November 16, 2015

Time to Wake Up: Ohioans Are Acting on Climate Change

Mr. President, it is my habit to give my “Time to Wake Up” speeches once a week when the Senate is in session. It is also a practice of mine to go to other States–particularly States that have Republican Senators–to look at what is happening in the States and get a sense of where the local universities and the local experts are with respect to climate change. My last visit was to Ohio. I have also been to New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Iowa. The thing that is common across all of those trips is that there is no denying climate change in those States. The denial is the function of this building, and it is the function of the wall of money the fossil fuel industry has erected around this building. But pick a State university in the country and go there, and we find there is simply not climate denial.

I am joined today by my friend Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s senior Senator, who was kind enough to accompany me on the trip–on several parts of it, anyway. We went to Cleveland. We had a couple of meetings there together. Another one of my visits was to Lake Erie, which got clobbered by the cyanobacteria that shut down Toledo’s water system, which is also climate change-related.

Let me yield to the Senator from Ohio for a few moments, and then we can talk about Cleveland and the lake.

Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, I thank Senator Whitehouse.

When I introduced Senator Whitehouse to the mayor of Cleveland and to a number of experts in Cleveland, from public health officials, to wind energy entrepreneurs, to community groups to whom climate change matters so much, I introduced him as probably–not just probably–there is no person in the Senate who has done a better job of focusing public attention on the threats of climate change and what it means to our way of life and what it means to our country. I thank Senator Whitehouse for that.

I want to point to what happened in Toledo, OH, in 2011. This green color in this picture is algae bloom. This is a small boat that is making its way through the algae bloom.

This wasn’t even the year Toledo residents lost their water supply. In 2014–last August, 15 months ago–algae blooms were so serious in Lake Erie and in the western basin–Toledo is in the western basin of Lake Erie, Cleveland is sort of central, and then Ashtabula and Erie, PA, are in the eastern basin of Lake Erie. Again, this is not the most serious situation, although the algae bloom is so overwhelming here. This green is all algae bloom. The lake actually should be the color–where you can see dark blue here, that is normally the color of the lake. We can see the wake of the boat, and that is the normal color of the lake, as the boat plowed through the algae bloom.

The problem with Lake Erie is that it is the most vulnerable lake because it is the shallowest lake in the western basin of Lake Erie. In this part of Lake Erie, it is only 30 feet deep. It is fed by the Maumee River, which is the largest tributary of any river into any of the five Great Lakes. Keep in mind that it is 30 feet deep here, fed by farmland and commercial activity and industry and homeowners–greater Toledo in northwest Ohio. Contrast that with Lake Superior. It is 30 feet deep here, and Lake Superior is 600 feet deep on average. And Lake Superior mostly drains forests, so we can see why Cleveland and Toledo are so vulnerable to climate change and so vulnerable to pollution and all that has happened with the algae blooms.

People in Toledo–500,000 people lost their drinking water for 2 1/2 days. People were great, stepping up from all over southern Michigan, eastern Indiana, and northwest Ohio to ship in water for people. But it made such a–it says to us that climate change isn’t the only reason this happened, but it is clearly happening. We are seeing this algae bloom worse and worse and worse in hot weather.

One other thing about this Great Lake. Lake Erie is only 2 percent of all of the Great Lakes’ water–five Great Lakes. Lake Erie is only 2 percent of all the Great Lakes’ water because it is shallow and its surface areas are not as big as the others. Fifty percent of the fish of all of the Great Lakes are in Lake Erie because fish will produce and will prosper in shallower, warmer water, but the water was too warm because of climate change and all of the things that came out of that.

In this meeting we had with Dr. Aparna Bole–a pediatric specialist at Cleveland’s University Hospital–she talked about asthma rates. We heard from others too.

I will turn it back to Senator Whitehouse and ask him what he learned from these meetings. He was not just in meetings with people in Cleveland learning about what climate change means there, he also went to the Stone Lab and he can tell us about that. Then he had an amazing meeting at Ohio State University with some of America’s amazing climate scientists. I will kick it back to Senator Whitehouse and again thank him for traveling the country every single week and looking for places where climate change has done the most damage in terms that people can understand. His leadership is so important.

I thank Senator Whitehouse for the work he has done, and I am so grateful he came to the city of Cleveland and joined us.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Well, I was very happy to join the Senator. I thought Frank Jackson was extremely impressive on this subject. He pointed out that there are times in life when we simply have to go to the future, and if you decide to hang on to the past, you will fail as a result of missing that curve. He said that the business community in Cleveland was really beginning to get that, beginning to take it on. So he has led with a Cleveland Climate Action Plan, which is one of the best ones in the country.

We went to a great place where they are growing lettuce hydroponically, 3, 4 acres in an old building, under an open glass ceiling. They are using captured rain water; they are recycling it. The people there have jobs that pay well. They were the owners of the project and they were really vested in it. Wasn’t the morale of the people working there phenomenal? It was terrific.

Dr. Aparna Bole, whom Senator Brown mentioned, was very in tune to what was happening in minority communities as a result of climate change from asthma, from heat. She is seeing it with her young patients. She was wonderful, talking about that. At this point, because of toxic ground level ozone and ragweed being triggers for asthma attacks–she has seen so much of that. She said that more than one in five African-American kids in Cleveland has asthma, and she connects it to what is happening in climate change.

Of course, we understand that in Rhode Island because we have the same bad air days where we have to have kids stay indoors and elderly people stay indoors, all because of the air coming from the Midwest that has been fouled by these coal-burning powerplants.

Out on Lake Erie I met with some of the scientists from Stone Labs and a couple of the lifelong fishing captains who had been out there on the lake. Here are some of the water samples we took while we were out. It is clean now–this is what the water should look like–but back before, when the climate change-driven rain bursts were flooding Lake Erie with phosphorus from the farms in the watershed, there was an explosion of cyanobacteria to the point where these guys said driving their boats wasn’t like driving through water, it was like driving through pudding, and the wake would slurp over instead of turning the way a regular boat’s wake would. One of them had been doing this for 35 years and he said: I don’t know this lake any longer. I don’t know where the fish are going to be. For 35 years I have fished this lake, and now it is like a stranger to me because of all these changes that are happening.

That is exactly what my Rhode Island fishermen are telling me, too, about Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound. We are here with the Senator from Massachusetts. “Sheldon, it is getting weird out there. Sheldon, this is not my grandfather’s ocean.” We have some responsibilities to pay attention to these people and to listen to them.

One of the most impressive parts of the trip was this at Ohio State. Ohio State is host to the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center named after the famous polar explorer Admiral Byrd. These two scientists, Ellen Mosley-Thompson and Lonnie Thompson, have spent their lives traveling all over the planet going to these incredible, faraway places–the North Pole, the South Pole, to the Greenland icecap, going to glaciers high in Peru, going to glaciers in the faraway mountains of China. They drill down and take a core sample out of the glacier and get hundreds of thousands of years of data in that core sample.

Then there you are on the top of a glacier in Peru or China, and you have to figure out how to get this core sample back to Ohio–and it has to stay frozen the whole time. So they had this huge logistical challenge. They conquered all of that. They are two amazing people.

These are all the core samples from glaciers all around the globe. Some of them, because of the way climate has dissipated the glaciers, where they drilled the core sample the glacier doesn’t exist anymore. It is the last record of gone glaciers.

Here is a picture they had. This is the same site. On this side is a picture of the glacier. You can see striations from the seasons and years going by, and they took this picture from the same place. You can see how the glacier used to be right in front of them and now this glacier is off in the distance. It has moved back as the climate has warmed.

They gave me this. This is a piece of plant matter. You can hardly see it. It is plants that were unearthed as the glacier moved back, and they can date them. Those plants were last out 6,626 years ago, when a snow covered those plants. Snow piled on to snow and it was buried under the glacier. It stayed and it stayed, and thousands of years went by. Then, after thousands of years had gone by, Jesus came and walked the Earth, and then thousands more years came by, and now the glaciers are melting so fast that here it is. You can look, and you can still see the leaves. It is squashed and old, but it hasn’t decomposed because of the way it was preserved under the glacier that is going away now. In this laboratory they have this incredible treasure. You can go in and you can find air that was on this planet when Jesus walked the Earth, and it is still preserved just the way it was in the ice. You can find dust from dust storms that were written about in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and there is the actual dust held in the ice. This is the record that the climate science is based on, and it truly is a marvel.

The last thing I will mention is that we also stopped by the Ohio State Center for Automotive Research. Here is a brand new Camaro in the background. They work with GM to get cars brand-spanking-new, a high-performance American Camaro. These students are going to take it apart and put it back together so it runs cheaper, faster, and with less fuel. They are going to make a hybrid Camaro with the same level of performance, and it is really very impressive what they are doing. They know climate change is here. That is why they are doing this stuff.

I will close out because I have other Senators waiting, but I thank Senator Brown for taking me around Cleveland, meeting all the people we did, and taking me on those visits. I thank the folks at Ohio State. Stone Labs out on Lake Erie is an Ohio State facility. The Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center is an Ohio State facility. I met with the John Glenn Institute folks at Ohio State University.

Look, if you are a Buckeye fan and you are listening, pay attention to what Ohio University says about climate change. Don’t listen to the fossil fuel phonies. Listen to what your home State University says. These guys are deadly serious. They know it is real. I don’t think there is a home State university in this country that is denying climate change, and yet this body is stuck in denial. It has nothing to do with the facts; otherwise the home State universities would say something different. You can’t go home and root for the Buckeyes on the weekend and then come here and deny climate change and pretend you are being true to your home State University. I don’t care what your home State is–Iowa, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia–you name it. Go to the big State Universities. They understand that climate change is real.

What prevents us from acting isn’t information, it is the wall of special influence money that the fossil fuel industry has built around this place, and it is time we woke up and got on with our business. So I will close with that.

I am grateful for the people in Ohio who showed me around, particularly to Dave Spangler and Paul Pacholski, lifelong charter boat captains. They make their living out on Lake Erie. They know what it is like out there, and they know what climate change is doing to their beloved lake and their beloved way of life.

I yield the floor.