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Timothy K.
Democrat VA

About Sen. Timothy
  • Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2017—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Tim Kaine

    Posted on 2016-07-11

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    KAINE. Madam President, I rise to join my colleague from Rhode Island and other colleagues this evening who are talking about the critical issue of climate change, especially the facts around climate change but also the fact that there are many who would deny the facts. This is a very important issue to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Climate change is not an abstraction. Climate change is not a next-year or next-decade issue. Climate change in Virginia is a today issue.

    Earlier today, I was in Norfolk, VA, which is in the Hampton Roads area, near the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Norfolk, and the surrounding communities, is the largest concentration of naval power in the world. It is the center of American naval operations, the headquarters of the U.S. Atlantic fleet, and it is already having to spend millions of dollars to elevate the piers where aircraft carriers come and go due to sea level rise. The Hampton Roads area is listed as the second most vulnerable community in the United States to rising sea levels after New Orleans.

    This is a challenging issue in a lot of ways. I have friends who live in these communities who recently bought homes, but now their homes aren't marketable. For most Americans--certainly for me--my home is the most valuable asset I own. If you have that, and then you suddenly can't sell it because climate is changing, sea level is rising, flooding is more recurrent, and no one will buy your home, it is a very serious issue.

    In addition to the effect on individuals and businesses because of sea level rise, the effect on the naval station is significant. Current estimates are that rising sea levels in Norfolk will take the main road entrance into the center of American naval power and have that under water 3 hours a day by 2040 just because of normal tidal action. In times of storms, it would be worse. Imagine an America that counts on that Navy, counts on that naval presence around the globe having its largest base inaccessible because of sea level rise.

    We have an interesting community. One of the most unique parts of Virginia is a small island, Tangier Island, in the center of the Chesapeake Bay. It has been continually inhabited since the 1600s as a community for water men and women, the folks who have traditionally made their living by going out and catching crabs, oysters, and fish. This is a small island, a few acres. It is one of the only places you can go in the United States where you can hear English spoken as Shakespeare would have spoken it, with a language that is an Elizabethan language. The community is very isolated in that way, and so you hear this beautiful English spoken there. The community has many wonderful virtues to it, but the Chesapeake Bay is coming [[Page S4936]] up around this community and eroding it.

    I received a letter from a middle school student within the last month--a handwritten letter that might have been the most heartfelt communication I have received in 4-plus years in the Senate--saying: What are you doing about sea level rise? What can you do to help us deal with these issues so Tangier, as an island, does not completely disappear? So for these reasons and many others, in Virginia, we take this very seriously and we have to deal with it.

    I will tell you something else about Virginia. Virginians believe in science. The Virginia political figure we most admire was the preeminent scientist of his day, Thomas Jefferson. He was a scientist.

    Virginians overwhelmingly believe in science. Seventy percent of Virginians accept the scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change and that it is urgent we do something about it. Seventy percent of Virginians believe in that proposition.

    I am here because my friend from Rhode Island asked me to come and talk about the fact that there is an organized effort--not just a battle about the policy about climate science--to knowingly try to misrepresent the status of climate science and suggest that climate change is not occurring. They are denying it exists, they are denying it is a concern, and they are working against any reasonable solutions.

    Of course, we have to be open to points of view, reasonable differences of opinion, and have a debate, but when the science is settled on some things and people in an organized way--who know better--are trying to fight against it, we should be suspicious.

    So a group of Senators are speaking today and tomorrow to discuss these organizations that constitute what my friend from Rhode Island has termed a ``web of denial,'' an organized effort to deny science.

    Let me just talk a little bit because a number of these deniers are companies that at least have PO boxes or nonprofit organizations that at least have PO boxes in Virginia. The same Virginia where Tangier Island is disappearing, the same Virginia where the Navy is having to spend to shore up their infrastructure, also has some shadowy organizations that are trying to deny the real science involved.

    There is an organization involved called the Science and Public Policy Institute, and it purports to summarize available academic literature. Here is a quote: They further note that decadal variability in sea level is observed, but to date there is no detectable secular increase in the rate of sea level rise over the period 1950-2000. They also report that no increase in the rate of sea level rise had been detected for the entire 20th century.

    This is a group that throws in a few ``sciency'' words like ``decadal variability,'' but what they are really saying is there is no sea level rise. This is at odds with the conclusions of virtually every scientist who studied this issue, including scientists at Virginia universities-- Old Dominion University and at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at William & Mary. Those scientists say sea level rise has risen a foot since industrialization, and the range of future sea level rise on the Virginia coast is anywhere from 1\1/2\ additional feet to 7 feet by the year 2100. They will acknowledge some question about is it going to be 1\1/2\ feet, is it going to be 7 feet, but they don't challenge the basic science surrounding sea level rise. So which is it--1\1/2\ feet to 7 feet or you don't need to worry it? Don't worry, be happy.

    Without getting a Ph.D. in atmospheric science and building your own quantitative models, how do you know who is right? Here is a clue. Look at who funds these organizations. In the case of ODU and William & Mary, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science--which is one of the most preeminent marine sciences organizations in the Nation, with Scripps in San Diego and Woods Hole in Massachusetts--it is not hard. They are State universities. They are funded by the general assembly of Virginia, which are two Republican houses. They are reaching a scientific conclusion that says climate change is serious, but with the Science and Public Policy Institute, it is a bit nebulous, and it is kind of hard to figure out.

    There are online sources that enable you to track how organizations are funded through foundations with ties, frankly, to the energy. According to one of these sources, called ``DeSmogBlog,'' one of this major funders of this institute, the Science and Public Policy Institute, is called the Donors Capital Fund, which has distributed $170 million to various conservative causes and describes itself as being ``dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.'' A New York Times article from as far back as 2003, documents a connection between this foundation and an organization that also has a point of view, ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil is a funder or, in the past, has been a funder of this organization.

    Why doesn't ExxonMobil or a conservative organization just publish the material on their own Web sites under their own bylines? My guess is, they have scientists who actually know the science. There has been recent information about ExxonMobil. They understand the climate science. They couldn't publish this under their own byline and meet their own standards of truthfulness, but they are providing funding to an organization that is denying climate change. In other words, the organization is just a delivery vehicle for information that is meant to be seen as impartial scientific information, but it is, in fact, not impartial at all. So when you see one group saying there has been no sea level rise and another saying there has been a lot and we could be in for more, if you are wondering which one to believe, take a look at who is funding the research.

    Here is another organization, the Virginia Institute for Public Policy: ``Regulations prescribing a reduction, or even a complete cessation, of Virginia's CO2 emissions will have absolutely no effect on global climate.'' If there are Virginia regulations that even eliminate Virginia CO2, it will have no effect on global climate. This is an interesting quote because it is not technically a lie because it is literally true. Virginia's share of world CO2 emissions is infinitesimal. So if Virginia eliminated it all, it wouldn't affect the entire globe in a measurable way. But that is like saying: One vote? Your vote is not going to make the difference or one cigarette will not hurt you so go ahead and have one.

    This argument is a kind of a classic hide-the-ball argument that makes a statement that is technically true, but it essentially is promoting a false point of view that, oh well, we shouldn't do anything about it. Again, it is the use of a literal truth that is basically designed to pitch a message that is grossly misleading.

    So let's ask about this group, the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, who funds a group that would say something like that? Again, the Donors Capital Fund that funded the first organization I discussed, as well as the Chase Foundation of Virginia and the Roe Foundation, which support a list of conservative causes.

    If you call an organization the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, it sounds kind of neutral and, again, probably trying to do a good thing, but if you go back and look at who is funding it and you again find the funding sources are heavily linked to energy industry groups like ExxonMobil, then you understand they are not quite as impartial as their name would suggest.

    Here is another quote from the CO2 Coalition: Concerns about carbon dioxide being a quote-unquote ``pollutant'' are not valid. Climate change is proceeding very slowly, and the likely increase in temperature for the 21st century is about 1 degree Celsius or less.

    Well, yes; is that technically true? The temperature of the Earth has increased by about 1 degree since industrialization, and 197 countries just signed an agreement in Paris last year to try to limit any further increase to no more than 1 degree additional.

    So this group makes it sound like 1 degree, who cares about 1 degree? Well, a 100-degree fever is only 2 degrees more than normal, but it is enough to make you pretty sick. It is actually 1.4 degrees more than normal. It is enough to make you pretty sick.

    The number of 0.8 sounds tiny in the abstract, but if that is your blood alcohol content, that gets you a DUI in Virginia. The number sounds small. Oh, gosh. Why would that make a difference? That gets you a DUI because you are impaired.

    [[Page S4937]] So, yes, the group using the one temperature, 1 degree in temperature, makes it sound like it is not that big of a deal--but it is that big of a deal.

    This is the last one I want to discuss before I close. This is kind of a doozy because it is from an open letter to Pope Francis on the topic of the Pope's environmental encyclical. The group is called the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. Nothing like going big if you are going to pick a name for yourself. I am glad there is somebody who is trying to be a steward of creation. Their quote starts with a quote from the 19th Psalm.

    The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

    Beautiful aspect of the first verse in Psalm 19, but then the group goes on to declare in their own words this: By using fossil fuels to generate energy to lift billions of God's precious children out of poverty, we liberate from the tomb of the earth the carbon dioxide on which plants and therefore all the rest of life depend. In light of these considerations, we believe it is both unwise and unjust to adopt policies requiring reduced use of fossil fuels for energy.

    So somebody is really using Scripture to argue that making our energy production cleaner, safer, and cheaper violates the Christian tenet of caring for the poor.

    I am a Christian, and many of us in this body have a deep-faith background in one faith or another, but I will use a non-Christian phrase to describe that argument. It takes a lot of chutzpa to claim your religious faith and compassion for the poor drives you to support pollution-intensive energy, especially when the organization refuses to reveal how it is funded.

    In closing, we certainly don't want to imply that all groups that have an agenda or have a point of view are motivated by funding sources, but the web of denial the Senator from Rhode Island is asking us to come out and talk about tonight is one that includes a number of organizations that are climate deniers, and they are denying science that in my view they actually know to be true.

    There comes a point when the truth becomes so hard to deny that those who deny it are simply not credible. And you have to then ask the question: Why are you denying it? I assert that most of these organizations understand the science, they accept the science, and they realize it to be true. So why do they deny the science? The answer is greed. That is the basic answer. Many of the organizations we are discussing are funded primarily by fossil fuel interests. If they can delay, even by 1 year or 2 years or 5 years or even 6 months, the enactment of policies that would move us toward fewer fossil fuels, it will hurt their bottom line.

    So rather than come up here and argue about what the right transition should be, they are handing funds over to organizations that are trying to confuse the American public about science itself.

    Let me close and read from Pope Francis's encyclical, since the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation cherry-picked the piece. I am going to read it as a quote: Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count, there are can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently-- As to future generations, we look at things differently-- we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.

    Science and faith have a number of things in common, but one of the most important things they have in common is that their first duty has to be to the truth. I hope all actors in the political process, whatever their views, will remember that and have that same commitment.

    I thank the Chair, and with that, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Alaska.

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