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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I return to the floor today to give voice once again to the issue I feel will most significantly define this generation of leadership in the United States and around the globe. I rise to discuss the notable, evident changes taking place in our Earth's climate, the relationship between our own activities and the change and the rate of change being observed, and our, so far, forsaken responsibility to address climate change head on and with purpose.
Last month, representatives from world governments, the private sector, NGOs, and other major stakeholders gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Marking the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, this year's conference was nicknamed ``Rio+20.''
So-called sustainable development principles consist of a set of principles and strategies that, when acted upon by the global community, will balance strong economic growth, expansion of just civic and government structures, and environmental protection. Another way to view sustainable development is in the balance of the needs of the present with those of future generations through the fair use of resources.
As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said:
In the 21st century, the only viable development is sustainable development. The only way to deliver lasting progress for everyone is by preserving our resources and protecting our common environment.
One positive aspect of this Rio+20 conference was discussion of the power of economic forces in promoting sustainability. The official Outcome Document adopted by the conference participants entitled ``The Future We Want'' highlights the role of private companies, the private sector--and their close collaboration with governments--in driving sustainable development. It reads in part:
We acknowledge that the implementation of sustainable development will depend on active engagement of both the public and private sectors. We recognize that the active participation of the private sector can contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, including through the important tool of public-private partnerships.
A number of Rio+20's corporate participants have stepped forward to accept this challenge. Many of those global businesses are recognizing that greening their operations is not just good for the environment, it is good for their business as well.
Dell, for example, has committed to reducing its worldwide facilities' greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2015. Dell is a computer technology corporation based in Texas that ranks 44th on the Fortune 500 and employs over 106,000 people. I doubt they made that decision rashly.
Bank of America, based in Charlotte, NC, is number 13 on the 2012 Fortune 500 list and was the first bank to offer coast-to-coast operations in the United States. They have committed $50 billion over 10 years to finance Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy and Energy Access, and other activities that advance the low-carbon economy.
Marriott has displayed both internal and external efforts by committing to build 10 Fairfield by Marriott hotels constructed to sustainable building standards; as well, pledging $500,000 to help preserve 1.4 million acres of rainforest in the Juma Reserve in the state of Amazonas, Brazil. Marriott ranks first on the Fortune 500 list in the category of the hotel-casinos-resorts industry.
Microsoft has committed to going completely carbon neutral, and will be factoring the costs of carbon output into the company's business operations in over 100 countries.
These companies are just a few examples from the effort that is being undertaken in the private sector to meet our responsibilities to address climate change. As leaders in government, we must recognize that the private sector will not, however, be able to halt climate change on its own. But these commitments do signify that action on climate change does not need to come at the expense of economic growth.
Governments can--and must--provide incentives for sustainable production and consumption. Indeed, the Rio+20 Outcome Document goes on to say: ``We support national regulatory and policy frameworks that enable business and industry to advance sustainable development initiatives taking into account the importance of corporate social responsibility.''
As leaders in the public sector, we have the capacity to establish those effective incentives that can leverage billions in private sector investment into sustainable products and services that support environmental and social improvements. The constructive role that government can play is being recognized not just in capitals around the world but in boardrooms around the world.
Yet, unfortunately, here in Washington, the special interests that deny carbon pollution causes global temperatures to rise, that deny melting icecaps destabilize our climate so that, for instance, regions face extreme drought--as the Senator from Colorado discussed earlier--or outsized precipitation events--that we have seen in my home State of Rhode Island--those special interests in Washington still have a strong hold, and they pretend the jury is still out on climate changes caused by carbon pollution. This is, to be perfectly blunt about it, an outright falsehood.
The fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere absorbs heat from the Sun was discovered at the time of the Civil War--1863. Mr. President, 1863 was when the Irish scientist John Tyndall determined that carbon dioxide and also water vapor trapped more heat in the atmosphere as their concentrations increased.
The 1955 textbook, ``Our Astonishing Atmosphere''--from the year I was born--notes that ``Nearly a century ago''--in 1955--``the scientist John Tyndall suggested that a fall in the atmospheric carbon dioxide could allow the earth to cool, whereas a rise in carbon dioxide would make it warmer.''
So this is not something new. This is not something unusual or extraordinary. This is solidly established science.
In the early 1900s, it became clear that changes in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can account for significant increases and decreases in the Earth's annual average temperatures, and that carbon dioxide, released primarily by the burning of coal, would contribute to these changes. Again, this is not new stuff. These are
well-established scientific principles.
Let's look at the changes we observe in our changing planet. Over the last 800,000 years, until very recently, the atmosphere has stayed within a bandwidth of 170 to 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide--170 to 300 parts per million. That has been the range for 8,000 centuries. By the way, that is a measurement, not a theory. Scientists measure historic carbon dioxide concentrations by locating trapped air bubbles in the ice of ancient glaciers. So we know by measurement over time what the range has been of our carbon dioxide concentration.
What else do we know? Well, we know since the Industrial Revolution, we have burned carbon-rich fuels in measurable and ever-increasing amounts, and that we are now up to 7 to 8 gigatons each year going into our atmosphere. A gigaton, by the way, is a billion--with a ``B''--metric tons. Releasing all this carbon into the atmosphere has, predictably, increased the carbon concentration in our atmosphere. That should not be a difficult proposition, that when you are dumping 7 to 8 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year, it raises the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere.
We now measure those carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. We measure them climbing. Again, this is a measurement, not a theory. The present concentration exceeds 390 parts per million. Mr. President, 8,000 centuries between 170 to 300 parts per million, and now we are out over that range, as far as 390 parts per million. In the Arctic, we have actually clipped over into 400 parts per million.
Here is what the Christian Science Monitor said about this:
The Arctic is the leading indicator in global warming, both in carbon dioxide in the air and effects, said Pieter Tans, a senior NOAA scientist.
The Arctic is our leading indicator in global warming, both in terms of the carbon dioxide concentration in the air and the effects of that carbon dioxide concentration.
``This is the first time the entire Arctic is that high,'' he said.
Tans called reaching the 400 number ``depressing,'' and [his colleague Jim] Butler--
Who is the global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, CO--
said it was ``a troubling milestone.''
``It's an important threshold,'' said Carnegie Institution ecologist Chris Field, a scientist who helps lead the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. ``It is an indication that we're in a different world.''
``It is an indication that we're in a different world.''
In this article, they make the same point I made a moment ago. I quote the article:
It's been at least 800,000 years--probably more--since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, Butler and other climate scientists said.
So another thing we do pretty regularly around here in business, in the military, in science, is plotting trajectories. It is something that, frankly, scientists, businesspeople, and military folks do every day. There is nothing new here.
When you plot the trajectory for our carbon concentration, the trajectory for our carbon pollution predicts 688 parts per million in the year 2095 and 1,097 parts per million in the year 2195. Mr. President, 688 parts per million in the year 2095, when for 8,000 centuries it has been between 170 and 300 parts per million. So 8,000 centuries at 170 to 300 parts per million, and by the end of this century: 688 parts per million.
To put that 800,000-year figure in perspective, mankind has engaged in agriculture for maybe 10,000 years, maybe a little more. Mr. President, 800,000 years ago, it is not clear we had yet figured out how to make a fire. Millions of years ago goes back into geologic time. Those carbon concentrations--688 parts per million, 1,097 parts per million--those are carbon concentrations that we have not seen in millions of years on the surface of the Earth. And we are headed for them in just a century and a half--two centuries.
As Tyndall determined at the time of the Civil War, increasing carbon concentrations will absorb more of the Sun's heat and raise global temperatures, and experience around the world is proving that is taking place in front of our faces in undeniable ways.
We think often of climate change as happening to our atmosphere, and we think of its effects on our lands because we are land-based creatures. But let me talk for a moment about our oceans.
In April of this year, a group of scientific experts came together to discuss the current state of our oceans. Their workshop report stated this:
Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the oceans and are now causing increased hypoxia.
Hypoxia is when there is not enough oxygen trapped in the ocean to sustain life of the creatures that live in the ocean.
Studies of the Earth's past indicate that these are the three symptoms--
Warming, acidification and increased hypoxia--
associated with each of previous five mass extinctions on Earth.
We experienced two mass ocean extinctions 55 million years ago and 251 million years ago. Last year, a paleobiologist at Brown University, whose name is Jessica Whiteside, published a study demonstrating that it took 8 million years after that earlier extinction--the one 251 million years ago--it took 8 million years after that for plant and animal diversity to return to preextinction levels. So that was a pretty heavy-duty wipeout if it took 8 millions years to recover.
Here is the tough part. In the lead-up to these past mass ocean extinctions, scientists have estimated that the Earth was emitting carbon into the atmosphere at a rate of 2.2 gigatons per year for the earlier extinction, and somewhere between 1 and 2 gigatons per year for the second extinction over several thousand years.
Remember how much are we releasing now--7 to 8 gigatons a year. So 2.2 and somewhere between 1 and 2 were the levels that led to those mass extinctions in geologic time, and we are now at 7 to 8 gigatons a year.
As the group of Oxford scientists noted, both of these estimates, the ones for how much was being released in those geologic times, are dwarfed in comparison to today's emission. Our oceans are indeed changing before our very eyes, and anyone who spends time on the oceans or who studies the oceans knows this. The oceans are rising. The oceans are swept by more violent storms. The oceans are getting more acid, affecting already the creatures at the bottom of the food chain, upon which ocean life depends.
It is very hard for a creature to succeed in an environment in which it is becoming soluble. That is what is happening as our oceans acidify, and the small basic creatures at the very bottom of the food chain that live by making their shells can no longer make shells successfully because the water is too acidic.
In the Arctic, we see unprecedented icemelt. The caps are shrinking. Every day it seems we hear about a new record being broken, a new loss of ice cover in the Arctic. In the tropics, we see coral dying. In some places, 80 percent of the coral is gone. I have been to places I can remember live and lively coral reefs, and now we go back and the coral is still there, but it is dead. It is like an abandoned building. Fish can swim around in it, but it is not the fountain of life that a coral reef is supposed to be.
There is a garbage gyre in the Pacific that is estimated to be larger than the size of the State of Texas in which enormous amounts of the plastics we discard are being swept and floating.
We have whales that are poisoned to the point where if they come ashore in Rhode Island on a summer day, if they are hurt or get washed ashore because they are injured, we often end up with whale cadavers in the summers on our coast. When that happens, it is reasonably likely that whale is toxic waste; that if we towed the body back out to the ocean to let it sink and let nature take its course, we would be violating our clean water laws by disposing of toxic waste. If we cranked that whale's body up into the back of a truck and took it to the town dump and chucked it, we would be violating the hazardous waste disposal laws of the State of Rhode Island because we have put so much poison into the ocean that creatures such as whales that live at the top of the food chain have now become so infiltrated with these poisons that they are now swimming toxic waste.
Around here we like to think pretty highly of ourselves. But the laws of physics, the laws of chemistry, the laws of science, these are laws of nature. These are laws of God's Earth. We can repeal some laws around here; we cannot repeal those. Senators are used to our opinions mattering around here. These laws are not affected by our opinions. For these laws of nature, because we can neither repeal them nor influence them, we bear a duty of stewardship, of responsibility to future generations to see and respond to the facts that are before our faces and to see and respond to those facts according to nature's laws.
There is no lobbyist so powerful, there is no secret special interest so wealthy that it can change the operation of those laws. What they have done is to change the operation of our laws, inhibited our ability to meet our duty to respond to the laws of our God-given Earth. We do indeed bear a duty to make the right decisions for our children and grandchildren and our God-given Earth. right now we are failing, shamefully failing, in that duty. We are deluded if we think that somehow we will be spared the plain and foreseeable consequences of our failure to act. Some may hope they will find a wizard's hat and wand with which to wish all this away. That is not rational thinking. If we have a simple obligation to our children and to future generations, it is to be rational human beings and to make rational decisions based on the evidence and the laws of nature. These laws of nature are known. Earth's message to us is clear. Our failure is blameworthy. Its consequences are profound, and the costs will be very high.
I see the distinguished Senator from Alaska who actually brought a wonderful scientist from the University of Alaska who gave one of the better presentations on ocean acidification that I have ever seen as part of our Oceans Caucus.
I yield the floor to Senator Murkowski.
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