Sanders delivers global warming address to Vermont conference (Burlington Free Press)

By Sam Hemingway

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Saturday the United States has the technology available to help reverse global warming but lacks the political resolve to make it happen.

"With existing knowledge and technology, we know how to address the challenge," Sanders said in a speech he delivered to 300 attendees at an environmental law conference gathering at Vermont Law School in Royalton on Saturday afternoon.

He pointed to advances in automobile technology and renewable energy sources like wind turbines and solar and geothermal power as evidence the world can address the challenges of global warming.

"I have great confidence for the future that if we summon up the political will, we can transform our energy system to one that is better for each and every one of us and the planet as well," said Sanders, the only senator with seats on both the Senate Environment and Public Works and Natural Resources committees.

Sanders blamed the Bush administration for undermining progress on global warming. He cited the administration's failure to enforce limits on power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, the muzzling of a NASA expert on global warming and its refusal to allow California to pursue toughened anti-air pollution standards.

"We have a president who has stood in the way of global action on the most important issue humankind has been faced with," Sanders said.

Sanders said the debate about whether global warming is real is over, noting the findings of an international panel of scientists from 130 countries that, along with former Vice President Al Gore, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year.

"This isn't just a small group of left-leaning scientists from a few countries conspiring to lead us all off a ledge," Sanders told the National Association of Environmental Law Societies.

According to the panel's findings, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher than at any time in 650,000 years and scientists are 90 percent certain that the resulting global warming is driving up temperatures on the earth's surface, melting polar ice caps and disrupting normal weather patterns.

Sanders said confronting the problem will be expensive, but that inaction could cost between 5 and 20 percent of global domestic product, based on the findings in a 2006 study by a former World Bank economist.

"We must fundamentally change the way we do business," Sanders said in his speech. "And if we don't there will be a financial price to pay." He said a bonus from addressing global warming would be the creation of millions of new "green technology" jobs.

Sanders praised efforts in Vermont to deal with global warming, noting that the state consumes no more electricity today than it did 16 years ago, thanks to energy efficiency and other efforts.

"But, there is definitely room for improvement," Sanders said. "The demand for residential-scale renewable energy exceeds the funding available, so the state program for small-scale renewables is chronically over-subscribed and customers are turned away."

Sanders called on Vermont to invest more in wind energy, saying that studies show the state has wind currents along the Green Mountain ridge line sufficient to power utility-scale turbines.