A picture of Senator Bill Nelson
Bill N.
Democrat FL

About Sen. Bill
  • Climate Change—(Continued)

    by Senator Bill Nelson

    Posted on 2014-03-10

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    Read More about Climate Change--(Continued)

    NELSON. Mr. President, I want the 31 colleagues who have been on the floor to know how proud I am. As I have watched throughout the evening and this morning, I have seen our colleagues continue to hold this floor to try to bring attention to climate change. I am very proud of them.

    I have the privilege of being the cleanup hitter in this session that has gone on for hours and hours. I want to speak from the perspective of the part of the United States that is going to be and is most affected by sea level rise, which is a consequence of climate change; that is, the State of Florida. I also want to speak from the perspective of outer space.

    [[Page S1465]] When someone looks back at the planet through the window of a spacecraft--which I had the privilege of doing 28 years ago in the early part of the space shuttle program, the space shuttle Columbia, which was piloted by now-retired Marine Gen. Charlie Bolden, who is the head of NASA and has been for the past 5 years--when we look back at our home, we see this incredible creation that is so colorful suspended in the midst of nothing. Space is nothing. Space is an airless vacuum that goes on and on for billions of light years, and there is our home and it is so beautiful, yet it looks so fragile from that perspective of miles and miles away. What the naked eye can see from that altitude as we orbit the Earth at 17,500 miles an hour is incredible in the detail we can see, but some of that detail is quite disturbing.

    For example, coming across the Amazon I could see the color contrast. I could see the destruction of the rain forest. Then I could look to the east coast of Brazil at the mouth of the Amazon. I could see the silt that discolored the waters of the Atlantic for hundreds of miles, the extra silt coming off the destruction of the trees upriver.

    On the other side of the globe, for example, coming across Madagascar 28 years ago when they were cutting down all of their trees for fuel, for fires, and as a result there was no vegetation, and when the rains came, the water ran down the hills, the silt came into the rivers, and we could see for miles and miles at the mouths of the rivers from Madagascar--flying 203 miles above the surface of the Earth, we could see the effects. We could see those kinds of effects in the midst of that God-given beauty, that the Earth is so fragile.

    We could look at the rim of the Earth and see this thin film. It went into a blue band that then went into the blackness of space, and we could see what sustains all of life--the atmosphere. As a result, I certainly became more of an environmentalist because I saw in its entirety how fragile this ecosystem is.

    We could see the effects of storms. We were up in January, so we saw a hurricane in the Southern Hemisphere going clockwise, not counterclockwise as in the Northern Hemisphere. For hundreds of miles, there was this storm in the Indian Ocean. We could see from that perspective of the window of a spacecraft the delicacy of this God- created ecological balance.

    What we have done, as we burn more fuel and carbon dioxide goes into the air, instead of what was created where the Earth's rays come in and hit the surface--where the Sun's rays come in through the atmosphere and hit the Earth's surface and reflect back into space, suddenly the excess gases in the atmosphere create a kind of greenhouse effect, which then traps the heat. The heat, as it reflects off of the Earth's surfaces and bounces as it radiates back into space, can't get out and the Earth continues to heat.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that the globe could warm 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. It also estimated that sea levels could rise from 1 foot to 3 feet over the same period.

    Since we are talking about inches, degrees, and hundreds of years, now I want to go from space to my home in my native State of Florida, which is ground zero for the sea level rise. What will Florida look like in the year 2100? Florida has a population closing in on 20 million people. We are surpassing New York as the third-largest State. About 14 million of those people live along the coast, and that number is going to double by the year 2100. In those coastal cities and towns, there are homes, schools, powerplants, water treatment plants, roads, and bridges which could be underwater as the sea level rises. This isn't only hypothetical; this is real. Florida's Atlantic University, one of our great State universities, indicates that Florida has recorded 5 to 8 inches of sea level rise in the last half century. This rate is a rate of 1 foot per century, and it is about 8 times the average rate over the past 2,500 years. Today at high tide we can see for ourselves the flooded roads. They are a regular occurrence. We can see the flooded neighborhoods. We can see what happens when the infrastructure is flooded.

    If we just take a few years further in this century, 2060, we are going to see close to 1 to 2 feet of sea level rise. According to the National Research Council, by 2100 that number could be as much as 3 feet. Do you want to see what 3 feet is? Three feet of sea level rise-- look at the heavy population of southeast Florida. Look at all of these portions of the Everglades. Look at the Florida Keys--gone, under water. Look at the Fort Myers area, the Caloosahatchee River, Charlotte Bay, and look at Tampa Bay. Look where our space shuttle launched from pad 39A, Cape Canaveral--under water. Look at all of the coast of Florida, look over here at the tremendous Apalachicola oyster estuary-- under water, and so forth and so on. That is what prominent scientific organizations have estimated at the end of this century: a 3-foot rise in the sea and 14 million people--a population that over the course of the next few decades will double; 28 million people living on the coast of Florida--are going to be under water. Why aren't people paying attention? Before I came to the Senate, I had one of the toughest jobs I had ever had in elected public service. I was the elected insurance commissioner in Florida. The task fell to me in the aftermath of the monster storm Hurricane Andrew to resuscitate the insurance marketplace back to life.

    Back then, in the early 1990s, we could see monster storms meant warming of the climate, warmer ocean temperatures, more frequency and ferocity of storms. So as the then-insurance commissioner, I tried to go to the insurance companies to try to start getting them interested in protecting the investments they insured, and they kept their heads in the sand. We couldn't get it.

    So you can see that 75 percent of the State's population on the coast makes up 80 percent of the State's total income. Because we have more beaches than any other State, we have more coastline than any other State, save for Alaska, and a warmer climate, we have a great tourism industry--a tourism industry that attracts 37,000 companies to Florida--businesses related to the coast, from boating, to fishing, to lodging, to leisure recreation, all told employing a quarter of a million people.

    This 1,350 miles of coastline is a magnet for visitors. They come and they enjoy the beaches. They fish for red snapper in Destin, up here. They look for red snapper off of Panama City. Maybe they go for scallops off of Cedar Key. Maybe they go to see the spring training games in Tampa. Maybe they watch the sunsets from the Florida Keys. Well, you can see what is happening. The most recent data from the State indicates that in 2011 tourists spent $67 billion in Florida and contributed $4 billion to our State treasury.

    So while a lot of people have their heads in the sand, some local leaders, happily some local elected leaders are starting to do something about it. The city of Miami Beach already experiences flooding and drainage problems due to the high tides. They are planning to spend $200 million to purchase more pump stations, raise seawalls, and upgrade stormwater storage. Do you know whom we are talking to? Holland, the Netherlands. We are trying to learn about large-scale dikes and engineering fixes and how the Dutch have kept their lands dry. Miami Beach is taking the initiative so that homes and businesses will continue to thrive.

    The higher sea levels--get this--also threaten the water supply. Do you know why? Because Florida is basically land on top of a vast limestone honeycomb. Like a sponge, it holds freshwater deep underground, but when the sea level rises, the saltwater moves in and replaces the freshwater, so those aquifers become too salty or brackish. You can't drink that. That is happening, and it is happening in a little town on the southeast coast of Florida called Hallandale Beach. Their local officials are spending right now $16 million to upgrade their stormwater system and move the city's drinking water system to the west side of the city, further away from the coast.

    So local leaders are making the tough decisions to prepare for the future, and that is one reason I have the privilege of having the support of Senator Rockefeller, the chairman of the commerce committee, and we are going to take a commerce committee field hearing during the April recess down to South Florida, to Miami Beach, and we [[Page S1466]] are going to hear what local governments, businesses, and even reinsurance companies are doing in the wake of the sea level rise.

    One additional thing. I described what CO2 does, going into the air and creating the greenhouse effect, which stops the radiating of the Sun's heat back out into space. But there is another thing it does. Because carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is making our oceans more acidic, it threatens the coral reefs and all of the creatures in the ocean, from lobsters to clams.

    This is a picture of a healthy coral reef.

    This is not.

    The coral reef system in Florida is responsible for bringing in $3.5 billion in sales and income, and off of the coast of South Florida it supports 36,000 jobs. More acidic water means oysters, crabs, and lobsters are threatened. Biologists tell us that when shelled organisms are at risk, the entire food web may also be at risk because the reefs provide the core reproductive and feeding habitat for the marine life.

    So I come to the end of my comments, Mr. President. Whether you look at it from the perspective of the Senator from Florida, whose State is severely threatened at this moment, or from the perspective of the window of a spacecraft, looking back at this creation we call home, planet Earth, we are in severe jeopardy, and it is time for us to get out of our lethargy and recognize the problem happening in front of our very eyes.

    I am so proud of my colleagues. Before the Senators came in, I said that I had been watching on C-SPAN during the course of last evening and this morning, and I am so proud of you for what you have done in bringing attention to this issue.

    Hawaii Travel and Tourism

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