May 21, 2014

Americans Want Action on Climate Change

As Delivered on the Senate Floor

Mr. President, I have come directly to the Senate floor from a terrific event in the Dirksen building where hundreds of people who are concerned about what the carbon pollution is doing to our atmosphere and oceans gathered to wake up Congress.  At 5 o’clock a whole bunch of alarms went off down there, and it was a very exciting, very enthusiastic moment with more than 40 members of Congress showing up to reflect our commitment to getting this done. 

One of the things I told people at the rally was that we are close to turning this issue around.  The barricade of special interest propaganda that has surrounded Congress is eroding.  The denial castle is built on sand and the sand is eroding the foundations for that propaganda, washing out from underneath it, and it will collapse soon.  Why do I say that? I say that for several reasons. 

The first reason that I believe we are close to a win is that for a long time the big polluters have had a free shot at the atmosphere and oceans.  Pollution costs them nothing, and that has created a mindset of entitlement and it created a mindset in which pollution was viewed as of no consequence.  Thankfully, the President of the United States has required the EPA to promulgate regulations that will for the first time put a price on the carbon pollution that is emitted from our biggest power plants, and the 50 biggest power plants in America put out more carbon than Korea.  They put out more carbon than Canada.  So this is a very serious situation.  When they are faced with the regulation, I think that is not just going to reduce their emissions, but it is going to change the way they see the problem, and they will be motivated in a new way to think: “Wait a minute; what is the best way to solve this problem?” Once they are no longer free to pollute, once the advantage is taken away, the whole equation changes for them, and I suspect that it will not take long between a polluter change in point of view and a change in point of view on the other side of the aisle in the Senate. 

The second reason is the politics on this.  We have seen a recent poll that I have talked about on the floor before that points out that Republican voters—self-identified Republican voters—if they are under the age of 35 think that climate denial is—not my words, but in the words in the poll—ignorant, out of touch or crazy. 

So if you are a modern political party and you have built your climate change policy on a theory of denial that your own youth cohort, your own young voters under 35 think is ignorant, out of touch, or crazy, that is what I mean by a castle that is built on sand and that is doomed to fall. 

The third reason I want to mention here is there is a very significant role for America’s corporations because what you get in this body from the so-called self-appointed corporate mouthpieces—The Wall Street Journal editorial page, the so-called U.S.  Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers–what you get from all of them is flat out climate denial, the absolute hard stuff–just complete denial, absolute ignorance and ignoring of the science, totally in the tank with the polluters and the oil and coal industry.  What is interesting is that actually doesn’t represent the views of America’s corporate community, and it doesn’t represent them by a lot. 

If you look at big brand name American corporations, if you look at Coke and Pepsi, if you look at Apple and Google, if you look at WalMart and Target, if you look at Mars and Nestle, UPS and Federal Express, GM and Ford, look at the entire casualty property insurance industry, look at the bulk of the electric utility industry, look at the entire green energy sector, all of them know that climate change is a real problem, understand the undeniable science of what carbon pollution does to the Earth’s atmosphere and to our oceans, and they are doing things about it. 

They have sustainability policies.  They have climate policies.  WalMart has probably done more to get rid of the incandescent bulb than any other force on the planet.  They are very strong on this issue.  But within those great corporations, it tends to be cabined into their corporate business and sustainability divisions.  It hasn’t really influenced yet the way they communicate with the public, and it certainly hasn’t influenced much their government relations.  So there is a huge mismatch between the so-called voice of the corporate community, which is really a polluter-paid propaganda effort coming through The Wall Street Journal, coming through the U.S.  Chamber of Commerce, and coming through the National Association of Manufacturers—a huge difference between that and what the underlying leaders of what regular Americans think of as the American corporate community believe.  That difference is eventually—like these other forces—going to tear apart the foundation of the denial castle. 

We have the chance to make this happen and to make this happen soon, and we need to.  We absolutely need to.  The Presiding Officer is the senior Senator from Connecticut, a state which borders mine.  Connecticut and Rhode Island share a critical factor, which is coastline.  If you follow the logic, such logic as exists in the denial machinery, they will take you off into distant and complex computer models of what the temperature is going to be and what the atmosphere is going to be like 30 or 40 years from now.  And yes, that is complicated.  In that area there is room to sow confusion. 

Come to the coast.  At the coastline you see sea levels rising because of an immutable law of nature called the law of thermal expansion.  The ocean is warming because it has caught more than 90 percent of the excess heat that the carbon has trapped, and when it warms, it expands. 

It is as simple as that.  That means when you go to my state to the Newport tide gauge off the Naval Station Newport, you see it is 10 inches higher than it was in the 1930s.  That is a big deal because in the 1930s we had the hurricane of 1938.  And if you look back at the devastation that hurricane caused to our coastline and you adjust for what 10 additional inches of sea would do and adjust again for stacking up that 10 inches in what a storm surge would do, you end up with a truly apocalyptic vision of the Rhode Island shore, and it is not deniable. 

You cannot quarrel about a tide gauge.  It is in effect a yardstick nailed to a dock, and the water has gone up 10 inches.  To deny that is not just to deny science; it is to deny measurement.  I think it is a bit of a stretch for even the most ardent of my denier colleagues to deny measurement.  With a thermometer you measure that Narragansett Bay is nearly 4 degrees warmer in mean winter water temperature, and that means a lot for fishermen who used to fish for winter flounder.  It doesn’t take a very complicated test to determine what the acidity of the ocean is and to measure just the way you would measure the acidity in an aquarium.  Our oceans are acidifying at the fastest rate that has been measured in 50 million years. 

Remember we are a species that has been on this planet as Homo sapiens for a little over 200,000 years.  So when you are talking about the steepest rate of acidification in millions of years, that is a dramatic shift in the habitability of our planet.  If you want to know who that matters to, go to the west coast, go to the oyster fisheries and look at the wipe-out of young oyster species that took place when acidified ocean water got into the growing oysters and killed them all off.  It was simply too acidic for their little shells to survive. 

These are the harbingers of things to come.  These are the undeniable facts.  These are the truths the oceans tell us and our coastlines tell us.  For all those reasons, I am confident that we will be at serious business to address climate change a lot sooner than the deniers think.  The American public simply is not going to put up with a Congress that has become the prisoner to a barricade of special interest propaganda when they know better.  Now the American people do, indeed, know better. 

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