February 9, 2017

Time to Wake Up: 2016 Recapitulation

Mr. President, sometimes people ask how I come up for material for these speeches, week after week.  Well, it only takes reading the news.  Look at the headlines and dubious milestones of 2016.  

Last year was hot.  NASA and NOAA are expected to certify later this month that 2016 was the hottest year in recorded history, exceeding records set by 2015 and by 2014.  What this actually means is that 2014, 2015, and 2016 have each succeeded the last as the three hottest years on record.  The U.N. World Meteorological Organization found that the world was 1.2 degrees Celsius, or over 2 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer in 2016 than it was before the Industrial Revolution and the dawn of wide-scale fossil fuel use.  We are careening closer and closer to the 2-degrees-Celsius marker, which scientists say brings, to quote Donald Trump in 2009, “catastrophic” and “irreversible” climate effects. 

In 2016, climate change continued to make some places almost unrecognizable.  Up north in the Arctic, things got bizarre.  Thermometers spiked in mid-November to almost 35 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, with a 37-year low in the nearby sea ice.  It actually rose above freezing at the North Pole.  Can you imagine, Mr./Madam President, the snow was actually beginning to melt at the North Pole, just weeks before Santa loaded his sleigh with Christmas gifts?

[GBR bleaching chart]

In the tropics, undersea forests of once-colorful coral stood bone white as the Great Barrier Reef experienced the greatest bleaching and coral die-off on record.  Warm waters stress the corals, forcing them to expel tiny symbiotic algae that give coral reefs their beautiful and unique colors, and their life.  When they go, the coral structures turn ghostly white.

Researchers in Australia found severe bleaching throughout the Great Barrier Reef.  The Guardian reported in March that “93 percent of the 3,000 individual reefs [had] been touched by bleaching, and almost a quarter—22 percent of coral over the entire Great Barrier Reef [had] been killed by this bleaching event.”  By November, around two-thirds of the northern portion of the coral reef had died, with some atolls suffering complete devastation. 

We know from the physical law of thermal expansion, that as ocean water warms, it expands.  The oceans are also taking in melting water from our shrinking glaciers.  Both factors are causing sea levels to rise worldwide.

Last year the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicted that at our current pace, over 90 percent of the world’s coastal areas will experience almost 8 inches of sea level rise by 2040.  On the Atlantic Coast of the United States, that will be more than 15 inches. By 2040, a house you bought on the coast today could be literally underwater before you paid off your 30-year mortgage. 

[Zillow chart]

The real estate business is starting to take notice.  Zillow, the online real estate marketplace, released a tool for users last year to show how potential sea level rise by 2100 would affect the over 100 million U.S. homes in its database.  Around one in 50 homes in the United States, or just under 2 million properties, will find their ground floors underwater by 2100.  Thirty-six U.S. cities would be considered “completely lost” and another 300 cities would lose at least half their homes.  And that doesn’t include commercial or public property. 

 Government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac is girding for broad losses from climate-driven flooding.  “The economic losses and social disruption may happen gradually,” it wrote in an April 2016 report, “but they are likely to be greater in total than those experienced in the housing crisis and Great Recession.”  Some of the effects of climate change, it says, may not even be insurable.  And unlike the 2008 housing crash, owners of homes subsumed by rising seas would have little expectation of their homes’ values ever recovering, and little incentive to make mortgage payments, adding to steep losses for lenders and insurers.

[NY Times ad]

Remember, Donald Trump signed, along with his children, this full-page ad in the New York Times

[W]e must embrace the challenge today to ensure that future generations are left with a safe planet and a strong economy…. We support your effort to ensure meaningful and effective measure to control climate change, an immediate challenge facing the United States and the world today.  Please don’t postpone the earth.  If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.

President-Elect Trump pledged to ‘drain the swamp’ of corporate insiders, but instead we see a parade of climate deniers, oil executives, and Koch brothers flunkies nominated to fill his cabinet and executive agencies.

The Koch brothers, Exxon, and other special interests stand on one side.  Our military, our national labs, and NASA (who with a rover driving around on Mars may actually know a little science), and I think every university in the country, stand on the other.  I encourage President-elect Trump to listen to these voices of reason and expertise, not to the creeping Koch influence in his cabinet. 

[Block Island Wind Farm Picture]

In Rhode Island, after over eight years of work, we now have America’s first offshore wind farm.  This 30 MW, five-turbine project came online in December 2016. The Block Island Wind Farm, constructed by Deepwater Wind, can power 17,000 homes.  I am proud of Deepwater, and the open and collaborative process Rhode Island established that has set a new model for siting offshore wind.  

Jobs in renewables have taken off over the past several years.  At the end of 2016, we had 400,000 wind and solar jobs.  By 2020, that number is expected to be 600,000.  As employment climbs in these industries, costs for these technologies continue to drop compared to fossil fuels. 

Last year saw new records for electricity generation from renewable sources.  Texas wind generation hit a record 15 GW in December 2016, meeting 45 percent of the state’s power needs,with18,000 megawatts installed and another 5,000 megawatts under construction.  In Iowa, MidAmerican is planning to add 2000 MW of new wind by 2019.  Once installed, 85 percent of the energy MidAmerican generates will be renewable. 

And we continued to make real progress internationally in 2016.

On Earth Day last year was the signing ceremony for the historic Paris climate agreement.  Nearly 200 nations pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.  By October, we met the threshold for ratification of the Paris Agreement when over 55 countries, accounting for 55 percent of global emissions, officially joined.  And the agreement was fully adopted in November. 

Just this week over 630 companies and investors with a combined 1.8 million employees and  $1.15 trillion in annual revenue, called on President-Elect Trump, Members of Congress, and global leaders to continue to participate in and implement the Paris Agreement, to “create jobs and boost US competitiveness.”  Signatories include food giants General Mills, Kellogg’s, Campbell’s Soup, and Mars; apparel companies VF Corporation, Nike, and Levi’s; and other corporate heavyweights like Monsanto, DuPont, Intel and Johnson and Johnson.  I’d like to ask unanimous consent to enter the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA letter into the record. I hope President-Elect Trump will heed this business call.  

Secretary of State Kerry has started giving oceans the global attention they deserve.  In September, more than 90 countries convened in Washington, D.C., for the Our Ocean Conference.  Nations, non-profit organizations, foundations, and corporations pledged over $5 billion for marine conservation and committed to protecting more than 1.5 million square miles of ocean.  Secretary Kerry has also secured the legacy of the Our Ocean Conference by locking in hosts for the conference for the next three years.

Mr./Madam President, 2016 was a year of worsening climate effects, but also of heartening climate action.  The dramatic changes taking place in the Earth’s climate are undeniable.  But so is the growing spirit of action among men and women of good conscience across the United States and around the world.  One can only hope that 2017 will be the year that we this chamber finally wake up.

I yield the floor.