“[Climate change deniers] aren’t just on the other side of this debate. They’re on the other side of reality.”
—Sen. Harry Reid
On August 7th, the fifth annual National Clean Energy Summit opened up in Las Vegas, Nevada, dubbed with the subtitle “The Power of Choice.” You may think that conferences, summits, conventions and symposia addressing clean energy, sustainability and protection of the environment are a dime a dozen. In some respects, you’d be right. For example, many people have been critical that Rio+20 was less effective than its predecessor two decades before. Presidents and Prime Ministers attended back in 1992, but not even high-ranking cabinet officials were found at the more recent event.
But maybe that’s because it was a unique phenomenon twenty years ago. Now every few weeks there seems to be some sort of event honoring our planet and emphasizing the need for us to protect it by using its resources more wisely. (You know, the usual left-wing drivel, or so the Tea Partiers and Fox News will tell you.)
What might separate this week’s event from most others is the significance of some of the speeches. For the opening of the event, Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada and the current Senate Majority Leader gave a speech that’s being considered one of the most powerful messages on climate from any US politician in years.
His speech is worth reviewing. It’s quite lengthy and if you’d like to read it in its entirety, you can find it on his website as a press release. Below, I include some of the key portions that I found had particular impact.
Twenty-five years ago, President George H.W. Bush promised to use the “White House effect” to combat the “greenhouse effect.” Yet a quarter century later, too many elected officials in Washington are still calling climate change a liberal hoax. They falsely claim scientists are still debating whether carbon pollution is warming the planet.
Of course, if those skeptics had taken a stroll along the Potomac River on a 70-degree day this February, they would have seen cherry trees blossoming earlier than at any time since they were planted 100 years ago. Washington experienced its warmest spring since record keeping began in 1895.
And back in the skeptics’ home states, the harbingers of a changing climate are just as clear as those delicate February blossoms – and infinitely more perilous.
This year alone, the United States has seen unparalleled extreme weather events – events scientists say are exactly what is expected as the earth’s climate changes.
The Midwest is experiencing its most crushing drought in more than half a century – or maybe ever. Presently, disasters have been declared in the majority of U.S. counties. More than half the country is experiencing drought, and seventy-five percent of the nation is abnormally dry this year.
Down south, the Mississippi River is nearly dry in various places, with shipping barges operating in only 5 feet of water. Just Friday, barges were grounded because the water level was so low. And New Orleans’ water supply is now being threatened by salt water moving up the Mississippi due to extremely low water.
And our nation’s infrastructure is literally falling apart because it wasn’t designed to withstand these conditions. Runways are melting, trapping planes. Train tracks are bending, derailing subways. Highways are cracking, buckling and breaking open. The water used to cool power plants – including nuclear power plants – has either run dry or reached dangerously high temperatures.
And that’s just in the United States – just through the month of July.
Arctic sea ice is also at its lowest point in recorded history.
This month, the massive ice sheet atop Greenland experienced sudden and almost uniform melting – a phenomenon not seen in the modern age.
The Amazon River Basin has experienced super-flooding – reaching record high levels due to long summer rains and greater than normal glacial melting.
And last week more than 600 million people in India were without power. Late monsoons and record temperatures increased demand for electricity to irrigate crops and air condition homes, overloading the fragile power grid and causing the blackout.
Scientists say this is genesis – the beginning. The more extreme climate change gets, the more extreme the weather will get. In the words of one respected climate scientist: “This is what global warming looks like.”
Dozens of new reports from scientists around the globe link extreme weather to climate change. Not every flood or drought can be attributed to human-induced transformation of our planet’s weather patterns. But scientists report that these extreme events are dozens of times more likely because of those changes.
The seriousness of this problem is not lost on your average American. A large majority of people finally believe climate change is real, and that it is the cause of extreme weather. Yet despite having overwhelming evidence and public opinion on our side, deniers still exist, fueled and funded by dirty energy profits.
These people aren’t just on the other side of this debate. They’re on the other side of reality.
It’s time for us all – whether we’re leaders in Washington, members of the media, scientists, academics, environmentalists or utility industry executives – to stop acting like those who ignore the crisis or deny it exists entirely have a valid point of view. They don’t.
Virtually every respected, independent scientist in the world agrees the problem is real, and the time to act is now. Not tomorrow. Not a week from now. Not next month or next year. We must act today.
Inspiring words, indeed. Former President Bill Clinton also spoke at the event as he usually does, and together the messages of these men helped to reinforce the need and the urgency for action.
It gives me hope to see such prominent politicians fighting so hard for this extremely important cause. I hope such speeches will move up the political ranks so that soon we’ll be hearing them from sitting Presidents and Prime Ministers. (You know, the ones who weren’t at Rio+20.)