May 10, 2017

Time to Wake Up: Moving on Climate Change Without Trump

Mr. President, the last two weekends have surged with political activism. Around the world, millions of people took to the streets to stand up for science and to call attention to the global crisis of climate change.

This past weekend, my wife and I marched here in Washington, alongside 200,000 people from across our country in the People’s Climate March. I joined faculty and students from Rhode Island’s Greene School, an environmental charter school named after the great Nathanael Greene. The Presiding Officer may well know that Nathanael Greene worked his way through the Presiding Officer’s State during the course of fighting the Southern Revolutionary campaign and that General Cornwallis wrote to his wife that “that damn Greene is more dangerous than Washington.” So we are very proud of Nathanael Greene in Rhode Island and of the school that bears his name. The kids who came down traveled overnight, through the night, to participate in that march. Joined by 375 sister marches worldwide, we came together with one voice to demand leadership in the fight against climate change.

The Science March in Washington over Earth Day weekend, led by a nonpartisan group of scientists, was joined by people in 600 satellite marches around the world. I went to Earth Day Texas, a truly impressive event, with 150,000 people, making it the largest Earth Day event in the world. It is the passion of businessman and philanthropist Trammell Crow, who has been bringing Republicans and Democrats together to combat climate change since 2011.

So for my 165th “Time to Wake Up” speech, I want to thank all of those folks who made their voices heard these past few weeks in the streets or online. With the Trump administration locked into tone-deaf climate denial, these marches mattered. And how tone-deaf this administration is.

Data from Yale’s program on Climate Change Communication shows national support for climate action across a broad range of questions. Nationally, 71 percent trust scientists about climate change–right here; trust climate science about global warming, 71 percent. So many folks came out to the Science March to show that. A majority of Americans, 53 percent, believe climate change is caused mostly by human activity. That compares to 9 percent–9 percent of the Republican caucus here in a vote taken just last Congress. History will have to look back and explain why 53 percent of the American people say that is the case and only 9 percent of our Republican caucus was able to recognize that. Eighty-two percent of Americans want research into clean and renewable energy sources. Seventy-five percent want us to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and 69 percent–right here–want strict CO2 limits on existing coal-fired powerplants.

The President is disparaging the Paris climate agreement, but 7 out of 10 registered voters say the United States should stay in. Republicans favor staying in the Paris agreement by 2 to 1. This chart shows that support for research into renewables is strong across the country, even in coal country: 79 percent in Kentucky, 81 percent in West Virginia, and 82 percent in Wyoming.

It is the same in the oil patch. Seventy-nine percent of Texans support research into renewables. Despite this overwhelming public support, even in the reddest and most fossil fuel States, President Trump is proposing massive cuts to this research–clearly, tone-deaf. It is the same for emissions limits on coal plants. In all 50 States, in all 435 red, blue, and purple congressional districts, there is majority support for emissions limits.

Every single congressional district in the country has majority support for emissions limits. Of course, in some, it goes up into huge numbers like over 75 percent here in Vermont, but the baseline is that every single congressional district, a majority want emissions limits, but of course tone-deaf President Trump has directed his EPA Administrator to look at dismantling the Clean Power Plan.

A majority of Americans in every single State and in every single congressional district, which obviously includes every Republican congressional district, agree that climate change is happening. Whether you break it down by State or break it down by congressional district, the results are the same. From here–50 percent and down–are various shades of blue. From here–50 percent and up–are various shades of orange. As you can see, there is not a remaining speck of blue on this map. The American people have settled this question in their minds.

Here is what, by the way, the next generation of Republicans think. The Thomson Reuters Foundation surveyed 21 college Republican clubs, of whom half said their members believe human activities are changing the climate.

“The people that are in power right now, for whatever reason, don’t have that same global view,” said Grace Woodward, the president of the Davidson College Republicans.

She continued: “When our generation is in power, we will take climate change much more seriously.” I am not sure we have the time for that, but I appreciate Grace’s sentiment.

Kent Haeffner, president of the Harvard University Republican Club, said he, too, believes it will eventually become politically unviable for Republicans to keep dismissing climate change. He said: “I think that the folks that are our age are going to have to reshape the party and take it in a different direction.”

It sounds like these future leaders of the Republican Party are putting their elders on notice.

It is not just a majority of the American people and it is not just young leaders of the Republican Party who don’t buy President Trump’s tone-deaf climate agenda; corporate America is not buying it either.

In the lead-up to the inauguration, more than 630 companies and investors, representing nearly 2 million employees and more than $1 trillion in annual revenue, wrote to Donald Trump, counseling him to follow through on U.S. commitments to combat climate change.

Food giants Kellogg’s, Campbell’s, and Mars, clothing brands Nike and Levi’s, and other corporate heavyweights like Monsanto and Johnson & Johnson urged the incoming President to maintain national efforts to reduce emissions, invest in the low-carbon economy at home and abroad, and keep the United States in the Paris Agreement.

Just last week, 13 of the largest and most successful companies in America wrote to the President to, and I quote them here, “urge that the United States remain a party to the Paris Agreement, work constructively with other nations to implement the agreement, and work to strengthen international support for broad ranges of innovation technology.”

I don’t know how the business community could state its position much more clearly. That group included BP, DuPont, General Mills, Google, Intel, Microsoft, National Grid, Novartis, PG&E, Schneider Electric, Shell, Unilever, and Walmart.

As former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg put it, “Washington won’t determine the fate of our ability to meet our Paris commitment.”

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have both of these letters printed in the record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the record.

These companies know that climate change could disrupt their supply chains, make water or commodities more costly, or even roil international markets. So they are moving ahead whether the President and congressional Republicans are with them or not.

Mars, the maker of M&Ms and Snickers bars, has pledged to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from its facilities by 2040. When asked by the New York Times if President Trump’s threats to leave the Paris accord had any effect on Mars’ plans, global sustainability director Kevin Rabinovitch replied: “This doesn’t change our commitments. ….. We’re doing this because we see a real business risk.”

Walmart, which already has set a goal of deriving half its energy from renewable sources by 2025, recently announced Project Gigaton, an initiative to eliminate 1 gigaton of carbon emissions by 2030 from its entire supply chain.

Big league sports is engaged too. Major League Baseball stadiums and National Basketball Association arenas have installed wind turbines to generate their own low-carbon energy, or solar panels, like the Red Sox’s Fenway Park. The National Hockey League has partnered with ENERGY STAR and the Natural Resources Defense Council to make its facilities more energy efficient. Salt Lake City’s Major League Soccer stadium built one of Utah’s largest solar panel arrays, providing more than 70 percent of that facility’s energy. The National Football League has a program to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions during every Super Bowl, which has resulted in the planting of over 50,000 trees in Super Bowl host communities.

In 2016, outdoor retailer REI hit 100 percent renewable energy for the fourth consecutive year, and they just opened a new net-zero energy distribution center in the Arizona desert. Starbucks announced plans to power 116 stores in Washington State on renewable energy. Patagonia created an incentive program for employees who commute to work without driving, saving more than 25,000 gallons of fuel last year, and it invested more than $50 million to purchase 2,500 residential solar units.

And it is not just the business community that makes things; financial firms are urging their clients to factor climate change into their investment decisions.

Last year, the investment firm BlackRock, with more than $1 trillion in assets under management, issued a report titled “Adapting Portfolios to Climate Change,” which describes “how investors can incorporate climate factors to reduce risk and seize opportunities.”

The Asset Owners Disclosure Project last week reported that “[s]ixty percent of the world’s 500 biggest asset owners, with funds worth $27 trillion”–hold your breath on that–”now recognized the financial risks of climate change and opportunities in the low carbon transition and are taking action.”

Bill Gates, along with more than 20 of the world’s most successful businesspeople, launched a $1 billion investment fund in late 2016, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by financing clean energy technology.

These clear-eyed assessments of the business effects of climate change are not entirely new. Back in 2009, Donald Trump joined business leaders to warn us about the “catastrophic and irreversible effects of climate change.” There advertisement read: “There will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.” That was then, I guess.

The country is moving on without President Trump and without the Republican Party. State and local officials are on the march, leading their communities on a path to reduced carbon emissions. Companies are on the march, greening their operations and supply chains. And on campuses across the country, young Republicans and young Democrats are on the march, coming together to prepare for a cleaner future. As the marches and events of the past 2 weekends demonstrated, there is no going back.

I realize it is hard for my Republican colleagues to go against the fossil fuel cartel, but it is not too late for them to finally say enough is enough, to wake up and to join the march.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.