Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

By:  John Kerry
Date: Aug. 1, 2012
Location: Washington DC

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, a number of us have spoken with increasing concern--I think probably most Senators have come to the floor in the course of the last months to express their alarm about the politics that surround big issues in our country that demand action and not partisanship, not acrimony, but which we continue to simply find a way to avoid. We have been artists in the politics of avoidance here in Washington over the course of too long a period now.

The debt and the fiscal cliff are obviously perfect examples of where, despite all of the warnings and all of the expert advice we get, Congress is fundamentally stuck in political cement of our own mixing. No one will credibly deny here the existence of the fiscal cliff, the crisis of our budget, the tax system, and so forth. So that, at least as an issue that is avoided, gets a credible amount of words being thrown at it.

But there is another issue that, in many ways, is just as serious because of its implications for all that we do on this planet, but which doesn't any longer elicit that kind of concern or expressions of alarm on both sides of the aisle, or from that many Senators. The two words that have described this particular issue over a long period of time now have actually become somewhat words of almost skepticism in many quarters in America, or a kind of shrug, where people say: I don't know what I can do about it. It is not something I ought to worry about. Somebody else will take care of it, or maybe it is not real. Those words are ``climate change.''

Climate change, over the last few years, has regrettably lost credibility in the eyes and ears of the American people because of a concerted campaign of disinformation, a concerted campaign to brand the concept as somehow slightly outside of the mainstream of American political thinking. I have to say it has been a remarkably effective campaign. You can't sit here and say it hasn't worked. Every opportunity to cast a pall on facts with some kind of cockamamie theory has been taken advantage of, and a lot of money has been spent in this process of disinformation and discrediting.

People used to joke years and years ago about those who argued that the Earth was flat. For a long period of time, people argued that the Earth was flat, even though the evidence of astronomers and explorers evidenced that it was in fact quite the opposite. So we have, in effect, with respect to climate change in America today what is fundamentally a ``flat Earth caucus''--a bunch of people, some in the U.S. Congress itself, who still argue against all of the science, all of the evidence, that somehow we don't know enough about climate change or that the evidence isn't sufficient or that it is a hoax. We have Members of the Senate who argue it is a hoax. But that is all they do. They make the argument it is a hoax, but they don't present--and they can't--any real, hard, scientific, peer-reviewed evidence to the effect that it is in fact a hoax. The reason they can't is there are 6,000-plus peer-reviewed studies, which is the way science has always been done in America. If you are a scientist and you are a researcher, you do your science and research, and then your analysis is put to the test by your peers in those particular disciplines. They pass on the methodology, the pedagogy by which you arrived at your conclusions.

We have more than 6,000 of those kinds of properly peer-reviewed analyses of the science of climate change, and the other side of the ledger has not one--not one, zero--peer-reviewed analysis that says human beings aren't doing this to the atmosphere and that humans are not contributing or the main cause of what is happening in terms of the warming of the surface of the Earth.

What has happened is that in America we all know it. We are seeing it in campaigns because of Citizens United. You have these unfathomable amounts of money being thrown into the political system--millionaires and billionaires who plunk down millions of dollars--a $10 million or $20 million check at a whack--and then what is happening is people buy their facts. They create their facts out of whole cloth.

As we all have been reminded so many times in the last year, certainly, because of this new debate we are having in America--as our colleague, with whom I was privileged to serve here, Pat Moynihan, reminded us again and again, everyone is entitled to their own opinion in America, but you are not entitled to your own facts. But in fact, in American politics today, that is not true. Apparently, you are, because you can go out and buy them. You can buy some scientist to whom you give some appropriate amount of funds, and he does a study with a particular conclusion that has to be found, and they produce a whole bunch of hurly-burly to surround it and suggest that those are, in fact, facts.

The result of this is that over the last year and a half or 2 years, we have had this concerted assault on reason, an assault on science. This isn't the first time in the history of humankind we have been through these things. Galileo was put on trial for his findings and, as we all know, there have been countless periods of time--that is why we went through an Age of Enlightenment, Age of Reason, as people challenged these old precepts that weren't based on fact but were sort of raw belief and/or political interests in some cases, or religious interests in some cases. A handful of Senators here, including Senator Boxer, Senator Whitehouse, Senator Sanders, Senator Lautenberg, the occupant of the chair, and Senator Franken have recently spoken out about this very process by which an incredibly important, legitimate issue of concern to all Americans--to everybody in the world--is being completely sidelined because of the status quo interests of powerful corporations and other interests in America that don't want to change, or some of whom find political advantage in somehow buying into the theory discrediting it.

This has not been an issue on which there is a profile of courage by some in the U.S. Congress who are prepared to stand up and say what they know is true, but what has become far more convenient to avoid. I believe the situation we face is as dangerous as any of the sort of real crises that we talk about.

Today we had a hearing in the Foreign Relations Committee on the subject of Syria. We all know what is happening with respect to Iran and nuclear weapons, and even the possibility of a war. This issue actually is of as significant a level of importance because it affects life itself on the planet, because it affects ecosystems on which the oceans and land depend for the relationship of the warmth of our Earth and the amount of moisture there is and all of the interactions that occur as a consequence of our climate. It involves our health because of policies that we do or don't choose to pursue with respect to pollution in the air.

Pollution didn't used to be a question mark in American politics. We fought that fight in the 1960s and 1970s. Rachel Carson started this enormous movement for reasonableness when she warned Americans they were living next to toxic wells and water that had been polluted by companies that put mercury or other poisons into the Earth, which went down into the water supply, and people got cancer and died. America decided in the early 1970s--with the first Earth Day in 1970 itself, and the actions that Congress took after that in response to the American people--everybody decided we didn't want that pollution in the air. We actually passed legislation in 1972, 1973, and 1974 that created the EPA.

America didn't even have an Environmental Protection Agency until Americans said we want to be protected, and the people in Congress responded to that. We passed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Marine Mammal Protection, Coastal Zone Management, and all of these came about because of an awareness among the American people because they wanted to make a different set of choices or have their politicians do so on their behalf. Now, suddenly, there is an assault on the EPA, the Clean Air Act and, all of a sudden, pollution doesn't matter. That is what we are talking about.

Greenhouse gases are, in fact, a pollutant. The particulates that come with that have the same effect on human beings in terms of their breathing, their lungs, the input in some of their food and water, which ultimately impacts cancer, emphysema, and other diseases that come as a consequence of the quality of air we breathe. Yet we have this whole notion now that somehow we have gone too far, that we have done enough, or that the job has been done and we can go home, when, in fact, it is exactly the opposite. With respect to pollution, there are choices, and with respect to health, the single greatest cause of young Americans going to the hospital in the summertime and costing billions of dollars to the American people is environmentally induced asthma. That environmentally induced asthma comes about as a consequence of the ingredients that go into the air. All of this is related.

In addition, there is not one person in the Senate who doesn't know that we are still more dependent than we want to be on foreign oil. We are better than we were, and we have made improvements, but we are still more dependent than we want to be on foreign oil. We could be doing better with respect to that if we pursued an intelligent energy policy. We still don't have an energy policy after the years we have been talking about doing it in the Senate and elsewhere.

Why is that important to climate change? Because energy policy is the solution to the problem of climate change. If you have an effective energy policy, then you are dealing not only with your independence issues, but with the sources of carbon and other greenhouse gases that are causing the problem today. Twenty years ago this year, I was privileged to go with the Senator from New Jersey, Senator Lautenberg, Senator John Chafee, Senator Al Gore, Senator Wirth, and others, down to Rio, where we took part in the first Earth Summit, which President George Herbert Walker Bush took seriously. To the great credit of George H. W. Bush, he not only sent a delegation, he personally went down there and spoke about the issue. He helped to embrace a forward-leaning idea. I think 160-some nations signed onto an agreement to try to restrain greenhouse gases. That was back in 1992. It was incredible.

Here we are, 20 years later, and we could not even get the time for the Senate to send a delegation down there, let alone enough people who thought it was important and of interest.

The Earth summit, 20 years later, came and went without any major step forward or progress, and the procrastination continues.

Mr. President, today I remember the debate when we came back from Kyoto, in 1998 or so, and we had a debate in the Senate about whether the United States should take part in the Kyoto Treaty. We all know now, as a matter of long history, that we didn't because it was viewed as being too unilateral. In fact, everybody had the question of, what about China? We can't possibly sign up for this because China will not do it, and they will go racing ahead of us and continue to grow their economy at the expense of the United States.

Well, Mr. President, guess what. Today China is the leading clean energy producer in the world. China. The United States of America invented the technologies 50 years ago--of solar and wind, renewable energy technologies such as turbines, the transmission, and so forth, and photovoltaics. About 4 years ago, China had about 9 percent of the market. That was 4 years ago. Two years ago, China had 40 percent of the market. Today China has over 70 percent of the global solar market, and the United States, which invented the technology, doesn't have one company in the top 10 solar panel producers, solar energy producers in the world.

You know what is happening. Ninety-five percent of what China produces it exports to other countries, including the United States. So here we are, we give up our lead, and we don't get the jobs. Everybody is screaming about jobs. The energy market is a $6 trillion market with about 6 billion users. Just to put that in perspective, the market that created the great wealth of the 1990s in the United States was in fact a $1 trillion market with about 1 billion users. That was the technology market. We saw it with personal computers and with the rest of the telephone communications technology of the 1990s. We didn't even have an Internet in the United States until about 1995 or 1996 when that began to be commercialized. Yet in that short span of time we created more wealth in America than we had ever created at any time in America's history. We created 23 million new jobs because we led in that new industry.

Here we are today staring at the potential of this extraordinary industry--the energy market--and we are just sitting on our hands while other countries take it and run with it and grow their economies. We are sitting around saying: Where are the jobs?

It is an insult. It is an insult to our intelligence. It is an insult to every American's aspirations about where they would like to see our country go. And the fact is it is not just China, but India, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea, and countless other countries have taken greater advantage of this than the United States.

One of the principal reasons we have trouble getting that market moving is we refuse to put a real price on the price of carbon. Carbon has a price. Everything we are doing to our country and to our communities today as a result of pollution is a price we are going to pay. But that price is not subsumed into the price of products, the price of doing business or anything else because we just avoid it altogether.

A lot of people here continue, unfortunately, to avoid the science and just not deal with the reality of what is happening. But 2 days ago, Mr. President, in the New York Times, there was a very important op-ed that appeared, written by a well-known climate skeptic Dr. Richard Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley. He has written many times about how he did not believe the science was adequate or had produced it. Let me read his words. This is Dr. Muller:

Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in the previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

That is what this former climate skeptic has said. Bottom line: We need to be armed with the facts, not with empty rhetoric. That is exactly what Dr. Muller set out to do. Let me quote him again:

We carefully studied issues raised by skeptics: biases from urban heating (we duplicated our results using rural data alone), from data collection selection (prior groups selected fewer than 20 percent of the available temperature stations; we used virtually 100 percent), from poor station quality (we separately analyzed good stations and poor ones) and from human intervention and data adjustment (our work is completely automated and hands-off). In our papers we demonstrate that none of these potentially troublesome effects unduly biased our conclusions.

Now, obviously, we all know the future has a hard way of humbling people who try to predict it too precisely, but I have to say, when the science is screaming pretty consistently over a period of 20 years--and not just screaming at us to say it is coming back correctly but that it is coming back with faster results in greater amounts than the scientists predicted--as a matter of human precaution that ought to be an alarm bell and people ought to take note.

Here again is what Dr. Muller says:

What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included.

And then he says ominously:

But if China continues its rapid economic growth--

And I say, as a matter of parentheses, who doesn't believe China isn't going to do everything in its power to continue its growth path and do what it is doing? So he says:

But if China continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds 1 new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.

Less than 20 years, folks. In North Carolina recently State Senators actually voted not to do any planning for the potential of sea level rise, even though scientists today tell us the sea level is rising. Ask insurance companies about what they are thinking in terms of their potential exposure and liability as we look down the road with respect to the disasters that could come as a consequence of these changes.

So the plain fact is we have all of the evidence--and I am not going to go through all of it right now, but it is there for colleagues to analyze--countless studies of what is happening in terms of the movement of forests--literally, movement--as it migrates, and species that have left Yellowstone National Park and migrated north. Talk to the park rangers. Talk to the folks in Canada and in Colorado and Montana and other places about the millions of acres of pine trees that have been destroyed by the pine bark beetle that now doesn't die off because it doesn't get as cold as it used to. Talk to people in Canada and in the Northern United States who used to skate on ponds that used to freeze over but that don't freeze over anymore.

There are hundreds of examples. Talk to the Audubon Society. Ask them about the reports from their members about certain plants and shrubs and trees that don't grow in the same places they used to. There is a 100-mile swath in the United States now where there has been a migration of things that grow and don't grow. This is going to have a profound impact on agriculture in our country as we go forward if it continues. And I would just share with my colleagues why that is true beyond any scientific doubt.

The first scientist who actually wrote something about global climate change was a Swedish scientist by the name of Arrhenius, and he wrote around the turn of the 19th century--1890 or something, I don't remember the year. But he is the guy who first said there was this relationship to the gases trapped in the atmosphere and this thing called the greenhouse effect. In fact, science has now determined to a certainty the reason we can breathe on Earth today, the reason it is warm enough for us to live, the reason life itself exists on Earth is because there is a greenhouse effect. And it is called a greenhouse effect because it behaves just like a greenhouse.

The light comes down from the Sun at a very direct angle on many things on Earth and is reflected back from things such as the ice and snow and off roofs and parking lots and other things. But in the ocean and in certain other dark spots it is subsumed into that mass, and it goes back much more opaque than it comes down in its directness. The reason, therefore, for the greenhouse gas is that it doesn't escape. It doesn't break out of the thin veneer of the atmosphere that contains the gases that create the greenhouse effect, which actually creates an average temperature globally of about 57 degrees Fahrenheit.

That is why life can exist; we have a greenhouse effect. And it stands to absolute high school, if not elementary-middle school logic, if a certain amount of gases are contained, and there has always been balance to some degree, and you add to that massively and thicken the amount that is there, less heat is going to escape and we wind up augmenting that effect of the greenhouse.

Scientists tell us now--and I am not a scientist, but I learned how to listen to them and at least read the science and try to think about it--that in order to keep the temperature of the Earth somewhere near where it is today or within the permissible range of change, we have to keep our greenhouse gases at--originally, they said--450 parts per million. As they then noticed the damage and did more calculation, they came and said: No, 350 parts per million.

Why is this important? Because today, as we are here assembled in the Senate, we are now at 397 parts per million. We are above where they say you have to hold it. And worse, without doing anything--and we are not doing anything--we are only adding amounts; we are moving at a rate that will take it up to 500 or 600 parts per million. If that happens, we will be at a tipping point with respect to the amount of temperature change--5 to 7 degrees--and nobody can predict with certainty what happens, except that we know the ice already melting in Greenland and in the Arctic will melt faster and disappear. As more water is exposed, that dark water subsumes more of the heat, and the heat creates greater, more rapid melting. And that is exactly what scientists are seeing in the Arctic and Antarctic today, where whole blocks of ice the size of the State of Rhode Island have broken off and dropped into the sea and floated south to melt.

There are dozens of other examples of what is happening. I said I wouldn't go into all of them today. I would just say to my colleagues, please read and challenge the science and talk to the people who are the peer reviewers of these analyses because we have a responsibility here, to future generations and to all of us, to try to get this right. And in the balance of right and wrong, I don't understand the judgment some people are making.

We know this is a $6 trillion market. We know that if we were to price carbon, the marketplace would move rapidly toward the kinds of technologies and new job creation that would respond to that pricing and the United States could become a seller of these technologies and a builder of these new energy capacities in various parts of the world.

Astonishingly, the United States of America doesn't even have an energy grid. The east coast has an energy grid, the west coast has an energy grid, Texas has its own energy grid, and from Chicago out to the Dakotas, there is sort of an energy grid. But the entire center of the United States is just a great big gaping hole where we don't have any connected energy transmission capacity, and the result is that we can't produce renewable energy down in the four corners of the Southwest--in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and so forth--and sell it to Minnesota in the wintertime or to New England, where we pay a very high price for energy. We can't send energy from one part to the other in the United States of America. It is an insult.

We need to build a national energy grid, and in the building of that grid, there are countless jobs to be created for Americans and countless technologies to be developed. For every $1 billion we spend on infrastructure, we put 27,000 to 35,000 people to work. If we passed our infrastructure bank effort here in the Senate, for $10 billion of American taxpayer leverage, we could have $650 billion to $700 billion of infrastructure investment paid for by Chinese investment, by Arab Emirates investment. It wouldn't cost the American taxpayers a dime to be building America and putting people to work. We are not doing it, and we are not even building the energy grid of our Nation.

I must say to my colleagues, the avoidance here of responsibility for a whole host of choices we ought to be making--and obviously, yes, it begins with the deficit and the debt, and we can deal with those issues. There isn't a person in the Senate who doesn't understand what the magic formula is going to be to do that. But everybody wants to wait until the end of the election. I got it. But this issue has been waiting and waiting for 20 years now while other countries are stealing our opportunities to be able to be in the marketplace and winning.

Nothing screams at us more than the need to have an energy policy for our country that begins to address the realities of climate change, and nothing screams at us more than to tell the truth to the American people about climate change, to stop having it be an unusable word in American politics and not to allow it to become a source of attack and ridicule with nonfacts and a bunch of cockamamie theories that have no foundation in science or in the kind of analysis that does this institution justice.

I hope over the course of the next months we can have this fight because nothing less than our economic future--which is, in the end, our greatest strength for our military, for our security, for all of our objectives--that is what is at stake in this effort. I hope we will finally wind up doing what is right.

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