Earth Matters: John Kerry on climate change, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and 2020 hopefuls

John Kerry: Climate change "life & death" issue

As part of our Earth Matters series on this Earth Day, "CBS This Morning" co-host Norah O'Donnell spoke with former Secretary of State John Kerry on the "CBS This Morning" podcast.

Paris Climate Agreement

As secretary of state under President Obama, Kerry was instrumental in the 2016 signing of the international Paris climate agreement. Last year, the Trump administration announced its intent to withdraw from the agreement.

"It's ideological, and frankly, it's short-sighted and it's stupid and it's dangerous," Kerry said. "President Trump's decision to pull out of Paris will cost lives, lives of Americans. It will cost billions of dollars."

In 2017, damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma cost the United States $265 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Climate experts assert we can trace the origins of some recent extreme weather to climate change.

"There are countless economic analyses that show it is cheaper to make the investments and do the things we need to do now to prevent the damage than it is to wait for the damage," Kerry said. "Everything compels us to move in this direction except we have a president who doesn't read, doesn't understand the science and has ideologically decided to side with the deniers who literally don't know what they're talking about."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal

New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Green New Deal in February as a road map to convert the entire U.S. economy to renewable energy in 12 years and eliminate the carbon footprint by 2030. She's faced criticism from Republicans, who have branded the proposal as a costly fringe policy goal, and Democrats who claim the goals are too lofty for the proposed time frame.

At a House Oversight Committee hearing on climate change and its impact on national security, Kerry said Ocasio-Cortez offered "more leadership in one day or in one week than President Trump has in his lifetime" on the topic of climate change.

"She's had the courage to stand up and put forward an aspiration and it's a generalized statement of an aspiration, not a specific piece of legislation," Kerry said. "But actually trying to achieve a completely carbon-free, alternative, renewable society by 2030 is not possible; we just can't do that yet."

Kerry said he's working with another colleague from the Obama administration, former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, on an energy proposal.

"What we're talking about…is setting a goal by 2050 – gives us 30 years, approximately – to move to a low carbon, no net-carbon society," he said. 

Crowded 2020 field of Democrats

On Wednesday, former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to enter the 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination. If he enters, the number of Democratic candidates would climb to 21. Asked about the crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls, Kerry said, "Joe is qualified and obviously should be running. I don't want to get into a commentary on everybody, but I don't think this is helpful for the Democratic Party."

He said the number of candidates could potentially hurt the eventual Democratic Party nominee.

"I don't think it has yet, but it certainly has potential to, if people start going after each other. And if there's a polarization within the party that it becomes a wound too hard to heal, we have to be careful of that. I'm hoping that won't happen. I pray it won't happen," Kerry said. 

"I think most of the candidates that I've taken note of thus far focused on important issues," he added. "I think there are a lot of good ideas being put on the table. I think they're doing a good job of promoting the thinking. But clearly, I mean, what does it mean when you wind up with a nominee who basically was narrowed down by, you know, in the teens of percentage points of support? I don't think it builds the momentum... but let's see what happens."