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Public Statements

Climate Change

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, last week I came to the floor and spoke about our Nation's military and intelligence leaders acknowledging, along with our Nation's scientific leaders, the clear evidence that carbon pollution is changing our climate. Unfortunately, there continues to be some confusion among many Americans regarding the clear scientific consensus, but that is confusion caused by coordinated and deliberate attempts to mislead the American people.

For more than two decades now, the climate denial movement has been well-organized and funded by the fossil fuel industry and conservative ideologues and foundations. The mission of these paid-for deniers is to ``manufacture uncertainty,'' to manufacture doubt so the polluters can keep on polluting.

This isn't a new strategy. We have seen self-serving strategies such as this before. These strategies questioned the merits of requiring seat belts in cars. They questioned CFCs causing deterioration of the ozone layer. They questioned the toxic effects of lead exposure for children. They questioned whether tobacco was really bad for people--the same strategy to manufacture doubt, and often, actually, the same cast of characters was involved.

While the Congress of the United States has been distracted and deceived by these ploys, climate change marches on. The laws of chemistry and the laws of physics don't care about the nonsense we are up to in this building. They do what the laws of chemistry and physics say. Precious time is wasting. In the balance hangs lives and jobs. This nonsense has gone on long enough.

The public is being misled. Special-interest dollars pull the strings of sophisticated campaigns to give the public the impression that there is a real scientific debate regarding whether climate change is happening. Well, there isn't. There just isn't. The real scientific debate is about how bad the changes will be.

Here is one example out of my home State, the Warwick Beacon, in an article entitled, ``Sandy: A wake up call to climate change.'' It describes the head of our Coastal Resources Council, saying--he is talking about the sea level rise:

I can tell you that it is real. I can't tell you how fast or how bad it is.

That is what I said. The real scientific debate is actually about how bad the changes are going to be.

To manufacture doubt to allow the polluters to keep polluting, skeptics with little training in climate science are promoted as experts. Front groups such as the Global Climate Coalition, Information Council for the Environment, Heartland Institute, Annapolis Center and Cooler Heads Coalition are created or enlisted to propagate this message of doubt. Deniers question the motives and engage in harassment of the real credentialed climate scientists.

Well, for the record, there has been scientific debate regarding climate change. Ideas have been tested, theories have been ventured, and the evidence keeps coming back to the same conclusion: Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from human-related sources is strengthening the greenhouse effect, adding to recent warming and acidifying the oceans.

Actually, the evidence coming in tends to confirm the worst and most dangerous projections. Claims, for instance, that solar activity is causing recent global warming, and even about whether the atmosphere is really warming, have been settled. But when the scientific research doesn't work out for the skeptics, they turn to straw man arguments. One straw man is that extreme weather events such as hurricanes and droughts aren't proof of climate change.

Well, let's be clear. No credible source is arguing that extreme events are proof of climate change. But extreme events are associated with what has been staring us in the face for years: The average global temperature is increasing, average sea level is rising, and average ocean acidity is increasing. When averages change, extremes usually change with them, and a warming climate, to use the best example, loads the dice--loads the dice for extreme weather.

So let's look at some of the games that the deniers display to try to manipulate public opinion. One gimmick they have reverted to is the observation that there has been no warming trend in the last 10 years--no warming trend, they say, in the last 10 years.

In 2010, a Republican Senator said: I don't think that anyone disagrees with the fact that we actually are in a cold period that started about 9 years ago.

Well, let's look at the facts. Let's start with the green line on this graph. The green line is the global surface temperature data. It is not a protection, it is not a hypothesis, it is a measurement. This is global surface temperature data. As you can see, it changes monthly.

The red line that goes through it is the trend line that is mathematically developed from that data. That trend line is the product of basic and undeniable mathematics.

The trend is extremely clear.

So let's look at what the deniers do with the very same data. Here they take the very same data, and the green line is unchanged. It is exactly the same data, and this is how they get to saying that we have had a cooling period for the past 10 years. They pick a high point, and they pick a low point out of this data, and they say that is their 10-year cooling period.

The problem is, if you go back, here is another one, here is another one, here is another one, and here is another one. It is interesting how all the cooling periods stack up to an increase.

It is a little bit like--who was the guy on the radio? He explained something to you, and it didn't seem quite right. Then he would say: ``Paul Harvey, what's the rest of the story?''

So the rest of the story is that if someone picks one piece of data out of a line that is going like this and then they go forward and pick a lower one later, they can manufacture the hypothesis there has been no warming trend in the last 10 years. But if we do it legitimately, if we run an actual trend line with mathematical precision through the data, it shows this theory is nothing but misleading bunk--misleading bunk--designed for the purpose of creating confusion.

This period, of course, is only a recent portion of the temperature record. When skeptics and deniers look deeper into the past, they find even more strawmen--that the Earth's climate always changes; that it has been warmer in the past. Yes, the Earth has seen different climates in the past, not all ones we would necessarily want to live in, by the way. The reason we know about these climates is because of the excellent work done by scientists--the same scientists who tell us that recent climate change can only be explained by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The final classic is that more carbon in the atmosphere is good because it provides more food for plants, the old plant food theory.

The fact is we have changed the composition of our atmosphere, pushing the concentration of carbon dioxide beyond the range it has been in for 8,000 centuries. For 8,000 centuries, it has been between 170 and 300 parts per million. For the first time this past year, it touched 400 parts per million in the Arctic. To give a time scale of what 8,000 centuries means, the practice of agriculture has been around for about 100 centuries. That is 8,000 centuries in this safe zone of carbon concentration of our atmosphere, with only 100 centuries of those with the human species, even farmers. Modern humans began to migrate out of Africa 600 centuries ago. Once again, 8,000 centuries of this safe climate belt of carbon concentration and 600 centuries of our species leaving Africa and migrating to populate the rest of our planet. Homo sapiens, our species, appeared around 2,000 centuries ago.

We are messing with planetary concentrations of atmospheric carbon that go back four times longer than our species has inhabited this planet. In all that time, in those 8,000 centuries, the Earth has never reached carbon dioxide concentrations as we have caused now through human activity.

Deniers also tend to just flat ignore the facts they can't explain away or gimmick the data for. For example, the increased acidification of the oceans, that is something that is simple to measure. It is undeniably chemically linked to carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. So we hear nothing about ocean acidification from the deniers. But ocean acidification is possibly the most disastrous consequence of our carbon pollution. The rate of change in acidity of our oceans is already thought to be faster than at any time in the past 50 million years.

I was talking a moment ago about being outside a boundary of carbon concentration or atmosphere that has persisted for 8,000 centuries. We are talking now about a rate of change of acidity in the ocean that hasn't been seen on this planet in the past 50 million years. A paper published this March in ``Science'' concluded the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions could drive chemical changes in the ocean unparalleled in the last 300 million years.

We are effecting changes in our atmosphere and in our oceans that only compare to ancient periods of geologic time. When we consider the implications for food security, biodiversity, and ocean-based industries, we cannot ignore these changes in our oceans.

Coincidentally, just last Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed listing 66 species of coral as endangered or threatened and cited climate change as driving three key threats: disease, warmer seas, and more acidic seas.

It might be worth reminding the deniers what NASA says. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration--NASA--says this about climate change and our global temperature rising.

All three global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years. Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.

On ocean temperatures and sea level rise, NASA said:

The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 2,300 feet showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. Global sea level rose about 6.7 inches in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.

On ocean acidification, this quote from NASA:

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent. This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Let me say that again:

This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.

NASA scientists put a man on the Moon. NASA scientists have a rover right now driving around on the surface of the planet Mars. They are not the quacks. Our Nation's best and brightest minds accept the evidence of climate change and they are urging us to act.

Yet still, for some in this body, the deniers carry the day. Why? In a weekend editorial entitled ``Flight from Facts''--``Flight from Facts''--my home State Providence Journal said:

[The] GOP is winning the race to avoid evidence--some of this escapism based on a desire to hold on to what had been comforting, if error-based, traditional beliefs, and some of it to avoid policies that might be economically and otherwise inconvenient.

Whatever the reason, the price of our folly will be very high for future generations.

One of the things I have noticed on this floor is that when it is a question of putting the cost of taking care of their grandparents on our children and grandchildren, oh, how the Republican crocodile tears flow about that unfair burden on children and grandchildren. In one of their attacks on Medicare and Social Security, which the Republicans like to call entitlements, we heard this:

We have got a serious spending problem here ..... and we need to have an impact on entitlements ..... if we're going to have entitlements for our children and grandchildren when they reach retirement age, we have got to change the trajectory.

The minority leader has also spoken about what appears in his remarks to be the health care bill--the ObamaCare bill--and he worried about it ``creating a more precarious future for our children.''

The minority leader has said this about the stimulus effort to get our economy back on its feet: ``This needs to stop for the future of our country and for our children and for our grandchildren.''

When it is the deficit, he has urged us ``to make sure we have the same kind of country for our children and grandchildren that our parents left for us.'' He has even talked about ``the Europeanization of America,'' and as a result of that Europeanization of America--whatever that is--he has said, ``Our children and grandchildren could no longer expect to have the same opportunities that we've had.''

On virtually every traditional anti-Obama Republican tea party bugbear--Medicare, ObamaCare, the stimulus, the deficit, even this Europeanization of America--out come the children and grandchildren. Let's assume they are sincere. Let's assume they have a sincere concern for what we are leaving to our children and grandchildren.

So when it comes to big corporate polluters of today leaving our children and grandchildren a damaged and more dangerous planet, where then is the concern for those children and grandchildren? To have children and grandchildren pay for the care of their grandparents through Medicare and Social Security is some kind of sin or outrage, but to force on those same children and grandchildren the untold costs and consequences of the harms done by today's corporate polluters, what do they have to say about that? For that, the future generations' interests receive nothing from the Republican Party but stony silence or phony and calculated denial.

But the cost will be on them. The cost of our negligence and folly in not addressing our carbon pollution will fall on our children and our grandchildren. The cost will be on them and the shame will be on us.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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