Senator Susan Collins Testimony on Global Climate Change

Date: Nov. 16, 2004
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Environment

Senator Susan Collins Testimony On Global Climate Change

Senator Collins recently traveled to Norway on a Congressional Delegation trip led by Senator John McCain in an effort to learn more about climate change and its impact on the Arctic. She also released a statement on the release of the Arctic climate impact assessment report.

Following is Senator Collins' testimony for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's hearing titled, "Global Climate Change: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment." "It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to testify today before the distinguished Chairman of the Commerce Committee, Senator McCain, as well as Ranking Member Hollings, Senator Stevens, and the other members of this important committee.

"In August, I traveled with Chairman McCain and several other senators to the northernmost community in the world. We visited Ny-Alesund on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. Located at 79 degrees north, Ny-Alesund lies well north of the Arctic Circle and is much closer to the North Pole than to Oslo, the country's capital. It has even served as a starting point for several polar expeditions, although thankfully, Chairman McCain did not include an attempt to reach the North Pole on our itinerary.

"Scientists tell us that the global climate is changing more rapidly than at any time since the beginning of civilization. They further state that the region of the globe changing most rapidly is the Arctic. The changes are remarkable.

"In the last 30 years, the Arctic has lost sea-ice cover over an area 10 times as large as the State of Maine. In the summer, the change is even more dramatic, with twice as much ice loss. The ice that remains is as much as 40% thinner than it was just a few decades ago. In addition to disappearing sea-ice, Arctic glaciers are also rapidly retreating. In Ny-Alesund, Senator McCain and I witnessed massive blocks of ice falling off glaciers that had already retreated well back from the shores where they once rested. In short, the Arctic is melting.

"Senator McCain took our delegation to the Ny-Alesund International Arctic Research Station to meet with scientists from the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment team. These scientists told us that while some climate changes are the result of natural variability, the bulk of these changes are due to an increase in greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide.

"The melting of glaciers and sea ice, the thawing of permafrost, and the increases in sea levels resulting from warming are already beginning to cause environmental, social, and economic changes. Indeed, the social and economic disruption resulting from climate change is already evident in a number of regions throughout the Arctic, including Alaska. Some coastal communities in Alaska are facing increased exposure to storms and coastal erosion as a reduction in sea ice allows higher waves and storm surges to reach shore. In other areas, thawing ground is disrupting transportation, buildings, and other infrastructure. Some indigenous communities are already facing the prospect of relocating. My good friend, the Senator from Alaska, is very concerned about this situation and is doing much to help the people of his state adapt to a changing climate.

"Although the climate is changing most rapidly in the Arctic, the entire world will be affected. The Arctic is the canary in the mine that should serve as a warning to the rest of us. Warming in the Arctic is likely to have major implications for the entire planet. Western states could experience longer and more severe droughts. Coastal states could experience flooding and other problems as a result of global sea level rise. In Maine, the ski industry, agriculture, and fisheries could be particularly hard-hit.

"In addition to the steady retreat of glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic, I am also concerned about the possibility of abrupt climate change. While current and projected changes in the Arctic are alarming enough, they pale in comparison to the possibility of abrupt climate change. At times in our planet's history, the Earth's climate has changed dramatically in just a few years. What would happen if such a change were to occur again as a result of changing conditions in the Arctic or elsewhere? According to a study requested by the Pentagon, the results could be devastating. In fact, the Pentagon report concluded that widespread violence and disruption, stemming from shortages of critical resources such as food and water, were an entirely plausible outcome in response to abrupt climate change.

"I believe we should take immediate actions to address the risks associated with climate change. First, we must improve our understanding of climate change in the Arctic and the possibility of abrupt climate change. I look forward to working with the next chair of the Commerce Committee to improve our scientific capabilities in these important areas. Second, we need to enact strong legislation, such as the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, to reduce US emissions of greenhouse gases. And finally, we should make every effort to increase our energy efficiency and expand our use of renewable energy.

"I am grateful to the Chairman and members of the committee for the opportunity to testify today, and I look forward to working with the committee and its members to improve our understanding of climate change and begin taking concrete steps to reduce its risks."