Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer
Press Conference to Send Message on Climate Change to Durban Conference
December 7, 2011
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
I am here today as Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to send a clear message to the Summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa.
And that message is this: there are leaders in the U.S. Congress who understand the urgent threat facing the globe, and despite reports to the contrary, many Members of Congress are committed to lessening the impacts of unchecked climate change.
I am speaking to you today from Washington, D.C. because the business of Congress requires me to be here this week. My remarks today will be distributed by my staff, who are representing me in Durban.
Although I am not there with you in person, it in no way lessens my commitment to the work that you are doing in Durban and the importance of your mission to address climate change.
This massive threat to the environment and human health that is posed by climate change requires us to put aside partisan differences, to find common ground, and to demand immediate international action.
The evidence is mounting all around us that climate change has already caused damage to our environment. The trend is clear, and scientists around the world are concerned about what is happening to our planet.
Climate scientists predict increased precipitation, stronger storms, and increased drought. In the U.S. this year we have seen a record number of weather-related disasters.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has tracked the cost of damage from weather events for decades and found that in 2011 through the month of August there were ten disasters causing a loss of $1 billion or more, setting a new record. These include:
o Record flooding in the Missouri River Basin that damaged thousands of homes and acres of valuable farmland.
o Historic flooding in the Mississippi River caused by rain 300 percent above normal levels that led to weeks of flooding across multiple states.
o Droughts, heat waves, and wildfires across the Southern Plains and Southwest that destroyed thousands of homes and thousands of other buildings.
o More than 800 tornados across the Midwest, Southeast, and Ohio Valley, including several that struck major metropolitan areas.
Forests across the West have been ravaged as warmer winters and harsher droughts have contributed to an increase in insect infestations and disease that have impacted millions of acres.
As we begin to see these impacts, the trends for the future should cause us great concern.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, 13 of the warmest years on record have all occurred in the last 15 years.
According to the Global Carbon Project, greenhouse gas emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010 - the largest jump in emissions in any year since the Industrial Revolution began.
And the most recent International Energy Agency (IEA) analysis says that if global energy production doesn't change, the Earth's temperature could climb 11 degrees Fahrenheit. The head of the IEA was quoted as saying "Everybody, even the school children, knows this is a catastrophe for all of us."
An 11 degree increase means we would experience the worst effects of climate change that the world's leading scientists have predicted, such as devastating droughts; hundreds of millions of people subject to water shortages; significant extinction around the globe; significant harm to agriculture and food production; loss of coastal wetlands; millions of more people experiencing coastal flooding each year; increased malnutrition, lung disease, and infections; and increased mortality from heat waves, floods, and droughts.
A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists demonstrated the public health consequences of increased ozone pollution caused by higher temperatures. They predict that in 2020 increased ozone associated with warmer temperatures could cause:
o $5.4 billion in increased health costs;
o 2.8 million more acute respiratory symptoms;
o 944,000 more missed school days; and
o 3,700 more seniors and 1,400 more infants hospitalized for respiratory problems.
We must all work together to make sure this does not come to pass, but we are clearly on notice just how high the stakes are. While time has grown short, it is not too late.
The message I have for climate deniers is this: you are endangering human kind. It is time for climate deniers to face reality, because the body of evidence is overwhelming and the world's leading scientists agree.
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has recently confirmed once again: climate change is real, human activities are the primary cause, and the warming planet poses a significant risk to people and the environment.
Wishing that climate change will go away by clinging to a tiny minority view is not a policy - it is a fantasy. Problems do not go away by pretending they do not exist. And the longer that vocal minority insists on keeping their heads in the sand, the more it endangers billions of people around the globe and threatens to dramatically and negatively reshape the world as we know it.
And no number of stolen emails have changed the facts.
The emails stolen in 2009, which included personal communications and gossip, were thoroughly studied, reviewed, investigated, and were found not to undermine the consensus on climate change in any way. The most recent set of emails also appear to be more of the same.
Claims that these emails undermine the science have been rejected by the University of East Anglia, the UK Parliament, Penn State, and the National Science Foundation Inspector General, just to name a few of the official investigations undertaken that have come to the same conclusion.
The Associated Press concluded the stolen emails "don't undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions."
Climate change marches forward while special interests and their denier friends try to distract us from the work at hand. It is time for that to stop.
Leading international businesses are continuing to sound the alarm about climate change. The multinational insurance giant Munich Re found that losses related to extreme weather worldwide has tripled since 1980. According to the insurance company, "the effects of climate change are being felt already and are likely to intensify, putting more people and assets at risk."
Well-respected humanitarian organizations have warned us repeatedly about the enormous consequences of climate change in human terms. Just last month, Oxfam, which works to find solutions to poverty and injustice, warned that extreme weather events have played a role in record world food prices that hit the most vulnerable people especially hard.
Even if the deniers disregard the conclusions of the world's leading scientists, even if they do not believe the media, even if they do not listen to many leading businesses, and even if they do not hear the warnings of international NGOs, perhaps they will pay attention to the Pentagon.
In October 2011, the Department of Defense issued a report that "provides compelling evidence that climate change impacts are observable, measureable, real and having both near and long-term consequences. . . ." The report stated that the Defense Department recognizes that "climate change has the potential for significant impacts on all three of the basic elements important to national and international security - defense, diplomacy, and economics."
We know climate change is a real threat, and we must act now. Although much more needs to be done, we have begun to address the problem. For example, President Obama and my own State of California are continuing to move forward with specific measures that are already reducing harmful pollution.
California has an initiative to install one million solar roofs, and this source of renewable energy will help meet the state's electricity needs.
California is also taking important steps to reduce pollution that contributes to climate change. In October 2011, California's Air Resources Board moved forward with a landmark program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A few well-funded special interests sought to overturn this initiative, but over 60 % of California voters rejected these efforts after scientists, doctors, and health experts made clear that we couldn't afford to turn our backs on this dangerous threat.
The Obama administration is cutting greenhouse gases by requiring car companies to increase the fuel economy for cars and trucks. These new standards will help to reduce over 6 billion metric tons of emissions while saving consumers $1.7 trillion dollars.
They have also stepped up with policies designed to move toward clean energy and energy efficiency.
As Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I reaffirm my commitment to work as hard as I can to reduce the dangerous air pollution that causes climate change and harms the health and safety of people around the world.
I was pleased to address a group of religious leaders who met last week in Washington to point out the morality of addressing the climate cause.
Yesterday, I joined 15 of my colleagues in the Senate on a letter to Secretary of State Clinton supporting a strong and ambitious outcome from the summit in Durban.
So good things are happening, but not enough good things.
The nations of the world must work together to solve this problem, and I call on those gathered in Durban to work toward an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with transparency and accountability.
I also hope delegates will make significant progress on generating additional public and private sources of climate financing that will support efforts to reduce emissions.
I want to conclude by saying that the evidence is clear and overwhelming that climate change is a significant threat to our planet. The time for talk alone has passed, and the need for action is now.
It is our moral obligation and legislative responsibility to address this enormous global challenge. I pledge to do everything I can to stand up to climate change deniers, to shine a light on the truth, and to build support for taking common-sense steps to address this critical global problem.
I wish you the best in Durban as you enter the final days of negotiation and stand ready to help in any way possible.