Senators John Warner (R-Va.), Joseph Liberman  (I-Conn.)

warner and lieberman

They co-sponsored a bill in 2008 -- the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act -- that was Congress' first serious attempt to get a climate change law on the statutes and institute federally regulated limits on industrial carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade system. It was passed in the House, but fell into a procedural black hole in the Senate and never came to a vote. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Dec. 6, 2007.

“If we do nothing, you're going to find China, India letting us take the heat for doing nothing. At the same time, they're just a step behind.”
Sen. John Warner

What impact did the USCAP hearing held in February 2007 have on you? [Editor's Note: USCAP, U.S. Cimate Action Partnership, is a new organization of leading corporations and environmental groups.]

Sen. John Warner: I think it was an important hearing. It was a recognition that those most effected, the industrial base, are ready to begin to step up and say, "We now appreciate the level of science that's coming in, the long-term implications, the need for us to begin to raise the capital that will be required ... to reduce the CO2 emissions.

There was a perception, Sen. Lieberman, that that was a huge wakeup call for the Senate. Why?

Sen. Joseph Lieberman: ... The creation of USCAP -- including both environmentalists and some big industrial companies like Dow Chemical, DuPont, obviously a mega, multifaceted company like General Electric and a number of big power plant companies, power producers -- represented a very significant turning point.

Why did it happen? I think they began to accept the science. Maybe their kids and grandkids turned to the CEOs of those big companies, as our grandkids have turned to John and me, and said, "What are you going to do about this problem?"

The other thing was that in a classic American way, in the context of the federal government not doing anything about global warming -- the states began to act. And I think a lot of businesses said: "This thing is coming. It's going to be much easier to accommodate, to live with, if it's a national solution. So let's become part of the solution and not part of the problem."

So they saw the writing on the wall.

Sen. Lieberman: They saw the writing on the wall. I think they began to feel some responsibility, too, that they didn't want to be fighting something that was a real potential environmental disaster that would affect their lives and their families' lives. ... But there's no question it was a significant turning point when the USCAP came into being, when they came before our Senate committee and testified on behalf of a set of principles, which John and I have essentially incorporated within our bill.

Did it have more impact than listening to all the scientists over the years?

Sen. Warner: Well, there's real money in that group. And they are on the front line of our economy. And, with no disrespect to the scientists -- they've done a good job -- I'd have to say that there is still a strong diversity of opinion within the science community. But I think any objective person would have to say quantifiably that the scientists who say there is a problem, and you'd better get on to what you do to begin to ameliorate or lessen it.

But ... there was a perception out there that it took some business guys to come to the table and say, "We're worried about this," to get the attention of the U.S. Congress ... because it took away the resistance that you anticipated from the business community.

Sen. Lieberman: It took away some of the resistance. As we speak, there's still significant resistance.

Sen. Warner: With the Chamber of Commerce. ... Very strongly.

Sen. Lieberman: Yeah, absolutely. But incidentally, John Warner, as we organized for this session of Congress, before USCAP was formed, ... we spoke to each other, because I was coming in as chair of the Climate Change Committee, and [he] said: "I want to come on there with you as the ranking Republican member. I want to see if together we can get something done on this problem." That was a very significant turning point, before the USCAP.

Sen. Warner: Also, we worked together to put in legislative requirements, largely in the Armed Services Committee, [to] have the Department of Defense study this thing in terms of political instability, which could translate into military instability, which could translate into some challenge to our own national security. So both the intelligence agencies now as well as the Department of Defense are working on an independent analysis of this problem.

Sen. Lieberman: I want to just add a word about what has moved things here to a point where, as we talk today, yesterday, we were able to get this bill out of committee and we're both optimistic. Time will tell, but we're both optimistic that we can get 60 votes to break a filibuster in the Senate and pass a global warming bill in the Senate.

Can you get President Bush to sign it?

Sen. Lieberman: That's where I continue to be an optimist, but he'll have to change. He's moving; the White House is moving. They started denying the reality of the problem; now they clearly accept the reality of global warming. But they're still focused on voluntary solutions -- much more proactively, but still voluntary. ...

Sen. Warner: ... I say respectfully to the president and his team, "You have an option either to get involved and help shape the debate in the Senate or stay on the sidelines." I think if they stay on the sidelines, if we do nothing, then you're going to find China and India hiding behind the skirts of inaction and letting us take the heat for doing nothing. At the same time, they're just a step behind. ...

[W]e say it has to be a legal, mandatory cap and trade. Their philosophy [is], "Oh, we can do this by virtue of volunteering." Europe has gone our way, mandatory. We stand alone as a nation at the present time saying it can be achieved through voluntary means. ...

You say we need a 70 percent reduction in CO2 emissions or CO2 equivalents. How do you arrive at that?

Sen. Lieberman: Incidentally, that's a 70 percent reduction beneath the level of emissions in 2005. Quite remarkable. We're really turning it around.

You arrive at a combination of what's desirable and what's feasible, but what's necessary ultimately is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid the disaster thresholds. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] has set some standards. They say if you ever reach 500 parts per million of greenhouse gas or carbon dioxide equivalents, then you're at the disaster level.

And all the studies show that if something like our bill passes, we will stay well below that disaster level. ...

... If we are able to meet the targets [in your bill], and the world meets the 50 percent reduction overall [recommended by the U.N.], the United States will still be contributing, if you do the math, about 20 percent or more of the world's carbon dioxide. Do we have a right to, per capita, produce more carbon dioxide than the average citizen of the planet?

Sen. Lieberman: First, although China is now surpassing us as the nation which will have the largest greenhouse gas emissions --

But they have four times our population.

Sen. Lieberman: Right. We have historically been, without question, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and they stay up there, so we're the biggest cause of the global problem. So we have not only a practical interest in protecting ourselves and our people from the consequences of global warming, we have a moral responsibility to do something about it.

And look, if the kind of changes that our bill will mandate really occur, I think it's going to set off a virtuous cycle of innovation where 30, 40 years from now, let's say 2050, when we get to the endpoint of our legislation, we're going to be driving our cars and trucks on power systems that are totally different. The same will be true of the way we generate electricity.

We've set the goal, and I think we can achieve it, of a 70 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, below the 2005 level, but that will just keep going on. Do we have a responsibility to try to lower it even more? Sure we do. ...

... The U.N. reports that we're already living well beyond our means. ... We're not paying the cost of the carbon, and that [once] we price carbon, we're not going to be able to sustain the lifestyles that we've become accustomed to; and there's only a certain number of people that can survive on the planet. It is a place with finite resources.

Sen. Lieberman: It's a place with finite resources, depending on what technology provides for our future. In other words, if you're only going to rely on oil to power societies, then there's a limited amount of oil. There's a lot left; it will be part of our energy picture for a long time to come. But our goal has got to be to decline that percentage and to find ourselves using more solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells.

It still amazes me that I can take a small piece of plastic and wires out of my pocket and hit some of them, and get somebody halfway around the world on my cell phone. If we can do that, we can figure out how to use something different from what we've been using.

And look, part of what's happening is that, as societies like China, for instance, and India are raising their standard of living, they're beginning to use more oil. And that's why in the best of all worlds we'd all be cooperating to develop new technologies to figure out how to allow people to live better lives without not only depleting the limited energy resources in the earth, but also despoiling the atmosphere of the earth in a way that's going to potentially make it uninhabitable for a lot of people.

We're kind of moving in two directions here. China and India, Indonesia, Brazil -- these countries are growing rapidly, and you see huge welfare gains, people coming out of poverty and into the middle class. They're going to consume more energy, and we're going to try to reduce, but their populations are so much greater than ours it doesn't make sense that they can actually get to a 50 percent reduction in emissions, especially when it comes to things like oil.

Sen. Warner: That's one of the great quarrels I have about this issue of China. They have been given by the Kyoto treaty and others the status of a developing nation. Nonsense. It's the fourth largest economy in the whole world. They've got one of the fastest rates of GNP growth, 10 percent to 11 percent per year. Nonsense. They've got one of the largest armies and [the largest] navy in the world, and defense budget. Stop protecting them. Let them come to the reality they've got to share the burden in the same way.

But they consume per capita like 1/20th of what we consume as Americans.

Sen. Lieberman: You're absolutely right, but what's happening is that they're zooming forward, and their middle class and upper class and Beijing and China are consuming per person close to what we are, if not more in some cases. So they've got every incentive as we do now to begin to figure out other ways to get electricity, to move their cars, to use air conditioning.

Do you really think we can get to 50 percent reduction by midcentury?

Sen. Lieberman: It's going to be tough. It will all be determined by technology. I've seen such remarkable changes in my lifetime in the way people live based on technological advances that I know it is possible to do it.

The question is whether we in the United States and others around the world can drive those developments in technology, and that's where the kind of law John Warner and I are proposing is critical, because a lot of this won't happen unless governments say it has to happen. If you say it has to happen, they'll figure out a way to make it happen. ...

I talked to CEOs of major utilities -- Duke Energy, AEP, Southern Company. These guys say it's impossible to meet a 60 to 80 percent reduction target, just flat out impossible.

Sen. Warner: From a standpoint of economics or a standpoint of engineering and innovation?

Both. The cost of it will be too high, and the technology, getting it deployed in time, is questionable.

Sen. Warner: Well, there they're right. We cannot let this whole momentum get out ahead of the technology, because we're pushing them to come up with the solution, and if that solution isn't there, I think it would be totally unfair to continue that force on them.

Sen. Lieberman: These arguments that you've heard from business that the goals or the mandates that we have in our bill are impossible to achieve -- we've heard that before when we proposed environmental legislation, clean air, clean water. But when you make it a law, people figure out how to do it.

A law drives technology and innovation, and I think the same will be true here. Now we have tried to build in a system where we set some tough goals for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but this is methodical and incremental. Every year they've got to reduce some over a 42-year period.

They can do it. The whole history of American entrepreneurship and innovation tells me they can do it if we require them to do it. And we're requiring them to do it because there's a public interest in us reducing the threat of global warming.

If the Clean Air Act had not been enacted, would utility companies have made any progress on reducing [sulfur dioxide] and nitrous oxides?

Sen. Warner: Simply [a] one-word answer: Questionable. ...

... I was talking with the CEO of Arch Coal and asked him how much money he was putting into carbon capture-and-sequestration projects, because the future of the coal industry depends on it. The answer was zero.

Sen. Lieberman: ... The reality is that coal is America's most abundant natural energy source. ... We have, by some estimates, 250 years' worth of coal, but when we burn coal to make electricity, it sends a lot of carbon dioxide into the air. ... And it costs money to change that. ... So the people who are running coal-powered electric plants and the people who are in the coal business are not going to, on their own, change.

Change is difficult. It's not that the people running these companies are bad people. It's that they're running their business, making a profit, paying people an income who are working for them, based on the current way of doing business, and when we're coming along and saying, "Hey! You can't do this anymore because you're creating a real crisis for the world in global warming; you've got to figure out how to use this coal in a cleaner way," and it will cost money -- and that's why we have this very generous, we think, system for investing in aggressive research and development and the use of [clean coal], including, of course, carbon capture and sequestration.

Sen. Warner: ... But the point is, coal is trying hard. In the almost 30 years that I've been in the Senate, I have teamed up with other coal senators to put a lot of money in for clean-coal research. That research has been going on. It's solid, good research, but frankly, it has not produced the results either the industrial base or the rest of us have wanted. ...

One thing that I've been told is that it's not the technology that's the challenge. ... It's finding places to put the carbon dioxide. ... The technology to put it in the ground is there, and the IGCC [Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle] plants have been around a long time that separate the CO2 from the coal and allow you to capture it. ... [A]ccording to people I've spoken to who are in this technology, it's really a matter of political leadership and money.

Sen. Warner: Well, it has to be, and primarily, at this point, natural gas wells which no longer have natural gas but are empty and can take the down-pressure to put the CO2 back in, and we just don't know what the extent of the availability of all those wells may be.

Sen. Lieberman: Look, I think the problem is still both technological and also political. In other words, there's still some work to be done to get the technology of carbon capture and sequestration to a point where we could really rely on it. But then it will take political leadership.

And here again, if Congress, [the] president, set [a] national standard and say, "It's the law; you've got to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the next four decades by this amount," people are going to figure out how to build these systems in a way that solves the problem, or at least makes the problem less.

Sen. Warner: They will figure them out, but we've got to also figure what's the impact on the pocketbook of the users and the benefits of these power plants. We're going to pay a premium at the gas tank when we fill it up with our car -- maybe not a premium, but some money will be at that. The homes that have got to be heated, they're going to have increased cost to the heating bills.

So one of the important things to this whole era is we pace ourselves gradually. Move forward with goals, achievable goals, but at the same time watch ever so carefully its impact on the consumer pocketbook or the user pocketbook as it relates to the gasoline.

But don't we have to be straight with the American public? If we're not paying more for our electricity and for our gasoline, then we're not paying for the carbon dioxide emissions, ... and we're not making progress. So there's a cost to this.

Sen. Lieberman: There is a cost, and there's no question about it. We think the cost is manageable and it's worth it. And we think the American people agree with it as a way to avoid the most disastrous consequences of global warming. ...

There's a very broad public awareness and concern about this problem. And that's part of what's driving Congress to move forward toward a solution to the global warming.

Sen. Warner: Or not to move forward, as the case may be. We've got to recognize there's a lot of conscientious members of Congress who feel that the time is not right to push ahead; the technology's not there, so why get exercised and begin to put in this rather nebulous structure that we've got in this bill?

But we feel strongly we've got to make a start. Hopefully we can improve it. Future congresses can act in such a way as to protect the consumers and the economy from disaster, but you've got to make a start. ... The public are hearing now this will cause disastrous consequences to the economy. I say Congress can undo one day what it did the day before. Congress is not going to allow such an initiative as will finally come out and presumably go into law, not allow that [to] direct the economy. ...

But you call it a "rather nebulous structure."

Sen. Warner: It is. ... [In the bill] we've got the "Carbon Bank," [through] which we buy and trade these shares, and considerable sums of money can be generated. ... But this whole idea of this new bank that we're creating is without precedent, except in the Clean Air [Act] and cleaning up the acid rain.

We've had experience that this cap-and-trade system has worked successfully. It is working in the European Union countries, so there [is] some precedent for doing it. But it's still rather nebulous from the standpoint of the good, old-fashioned way we do business here in America.

I talked to the CEO of Shell, Mr. [Jeroen] van der Veer, who said that it's not Shell's responsibility to clean up the world's CO2 problem. Is he right? He says it's your responsibility to regulate.

Sen. Lieberman: Well, maybe it's our responsibility to tell the president of Shell that he's got a responsibility to clean up the problem. And that's what law is about. You adopt laws because people aren't of their own [volition], voluntarily, doing the kinds of things that will help the public interest.

What is corporate responsibility in this context?

Sen. Lieberman: Corporate responsibility, I think, is to recognize from the science, not from the politicians, that there's a real problem here of global warming and they've got to be part of trying to figure out how to solve it, particularly if they're in businesses that are substantially contributing to the problem.

He said that was naive.

Sen. Lieberman: I don't know why it's naive. I think it's quite hard-nosed and real. I mean, "Oh, a part of the problem here is oil" -- now, that's a tough statement if you're in the oil business, because it's pretty clear that there's no way particularly to burn oil clean. What we're talking about here is figuring out different ways to power our society, and part of that is by law. You've just got to require it. ...

You're going to put the oil business out of business?

Sen. Lieberman: No, no, they've got a long time in business, for better or worse.... [I]n the long run, we've got to diminish the extent to which we use oil in this country and in the world to create power and electricity. ...

You've got this idea in the bill to allocate free credits to coal companies, to power companies, to oil companies. ... Why do that? Why not make them pay? Why not give them a real incentive to reduce by making them pay for these [emissions]?

Sen. Lieberman: They will eventually pay. In other words, by 2030, which is about halfway through the life of the bill, there will be no more -- depending on how you want to call it -- transitional payments or free allowances. And the free allowances are not just giveaways to the companies. They're actually meant to subsidize the transition that they're going to have to make to live within the system that we're creating.

Incidentally, if they don't get those free allowances from us, we fear that, if you're a utility, where else do you have to go for the money? It will raise your rates, and it will raise your rates in a way that will really hurt average people in this country.

Will it hurt them, or will it spur [power companies] to conserve and level the playing field between them and renewables? I mean, aren't we trying to save an industry whose future is really doomed?

Sen. Warner: ... Coal is essential to our basic power today and tomorrow and for the indefinite future. That's why we're very careful in this to give inducements to the coal-fired plants and those dependent on coal as the principal fuel.

If there's no carbon capture-and-storage technology that can come online before 2030 that works, is there a future for coal?

Sen. Warner: I think there are a couple of pilot plants about to go up, and I think they can be extrapolated and duplicated in a time less than 2030.

They're saying in the business world that they don't think before 2020 that [they] are going to even have the beginning of real commercial carbon capture.

Sen. Warner: Yeah, but you said earlier on, the technology for capturing carbon is known. The technology for putting it in the ground is known. It's up to the political system. Are you inferring that the political system is going to purposely delay this to 2030? I say no.

If it doesn't work, is there a future for coal?

Sen. Warner: Well, it's got to work.

Sen. Lieberman: Well, it's got to work. There's got to be a future for coal in the U.S. It's too important to us. And again, I think once you create this law, this mandate, the coal industry and a lot of others are going to figure out how to use coal and not pollute the air.

But you need to ... give them not just a cushion against a brave new world, but a stick, don't you? Making the offender, making the emitter of carbon dioxide pay, won't that speed the day that we have a carbon-free economy?

Sen. Lieberman: Yeah, but this is why we have a balanced bill here. If you did it overnight and you said, "That's it, no transitional payments," you'd put a lot of people out of business, and/or you'd raise the cost of electricity so high in this country that the public wouldn't accept the basic law that we're talking about.

So these subsidies, these transitional payments in the form of these allowances that we're talking about, is the way to smooth their way to the point where the stick really does come down. And the stick is going to come down in 2031. ...

... I will say this, that the CEO of the country's largest emitter of carbon dioxide hates your bill. So I will say there's enough inducement in it at least to get that reaction.

Sen. Warner: Yeah, yeah.

Sen. Lieberman: That's right. (Laughs.) [That] was a good point. If this bill wasn't accomplishing anything, then we'd have unanimous support from the people in the power industry, which we do not. ...

[It seems we're talking about spending a lot of money to save the coal industry,] ... but renewable energy has had infinitesimal kinds of investments in development of battery storage so that wind and solar can work. Why are we not spending more money there?

Sen. Warner: I think the American taxpayer and the tax structure has certainly given a lot of inducements. Look at the tax write-offs in the windpower area, in the solar. I think they've been fairly well funded by the Congress. And indeed the individual states have tried [to] encourage. Look at California; they really worked hard.

Sen. Lieberman: This bill, if it's adopted, will represent the most massive investment that we have ever made in America in renewable energy sources like solar, geothermal, etc., and wind. We take an enormous amount of money ... that will be generated by the auction of these allowances and put it into sustainable energy. Actually, it's about the same amount invested in sustainable energy as invested in clean coal technologies.

So, we've been saying that the goal of this bill, obviously, is to deal with the global warming problem. But in doing so, I think we will also create what a lot of people have been talking about for a long time, a moon shot-/Manhattan Project-type program to change the way we get energy and to make us more energy-independent. So this is, in my opinion, a win-win.

Win-win, I was always taught, was too good to be true.

Sen. Lieberman: If we get this adopted, I think we can do both, and here's the reason why: To reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which create global warming, you've got to use non-fossil fuel means of producing energy, and/or you've got to figure out how to use something like coal cleanly. There's some incentive here; there's a pot of support for research and development; and I think it's going to set off an historic surge of American innovation and entrepreneurship. ...

Why not have more nuclear plants? Why not fast-track nuclear?

Sen. Warner: For certain pragmatic reasons, we simply could not put a significant segment of our bill on the need to encourage greater use of nuclear power in this country.

Let's start with two fundamentals: Nuclear power produces a minimum, almost a nonexistent amount of pollution. Secondly, nuclear power has become safer and safer and safer. Our United States Navy today is operating on ships and submarines around the globe [powered by] nuclear power plants. ...

The United States has 20 percent nuclear power; France has 80 percent, and it's contributed to hopefully their own air quality significantly and other environmental issues. We had tragic problems here occasioned by safety violations or safety omissions. Those are behind us, I think, at this point in time, and ... we're beginning to see the first signs of America moving toward building new nuclear plants.

One of my power companies in my state ... just announced [a plan] to build a new nuclear plant in the state of Virginia. It's been well received, so far as I know, throughout our state. So the time has come for America to turn to nuclear power -- perhaps not to 80 percent like France, but certainly to increase from 20 percent to a larger percentile, because that will contribute to lowering CO2 considerably.

Sen. Lieberman: In fact, ... there is no way that America will meet the mandates that we have in this bill for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions without the building of a new generation of nuclear power plants. That's going to happen. ...

Sen. Warner: We know of four [or] five senators now that are working, and I'm going to be working with them, and I'm sure you [Sen. Lieberman] will, too, on a nuclear title to be put in our bill on the floor, and that means another four [or] five senators will join us on this bill. ...

What's your position on ethanol?

Sen. Warner: I've seen that in my time here in the Senate, and I think the jury is still out. I think the switchgrass has a greater potential and less negative aspects on the environment.

Ethanol has begun to dislodge in some way the, what I consider, very orderly markets for the use of corn. It's now taking such a great percentage of it, it's impacting on the food market, a lot of other uses of the derivatives of corn. So I'd say the jury is out.

So you don't see it as a solution?

Sen. Warner: Oh, not a complete solution.

Sen. Lieberman: No.

And you don't see it as part of the solution?

Sen. Warner: Well, let's see what happens with the switchgrass.

But corn-based ethanol is held up as a poster child for what happens when a few senators and some big business interests, big farming interests, get their way in Washington. It's a cautionary tale, right?

Sen. Lieberman: Yeah, it's a cautionary tale. I think people are stepping back a bit now, not totally away from corn-based ethanol but with an understanding that no one path is going to lead us either to dealing with global warming or to reducing our energy dependence on foreign-owned oil. It's tough. We tried in our proposal not to pick winners and losers. We're creating a demand. You've got to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide you're putting out every year and then let the market work to develop different ways to do that.

Well, the pure way to make the market work is to just tax carbon.

Sen. Lieberman: ... The logic of a carbon tax to solve a global warming problem in my opinion only goes so far. I suppose you'd say that on the average if you raise the cost of carbon-producing processes by adding a carbon tax, people will use less of them, but not always.

And frankly, if we put a big carbon tax on today, I don't think anybody with any sense of confidence could predict how much we would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 or 2050. This law requires it. It says: "Here's the law. You've got to figure out now how to keep lowering that greenhouse gas emission."

Sen. Warner: You incentivize people. ... It's an incentive bill, and believe me, you're not going to get a carbon tax thing through the Congress now. It's just not an option. ...

Even though Exxon and General Motors are in favor of it.

Sen. Warner: Well, that might be so they can go on [with] business as usual, ... pay the tax and then put the costs down to the consumers of their products.

Sen. Lieberman: I don't take the carbon tax recommendation seriously in this political context. I think, frankly, they're a way to try to take people away from our cap-and-trade idea, which really can pass. Everybody knows a carbon tax is not going to pass.

I see. So it's a maneuver.

Sen. Lieberman: I think it's a maneuver. I think we've seen some interesting developments in the House in the last year. At the beginning of the year, people were talking about a carbon tax. That's receded now. And now Congressman [John] Dingell [D-Mich.], Congressman [Rick] Boucher [D-Va.], talking about a cap-and-trade system as well. We hope that the passage of this bill out of our committee will accelerate movement in the same direction in the House. And I think it will. ...

... I don't know which one of you said this, but you said, "We're going to have to change our way of life." What does that mean for the average viewer watching this program?

Sen. Warner: We've become more conscious of how our way of life is contributing to the overall climate of the globe ... But we're going to have to bear in mind that each citizen has to figure out how he and she can conduct their daily life in such a way as to begin to gradually work toward a reduction of those things ...

Does that mean a sacrifice in how much we consume? ...

Sen. Lieberman: It does mean some sacrifice, but I don't think you're going to find people pulling back from the natural human desire to live better, not just in the U.S., but in all the countries around the world, including, particularly China and India, where people are now finally beginning to live better.

The challenge is to convince people through law [of] our invocation to live smarter. And look, the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon dioxide, greenhouse gas emissions is through energy efficiency. It's a simple thing, but we've got to turn out the lights more often. We've got to turn the heat down. We can't use as much air conditioning.

You going to get re-elected on a platform like that?

Sen. Lieberman: (Laughs.) I think if I suggest that that may be the way to avoid the waters of Long Island Sound rising along the coast of Connecticut, maybe people will go for that.

Is this a crisis?

Sen. Warner: We often deal with crises. Terrific suffering in this country through nature down in New Orleans; that was a crisis made by weather situations. I think this drought has certainly, in my state and in Georgia and the Carolinas, that's been a crisis. Yes, I think some of these weather perturbations, anomalies are producing a measure of crisis. And it's just a question of whether those number of crises is going to grow as occasioned by the CO2 problem, or are we going to take up our individual and collective responsibilities to try and address it.

Sen. Lieberman: I think this is a crisis. You look at the science. There are now a lot of very reasonable, credible scientists who say that if we don't do something to deter global warming soon, we're going to suffer catastrophic consequences -- extreme weather, changes in wildlife, disease, airborne diseases, etc., etc. ...

If you ask, "Is this a crisis?," the quick thing that I say to people is: "Take a look at those satellite pictures of the polar ice caps. Look at where they were 20, 25 years ago and where they are today." The shrinkage is stunning. And where's that water going? And why is it happening?

What do you say to the people who say, look, we're being taken on a ride by a consensus of scientists, and scientists have been wrong before? ... What convinces you that, in fact, this is a real scientific crisis?

Sen. Lieberman: Well, I'd hate to take it lightly and be wrong, because the consequences really will be disastrous for life as we know it. Talk about the fact that we're going to have to change the way we live to stop the movement forward of global warming. If we don't stop it, we're all going to live much lesser lives.

I was at a meeting once some years ago, about a decade ago, and it was a bunch of members of Congress and a bunch of scientists. The scientists were projecting what would happen, and we had a long conversation.

One of the colleagues from the House said, "OK, let me get this straight. If you're right," he says to the scientists, "and we do something about this problem of global warming that you see coming, we will essentially have saved the planet Earth as we know it. If you're wrong, and you're kind of hyperventilating here, you're overstating the problem, all we will have done is clean up the air and make people healthier, make America energy-independent, which has national security implications, and probably stimulate a new round of technological innovation that will be good for the economy." So he said, "That's not bad either way."

Well, I think now, 10 years later, the scientific argument that the globe is warming is so powerful that we, as John said, "We do nothing at our peril." And the most important thing is we cannot do nothing. We've got to do something. ...

posted october 21, 2008

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