April 9, 2019

Time To Wake Up: Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels

As prepared for delivery

Mr. President, I am here for my usual climate speech. The Presiding Officer has seen this increasingly battered poster many times before.

We have had an interesting period in the Senate recently with respect to climate change, and I would like to take a moment to comment on it. Before I do that, I think it is important to kind of frame the backdrop of what is going on and why this matters.

This is the measurement of carbon dioxide levels on Earth. This goes back 400,000 years—no agriculture, no wheel, a long, long time ago. We see, over time, this recurring pattern in which CO2 levels stay between 180 and 300 ppm. You can go back and people can see that these are—there are temperature shifts that correlate with these CO2 levels.

We know this—I saw Senator Brown from Ohio here. We know this because people have gone out—including two scientists from Ohio State. They have gone out to glaciers in the farthest and highest reaches of the planet, and they have drilled out cores of ice that go back tens of hundreds of thousands of years, and they are able to figure out, from the characteristics of the ice of that period, what the CO2 concentrations were—that and a lot of other data as well. This is very well scientifically established. It is a little bit hard to see because it gets lost in the 0 year line, but this is what has happened. This is the highest level ever right there—highest historic CO2 level. We shot up to here. We are actually over 400 ppm, and the range was 180 to 300. Do the math. Between 300 and 180, that is 120 ppm range, and now we are almost, by that full range, out of that range. That is an extraordinary anomaly in the entire history of the species—in fact, before our species.

So the idea that this has all happened before, that the climate is always changing, that is factual and scientific nonsense. Anybody who says that is either uninformed or should be ashamed of themselves because it is not always changing up to 400-plus ppm. It just isn’t. We have no experience of that ever. We do know that as these CO2 levels go up, the planet warms. We have known that since Abraham Lincoln was President. When Abraham Lincoln was riding around here in his top hat, scientists had begun to understand about greenhouse gases and what that did. So there is nothing new in this. The science is totally established, and this is unprecedented in human history and before.

Here is where it comes home to roost for me. This is a map of the northern part of my State. This is the lower tip of our capital city, Providence. Over here is Bristol and Warren. Here is Warwick. This is Narragansett Bay. This is the top of Prudence Island. Here is the Mount Hope Bay. If you can see, all the parts that you see here as blue, all of that is now land. All of that is now land. It has people’s homes on it. It has people’s businesses on it. It has some of our public recreation facilities on it. It is all predicted to disappear by the end of this century if we don’t get our hands around this climate change problem.

We don’t have until the end of the century to stop it because like a giant oil tanker, you can put all engines in reverse, you can shut off engines, it is still going to have a lot of carry because of the momentum that has built up. This, where we are right now, is going to create effects for a long time. We have way less until the end of the century to act. The newest studies say we have about 12 years, if we really want to get ahead of this. There has been some interesting stuff said on the Senate floor recently. Tell it to the people whose homes are going to be gone. This isn’t just a political debate. There are lives, there are people’s homes, and there are people’s businesses that are at stake.

We had a big appearance by 13 Republican Senators led by the majority leader, and they all came to the Senate floor to make fun of the Green New Deal or at least the Koch brothers’ phony cartoon version of the Green New Deal. Out of the 13, 12 mentioned a fanciful $93 trillion cost that the Koch brothers have come up with. So basically the purpose was to come to the floor, make fun of the Green New Deal, and pretend it is going to cost $93 trillion. Very few could even use the word ‘‘climate change.’’ Imagine that. There were 13 Republican Senators coming to the floor to talk about climate change, and all they want to do is make fun of the Green New Deal, mock it, pretend it is going to cost $93 trillion, and then go away as if these people’s homes didn’t matter and as if this weren’t serious to people who are looking at this. The news report that I have just seen on the $93 trillion says this: When it comes to the $93 trillion estimate for the Green New Deal, created by its critics, the answer is found in a network of interlinked groups: a think tank, its political arm and a super political action committee. Add a web of secret donors, and eager lawmakers— The 13 of them— and you have the blurry outlines of an echo chamber that propels an unverified claim into the orbit of Washington politics. I am sure that is all good fun, but this is pretty serious, from my point of view. It actually got worse after that.

A Senator from Utah came to the floor with a lot of jokes about rocket launchers, velociraptors, tauntauns, and 20-foot seahorses carrying Aquaman around. By the way, if you are looking at having your constituents’ homes disappear underwater, jokes about Aquaman are not funny, not funny at all. Train seahorses—give me a break— jokes about cows. ‘‘Critics,’’ he said, ‘‘will chastise me for not taking climate change seriously.’’ Well, yes, I am here to do exactly that because it is darn serious to most everybody and particularly to my home State. So jokes about Sharknados just—I would say this: You might disagree with me about climate change, and you might not want to do anything about climate change, but, by God, I think if there is one thing we owe each other in this body, it is sincerity, and to come to the floor with an insincere bill that is designed to fail is demeaning to the whole body. To come to the floor and make jokes, when our own national scientific agencies are warning of these harms about all of this, it is just fundamentally wrong.

Let me talk about the Senator’s home State a little bit because one of the things I have done is paid my colleagues the sincere compliment of going to many of their States to look into what is going on with climate change. Let me review what I have said about Utah because I went there. What I have learned—I gave a speech before I went in based on research that I did. I gave another speech when I came out based on what I heard in Utah. Going in, I knew the average temperature had already increased 2 full degrees Fahrenheit in parts of Utah. The 2 degrees centigrade we are  worried about for the globe, it is already there in Utah.

There are actually spots in Utah where the temperature has risen as much as 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit. There are significant trends in river and stream flooding and also the highest drying trend in rivers and streams in Southern Utah as the system comes unhinged. Lake Powell in Utah, when I was ready to leave, was about half full, which is kind of a big deal because Salt Lake City gets 80 percent of its water supply from snowpack in the Uinta and Wasatch Mountains. Local predictions were that water managers in Utah would no longer be able to depend on the historic data about snow melt and river flow because the change is so complete that the old data isn’t germane any longer. There have been wildfire studies led by Dr. Philip Dennison of the University of Utah connecting climate change to the wildfires that take place out there.

In fact, Utah State has entire courses of study teaching students about climate change—how to predict it and how to fight back. Utah State has its own climate action plan. It has an active climate center. The University of Utah has an active sustainability center. Students and researchers work there to address climate change. Each year, the University of Utah publishes an annual report on climate change. I am sure that is all just so amusing to my colleague from Utah. Mayors are engaged in Utah, including the mayor then of Salt Lake City. Mayor Ralph Becker took first place in the Mayors Climate Protection Center rankings. I can only imagine how amusing that was for the senior Senator from Utah to yuck it up about that.

His ski areas—Alta, Canyons, Deer Crest, Deer Valley, and Park City—all signed the BICEP coalition’s Climate Declaration in support of taking national action on climate change. I bet that really cracked him up. The Park City Foundation in Utah was predicting a local temperature increase of 6.8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2075, which they said would cause a total loss of snowpack in the lower Park City resort area. It kind of takes the fun out of skiing when there is no snow in Park City.

A retired pediatrician named David Folland, who is the coleader of Salt Lake Citizens Climate Lobby, wrote there is an actual solution: ‘‘Placing a fee on carbon sources and returning the proceeds to households would create jobs, build the economy, improve public health, and help stabilize the climate.’’ I hope my colleague from Utah has a chance to go talk to this retired pediatrician and hear from him just how amusing all of this climate change stuff is.

Republican Presidential candidate John Huntsman, who has served Utah as Governor, wrote a New York Times op-ed piece back then titled ‘‘The G.O.P. Can’t Ignore Climate Change.’’ Well, it is getting to the point where we are pushing them enough. They can’t ignore it so much. Their fallback, I guess, is to make fun of it. That is really, really helpful. Here is what he wrote:

“The fact is that the planet is warming, and failing to deal with this reality will leave us vulnerable and possibly worse. Hedging against risk”

— He said—

“is an enduring theme of conservative thought.”

An enduring theme of conservative thought, up until it bumps up against the enduring theme of Republican fundraising from the fossil fuel industry. So then I went out there and had a chance to meet with the folks from the Utah ski industry. During the last season, they told me they had nearly 41⁄2 million skiers and snowboarders and that almost 1 in 10 jobs in Utah is in tourism. They market themselves as having what they call the Greatest Snow on Earth, and they pointed out that according to the EPA, average temperatures had already risen 2 full degrees Fahrenheit there over the past 100 years. I visited with Ski Utah and with a group of professional skiers from the group, Protect Our Winters, who want to see the mountaintops and the ski slopes that give them their recreation and give them their living, in many cases, protected and saved.

The scientists at the University of Utah, including meteorologists Leigh Sturges and John Horel, were predicting that there would be more rain and less snow at major Utah ski resorts under different climate change scenarios. Rain at a ski resort is not a good thing, and with this many jobs in Utah, you would think somebody from the Utah Senate delegation might be willing to take this seriously and work in good faith toward a solution. Ski Utah’s 14 resorts would certainly like that. They got together and sent a letter last year to the Governor of Utah asking the State to take action on climate change.

Salt Lake City’s letter went out too. Salt Lake City’s drinking water, 70 percent comes from snowpack melt. When the snowpack goes away, so does that captured supply of water serving the city. The State, when I was there, was experiencing abnormally dry conditions. I went out to the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve that was run by The Nature Conservancy. You go out there, and you walk on boards over the marsh because, you know, it is marsh. It is wet. It is spongy. It is hard to walk through. Not then. It was dry as a bone. We were walking over it, but there was absolutely dry soil underneath.

The Salt Lake itself has shrunk. The lake’s volume has fallen by nearly half since Utah’s early pioneers reached its shores in 1847. The lake’s surface is down 11 feet. That has left roughly half of the former lake bed dry and exposed. The Salt Lake, for which Salt Lake City is named, is drying up. I guess that is another reason for a lot of yucks here on the Senate floor from the senior Senator from Utah.

There is a bird—I know here in Mammoth Hall, where we care mostly about big interests and big money, it may seem ridiculous to talk about a bird. There is a bird called Wilson’s phalarope. It flies a 3,000-mile migration from the Patagonian lowlands up to the Great Salt Lake. As the Great Salt Lake shrinks, it is going to find that it doesn’t have a destination. It is going to be a little like the red knot flying from Brazil straight through to Delaware. Imagine how long taking an airplane flight from Brazil to Delaware would be. Now imagine you are a bird that is about this high, and you have to fly all that way yourself in a straight shot. They do that. Here is this wonderful Wilson’s phalarope, and its lake is drying up.

All that dust from the dried-up lake bed is now a contaminant, compromising air quality in Salt Lake City, which now gets an ‘‘F’’ from the American Lung Association for both ozone and particulates. The Salt Lake City mayor then was Jackie Biskupski. She had pledged to transition the city to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2032. I will tell you, I met with scientists from Brigham Young, Utah State, and the University of Utah, and there was no doubt about climate change. There was nobody yucking it up about climate change. There were no jokes about tauntauns and Aquaman. This is something they take very seriously. It is entitled to be taken very seriously.

I will close by referring to some of the comments I found over the weekend from members and in some cases leaders of the Mormon Church, the Church of Latter-day Saints. Here is the official statement by Mormon Women for Ethical Government on Environmental Stewardship and Climate Change:

“The consequences of maintaining the status quo of carbon emissions and the resulting rate of global temperature change are dire and include major shifts in patterns of weather, fire, and hydrology; large-scale impacts on biodiversity; and disruption to human systems, including agriculture and food supplies, migration, national security, and economies. . . . We urge governments, institutions, and businesses to boldly mobilize in pursuit of creative and radical strategies that will effectively curb climate change and dramatically reduce carbon emissions.”

I urge the Senator from Utah to read that and to listen to those constituents. G. Michael Alder wrote—I guess in the Ensign on an LDS Church website— ‘‘about the environmental damage caused by such man-made problems as acid rain, excessive carbon dioxide and other chemicals in the atmosphere, deforestation, and the pollution of our oceans, lakes, and streams,’’ saying that ‘‘as a result, serious, mostly unintended changes are taking place in the air, water, and land around us. . . . The evidence is mounting that we are doing ourselves and our mortal home serious damage. . . . A continued increase in carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere, produced by our vast consumption of oil, coal, and other fossil fuels, appears to be responsible for a general increase in temperature worldwide. . . . That increase threatens possible major changes in climate around the world, potentially causing drought in some areas and greater rainfall in others. . . . The studies showed that the greatest global temperature increase has taken place in the last decade. Carbon dioxide and trace gases produced by our industrial societies were considered to be the cause.’’

Well, they are. In fact, they are unanimously considered to be the cause by the responsible science community. The last thing I will read is an address given by Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a panel discussion that occurred Wednesday October 10, 2018, at Utah State University. He begins by agreeing with his mountain fellow Utahans about Utah’s fresh powder snow, calling it, again, the ‘‘greatest snow on earth,’’ at least according to Utah’s license plates. He goes on to say: It causes me much grief when I look outside my window and see a hazy inversion or when I hear consistent reports of Utah’s poor air quality. I am concerned for the families affected by wildfires and for the schoolchildren forced to stay indoors because of smoky skies. No jokes. He is concerned.

He goes on: “Algal blooms are breaking out in Utah’s lakes. We are experiencing unusually dry seasons and record-breaking warm winters.” He cites another church leader, President Dallin Oaks, and quotes him: “These are challenging times, filled with big worries: wars and rumors of wars, possible epidemics of infectious diseases, droughts, floods, and global warming.” He goes on to say, quoting a commentary on MormonNewsroom.org, that ‘‘the creation groans under the weight of recklessness and indulgence.’’

Here is the sentence that stuck with me: ‘‘Climate change is real, and it’s our responsibility as stewards to do what we can to limit the damage done to God’s creation.’’ Making jokes about that will not limit the damage we are now doing to God’s creation.” I yield the floor.