November 17, 2016

Time to Wake Up: President-Elect Trump and Climate Change

Mr. President, I appear to be on the floor for Utah Day, with the junior Senator presiding and the senior Senator speaking. I am delighted to follow the senior Senator. I think in the boisterous days and months we will see ahead, his longstanding reputation for collegiality and reason and the respect in which his colleagues all hold him could become valuable attributes in our Senate.

Mr. President, I am here as the Senate reconvenes from the 2016 election recess to give my 149th climate speech, but I want first to congratulate my colleagues who were reelected and the new Members elected to the Senate and President-Elect Trump and Vice President-Elect Pence. With control of the White House and majorities coming in the House and the Senate, Republicans will wield great power in Washington, DC, and as the well-known saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” In his acceptance speech, President-Elect Trump asked us all for help and guidance in governing this great Nation. My guidance would be first to be responsible.

A key test will be whether our President-elect and Republicans here in the Senate choose to be responsible about climate change. I am gravely concerned about climate change, but based on the President-elect’s campaign, he appears blissfully unconcerned, and Congress has been stalled by a decades-long industry-controlled campaign of calculated misinformation on the danger of carbon pollution and by just raw industry political pressure.

But the President-elect will soon hear–and, hopefully, take it to heart–from a grownup world outside the creepy alt-right and the fossil fuel industry, a world of people who actually know what they are talking about. The President-elect will hear from our military and national security experts how deadly serious this is.

Our former Pacific commander, Admiral Locklear, said it was the biggest national security threat we face in the Pacific theater. To use Admiral Locklear’s exact words, climate change “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen … that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.”

Geoffrey Kemp, former Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs under President Ronald Reagan, said:

Our military and intelligence leadership have recognized, under both the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations, that climate change will present real and costly risks to our national security and that the effects are going to get worse if we don’t do something about it very soon. As General Douglas MacArthur warned about the dangers of unpreparedness for war, we don’t want to be too late.

The President-elect will hear from our National Labs and from NOAA and NASA, the folks who put a rover on Mars and are driving it around and may know a little bit about real science, about the robust scientific consensus on climate change and the urgency to change our course. If he doesn’t trust our own scientific agencies, he can go to any major university in any State in the Nation and confirm what the government and military experts tell him.

The President-elect will hear from world leaders who have pledged, alongside the United States, to work across borders to limit carbon emissions. The Paris Agreement brought nearly 200 countries together with the common goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and avoiding the most catastrophic outcomes for the planet and its people.

He will also hear from CEOs across America, particularly those in the food and agriculture sectors who are living with climate change consequences every day, and from many others, that we need to quit fooling around.

I hope the President-elect will listen to these voices of reason and expertise. The people in our Nation certainly are listening. Polls show over 60 percent of Americans are concerned about global warming, and more than 80 percent of Americans favor action to reduce carbon pollution.

Rhode Island, the Ocean State, would tell the administration that the oceans are the frontlines of climate change. The oceans have absorbed approximately 30 percent of the excess carbon dioxide that we have added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution–30 percent of it. They have also absorbed roughly 90 percent of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere by those greenhouse gases. Without the oceans to absorb that added heat and carbon dioxide, we would not be worried about the 2-degree warming limit the world community is racing to avoid. We would be looking at a 30-degree increase, and life as our species knows it on this planet would be over.

Oceans have spared us thus far from disaster, but what they have done to buffer our self-inflicted harm comes at its own cost. Global ocean temperatures are rising. In Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay’s mean water temperature is up nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Our Rhode Island lobster fishery is crashing, and our winter flounder fishery is gone.

As water warms, of course, it also expands, and as glaciers melt, they add to the volume of the ocean. That is why sea levels are rising worldwide. The water is up about 10 inches at the Newport Naval Station tide gauge since the 1930s, and the Navy is actively planning how to defend the Norfolk Naval Station from rising seas.

The effect of the ocean’s absorbing all that carbon dioxide is a little different. It causes a chemical reaction. It is making ocean water more acidic. The ocean is acidifying and doing so at the fastest rate in 50 million years. Considering we have only been on the planet as a species for about 200,000 years, that is a long, long interval. Rhode Island’s clammers, lobstermen, and aquaculture growers are watching with real alarm the damage acidified seas are doing. On America’s northwest coast, oyster hatcheries have already experienced significant losses when their new hatches were unable to grow their shells in the acidified seawater. Off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, 50 percent of ocean pteropods were measured to have “severe shell damage,” mostly from acidified seas. If that species collapses, the bottom falls out of the oceanic food chain.

As the oceans go, so goes the planet.

It is my sincere hope that President-elect Trump will feel the call of history, of reason, and of patriotism to live up to the awesome responsibilities he now will bear.

The 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the so-called COP-22, is now taking place in Marrakech, Morocco. A similar gathering took place in Copenhagen 7 years ago. A full-page ad in the New York Times then called for passage of climate legislation in the United States for investment in the clean energy economy and for leadership to inspire the rest of the world to join the fight against climate change. It said:

[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–

They said to President Obama–

to ensure meaningful and effective measures 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.

That full-page ad from which we took this was signed by Donald J. Trump, Chairman and President of the Trump organization. The signatories also included his children, Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka. Their future and their reputations are at stake too.

The President-elect campaigned against big special interests controlling Washington, and he mocked Republican politicians groveling before the Koch brothers at their “beg-a-thon,” as he called it. He has a simple choice now. He can make his own decisions based on the best recommendations of our military, our national science laboratories, and our great universities, or he can fall in tow to the Koch brothers–the biggest special interest of them all.

He can believe our National Labs and our National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or he can believe the National Enquirer. He can believe our military or he can believe the fossil fuel industry’s denial apparatus. He can believe established scientific principles or he can believe fanciful conspiracy theories. His choice will be fateful, and the world and history will both be watching.

Thank you, Mr. President.

I yield the floor.