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Text of Bill McKibben Speech

Text of Bill McKibben Speech

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Published by Tom Brown

Text of Bill McKibben's speech to Vermont lawmakers on Jan. 30, 2013

Text of Bill McKibben's speech to Vermont lawmakers on Jan. 30, 2013

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Published by: Tom Brown on Jan 30, 2013
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09/17/2013

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It is a great and signal honor for me to be here at my second-favoritelegislative body on the planet. You are actually a match for the Ripton Town Meetingin wisdom, civility, and earnest effort, falling short only in the selection of bakedgoods. I look forward to the first Tuesday in March for many reasons, but the most
important are probably these particular maple cream cookies that my neighbor
Barry King always bakes; since our great mutual friend Willem Jewett is now yourMajority Leader, perhaps he can bring some up some time, because that's really allyou're missing.I'd like to thank Speaker Smith for this invitation, and also for his clarion callto this great assembly to make climate change a priority; I know he will meet with agood reception, because just a quick glance around the chamber reveals some of the
country's most devoted environmental legislators. Tony Klein, Margaret Cheney-
and from your sister body the Senate I want to take a moment to salute Ginny LyonSfor her hard work over the years. Of course Governor Shumlin has been a leader on
this issue throughout his career, in both legislative and executive capacities-andalso as an outstanding communicator. His straightforward declaration, from the first
morning of our trauma with Irene, that it was an effect of climate change is a modelof the way we need our leaders to talk about the world we find ourselves in.It is that world I want to address today. I know that you all know aboutclimate change, but I want to take just a couple of minutes to bring you up to datescientifically. I wrote the first book for a general audience about what we then calledthe greenhouse effect, way back in 1989. At that time, few anticipated how rapidly
the crisis would advance. So far human beings have raised the planet's temperature
 
about a degree Celsius-a quarter century ago few scientists predicted the effects of
that relatively small increase. But the earth turned out to be very finely balanced.
The extra solar energy trapped by carbon in the atmosphere-less than threequarters of a watt per square meter of the earth's surface-has already done very
large things. This past summer, for instance, saw the catastrophic melt of the Arctic
ice sheet-there's now, by area, half the ice that Neil Armstrong saw when he looked
down from the moon. We have, in other words, taken one of the largest physical
features on earth and broken it, and others are close behind. The chemistry of theearth's oceans, for instance, is now changing as seawater absorbs carbon from theatmosphere-it is now 30% more acidic than it was four decades ago, a dangerous
development for the marine food chain upon which all of us ultimately depend. Forthose of us who dwell on land, however, the most conspicuous changes have to dowith hydrology, the way that water moves around the planet. If you want onephysical fact to explain this century, it's that warm air holds more water vapor thancold: the atmosphere is about five percent warmer than it was 40 years ago, a
staggering shift that more than anything else signals that we've left behind theHolocene, the 10,000-year period of benign climate that underwrote the rise of
human civilization. That increase in atmospheric moisture also loads the dice for
both drought and flood-for the kind of extremes we're seeing more and more
commonly on this planet. The scientists have long linked extreme weather to ournew heat, but for the last few years they've been joined by the part of our economythat we ask to analyze risk. Here's how Munich Re, the world's largest insurance
company, put it in its annual report for 2010, the hottest year ever recorded.
 
Globally globally, loss-related floods have more than tripled since 1980, and
windstorm natural catastrophes more than doubled, with particularly heavy losses
from Atlantic hurricanes. This rise cannot be explained without global warming.So let's think about Vermont for a minute. Even before Irene it was clear thatthings were very different here. Choose your gauge: ice out dates, lilac bloom, startof sugaring season. Most obvious was the more than 85% increase in severe
rainstorms, the gullywashers that do farmers no good and cause a world of trouble
for road crews. I've always found the easiest public officials to talk about global
warming with work in municipal DPWs-they've spent the last decade trading out
small culverts for bigger ones, because the old book no longer works. As oneAustralian mayor said on Monday, after the second great flood of his tenure, "these
storms are supposed to be one in a hundred year events, not one in two year
events." For us, though, Irene was a defining moment. It saw the greatest rainfall inthe state's history, 11.23 inches recorded in Mendon. If anyplace should be able to
cope, you would have thought it would be Vermont-the remarkable recovery offorest cover in our state should have meant less flooding than from the great storms
of the 20s and 30s when most of those slopes were bare. But this was just too much
water-it wasn't just off the charts, it was off the wall the charts were tacked to.
From now on we need to know that Irene is what nature is capable of producing for
us. You know better than anyone else in the state the true cost-in lives and in
hopes, yes, but also in deferred plans, busted budgets, foregone opportunities. Godforbid the next one comes before we finish paying off this one.

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