Oct 11 2007
Fortunately, times have changed.
A great consensus has been forged. The science has coalesced. And the time for debate is over.
Today, the vast majority of Americans agree that global warming is real – and that it is one of the most profound challenges of our time.
And it comes down to this: what are we as individuals, as communities, as nations, and as a world going to do to confront it?
The good news is that the “green” revolution is no longer the stuff of imagination – it’s already happening:
- Toyota has sold 1 million of its signature Prius hybrid.
- Wal-Mart has sold 100 million fluorescent light bulbs, some 2 months ahead of schedule.
- California is working with Great Britain and the Northeastern states to cut emissions and to develop credit trading markets.
- Even Hollywood is taking notice. This spring, the Academy awarded an Oscar to Al Gore for his global warming movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
This has a lot to do with the fact that global warming isn’t just theory. We’re already seeing the stark results, and they seem to be accelerating:
- In August, for the first time ever, the mythical “Northwest Passage” was navigable without an ice breaker.
- This summer’s melting of Arctic sea ice was equal to the size of two Great Britains. Scientists are now saying that the Arctic Circle could be ice free by 2030.
- If you add to this the melting of Greenland’s glaciers, sea levels would rise by 20 feet.
- The harlequin frog and the purple snail are among the first victims to global warming.
- More intense hurricanes like Dean and Felix.
The list goes on and on.
The simple truth is that global warming cannot be stopped, but it can be slowed.
So, what can we do?
To stabilize climate change by the end of the century, we need an 80 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2050.
But there is no silver bullet. No one thing to turn the tide.
Here’s why: greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide are produced when we burn fossil fuels.
But here’s the key: Carbon dioxide doesn’t dissipate. It stays in the atmosphere for 30, 40, 50 years or more. This means that the carbon dioxide produced today will still be in the atmosphere in 2050 and beyond.
The urgency is clear: we must break our addiction to fossil fuels. We must make a major shift towards renewable energy and clean technology. And we must act soon.
If we can do this, we can contain the warming to a manageable 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit. We would still experience significant, but manageable changes.
But if we do not act, we could experience warming of 5 to 9 degrees or more. The results would be catastrophic.
Just here in California, two-thirds of the Sierra-Nevada snowpack would disappear. That’s equal to the water for 16 million people in the Los Angeles basin.
Although some may through up their hands in despair, I believe we’re standing at the threshold of great opportunity for American innovation and ingenuity. And I have no doubt that we’re up to the challenge.
In Washington, however, action on global warming is not assured.
We’ve got a President who claims to take global warming seriously. But he refuses to act.
He won’t attend international global warming conferences. He refuses mandatory action. It’s all rhetoric and no action.
In fact, he seems to be doing everything he can to postpone action until he’s out of office.
But we cannot wait for the President to join the fight. Congress must act.
And in the Senate, there is some good news. My friend and colleague, Barbara Boxer, is the new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over global warming legislation.
The bad news is that the Senate is deeply divided. The Democrats have a very slim majority. And there are still many who don’t want to take action.
Similarly, in the House, Nancy Pelosi has established a new committee on global warming. But it lacks the authority to pass legislation.
So, we’ve got our work cut out for us.
And this morning, I’d like to take a few moments to share my thoughts with you on what we can do before the end of 2008, to help set us on the path of meaningful change.
The first thing we can do is raise CAFE standards.
This summer, the Senate did something some thought impossible: we took on Detroit and won. We passed the largest fuel economy increase in more than two decades.
The Ten-in-Ten bill, which I sponsored, would raise the fleet-wide average fuel economy for all cars and trucks by 10 miles per gallon over 10 years. It was included in the Senate energy bill.
The bill would achieve an 18 percent reduction in emissions below projected levels by 2025.
This was is a major victory – and a step long overdue.
But the House did not include fuel economy language in its energy bill.
So, when House and Senate negotiators come together to iron out the differences in their energy legislation, it’s critical that they uphold the Senate’s fuel economy language.
We cannot afford to squander this historic opportunity.
The second thing we can do is to pass comprehensive global warming legislation.
Senators Joe Lieberman and John Warner are working on a serious proposal.
It’s expected to be the vehicle for legislation in the Senate.
We haven’t yet seen the details of the bill.
But, I would like to share with you my thoughts on some key elements that an effective bill should include.
First, the bill must cap emissions at a level sufficient to avoid dangerous climate change.
Scientists tell us that we need to contain the warming to 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
So, the Lieberman-Warner draft proposal must reduce emissions by 70 percent from 2005 levels, which is within the range of what we need to achieve this goal.
Second, we need to ensure that the EPA follows the guidance of up-to-date, independent research when it sets emissions reduction targets.
Every four years, an independent panel of eight scientists should make recommendations to the EPA about the target greenhouse gas level needed to avoid dangerous climate change, and the timetable for achieving the target.
Third, the bill must include sensible cost-containment measures that do not undermine emissions reduction targets.
This should include agricultural offsets, like voluntary carbon sequestration by farmers and foresters, who can then sell low-cost offset credits to companies that need to reduce their emissions.
Fourth, linking the U.S. carbon market with international carbon markets can help contain costs.
The bill should allow companies to buy up to 25 percent of their carbon credits from low-cost projects in developing nations and other countries. U.S. companies could also profit from selling technologies to developing nations.
Fifth, a substantial percentage of the auction revenue should be used for the development of new low-carbon technologies.
The bill should require that 80 percent of the auction revenue will be used for developing new zero- and low-carbon technologies, including clean coal, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. This is really the key to providing incentives for the business community to develop innovative solutions.
Finally, we need market oversight.
It’s no question that a new multi-billion dollar carbon market could attract the worst kind of market manipulators. Unfortunately, we in California are well-versed with the consequences of such manipulation.
So, anti-manipulation and anti-fraud regulation must be in place from the first day of trading.
Many of these components I’ve outlined were included in a cap-and-trade bill that I proposed earlier this year for the electricity sector.
Energy efficiency must be a cornerstone of a comprehensive approach to global warming.
We need green building codes for residential and commercial use. ENERGY STAR products should be bought by every home. And we need tax incentives to make this cost-effective for consumers and businesses.
We also need to reduce emissions caused by motor vehicles. This can be achieved by lowering the carbon content of fuels and cutting tailpipe emissions.
First, we need to reduce the carbon content of our fuel supply – and instead promote the use of low-carbon fuels like biodiesel, E-85 made with cellulosic ethanol, hydrogen, electricity and others.
Second, California’s landmark tailpipe emissions reduction must be enacted on the national level.
Now, let me conclude with a final thought: Confronting global warming is not just something we should to because it’s good for the environment – there is tremendous opportunity for economic growth.
Clean technology can, and should, shape the future of America’s economy. It can create new industries and jobs.
California has long been on the cutting edge of new economic trends – and clean technology is no different.
Here are just a few examples:
- Wind technology: In 2001, Clipper Windpower was founded in Carpinteria, California, to take advantage of a global wind turbine shortage. Today, the Clipper wind turbines are the industry gold standard. They’re sold out through 2009. And the six-year-old company already has 450 employees.
- Fuel cells: Last fall, I visited Bloom Energy, a cutting edge fuel cell company in Silicon Valley. Five years ago fuel cell power cost more than 10 times consumer rates. But next year Bloom Energy will commercialize fuel cell electric generators that can significantly reduce emissions without costing consumers more than they pay for power today.
- Academic Research: In February, BP announced that it would invest $500 million in a new Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley. The Center will look at how we can use biotechnology to produce biofuels – or turning plants and plant materials like wood, switch grass, and algae, into fuels for transportation.
Bottom line: clean technology is the wave of the future. And you have already begun to seize this opportunity.
You are working to create innovative solutions to wean America off of its fossil fuel habit. And you’re working to make the shift towards clean technology and renewable energy.
But much more work needs to be done.
So here is what I ask of you: let Congress know that you want comprehensive global warming legislation. Work with business leaders across the country to support immediate action on climate change.
Don’t shift the burden to the next generation.
The choice is clear. It is time to stop talking and to take action.