March 13, 2018

VIDEO: Udall: Climate Change Presents the Greatest Threat our Nation and World Now Confront

In a speech on the Senator floor, Udall urges action on climate change, outlines devastating impacts of climate change on NM

VIDEO: https://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall/videos/10155988914187870/

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall delivered a speech on the Senate floor to highlight the devastating impacts that climate change is having on New Mexico and the Southwest, and urged immediate and concrete action to mitigate the effects of climate change. Udall joined Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on the floor in honor of his 200th “Time to Wake Up" to the threat of climate change speech.

Udall outlined a few of the devastating impacts of climate change on New Mexico and the Southwest — including longer, more extreme droughts and more intense wildfires caused by the rising temperatures. Udall also discussed the need for campaign finance reform to end the dark money that bankrolls politicians who undercut climate science.

"Climate change presents the greatest threat our nation and world now confront…. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren, and beyond to meet this challenge head on. I call upon my colleagues across the aisle to listen to the science and the American people, and work with us to take action," Udall said in his speech. "Our executive and legislative branches are sitting on their hands in the face of climate change disruption and devastation, they are aggressively halting all progress we were making. There are a number of reasons for this, but the biggest – and most insidious – is money. Billions of dollars in campaign donations…. We must reform our campaign finance system, or our climate – and the American people – will pay a greater and greater price."

The full text of Udall’s floor remarks as prepared for delivery is below.

Climate change is here and now. I want to talk about the impact on the Southwest, which is severe. My home state of New Mexico is right in the bullseye.

Our nation, our Earth, cannot afford for us to sit back and do nothing the next three years. But this is precisely what’s happening under this administration and this Congress.

Our executive and legislative branches are not only sitting on their hands in the face of climate change disruption and devastation, they are aggressively halting all progress we were making.

There are a number of reasons for this. But the biggest – and most insidious – is money. Billions of dollars in campaign donations. The president and congressional majority are delaying, suspending, and stopping policies and programs that combat climate change because of the dark money in politics. Oil and gas, coal, power companies, and other special interests feed their campaign and PAC coffers while the clear public interest is ignored.

We must reform our campaign finance system. Or our climate – and the American people – will pay a greater and greater price.

While the president, his EPA administrator, and his Interior secretary are openly hostile to climate change science -- career government scientists and professionals are still hard at work, doing their jobs evaluating climate impacts.

Last November, the U.S. Global Change Research Program – consisting of 13 federal agencies – issued volume one of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. It is the most authoritative federal government resource on climate change.

It concludes, “This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization” with “record-breaking, climate-related weather extremes,” and human activities – especially greenhouse gases emissions – are the “extremely likely” “dominant cause.”

With climate change, the Southwest is expected to get hotter and much drier, especially in the southern half of the region. In the last 18 years, New Mexico has seen one reprieve from drought. And the trend is unmistakable: we are seeing less snowpack, earlier melting, and less runoff.

Even when we do get snow, new research shows we’re getting less runoff from it. Our scarce water resources are even more strained. Here’s a drought map of New Mexico from just last week, March 6th. Virtually the entire state faces dryer conditions.

In fact, some experts are saying we need to stop thinking about this phenomenon as a “drought,” but instead as a dry region becoming permanently drier. That is a direct threat to our way of life.

Elephant Butte Reservoir is our biggest reservoir. Its supply comes from the Rio Grande. But, for the decade ending 2010, flows in the Rio Grande decreased 23 percent – almost one-quarter – from the 20th century average. Here are photos of Elephant Butte from 1994 and 2013. You can see the dramatic decrease in supply over that short time. Our farmers and ranchers depend on this supply, and they are struggling. This year, the snowpack in the Upper Rio Grande is half of what it should be. And that will force the Reservoir even lower.

Across the Southwest, the average annual temperature has increased about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. The last decade, from 2001 to 2010, was the warmest in over a century. And New Mexico is really feeling the heat – we are the sixth-fastest warming state in the nation. Since 1970, our average annual temperature increased about 0.6 degrees per decade -- or about 2.7 degrees over 45 years. You can see from this chart how our temperatures have risen. And it’s not over. Average annual temperatures are projected to rise 3.5 to 8.5 degrees by 2100.

Difficult-to-control wildfires have multiplied because of dry conditions – killing trees and other vegetation, threatening lives, destroying homes, costing billions of dollars. New Mexico experienced its largest wildfire in 2012 – the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire – that burned almost 290,000 acres. The fire burned in the southwest part of the state – but caused air pollution hundreds of miles away in Las Cruces to the east and Santa Fe to the northeast.

Agriculture is a mainstay for the Southwest’s economy. We produce more than half of the nation’s high-value specialty crops – and crop development is threatened by warming and extreme weather events.

Likewise, another key economic sector -- tourism and recreation – is threatened by reduced streamflow and a shorter snow season. Ski Santa Fe used to always open Thanksgiving weekend. That hardly ever happens anymore. Reduced snow and higher temperatures have been an economic disaster for slopes all over New Mexico.

The Southwest’s 182 federally-recognized tribes are particularly vulnerable to climate changes such as high temperatures, drought, and severe storms. Tribes may lose traditional foods, medicines, and water supplies.

Similarly, our border communities are in greater jeopardy because they don’t have financial resources to protect against climate change impacts. They are vulnerable to health and safety risks, like air pollution, erosion, and flooding.

The president and his administration have taken aim at federal programs that would address all these impacts to my state and the Southwest. The president unilaterally withdrew from the Paris Agreement. EPA put the Clean Power Plan on hold. Secretary Zinke has done all he can to halt BLM’s methane waste prevention rule. Public lands are opened for coal and oil and gas drilling.

The president’s budget slashed climate science funding. The list is long.

This is not what the American people want. They believe science. They understand that human activity is causing climate change. And they want robust policies in response.

Climate change presents the greatest threat our nation and world now confront. It is the moral test of our age. We will be judged by future generations by how we respond now. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren, and beyond to meet this challenge head on. I call upon my colleagues across the aisle to listen to the science and the American people, and work with us to take action.