Hearings - Testimony
FULL COMMITTEE: "Senators' Perspectives on Global Warming."
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Senator John F. Kerry


Thank you very much, Madam Chairman.

Thank you, Senator Carper, for your comments. I appreciate it and look forward to working with you.

Madam Chairman, thank you so much for having this hearing. It is wonderful to have the Chair of this Committee particularly who is looking at this issue and wanting to move forward.

I just came back from the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos. It is interesting that this was really the dominant issue on the table among businessmen and leaders all over the world. It was the centerpiece of Prime Minister Blair's comments to the plenary session there. Everyone in the world is looking to the United States now. We are 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. We have a responsibility to act. Like it or now, no matte what happens, yes, we need a global solution, but if the United States does not act, there won't be a solution.

I look forward also, and I thank you for the conversations we have had. We are going to have some hearings in the Small Business Committee and see how small business can proceed, and also, in the Commerce Committee on which you serve, and you will sort of have a double hat to wear in that capacity. But we are going to use every leverage we have here to move on this.

Back in 1987, yep, 1987, on the Commerce Committee under the leadership of then-Senator Gore, we held the first hearings on global climate change. And then in 1990, we held an interparliamentary conference with Senator Wirth, Senator Chafee and others trying to raise the profile of this issue. In 1992, and I mention this history because I want to emphasize the urgency of why we are here. In 1992, I was a member of the delegation that went with those same folks to Rio for the Earth Summit. We came together with about 170 nations or so to discuss various ways to tackle this problem back then.

We came up with a voluntary framework, the international framework on climate change, which President George Herbert Walker Bush signed. We ratified, but it was voluntary. Nations were given an opportunity to participate. We set in process a series of meetings, several of which I attended. I went to Buenos Aires for the COP meeting. I went to The Hague for the COP meeting. We began to see the tensions between the less developed countries and the developed countries, and the near developed countries, and the struggle to try to get this passed.

I managed the Kyoto agreement issue on the floor of the Senate, when the Byrd-Hagel resolution came up. We accepted the notion that, yes, we want less developed countries in, but we as a Nation never made an effort during those years to try to bring less developed countries to the table by working agreements with them for technology transfer, for recognition of the steps they were taking for fuel switching and other things.

So the bottom line is, nothing happened. We are here in 2006, 16 years or so after these meetings, and almost 20 years after the first hearings, and the United States, some are still in denial, and we are still not proceeding forward.

The American people are moving ahead of the Congress, which is astonishing and a sad statement about congressional irresponsibility. About 376 Mayors from 50 States have signed onto the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, to advance the goals of Kyoto. And now we have mounting scientific evidence, which will be capped in a report that will come forward from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, written by more than 600 scientists, Madam Chairman, reviewed by another 600 experts, and edited by officials from 154 governments, to reflect the scientific consensus. Already, it is being called the smoking gun of global warming by those who have studied it.

The basic facts are that at every point in between the two poles of this planet, the Earth's surface is heating up, and at a catastrophic rate. According to the 2001 IPCC report, we have already increased an average of 1.4 degrees, about .08 degrees Centigrade.

With what is in the atmosphere today, there is an inevitable increase. We can't do anything about it, up to about 1.4 or 1.5 degrees. Scientists now tell us by consensus, recent discussions with Jim Hansen, with John Holden at Harvard and Woods Hole, say that we really only have a latitude of about .06 degrees. You have to hold your temperature increase to two degrees Centigrade or we have catastrophic consequence.

A few years ago, they thought it was three degrees. A few years ago, they thought we should hold it to 550 parts per million, but now they realize we have to realize it to 450 parts per million to hold it down to two degrees because of what we have already seen in terms of the destruction that is taking place.

In 2005, 1998, 2003, 2002, 2004, 2006, were respectively the six warmest years on record, and all but one of the hottest 20 years on record have occurred since 1980, since the time they started measuring. We know this is the result of human activity, and we also know that carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased about 30 percent from the pre- industrial level of 270 parts per million. It is currently at 370 parts per million.

So Madam Chairman, that means we have a latitude of going from 370 to 450. This is the highest level of concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at any time in the past 150,000 years. If we let it go the way it is now, it could reach 600 to 700 parts per million and there will be catastrophe.

Now, here is the bottom line. Those who oppose doing something serious, as John Holdren says, to be credible, they have to explain what alternative mechanism could account for the pattern of changes being observed, and they have to explain how it could be that the known human-caused buildup in greenhouse gases is not having an impact. So they have to show those two things, what is causing it, why is what we have done not causing it. And they have failed to even suggest a legitimate theory for either of those.

So we are seeing these changes all over the Country. I have just been finishing writing a book about not just this, but all the environmental challenges we face today, toxins, water, oceans, et cetera. As I read about this, after 22 years in the Senate I have to tell you, it became more and more ominous, more and more frightening, more and more urgent and compelling than anything I have read in all the time I have been here, with the exception of a couple of security reports, but this is national security.

You have hunters noticing these changes. In Arkansas, the winter duck population has shrunk from one million to a half million over the past half century. Last year, drought dropped that population to 160,000. In South Carolina, they wouldn't have duck hunting now if it weren't for farm-raised ducks, and the population of migrant ducks is down to about 3,000. The number of category four and five hurricanes has nearly doubled in the last years.

As John Holdren and others will tell you, climate change is the envelope within which all the other changes take place, species change, climate, winds, hurricanes, ocean temperature. And there is this ominous notion of the tipping point which we have to avoid.

So the bottom line is, Madam Chairwoman, the only way to avoid the catastrophe that they warn us of, the oceans, the ice in the oceans in the north, in the Arctic, is going to melt. Jim Hansen sat with me several months ago and said it is no longer a question of if, when or how. It is just a question of it is going to happen, probably 30 years from now. What happens if that ice melts is that more ocean is exposed. As more ocean is exposed, the heating of the sun has a greater impact on the warming of the ocean, which has a greater impact ultimately on the Greenland ice sheet.

Now, we area already seeing melting underneath that ice sheet on the top of the rock. The potential for slippage of that rock, and major breakoff like the one we saw on Ellesmere Island a few months ago, actually a year and a half ago as was detected, and reported recently, where you had a 66 kilometer square ice sheet that just broke off and is now floating as its own island in the ocean.

The ice in the Arctic as it melts doesn't change the displacement of the oceans, so sea level rise is not as much of an issue, though it is going to increase. But if the Greenland ice sheet melts, you have something ranging between a 16 foot and 23 foot sea level increase, which wipes out all ports, lowlands, and islands globally.

The impact of this on poor people, the impact of this on commerce, on species, on disease and all kinds of things is gigantic.

So Madam Chairwoman, the bottom line is we really, and the reason I mention all this, I know it is accepted. I know the science is accepted. Senator Bingaman said it. But the urgency is not accepted up here. The urgency is just not accepted. There are business leaders who are showing greater urgency, the recent 10 corporations that announced what they are going to do, then the Congress of the United States is, or then our government is. And there is only one way to deal with this issue. It is carbon dioxide that is the principal greenhouse gas emission that is causing this. There are other greenhouse gases, but that is the principal one, and we have to cap the level of these greenhouse gas emissions. It is the only way to do it.

Senator Snowe and I introduced legislation last year to achieve this. We are going to reintroduce it. We establish an economy-wide cap and trade program to reduce these emissions and we will set that out further later this week. But I remember being part of this debate in 1990, with John Sununu, George Mitchell, Bill Riley and others at the table, into the wee hours of the morning. I remember the industry sitting there saying to us, if you do this, it is going to cost $8 billion and it is going to take 10 years, and you are going to ruin the industry.

And the environment community said no, no, no, no, it won't do that. If you do it, it will take $4 billion and it will be done in about four years, and it won't ruin the industry.

Well, guess what? Both were wrong. It was done at about half the cost the environmental industry said it would, and in half the time. Why? Because no one was able to predict what happens when you start down the road and the technology begins to make advances, and technology begets technology and begets advances that we are not capable of predicting, which is why we need to make this commitment.

The fact is, there are only three big ways of doing this. Number one, energy efficiency. There are enormous gains to be made in our Country in terms of energy efficiency. DuPont and General Electric and a host of companies are recognizing this and grabbing the profits. This is a for-profit effort, and we need to get people to realize this isn't just sacrifice. This is an ability to take the lead on health, on the environment, on jobs, on national security, as well as the ability to live up to our obligation morally for the next generation. So you get about five major pluses. There are few public policy choices where you get that.

The final comment I would make, Madam Chairwoman, is that, let me pose this to you. There are two sides here. There are sides of people who are still obstructing, still saying no, still fighting this, status quo-ists. And they refuse to accept some of even the science now. Then there are those fighting to make it happen.

Well, what is the downside of accepting the predictions of the Stern Report that says we can do this at 1 percent of GDP and the costs of not doing it are five to twenty-fold times more expensive than the cost of doing it.
So I ask colleagues in the Senate and I ask Americans a simple question: If the people who think climate change is a serious problem are wrong, and we take the steps to deal with it, what is the worst that can happen? The worst that can happen is we have cleaner air, a healthier Nation, more jobs created. We lead the world in technology. We have made ourselves more energy independent, and we have a better environment.

What is the worst that can happen if the people who say it is not happening or want to stop it? What is the worst if they are wrong? Catastrophe, absolute catastrophe. So the question for the United States Senate, for the Congress, for the Country, is which side of the ledger do we want to fall on. I think the answer to that is pretty clear.

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