Special U.S. Senate Session on Global Warming


Yesterday, Senator Sanders and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Al Franken (D-MN) held a special one-hour Senate floor session on global warming, in an effort to draw greater public awareness to the problem of climate disruption.

Here’s an unofficial transcript of the final ten minutes of the special session, with references provided courtesy of Senator Sanders’ office (thank you!).

Senator Sanders: Mr. President, Lake Champlain, our beautiful lake which borders New York State in Vermont, which used to freeze for nine out of every ten years in the early 20th century froze over just three times in the 1990’s and has not fully frozen over since 2007 [see here and here].

So in my small state, the state of Vermont, northern New England, we are seeing the impact of climate change today, and the idea that by the year 2080, Vermont’s climate will be similar to what the state of Georgia is today is just unthinkable and extraordinary and just tells you the impact that global warming is having. Mr. President, according to NASA, 2010 tied 2005 for the warmest year since records began in 1880. Nine of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000. The last decade was the warmest on record.

Mr. President, we have seen temperature records being recorded all over the planet in the year 2010. During that year, Pakistan set a record for recording the highest temperature ever in Asia, hitting 129 degrees Fahrenheit.  Iraq set its own record for high temperature at over 125 degrees. Sudan reached a record 121 degrees.  Los Angeles, right here in California, in our country, had a record 113-degree day. And Houston, Texas, set a record for its highest monthly average temperature. And [in] the United States, according to a New York Times article, two record high temperatures are now set for every one record low.

National climactic — climatic data center show that 26,500 record high temperatures were recorded at weather stations across the United States in the summer of 2011.  Texas set the record for the warmest summer of any state since instrument records beganOklahoma set a record for its warmest summer, exceeding the record set during the dust bowl era in the 1930’s.

But we’re not just looking at hot temperature and hot days. What are the impact of those kinds of weather changes? What does it mean to people’s lives?

Mr. President, scientists used to say that they could not tie a particular event to climate change. That is no longer true. Our understanding of climate and extreme weather has advanced. Now NASA’s James Hansen and his colleagues can say that some of the extreme heat waves that we have seen such as those in Russia and Texas and Oklahoma over the past several years were caused by global warming because their likelihood would be negligible if not for global warming.

And let me just give you some other examples of what global warming is doing in terms of heat waves and its impact, its horrendous impact on the lives of people.

In Europe, some of us remember Europe in 2003. During that period, Europe, 2003, a heat wave caused temperatures to reach or exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the United Kingdom and France and led to high temperatures throughout Europe for weeks, which killed 70,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. Many older people, people with respiratory problems, people who were fragile in health died during that period. Heat wave, Europe, 2003, 70,000 people died. In Russia in 2010, a week’s long heat wave sent temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in areas where the average temperature that time of year is 67 degrees. 56,000 people died during that period as a result of that heat wave, and wildfires created a smoke plume nearly 2,000 miles wide which was visible from space.

So this is not some kind of abstract issue, oh, my goodness, isn’t it too bad it’s really hot today. What you’re talking about are prolonged heat waves that kill substantial  numbers of people. India, 2010, they recorded temperatures of over 100 degrees that killed hundreds of peopleChile, 2011, a heat wave drought and wildfire in Chile has destroyed 57,000 acres of forest and land, forced 500 people to evacuate.

Australia, 2012, the start of 2012 was the hottest start of any year for Australia in a century, according to ABC News, with temperatures exceeding 104 degrees and electricity cut off to some areas to prevent the igniting of fires.

Mr. President, prolonged and more severe drought is likely to increase as global warming continues, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. This means increased risk of crop failure, wildfires and water scarcity. A recent study published in scientific america found that climate change has cut production of cereal crops, wheat, rice, soybenefits,  causing these crops to be 19% more expensive than if global warming was not occurring.

Mr. President, I could go on and on about this issue, but the main point I want to make is the following, and let me summarize it here. According to virtually the entire scientific community in the United States of America and around the world, according to virtually every agency of the United States government, global warming is real and it is significantly caused by human activity. And people are mistaken if they believe that the impact of global warming will just be in decades to come. We are seeing very negative impacts today, and what the scientific community tells us, if we do not begin to reverse greenhouse gas emissions, those problems in America and around the world will only get worse.

Now, if there is a silver lining in all of that is that, Mr. President, right now, we know how to cut greenhouse gas emissions. We know how to move to energy efficiency, mass transportation, automobiles. We get 50, 60, 100 miles per gallon. We know how to weatherize our homes so that we can cut significantly the use of fuel. And what we also know is that in the middle of this recession, if we move in that direction, energy efficiency and sustainable energy, we can create over a period of years millions of good-paying jobs.

So let me conclude by saying this. We now have the opportunity to be in a win-win-win situation. We can save consumers money. We can significantly reduce greenhouse gases and protect our planet, and we can create substantial numbers of jobs that we desperately need in the midst of this terrible recession. With that, Mr. President, I would yield the floor…

Excerpts from the special session: