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Lessons From the Senate's Climate Change All-nighter

It was fascinating to listen to my Senate colleagues from across the country as they discussed what people in their states are experiencing now and the threats they face from climate change -- including extreme weather. Climate change is real, and it is happening all around us -- from coast to coast.
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When my colleagues and I finished our all-nighter on the Senate floor on Tuesday morning, we had spoken for more than 14 hours to draw attention to the threat posed by climate change. As we had hoped, we engaged the American people in our efforts to wake up the Congress to the threat of climate change.

Thirty-one Democratic and Independent senators participated in the event, including Majority Leader Harry Reid and his leadership team and senators from every region of the country. More than 145,000 people signed petitions to show support for urgent action on climate change. Our hashtag, #Up4Climate, was one of the top 10 Twitter trends in the United States and was mentioned over 54,000 times in just 24 hours.

What struck me while listening to the speeches of my colleagues were four extremely important points:

First, climate change is real and the deniers are losing ground.

Ninety-seven percent of climate experts now say with virtual certainty that the planet is warming due mainly to human activities which have increased the amount of carbon pollution in our air. The level of scientific certainty on man-made climate change is about the same as the consensus among top scientists that cigarettes are deadly.

An overwhelming majority of the American public recognizes that climate change is real and is happening now, and there is strong support for action to address this growing threat.

Even some former climate deniers now see the light. In 2012, Professor Richard Muller -- a self-proclaimed climate skeptic -- wrote the following in the New York Times: "Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause."

Claims by the remaining skeptics are overcome with an examination of the facts.

The special interests may have erected what my colleague, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), calls a special interest "barricade of lies" around the Capitol. But we are taking that barricade down, piece by piece.

Second, every state in the U.S. is already experiencing the effects of climate change.

During the all-night session, it was fascinating to listen to my Senate colleagues from across the country -- North, South, East and West -- as they discussed what people in their states are experiencing now and the threats they face from climate change -- including extreme weather.

Senator Tom Udall and Senator Martin Heinrich talked about the impacts of severe droughts in New Mexico and throughout the Southwest, and Senator Bill Nelson discussed the devastating effects of sea level rise in the state of Florida. Senator Ben Cardin told us how climate change puts the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland at risk, and Senator Ed Markey said his home state of Massachusetts loses an average of 49 football fields of land to rising sea levels each year.

Senator Al Franken talked about how the extreme cold has contributed to a serious propane shortage in Minnesota. Senator Angus King told us about the negative impacts on the lobster industry in Maine, and Senator Mark Udall spoke about how wildfires in Colorado are becoming more frequent and more intense.

Senator Dianne Feinstein and I explained how California has experienced devastating wildfires, which have been exacerbated by record-breaking drought.

Climate change is real, and it is happening all around us -- from coast to coast.

Third, the solutions to climate change are good for our economy and good for our country.

The U.S. has proven you can continue to protect the environment and grow the economy. Over the last 40 years since the passage of the Clean Air Act air pollution has dropped 68 percent and America's GDP has grown 212 percent. Total private sector jobs increased by 88 percent during the same period.

Landmark environmental laws have bolstered an environmental technology and services sector that employs an estimated 3.4 million people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And many of these jobs, like installing solar roofs, cannot be outsourced. In 2013, the U.S. solar industry employed over 142,000 Americans. Last year alone, that industry added almost 24,000 additional jobs -- nearly a 20 percent increase.

Addressing climate change is also good for human health, because having clean air to breathe literally saves lives. We know rising temperatures can make smog pollution worse and increase the number of bad air days. By reducing toxic air pollution, we can protect the health of children and families across the nation.

Fourth, we cannot wait for countries like China to lead.

All you have to do is look at China to see what happens to your country when you throw the environment under the bus. China has hazardous levels of air pollution and toxic emissions, which has had very harmful impacts on public health. According to a scientific study from the Health Effect Institute on leading causes of death worldwide, outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, which is nearly 40 percent of the global total.

For many years, our nation has shown great leadership on many important global issues, and we cannot wait for other countries like China to act on carbon pollution and climate change. What we do here in the United States has impacts around the world. When our nation reduces its carbon pollution, it makes a difference, because the U.S. accounts for roughly twenty percent of the global carbon pollution. We must take action now to avoid the worst impacts posed by dangerous climate change.

Last, I want to thank Senator Brian Schatz and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse for helping to organize the climate change all-night event, as well as everyone who expressed support for action to address climate change. Rest assured that my colleagues and I will continue to press for action -- our children and grandchildren are counting on us.

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