Climate change is an existential threat to our planet. To put it simply, if the United States and the global community doesn’t get its act together and move away from fossil fuels in a very aggressive way, the planet we will be leaving our kids and grandchildren will be increasingly uninhabitable.
Yesterday, as Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, I held a hearing to focus on a very important part of the climate change discussion. And that is: what will inaction on climate change mean in terms of human suffering and the state of our economy? There is no question that transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy will be very expensive, and that it must be done throughout the world. But what happens if we don’t act in a timely manner? How expensive will that be? What will that mean to future generations?
The scientists have told us that we have fewer than nine years to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels, or our entire planet will face irreparable harm. Irreparable harm!
If we don’t move boldly, we will see more devastating and extreme heat. We will see more floods, more rising sea levels, more extreme weather disturbances, more ocean acidification, more drought, more famine, more disease, and more human suffering.
Now, I have heard from some of my colleagues and some very powerful special interests that the cost of combating climate change is expensive. And my response is: compared to what?
Let’s be clear. The economists have told us that the cost of not acting on climate change will total $34.5 trillion in the United States alone in lost economic activity and more than $100 trillion throughout the world by the end of the century.
But it’s not just a financial cost. If we do nothing the effects of climate change will lead to the deaths of 1.5 million people across the globe — every single year — from factors such as malnutrition, heat stress and tropical diseases like malaria.
If we do nothing, the effects of air pollution in the United States will lead to the deaths of 295,000 people between now and the year 2030.
If we do nothing, the effects of climate change will throw over 100 million people throughout the world into extreme poverty.
If we do nothing, the World Bank has told us that the effects of climate change could result in the mass migration and displacement of more than 140 million people in Latin America, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.
If we do nothing, the CIA and other intelligence agencies have warned that the effect of heat waves, droughts and floods will substantially increase the risk of war, social unrest and cross-border tensions.
While some of my Republican colleagues still refer to climate change as a “hoax,” let’s be clear. This so-called “hoax” threatens to destroy our food and water supply, flood our cities and towns and displace millions of people from their homes.
Let’s talk about rising sea levels. What the scientists have told us is that unless we reverse course, major portions of New York, London and Hong Kong are at risk of chronic flooding by the end of the century, while cities like Miami, New Orleans, and Atlantic City could be inundated by severe flooding much sooner.
Let’s talk about extreme heat. Last year was tied for the warmest year on record and all of the ten warmest years in recorded history have occurred since 2005.
The Centers for Disease Control has found that extreme heat events “are the most prominent cause of weather-related human mortality in the U.S., responsible for more deaths annually than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.”
Let’s talk about extreme weather disturbances. Last year, we had the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. Further, over the past five years, major natural disasters caused more than $615 billion in damage and nearly 4,000 deaths.
Let’s talk about wildfires. Last year was one of the worst U.S. wildfire seasons in recorded history and the three worst U.S. wildfire seasons in terms of acres burned have occurred over the last six years. Scientists tell us that these fires are getting bigger and more severe because of climate change.
In my view, we have a fundamental choice to make. We can listen to the climate deniers and not worry about the impact of climate change and turn our backs on our children and grandchildren.
Or we can listen to the scientists who tell us that we have got to act boldly and aggressively to prevent a climate catastrophe.
In my view, we have spent far too long and wasted too much time discussing whether or not climate change is real. This debate was not driven by science but by a decades-long campaign of lies, distortion and deceit funded by the fossil fuel industry.
Oil companies knew by the late 1970s that the emissions from their products were causing irreparable harm to the planet.
And yet, instead of working to solve or even acknowledging the problem, they followed the campaign plan designed by Big Tobacco to make sure our government was hamstrung against taking any action as we engaged in a false debate about whether climate change was real.
In the end, history is likely to judge the actions of the CEOs of fossil fuel companies as causing more death and more human misery than the tobacco industry. That’s quite a legacy!
And, despite all the talk about climate, instead of addressing the problem we are continuing down the same path.
Over the next 10 years, fossil fuel activity in the United States is on track to account for 60 percent of the global growth in oil and gas production.
In 2019, the United States was the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gasses.
Our emissions per capita were 77% higher than China, which was the largest emitter and 85% higher than the European Union. That is not sustainable.
In my view, we have got to make it clear to the fossil fuel industry that their short-term profits are not more important than the future of our planet.
Further, if we are going to make sure that our planet is healthy and habitable for future generations, we cannot continue to hand out corporate welfare to the fossil fuel industry.
And that is why I have introduced, along with Senators Merkley, Markey, Booker, Van Hollen and Warren, the End Polluter Welfare Act.
Please sign my petition:
Add your name to say you support my legislation — the End Polluter Welfare Act — which would abolish $150 billion in tax loopholes, subsidies and special interest giveaways to the oil, gas, and coal industry over the next decade.
The future of the planet is at stake. We cannot continue to provide huge amounts of corporate welfare to those who would deny future generations a decent life.
Thank you for adding your name today to make your voice heard on this important issue.
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