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Sen. Barbara Boxer seeks climate-change action from summit

December 7, 2011 |  1:44 pm

Sen. Barbara Boxer at climate change summit

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) stepped up Wednesday to deliver an appeal from Capitol Hill for action at the mostly lackluster U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which wraps up this week in Durban, South Africa. Her speech was delivered to an almost-empty Senate TV/radio gallery, which is indicative of the low priority given ongoing greenhouse gas treaty negotiations by the federal government and the media.

Audience shortfall be damned, Boxer soldiered on, registering her support for urgent action in Durban and beyond, and attacking climate deniers who have slowed progress toward reform. She and 15 other senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looking for a “strong and ambitious outcome” in Durban.

“Although I am not there with you in person, it in no way lessens my commitment to the work that you are doing in Durban and the importance of your mission to address climate change,” Boxer said. A text of the speech was also provided to the media.

“This massive threat to the environment and human health that is posed by climate change requires us to put aside partisan differences, to find common ground and to demand immediate international action.”

The speech was delivered against a backdrop of years of failed attempts by Congress to pass meaningful legislation that would curb greenhouse gas emissions, or to even set targets for those reductions. The comments addressed directly the United States’ refusal to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which did set reduction targets and which is regarded as a failure of leadership on the part of the U.S., especially in Europe. Key provisions of the Kyoto treaty will expire in 2012 without further action.

Boxer had two main points in her presentation: one, that climate change is already costing us huge money, and two, that global-warming deniers are endangering lives.

On the first point, she cited National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studies that have tracked the cost of large storms and found that from January to August 2011, 10 or more weather disasters caused over $1 billion in damages — a record — and that the country is plagued by widespread drought and wildfires.

She also cited a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists tagging the public health consequences of increased ozone pollution caused by higher temperatures by the year 2020, including: $5.4 billion in increased health costs, 2.8 million more acute respiratory symptoms, and several other startling figures.

Boxer seemed to save particular ire for global-warming deniers, however, saying, “The message I have for climate deniers is this: You are endangering humankind.”

To punch this home, she quoted a Pentagon study saying climate change was real and would have serious impacts on defense, diplomacy and economics.

“It is time for climate deniers to face reality, because the body of evidence is overwhelming and the world’s leading scientists agree,” Boxer said.

The Durban conference ends Friday.

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— Dean Kuipers

Photo: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in the Senate TV/radio room calling for ambitious and credible action at the U.N. climate change conference that ends this week in Durban, South Africa. Credit: U.S. Senate Photo Studio.

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