President Obama, House Science Committee Chairman Smith on Climate Change

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Publication date: 
4 September 2015

“We know that human activity is changing the climate.  That is beyond dispute.  Everything else is politics if people are denying the facts of climate change.   We can have a legitimate debate about how we are going to address this problem; we cannot deny the science.  We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue.  That is not deniable.” – President Barack Obama

“The president is on thin ice to claim his costly plan will address climate change or benefit Americans.” – House Science Committee Chairman Smith

In a forceful speech delivered this week in Anchorage, Alaska at the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience (GLACIER), President Obama reiterated his views on global climate change and the importance of efforts being made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Selections from the President’s 3,000 word address follow: 

“…we’re here today to discuss a challenge that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other -- and that’s the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.

“Our understanding of climate change advances each day.  Human activity is disrupting the climate, in many ways faster than we previously thought.  The science is stark.  It is sharpening.  It proves that this once-distant threat is now very much in the present.

“In fact, the Arctic is the leading edge of climate change -- our leading indicator of what the entire planet faces.  Arctic temperatures are rising about twice as fast as the global average.  Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed about twice as fast as the rest of the United States.  Last year was Alaska’s warmest year on record -- just as it was for the rest of the world.  And the impacts here are very real.”

Obama cited rising sea levels, thawing permafrost, and Alaska’s longer fire season as examples of these impacts.  He continued:

“But the point is that climate change is no longer some far-off problem.  It is happening here.  It is happening now.  Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety -- now.  Today.  And climate change is a trend that affects all trends -- economic trends, security trends.  Everything will be impacted.  And it becomes more dramatic with each passing year.

“Already it’s changing the way Alaskans live.  And considering the Arctic’s unique role in influencing the global climate, it will accelerate changes to the way that we all live.  Since 1979, the summer sea ice in the Arctic has decreased by more than 40 percent -- a decrease that has dramatically accelerated over the past two decades.  One new study estimates that Alaska’s glaciers alone lose about 75 gigatons - that’s 75 billion tons - of ice each year.  

“To put that in perspective, one scientist described a gigaton of ice as a block the size of the National Mall in Washington -- from Congress all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, four times as tall as the Washington Monument.  Now imagine 75 of those ice blocks.  That’s what Alaska’s glaciers alone lose each year.  The pace of melting is only getting faster.  It’s now twice what it was between 1950 and 2000 -- twice as fast as it was just a little over a decade ago.  And it’s one of the reasons why sea levels rose by about eight inches over the last century, and why they’re projected to rise another one to four feet this century.”

Obama continued:

“And the fact is that climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it.  That, ladies and gentlemen, must change.  We’re not acting fast enough.  

“I’ve come here today, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it.  And I believe we can solve it.  That’s the good news.  Even if we cannot reverse the damage that we’ve already caused, we have the means - the scientific imagination and technological innovation - to avoid irreparable harm.  

“We know this because last year, for the first time in our history, the global economy grew and global carbon emissions stayed flat.  So we’re making progress; we’re just not making it fast enough.”

Obama discussed investments in clean energy and reductions in carbon emissions.  He continued:

“So we are working hard to do our part to meet this challenge.  And in doing so, we’re proving that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth.  But we’re not moving fast enough.  None of the nations represented here are moving fast enough.  

“And let’s be honest -- there’s always been an argument against taking action.  The notion is somehow this will curb our economic growth.  And at a time when people are anxious about the economy, that’s an argument oftentimes for inaction.  We don’t want our lifestyles disrupted.  In countries where there remains significant poverty, including here in the United States, the notion is, can we really afford to prioritize this issue.  The irony, of course, is that few things will disrupt our lives as profoundly as climate change.  Few things can have as negative an impact on our economy as climate change. “

Obama continued:

“So let me sum up.  We know that human activity is changing the climate.  That is beyond dispute.  Everything else is politics if people are denying the facts of climate change.   We can have a legitimate debate about how we are going to address this problem; we cannot deny the science.  We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue.  That is not deniable.  And we are going to have to do some adaptation, and we are going to have to help communities be resilient, because of these trend lines we are not going to be able to stop on a dime.  We’re not going to be able to stop tomorrow.

“But if those trend lines continue the way they are, there’s not going to be a nation on this Earth that’s not impacted negatively.  People will suffer.  Economies will suffer.  Entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems.  More drought; more floods; rising sea levels; greater migration; more refugees; more scarcity; more conflict.  

“That’s one path we can take.  The other path is to embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it.  This is within our power.  This is a solvable problem if we start now.  

“And we’re starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will - finally - to get moving. 

“So the time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers is past.  The time to plead ignorance is surely past.  Those who want to ignore the science, they are increasingly alone.  They’re on their own shrinking island.  
“And let’s remember, even beyond the climate benefits of pursuing cleaner energy sources and more resilient, energy-efficient ways of living, the byproduct of it is, is that we also make our air cleaner and safer for our children to breathe.  We’re also making our economies more resilient to energy shocks on global markets.  We’re also making our countries less reliant on unstable parts of the world.  We are gradually powering a planet on its way to 9 billion humans in a more sustainable way.  

“These are good things.  This is not simply a danger to be avoided; this is an opportunity to be seized.  But we have to keep going.  We’re making a difference, but we have to keep going.  We are not moving fast enough.  

“If we were to abandon our course of action, if we stop trying to build a clean-energy economy and reduce carbon pollution, if we do nothing to keep the glaciers from melting faster, and oceans from rising faster, and forests from burning faster, and storms from growing stronger, we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair:  Submerged countries.  Abandoned cities.  Fields no longer growing.  Indigenous peoples who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millennia.  Entire industries of people who can’t practice their livelihoods.  Desperate refugees seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own.  Political disruptions that could trigger multiple conflicts around the globe.

“That’s not a future of strong economic growth.  That is not a future where freedom and human rights are on the move.  Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that - any so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke - is not fit to lead.  

“On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late.  That moment is almost upon us.  That’s why we’re here today.  That’s what we have to convey to our people -- tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.  And that’s what we have to do when we meet in Paris later this year.  It will not be easy.  There are hard questions to answer.  I am not trying to suggest that there are not going to be difficult transitions that we all have to make.  But if we unite our highest aspirations, if we make our best efforts to protect this planet for future generations, we can solve this problem.”

Following Obama’s remarks, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) released the following statement:

“The president and his EPA have become travelling salesmen, touring the world to push their extreme climate change agenda. But the science doesn’t support the president’s exaggerated claims linking climate change to severe weather events. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated there is ‘high agreement’ among leading experts that long-term trends in weather disasters are not due to human-caused climate change.  And the only thing certain about long-term climate predictions is that they’re certain to miss the mark.
“Meanwhile, the president’s only solution is costly, far-reaching EPA regulation. But hardworking American families deserve to know how ineffective these so-called solutions would be. EPA’s own data show that its Power Plan regulation would eliminate less than one percent of global carbon emissions and would reduce sea level rise by only 1/100th of an inch, the thickness of three sheets of paper. But it will do lasting damage to our economy, stifle economic growth, destroy jobs and increase energy prices for all Americans. The president is on thin ice to claim his costly plan will address climate change or benefit Americans.”   


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