January 20, 2016

Time to Wake Up: Climate Change in Texas

Mr. President, I rise for “Time to Wake Up” speech number 124. Today, let’s talk Texas.

Polling from the University of Texas at Austin shows that more than three out of four Americans–or 76 percent–now believe that climate change is occurring. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans say it is happening. While most poll respondents say they would support a Presidential candidate who supports reducing coal as an energy source, the number goes up to 65 percent for voters under the age of 35.

So, we might expect Republican Presidential hopefuls to acknowledge the problem and incorporate climate action into their campaign platforms. We might, but we would be wrong.

Republican candidates for President have a key constituency: fossil fuel billionaire donors. So the candidates ignore the clear tide of public opinion, mock the warnings of our scientific and national security experts, dismiss climate disruptions in their own home States, and dismiss the world-class climate research of their own home State universities and scientists—even in Texas.

When asked if global warming is real, the junior Senator from Texas responds that the “data and facts don’t support it. … Science should follow the facts.” OK. Let’s follow the data and facts.

NOAA and NASA just announced that 2015 was the warmest year ever recorded on Earth. That is a fact, and it not an anomaly. It is the continuation of a clear trend. Fifteen of the warmest 16 years ever recorded by humankind on this planet are the 15 years of this century.

Texas A&M has a department of atmospheric sciences. The faculty there have unanimously adopted this statement:

1. The Earth’s climate is warming, meaning that the temperatures of the lower atmosphere and ocean have been increasing over many decades. Average global surface air temperatures warmed by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit between 1880 and 2012.

2. It is extremely likely that humans are responsible for more than half of the global warming between 1951 and 2012.

3. Under so-called “business-as-usual” emissions scenarios, additional global-average warming (relative to a 1986 to 2005 baseline) would likely be 2.5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.

That is Texas A&M’s scientific assessment supported by the data and facts. Go Aggies.

The Texas State climatologist, Dr. John Neilsen-Gammon, appointed to his position by Governor George W. Bush, has concluded that “fossil fuel burning and other activities are the primary cause of the global-scale increase in temperature over the past decades.”

According to a Yale University poll released last fall, most Texans–61 percent of Texas adults–support setting stricter limits on coal-fired powerplants. Well, the President’s Clean Power Plan would do just that. It is projected to both cut carbon emissions and save Americans money on their annual energy bills.

Yet the junior Senator from Texas rails against the plan, urging people “to stand up against this administration’s dangerous agenda of economic decline”—economic decline if you are a big polluter, maybe, used to polluting for free.

The Clean Power Plan will save the average American family nearly $85 on their annual energy bill by 2030, not to mention preventing death and disease through reduced soot, smog, and other harmful pollutants. A 2014 study found that strong limits on carbon pollution similar to those in the Clean Power Plan would prevent 2,300 deaths in Texas between 2020 and 2030.

Texas emits the highest amount of carbon pollution in the country. Yet Texas is well positioned to meet its Clean Power Plan targets. An Environmental Defense Fund study based on data from Texas’s primary electric grid operator shows that existing market trends alone will get Texas to 88 percent of its compliance with the plan as a result of increased wind power capacity, improved energy efficiency results, and switching from coal to natural gas.

In fact, Texas’s wind farms have become so good at generating power that some utilities are giving away energy. Here is an article from the New York Times on this unique situation in Texas with the headline “A Texas Utility Offers a Nighttime Special: Free Electricity.”

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

Scott Burns, the senior director of innovation at Reliant Energy, a Texas utility with plans to incentivize night and weekend electricity use, says: “You can be green and make green.” With Texas so strong in wind energy production and solar energy potential, Texas is actually in a position to use its clean energy resources to help other States comply with the Clean Power Plan, a win-win with even more Texas clean energy jobs.

So, in Texas, there is an overwhelming consensus of scientists at their own State universities, there is a desire for action among the majority of Texans, and there are vast economic opportunities from Texas renewable energy. But the junior Senator from Texas continues to rail against mainstream climate science. He claims that “according to the satellite data, there has been no significant global warming for the past 18 years.” Eighteen years. What an interesting number to pick—18 years. If we go back 18 years, we start in 1998. Why might the junior Senator from Texas start his assessment of satellite data in 1998? Well, look at this.

When PolitiFact investigated the Senator’s claim that global warming has “paused,” the Senator’s office referred to the work of Dr. Carl Mears, a scientist who worked with satellite data temperature sets. This is a graph of that data. Look at 1998. The Earth was experiencing a large El Nino event in 1998, and the observed temperatures were substantially above normal. So if that is where we start the data set, of course it is going to look like a pause. As the Washington Post put it, “There is a reason why Cruz uses this particular year, and that reason is what makes this claim misleading.” PolitiFact ruled him “mostly false,” by the way.

The whole data set shows a clear, unequivocal, long-term global warming trend. As Dr. Mears himself said, “You can look at the data since 1980, and it’s pretty clear that there’s an ascending trend there. But if you look at any 15-year period, it’s a lot less clear that the trend line that you drive might actually mean something.”

Dr. Mears also warns against drawing conclusions from just this one data set. “Look at all the different datasets,” he said. “You don’t want to trust only the satellite temperatures; you want to look at the surface temperatures and that sort of thing.”

Scientists have known for some time that the oceans bear the brunt of global warming. The reason is simple: They can absorb more heat than the atmosphere, and they do. Peter Gleckler, an oceanographer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said, “Ninety, perhaps 95 percent of the accumulated heat is in the oceans.”

A study released this month shows the world’s oceans absorbed–I don’t think this number has ever been said before on the Senate floor–approximately 150 zettajoules–that is a lot of zeroes; I don’t even know how many zeroes that is–150 zettajoules of manmade heat energy between 1997 and 2015. What does that mean? Here is how the Washington Post described it. I will quote the Washington Post:

[I]f you exploded one atomic bomb the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima every second for a year, the total energy released would be 2 zettajoules. … Since 1997, Earth’s oceans have absorbed man-made heat energy equivalent to a Hiroshima-style bomb being exploded every second for 75 straight years.

Yet the Senator from Texas would like us to base our calculation on a cherry-picked data set beginning in an outlier year.

The oceans aren’t just warming, unfortunately. The warming in the oceans is accelerating. Paul Durack, coauthor of the study, notes, “After 2000 in particular the rate of change is really starting to ramp up.”

People who insist that the climate has not warmed in recent decades ignore a lot, but one thing they particularly ignore is the oceans, and we measure this stuff. The oceans don’t lie.

Here is another good one from the junior Senator. The Senator from Texas informs us that “history with markedly more CO2 pre-dated the Industrial Revolution, so it didn’t come from automobiles or the burning of carbon fuels.” What he omits is that this history with markedly more CO2 occurred more than 800,000 years ago.

This chart shows that here is where we are right now. Here is the record of carbon in the atmosphere going back 800,000 years. Where in that period was it more than now? Never. Eight hundred thousand years, hundreds of thousands of years before humans even began to walk the Earth.

Greenhouse gases blanket our planet, absorbing the Sun’s energy and preventing heat from escaping back into space. Ice sheets melt, seas warm and rise, and so since the late 1880s, sea level has risen 3 feet along the shores of Galveston, TX. None of that matters to the junior Senator from Texas.

In December he even convened a hearing protesting scientific consensus on climate change as “partisan dogma and ideology.” Tell that to NASA and the U.S. Navy. At the time, more than 190 countries were negotiating the groundbreaking international climate agreement in Paris.

Well, Texans were on hand in Paris too. Austin mayor Steve Adler signed the Compact of Mayors, a “global coalition of mayors pledging to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change, and report transparently.” Katherine Romanak and Hilary Olson represented the University of Texas’s Gulf Coast Carbon Center to share their expertise on carbon capture and storage. Professor Robert Bullard, dean of the School of Public Affairs at Houston’s Texas Southern University, organized a delegation from the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Climate Change Consortium. And Dr. Katharine Heyhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, encouraged fellow evangelicals to join her in faith-inspired support for climate action.

On that subject, let me read into the Record the 2015 statement of the National Association of Evangelicals:

[T]he Earth belongs to God, not us. … Probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change. … We encourage Christians worldwide to … exert legitimate means to persuade governments to put moral imperatives above political expediency on issues of environmental destruction and potential climate change.

Well, as the President said last week, America “led nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change.”

The junior Senator from Texas would be President, yet he completely refuses to engage on climate change. He ignores Texas State universities, Texas scientists, Texas local officials, and the whole clean energy economy in Texas. He courts evangelicals. He associates himself with the evangelical movement, but he ignores the statement of their own national association.

Now, some say his candidacy is a danger to our distinct American heritage, the separation of church and state. But, really, it seems to me his problem is with the separation of oil and state. The fossil fuel industry is the last bastion of climate denial. It funds a vast apparatus of climate denial. It also funds a lot of politics. You do the math.

It is time to wake up.

I yield the floor.