01.30.07

Whitehouse Highlights Global Warming's Threat to the Ocean State

Environment and Public Works Committee Presentation Shows Impact Close to Home

Washington, D.C. - At the first hearing of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works (EPW), U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) offered a uniquely Rhode Island look at the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming.

In a presentation drawing on the expertise and insights of Rhode Island's environmental community, Whitehouse demonstrated evidence that climate change is already at work in Rhode Island - from the cherry trees on his own street to devastating temperature increases in Narragansett Bay.

"Left unchecked, climate change will affect every community in every nation on earth, altering the world in ways we are only beginning to understand. For our Ocean State, warmer temperatures and rising sea levels could mean disaster, our financial centers, tourist destinations, and historic landmarks swept away and lost," said Whitehouse. "This issue is real, time is of the essence, and action is called for."

The earlier and earlier arrival of the spring bloom in Rhode Island is now a documented phenomenon, indicating a trend of warmer temperatures throughout the region, and Narragansett Bay, the state's most distinctive ecological feature, is undergoing a significant ecosystem shift as the water's temperature gradually warms. Whitehouse noted that the Bay's annual mean winter temperature has increased by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 20 years and that warmer temperatures in the summer can also have profound effects, such as the massive fish kill in Greenwich Bay in the summer of 2003. If Greenland's ice cap melts and causes sea levels to rise by as much as 20 feet worldwide, the nightmare scenario of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," Whitehouse said, downtown Providence would be inundated, Newport's historic waterfront overwhelmed by its harbor, and coastal residential communities like Barrington completely submerged.

"This cycle is predicted to get worse - much worse - if nothing is done," said Whitehouse, who earlier this year joined U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) as a co-sponsor of the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, legislation calling for an 80% reduction in global warming pollutants by 2050.

Whitehouse recognized members of Rhode Island's environmental community for their assistance in assembling the data used in his presentation, including Save the Bay, Environment Rhode Island, the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, Brown University, the Rhode Island Coastal Institute, Rhode Island Clean Water Action, the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Rhode Island Conservation Law Foundation.

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