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  • Student Success Act—Conference Report—Continued

    by Senator Jeff Merkley

    Posted on 2015-12-08

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    MERKLEY. Madam President, I rise to share a little bit of details about the climate talks that are going on in Paris at this very moment. A number of us in the Senate were able to go to Paris last weekend and to be engaged in that dialogue.

    What I was terrifically struck by was that 150 heads of state had come together to kick off these climate talks. That is the largest gathering of heads of state in human history. Why did that landmark event occur? It occurred because the challenge of global warming is the most grave concern facing human civilization on this planet, so heads of state wanted to be there to acknowledge the fact that we must come together as a community of nations across this globe and work together to take this on for the good of our stewardship of this planet. A larger number of nations have put forward pledges on the efforts they are going to make to reduce global warming gases, and 186 nations have put forward those pledges.

    One of the issues that is embedded in these climate talks is how ambitious the international community should be. There is this broad goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees centigrade over the course of this century. We have already gone up to 0.9. We are almost halfway to that level that has been identified by scientists as a catastrophic level, but the pledges that are being made in Paris are not sufficient to keep us to 2 degrees. So that is one of the points of discussion-- how can the community of nations be more ambitious.

    One of the points being made is that we should come back together every 5 years to keep redoubling our efforts; that we know the pledges being made in Paris will not be enough, so we have to keep coming back to this challenge.

    We also have observed how dramatically the amount of information has changed over the last 5 years. We know that in another 25 years we will have a lot more information about what is occurring in the world and how successful the initial efforts have been.

    Then there is a group that is saying we need to go even further and work to reduce the amount of damage that could be done, and that means limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, which would take an even faster transition from a fossil fuel energy economy to a renewable energy economy. So that is an area of conversation--how ambitious can we be as an international community at this point and how can we improve on the efforts being put forward in Paris in the years to come.

    A second point is that there is a profound need for working together between developed nations and developing nations, between richer nations and poorer nations. Poorer nations are saying: We have a lot of folks who have never had access to electricity, and we need to provide the cheapest pathway to provide that electricity. Often, that is coal. Well, then, how do we make renewable, clean energy as inexpensive as coal energy so that nations can bypass establishing that utility-scale fossil fuel infrastructure. So that is a key piece of conversation.

    A third point is about reporting requirements. In order for us to have good policy now and in the future, we have to have good numbers on what is happening around the world, nation to nation. Nations feel a little sensitive about this idea of having an international community kind of working to double check the way they evaluate what is going on at home, but we need to convey the notion that these numbers--good numbers coming from each nation--are essential for nations to be able to participate in this international effort that will lead to success in curbing runaway global warming.

    I think it is enormously clear that Paris is a tremendous step forward. The number of heads of state that have attended, the number of nations that have put forward pledges, the intensity of the conversation at this very moment--people are recognizing that we are the first generation that has been impacted by global warming, and we are the last that can do something significant about it because, unfortunately, as we go forward a generation from now, we have not succeeded in curbing global warming gases. The carbon dioxide and methane gas will have such a profound feedback mechanism that it will be much harder to address this issue.

    I am pleased the administration has taken this so seriously and that nations throughout the world are taking it so seriously.

    H.R. 1599 Also, Madam President, I want to turn to the budget and spending negotiations underway right now. I came to the floor last week to note that there were conversations occurring about possibly taking away States' rights to be able to pass laws labeling food that is GE or GMO food; that is, genetically engineered or genetically modified food. To do so would simply be wrong--wrong in the absence of a cohesive, coherent, easy-to-use system of labeling at the Federal level, which we do not [[Page S8476]] have. It would be an intrusion on States' rights in one of the most sensitive areas to citizens, and that is the food they put in their mouth.

    This act of taking away States' rights and citizens' rights to know what is in their food is known as the DARK Act, the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act--the acronym DARK. Isn't it ironic that there are legislators here who are not only pursuing the DARK Act, but they are pursuing it in the dark of night. They are afraid to have a conversation in the relevant policy committee to address it. Whenever legislators fear public reaction, fear addressing the pros and cons in a public forum, you can bet there is something wrong with what they are up to. So that is why we must all be vigilant in these coming days to make sure this DARK Act is not inserted into the must-pass spending bill in the dark of night.

    Embracing All Religions Madam President, I want to close, to follow up on the comments I made yesterday about the proposal from Donald Trump to bar Muslims from entering our country under any avenue--not as refugees, not as business men and women, not as tourists, not as students--and again say how absolutely wrong it would be. This is the single worst idea I have heard from a Presidential candidate, ever.

    We should all recognize that right now our men and women in uniform of every religion--Christian and Protestant and Catholic and Jewish and Muslim and Buddhist and who knows what other religions--they are working together to take on the terrorist threat known as ISIS. Islam is not our enemy. ISIS is our enemy. Right now we are working in partnership with nations that are Islamic nations, and those leaders are Islamic. We are saying to them: We will work in partnership with you because Islam is not our enemy. ISIS is our enemy.

    I can tell my colleagues that ISIS has a strategy. Their strategy has been to create their mission as the United States against Islam, and the comments of Donald Trump played right into the playbook of the terrorists, making our Nation less safe, increasing the radicalization of folks around the world who have been listening to the message from ISIS and now have some reason to believe it might have some foundation--that America is against Islam. We are not, and we have been hearing that from Democratic voices and we have been hearing that from Republican voices. We have been hearing it from Senators and from House Members across Capitol Hill. We have been hearing it from legislators and we have been hearing it from citizens, Americans standing up and saying that Donald Trump is wrong. That is certainly something to be applauded. I praise my colleagues of both parties. I praise our citizens of both parties who have stood up to say we stand shoulder to shoulder with all patriotic Americans regardless of their religion, and we are united in taking on ISIS.

    Thank you, Madam President.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Gardner). The Senator from Pennsylvania.

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