There Is No Debate: Climate Change is Real

The world cannot wait for the Trump Administration to stop ignoring science

Colorado ranks first in the country in wind-energy manufacturing | Source: NOAA

Last year was the hottest year on record. Sixteen of the last 17 years have been the warmest years ever recorded.

Climate change science is some of the most thoroughly established and well-tested research in history. And 97 percent of the published research says climate change is real and caused by humans.

Climate change is an urgent threat to our health, our national security, and our economy.

How we address it is what we need to debate. Not whether it is real.

Extreme Views of the Trump Administration

I have said before: I will work with anyone in this chamber, Republican or Democrat, to address this issue. And, that’s appropriate, because survey after survey of people in Colorado (a state that is a third Democratic, a third Republican, and a third Independent) demonstrates that they believe the science, no matter to which party they belong.

In a very welcome sign, just last week, a group of statesmen, including former Secretary of State James Baker III, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, Jr., released what they described as a “conservative climate solution.” These distinguished leaders have come together at the perfect moment, because, incredibly, our new President says he is “not a big believer” in climate change. In fact, he claimed that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

Consistent with that view, the President’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, recently said the debate over climate change is “far from settled.” He wondered in December whether global warming is “true or not,” whether it’s caused by humans, and whether the earth is cooling instead of heating. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, he sought to prevent the very agency he has been nominated to lead from fighting climate change, suing the EPA 14 times.

Attorney General Pruitt is not alone in his extreme views in the Trump Cabinet.

  • Rick Perry, the nominee to be Secretary of Energy, wrote in his book that climate science is “all one contrived phony mess” and that the earth is actually “experiencing a cooling trend.”
  • Ben Carson, nominated to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said it’s unclear if “temperatures are going up or going down.”
  • Rex Tillerson — the new Secretary of State — said “none of [the models] agree” on how climate change works.
  • Mr. Trump’s CIA director, Mike Pompeo, said “There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change.”

When the Pope talked about the importance of climate change — which he said was a very real threat — there was an American politician that said the Pope should stick to religion and that he wasn’t a scientist. In fact, the Pope studied chemistry. I’m glad he’s using his voice on this important issue.

To be clear, some nominees seem to have undergone a confirmation process evolution on climate, but this seems more an effort to hide extreme views in an effort to be confirmed, rather than a genuine conversion based on facts or science.

Affecting Our Daily Lives

The world cannot wait for this Administration to stop ignoring the science.

Over the past 150 years, human activity has driven up greenhouse gas levels in our atmosphere higher and faster than at any time over the last 400,000 years.

That’s not surprising, because we have pumped almost 400 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began. Carbon dioxide concentrations have risen from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million for the first time in recorded history.

That significant change over an insignificant period of time is dramatically changing the earth.

These emissions act like closed car windows — they allow light and heat in, but they don’t allow most of the heat to escape.

And while extreme events and natural disasters become more frequent, so do the effects climate change has on our daily lives.

In my home state, seven out of ten Coloradans know that climate change is happening; nearly half say they have personally experienced its effects.

Shorter winters already threaten Colorado’s $4.8 billion ski and snowboard industry and its 46,000 jobs.

Since the snow is melting sooner, there is not enough water for the longer summers.

Colorado farmers are forced to grow food with less water, a changing growing season, and higher temperatures.

Our agriculture industry employs over 170,000 Coloradans and contributes more than $40 billion a year to our economy. These changes are not only threatening farmers’ livelihood, but changing production and food prices at grocery stores.

Our beer industry is even weighing in. This week, I received a letter from 32 brewers from around the country — including 3 from Colorado — who oppose Scott Pruitt’s nomination because they depend on America’s clean water resources to brew their beer.

Hotter summers, and the droughts they prolong, cause wildfires that now burn twice as much land every year than they did 40 years ago. Together state and federal agencies are paying nearly $4 billion a year to fight those fires.

Warmer waters and drought are hurting animals everywhere, like our cutthroat trout populations.

That’s not just a problem for the fish. In Colorado, rivers generate more than $9 billion in economic activity every year, including supporting nearly 80,000 jobs.

As warmer temperatures increase and spread across regions, so do incidents of vector-borne diseases like West Nile Virus and Hantavirus.

And what do we do when we have longer, hotter summers? We crank up the air conditioning, which burns more fossil fuel and only perpetuates the problem.

A National Security Threat

I understand that sometimes it’s hard to focus on climate change when its effects seem distant.

But it should be impossible to ignore the immediate national security threat posed by climate change.

Here in the Senate, in 2015, we passed a budget amendment with bipartisan support to promote “national security by addressing human-induced climate change.”

The former Secretary of Defense, the former Director of National Intelligence, and the former Admiral in charge of U.S. Naval forces in the Pacific have all warned us that climate change is a threat to our national security.

Around the world, climate change is increasing natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water — complicating American involvement and security.

At home, climate change has cost us billions to relocate and buffer military infrastructure from coastal erosion and protect military installations from energy outages.

  • At the U.S. Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Virginia — the largest naval installation in the world — sea levels have risen over a foot in the past 100 years. All of the systems that support military readiness, from electrical utilities to housing, are vulnerable to extreme flooding.

When the Department of Defense “recognizes the reality of climate change and the significant risk it poses to U.S. interests globally,” we should listen.

When the nation’s most recent National Security strategy says “climate change is an urgent and growing threat,” we should act.

Touring a flood barrier in Camp Creek | Source: Colorado Springs Gazette

An Economic Shift, Not a “War on Coal”

As a senator from Colorado, I understand why people sometimes are frustrated when the EPA does take action.

There are certainly some regulations that don’t make sense — where a well-intentioned idea from Washington ends up not making sense when it hits the ground.

In the past, I fought to revise EPA fuel storage tank regulations that hurt farmers, ranchers, and business in my home state. I supported an amendment asking the agency to take another look at a new regulation that burdened families trying to remodel older homes. I supported lifting the export ban on crude oil from the United States.

I also strongly support and fight for our coal communities. In Colorado, I fought to keep the Colowyo Mine open to protect good paying jobs in my home state. I’m proud to have a hard hat in my office bearing the signatures of the people who work in that mine.

But the often asserted claim that efforts to regulate carbon or, more generally, to protect our water and our air have significantly led to job losses in this country is false. The argument is a fraud perpetrated by politicians making promises that are broken from the start.

The reality is that free market forces — not federal regulations — are transforming American electricity production.

American coal employment peaked in the early 1980s, long before we began seriously expanding renewable energy. And natural gas has been gaining market share compared to coal since before 1990.

Colorado, for example, has benefited greatly from the natural gas boom.

In almost every part of the U.S., natural gas plants are now cheaper to build than coal plants.

And innovation is making renewable electricity more affordable.

Between 2008 and 2015, the cost of wind power fell 41 percent. The cost of large-scale solar installations fell 64 percent. This has led to a 95 percent increase in solar deployment in 2016 alone.

If we truly want to support our rural communities, we should listen to Theodore Roosevelt, who once said that:

Conservation and rural-life policies are really two sides of the same policy; and down at the bottom this policy rests upon the fundamental law that neither man nor nation can prosper unless, in dealing with the present, thought is steadily taken for the future.

And the truth about the future is that there may be a lot of sound reasons to review, revisit, and even retire any number of federal regulations, but cutting regulations will not reopen shuttered coal mines. It is not about regulations or the EPA or a “war on coal” — economic factors are driving the shift from coal to natural gas and renewables.

Our Energy Economy

We need to recognize this shift and work to help coal communities adapt to a changing energy economy. They have contributed to building the economic vitality of this country. Their work helped us win World War II. We can’t just turn our back on them.

But we also need to acknowledge the causing the changes that are occurring in our energy production. Because if we can’t acknowledge the causes, we can’t fix the problem and we can’t make a meaningful difference in the communities that are affected by these changes.

That’s something we are doing right now in Colorado.

We also must take advantage of the changes in energy production to fuel economic growth and create new jobs.

Already, renewable energy is creating jobs around the country.

  • Energy efficiency employs 2.2 million Americans, more than double the number employed in the production and use of fossil fuels.
  • Solar and wind companies employ more than 360,000 Americans including more than 13,000 in my home state.
  • Colorado now ranks first in the country in wind-energy manufacturing. Altogether, clean energy employment grew 29% between 2009 and 2014 in Colorado.
  • Last year, solar jobs grew 17 times faster than jobs in the rest of the national economy; they increased by 20% in Colorado.
These are American jobs. These are manufacturing jobs. And they’re good jobs that pay a good wage. And it’s meaningful to our economy.

The expansion of natural gas is also aiding our transition to a cleaner energy economy.

  • Between 2005 and 2012, natural gas production grew by 35 percent in the United States.
  • In Colorado, it expanded by 139%.
  • Colorado now ranks sixth in the country in natural gas production.
  • 10 of the nation’s 100 largest natural gas fields are in now located in Colorado.

These industries create good-paying jobs that can’t be exported overseas.

And all of these changes, taken together, are beginning to address climate change.

From 2008 to 2015, the American energy sector reduced its carbon emissions by 9.5%, while the country’s economy grew by more than 10%.

And we are starting to see the same trend around the world — global emissions stayed flat in 2015, while the global economy grew.

Turning our back on reality is not a recipe for job creation in this country. Embracing the reality is.

So I would ask the President after this campaign, why would he promote policies that will kill American jobs and industries?

The Science is Not Debatable

Unfortunately, the answer comes back to what this administration believes is a “debate” on climate change.

If we allow science to become debatable, we can contort our thinking to fit any action, to support or undermine any public policy. We risk discarding facts we do not like and ignoring experts with whom we do not agree, in favor of special interests who often dominate our political system. Our country needs more from us than that.

When State Department analysts concluded with evidence — with science — that the Keystone Pipeline would not materially increase carbon emissions (facts lost in the phony debate here in Washington), I voted for it against intense opposition from my own party and many of my strongest supporters. That was a painful vote — one of the most painful I have ever taken and difficult to explain to many people I admire. But I was guided by the facts not the politics.

We have always drawn strength as a country from our belief in science — our confidence in reason and evidence; it is what Harry Truman called our “unflinching passion for knowledge and truth.”

In school, we teach children to support theories with facts and look to science to explain the world.

When it comes to climate change, we cannot allow the narrow limits of political expediency to cloud our sound judgement.

That is not a lesson we should be teaching our children who need us to act on climate. It sets a horrible example.

Our ultimate success in addressing climate change will rely on the same scientific method that sent us to the moon and eradicated smallpox.

If we surrender evidence to ideology when it comes to climate change, we abandon that process of scientific inquiry. We leave ourselves unequipped to defend what we discover to be true. We loosen our grip on the science that allows us to say evolution is real; that vaccines are effective; that something is true and that something else is false.

That — not doubt and denial — is the lesson we should leave our children; that we have the courage to confront this challenge without bias — that we have the wisdom to follow facts wherever they lead.

And, so, for all these reasons and for the sake of our climate and good-paying American jobs, I am compelled to vote no on the President’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.