Time to Wake Up: Climate Colloquy with Senators Schatz, Blumenthal

As delivered on the Senate floor

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I am here once again, actually now for the 40th time, to urge my colleagues to wake up to the threat of climate change.

I am very pleased to be joined today by our colleague Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who is a champion of renewable energy and energy efficiency. As Hawaii's Lieutenant Governor, he coauthored his State's net metering rule, which encourages renewable energy, and he led the design of the State's Renewable Energy Portfolio, which is on track to be No. 1 in the Nation. He has pushed commonsense ways to boost energy security and battle climate change, and it is no wonder he has been called Hawaii's ``Ambassador of Energy.''

We are here today in the wake of a hearing last week in the Committee on Environment and Public Works. The premise of that hearing was simple--``Climate Change: It's Happening Now.'' Disappointingly, again, allies of the fossil fuel industry attempted to discount or downplay that straightforward call to action.

Of the climate scientists on hand, everyone--even the minority witnesses--agreed that carbon dioxide causes climate change. That is physics 101. And all but one agreed that climate change is a real problem. The only academic who did not, Dr. Roy Spencer, is affiliated with the industry-backed George C. Marshall Institute and the Heartland Institute.

Regrettably, Dr. Spencer played a tried-and-true trick of the climate deniers: deselecting data that don’t support your conclusions. Scientists around the world have been collecting high-quality surface temperature data for more than 100 years. To Dr. Spencer, however, the only data that matters are satellite and balloon readings of atmospheric temperatures in the tropics. Why ignore data outside the tropics? Why ignore surface temperature data? Why ignore ocean data, when the oceans cover two-thirds of the globe? Well, when you look at all the data, it shows the Earth warming at a much faster rate than his data in isolation.

Other minority witnesses played similar games.

Ms. Furchtgott-Roth, who is not a climate scientist, testified on this. She appears to be a sort of all-purpose witness-of-all-trades for the Republicans on topics that range from job training to health insurance to constitutional law, even to Samoan fisheries. She claimed that climate change has stopped.

Well, if you look at the past decade, you can convince yourself that climate change has stopped. Actually, on this chart , you can convince yourself that climate change has stopped five different times. But when you look at the whole picture, the only conclusion is that the Earth is getting warmer. The past 10 years were warmer than the 10 years before that. In fact, the past 10 years were warmer than any other 10 years in recorded history.

The continued, now-near-fraudulent denial of climate change is pernicious. Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers called out in her testimony what she calls “climate misleaders.” She explained--and I will quote her--

“These are people who [are] deliberately ignoring and misconstruing the science in an attempt to convince [lawmakers] and the public that either human-caused climate change isn't happening, or that it's nothing to worry about.”

Well, I am sure Senator Schatz is aware that observations around the world, including in his home State, show climate change is indeed real and already happening.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Hawaii.

Mr. SCHATZ. Thank you, Mr. President.

I want to thank the Senator from Rhode Island for his kind words. He is a real expert and a leader on climate change, and I look forward to continuing to work together with him and our colleagues on this important issue. He has just discussed the overwhelming evidence that global temperatures are rising. I would like to build on his remarks and add that temperature is not the only indicator that climate change is real and it is happening now.

We see the changes in Hawaii and all over the world. One only need to look to the top of the world, where Arctic Sea ice is melting faster than scientists had predicted originally. Just last summer, the ice covering the Arctic Ocean retreated to its smallest size in recorded history, shrinking by 350,000 square miles--an area about the size of Venezuela.

Glaciers continue to retreat. The Greenland ice sheet provides a stark example of the rapid recession of the world's ice. For several days in July of 2012, Greenland's surface ice cover melted more than at any time in 30 years of satellite observation. During that month an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet thawed.

Some types of severe weather are also on the rise. While climate scientists are extremely careful not to attribute any single weather event to climate change, there is no doubt that increased climate change has ``loaded the dice,'' which means that extreme weather events are increasingly likely.

Extreme weather events cost us in lives and in money. And of course, the sea level continues to rise. As water warms, its volume expands. Scientists have observed that the top layer of the world's oceans has stored an enormous amount of heat, raising sea levels in many parts of the world. This ocean warming has contributed to an estimated one-third to one-half of the increase in sea level rise to date.

Sea level rise is a serious challenge for my home State of Hawaii in particular. Just a 3-foot rise in sea level, which scientists project for this century, will flood many parts of Honolulu, including the iconic hotels and businesses along Waikiki Beach, leaving beaches eroded and hotels, businesses, and homes possibly inundated by the ocean.

My colleague from Rhode Island, an ocean State, is especially aware of these changes.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, tide gauges in Newport, RI, show an increase in average sea level of nearly 10 inches since 1930. That is a big deal for Rhode Islanders when we think about how devastating our great hurricane of 1938 was and what worse would now befall us with 10 more inches of sea for storms to hammer against our shores.

Those measurements show that the rate of sea level rise is also increasing. This matches reports that since 1990, sea level has been rising faster than the rate predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Part of what has caused sea level rise is ocean warming, as described by Senator Schatz.

When fluids get warm, including ocean water, they expand and therefore rise. During last week's EPW hearing, we heard about the heat, significant amounts of heat, that oceans are now absorbing. Even if atmospheric warming had hit another temporary level, the ocean is still warming, and ocean warming hits ocean ecosystems.

Dr. Margaret Leinin testified at the hearing last week about a study that showed economically important species such as cod, haddock, yellowtail, and winter flounder shifting northward over the last four decades. The study suggests that the fish are moving to locations within their preferred temperature range.

Scientists have begun to tease out how what seem like small changes in average temperature are important to fish and other animals in the ocean. In Narragansett Bay, we have a continuous temperature record going back to 1959, along with data on what is living in the water. We know water temperature is rising. One study found winter temperatures are up an average of almost 4 degrees since the 1960s in Narragansett Bay, and that is not good for the winter flounder.

NOAA scientists working in Rhode Island found that winter flounder incubated in warmer water are smaller when they hatch than those incubated in colder water. Juvenile winter flounder need time to settle to the bottom of the bay and to grow larger before abundant bottom feeders like the sand shrimp arrive. Now itlooks like warmer water brings the shrimp in earlier while the flounder are still small enough to eat, making them easier prey.

So the evidence is that warmer waters load the dice against winter flounder in Narragansett Bay, and the fisherman who relied upon this fishery, they paid the price. Catches are down to less than one-tenth of what they once were. Fishermen in Hawaii are paying the price as well.

Mr. SCHATZ. As Senator Whitehouse has described, our oceans show the effect of climate change by absorbing much of the heat from our warming planet. But they do more than that; our oceans absorb almost 25 percent of the carbon that humans release into the atmosphere. And ifthey did not, even more greenhouse gasses would warm our planet at an even faster pace. Our oceans and the life in them pay a price for all of this carbon.

Increasing carbon dioxide creates a chemical reaction that raises the acidity of the sea water. This is called ocean acidification. So that is a technical term, but what does it mean as a practical matter? In plain terms, ocean acidification makes it difficult for shellfish, corals, sea urchins, and other creatures to form the shells that they need in order to live. As a result, fewer survive, which means entire populations are put at risk. Acidification negatively affects crucial parts of the ocean’s food chain from shellfish and coral reefs to fisheries.

So what does this mean for human beings? Ocean acidification has real economic consequences for communities that depend on the ocean for food, for jobs, for tourism, like my home State of Hawaii. Further acidification and warming will hurt our local fishing and tourism industries, industries that make up the backbone of our economy. All the fish and the seafood we depend upon may become scarcer and likely more expensive.

If we continue to burn fossil fuels at our current rate, our oceans may become 150 percent more acidic by the end of this century. That is a higher level of acidity than has been seen in the last 20 million years.

Today, more than a  billion people worldwide rely on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein. So without solving the problem of ocean acidification, we will leave people, industries and entire economies, vulnerable, especially in developing countries. Climate change is threatening the basic foundation of many of our economies and especially the State of Hawaii. The Hawaiian economy, culture, and history are derived from the ocean. And soany dramatic changes to our ocean environment will impact our lives especially.

As I mentioned before, sea level rise threatens our beachfront property from Waikiki to Ka'anapali to the North Shore of Kauai. These beaches are important for Hawaii tourism and our economy and to local people across the State. Each year, Hawaii hosts an estimated 8 million visitors, with many of them drawn to our beaches. Tourist receipts alone made up almost $12 billion in revenues last year. So climate change could also usher in a period of more frequent and severe weather, which could make Hawaii's communities increasingly vulnerable to flooding and storm damage.

Climate change threatens more than our economy. Our national security institutions face the similar risk from sea level rise and ocean acidification. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, an assessment produced every 4 years by the Department of Defense, concluded that climate change will affect the military and its missions. In particular, low-lying naval installations, such as Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, face similar threats from sea level rise that could leave parts of the base flooded, requiring millions of dollars in costly upgrades.

With the United States rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region, sustaining our naval capabilities and ensuring that they too can weather the effect of climate change will be increasingly important for Hawaii and for our Nation.

I know the Senator from Rhode Island has concerns about his own State. And I yield to him.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. As the Senator from Hawaii said, it is not just Hawaii, it is not just Rhode Island actually, it is all of our States that will be affected. Dr. Leinin, who testified at our EPW hearing, is from Florida Atlantic University. She highlighted how sensitive Florida will be to climate change.

In her testimony, Dr. Leinin said:

“The Caribbean/Florida region has shown sea surface temperature increases of about ..... [2 degrees Fahrenheit] per decade concurrent with losses of viable coral reef area of between 5.5 percent and 9.2 percent per year. Western Atlantic reefs have the highest percentage area affected by bleaching of any reefs worldwide.”

Not so great for Florida's diving and snorkeling economy. Dr. Leinin pointed out that Florida's population ``is heavily concentrated, with almost 14 million people living along our coast. In South Florida, Miami, the seventh largest city in the country, the Florida Keys, coastal and inland portions of Broward County, the Florida Everglades and Ft. Lauderdale are all below 2 feet in elevation.''

The effects of sea level rise that we discussed for Hawaii and Rhode Island appear to be more evident in Florida. Dr. Leinin told us: Although sea level rise has only risen these few inches in 50 years, that rise has been sufficient to prevent drainage systems from working during lunar high tides and during storms. The streets of Miami Beach are now routinely flooded at peak high tide. The addition of storm surges to these higher sea levels means that drainage systems no longer work reliably, causing seawater to move into storm sewer systems and force water inland.

So South Florida is ground zero for sea level rise. As Senator Schatz said earlier, this is one of the effects of climate change. And sea level rise has not stopped or slowed down, especially not in South Florida. It is time to wake up and get to work slowing these changes where we can, and adapting our communities to their inevitable effects.

 Senator Schatz.

Mr. SCHATZ. Commonsense solutions to the threat of climate change are everywhere. We have been talking a lot about the risks of climate change, but let's talk a little bit about the opportunities--the opportunities to fight climate change, to transform how we produce and consume energy, and to grow a clean energy economy.

We know what we need to do. We also know how to do it. Congress may not enact comprehensive climate legislation this year, but it can still take action to make a difference. As I see it, we have an opportunity for common ground in three areas: energy efficiency, tax incentives, and innovative financing structures to promote clean energy deployment.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity for compromise is in energy efficiency, the commonsense idea that we ought to save money and reduce pollution at the same time by simply consuming less energy to perform the same tasks. Senators Shaheen and Portman have taken this up and are writing excellent legislation to improve and enhance energy efficiency across the Nation.

Their bill includes sensible measures that will help to achieve significant reductions in energy use. Buildings use close to 40 percent of the energy used in the United States. And this bill will contain provisions that will update the building codes, increase efficiency goals for Federal facilities, and provide incentives to industrial facilities, commercial buildings, and homes.

In recent weeks, we have been hearing that Shaheen-Portman may come to the floor. We are encouraged by that. We encourage both the majority leader and the minority leader, as well as the managers of this legislation, to move it to the floor expeditiously so that we can take care of it before the August break.

Second, I urge my colleagues to support tax incentives for clean energy, many of which expire at the end of this year. Senators on both sides of the aisle have repeatedly worked together to extend these incentives, especially the wind credit. We can build on this common ground to support sensible solutions. We not only have the opportunity to extend clean energy incentives as a part of tax reform but to improve upon them. We should focus on creating credits that reward performance and innovation and do not pick winners and losers. They should help industries scale up, bring costs down, and become competitive on their own.

Finally, the Federal Government must do more to help new and innovative technologies reach the marketplace. New technologies face significant barriers to market entry; barriers that focused government intervention such as loan guarantees and other financing mechanisms can help overcome.

The Senator from Rhode Island may also have thoughts on other commonsense solutions. And I yield to him for any comments he may have.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, Rhode Island is preparing for climate change. And we are doing it in commonsense ways. Along our coasts, we are identifying areas that are vulnerable to sea level rise. The University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography is a world leader in measuring and understanding the effects of climate change on our waters.

Rhode Island's Department of Health, with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is preparing us for the health effects associated with climate change. But it is not enough for individual States to have to act alone. That is why Senator Schatz and I, along with our colleagues in the House, Representatives Waxman and Blumenauer, have put forward a discussion draft for a fee on carbon pollution.

It is clear when we consider the damage climate change will cause, indeed already has begun to cause, there is a social cost of carbon pollution. It is not factored into the price of fossil fuels.

That is a market failure, and our approach would correct that market failure.

We want to discuss with our Democratic and Republican colleagues how best to implement this solution, what the price should be, how fast it should rise, and how to return the proceeds back to Americans. A market solution like this should be right up Republicans' alley. This is why Republicans such as Art Laffer and George Shultz are talking about it.

A fee on carbon can reduce emissions. And one option, to use the proceeds to reduce taxes, should be attractive to our Republican colleagues.

To give one example, with the majority of the carbon pollution fee proceeds, setting a little reserve aside for the lowest income people, you put the rest of it to work lowering corporate income taxes, and just with that you can reduce the top of the American corporate income tax rate from 35 to 28 percent, that is a pretty considerable value to those businesses that are still paying the top rate, and that should be worth something during negotiations.

As I have said before in these talks, it is time to wake up. It is time to get to work.

I wish to thank my friend Senator Schatz for his leadership in the effort to protect Americans from the harms of climate change.

I want turn to him now for his final remarks and welcome Senator Blumenthal, who will be joining us in this colloquy.

Mr. SCHATZ. I want to thank Senator Whitehouse for being a leader for so long, for being so forceful and so factual on this issue. I realky applaud his leadership and look forward to continuing to work together on this important issue.

Climate change is real. Climate change is caused by humans, and climate change is solvable.

I wish to end on a note of optimism. The urgency of this situation creates a real opportunity. We have a chance to start a second Industrial Revolution that will drive our economy for decades to come.

We have the chance and the responsibility to transition into a clean energy economy and leave our world in better shape than we found it.

I yield the floor for Senator Blumenthal.

Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I want  to join with my two very good friends and colleagues who have highlighted an issue that concerns the whole country, not just Hawaii, Rhode Island--and no two States are farther apart geographically--but we share this very dire and dangerous problem, often characterized as climate change. I think it is climate disruption. It is global destruction.

One of the myths that surrounds this area that my two colleagues have sought to explode is the supposed incompatibility of reducing destruction of our planet and, at the same time, growing our economy. Often, economic growth is thought to be in conflict with environmental protection and responsibility.

In fact, ecology and economy go together. We can expand our economy by developing new sources of fuel, renewables like  wind and solar, but also fuel cells, which in my State of Connecticut are a growing source of energy responsibility and economic growth.

So far from being incompatible, these two goals are complementary. More jobs, more economic growth, can be the result of controlling carbon pollution.

In fact, the President's program for controlling carbon pollution, which would dramatically cut the magnitude of our air contamination and make us a more responsible nation, will increase jobs and economic growth. It will also put us in a position of leadership around the globe and enable us to regain the position of trust and leadership that we have exercised on so many other issues. We cannot be a leader if we don't lead ourselves.

We cannot tell others what to do when we don't follow the example that we should be setting. It should be and it must be leadership by example.

My colleague Senator Murphy and I--and he will be shortly speaking about another subject--brought together a very powerful coalition in Connecticut just last week to highlight this issue of climate change and to dramatize how many different interests and ages have  in common in this goal: labor leaders, environmental activists, young people wearing T-shirts and carrying signs.

They get it. They know. The science is there. The reality is pressing, urgent, and we must address it.

So I want  to thank all of my colleagues who are uniting on this historic cause. I hope we can join together in colloquies going forward.

I know the Presiding Officer has been a leader in the House and will be now in the Senate; most especially, my friend and colleague Senator Whitehouse, who literally week after week, in many different themes and widely diverse ways, has brought our attention, riveting our minds, on this very important subject. I congratulate him on the 40th speech, and I look forward to participating more with him.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. I look forward to that myself.

Mr. President I yield the floor.