Executive Calendar

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 29, 2018
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Environment


Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, I say to the Senator from Nebraska, this Senator has had too many opportunities to give the same kind of speech in remembrance of fallen Floridians just like her constituent who gave the ultimate sacrifice in protection of his country, and I thank the Senator from Nebraska. Climate Change


Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, 30 years ago, a gentleman by the name of Dr. James Hansen was the Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He testified to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that he was 99 percent certain that the year's record temperatures were not the result of natural variation. That was 30 years ago. It was the first time a lead scientist drew a connection between human activities, the growing concentration of atmosphere pollutants, and a warming climate.

This Senator was a young congressman at the time representing East Central Florida and Florida's Space Coast. Just 2 years prior, I had flown for 6 days on the 24th mission of the space shuttle. In this case, our orbiter was the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Growing up on the Indian River on Florida's Atlantic coast, it is easy to think that nature's bounty is endless, that the sand beaches, the crystal clear water, the blue sky, and the warm Sun will continue forever. It would be like Camelot. But peering out the window back at the planet from the window of a spacecraft, when I looked, all of the Earth suddenly took on a new meaning. I realized how thin the line was between our protected shared home--the planet--and uninhabitable space.

When Dr. Hansen testified about the greenhouse effect and how that thin layer of atmosphere was becoming polluted, it got my attention because I remembered looking at the rim of the Earth and seeing that thin film as we orbited the Earth every 90 minutes. Since his 1988 warning, the evidence has unfortunately confirmed Dr. Hansen's 1988 prediction.

Extreme events in 2017 and 2018 alone included back-to-back, record Atlantic and gulf hurricanes and unprecedented and devastating wildfires. Global temperatures are rising, and so are the seas. Why? The extra heat is absorbed by the oceans, which cover two-thirds of the Earth. That extra heat, when absorbed in water, causes water to expand. Also, 2016 and 2017 had two of the highest global temperatures ever recorded since we began measuring in 1880, and 2018 is on track to be the fourth hottest year on record.

Warmer air and water make the environment more hospitable to toxic algae blooms, mosquitos that carry deadly diseases, and things like poison ivy. These are three things that I think we can all agree that we need less of, not more.

The oceans are warming, and they are fueling the intensification of hurricanes--as we saw recently with Irma and Michael--and that warming water is creating the conditions that bleach coral reefs and feed toxic algae blooms.

My beautiful home State of Florida, which I have had the great privilege of serving, is ground zero for these impacts. According to the fourth National Climate Assessment report released by the administration just last week--the day after Thanksgiving--climate change is expected to make South Florida more vulnerable to diseases like the Zika virus. Florida could see more than $346 billion in lost property value over the course of this century. But this stretches beyond property values. A Florida Department of Health assessment determined that almost 600,000 people in South Florida are going to face extreme or high risk from sea level rise. Warming water, nutrient enrichment, overfishing, and coastal development are all contributing to the dire situation of one of our Nation's crown jewels--the coral reefs of the Florida Keys.

The real question is, What are we going to do about it? I think there are three things we ought to consider.

First, we truly cannot afford to politicize the air we breathe. The science is not up for debate. The greenhouse gas emissions are heating the atmosphere, which in turn heat our oceans, supercharging the hurricanes, leaving us vulnerable to drought and threatening the water we drink and the food we eat. Reports of political censorship or political interference with science--that is unacceptable and foolish. If we ignore the science, we do so at our peril.

Second, I think we are going to have to stop putting so many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere so fast. This is called climate mitigation. It means that we must invest in new technology, in the economy of the future, things like wind and solar, electric vehicles, and more efficient buildings. Each one of them would have a huge impact in lessening the amount of derivatives of carbon that we put into the atmosphere.

Third, I think we should consider that we are going to have to make our communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change-- climate change that is already upon us and climate change that, in the future, we are not going to be able to avoid. You can't just cut off the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere and the warming that results therefrom that is already in the system.

You talk to the scientists. There is something just beyond about 4 degrees Fahrenheit more than the average annual global temperature-- that if it rises beyond that, there is no return.

We have a chance, but time is of the essence. We ought to consider climate change adaptation. You don't have to agree with climate science to know that it makes sense to do that.

I want to urge our colleagues on both sides of this aisle that separates Republicans from Democrats. You need to take this seriously. For the sake of your States and mine, for the good of our planet, for the good of our children, for the good of future generations, take climate change seriously. Listen to the experts, and come together to work on solutions. Instead of saying ``I am not a scientist,'' listen to the scientists. Don't try to censor their warnings or hide from the truth. Instead of saying that making changes could cost money, think about the cost to our economy and our society if we don't act.

Coastal communities inundated with catastrophic flooding, midwestern droughts that raise food prices, and soaring health costs--these are some of the costs that are coming to our country--indeed, to our society--indeed, to the civilization of planet Earth. We must act, and we must do it now.