Last week, one of the world’s most well-known spiritual leaders, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, visited the Capitol. He talked about the moral imperative to protect the planet we call home. The Dalai Lama spoke with passion and longing of his native Tibet, where mountain snows melt in spring to feed rivers that provide Bangladesh, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan with water.
The Himalayas are sometimes called the “Third Pole,” because they contain nearly a third of the world’s non-polar ice. But in recent years, man-made climate change has caused milder winters with less snow and less water for 1.3 billion people living downstream from Tibet.
In the Western United States, we face a similar problem. For more than a decade, drought has plagued the Colorado River — the lifeblood of a number of western states, including Nevada. Milder winters have meant less Rocky Mountain snow and less spring runoff to feed the river. Combined with more extreme summer heat, the shrinking western snowpack threatens the water source for more than 30 million people.
The seriousness of this problem is not lost on your average American. A large majority of Americans believe climate change is real.
A quarter century ago, Republican President George H.W. Bush promised to use the “White House effect” to combat the “greenhouse effect.” But despite overwhelming scientific evidence and overwhelming public opinion, climate change deniers still exist. They exist in this country and in this Congress.
And I am grateful to Senator Schatz, Senator Whitehouse and Senator Boxer – and many other Senators who will join this climate change debate tonight – for standing up to the deniers. It's time to stop acting like those who ignore this crisis – the oil baron Koch brothers and their allies in Congress – have a valid point of view.
In the last few years alone, the Midwest has experienced the most punishing drought since the Great Depression, wildfires have ravaged the west and the mighty Mississippi River nearly ran dry. While record drought afflicted some parts of the United States, torrential rains and extreme thunderstorms struck others. Temperatures topped 60 degrees in Alaska in January, but February brought a blanket of snow and ice to Atlanta, Georgia.
In other parts of the world glaciers and ice sheets that have been frozen for tens of thousands of years are melting. Fires have consumed vast forests and monsoons and super-floods have left millions homeless. And since the New Year, the United Kingdom has had its wettest winter since the 1800’s, Tokyo was blanketed with four years’ worth of snow and Australia experienced its hottest summer on record.
Scientists say this is just the beginning. Dozens of reports from scientists around the globe link extreme weather to climate change. And the more extreme climate change gets, the more extreme the weather will get.
It is easy to see the urgency to confront climate change. But this challenge is also an opportunity. We have the ability to reduce our reliance on oil and other fossil fuels, increase our production of clean energy and create good-paying jobs that can never be outsourced. We have the ability to choose the kind of world in which we live.
In Nevada, we are choosing clean, renewable energy as we retire older, polluting power plants. A polluting power plant built on Paiute Indian land in Moapa, Nevada during the Johnson Administration will soon close. Next week construction will begin in Moapa on the first major solar project to be built on tribal lands in the United States.
The largest solar plant in the world opened last month on Nevada’s border with California. Dozens of geothermal wells on public lands power the cities of Reno and Sparks, in Northern Nevada. And because some of Nevada’s best renewable energy resources are located in rural areas, we recently completed a power line connecting renewable energy resources with the people and businesses who need them and making the electrical grid more efficient.
Nevada has proven that reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is good for the economy and for the environment. But as the Dalai Lama has said: “We have the capability and the responsibility to act. But we must do so before it is too late… This… is not just a question of morality or ethics, but a question of our own survival.”