(Senate - October 13, 2011)

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[Pages S6477-S6479]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                             CLIMATE CHANGE

  Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I am here to speak about what is 
currently an unpopular topic in this town. It has become no longer 
politically correct in certain circles in Washington to speak about 
climate change or carbon pollution or how carbon pollution is causing 
our climate to change.
  This is a peculiar condition of Washington. If you go out into, say, 
our military and intelligence communities, they understand and are 
planning for the effects of carbon pollution on climate change. They 
see it as a national security risk. If you go out into our nonpolluting 
business and financial communities, they see this as a real and 
important problem. And, of course, it goes without saying our 
scientific community is all over this concern. But as I said, 
Washington is a peculiar place, and here it is getting very little 
  Here in Washington we feel the dark hand of the polluters tapping so 
many shoulders. And where there is power and money behind that dark 
hand, therefore, a lot of attention is paid to that little tap on the 
shoulder. What we overlook is that nature--God's Earth--is also tapping 
us all on the shoulder, with messages we ignore at our peril. We ignore 
the messages of nature--of God's Earth--and we ignore the laws of 
nature--of God's Earth--at our very grave peril.
  There is a wave of very justifiable economic frustration that has 
swept through our Capitol. The problem is that some of the special 
interests--the polluters--have insinuated themselves into that wave, 
sort of like parasites that creep into the body of a host animal, and 
from there they are working terrible mischief. They are propagating two 
big lies. One is that environmental regulations are a burden to the 
economy and we need to lift those burdens to spur our economic 
recovery. The second is the jury is still out on climate changes caused 
by carbon pollution, so we don't need to worry about it or even take 
precautions. Both are, frankly, outright false.

  Environmental regulation is well established to be good for the 
economy. It may add costs to you if you are a polluter, but polluters 
usually exaggerate about that.
  For instance, before the 1990 acid rain rules went into effect, 
Peabody Coal estimated that compliance would cost $3.9 billion. The 
Edison Electric Institute chimed in and estimated that compliance would 
cost $4 to $5 billion. Well, in fact, the Energy Information

[[Page S6478]]

Administration calculated the program actually cost $836 million, about 
one-sixth of the Edison Electric Institute estimate.
  When polluters were required to phase out the chemicals they were 
emitting that were literally burning a hole through our Earth's 
atmosphere, they warned that it would create ``severe economic and 
social disruption'' due to ``shutdowns of refrigeration equipment in 
supermarkets, office buildings, hotels, and hospitals.'' Well, in fact, 
the phaseout happened 4 years to 6 years faster than predicted; it cost 
30 percent less than predicted; and the American refrigeration industry 
innovated and created new export markets for its environmentally 
friendly products.
  Anyway, the real point is we are not just in this Chamber to 
represent the polluters. We are supposed to be here to represent all 
Americans, and Americans benefit from environmental regulation big 
  Over the lifetime of the Clean Air Act, for instance, for every $1 it 
costs to add pollution controls, Americans have received about $30 in 
health and other benefits. By the way, installing those pollution 
controls created jobs because they went to manufacturers to build the 
controls and to Americans to install them. But setting that aside, a 
30-to-1 benefit ratio to keep our air clean sounds like a mighty wise 
investment to me. That 30-to-1 ratio doesn't even count the intangible 
benefits--intangible but very real benefits--of clear air and clean 
water, the benefits of the heart and the soul, the benefits to a 
grandfather of taking his granddaughter to the fishing hole and still 
finding fish there or of the city kid being able to go to a beach and 
have it clean enough to swim there or the benefit to a mom who is 
spared the burden of worry, of sitting next to her asthmatic baby on 
the emergency room albuterol inhaler waiting for his infant lungs to 
  Well, unfortunately, polluters rule in certain circles in Washington, 
and they emit propaganda as well as pollution, and they have been 
emitting too much of both lately.
  Their other big lie the jury is still out on is whether human-made 
carbon pollution causes dangerous climate change and oceanic change. 
Virtually all of our most prestigious scientific and academic 
institutions have stated that climate change is happening and that 
human activities are the driving cause of this change. Many of us in 
Congress received a letter from those institutions in October 2009. Let 
me quote from that letter.

       Observations throughout the world make it clear that 
     climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research 
     demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human 
     activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are 
     based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary 
     assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of 
     the vast body of peer-reviewed science.

  Let me repeat that last quote.

       Contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective 
     assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.

  This letter was signed by the heads of the following organizations: 
the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American 
Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American 
Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, 
the American Society of Agronomy, the American Society of Plant 
Biologists, the American Statistical Association, the Association of 
Ecosystem Research Centers, the Botanical Society of America, the Crop 
Science Society of America, the Ecological Society of America, the 
Natural Science Collections Alliance, the Organization of Biological 
Field Stations, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the 
Society of Systematic Biologists, the Soil Science Society of America, 
and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
  These are highly esteemed scientific organizations. They are the real 
deal. They don't think the jury is still out. They recognize that, in 
fact, the verdict is in, and it is time to act.
  More than 97 percent of the climate scientists most actively 
publishing accept that the verdict is actually in on carbon pollution 
causing climate and oceanic changes--97 percent. Think of that.
  Imagine if your child were sick and the doctor said she needed 
treatment, and out of prudence you went and got a second opinion. Then 
you went around and you actually got 99 second opinions. When you were 
done, you found that 97 out of 100 expert doctors agreed your child was 
sick and needed treatment. Imagine further that of the three who 
disagreed, some took money from the insurance company that would have 
to pay for your child's treatment. Imagine further that none of those 
three could say they were sure your child was OK, just that they 
weren't sure what her illness was or that she needed treatment, that 
there was some doubt.
  On those facts, name one decent father or mother who wouldn't start 
treatment for their child. No decent parent would turn away from the 
considered judgment of 97 percent of 100 doctors just because they 
weren't all absolutely certain.
  How solid is the science behind this? Rock solid. The fact that 
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere absorbs heat from the Sun was 
discovered at the time of the Civil War. This is not new stuff. In 1863 
the Irish scientist John Tyndall determined that carbon dioxide and 
water vapor trapped more heat in the atmosphere as their concentrations 
increased. A 1955 textbook, ``Our Astonishing Atmosphere,'' notes that 
nearly a century ago the scientist, John Tyndall, suggested that a fall 
in the atmospheric carbon dioxide could allow the Earth to cool, 
whereas a rise in carbon dioxide would make it warmer.
  In the early 1900s, a century ago, it became clear that changes in 
the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might account for 
significant increases and decreases in the Earth's average annual 
temperatures and that carbon dioxide released from manmade sources, 
anthropogenic sources--primarily by the burning of coal--would 
contribute to those atmospheric changes. This is not new stuff. These 
are well-established scientific principles.
  Let me look for a moment at the book I talked about, ``Our 
Astonishing Atmosphere,'' published in 1955--the year I was born, more 
than half a century ago--for the ``Science for Every Man Series.'' Let 
me read:

       Although the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remains at a 
     concentration of 0.03 percent all over the world, the amount 
     in the air has not always been the same. There have been 
     periods in the world's history when the air became charged 
     with more carbon dioxide than it now carries. There have also 
     been periods when the concentration has fallen unusually low. 
     The effects of these changes have been profound. They are 
     believed to have influenced the climate of the earth by 
     controlling the amount of energy that is lost by the earth 
     into space. Nearly a century ago, the British scientist John 
     Tyndall suggested that a fall in the atmospheric carbon 
     dioxide could allow the earth to cool whereas a rise in the 
     carbon dioxide would make it warmer. With the help of its 
     carbon dioxide, the atmosphere acts like a greenhouse that 
     traps the heat of the sun. Radiations reaching the atmosphere 
     as sunshine can penetrate to the surface of the earth. Here, 
     they are absorbed, providing the world with warmth. But the 
     earth itself radiating energy outwards in the form of long-
     wave heat rays. If these could penetrate the air as the 
     sunshine does, they could carry off much of the heat provided 
     by the sun. Carbon dioxide in the air helps to stop the 
     escape of heat radiations. It acts like a blanket to keep the 
     world warm. And the more carbon dioxide the air contains, the 
     more efficiently does it smother the escape of the earth's 
     heat. Fluctuation in the carbon dioxide of the air has helped 
     to bring about major climate changes experienced by the 
     world in the past.

  This is 1955. This is ``Our Astonishing Atmosphere,'' out of the 
``Science for Every Man Series.'' This is not something that was just 
  Let's look at the facts that we actually observe in our changing 
planet. Over the last 800,000 years--8,000 centuries--until very 
recently the atmosphere has stayed within a bandwidth of between 170 
parts per million and 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide. That is 
not theory, that is measurement. Scientists measure historic carbon 
dioxide concentrations by, for example, locating trapped bubbles in the 
ice of ancient glaciers. So we know, over time--and over long periods 
of time--what the range has been.
  What else do we know? We know since the industrial revolution, we--
humankind--have been burning carbon-rich fuels in measurable and ever-
increasing amounts. We know we release up to 7 to 8 gigatons of carbon 
dioxide each year. A gigaton, by the way, is 1 billion metric tons. So 
if you are going to release 7 to 8 billion metric tons a

[[Page S6479]]

year into the atmosphere, predictably that increases carbon 
concentration in our atmosphere. ``Put more in and find more there'' is 
not a complex scientific theory. It is not a difficult proposition. And 
7 to 8 billion metric tons a year into the atmosphere is a very big 
thing in the historical sweep.
  So we now measure carbon concentrations climbing in the Earth's 
atmosphere. Again, this is a measurement, not a theory. The present 
concentration exceeds 390 parts per million.
  So 800,000 years and a bandwidth of 170 to 300 parts per million, and 
now we are over 390.
  This increase has a trajectory. Plotting trajectories is nothing new 
either. It is something scientists, businesspeople, and our military 
service people do every day. The trajectory for our carbon pollution 
predicts that 688 parts per million will be in the atmosphere in the 
year 2095 and 1,097 parts per million in the year 2195. These are 
carbon concentrations not outside of the bounds of 800,000 years but 
outside of the bounds of millions of years. As Tyndall determined at 
the time of the Civil War, increasing carbon concentrations will absorb 
more of the Sun's heat and raise global temperatures.
  Let me end by reviewing the scale of the peril that we are facing if 
we fail to act. Over the last 800,000 years, as I said, it has been 170 
to 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Since the start of the 
industrial revolution, that concentration is now up to 390 parts per 
million. If we continue on the trajectory that we find ourselves, our 
grandchildren will see carbon concentrations in the atmosphere top 700 
parts per million by the end of the century, twice the bandwidth top 
that we have lived in for 8,000 centuries.
  To put that in perspective, mankind has engaged in agriculture for 
about 10,000 years. It is not clear we had yet mastered fire 800,000 
years ago. The entire development of human civilization has taken place 
in that 800,000 years, and within that 170 to 300 parts per million 
bandwidth. If we go back, we are back into geologic time.
  In April of this year, a group of scientific experts came together at 
the University of Oxford to discuss the current state of our oceans. 
The workshop report stated:

       Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of 
     the oceans and are now causing increasing hypoxia.

  Acidification is obvious--the ocean is becoming more acid; hypoxia 
means low oxygen levels.

       Studies of the Earth's past indicate that these are the 
     three symptoms . . . associated with each of the previous 
     five mass extinctions on Earth.

  We experienced two mass ocean extinctions 55 and 251 million years 
ago. The rates of carbon entering the atmosphere in the lead-up to 
these extinctions are estimated to have been 2.2 and 1 to 2 gigatons of 
carbon per year respectively, over several thousand years. As the group 
of Oxford scientists noted:

       Both these estimates are dwarfed in comparison to today's 

  As I said earlier, those are 7 to 8 gigatons per year. The workshop 
participants concluded with this quote:

       Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our 
     activities are at a high risk of causing, through the 
     combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, 
     pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant 
     extinction event in the ocean.

  The laws of physics and the laws of chemistry and the laws of science 
these are laws of nature. These are laws of God's Earth. We can repeal 
some laws around here but we can't repeal those. Senators are used to 
our opinions mattering a lot around here, but these laws are not 
affected by our opinions. These laws do not care who peddles influence, 
how many lobbyists you have or how big your corporate bankroll is. 
Those considerations, so important in this town, do not matter at all 
to the laws of nature.
  As regards these laws of nature, because we can neither repeal nor 
influence them, we bear a duty, a duty of stewardship to see and 
respond to the facts that are before our faces according to nature's 
laws. We bear a duty to shun the siren song of well-paying polluters. 
We bear a duty to make the right decisions for our children and 
grandchildren and for our God-given Earth.
  Right now I must come before the Chamber and remind this body that we 
are failing in that duty. The men and women in this Chamber are indeed 
catastrophically failing in that duty. We are earning the scorn and 
condemnation of history--not this week, perhaps, and not next week. The 
spin doctors can see to that. But ultimately and assuredly, the harsh 
judgment that it is history's power to inflict on wrong will fall upon 
us. The Supreme Being who gave us this Earth and its abundance created 
a world not just of abundance but of consequence and that Supreme Being 
gave us reason to allow us to plan for and foresee the various 
consequences that those laws of nature impose.
  It is magical thinking to imagine that somehow we will be spared the 
plain and foreseeable consequences of our failure of duty. There is no 
wizard's hat and wand with which to wish this away. These laws of 
nature are known; the Earth's message to us is clear; our failure is 
blameworthy; its consequences are profound; and the costs will be very 
  I thank the Senator from Arkansas for his indulgence for the extra 
time, and I yield the floor.
  Mr. UDALL of New Mexico. Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a 
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Brown of Ohio). The clerk will call the 
  The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent the order for the 
quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.