Recent Speeches

Keynote Address at Global Warming Conference

Thank you, Dean Edley, for that kind introduction.

I understand that you have had quite a conference, delving deeply into the mechanics of solutions to global warming.

Perhaps like me, some of you didn’t know that global warming would be a major issue 20 to 30 years ago.

I certainly didn’t know that I would be learning about cap and trade, about gases that don’t dissipate in the atmosphere, about amphibians like the Golden Toad disappearing from Costa Rican rain forests.

But the fact of the matter is that every day, I learn more about what global warming is doing to our planet, and I become more convinced of the need to act now.

Just last week, I learned that scientists have discovered a vast network of lakes buried under miles of ice in Antarctica.  Some 145 have been documented so far.  

More are being discovered all the time.  One stretches more than 100 square miles.  

These lakes are believed to accelerate the flow of ice into the sea.

And if massive ice sheets were to fall off the continent, it could mean a rise in sea level measured not in inches, but in feet.  

This is just one of thousands of pictures being painted today by the scientists measuring global warming.  

Disappearing rain forests…melting glaciers… crumbling and dying coral reefs – the world around us is changing.

And if we do not slow these changes, it will have major consequences for our children and our grandchildren.

So we have to open our eyes to the danger.  We have to confront it.  And we have to make major changes.

Yet, there are some in this country who see profit in the status quo.

There are some who still seek to deny and debunk efforts to slow global warming.

So this is a battle, and it must be fought.  

Let me begin with the good news.

First, the recent shift in power in Washington opens the door to action, where it was firmly shut before.

My friend and colleague, Barbara Boxer, is the new Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.  She is 100 percent committed to taking action.  So this is a positive change.

And in the House of Representatives, a new Committee has been formed to study global warming.  And the Energy and Commerce Committee is also very interested in the subject.

Second, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its 4th report earlier this month.  It reflects the work of over 1,200 scientists from 40 countries. It was approved by representatives of 113 nations.

This report makes it clear that a scientific consensus has been forged:

The Earth is warming.  And the warming is caused by human activity, namely the combustion of fossil fuels.  

The report also finds that global warming cannot be stopped, though it can be slowed.

This report leaves little cover for the deniers.  They can no longer hide from the facts.

So a long chapter of federal inaction is being ended.  But new chapters have yet to be written.  And the form they take will determine our future.

So we must come together.  

Find a solution.  

Take bold action.  

And make the changes necessary to prevent catastrophe!  

Now, why are we facing this problem?

The simple truth is that our nation is addicted to fossil fuels.

And it is the burning of these fuels – coal, oil, gasoline and natural gas and the greenhouse gases they produce – that is the primary cause of global warming.

And here is the key:  Carbon dioxide doesn’t dissipate.  It stays in the atmosphere for five decades or more – causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.  

That means that the carbon dioxide produced in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s is still in the atmosphere today.

And the carbon dioxide produced today will still be in the atmosphere in 2050 and beyond.

So there will be serious consequences for our planet unless we make major changes in our consumption of fossil fuels.

Leading scientists say that to stabilize the planet’s climate by the end of the century, we need a 70 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions below 1990 levels by 2050.

And the goal should be to stabilize carbon dioxide at 450 parts per million by the middle of the next century.

This is an ambitious goal, but it could contain further warming to 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit.

We would see significant changes in the world around us – but it would be possible to adapt to them.

But if nothing is done…if the Earth warms 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit or more in the next 50 years, the face of our planet will change forever.

Greenland and the Western Antarctic ice sheets would melt completely.  Seas could rise by 20 feet or more.

Here in California:  Two-thirds of the Sierra-Nevada snowpack would disappear.  That’s an amount equal to the water supply for the 16 million people in the Los Angeles basin.

Already reports indicate that the Colorado River is drying.  San Diego will have less water.

Worldwide, species will disappear. Hurricanes will become more volatile. Malaria will spread.

Scientists warn us that we may be close to a tipping point.  And beyond that tipping point, catastrophe becomes a virtual certainty.

Fail to act, and humans will cause the most sudden temperature shift since the dawn of civilization.

But, if we act soon and if we act decisively, further global warming can be limited.

This -- let me emphasize -- should be our goal.

We must control and contain the warming.   

And so I ask you to stand up, be counted, and join me in this effort.

The question: what to do?

The truth is that there is no single answer. No silver bullet. No one thing to turn the tide.

But rather, we need many answers in many different areas.

More importantly, we need people of common purpose, working together, to find innovative solutions.

And we must let science be the guide to action.

We in the United States bear a great responsibility in this matter.

The U.S. emits some 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, though we have but 5 percent of its population.  

So what should be done?  

I believe we need to address the problem across the board.  

The scope should be national, the goals sustainable, the means practical.

And so I am working on a major legislative program that would do just that.  

My staff and I are working on a package of five bills:

  • A cap and trade bill for the electricity sector, which I introduced earlier this year;
  • A cap and trade bill for industry, which isn’t ready quite yet; 
  • A bill that increases fuel economy standards across the board -- by 10 miles per gallon over 10 years, which I introduced earlier this year;
  • A bill to promote bio-diesel, E-85, and other low-carbon fuels.
  • An energy efficiency bill modeled after California’s program.

I do not believe that any of these are perfect bills or that they cannot be improved.

But what I have tried to do is put forward a practical, achievable, and sustainable regimen. That will make a consequential dent on the situation.

I have no doubt that these bills will be changed or amended as time goes on.  But I believe they comprise a significant starting point.

There are many different programs being prepared – by governors, by mayors, by state legislators…by members of Congress and senators.  

Some want an economy wide bill.  Others want a sector by sector program.  Some want just a hard cap.  Still others want strong regulations for specific activities.

My belief is that tailoring global warming regulation by sector will best create a practical, achievable, and sustainable structure.

So let’s begin with electricity.

Electricity generation is the single largest piece of the global warming puzzle.  

It is responsible for a third of global warming gases in the United States – and two-thirds of this comes from the combustion of pulverized coal.  

Coal, alone, produces 27 percent of annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, or 2.1 billion tons every year.  

It is a primary source of power in 40 states, and it’s cheap.

And despite awareness of coal’s contribution to global warming, 150 new coal plants are in development across the country.

So it’s critical that we find ways to clean up coal or find alternatives.  

And I believe that the best way to do this is to establish a national cap and trade program for the electricity sector.

Let me describe what the bill I have introduced would do.  It would:

  • Set a cap at 2006 levels in 2011 -- a 6 percent reduction from anticipated levels of greenhouse gases from the electric sector.
  • In 2015, it would ratchet the cap down to 2001 levels – a 16 percent reduction from anticipated levels.
  • 2016 – 1 percent reduction from 2001 levels
  • 2017 – an additional 1 percent reduction 
  • 2018 – an additional 1 percent reduction 
  • 2019 – an additional 1 percent reduction 
  • By 2020, emissions would be reduced 25 percent below anticipated levels.  

Many cap and trade proposals stop at 2020.  Mine does not.

  • After 2020, emissions will be reduced even further -- by an additional 1.5 percent a year (or more) if the EPA believes that more needs to be done.  

That’s the cap.

And the trade part of the bill gives companies flexibility to embrace new technologies.  It encourages innovation.  And it promotes green practices – not just in this area, but across the economy.

One of the key elements of our program is that it allows unlimited use of low-cost farm, forest and wetland credits.

This allows farmers, foresters, and landowners to earn additional revenue by selling credits based on the storage of carbon dioxide in the soil and by planting trees.

So emissions can be significantly reduced, while air quality, wildlife habitat, and water and soil conservation are improved.  It’s a win-win.

The bill will also generate billions of dollars for research and development of clean, electricity-generating technologies, such as wind or solar.

This funding would be raised through an EPA auction of credits, which in our bill begins with 15 percent auctioned in the program’s first year, gradually increasing to 30percent within five years, 45percent within a decade, and eventually to 100percent of credits auctioned by 2036.

This will produce $9 - $55 billion for new technology and production by 2036.

So, the trade part of the bill provides billions for improvements to technology – this encourages flexibility and rewards innovation.
This legislation is supported by the Clean Energy Group of utilities, which includes: Calpine, Entergy, Exelon, Florida Power & Light, PG&E Corporation, and the Public Service Enterprise Group.

Together, these companies operate in 42 states and supply more than 15 percent of U.S. electricity needs. So their support is critical.

We have chosen to work with these companies because there is so much opposition from the coal states.  We need this support for practical vote-getting reasons.

And to those who deny the effectiveness of a cap and trade regime, I would ask them to look at the Acid Rain reduction program implemented in the 1980s to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.  

In the 16 years this cap and trade system has been in place, sulfur dioxide emissions have been reduced by about 34 percent (5 million tons) and nitrogen oxide by 43 percent (3 million tons).  

So cap and trade has worked.  

Now let me mention transportation.

This sector makes up approximately 28 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.  And passenger vehicles alone – cars, light-trucks, and SUVs – make up 20 percent of all U.S. emissions (1.2 million tons).  

So we must reduce these emissions.  The good news is that the technology exists today to do this.

The bad news is that Detroit and many foreign auto manufacturers refuse to utilize the technologies to produce better fuel economy.

So I have joined with Senator Olympia Snowe and 15 cosponsors to introduce legislation that would require the mileage for all cars, pick-up trucks, and SUVs to be increased from 25 to 35 miles per gallon over 10 years.  

If passed, it would save:

  • 18 percent of emissions by 2025; or 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is the equivalent of taking 60 million cars off the road in one year. 
  • 2.1 million barrels of oil per day by 2025, nearly the amount of oil we currently import from the Persian Gulf.

So, if the fuel economy of vehicles is increased, it will be a major step in the right direction.

The other side of the transportation coin is increasing the availability of low-carbon fuels and new clean vehicle technologies.

We need to encourage the use of fuels which produce less carbon dioxide -- like biodiesel, hydrogen, and E-85 made from cellulosic ethanol.

So we will be introducing a bio-fuels bill that would require oil companies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent by 2021, and 21 percent by 2030.  

When fully implemented, it would prevent 627 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being produced, equivalent to taking over 108 million cars off the road for a year.  

Second, our bill would take California’s landmark tailpipe emissions law and make it a national standard.  This would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles by 30 percent by 2016.  

This is doable.  It is achievable.  And it would make significant reductions in the near term.

Our final bill deals with energy efficiency.  

In California, annual energy usage has remained stable over the past 20 years -- at 6,700 kilowatt hours per person -- while the national average has grown to double that, and Wyoming’s is 4 times as much.  

So we would replicate California’s program on a national level.

We would require electricity and natural gas distributors to implement efficiency measures to achieve significant savings by 2020 – 10 percent for electricity distributors, and 4 percent for natural gas distributors.

This would save 343 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, or a 9 percent reduction below anticipated levels.  

The legislation would also mandate strict energy efficiency standards for Federal, commercial, and residential buildings.

This would save 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 from new homes and buildings, or a 25percent reduction below projected levels.

So this would mean significant reductions in emissions.

If these five bills were passed today, it would be a major step forward.

But ultimately, global warming is not just a local or a national concern. It’s really international.

This is another reason for cap and trade.  It can be done internationally.

We currently produce the largest percentage of greenhouse gases, China, India, Europe, Russia, Japan, and others are not far behind.

In fact, China’s coal use outpaces that of the United States, the EU and Japan combined.  

And China, which is building a coal power plant a week, will soon pass the United States as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide.

The bottom line is this: every nation is part of the problem, and every nation must be part of the solution.  

But the United States can and must lead – and advocate a global framework for significant and meaningful emissions reductions after 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol expires.

We missed the opportunity once before. We cannot afford to miss it again.

Our next President has their work cut for him – or her.

So in conclusion, the time has come to face up to the facts of global warming.

Eleven out of 12 of the past years are the warmest on record – and 2006 was the warmest of them all.

There is every reason to expect that this trend will continue.

So here is what I ask of you:  work with leaders in other states to support immediate action on climate change.  
Add your voice in support of passage of a mandatory cap and trade program, the Ten in Ten fuel economy bill, a low carbon fuels bill, and a national energy efficiency program.  

Don’t shift the burden to the next generation.  The choice is clear.  It is time to stop talking and to take action.