September 16, 2015

Time to Wake Up: 2014 Set Records for Global Temperatures, Sea Level Rise and Retreating Glaciers

Mr. President, I am here today for the 111th time in my “Time to Wake Up” series urging this body to wake up to climate change. It is happening all around us, and it is happening right now, not in some distant future. The warnings of what is to come if we fail to act are sobering.

Congress has the ability and responsibility to change the course we are on, but we can’t do it until Senate Republicans step up and start debating real solutions. Smart climate policy can align with conservative values–conservative values, such as prudence in the face of risks, protection of property rights and individual liberty, and market-based solutions for solving problems.

Senator Schatz and I have proposed a fee on carbon emissions, correcting a market failure that currently allows major emitters to pollute for free while forcing regular citizens to bear the physical and financial burden. Even if you are a tea-partier, why would you want a big special interest to be able to distort the energy market and make regular people pay the price for the harm they cause? Other than special interest politics, it makes no sense.

This market incentive would work. It would reduce emissions. A recent report on our bill shows it will reduce carbon emissions 45 percent by 2030, more than the President’s Clean Power Plan does. It will also generate significant revenue–over $2 trillion over 10 years–to return to taxpayers. With $2 trillion, you can lower a lot of tax rates.

I hope our Republican colleagues will give this bill a serious look. Former Congressman Bob Inglis, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, described our bill not as an olive branch, but as an olive limb we have offered to Republicans.

Yet still in this Chamber, all we hear from Republicans is equivocation and denial when it comes to climate change. We hear Republican Senators trumpet industry-backed reports that point to the costs of action, but ignore the terrible costs of inaction. They look at only one side of the ledger. If accountants did business that way, they would go to jail, but that is evidently good enough for Republicans in the climate debate.

We hear Senators using cherry-picked data. They will take a graph that goes up and down, up and down on an upward trend and pick a high spot and a later low spot, and from those two selected points, they will say: Aha. See, there is no increase.

An expert witness would be thrown out of court for that nonsense, but it is evidently good enough for Republicans for the climate debate.

We hear Senators ducking and dodging on this issue, exclaiming they are not scientists, but then they will not listen to what they are being told by the people who are scientists. We hear deniers denigrate scientists, ignore basic established science, and venture into loopy conspiracy theories about a great hoax, one that the United States military and every American national laboratory and NASA are all evidently in on. Seriously? And they say this with no shame for the smear it implies of some of our most reputable scientists. Again, that is good enough for Republicans in the climate debate, I guess.

We even had a Senator throw a snowball on the Senate floor because he thought the continued existence of snow here somehow disproved climate change. Truly. I did not make that up.

Meanwhile, what we see all around us shows us that this is happening. Simple, straightforward measurements show that the climate is changing around us.

One summary is the annual “State of the Climate” report by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the American Meteorological Society. The report reviews dozens of climate indicators–from ocean and air temperatures to extreme weather events. It doesn’t get into forecasts or projections. It discusses what we are observing and measuring now. The “State of the Climate” report shows that 2014 was a benchmark year for the climate, and not in a good way. The article in Bloomberg News summarizing the report’s findings was titled “The Freakish Year in Broken Climate Records.”

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that this article be printed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.

Its author, Tom Randall, sums up the state of the climate with two words: “it’s ugly.” I have to agree. From record temperatures to record sea levels to changing weather to retreating glaciers, climate change is evident across an array of measurements and observations. We are watching our planet change before our very eyes.

Let’s see what these measurements say.

Well, 2014 was another record year for global temperatures. NOAA and NASA both concluded that 2014 was the hottest year since recordkeeping began in 1880.

This chart shows where temperatures in 2014 were warmer than the 1981-to-2010 average, which is shown in red, and blue shows where the temperatures were cooler than average.

The eastern part of the United States and Canada was one of only a handful of places around the world that saw cooler-than-average temperatures. But while it was cool here in 2014, almost everywhere else in the world was feeling the heat. All you have to do is look at the data to see it. It is a massive sea of red.

And 2014 does not stand alone; 17 of the 18 hottest years in the historical record have occurred in the last 18 years. The past decade was warmer than the one before that, which was warmer than the one before that, and so far 2015 is on track to be even hotter than 2014. All of this is measurement and straightforward fact.

Of course, as humans, we don’t experience annual average changes in temperature, we experience the weather, and we are beginning to see climate change affect weather patterns all over the world.

This chart shows the number of extreme warm days and the number of extreme cold nights since 1960. The number of hot days, as we can see, is climbing, and the number of cold nights is decreasing. Both are symptoms of a warming planet. This matters because those very warm days pose human health risks and can be downright dangerous for people who don’t have air conditioning, especially for the young, old, and infirm. Extreme heat can stunt crops and drive down yields, and it can stress livestock and other animals.

Cool nights are important too. It is the cold nights of winter that help control the mountain pine beetle, ticks, and other pests. With fewer cold nights, the mountain pine beetle has wreaked havoc over the west in the past few years.

Last week, my colleagues on the Senate Climate Action Task Force and I heard from Dave Chadwick of the Montana Wildlife Federation about climate change effects on the Montana’s hunting industry, with hunters going to their favorite spots and no longer seeing the game they used to see.

Jill Ryan, the commissioner in Eagle County, CO, told us they are already seeing fewer ski days in her Rocky Mountain community–not good for Colorado’s iconic ski industry.

In Maine and New Hampshire, out-of-control tick populations are attacking the region’s iconic moose. A single moose might now carry tens of thousands of ticks. It is sickening to see, and it is no good for the New Hampshire moose-watching industry. Yes, people actually do that. Between mud and snowmobile trails and fewer, sicker, tick-encrusted moose, it ain’t looking good.

This chart shows how much water various glaciers around the world have lost each year since 1980. Last year the melting was equivalent to each glacier losing 33 inches right off the top. Look at these losses–31 consecutive years in a row of loss.

Last year’s melt continues a sobering trend of heavier and heavier losses. The red line here shows the total amount of ice loss since 1980. It shows that glacial ice loss has been accelerated. Average losses were about 9 inches in the 1980s, 15 inches in the 1990s, and 29 inches in the 2000s. Again, this is measurement, folks, not conjecture.

The oceans are warming. Why? Well, it is simple. As greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, the heat is absorbed by the oceans. Over 90 percent of the excess heat from greenhouse gases that has been trapped has actually gone into the oceans, and 4 out of 5 analyses say that the heat in the upper ocean set a record high in 2014.

These data show the decades-long warming of the surface oceans. Colleagues who still insist that the climate has not warmed in the past couple of decades–look at the oceans, that’s where the heat went. This warming is changing the oceans and changing our fisheries and, because of the law of thermal expansion, contributing to sea-level rise.

In 2014, global sea level was at its highest point since we began measuring it with satellites in 1993, which is shown on the chart.

In 2014, we saw the sea level continuing to rise at a rate of about 1/8 of an inch per year. We measure this in Rhode Island. Sea level at the Newport Naval Station has increased almost 10 inches since the 1930s. This matters when you have storms riding in on higher seas and tearing away our Rhode Island coastline.

Sea level rise matters a lot to my constituents.

Measurements are confirming what the scientists have predicted: The seas are rising because the oceans are warming and ice on land is melting. The climate is warming because greenhouse gases are trapping heat from the Sun in the atmosphere.

Again, these are irrefutable facts, confirmed by experts and scientific organizations and big corporations such as Walmart. Here is the reason. The main culprit behind the changes we are observing is carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere, which in 2014 reached record levels. The global average exceeded 400 parts per million in 2014. In context, for as long as human beings have been on the planet, it has been between about 170 and 300. For our whole duration as a species, that has been the range. Now we are out of it by over 400 and climbing. The global carbon dioxide levels haven’t been this high in human experience.

Where are we headed in 2015? Well, these trends are likely continuing. Scientists are already predicting that 2015 will eclipse 2014 in the record books for global temperature change. In 2015 we can expect that the temperatures will continue to go up, the seas will continue to rise, and glaciers will continue to melt. It won’t stop unless we choose to stop what is causing it.

We know our binge of carbon pollution is driving these changes. May I say that today a news report has come out that shows one of the biggest carbon polluters of all, ExxonMobil, knows that our binge of carbon pollution is driving these changes and spent decades covering up what they knew with a fusillade of lies that they launched to try to continue to sell their product. This is what folks who are engaged in climate denial are buying into–a campaign of lies from a fossil fuel company, ExxonMobil, that itself knows better. I will have more on that story later.

We can’t just keep our heads buried in the sand. We have to wake up. We have to wake up to the facts, and we have to wake up to our duty.

I appreciate the patience of my friend the Senator from Utah.

With that, I yield the floor.