[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)] [October 1, 1997] [Pages 1279-1283] [From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]
Remarks to Television Weather Forecasters October 1, 1997 Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. Welcome to the White House on a cool, overcast day, about 60 degrees. [Laughter] How am I doing? I'm auditioning. [Laughter] You know, I have to leave this job after 3 years, and I don't know what I am going to do. I am too young to retire, and I'm used to delivering bad news. [Laughter] Let me say, we are delighted to have you here in the White House. I thank you for coming and for devoting this much of your time to the briefings and to giving us a chance to meet with you on what is a profoundly important issue and one, frankly, that you, just in the way you comment on the events that you cover, may have a real effect on the American people. People look to you to figure out what they're going to wear in the morning and whether something really bad is going to happen. If so, they expect a timely warning and advice. So you not only get watched more than anyone else on the television news programs to find out about the weather, sometimes you are actually saving lives and always performing a public service. And we thank you for that. I'd also like to thank your outstanding partners at NOAA and the National Weather Service. I'm very proud of them and what they have done. In the past decade alone, they have doubled the amount of warning time we have to prepare for tornadoes, quadrupled the time for flash floods. And those are just two of the ways that our people here, with NOAA and the National Weather Service and their research and technology, have improved our Nation's safety and planning. You know, I spent most of my time over the last 4\1/2\ years telling the American people that we had to prepare for the 21st century, with all of its new opportunities and all of its new challenges, if we want to keep the American dream alive for everyone who will work for it and maintain our leadership for peace and freedom and keep our country coming together with all of its diversity and clash of interests, whether it's racial and ethnic or religious or whatever. And we have really focused on trying to just get the country to think about how we have to build these bridges to the future, how the future will be as we want it to be. Clearly, to me, this climate change issue is one of the principal challenges that we face, a challenge that, if we meet it, will ensure the continued vitality of our small planet and the continued success of the United States throughout another 100 years; a challenge that should we fail to meet it could imperil the lives of [[Page 1280]] our children and, if not our children, our grandchildren on this planet, how they live, how they relate to others, and whether they are able to continue to pursue their dreams in the way that our generation has. In trying to come to grips with this climate change issue and then talk to the American people about it, there are four principles that have guided me, and I'd like to go over them very briefly. First, I am convinced that the science is solid, saying that the climate is warming at a more rapid rate, that this is due in large measure to a dramatic increase in the volume of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere, and that nobody knows exactly what the consequences are going to be or when they're going to be manifest, but on balance, it won't be all that long, and they won't be good. That is sort of a summary of what the prevailing scientific opinion is. I know there are those in a distinct minority who have a different view, but I am persuaded, having carefully looked at all this, that the vast majority opinion is, in fact, in all probability accurate. And that, therefore, we would be irresponsible not to try to come to grips with the results of these findings. Now, unlike a lot of weather forecasts, there is something we can do about this weather forecast because we've got enough lead time; at least we believe we do. So I think that's very important. Now, the second thing I want to say is that if we know that the majority of our scientists have this view and they say we don't know precisely what the bad effects of global climate change are or exactly how fast the climate will change, that means we don't know how severe the droughts and the floods of the future will be in a particular region, but we know that it won't be long and the consequences won't be good. If we know that, then it seems to me it is incumbent on the United States, when the nations of the world meet in December in Kyoto, Japan, to discuss climate change, that we be prepared to commit ourselves to realistic and binding limits on our own emissions of greenhouse gases. With 4 percent of the world's population, we enjoy over 20 percent of the world's wealth. That also explains why we produce over 20 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. Those two things are related. Now, I believe that we have a responsibility to cut back. First, because the world is looking to us for leadership, and secondly, because we won't have any influence in getting anybody else to cut back if we don't. To give you an example of how significant that is, we've got all these other countries that are growing that have far larger populations than we do. We estimate that the developing countries of Asia and Latin America will grow at roughly 3 times the rate of the United States, Japan, Europe, and Canada in the next 20 years. If that is true, we'll have to work very hard to maintain our 20 percent share of wealth. But even if we do maintain our standard of living and grow our economy, we won't be for long the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases. So if we expect others to show restraint, we must do the same, and we must lead the way. The third principle is that we must embrace solutions that allow us to continue to grow the economy while we honor our global responsibilities and our responsibilities to our own children. We have worked too hard here from the first day to revitalize the American economy to jeopardize our progress now. And furthermore, we cannot make changes that will leave whole chunks of that economy out in the cold without having a response to them. So the question is, can we emphasize flexible, market-based approaches? Can we embrace technology to make energy production more efficient and put fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? Is there, in short, a way out of astronomical taxes or heavy-handed governmental regulation that will permit us to gradually bring down our greenhouse gas production and still grow the economy and enjoy what we've been enjoying here for the last 4\1/2\ years? I believe the answer is yes. Now, let me just give you one example. Typically, about two-thirds of the energy produced by powerplants is absolutely lost in the form of wasted heat, billowing out in clouds of steam, or pumped out into rivers. A company called Trigen has doubled the efficiency of powerplants in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Tulsa simply by capturing the waste heat and turning it into steam to warm office buildings and fuel factories, and in the process, by definition, dramatically cutting the volume of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere to do the same amount of work in all those places. That is just one small example. [[Page 1281]] The Vice President and I have been working with the Big Three automakers, our energy labs, and the UAW for years now on a new generation of vehicles that we hope will get triple the gas mileage of a typical car. Perhaps the design will even include a blend of gasoline and electricity in a way that avoids the worst problems of electric cars--that is, they don't go very fast, and you have to charge them up too often--but gets the benefit of the energy conservation elements of the cars. All these things are out there, and we found over time--how many times have you seen America rise to a challenge? We didn't know how we were going to get to the Moon when President Kennedy said we were going there, but we got there because we put our resources behind it and we started with what we knew and then, in the process of exploring the outer limits of what we knew, we found a lot of things we didn't know, and we were able to put them to work toward a common mission. This is a scientific mission even more important in its implications than our race to the Moon in the 1960's. And yet we know a very great deal about how to do it without crippling the American economy. Finally, because of what I said earlier, because we represent only 4 percent of the world's population, and because the developing countries of Asia, Latin America, and Africa increasingly are going to grow at 3 times the rate of the developed countries, I believe we have to ask all nations, both industrialized and developing, to be a part of this process. I'm happy that other countries are developing. It's actually good for our economy when countries move from the ranks of the very poor countries into middle income countries, because then they can do more business with us. So it helps us when other people lift their children out of poverty and have a brighter future. It also means that they, too, however, become bigger energy users, and it imposes on us even heavier responsibilities, all of us, to change our patterns of energy use so that all of us can grow our economies without contributing to this greenhouse gas problem. But because of the growth rates in the future, both the population and economic growth and the associated energy use, we could have a great deal of effort by Europe, by the United States, by Canada, by Japan and still be in very difficult straits on this climate issue within 40 years, unless we get real solid support from the developing countries. Should we make allowances for their growth? Of course we should. But in some way, in a fair and appropriate way, they should also participate in this agreement. Now, if that doesn't happen, then their emissions, the emissions of the developing world, will exceed the emissions of the developed world by about 2035. Now, those are the things I want to do. I want to try to get America to accept the fact that the majority scientific opinion, the overwhelming majority scientific opinion is accurate. I want us to make a commitment, therefore, to go to Kyoto with binding targets. I want us to implement our commitment in a way that continues to grow the economy in a different way but still maintains our robust entrepreneurial economy. And I want to find a fair way for the developing countries to participate. Those are my four objectives. On Monday we're going to try to take another step toward putting these principles into effect. We've invited noted economists and industrial leaders, State and local governmental leaders, and leaders from the environmental and scientific communities here to the White House conference--for a White House Conference on Climate Change. Our goals are simple. We want the American people to understand the importance of the challenge and to allow outside experts to help inform the policy process so we'll make the best decisions. Now, I'd like to ask you to think about this in terms of the work you do. When we had the terrible floods in the Dakotas and Minnesota not very long ago, a young Congressman from South Dakota was in my office-- happened to be a member of the other party. I don't believe there's a partisan aspect to the weather--[laughter]--although some days it seems stormier than others around here. [Laughter] And this young man said--I was talking about climate change, and he said, ``Mr. President, we've had three 100-year floods in the last 9 years.'' He said, ``Does that mean I get to go 500 years without one?'' [Laughter] And you'd be amazed how many people just sort of, from their anecdotal, personal experiences, have this sense that there is more instability in the climate than there used to be and understand that it has something to do with the changes in the relationship of where we live and whatever little patch of land we occupy and this larger globe and the atmosphere which envelops it. [[Page 1282]] So what I hope will happen at the climate change conference I also hope has happened a little here today. What I want to do is to deal with the central political problem here. And I don't mean political in terms of party politics; I mean political in terms of how the body politic, how our society responds to this. If we have a problem that is a clear and present danger that we can see and feel, we get right on it. How did we get to the Moon? Because the Russians beat us into space, so we knew how to keep score, we would beat them to the Moon. And if we didn't, since there was a cold war and nuclear weapons, goodness knows what the consequences would be. Now, it is much harder when you have no manifestation of this problem unless you happen to live in a place which has experienced an unusual number of or intensity of weather aberrations. And, even so, they go away, and then you can start thinking about something else. It is difficult when you are not quite sure how to keep score and you don't know who the enemy is. All of you live with the weather as a fact of life and a precondition for life on our planet in a way that nearly no one else in the world does. The men and women of America who tune in and listen to you talk about the weather and rely upon you are either enlightened or entertained or disappointed by whatever it is you say and however you say it. Most of them are sort of like Sergeant Joe Friday; they just want the facts. This is a case where people need the facts and the context. Where if all you do is just try to get people to start thinking about this--you may not even know how you feel about it, or exactly what you think should be done--that's okay, but I would ask you to think about whether you should ask people to think about this, because our country always gets it right. We always get it right once we focus on it. But right now, while the scientists see the train coming through the tunnel, most Americans haven't heard the whistle blowing. They don't sense that it's out there as a big issue. And I really believe, as President, one of my most important jobs is to tell the American people what the big issues are that we have to deal with. If we understand what the issues are, if we start with a certain set of principles, we nearly always come to the right place. That's what we did--we passed the first balanced budget in a generation earlier this year, partly because we had already gotten the deficit down by over 85 percent, but partly because we got people in both parties to agree that there's a goal: We're going to balance the budget. And then the Republicans said, ``Here are the things we want in the balanced budget plan,'' and the Democrats said, ``Here are the things we want,'' and we found out a way to reconcile them and still do the most important thing, which was to balance the budget, and we did it. That's how we have to deal with this climate change issue. We have to say, ``There's a challenge out there. We have to respond to it. Here's the principles we want in our response.'' And then we have to get after it. But we can't do it until we build the awareness of the American people. So I hope you will think about how your work has been affected by what we believe is going on in the climate. And again, I don't ask for you to advocate or do anything outside whatever your own convictions or parameters of permissible speech are, but I do think it's very important, since you have more influence than anybody does on how the American people think about this, that at least you know what you believe and how you think we should proceed. Thank you for being here, and thank you for your leadership. The first time I ever really thought about this issue in this way was when I was reading Al Gore's book--[laughter]--which preceded our partnership. Sometimes he thinks all the great things he did preceded our partnership. [Laughter] I think most of the greatest things he's done occurred after our partnership started. [Laughter] I remember so well--one of the first times--we have lunch once a week, and I remember one week we were having lunch very early in this term--this is over 4 years ago--and he said, ``Just in case you missed it in my book, here's the chart''--[laughter]--``of how much we are increasing the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and here's 10,000 years, and here's the last 50,'' like that. So I can now pass Al Gore's climate test--[laughter]--and I'm very proud of that. I think we should be proud that we have a Vice President who not only cares about this issue but knows enough about it to have an opinion worthy of the respect of any scientist in the world. [[Page 1283]] Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President. Note: The President spoke at 2:10 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.