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Hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works - Examining the Human Health Impacts of Global Warming

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Location: Washington, DC


Hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works - Examining the Human Health Impacts of Global Warming

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SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R-ID): Madame Chairman, thank you, and thank you for what you've just said. A good number of us have approached you, asking that we do a thorough examination of -- with hearings on -- Lieberman-Warner, and it is important that we do so.

Because I serve on the Forestry Committee and have chaired it over time and ranked there and spent a lot of time looking at fire, let me empathize with you and California for just a moment. The -- our fire center in Idaho has deployed all of its equipment to you. And just a moment ago I was handed a note that the evacuation number's gone up to 320,000. It is very real and very dramatic.

And I must tell you that we had one fire in Idaho this summer that was 600,000 acres. You're up to about 270(,000) or 280,000 now. There's a very real difference, though. There weren't any homes in the area.

SEN. BOXER: Right.

SEN. CRAIG: There weren't any people structures.

But let me for just a moment talk about that, because it is a part of what we ought to be understanding when we look at the holistic approach to climate change.

We burned about 2 million acres in Idaho this summer -- the worst fire season we've had in decades. Nationwide it is -- with the fires now burning in California, both in human structure loss and life loss and acreage burned, it may be worse than last year.

But Madame Chairman, here is an interesting statistic. And when Senator Feinstein and I crafted Healthy Forest, you supported it, and I appreciate that a great deal. But because of the courts today, we are ineffective in doing the kind of urban/wildland interface cleaning that we should. And in Southern California, where the scrub oak grows rapidly and the thinning and the cleaning ought to occur, it hasn't, for a lot of reasons, mostly environmental concerns by some special interest groups.

But here's an interesting statistic. If no public land fires had occurred in the United States this year, from a standpoint of carbon released into the atmosphere and greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, it would have been equivalent to taking 12,000 -- excuse me -- 12 million automobiles off the road.

Now, let's get real with ourselves. While we charge into the unknown with legitimate concern, there are some known things we ought to be doing, and one of those areas is forest health.

What happened in San Francisco on October 20th, when we talk about the need to produce clean energy -- the lights got turned off for an hour. Is that the way we're going to solve our problems in the future with energy needs, is simply turn off the lights? I think Americans have spoken pretty clearly to that, and in a communicative world which is extremely energy-intensive today, I doubt we'll be able to do that.

So for just a few moments, let me talk about four important principles that we ought to be incorporating in climate change, and I'll spend a lot more time with Lieberman-Warner in doing that.

SEN. BOXER: Well, Senator -- Senator, you have 40 seconds left. We're really going to try to get through.

SEN. CRAIG: And I will not err on the side of 40 seconds.

Let me suggest, though, that The New York Times recognized the goals of Lieberman and Warner and said that they were impossible to achieve without nuclear power. I find it interesting that the 1970s rock relics are headed to the Hill today to talk about their antinuclear musician position. I find it interesting that we can't even get over the hurdles of the '70s with the new technologies of today in our desire to make a cleaner -- create a cleaner world.

It's a combination of a lot of things happening out there, Madame Chairman. But right now in a very tragic and real way, as Idaho, during August and September contributed to huge volumes of carbon into the atmosphere, California is now contributing in an unprecedented way, and that's tragic. And we ought to be spending a lot of time looking at the broad cross-section of issues.

I ask unanimous consent that the balance of my statement be a part of the record.

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SEN. CRAIG: Madame Chairman, thank you very much.

I am not one of those who would suggest we ought to wait, because I think information is -- and knowledge is power. And let me say, Doctor, I will join with Senator Cardin in recognizing your website and the work you do.

Knowledge is power, and a lot of people don't have the knowledge to make the decisions they could make that are relatively practical, that improve health situations. For example, we all know about this new superbug, MRSA, and yet on your website, you're very practical and it probably saves lives. It's wash your hands, shower after exercise, cover skin traumas with a bandage, don't share razors, and keep surfaces clean.

We're all creatures of habit, and habits are what we respond to daily. And we don't want to change our habits unless we're forced to or unless knowledge tells us we ought to. And one of the things that you can do and you're doing is to be able to spread that practical knowledge that will change habits and normal everyday actions. So I don't think we ought to wait at all, Madame Chairman, on information and flow and understanding and sharing.

At a climate change conference in The Hague a good number of years ago, I got into an interesting debate with a professor from Bangladesh about sea rise. To him it was a very practical problem. If the sea rises at all, his country is eliminated. It doesn't exist anymore. His people would simply have to pack up and leave. An entire nation; albeit small, we know tremendously populated. A little different in the state of Maryland. Impacts, you bet. Real, you bet. But Maryland, probably, with a few feet doesn't disappear. Some of it might; but Bangladesh would. So it is a matter of perspective and it's also a matter of reality.

One of the things I find out, Madame Chairman, when we talk about energy conservation, most people don't understand how to conserve. But if they are given a practical list of things they can do as a family, as a small economic unit in a large economic unit, it's amazing the kinds of savings that can occur if there are simply one or two less trips to the supermarket every week because they organized a shopping list and went once instead of three times. Practical? Yes. Do they need to be instructed in it? In most instances, yes.

So, while we're wrestling with the bigger issues and your work sometimes can be very practical, it becomes phenomenally important and it does save lives. And I want to thank you for doing -- for the work you do.

Let me also react -- and I think that Senator Barasso touched on it. I think all of us were shocked by the numbers -- the number of deaths in Europe when that heat wave occurred. For those of us who've travelled in Europe, we find it interesting that there aren't any air conditioners.

We've grown to know that they're just in every home in America today, almost, but it's a cool area of the world and they never felt they needed them. But I've seen studies that would suggest cold, or a substantially colder temperature, would produce a good deal more deaths and is more difficult to address to than heat.

Are there any studies or have you looked at that at the CDC to make -- draw any conclusions about it?

DR. GERBERDING: I think that there has been some very excellent initial work that EPA has funded through some academic environments that are trying to understand this more clearly. And one of the interesting observations is that the effect of temperature depends on what you're used to.

SEN. CRAIG: Yeah.

DR. GERBERDING: So if you're used to living in a cold temperature, you're more tolerant of more cold but less tolerant of more heat. If you're used to living in a warmer temperature, you have a harder time with cold but you do a little bit better with extremes of heat. So our biology and our ecology really intersect in some very interesting ways there.

What we don't know yet, other than the fact that these are particular problems for the elderly, primarily because of the cardiovascular stress, we don't really know what the subpopulation issues are. So there's a great deal more that will be learned, I think, through this kind of research.

SEN. BOXER: (Sounds gavel.)

SEN. CRAIG: Thank you.

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