Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify.
Four score and seven years ago our grandfathers and grandmothers were enjoying life in the roaring 20s.
Now imagine you are in Congress back then and imagine that the nation’s leading scientists are warning that human activity – years of bad land management practices – has left our topsoil vulnerable to the forces of the wind. And that the next time a major drought hits, much of our farmland will turn to dust. Dust in the wind.
YOU WOULD TAKE ACTION.
Over the past two decades, the nation’s leading scientists have issued stronger and stronger warnings that human activity – burning fossil fuels and deforestation – will lead to longer and stronger droughts that dry out topsoil and timber, creating the conditions ripe for multiple, multi-decade Dust Bowls and wildfires.
In fact, we’re already topping Dust Bowl temperatures in many places – and the Earth has warmed only about 1 degree Fahrenheit since the 1930s Dust Bowl. Yet we are poised to warm some 10 degree Fahrenheit this century if we stay on our current path of unrestricted carbon pollution emissions.
I repeat, several studies now project the world may warm 10 degree Fahrenheit this century if we don’t act. And that is the average warming of the globe. Much of our country would see far higher temperatures. The recent heat wave would be considered a pleasantly, cool summer.
Another study looked at mid-century warming of just 2 degrees Fahrenheit. It found that wildfire damage in many of your home states — Utah, Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota, Nevada and Washington – would double, triple, even quadruple from current levels.
Imagine how big the government would have to be to deal with rampant wildfires and with a Dust Bowl choking the bread basket of the world. A lot bigger government than today, for sure.
So of course this great deliberative body is debating various bills to avoid this catastrophe by slashing carbon pollution.
Except it isn’t. We are here discussing bills aimed at “fuels treatment” – a euphemism for cutting down trees and using controlled burns.
Ignoring carbon pollution and focusing instead on fuels treatment to address the epidemic of bark beetles, the epidemic of drought, the epidemic of wildfires is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Or, more precisely, it is like burning some of the deck chairs and removing some of the umbrellas on the Titanic. Same outcome, more time wasted.
As I explained in the journal Nature last year, what we are discussing here today is the single most important question facing the nation: Can we prevent the extreme drought and wildfires ravaging the country today from becoming the new normal?
But the real question — and I am addressing myself to the members of the majority now – is how you want to be remembered. Do you want to be remembered as a Herbert Hoover, who sat by and did nothing in the face of obvious calamity, or as Abraham Lincoln, who took every measure to save the Union?
Lincoln said at Gettysburg “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” That of course wasn’t true. But after testifying to Congress nearly a dozen times since 1995, I am quite convinced that nobody remembers what we say here – and in the case of these bills, everyone will forget what you did here.
Are you Nevil Chamberlain — Or will you be Winston Churchill, who worked tirelessly to warn and prepare Britain for what was coming and told the House of Commons in 1936 “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
The consequences are here, now, just as climate scientists predicted.
If we fail to take action, many scientists predict ruin for large parts of this country – ruin for large parts of your districts – ruin that lasts 50 generations. Americans have fought for generations to defend government of the people, by the people, for the people. In the hour of crisis, we need that government to do its job. Now is that hour.