A picture of Senator Richard Blumenthal
Richard B.
Democrat CT

About Sen. Richard
  • Climate Change—(Continued)

    by Senator Richard Blumenthal

    Posted on 2014-03-10

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    Read More about Climate Change--(Continued)

    BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I am honored to follow my colleague and very good friend, the Senator from Connecticut, and to join him, the Presiding Officer, the Senator from Rhode Island; the Senator from Hawaii, Senator Schatz; and Senator Boxer, the Senator from California, in this really very inspiring and exciting occasion.

    I was driving to the Capitol early this morning and I saw in the black sky the beautiful dome which words can barely capture in its beauty. Many have tried. But I felt so fortunate to be here as a spokesperson and an advocate for this cause which truly is about the rest of this century, the rest of this planet's life, our children and their children, and to be part of a debate which has reached through the night. But in fact it is night only here. In many parts of the world already it is day.

    If we think globally, we realize the planet truly never sleeps. It is awake for the night here. Someplace in the world there is daylight. Hopefully, during this debate we have shed light at a time of darkness on a debate which is so critical to the future of our Nation.

    We are only a few Members of the Senate here, but I cannot help recalling what the famous scientist and conservationist Margaret Mead said about this cause and the importance of people in this cause: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

    Around the world where it is daylight or still dark, there are groups of committed people willing to put their lives and their voices on the line to save this planet from climate disruption. We are not talking about climate change. We are talking about disruption--planet disruption. We are not talking about small consequences which may alter the quality of life a bit here and there. We are talking about horrendous, gargantuan changes because they are incremental and they accumulate one by one, bit by bit, until they alter our shoreline in Connecticut, our vegetation, our produce, our recreation industry, all of what makes Connecticut the great State it is in its scenic and natural beauty, and all of what makes America the great country it is-- not only in its beauty but in its economic strength and its vision for the future.

    I thank Senators Whitehouse, Boxer, and Schatz for bringing us together, all of my colleagues for joining in this debate, and all who worked through the night--whether it is the guards or the pages or all who tirelessly gave us the opportunity to really make the case, much as we would in court--whether it is a closing argument or an opening statement--for the need that all of us unite in this critical cause.

    The gravity of climate disruption cannot be denied. There are people who deny it. No question that there are deniers. But the science is irrefutable. The facts are there. And as Ronald Reagan said, facts are a stubborn thing. We can't change them by rhetoric in this body, and we can't make them go away in storytelling. We can read our children's books, Dr. Seuss or others, about the wonderful things which happen in fantasy or nightmares which may occur to people also in their dreams.

    But in the real world, the science is well established. The science tells us climate disruption is happening as we speak, relentlessly and tirelessly. This is why we are here today.

    The compassion that we as legislators demonstrate indicates we care about the people who occupy this planet now, but also about the many others who will follow us. We are here to break the culture of indifference in a busy world which is awake all the time, is so global in its reach, and is digitally connected at all moments. There is a tendency to move forward and forget about what is fundamental and important, and that is climate disruption.

    To break this culture of indifference toward pollution and climate disruption, we must reverse the practices and policies which accelerate this dramatic and destructive trend in our world.

    In Connecticut we have already seen firsthand the effects of climate disruption. Severe weather events used to occur once in a generation. They are now becoming the new norm. These monstrous storms--whatever they are called, Irene or Sandy--they are the new norm. In just the time I began serving in the Senate, since January 2011, Connecticut has experienced four major storms claiming lives and costing millions of dollars in damage, culminating in the unprecedented Superstorm Sandy. Now we can call Sandy a hurricane or superstorm or whatever you will. We can call these weather events inevitable or surprising, but they are becoming the new normal because of climate disruption. In February 2011 a snowstorm cost the State $20 million, and the leadership of our Governor was exemplary, but remedying the effects of the storm does not prevent them, and even preparing for them does not forestall them, because the weather is bigger than any action of man, and man can control it only by fundamental changes in the way he or she lives. The snowfall in February 2011 was followed by tropical storm Irene that wreaked $546 million in damages. The people of Connecticut had barely any time to recover before a freak October snowstorm brought an additional $614 million of devastation to the State.

    Hurricane Sandy struck a year later, causing record-breaking damage and devastation to Connecticut as well as the states of New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island when the storm cleared. When all this destruction was tallied, Connecticut found itself facing damage of $770 million as well as incalculable harm to houses, beaches, and other places along the coast. I toured the coast. I saw the damage. The ferocity and fury of that storm could be comprehended only by seeing that damage or being in the midst of it, which I was for a short period at the very start when I went to tour the energy operations center in places such as Norwalk and Greenwich, along the coast where preparation was beginning for that storm. Driving back on I-95 as the storm gathered in its ferocity and fury, I was frightened in a way that all of us should now share as we see the prospect of that fury and ferocity of nature, destructively impacting our entire planet, our world, and our children's world.

    We must heed Hurricane Sandy's warning as well as the alarms sounded by other storms and take steps to stop climate destruction and global warming. The evidence beyond the anecdotal [[Page S1453]] facts that we all see is irrefutable scientific evidence. Climate disruption impacts our ocean and atmosphere, disrupting actual temperature cycles and variations in climate, leading to an increasing number of severe weather events, snowstorms as well as hurricanes, cold and rain, as well as heat and drought across the country.

    Severe storms and other things such as floods and tornadoes and drought are happening at a rate four times greater than the average 30 years ago. These storms are costing us. They are costing our families, local communities, and taxpayers more and more of their hard-earned dollars, and Connecticut families and our people are impacted severely. So Washington has an obligation and opportunity to act. This body must face the responsibility at hand and act in the interests of the American people. Climate change is a real and present and urgent danger. The threat is now. We should face this with a sense of immediacy just as we would a house burning or a storm coming, much as we did the coming of Sandy when the brave first responders, our firemen and police, braved the storm but did the right thing knowing they must act to protect our people.

    The sense of urgency this issue requires and, indeed, demands is lacking today, which is why we are here, to break the culture of indifference and despair. Outside the insularity of Washington, outside of repeated recalcitrance and political stagnation--dysfunction I think is the word most often used--which has paralyzed our politics, the American public is understanding. The American public gets it. They understand that climate disruption is happening. It is happening in their everyday lives. It is affecting their homes near rivers and oceans, affecting their drinking water supplies and the crops we need for food. They understand that if nothing is done this problem will only get worse. Communities in the Midwest know why they are experiencing some of the worst drought in decades. Families in California know why their water supply is dwindling dangerously lower and lower. Lobstermen in Connecticut, Long Island Sound, dwindling in number, understand why lobster numbers are shrinking. Surviving lobster populations are moving farther north. The lobsters are our modern-day canary in the coal mine. From Montana to Arizona to New Mexico people see why clearly the wildfire season is starting earlier in the year and lasting later into the fall. We have seen the pictures here on the floor of some of those wildfires that have devastated our forests. The American people understand why our forests are burning, and the American people get it, but Congress still does not.

    We have reached the time where we must do the job we were elected to do. It is time to fight for a remedy, fight for relief, to firefighters, to farmers, to lobstermen, to ordinary American people, who want to take their families to the shore and see it as they knew it when they were children.

    Every generation in this Nation makes a covenant. Every generation has an obligation to leave this Nation better than when we found it. We are in danger of leaving a lesser America in so many ways, most important in what matters to everyday life, our climate, our weather, our soil and trees, what we see when we wake in the morning and before we go to bed, the natural world that is essential to our survival, not to mention our thriving.

    In my home State of Connecticut the people are not waiting for answers from Washington. We have waited long enough in Connecticut, because Congress has not fully awakened. Indeed, it is still asleep. As my colleague Senator Whitehouse has said time after time, just a few feet from me, America and the world must wake up. The failure to do so, waiting and watching as disaster develops, could spell devastation for America and for our climate. That is why Connecticut is taking steps to address climate change effects like rising sea levels and storms. State officials are researching areas especially along our coast and along our waterways that are vulnerable to storm surges and inland flooding, and figuring out how best to protect infrastructure that is at risk.

    I know the citizens of Senator Schatz's State of Hawaii are doing the same, taking an issue and implementing policy to rein in solutions, taking steps on their own, voting with their feet, not just their voices but their actions. And that is what the citizens of Rhode Island are doing as well, seeking to do whatever they can as individuals. They are a small group of intelligent and dedicated people, but they are seeking to change the world for the better, because a small group seeking to do so is the only thing that ever has, as Margaret Meade has said. The citizens and states from California, in the Northwest and all the way to New England, are joining in this effort. This citizens' movement to save the planet from climate disruption eventually will prevail. Eventually there will be action. But will it be in time? I want to read an article in the Hartford Courant on January 27, 2014, just a few weeks ago. It captures how people of Connecticut are paying attention to the growing threat upon them and how they are taking steps to address it. I am quoting: The changing climate is expected to make Connecticut a different place with more extreme weather, hotter summers and more precipitation, disrupting the natural world around us and testing our ability to respond and adapt.

    Some changes will be volatile and abrupt while others will be more nuanced.

    For example, maple syrup production could decline while grape growing improves which would bode well for Connecticut's wine industry.

    At the end of the century Connecticut summer heat is expected to feel more like the sticky dog days of Washington, DC or perhaps, Savannah.

    A warmer summer could seem rather pleasant on its face if Connecticut were to have a summer more like those in the south, but the changes come with greater volatility.

    ``As the climate gets warmer, you put more moisture into the atmosphere, and it just gets a little more violent,'' said Richard Houghton, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, MA, a nonprofit research organization that focuses on environmental sciences.

    ``There's a lot more energy around. . . . that comes out in unexpected ways, generally not to the betterment of gardens and forests and so on,'' Houghton said.

    The changes have been studied and monitored by universities, state and federal agencies and others who have combed for decades of data on everything from changes in trees' growth rings to lobster habitat in Long Island Sound. Extensive collections of scientific data have been the source of documents for metaanalyses saying, in effect, that big changes are underway disrupting a mostly climatological period of thousands of years.

    Perhaps more worrisome is the likelihood of severe weather events such as floods.

    Quoting here: ``Even if you had the same amount of rain, it is going to be delivered in these more punctuated, very intense rain events, which are more likely to wash out bridges, roads, cause damage to people's basements, flooding, things like that that cost more,'' said Brenda Ekwurzel, senior climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization started in Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969, and which is now an alliance of more than 400,000 citizens and scientists.

    ``We haven't designed our infrastructure, especially the aging infrastructure of the Northeast to handle these times of drainage needs.'' In 2007, the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment was conducted by scientists at more than a dozen universities, including Harvard and Princeton, in addition to experts at the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    In 2009, several Federal agencies that are part of the U.S. Global Research Program released another large report with specifics about what will change and what will happen to the northeast and Connecticut as a result of climate change.

    Here are some highlights of the two reports: The northeast could see 20 to 30 percent more winter precipitation and more of that could be rain rather than snow, assuming a greater level of heat-trapping emissions from human activities.

    The higher emission scenario assumes a continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels while a lower emission scenario assumes a shift to cleaner energy by the middle of the century. Heavy downpours of rain have increased across the Northeast in recent decades causing intense spring flooding in 2006, 2007, and 2010.

    Cities that experienced only a few 100-degree days each summer might average 20 such days per summer while others, including Hartford, would average nearly 30 days at 100 degrees or hotter.

    Large portions of the Northeast could be unsuitable for growing popular varieties of apples, blueberries, and cranberries in a higher emission [[Page S1454]] scenario. Heat stress could reduce milk production in dairy cows. However, the longer growing period could be better for gardeners and farmers so long as they can adapt to the likelihood of summer droughts and flooding rains in the spring.

    Hotter weather is expected to shift growth range for maple, beech, and birch forests to the north, disrupting the maple sugar industry and shifting the food sources for animals that rely on those forests, such as migratory song birds, such as the Baltimore oriole. Long-lived trees might endure, but they would be vulnerable to stresses of competition, bugs, and disease. Some parts of northern Connecticut will retain those hardwoods.

    Sea levels are expected to rise 10 inches to 2 feet by the end of the century, and those projections do not account for recent observed melting of the world's major ice sheets, which means the estimates could be too conservative.

    What is now considered a once-in-a-century coastal flooding in New London and Groton along the Thames River could occur as frequently as every 17 years. Several experts agree that modeling sea-level rise is more difficult than predicting other effects of climate change because there are so many variables related to the ocean. In any scenario, the seas are expected to rise.

    Houghton, the head of the Woods Hole Research Center, said that what happens to the climate depends on a multitude of factors around the globe--from deforestation in tropical areas to the burning of fossil fuels for energy. One important distinction is that weather and climate are different. Climate future does not predict when and where it will rain. Instead, it predicts patterns, such as overall warmer temperatures or the greater likelihood for violent floods, such as tornadoes or floods. For climate change, it is more about general trends and extreme changes as a result of global warming.

    As more erratic and extreme weather becomes more likely, property owners, town governments, cities, States, and the Federal Government will be put to new tests of their responses and adaptability.

    Dr. Ekwurzel said that maybe 30 years down the road we will have gotten better at dealing with those extreme events because they are going to become the new normal. I would say in the next decade--15 or 20 years--we are going to have some hard lessons as to how to deal with this.

    The work of responding and adapting is already underway and has been for years, though there is renewed concern after power outages and widespread property damage during Tropical Storm Irene and the October storm of 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. ``They were clearly wake-up calls,'' said Jessica Stratton, director of policy in charge of climate issues at the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

    Connecticut has a wide-ranging climate strategy that ranges from buying energy that produces less carbon which causes further warming and a less predictable climate to better preparation for greater extremes. In terms of preparing for higher sea levels and inland flooding from harsh rain, there are three priorities, according to Jessica Stratton.

    First, Connecticut is researching areas vulnerable to rising sea levels and storm surges and inland flooding. Second, the State is looking to critical infrastructure, facilities, and property at risk in those high-hazard areas. Third, the State, and other parties, will work to develop best practices to protect infrastructure and habitat and to mitigate or reduce risk to the greatest extent possible. The last measure will involve assisting residents, State, and local government.

    In 2010 a committee of scientists, engineers, farmers, policymakers, public health officials, and business owners published a 195-page document called ``The Impacts of Climate Change on Connecticut Agriculture, Infrastructure, Natural Resources and Public Health.'' ``We think it is highly probable that we are going to experience these kinds of events more frequently,'' Stratton said of recent storms and flooding.

    She continued: And because of that, I don't want to sit here and just say, ``OK. We'll take it. We'll pick up the pieces afterward.'' Let us do what we can to lessen the negative impacts, and those are human, those are property, those are business losses. There are a whole bunch of things. So, let us take whatever steps we can to enable our society as it currently is to function as well as it can and to get back to normal as quickly as it can.

    I have quoted so extensively from this article in the Courant because it summarizes many of the facts that cannot be denied. Those facts are stubborn. Those facts presage a disaster that we have the power to ignore, but we also have the power to act and to deal with it and to take advantage of the immense opportunity that lies ahead. This is an opportunity that could actually create jobs and economic growth, and that is the key point.

    The problem of climate disruption is also a tremendous opportunity. It is an opportunity not only to change mindsets and culture--the culture of indifference--it is an opportunity to change the way we live, create jobs, a new lifestyle, and economic growth.

    The real and serious health impact of climate change impacting millions of Americans should be enough to force Congress to act, but if that is not enough evidence, let us look to the economic impact of inaction. Take the asthma rates--just one example of climate change impact on health costs.

    According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, the United States spends approximately $3,300 per person with asthma per year. In the 5-year period between 2002 and 2007, asthma costs grew 6 percent, from $53 billion to $56 billion.

    NOAA, the National Climate Data Center, estimates that the extreme weather events that occurred across the country in 2012 alone, which included tornadoes in the Plains States and the South, the wildfires in the West, and the Midwest drought and Hurricane Sandy, cost the American economy $1 billion in rebuilding and lost economic productivity. That estimate is no doubt low and conservative.

    A rocket scientist is not needed to understand the effects that rising sea levels will have on our coastal communities, which include many of America's large cities and population centers. America's cities will be underwater, and we will have to rebuild their defenses at great cost.

    There is another side of this situation. There is a different side of this coin of climate disruption. Yes, climate disruption can be devastating to our economy; indeed, it has already begun to be so, but it also offers the hope and opportunity of spurring new technology, reducing our dependence on oil, and thus driving down greenhouse gas emissions in a way that will empower and drive economic growth.

    The U.S. Economic and Statistics Administration reports that the country's 2010 trade deficit in petroleum-related products was $265 billion or approximately $855 per American citizen. The EPA and the DOT--the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation--estimate that the corporate average fuel economy standards that require vehicles to be more fuel efficient and emit less CO2 by 2025 save $8,000 per vehicle over each car's lifetime. Upgrading and retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient and creating jobs by creating new technologies and training workers to develop skills to execute the retrofit and to work in burgeoning alternative energy industries will generate tremendous return for our economy.

    The bipartisan Shaheen-Portman Energy Savings and Industrial Competitive Act, which I was proud to sponsor, is waiting in the wings for congressional action. It would create over 190,000 jobs and save $16 billion a year for consumers by 2030. We must make the Shaheen- Portman bill law. It is only one example of what the Senate can and must do to help stop climate disruption. It is a small measure--modest in its impact--but it is a start. If we do nothing else as a result of this debate tonight, let it lead us to bring back the Shaheen-Portman bill.

    So even if--unlike the overwhelming majority of scientists--you have doubts about the science of climate change, remember that the economic benefits of addressing it, even if you think it is a dream, a nightmare or some fantasy supporting renewable energy, promoting greater efficiency in motor vehicles and buildings will save [[Page S1455]] money, add jobs, make for stronger buildings and better vehicles. Most important, it will save wasteful energy use. That argument ought to be enough to convince anyone that these investments are smart for America.

    So whatever your reasons may be, whether you are motivated by the need to ensure a livable climate for future generations, whether you are moved to action by Americans suffering by millions from health problems, exacerbated by a more polluted environment, whether you understand the threat to the U.S. economy that is created by not only the more intense weather events but a more efficient energy landscape-- whatever your motivation, whether it is fear or anxiety, apprehension about the future or simply a desire to save money from wasteful use of energy, the intense weather events are becoming more intense and they are becoming the new normal. Inefficiency in energy is becoming a norm as more people around the globe use energy, and we can lead by example in the United States. The Nation must wake up. Congress must awaken, and now is the time to act.

    I wish to close by reading some letters from the people of Connecticut because I think they speak eloquently to the reason we are here and the reason the people of Connecticut are taking this kind of action.

    They are letters to me from constituents in all walks of life expressing their personal feelings about this issue. Patricia Wallace of New Haven wrote: As the director of elderly services for the City of New Haven last year when we had 34 inches of snow, I heard from seniors who could not get out of their front or back doors and had no way to move that much snow, who could not get fuel delivered, who could not get food. I have a husband who uses a wheelchair to get to work. It was nearly impossible for us to move the snow that city plows pushed up on the side of the street so that he could get on the lift of the van to get to work.

    A few years back, many senior housing complexes lost power during Sandy and had no generators. When they were built, we did not face the frequent severe weather that is now routine. Two non-profit nursing homes have generators, but they are not built for the length of time we have had to operate during these severe weather storms.

    Another Connecticut resident named Diane Taber-Markiewicz told me: The global warming of our planet is now creating a push back from the environment that is causing millions of people around the world to lose their way of life. This affects us all and results in a loss of people and other valuable resources needed to sustain and progress our species. Personally, we deal with severe weather events regularly; power outages that cause us to lose work and cost us in wasted food that spoils during outages. Our local, regional, national infrastructure is dangerous in its deteriorated state and our tax dollars go to assisting the very companies and politicians who support our demise.

    Lenore Lewis-Foreman of Bridgeport wrote me to say: I have a nerve disorder. Because of this, the weather plays a significant part of my day-to-day activities. Some days I am okay enough to get out of bed and participate in society while being productive. There are days the pains are so bad that my eyes blur and I cannot move. The past season has made it increasingly difficult for me to even motivate myself enough to get out of bed. I have many family and relatives who have been affected by climate change. Some have passed on or moved to another State. A few have decided to stay here in the northeast and stick it out.

    Countless Connecticut residents, in other words, countless members of our communities across our State have written to me with their positions and concerns. Like these three writers whose letters I shared with you, many Connecticut citizens fear that climate change will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among our population: the elderly, the ill, and people without financial resources. People understand that climate change will have consequences, not only for their personal lives but for our food and water, our way of life. People are already bearing the burden of climate change and disruption every day. They know that if nothing is done, it will only get worse for them and for future generations. Again, the time for action is now. America must wake up.

    Let me close by reading a small part of a book that was quoted earlier in this debate by my colleague from the State of Oregon, Senator Merkley, who cited the ``Lorax'' book by Dr. Seuss. It says in part: Now I'll tell you, he says, with his teeth sounding gray, how the Lorax got lifted and taken away. It all started way back, such a long time back, way back in the days when the grass was still green and the pond was still wet and the clouds were still clean.

    It goes on to describe the degradation and the tree cutting and the disregard for that environment. I know Senator Merkley has quoted it at length so I will not do so. But it closes with a very poignant and dramatic observation that maybe others, maybe many in this body have read to their children.

    I worried about it with all of my heart, but now says the Once-ler, now that you are here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it's not. So Catch! Calls the Once-ler. He lets something fall. It's a Truffula Seed. It's the last one of all. You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds. And Trufulla Trees are what everyone needs. Plant a new Trufulla. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air. Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.

    In a certain sense, the stories we read our children have a message they understand. Our children understand in many ways better than we do, because they understand what it means to play in the snow or have sunny skies or a day that is not filled with superstorms. They understand what it means to act individually, to take care of the environment and our planet. I would like to think it is because we have read them the stories of environmental heroes who championed the right causes, who cared enough to act. I would like to think the leadership of some in this body, their leadership by example and countless others across the Nation, who take stands, stand up, speak out against climate disruption, against the emissions that threaten the very existence of our planet, provide those young people with leadership by example. I would like to think they are learning from some of us and the stories we tell them and read to them from Dr. Seuss or others.

    The story from Dr. Seuss is not about games, about fantasies. It may seem like a fantasy and it may be spoken as a story, but it carries a message that the trees are what everyone needs; we need to plant them. Fresh air is what everyone needs, and we must preserve it. We need to protect this planet from the axes that will hack at them, as climate change most assuredly will do.

    Climate disruption--call it climate change, global warming, whatever you will--is a threat that we have the opportunity and obligation to counter. We are taking baby steps. We need great strides. America must wake up and so must the world.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Murphy). The Senator from Rhode Island.

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