” Schwarzenegger said. “And I think that’s what we want to do: We want the whole United States to go in that direction, the whole world to go in that direction.”


With a starting budget of $500,000, Kerry said, he and other coalition members intend to hold town meetings across the country starting in January. Members will head to battleground states key to the 2020 election but also to military bases where climate discussions are rare and to economically depressed areas that members say could benefit from clean-energy jobs.

“We’re going to do the things we need to do. We’re going to organize. We’re going to mobilize. We’re going to talk to literally millions of Americans over the course of the next months and this is going to become a primary issue,” said Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004.

The launch of the new group comes as diplomats gather in Madrid on Monday for global climate negotiations aimed at strengthening the 2015 Paris Agreement, from which President Trump has vowed to withdraw next year. Earlier this week the United Nations found that the world’s richest countries, responsible for emitting more than three-fourths of planet-warming pollution, are not doing enough to keep Earth’s temperature from rising to dangerously high levels. Net carbon emissions from the two largest polluters, the United States and China, are expanding.

Sarah Matthews, a spokeswoman for Trump’s reelection campaign, said in a statement that the administration “continues to advance realistic solutions to reduce emissions while unleashing American energy like never before.” Asked to comment on the new bipartisan group, she also criticized efforts to force the United States to cut emissions, arguing “the largest emitters like China and India won’t do the same.”


Kerry said that although individual members might personally promote specific climate policy proposals, like a tax on carbon dioxide pollution, or the Green New Deal, the coalition is not aimed at promoting any particular plan.

“We’re not going to be divided going down a rabbit hole for one plan or another,” he told The New York Times.

The Green New Deal envisions addressing climate change and income inequality in tandem, with a federal job guarantee and federal mandates like ensuring the country’s power and electricity systems run entirely on renewable energy by 2030. The Sunrise Movement, a climate activist group that promotes the Green New Deal, has been critical of global warming efforts that do not embrace that vision, but its leaders held their fire on Kerry’s group.

Kasich said in an interview with The New York Times that he believed in finding a consensus among Americans to tackle climate change, and saw a solution in both putting a price on carbon and increasing the research, development, and deployment of renewable energy. He also said natural gas would continue to play a part, especially gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which has brought jobs to his state.

“If I’ve got to sign up to be an anti-fracker, count me out,” Kasich said.

Katie Eder, founder of The Future Coalition, a network for youth-led organizations that helped organize climate strikes around the country in September, supports the Green New Deal and is a member of Kerry’s coalition. She said people who cared about climate change needed to look past their differences.


“While I may be disagreeing with some of the things that other folks involved in World War Zero believe, that doesn’t mean we can’t work together,” she said. “Collaboration is our key to survival.”

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.