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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, 20 years ago this month, a Republican President of the United States helped bring together all of the world's largest economies in Rio, in Brazil, to confront the issue of global climate change. The President was unequivocal about the mission. George Herbert Walker Bush said simply:
The United States fully intends to be the world's preeminent leader in protecting the global environment. We have been that for many years. We will remain so. We believe that environment and development ..... can and should go hand in hand. A growing economy creates the resources necessary for environmental protection, and environmental protection makes growth sustainable over the long term.
When he was asked about his own target for subsequent meetings of the global stakeholders, President Bush could not have been more clear. He said the United States ``will be there with specific plans, prepared to share, but more important, that others who have signed these documents ought to have specific plans. So I think this is a leadership role. We are challenging them to come forward. We will be there. I think the Third World and others are entitled to know that the commitments made are going to be commitments kept.''
That was the President of the United States speaking on behalf of our Nation and indeed the aspirations of the world 20 years ago. How dramatic and sad it is that 20 years later, shockingly we find ourselves in a strange and dangerous place on this issue, a place this former President probably would not even recognize.
Thomas Paine actually described today's situation very well. As America fought for its independence, he said: ``It is an affront to treat falsehood with complaisance.'' Yet when it comes to the challenge of climate change, the falsehood of today's naysayers is only matched by the complacency indifference of our political system.
It is well past time that we actually heed Thomas Paine's admonition and reaffirm the commitment first made by President George Herbert Walker Bush. As a matter of conscience and common sense, we should fight today's insidious conspiracy of silence on climate change, a silence that empowers misinformation and mythology to grow where science and truth should prevail.
It is a conspiracy that has not just installed but demonized any constructive effort to put America in a position to lead the world on this issue, as President Bush promised we would, and as Americans have a right to expect we will.
The danger we face could not be more real. In the United States, a calculated campaign of disinformation has steadily beaten back the consensus momentum for action on climate change and replaced it with timidity by proponents in the face of millions of dollars of phony, contrived talking points, illogical and wholly unscientific propositions, and a general scorn for the truth wrapped in false threats about job loss and tax increases.
Yet today the naysayers escape all accountability to the truth. The media hardly murmurs when a candidate for President of the United States, in 2012, can walk away from previously held positions and blithely announce that the evidence is not yet there about the impact of greenhouse gasses on climate.
The truth is scientists have known since the 1800s that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses trap heat in our atmosphere. With the right amount of those gasses, the Earth is a hospitable place for us to live. It is, indeed, the greenhouse effect that makes life possible on Earth. But if too much is added, which is what we are doing now at a record pace, temperatures inevitably rise to record-breaking levels. It is not rocket science.
Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real. It is nothing less than shocking when people in a position of authority can just stand up and say, without documentation, without accepted scientific research, without peer-reviewed analysis, just stand up and say: Oh, there is not enough evidence, and they say it because it suits their political purposes to serve some interest that does not want to change the status quo.
Facts that beg for an unprecedented public response are met with unsubstantiated, even totally contradicted denial. Those who deny the facts have never, ever met their de minimus responsibility to provide some scientific answer to what, if not human behavior, is causing the increase in greenhouse gas particulates and how, if not by curbing greenhouse gases, we will address this crisis.
In fact, when one measures the effect of taking action versus not taking action, the naysayers' case is even more confounding. Just think about it. If the proponents of action were somehow incorrect, contrary to all that science declares, but, nevertheless, if they were incorrect and we proceeded to reduce carbon and other gases released in the atmosphere, what is the worst that would happen?
Well, under that scenario the worst would be more jobs as we move to the new energy economy, the opening of a whole new $6 trillion energy market with a more sustainable policy, a healthier population because of cleaner air and reduced pollution, reduced expenditures on health care because of environmentally induced disease, an improved outlook for the oceans and the ecosystems that are affected by pollution falling to the Earth and into the sea, and surely greater security for the United States because of less dependence on foreign sources of energy and a stronger economy. That is the worst that would occur if the proponents were wrong.
But what if the naysayers are, in fact, wrong, as all the science says they are? What if because of their ignorance we fail to take the action we should? What is the worst then? The worst then is sheer, utter disaster for the planet and for all who inhabit it. So whose ``worst'' would most thinking people rather endure?
The level of dissembling--of outright falsifying of information, of greedy appeal to fear tactics that has stalled meaningful action now for 20 years--is hard to wrap one's mind around. It is so far removed from legitimate analysis that it confounds for its devilishly simple appeal to the lowest common denominator of disinformation. In the face of a massive and growing body of scientific evidence that says catastrophic climate change is knocking at our door, the naysayers just happily tell us: Climate change does not exist.
In the face of melting glaciers and ice caps in the Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctica, they say we need to ``warm up to the truth.'' And in the face of animals disappearing at alarming rates, species being destroyed, they would have us adopt an ostrich policy and just bury our heads in the sand and pretend it can go away.
Just last week, a group of State senators in North Carolina passed a bill that bans planning for rising sea levels when creating rules for housing developments and infrastructure in coastal communities. Jeffress Williams is the lead author of the U.S. National Climate Assessment Report. Ask him what he thinks about his legislation, and he will tell you it is ``not based on sound science.'' That is an understatement. But somehow the State senators who voted for this bill know better.
Al Gore spoke of the ``assault on reason.'' Well, exhibit A is staring us in the face: coalitions of politicians and special interests that peddle science fiction over scientific fact, a paid-for, multimillion-dollar effort that twists and turns the evidence until it is gnarled beyond recognition, and tidal waves of cash that back a status quo of recklessness and inaction over responsibility and change.
In short, we are living through a story of disgraceful denial, backpedaling, and delay that has brought us perilously close to a climate change catastrophe.
Nothing underscores this Orwellian twist of logic more than the facts surrounding the now well negatively branded cap and trade program. Cap and trade was a Republican-inspired idea during the debate over ozone and the Montreal Protocol in the 1980s. It was actually inspired by
conservatives looking for the least command and control, the least government-regulated way to meet pollution standards. It was implemented and it worked, and it is still working. But, lo and behold, when the strategists for the political right decided to make it a target because Democrats were leading the charge to address climate change, suddenly this free market mechanism was transformed into ``cap and tax'' and ``job killing tax.'' And guess who. Coal. Coal, the leading carbon polluter was leading the funding for those efforts. What is worse, we have all stood by and let it happen. We have treated falsehood with complacence and allowed a conspiracy of silence on climate change to infiltrate our politics. Believe me, we have had our chances to act in these last years. But every time we get close to achieving something big for our country, small-minded appeals to the politics of the moment block the way.
The conspiracy of silence that now characterizes Washington's handling of the climate issue is, in fact, dangerous. Climate change is one of two or three of the most serious threats that our country now faces, if not, in some people's minds, the most serious. The silence that has enveloped the once robust debate is staggering for its irresponsibility. The cost of inaction gets more and more expensive the longer we wait, and the longer we wait, the less likely we are to avoid the worst and to leave future generations with a sustainable planet.
In many cases what we are talking about is vast sums of money funneled into gas-guzzling industries and coal-fired powerplants. We are talking about pollution--pollution on a wide scale, the kind of dirty, thick suffocating smog that poisons our rivers, advances chronic disease like asthma, lung cancer, and creates billions in hospital costs and lost economic opportunity. It is the same pollution that Rachel Carson warned us about in ``Silent Spring'' when she said:
Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?
Well, today we do live in a world where there is an absurdity in the air, and it has complacence written all over it. Fish are dying in water polluted with pesticides. Roadless forests are being threatened by indiscriminate drilling. Industrial chemicals are sweeping into all of us. Young children are born with a burden of chemicals unprecedented in their amount. The burning of fossil fuels has overloaded our ecosystems with nitrogen and ravaged our plant life.
Just go out and look at the forests and look at the change in the topography of our country. Bottom line: We have substituted fantasy for reason, sheer whimsy for proven epidemiology, and it is wreaking havoc on our environment. You do not have to take my word for it. I am confident a lot of our colleagues will not. But you can see it across the planet with your eyes. Ice caps are melting; seas are rising; deserts are expanding; storms are more frequent, more violent, more destructive; pollution, famine, natural disasters, killing millions of people every year.
These are changes that many experts thought were still years down the line, but climate change is now radically altering our planet at a rate much faster than the scientists or even the pessimists expected.
All you need to do is look out your window. We just had the warmest March on record for the contiguous United States. The naysayers will tell us that one hot year does not prove global warming. But just look at this chart which charts the acceleration of warming in the United States after 1970. This is not an anomaly. It is a giant step in the wrong direction, and 2010 was the hottest year on record. The last decade was the hottest decade since we have started recording the weather. April, May, and June of this year are already continuing the trend.
For the first time in memory, the Augusta National azaleas bloomed and wilted before the first golfers teed off at this year's Masters. At the Boston Marathon, temperatures hit 89 degrees in April, more than 30 degrees higher than the average. People talk about official jackets and gloves and coffee? Who are you kidding? They are talking about hats and sunscreen and Gatorade and medical tents that were filled with heat-exhausted runners starting at mile 10 of the 26-mile course from Hopkinton into Boston.
I have been working to connect the dots on this issue for a long time. In 1988, 24 years ago, on an already hot June day, Al Gore and I took part in the first hearings on climate change in the Senate with Jim Hansen, who testified then that the threat was real, that climate change was already happening in our country--24 years ago.
Four years later, we joined a delegation of Senators to attend the first Earth Summit in Rio, where we worked with 171 other nations to put into place a voluntary framework on climate change and greenhouse gas reductions. Back in 1992, we all came together for a simple reason: We accepted the science.
President George H.W. Bush personally traveled to the climate change talks in Rio to help plant the seeds of this new beginning. We knew the road ahead would be long, but we also knew this was a watershed moment; that it created the grassroots momentum that made people sit up and start to listen and understand the damage we were doing to the environment. Sit up and listen they did. The principles that came out of Rio transformed into a mandatory requirement under the Kyoto Protocol. Each of the developed nations accepted its own target goal. The European Union reduction would be 8 percent and Japan's would be 6 percent and so on. We were thinking big back then, and our goal was to reach a total decrease in global emissions of 5.2 percent below the 1990 levels and reach it by 2010.
Well, 2010 has come and gone and so, too, have the targets. We all know the story: Global political leadership was distracted or absent. International negotiations in Buenos Aires and The Hague turned tense. The less-developed nations saw the targets and timetables for greenhouse gas reductions as a Western market conspiracy. Then there were trumped up, industry-funded so-called studies that challenged the scientific assertions for climate change scenarios.
Looking back, it is not hard to understand why the final agreement got sidetracked in the Senate. After all, the developing countries were excluded from the treaty's reduction targets, even though it had already become clear by then that China and India were significant enough as industrial powers that to exempt them entirely would be a mistake. Nations left out were deemed capable of undoing all the reductions that would have been achieved by the developed nations.
It is no wonder people were reluctant, no wonder American companies were understandably reluctant to put themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Many in Congress had not yet digested the science of climate change, even though we knew climate scientists were already studying the phenomenon of greenhouse gases.
The question is not whether the Kyoto treaty had flaws; the question is whether we got the fundamentals right. I believe the evidence is overwhelming, beyond any reasonable doubt, that we did. As I remind my colleagues, the view from 2012 is a whole lot different from 1992. Countries such as China, South Africa, Brazil, and South Korea have now made far-reaching choices to reshape their economies and move forward in a new and very different global area. Take China. China is already outspending the United States three to one on public clean energy projects. In the last year alone, China accounted for almost one-fifth of the renewable energy investments, with the United States and Germany trailing behind. Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy, said it best:
For centuries, America has led the world in innovation. Today, that leadership is at risk.
Our indifference to climate change is putting America's economy and leadership, with respect to economics and the future of energy policy, at risk. So the United States is now the laggard. We are missing out on achieving sustained economic growth by securing enduring competitive advantage through innovation. The facts speak for themselves. Today's energy economy is a $6 trillion market, with 4 billion users worldwide, growing to 9 billion in the next 40 years. By comparison, the market that made people so wealthy in 1990s in America and created 23 million new jobs and lifted everybody was a $1 trillion market with only 1 billion users. This is $6 trillion with 4 billion users today.
The fact is it is projected to grow to a $2.3 trillion market in the year 2020. America needs to get into this. We need to get our skin in the game or we are going to miss the market of the future--if not miss the future itself. We would be delusional to believe China, given the evidence, or any of our other competitors are going to sit on the sidelines and let this market opportunity fall through the cracks. They are not doing it now and they will not do it in the future. Only the United States is sitting there with an indifference toward these alternatives and the renewable possibilities.
I realize some will argue we cannot afford to address climate change in these tough economic times. Frankly, nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing could be more self-defeating. We will recover from this slowdown. When we do, we need to emerge as the world leader in the new energy economy. That will be a crucial part of restoring America as a nation in a way that honors the hard work and innovation and measures prosperity in those terms.
Anyone who worries whether this is the right moment to tackle climate change should understand we can't afford not to do this now at the risk of our economic future. It is now that the most critical trends and facts actually all point in the wrong direction. The CO
2 emissions that caused climate change grew at a rate four times faster in the first decade of this new century than in the 1990s.
Several years ago, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a series of projections for global initiatives. Based on the likely projections of energy and land-use patterns, today our emissions have actually moved beyond--this chart shows the emissions are going up from the 1960s all the way through to 2010. Today, we have moved beyond the worst-case scenarios that were predicted by all the modeling that was done by the IPCC. Meanwhile, our oceans and forests, which act as the natural repositories of CO
2, are losing their ability to absorb more carbon dioxide. This means the effects of climate change are being felt even more powerfully than expected, faster than was expected.
The plain fact is there isn't a nation on the planet that has escaped the steady onslaught of climate change. When the desert is creeping into east Africa and ever more scarce resources push farmers and herders into deadly conflict, that is a matter of shared security for all of us. When the people of the Maldives are forced to abandon a place they have called home for hundreds of years, it is a stain on our collective conscience and a moral challenge to each of us. When our own grandchildren risk growing up in a world we can't recognize and don't want to, in the long shadow of a global failure to cooperate, then, clearly, urgently, profoundly, we need to do better.
Frankly, those who look for any excuse to continue challenging the science have a fundamental responsibility they have never fulfilled: Prove us wrong or stand down. Show with some science how this theory, in fact, is not being borne out. Prove that the pollution we put into the atmosphere is not having the harmful effects we know it is and that the science says it is. Tell us where the gases go and what they do if they don't do what the scientists are telling us they do. Pony up one single cogent, legitimate, scholarly analysis. Prove that the ocean isn't actually rising. Prove that the icecaps aren't melting or that deserts aren't expanding. Prove, above all, that human beings don't have anything to do with it.
I will tell you here right now, they cannot do it. They have not done it and they can't do it. There are over 6,000 peer-reviewed articles, all of which document clearly, irrefutably the ways in which mankind is contributing to this problem. Sure, we know the naysayers have their bought studies that don't stand up to scientific review and a few scientists who trade in doubt and misdirection about things such as Sun spots and clouds. But there is not a single credible scientist who can argue and withstand the peer review that climate change isn't happening.
In fact, even the naysayers are starting to come around, in their judgment. Just this year, a well-known climate skeptic, Dr. Richard Mueller, released a series of reports that were funded in part by the Koch brothers. Dr. Mueller thought his results were going to show something different than all the other climate studies, and what he found was not what the Koch brothers sent him looking for. Here is what Dr. Mueller, in his own words, said:
You should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer.
Bottom line: His studies found exactly what all the other credible climate studies have been telling us for decades--that global warming is real.
If we just step out and look around for a moment, we can see the effects everywhere: floods, droughts, pathogens, disease, species and habitat loss, sea level rise, storm surges that threaten our cities and coastlines. No continent is escaping unscathed: increasing ground instability in permafrost regions, increasing avalanches in mountainous zones, warmer and drier conditions in the Sahelian region of Africa leading to a shorter growing season, and coral bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef. All these are attributed to this change in climate.
I wish to take a moment to bear down on the science, the cold, hard, stubborn facts that ought to guide us in addressing this challenge. It is detailed, to some degree, but it is the very detail that detractors can never address or refute. It is important to see the detail in its cumulative force. Unlike the naysayers, I am going to give point by point to some of the falsehoods and lay out a summary of the critical evidence that ought to lead America and the world to action.
Here is what the science is telling us: Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased by nearly 40 percent in the industrial era, from 280 parts per million to over 393 parts per million in the atmosphere. Before long, we are likely to see a global average of concentration at 400 parts per million and more. Within the last few months, monitoring stations in the Arctic region, for the first time, reported average concentrations of CO
2 at 400 parts per million. Because of the remote nature of those monitors, they generally reflect long-term trends as opposed to marginal fluctuations in direct emissions near population centers.
As atmospheric scientist Pieter Tans, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration points out:
The northern sites in our monitoring network tell us what is coming soon to the globe as a whole. ..... We will likely see global average CO
2 concentrations reach 400 ppm about 2016 [4 years from now].
Why is this important? This is important because scientists have told us that anything above 450 parts per million--a warming of 2 degrees Celsius--could lead to severe, widespread, and irreversible harm to human life on this planet. When concentrations of other greenhouse gases, such as methane and black carbon, are factored into the equation, the analysis suggests that stabilizing concentrations around 400 parts per million of equivalent carbon dioxide would give us about an 80-percent chance of avoiding a 2-degree Fahrenheit increase above the present average global temperatures.
Considering what a 2-degree Fahrenheit increase would mean, scientists obviously are urging us not to take the risk. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has done the math. His analysis shows that we need to be shooting for a stabilization level of 350 parts per million in order to increase our chances of avoiding the 2-degree Fahrenheit increase. We have already exceeded that. So we are going to have to find a way to actually go backward in order to be able to prevent what scientists are telling us could create huge damage.
Even if we slam on the brakes now, science tells us we could be headed for a global temperature increase of 2 to 4 degrees by the century's end and greater warming after that. Let me share what some of the ``postcards from the edge,'' if you will, look like when you examine what is happening to our air, our health, and our environment. Warming temperatures, first of all. The first 10 years of this century were the warmest decade on record.
And 2010 was tied with 2005 as the hottest year ever recorded. NOAA has reported that 2011 was the second warmest summer on record, just .1 degrees Fahrenheit below the 1936 record, and the U.S. Climate Extreme Index--a measure of the area of the country experiencing extreme conditions--was nearly four times the average.
Last year many Northeastern States experienced their wettest summers, especially those States caught in Hurricane Irene's destructive path. Meanwhile, persistent heat and below-average precipitation across the Southern United States created recordbreaking droughts in Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, and these were of greater intensity than the 1930s famous Dust Bowl. Texas endured the country's hottest summer ever recorded for any State, at an average temperature of 86.8 degrees.
What is shocking is that the evidence of the rate of this transformation is happening faster and to a greater degree than the scientists predicted. So one would think reasonable people would say: Wait a minute, they predicted this, but we are getting this way up here, and everyone would sort of stop and take stock of what is happening.
According to the new climate report from NOAA, the lower 48 States elbowed their way into the record books this spring with ``the warmest March, third warmest April, second warmest May ..... the first time that all three months during the spring season ranked among the 10 warmest since records began in 1895.'' In fact, the average temperature this spring was so far off the charts that the lower 48 States beat out the old 1910 record by a full 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
Inland, worsening conditions are going to create persistent drought in the Southwest and significantly increase western wildlife burn area. That is critical. We have already seen the damage done to millions of acres of forest because of the pine bark beetles, which actually live longer because it doesn't get cold and therefore they do not die in the normal cycle. But in recent years, due to warmer winters, pine beetle populations have exploded, devastating these once majestic forests.
It is also having an impact on our health. As average temperatures rise, we can expect to see more extreme heat waves during our summers, and, as we know from history, that impacts people with heart problems and asthma, the elderly, the very young, and the homeless. In the United States, Chicago is projected to have 25 percent more frequent heat wave days by the end of the century. In Los Angeles, we could see as much as a four- to eightfold increase.
Climate change may also heighten the risk of infectious diseases, particularly diseases found in warm areas and spread by mosquitoes and other insects, such as malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever. In some places, climate change is already altering the pattern of disease. In the Kenyan Highlands, for example, it is now one of the major drivers of malaria epidemics.
It is not just the health costs that are sounding the alarm. As many have seen with their own eyes, the Arctic is among one of the most startling places to witness the adverse effects of global climate change. Great sheets of ice have been breaking off of glaciers--sheets of ice the size of the State of Rhode Island. Marine mammals are now struggling to survive. Where there used to be only frozen landscapes, there is now open water.
Every new report that is public suggests the situation is getting grimmer in the Arctic. Last year the multi-country Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program released a new assessment of the impact of climate change in the Arctic. It found that the period from 2005 to 2010 was the warmest ever recorded. According to AMAP researchers, the changes in icemelt over the past 10 years ``are dramatic and represent an obvious departure from the long-term patterns.''
Their conclusion is startling. They expect the Arctic Ocean to be nearly ice-free within this century, likely in the next 30 to 40 years.
Think about that for a second. Within our children's lifetimes, one of Earth's polar icecaps will be completely gone. Average annual temperatures in the Arctic have increased at approximately twice the rate of average global temperatures. Within a generation, maybe two, kids will grow up learning geography on maps and globes that show simply an empty blue expanse on top of the world, no longer the white one to which we have grown accustomed.
In terms of impact, all of us who have been following this issue understand that the melting of the Arctic is at least partly mitigated by the fact that the ice is already floating, so the displacement in the ocean as it melts is not that significant. But what if there is an ice melt from the glaciers, as we are now seeing not only in the Arctic but we are seeing in Greenland and in Antarctica and across North America, South America, and Africa--when you realize that all over the globe, glaciers and icecaps are losing volume--that means other day-to-day, practical problems for our communities.
This is a photograph of the glaciers that exist out in the western part of our country, or used to. That was 1909, and this is 2004--almost gone. Here is another vision of National Glacier Park, where it has almost disappeared. It is obvious for all to see the degree to which the glaciers are disappearing.
Many people may not also realize that a lot of communities in the United States rely on annual glacial melt for municipal water supplies and for hydropower. So as this disappears, the energy sourcing and water sourcing for the United States disappears with it. Just ask Washington State, where glacial melt water provides 1.8 trillion liters of water every summer, or talk to the folks in Alaska, where glacier melt plays a key role in the circulation of the Gulf of Alaska, which is important to maintaining the valuable fisheries--the halibut and salmon--that reside in this body of water. All these impacts are interconnected.
Again, the skeptics say: Hey, there are a couple of glaciers that are actually expanding. Yes, there are some glaciers that are responding to unusual and unique local conditions and increasing in snow and ice accumulation, but the overwhelming evidence, when we look at the vast majority, shows that most of America's glaciers are shrinking. Over the last four decades of the 20th century, North American glaciers have lost 108 cubic miles of ice. That is enough ice, translated into water, to inundate California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado with 1 foot of water if it happened all at the same time.
In 1850 there were approximately 150 glaciers in what is now Glacier National Park. Today, due to warmer temperatures, there are only 25 named glaciers remaining, and some models predict that the park's glaciers could disappear in just a few decades. But trust your own eyes, if you prefer. The photographs here depict glacial melt over various time periods in Glacier National Park, Montana, and Holgate Glacier and Icy Bay, Alaska. As you'll see, the effects are just staggering.
We all remember Wordsworth's lines about ``the Lake that was shining clear among the hoary mountains.'' Well, these mountains are no longer hoary, and soon, lakes will reflect not snow-covered peaks, but naked ridges and sun-splashed steeps.
To make matters worse, temperatures are likely to increase exponentially in the next coming years. Because the environment is a closed system, the more conditions change, the faster they change because each change has an
impact on some other interconnected component of the environment.
As the ice and permafrost melt, methane plumes from under the surface that have been trapped for hundreds of thousands of years are now emerging. During a survey last summer in the east Siberian Arctic seas, a team of scientists encountered a high density of methane plumes, some more than 1 kilometer across. They were emitting methane into the atmosphere at concentrations up to 100 times higher than normal. There are people who have stood by these methane plumes, lit a match, and they light on fire. The fact is, over a period of 100 years, methane has a warming potential roughly 25 times greater than CO
So we may become the victims not just of the climate change itself but of a vicious kind of feedback and feedback cycles in the climate system. Cycles associated with less cloud cover, changes in aerosols, peatlands, soils, and Arctic ice cover all can lead to accelerated climate change. One study estimated that thawing permafrost may turn the Arctic from a carbon sink--that is to say a place that gathers and stores carbon--into a carbon source by the mid-2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by the end of the century. What does that mean? One hundred billion tons of carbon is about equal to the amount of CO
2 that would be released worldwide from 10 years of burning fossil fuels. So that is the future we are looking at if we don't respond.
Here is another postcard from the edge, Mr. President. North Carolina doesn't think they need to worry about the sea level rise, but take a look at the evidence. Our best studies predict a higher sea level rise than previously projected. With the melting of the west Antarctic ice sheet alone, global sea levels could rise by as much as 3.26 meters in the coming years, and the Pacific and Atlantic coasts could be in for a 25-percent increase above the average level by the century's end. In all, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet has the potential to raise global sea levels by about 7 meters, and the ice sheets of Antarctica have the potential to contribute to 60 meters of sea level rise.
Now, when people say, ``Well, global--it may not melt,'' there are Senators who have traveled to Greenland, who have stood on the ice sheet and looked down into it, into a hole 100-feet deep, and seen a massive, torrential river running underneath the ice out to the sea as the ice is melting.
Some scientists are even worried about the effects of that river under the ice. Could it act as a slide, where actually whole chunks of ice break off and slide down on this watery base on which the ice is sitting?
Think about what this all means. As the New York Times reported in March, some 3.7 million Americans living within a few feet of high tide are at risk from the rising sea. So all of you state senators out there, listen up: the effects of climate change will spare no one--from Tampa to Asheville, from Sausalito to Staten Island, all coastal communities are vulnerable.
NOAA's Benjamin Strauss, coauthor of a smart new study on topographic vulnerability, said the following:
Sea level rise is like an invisible tsunami, building force while we do almost nothing. ..... We have a closing window of time to prevent the worst by preparing for higher seas.
I think that is exactly right, and that is why city officials in Boston are currently actively planning for how to manage 100-year floods that are now arriving every 20 years. We don't have 100-year floods anymore, we have them every so often--every 5 years or 20 years. In the face of a global sea level rise of 3 to 6 feet by the end of the century, there will be massive amounts of flooding. So we ought to pass legislation at the State level to plan, not to ban the planning. It is easy politics to ban it, but it is not smart politics, and it certainly isn't courageous leadership. Just ask those living in Tuvalu and the low-lying nation of Kiribati. Think they could use some advance planning to deal with the ``king'' tides that may soon drown out life on their shores? You bet. But instead of learning from them, we've succumbed to the siren call of short-term interests.
One resident of Tuvalu poignantly asked: ``What will happen to us in ten years' time?'' I wish I could delay her fears. I wish I could tell her that the climate change would only be limited to occasional sea level rise, and that--naturally, surely--the king tides would recede.
But the truth is much more harrowing. We also have raging floods and water scarcity--a dichotomy--in various parts of the world. From Veracruz to Songkhla Province in Thailand, floods are devastating crops and stealing away opportunities for millions. In my travels, I have seen children orphaned by raging flood waters, families deprived of basic necessities, such as food, clean drinking water, and medicine. I have also seen the ways in which climate change has interacted with conflicts, food insecurity, and water scarcity. People are fighting and killing each other over water scarcity in various parts of the world. In Darfur and in South Sudan, there are tensions over arable lands. Think of drought in Syria and its impact on farmers in southern Dara'a. Think of water scarcity in Yemen--and the list goes on. These are the invisible tsunamis Benjamin Strauss spoke of, and they develop slowly and quietly and determinately, and they devastate communities just as surely as they should kindle our sense of urgency about the cost of inaction.
In addition, although I am not going to go into the details now, there is major decimation of animal life and plant life and species life as a consequence of this interconnectedness. In addition, forests are under siege from drought and experiencing more fires and more die-off as a consequence of insect infestation because it doesn't get cold enough anymore to maintain the previous cycles of those insects dying off.
So the fact is that unmitigated climate change is creating enormous economic dislocations already, and it is only going to get worse if we don't act. Professor Frank Akerman, a prominent economist at Tufts University, found that inaction in the face of climate change could cost the American economy more than 3.6 percent of GDP--``or $3.8 trillion--annually by the end of the century. And he is not alone. Harvard economist Joseph Aldy estimates that if temperatures push past the 2 degrees mark, up to 2 to 4 percent of world GDP would be lost.
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Mr. KERRY. I thank the Chair.
So developing countries are going to face similar costs. According to a major international initiative on ``The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity'', developing countries will spend an estimated $70 to $100 billion a year from 2010 to 2050 just to adapt to a two degrees Celsius change in global temperatures, with the majority spent on protecting infrastructure and coastal zones, managing the water supply, and protecting against the effects of floods.
The ``grow now, clean later'' approach is no longer viable--if it ever was. Before you know it, one quarter of the world's land surface will bear the marks of soil erosion, salinization, nutrient depletion and desertification. Imagine what this will do to agricultural productivity and water supplies.
Another way of looking at this is to consider not the cost, but the economic benefits of keeping our ecosystems intact.
Back in 2005 the World Bank estimated the total value of the world's natural assets to be $44 trillion. The countries that manage their forests, agricultural lands, energy, minerals, and other natural assets are going to be the economic leaders in the 21st century, and they will be able to reap the benefits of the ecosystem services like coral reefs, which provide food, water purification, tourism and genetic diversity--services valued at $172 billion annually. And they'll be able to invest more in the ``intangible'' drivers of growth like human skills, education, and innovation.
Mr. President, the message from all of this could not be more clear. Over 40 years ago, 20 million Americans--fully one-tenth of our country's population at the time--came together on one single day to demand environmental accountability.
It was called Earth Day. And they didn't stop there. They elected a Congress that passed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act. They created EPA. America didn't have an EPA until the 1970s when people said: We don't want to live next to wells that give us cancer. We don't want to live next to rivers that actually light on fire. So we made a huge transformation.
We need Congress now to do what the science tells us we have to do, to do what our economists tell us we have to do, to do what common sense demands that we do: It's time for Congress to stand up and do its part on climate change.
I don't know how many have read David Orr's terrific book, ``Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse,'' but it is important for everyone to understand his argument. Nowhere is the challenge of our moment more clearly expressed. He says:
The real fault line in American politics is not between liberals and conservatives ..... it is, rather, in how we orient ourselves to the generations to come who will bear the consequences, for better and for worse, of our actions.
As Orr reminds us, we are at a tipping point--and it is going to take leadership to respond to it. Unfortunately, we have been witnessing just the opposite. In a talking point memo to his fellow Republicans last summer, House majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia took aim at environmental safeguards. Job killers, he called them, listing the ``top 10 job-destroying regulations,'' seven of which dealt with reducing air pollution from industrial incinerators, boilers and aging coal-fired power plants.
Job killers? The facts just don't support that.
The Labor Department, however, keeps close tabs on extended mass layoffs, and in 2010 the Department found that of the 1,256,606 mass layoffs, employers attributed just 2,971 to government regulation. That is only about two-tenths of 1 percent of all layoffs.
In fact, decreasing carbon pollution actually presents a huge economic opportunity in terms of new jobs and innovation.
For every $1 we spend, we get $30 in benefits. The U.S. environmental technology industry in 2008 generated approximately $300 billion in revenues and supported almost 1.7 billion in jobs. The air pollution sector alone produced $18 billion in revenue.
If we're going to remake the world before 2050, and this is one area where I agree with my Republican friends, we're going to have to harness the power of the good old American market economy. And one way to do that is to put a price tag on carbon and other global warming pollutants.
With a price tag, we more accurately reflect the consequences of these pollutants, not just for the environment but also for the quality of our lives and the health of our families. If we understand the consequences of our choices, especially in economic terms, we'll make better choices.
One way to do this is to levy a pollution fee that reflects the true environmental cost of coal and oil. But there's no chance the current Congress will enact any tax, especially one on smokestack industries.
Over the course of 2011, the Republican-controlled House held nearly 200 votes to weaken our environmental safeguards, including the bedrock legislation spawned by the very first Earth Day--the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, even the agency created to enforce those laws, the Environmental Protection Agency.
If we don't use the market, the other option is, inevitably, direct regulation of carbon emissions by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. The conservative-dominated Supreme Court has already given the green light to the EPA to do this. But this invites even more bitterness and political partisanship.
Besides, pricing pollution has already shown itself to be effective. During the 1980s, instead of imposting regulations, we used a cap-and-trade system to reduce the sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants that caused plant- and soil-destroying acid rain. The system included cash incentives to over comply: polluters received allowances for every ton of sulfur oxide under the limits, and they could trade, sell or bank the allowances. The system worked so well that regulated plants reduced emissions 40 percent more than required.
There is every reason to believe some variation of that system would work just as well to curb carbon emissions. But anything related to or resembling ``Cap And Trade'' isn't the best rallying cry these days thanks to the concerted, cynical re-branding of the concept. But whatever rallying cry is used, the point is the time for action is now. We need a ``Million Man-Million Woman-Million Child'' March on Washington and the voting booths of America. We need people marching up the steps of the Capitol, pounding on the doors of Congress, demanding a solution to our climate crisis.
We also know we need deadlines to instill a sense of urgency. There is a deadline coming up this week in Rio where they are now having Rio Plus 20, the 20-year anniversary of that meeting I referred to at the beginning. Much has changed since the first Earth Day summit back in 1992--and much of it for the worse. True, we're seeing innovation and entrepreneurship flourish in countries that were once considered among the poorest. We should celebrate that. But I'll tell you: Twenty years after Rio and 15 years after Kyoto, we are still further behind than ever. The science is screaming at us, and the planet is sending us an SOS.
We obviously failed to be held accountable or to implement the commitments we put in place 20 years ago. Earlier this month, the United Nations Environmental Program issued the official summit report, which noted ``significant progress'' in only 4 of 90 environmental goals over the past five years. We can--and we must--do better.
I spoke earlier of the need to take advantage of the green energy economy. Our best economists say to ward off catastrophic climate change, the green revolution has to happen three times faster than the industrial revolution did. I believe that is why America and the rest of the world are facing this moment of truth.
Will we step up and put in place the policies that galvanize our green entrepreneurs, that drive development of new clean technologies, reenergize the economy, and tackle climate change all at the same time? We are the country that invented solar and wind technology, but the Germans, the Japanese, and the Chinese are the ones who are developing it. It is a tragedy. Today, of the top thirty companies in the world in solar, wind and advanced batteries, only six are based in the United States. If we do this right, I truly believe that the next four or five Googles will emerge in the energy sector. The question is not whether the twenty-first century economy will be a green economy--it has to become one, and it will. The question is whether it happens in time to avert catastrophe, and whether America will continue to lead.
Accelerating the transition to a new energy paradigm is the most important single step the world can take in order to reduce the threat of climate change. And Rio is as good a place as any to make that happen. At the Summit, nations are expected to announce commitments to the Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Tackling the challenges of energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy in an
integrated way is absolutely essential. That's why a wide variety of stakeholders--from governments to businesses to civil society leaders--have indicated that they will be coming to Rio with national action plans in hand that can be monitored over time as part of a new mission of the United Nations and its partners.
I am convinced countries that take advantage of the opportunities are going to be the leaders of the 21st century. I have already seen that success in Massachusetts. Massachusetts was recently ranked first in the Nation in energy efficiency and clean energy leadership, edging out California for the first time ever.
I think my State is an example of the speed in which we can turn things around. Our unemployment level just went down to the 6-percent level, and it is because we do have that diversity and we are moving in that direction.
Now, obviously, the government alone can't solve this. Government can help create a structure. Private sector is the key. But we need to put in place the policies that send a message to the marketplace that we are serious about doing this.
The bottom line is we need to face up to this challenge once and for all--not just as individuals or as separate interests but as a nation, with a national purpose. The Pew poll recently showed a 46-point gap between Republicans and Democrats on the need to protect the environment. And I'll give you one guess which party fell by 39 points in its support for protecting the environment since 1992. So I understand if there is a 46-point gap and we have had all this discounting and disinformation, this is going to be hard still.
But David Orr is right on the mark: Our challenge is fundamentally political. It is not about budgets. It is not about regulations. It is about leaders in the country who are unwilling to deal with the truth about climate change and who have cowed the silent majority into submission with their contrived and concerted attacks without facts.
I've spoken before about this country's crisis of governance and the dangers of being held hostage to one party's remarkably cynical and selfish drive for power that comes at the expense of all common sense. Today, we need a transformative moment in our politics. David Orr spoke to that in the book I already cited.
Our situation calls for the transformation of governance and politics in ways that are somewhat comparable to that in U.S. history between the years of 1776 and 1800. In that time Americans forged the case for independence, fought a revolutionary war, crafted a distinctive political philosophy, established an enduring Constitution, created a nation, organized the first modern democratic government, and invented political parties to make the machinery of governance and democracy work tolerably well.
Colleagues, we have made transformative changes before, and there are other kinds of examples. We once burned wood for our fuel. Then we transitioned to relying on oil and coal, and now other things. We can make the leap to a mix of renewable energy sources--hydro, wind, solar, and others--but we need to set our sights on that next transformation.
As the old saying goes from the Arab oil minister in the 1970s:
The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones, and the oil age is not going to end because we run out of oil.
Truer words could not be spoken.
In the end, the question is not whether we are going to pay for climate change; we are already paying for it--in warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, floods, droughts, wildfires, decimation of animal and plant life, loss of crops, insurance on homes, increased storms. We are paying for it. The real question is whether we are going to walk a path that now addresses it in a responsible way and helps us break humanity's addiction to the easy way--to oil--and turn away from the other alternatives that face us that clean up our environment and create jobs. The question is whether we are going to suffer the consequences later on a massive, unpredictable scale in the form of environmental devastation, war, human misery, famine, poverty, and reduced economic growth for decades to come.
I close by saying that the fork in the road points in two directions. The task for us is to take the one less traveled. At the height of the American revolution Thomas Paine wrote about the ``summertime soldiers and the sunshine patriots'' who abandoned the cause. The science has shown us, and continues to show us, that we cannot afford to be summertime soldiers.
So in this time of challenge and opportunity, I hope and pray colleagues will take stock of this science, will take stock of the choices in front of us, will understand the economic opportunities staring us in the face. I hope we will confront the conspiracy of silence about climate change head on and allow complacence to yield to common sense and narrow interests to bend to the common good. Future generations are counting on us.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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