During his keynote address Friday at a conference highlighting global warming, Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 took a strong stand in the debate on the origins of the planet’s rising heat, identifying humans as the culprits.
“The theory of global warming is one of those ideas that has been debated for over a century,” Lieberman said. “But the evidence is in, and global warming is real and is significantly the result of human activities.”
The conference, “Global Warming, Looking Beyond Kyoto,” was held over the course of the weekend and sponsored by the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. Its aim was to delve into what can be done to further the Kyoto Protocol, a measure enacted in 1997 by representatives of more than 170 countries to reduce the amount of global emissions, as outlined in a United Nations framework for the decreasing of greenhouse gases.
The conference featured distinguished guests from countries as far away as India, Nigeria and Brazil, and included universities such as Stanford, Harvard and MIT. Representatives from NASA, the World Bank and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were also present. Lieberman spoke to his fellow conference participants and to Yale students and faculty about the realities of global warming and its connection to energy supplies, as well as current legislative measures in the works in Washington, D.C. to address these issues.
Lieberman said unprecedented ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, melting ice caps and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina are all noticeable indicators that global warming is no longer a theoretical model, but a fact that everyone can perceive. He said 2005 is on its way to being one of the hottest years ever recorded.
Lieberman also discussed the problem of oil dependency in the United States and the quest for alternative energy sources, issues he said are closely tied to global warming.
Of the 83 million barrels of oil that are sold on the global market daily, Lieberman said the U.S. buys 20 million of them.
Lieberman said he is currently trying to pass legislation through the Senate that focuses on reducing the United States’ dependence on oil. The bill proposes that the nation begin by saving five million barrels a day, and progress to saving 10 million barrels a day in 20 years.
Lieberman said he is also actively trying to reduce greenhouse emissions to levels of the year 2000 by the year 2010 through the Climate Stewardship Innovation Act, along with Republican Sen. John McCain.
“Although [this act] is not as ambitious as Kyoto, by joining the climate fight the U.S. may persuade other high-emitting countries to take action as well,” Lieberman said. “Senator McCain and I will keep trying until this becomes law. It is not a question of if but of when.”
Lieberman said he is confident that the global community will develop ways to mitigate global warming.
“Our future can be as insecure as our timidity or as strong and bold as our resolve,” he said. “I see within our reach skylines lit with clean power and automobiles leaving clean or little emissions behind them.”
During a question and answer session, an audience member prompted Lieberman to introduce religion into the global warming equation.
“I consider the fight against global warming to be a faith-based initiative, if you believe as I do that God created the heavens and the earth,” Lieberman said.
Though Lieberman’s comment about the fight against global warming’s being faith-based was met with groans from the audience, many who listened to his address said they enjoyed it nonetheless.
“It’s always heartening to listen to a politician who clearly cares about the environment, but it’s frustrating because, as [Lieberman] realizes, it is a battle to get environmental legislation passed,” Amanda Sahl FES ’07 said.
Haynie Wheeler, associate director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization and one of the conference facilitators, said she found Lieberman’s talk encouraging.
But not all audience members were so generous with their praise of Lieberman’s speech. Conference participant and MIT professor of meteorology Richard Lindzen said that he felt Lieberman’s grasp of the matter was less than impressive.
“I don’t think [Lieberman] understood the issue,” Lindzen said. “He was continually confusing energy policy with climate policy.”
Conference facilitator Xizhou Zhou ’05 FES ’06 said he thought Lieberman’s talk was optimistic, especially coming from a senator whose bill on this issue had just been rejected. Zhou said he was also impressed with the way Lieberman addressed religion in his talk.
“This is a very new development between the environmental and faith-based communities,” Zhou said. “There is a lot of potential in an alliance between these groups usually on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and it was a good thing for Lieberman to say when our country is so polarized.”