Let me be very clear.  According to the most knowledgeable people in the world climate change is real, it is already causing devastating problems and it will only get worse in years to come if we do not aggressively move to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.  Let me quote from the draft federal report on current and anticipated impacts from greenhouse-driven global warming in the United States.

“Climate change is already affecting the American people,” declares the opening paragraph of the report, issued under the auspices of the Global Change Research Program which coordinates federally sponsored climate research. “Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts.

“Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and Arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.”

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado published a new study in the journal Science that found a strong likelihood that global warming will cause a temperature increase of 8 degrees Fahrenheit, or more, by the end of this Century. That would be catastrophic. Entire coastal cities could be flooded and uninhabitable. Extreme heat and weather would lead to unimaginable damage and suffering.

NASA’s James Hansen, a leading climate scientist, has published a peer-reviewed paper with the National Academy of Sciences that shows, according to Hansen, that “the deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change.” Those heat waves in Europe and Russia led to tens of thousands of deaths, and the drought in Oklahoma and Texas caused billions of dollars in agricultural and other damage. Hansen has made clear that if we do nothing in the next decades we will see “semi-permanent drought” in the Western United States, a “dust bowl” in the Midwest, and food prices that would reach all-time records.

In Vermont, and we will be doing a major conference on this in March, there is no question that climate change will bring about major changes in agriculture, our tourist economy, the condition of the lake and state expenditures.

In order to combat the dangers of climate change we need to cut greenhouse gas emission significantly, we need to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and such sustainable energies as wind, solar, geothermal and bio-mass.  In several weeks I will be introducing what I believe will be the boldest  legislation in congressional history to do just that. 

For many decades now, the state of Vermont has been a leader in environmental protection.  We are leading the nation in terms of energy efficiency and, in the last few years, have made very good progress in wind, solar, geo-thermal and bio-mass.  When it comes to new ideas in terms of protecting the environment, the rest of the country has looked to Vermont for leadership – and we should be very proud of that. 

I am concerned that, currently, there is an effort in the legislature to put a moratorium on the construction of new wind projects.  I strongly disagree with that effort not only in what it will mean for our state in terms of transforming our energy system, but what it will mean nationally.  I have no doubt but that if Vermont ceases new wind development the message will go out all across the country, spread by the well-funded coal and oil companies, that even in Vermont, progressive Vermont, there is not a serious commitment to combating global warming; that even in Vermont people do not want to move aggressively toward sustainable energy.  In my view that would be a terrible message and one that would negatively impact the good work that people all over this country are doing.