Kerry at the Y: How Do You Ask a Species to Be the Last Species to Die for a Mistake?

20070313kerry.jpg

Kerry in January.Photo: Getty Images

What do politicians do between elections? They write (or "write") books filled with folksy uplift and anecdotes about their imaginary friends or real-life relatives. John Kerry's new tome, This Moment on Earth: Today's New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future, co-written with his wife, Teresa, belongs to this beatific genre — with one notable exception: It makes a bold retroactive case for its author as a leading environmentalist. Not only is Kerry a bona fide earth defender, it turns out, he's always been one. "As ranking member and Chairman of the Fish and Marine subcommittee," the book's jacket copy explains, "he was able to write or rewrite laws affecting national fisheries, flood insurance, marine mammals, coral reefs, the Gulf of Mexico dead zone." (Ah, there's the Kerry we remember!) We caught the senator at the 92nd Street Y last night before his Q&A session with Charlie Rose, and we were pleased to see that the new, environmentalist Kerry is still the same Kerry we've long known and, well, not loved, but at least donated to and campaigned for and had our hearts broken by. He's still smart, still stiff, and still frustratingly incapable of rendering a simple sound bite. After the jump, we try.

Who are these New Environmentalists and how do they differ from old ones?
They are a group of people coming from improbable places, for instance, a rancher in New Mexico, who was a Bush-Cheney coordinator in 2004 and a very conservative Republican; a 67-year-old Marine; CEOs of major corporations — 3M, Dupont. There's been an awakening on the grassroots level that can be marshaled into real action, with everyday Americans, regardless of political persuasion, all connected through this.

So, what you're saying is that environment's no longer a partisan issue?
Well, it depends on the attitude of people running, because the Republicans — I shouldn't say all Republicans — most Republicans in Washington — have embraced a do-nothing attitude about the environment, but, for example, one of my co-sponsors on the bill [to amend the Clean Air Act to address global warming] was Olympia Snowe, a Republican …