Senators visit Greenland to assess climate change


WASHINGTON – Leading a bipartisan delegation of 10 colleagues to Greenland, Sen. Barbara Boxer said Saturday she saw firsthand the effects of global warming and received a plea from the country’s officials to do something to change it.

“I think everyone who has seen this is changed,” Boxer, D-Calif., said in a telephone interview from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. “Imagine flying in a helicopter and seeing this massive glacier that’s five miles wide and 500 miles long . . . following it as it’s crashing into the sea.” The glacier they flew over is the fastest moving one in the world, she said.

Boxer said the glacier she saw Saturday morning spanned the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco. “It’s moving and it’s melting and every single day, 24 hours a day, 20 million tons of ice comes off that glacier and streams into the ocean.”

Boxer has made getting a global warming bill to the Senate floor her top priority as chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. So far, mostly Democrats have signed on to the half dozen or so climate change bills that have been introduced. But several Republicans, most notably Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and John McCain, R-Ariz., are either working on bills or are co-sponsors of legislation.

At issue for the Senate is whether to cap greenhouse gas emissions and, if so, whether to set limits across the board on all industry sectors or target such limits. Opponents of Boxer’s view, that an economy-wide solution is needed, dispute how much human factors have influenced the change in the planet’s climate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week if Boxer’s committee sends a bill to the floor he will find time to debate it this fall. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has established a special committee to tackle the global warming issue.

Boxer said she invited Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the Senate’s most vocal critic of a global warming bill, but he declined to attend, although he did send a member of his staff on the trip.

The small town they are visiting, she said, is mostly a fishing community. Besides taking the helicopter trip over the Kangia Ice Fjord, Boxer’s group has met with scientists and environmental officials from Greenland and Denmark. Sunday they will take a boat tour of Disco Bay and get a close-up view of some of what they saw from the air Saturday.

At Saturday breakfast meeting, Arkalo Abelsen, Greenland’s environmental minister, read a letter he hand-delivered to the group about what he says have been the effects of climate change on his native country.

Abelsen told the senators that when he was a child, the sea ice closed Disco Bay from December to the end of May. Now, he said, the sea ice forms in March and disappears a few weeks later.

“I can inform you,” Abelsen’s letter says,” that we have had to give permission to kill polar bears and polar bears with cubs because they have wandered into towns and villages to seek food because they cannot hunt on the sea ice … A man-made problem should have a man-made solution.”

Boxer said she decided to organize this weekend trip to Greenland so she and other senators could better understand the information they have received from sources such as scientists, reports and former Vice President Al Gore’s movie.

Boxer said she hopes the other senators will go back to Washington next week and help her describe to colleagues what is going on in Greenland and why action must be taken soon.

“From this trip you get the sense of urgency,” she added.

The other senators on the trip include Democrats Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin of Maryland, Bill Nelson of Florida, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island; Republicans Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Independent Bernie Sanders from Vermont.

While all the Democrats on the trip, as well as Sanders, are either sponsors or co-sponsors of climate change legislation, neither Isakson nor Corker have yet to sign on to any of the major bills.