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Climate Change

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. My topic had been the acidification of our oceans as a result of carbon pollution now up 30 percent in acidity and projected to increase 160 percent in acidity at unprecedented rates in millions of years. It has been 50 to 300 million years since we have seen this kind of dramatic change in ocean acidity. For species that use calcium carbonate to create their shells and skeletons, such as oysters, crabs, lobsters, and the little plankton that so many other species depend on as the base of the food chain, it becomes harder for these species to thrive.

These unprecedented changes I am talking about in ocean acidity are not happening alone, they are happening on top of dramatically changing ocean temperature that is also driven by carbon pollution.

Just this week on the surface of the Earth, we experienced one of the hottest summers on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released this statement about the northeast shelf large marine ecosystem, which extends from the Gulf of Maine down to Cape Hatteras. Here is what they said:

During the first 6 months of 2012, sea surface temperatures ..... were the highest ever recorded. Above average temperatures were found in all parts of the ecosystem, from the ocean bottom to the sea surface and across the region ..... The annual 2012 spring plankton bloom was intense, started earlier and lasted longer than average. This has implications for marine life from the smallest creatures to the largest marine mammals, like whales. Atlantic cod continued to shift northeastward from its historic distribution center.

I don't need to tell anybody in the Northeast how important the stability of the cod fishery is right now. That historic fishery is facing significant reductions in catch limits because the population is not rebounding as expected from the reduced catches that fishermen are already contributing to try to solve this problem. Something is causing that failure to rebound, and the unprecedented environmental changes occurring in the ecosystem can't be overlooked as the culprit behind this unexplained phenomenon of failure to rebound.

NOAA cited a 2009 study published in Marine Ecology Progress Series that analyzed survey data in the region from 1987 to 2007. It found that about half of 36 fish stocks evaluated have been shifting northward for the past four decades, with some disappearing from U.S. waters as they move farther offshore.

In Narragansett Bay, in my home State of Rhode Island, average water temperatures have increased by 4 degrees. This amounts to an ecosystem shift. In fact, the bay, once dominated by bottom-dwelling fish, such as winter flounder, is now more populated by open-water species, such as squid and butterfish.

Let's look at winter flounder a little bit more closely. In the 1960s, the biomass of winter flounder in Narragansett Bay was as high as 4,500 metric tons. By 2011, it was down to just about 900. This is the total estimated biomass on the blue line. The red line is the landmass. That is what the fishermen were able to catch and bring in. As my colleagues can see, it went from 1,000 metric tons up to 2,000 metric tons and then, over time, it sagged and returned to 2,000 metric tons, and now it is left to virtually zero. This was a very productive fishery for Rhode Island fishermen and it is now virtually gone.

Past overfishing had a role to play, but so too has the dramatic temperature change and the stock's ability to recover is made all the more difficult by ongoing temperature change as well as acidification.

The changes facing our oceans do not stop at higher temperatures and greater acidity. I wish they did. But as average global temperatures rise, water expands. Water expands as it gets warmer, and new fresh water pours out of the snowpack and ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland. Long-term data from tide gauges in our traditional sailing port of Newport, RI, show an increase in average sea level of nearly 10 inches since 1930. At these tide gauges, measurements show that the rate of sea-level rise has increased in the past two decades compared to the rate over the last century. The increase is not just happening, it is speeding up. This is consistent with reports that since 1990, sea level has been rising faster than the rate predicted by scientific models used to generate the IPCC estimates.

Global predictions for sea-level rise range from 20 to 39 inches by the year 2100, with recent studies showing that the numbers could be even higher than that due to greater than expected melting of glaciers and ice sheets.

Our Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council has used these predictions to estimate that by 2100, the sea level in Rhode Island could rise approximately 2 to 5 feet. For our coastal ocean State, that is a dramatic threat.

Sea-level rise and the increase in storm surges that will accompany it threaten at-risk coastal areas, whose roads, powerplants, wastewater treatment plants, and public facilities may need to be reinforced or relocated.

The natural environment there--estuaries, marshes, and barrier islands--has a role. They act as natural filtration systems and they act as buffers against storms, and they are being inundated by rising seas. In Rhode Island, local erosion rates doubled from 1990 on to 2006. Some of the freshwater wetlands near our coast are already transforming themselves into salt marsh as a result of this inundation.

Our Coastal Resources Management Council has documented places such as a beach in South Kingstown, where 160 feet of shoreline has been lost to erosion since 1951 at a rate of 3 feet per year.

In the small but vibrant coastal community of Matunuck, beaches have eroded 20 feet over the past 12 years. The town faces difficult decisions as the only road connecting the community and its restaurants and businesses
is protected by less than a dozen feet of sand. The road provides access for emergency vehicles and it lies on top of the water main. These are not easy concerns for communities with limited resources and lives and livelihoods at risk.
Geo-engineering solutions have been theorized to keep the temperature of the planet in check as a result of global climate change by blocking in various ways the heat of the Sun. These notions may seem somewhat farfetched, but even given that, they will not stop the chemical process of acidification of our oceans. Only curbing global carbon dioxide emissions can do that.

Sadly, our government in Washington these days responds more to dollars than to truth, and the dirty energy dollars are on the march this campaign season. Over the weekend, the New York Times analyzed 138 energy-related campaign ads aired on television. It estimated that over $153 million has been spent this year to promote coal, argue for more oil and gas drilling, and to attack clean energy. With nearly 7 weeks to go before this Presidential election, 2012 ads promoting fossil fuels are nearly 150 percent higher than 4 years ago, and that is with 7 weeks to go, the peak buying season.

Other disturbing details emerged from the New York Times article. Governor Romney, his PAC, and the RNC have received at least $13 million in campaign contributions from fossil fuel industry executives or related groups. Governor Romney has accepted $3 million in contributions from Oxbow, a coal company controlled by William Koch, a brother of David Koch.

Nature could not be giving us clearer warnings. Whatever higher power gave us our advanced human capacity for perception, calculation, analysis, deduction, and foresight has laid out before us more than enough information to make the right decisions. These God-given human capacities provide us everything we need to act responsibly if only we will.

But the polluting special interests appear to rule here. The party of Theodore Roosevelt, the great conservationist; the party of President Nixon, who founded the EPA; the party of John Chafee of Rhode Island, who was instrumental in the passage of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act; and the party of Russell Train who, as I mentioned earlier, died this week at the age of 92 after a distinguished career in environmental protection in the Republican Party--that party has now become the servant and handmaiden--perhaps ``paid consort'' would be a better way to say it given the money involved--of polluting special interests.

All of this money can alter how Congress behaves, and all of this money can influence the laws we pass, but the laws of nature are not subject to repeal no matter how much special interest money flows into campaign coffers. The laws of chemistry don't care about the filibuster. The laws of physics don't care how Senators vote. Nature will work its will and one day there will be an accounting.

Madam President, I yield the floor, and I note the absence of a quorum.


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