Mr. President, 38 years ago this week Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, a good friend of many of our colleagues who are still here, came onto the senate floor with a novel idea. He proposed one day each year to honor our planet, an occasion to rededicate ourselves to stewardship of the earth and the fight against pollution. He called this idea earth day. When Senator Nelson proposed the first earth day in 1970, our country’s environmental outlook was grim. Smog choked the air of Los Angeles, New York, and other great American cities. Many communities dumped raw sewage and untreated industrial waste in our greatest rivers, including the Mississippi and the Illinois and the Hudson. Polluted air and foul water weren't the only challenges troubling our country. We had endured a series of tragic assassinations of great leaders. We were torn over our war in Vietnam. We had seen civil rights riots -- riots and antiwar demonstrations from our streets. The nation was losing its self-confidence for which Americans were known. But Gaylord Nelson was an optimist. He believed that we could attack at least one of our country's problems and that was the problem of pollution.
And with the commitment from our people and leadership from our government we could clean up rivers and lakes and the air we breathe. He was right. Since 1970, when congress passed the clean air act, we have greatly cut the amount of noxious substance in the air with emissions of carbon monoxide down and lead is down 90%.
Since 1972 when the first clean water legislation passed, we have set high standards for water cleanliness and given our cities and towns resources they need to stop dumping untreated waste. Our great rivers -- Mississippi, Ohio, Hudson -- are healthier today than 30 years ago. Now, this doesn't mean we don't have challenges with the clean water and the clean air act. as a member of the environment and public works committee I know some of the problems we've seen with this administration in terms of rollbacks of some of the great strides but nevertheless we all know that things have improved with the Clean Water Act, Clean Air, since Gaylord Nelson declared "Earth Day."
On Earth Day 2008, however, we confront a new environmental challenge. It is a challenge of equal and, perhaps, greater magnitude. I’m talking here about global climate change. For several years our country had a debate over whether climate change was real or some sort of hoax perpetuated by doom sayers. Mr. President, that debate is over. There is now an undeniable scientific consensus that the earth is warming. Study after study demonstrates global warming is real and that it is affecting us now. Early last year the intergovernmental panel on climate change issued the latest report on the science of climate change. This report was produced by some 600 authors from 40 countries. Over 620 expert reviewers and a large number of government reviewers also participated. This is a very cautious group of scientists with a conservative process for meticulously reviewing the evidence and reaching their conclusions through consensus and they concluded that changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent. Last November, the IPCC issued a follow-up report concluding that, "warming of the climate system is unequivocal." based on observations of increases in global.
Air and ocean temperatures and that evidence from every continental shows dramatic changes in physical and biological systems including melting of the perma-frost, rising water temperatures and changes in the habitat range of migratory animals. How did this come about?
Certain times of impasses, most -- certain times of gases including meth aid and nitrous oxide absorb or trap the sun's heat as it bounces off the earth's surface. The problem is that carbon dioxide doesn't dissipate quickly. It stays in the atmosphere for five decades or more causing earth's temperatures to rise. this means that most of the carbon dioxide produced in the 1950's, the 1960's, the 1970's, and the 1980's -- as I look at our pages, many of them were not even born with this carbon dioxide was released -- this is still in our atmosphere today. It means that carbon dioxide produced today will still be in the atmosphere in 2050 and beyond. All of that carbon dioxide has been trapping heat in our atmosphere. Over time, it makes global temperatures rise. In turn, sea levels rise, both because of water expands as the oceans warm and melting glaciers add more water.
Global warming is real with enormous consequences for our world and for our economy. for example, and later is a chart we have that shows the rising temperatures, 2006 was the hottest year ever in this country capping a nine-year streak unprecedented in the historical record. The winter of 2006 was the warmest on record worldwide. Almost every state in our country was seeing higher temperatures. So you can see what we have here with the coldest being one, the warmest being 112, and you can see for several of the states it was the record warmest. For most of the states, it was much above normal as in the president's state, the presiding officer's state of New Jersey. Maybe you remember the year of 2006. It wasn't that long ago. You can see how hot it truly was when you look at it from a world-wide perspective. This doesn't mean you will have a year here and there that won't be normal but when you look at the trend, the actual trend over the last decade, you see an increasing warming temperature. World-wide -- worldwide, glaciers are melting.
A few months ago it was reported that glaciers in the Alps will be gone by 20350. Experts believe within 20 years there will not be a single glacier left in glacier national park. So if people are planning a vacation to visit glacier national park to see the glaciers, they better do it soon because experts predict in 25 years there won't be any left. Globally, sea levels have risen 4" to 10" over the past century. The frequency of extremely heavy rain falls has increased throughout much of the United States. The impact is especially dire in Greenland and the arctic region. The temperature changes there have been the greatest resulting in widespread melting of glaciers thinning of the polar ice cap and rising permafrost temperatures. You can see in our picture that since 1979 more than 20% of the polar ice cap has melted away. So, there’s the North Pole. You can see the arctic sea boundary we had in 1979 and now we have had 20% melting of this ice cap. I saw this firsthand, Mr. President, when I visited Greenland last summer with my colleagues on the Environment and Public Works Committee. Greenland has been called the canary in the coal mine. There are drastic changes. There are more sled dogs but we talked to local residents who said they can remember the days when there was ice in their front yard and now they are growing potatoes. Other changes like the recent increase in the severity of hurricanes and other extreme or destructive weather events are consistent with the kinds of changes scientists expects to occur on a warming planet. They are early indicators of more dramatic climate shifts and economic changes that await us if we don't reduce greenhouse gas emissions and attack the problem of global warming. So here we have related economic losses. These are, of course, from increased storms, wildfires. We all remember well the wildfires in California. I remember this well because during the same time the wildfires were raging in California we had a hearing in our environment and public works committee where they had the commission on disease control testifying -- a commissioner testifying and we noticed when we looked at the written testimony it was chopped up. It turned out it had been the parts that were edited out were the effect on disease and mortality rates and there is a part edited saying it would lead to more wildfires in the western states as the wildfires were raging in California. These are economic losses weather-related in this country. Of course, I am sure we will see more now.
We have had fires in Minnesota. We have had floods in Minnesota. And the people of our state are starting to see this in a very different way. In our state, one economic loss that isn't one of these, such as hurricanes or fires, is the decreasing levels of Lake Superior. That will be surprising to people who think, well, the sea levels are rising because -- Greenland ice sheet is melting so why the lakes -- great lakes -- would be getting a lower level. Well, the water is evaporating and Lake Superior is the lowest level in 80 years. So you may think lake super is so cold no one can go swimming anyway, who cares? It affects our economy in Minnesota because the barges are not able to come in. We have shipped something like 300 tons less -- that is by memory and we will correct the record if I’m wrong -- 300 tons less of traffic in because the barges cannot carry as much because the water logical of Lake Superior is so low. This is, truly, by that example an issue that has moved out of the science labs and the classrooms and the seminar rooms and entered the everyday conversations of people in my state. I hear it from hunters across Minnesota who notices our valuable wetlands changing. I heard it from the head of the snowmobile association who testified at a forum I had with our governor on climate change in January because they have seen decreasing snow levels. I hear about it from ice fishermen because they have seen it takes longer for the ice to freeze and they can't put their fish out as early.
Yesterday, "USA Today" had a story the shrinking number of moose in northern Minnesota. It is believed global warming is affecting their habitat and making them more vulnerable to parasites and there has been an incredible reduction in the number of moose. This is how real people in the reeled world are talking about this now -- real world are talking about this now. They are worried about the consequences on all of us, on our planet, our children and grandchildren. How will we respond in Washington? I will give a talk on this every single week, Mr. President, up to our debate on this bill in June and I figure a good day to start is with "earth day."
To summarize and we will go in more detail in floor remarks, how will Washington respond in December, the Environment and Public Works Committee approved a landmark, bipartisan bill, to get our country moving in the fight against climate change? I think -- against climate change. I thank Senator Boxer, the chair for her leadership in developing this bill and moving this bill through the committee. This legislation is visionary but it is also practical. The bill would, for the first time, set mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions on greenhouse impasse emissions. It -- gas emissions and establish a cap-and-trade system to reduce pollution in the most efficient way possible. I can tell you we have learned from expense. We did this with acid rain. And it was very successful. We have learned what the EU did that was good and what was bad. We can learn from that response and do a better job in this country if we can get this right. This legislation in its first title also contains my proposal, the bill I introduced with Senator Snowe, for carbon counter, a national greenhouse gas registry. You cannot fix a problem if you cannot measure it. We have 33 states off on their own starting a climate registry showing how absurd the situation is because they want to act. They are hearing from the people of their states and they know they cannot wait so they have started their own climate registry instead of, of course, a federal climate registry which makes sense. That is the first title of this bill. In a few weeks we are going to bring the Lieberman-Warner bill to the floor and we will have a chance to take a historic step on behalf of our country. In fact, on behalf of the entire world.
As we prepare to consider this important legislation there is something else we need to remember: global warming is, of course, a huge challenge, but it also presents opportunities for our country. It gives us the opportunity to develop new technologies, new jobs, and new industries. It gives us the opportunity to reduce our dependence on foreign oil which just hit another record of $117 per barrel this week. It gives us an opportunity to provide consumers new, cheaper, alternatives to fossil fuels. Whether it’s electric car, a hybrid car, whether it is looking at what Brazil did with sugarcane so they are not dependent on foreign oil -- we do not have enough sugarcane but there are things we can do with switch grass and prairie grass but we have to set the standards as a government so we can encourage that kind of in development. We’re not doing -- that kind of investment.
We're going to have to have a number of proposals and alternatives but we have to get moving by setting the standards. Mr. President, this is an opportunity that we must seize now and I’m proud to celebrate earth day today, to join with my colleagues and millions of Americans in honoring our planet. But in the decade since Gaylord nelson sponsored the first earth day, the occasion is often turned into a symbolic event, a day for teach-ins at our schools and rallies at our state capitol. I’ve participated in them myself. But today, 38 years after its inception, we have the opportunity to return to the original spirit of earth day and celebrate the occasion with action, the action of investing in the farmers and the workers of this country instead of the oil cartels of the Mideast. The action of final doing something to set that investment in place so that we can develop the next generation of new technology, just like we did -- we said we’re going to put a man on the -- we were going to put a man on the moon. It was great to put a man on the moon and beat Russia. But look at what came out of that, the CAT scan, and infrared technology. I remember my family going on camping trips with the little chocolate space sticks that came out of that trip to the moon. Hundreds and hundreds of new technological developments because our nation put its mind on one goal. This is another time to take action. We will have a chance to pass this climate change legislation that is forward looking, that is bipartisan and that is pragmatic. We will have the chance to answer the call of the people in this country. The little kids with the penguin buttons with those hunters in Minnesota that see the changes to the wetlands. They understand the urgency of this issue. We will have a chance to regain world leadership on the most pressing environmental challenge of our day. We will have a chance to take our place in a great tradition of environmental stewardship in the senate and to renew the promise that Americans made on the first earth day 38 years ago.