I thank all of you for joining me here in Glacier National Park -- one of the greatest glories of Americas park system. The rich landscape we see all around us -- the deep valleys and dramatic summits -- date back more than a billion years, when Ice Age glaciers cut through this terrain, shaping and sculpting what is now one of the largest wild areas in the United States.
Its easy to understand why Glacier means so much to the families that come here. It is a land that seems almost untouched by time, undamaged by mans heavy hand. To look out on Glaciers alpine beauty is to want to preserve it and protect it -- for our children, and for our childrens children.
Thats a responsibility President Clinton and I have taken very seriously -- not just here in Glacier, but in all of Americas special places. Thats why we prevented oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Thats why we preserved 1.7 million precious acres in Utah by creating the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument. Thats why we protected 1.4 million acres of the unique California desert. Thats why were restoring the Florida Everglades. Thats why were protecting Yellowstone National Park from the dangers of mining on its borders. Thats why were putting record resources into our parks and rivers and wilderness preserves. To President Clinton and me, preserving Americas special places isnt just good public policy -- its a moral obligation.
I have come here today because Glacier National Park faces a grave threat to its heritage -- and its one that cant be met with a simple local restoration plan. The 50 glaciers in this park -- which date back to the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago -- are melting away at an alarming rate. Over the last century, we have lost nearly three-quarters of all the glaciers in this park. Grinnell Glacier has retreated by over 3,100 feet. If this trend continues, in about thirty years, there wont be any glaciers left at all. To borrow a phrase from a well-known pop musician, this could become be the Park Formerly Known as Glacier.
Whats happening at Glacier National Park is part of a global pattern. Glaciers are retreating worldwide. This is strong evidence of global warming over the past century -- the disruption of our climate because of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, all over the world. The overwhelming evidence shows that global warming is no longer a theory -- its a reality. Greenhouse gases keep rising at record rates. The last few decades have been the warmest of this century -- and the ten warmest years in this century have all occurred since 1980. More than 2,000 scientists from all over the world on a special panel on climate change found that the evidence shows, and I quote, "a discernable human influence on global climate."
If we stay on our present course, scientists predict that average global temperatures will rise by 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit in the next century. That may not sound like much. But keep in mind that the difference in temperature between today and the last ice age, when all the glaciers in this park were formed, is only about nine degrees Fahrenheit. Thats why, if we fail to act, scientists believe the human impact of global warming will be severe:
Infectious diseases could spread, affecting families and children in regions that had been too cold for tropical viruses to survive. Farmers and rural communities could be in jeopardy, since farms depend on a stable climate to be productive. Back in 1988, when we faced both record temperatures and droughts, the United States lost a third of its grain supply. We could face greater floods, droughts, and heat waves. Some see the unusually severe flooding in the Midwest, the Dakotas, and around the country -- those "hundred-year floods" that seem to be happening every couple of years now -- as early evidence of this.
As we see here at Glacier, the impact on our natural heritage and special places could be just as strong.
Our seas could rise by one to three feet, flooding thousands of miles of Florida, Louisiana, and other coastal areas. A sea level rise of just one foot could place a third of the Florida Everglades completely underwater; it would also threaten our coral reefs, and endanger the countless varieties of fish that live in them. With warmer temperatures, we could lose important parts of our forests. Some have predicted that the Northeast could lose all of its sugar maples; and in New Hampshires White Mountains, the fall foliage would lose its vibrant colors.
Scientists arent the only ones who are concerned. The President of the Reinsurance Association of America, Frank Nutter, says that significant, perhaps permanent changes in our climate could bankrupt the insurance industry in years to come. Strong words from an industry thats all about calculating risk. This spring, John Browne, the CEO of British Petroleum, the largest oil producer in the U.S., acknowledged that, and I quote, "If we are all to take responsibility for the future of our planet, then it falls to us to begin to take precautionary action now."
My purpose today is not to be alarmist -- nor is it to say that we need radical changes in the way we live and work. But its time to face the facts: Global warming is real. We helped to cause it -- and by taking reasonable, common-sense steps, we can help to reduce it.
What we need is an approach that is prudent and balanced. On one hand, we must recognize that energy consumption has led to enormous increases in our standard of living throughout this century, and we want to continue those increases. On the other hand, we see all around us today glaciers that have survived for 10,000 years, now facing the prospect of melting away in a single century. Weve seen people struck by severe heat waves -- more than 400 lives lost in Chicago just two years ago -- and many others who have lost homes, jobs, even their lives to increasingly heavy storms.
We need to understand our role in climate change -- and we need to act to address it.
Thanks to President Clinton, were already working to develop new energy technologies, to shrink greenhouse emissions in ways that will continue prosperity. Let me give you just a few examples:
First of all, after a decade of declining budgets, President Clinton is working to restore our commitment to the Energy Departments research into renewable energy and energy efficiency.
We need help from Congress to do that. If we really want to move forward in this area, and capture these new energy markets for America -- if we want to keep up with nations like Germany and Japan, which are already establishing an edge in these technologies -- Congress has to join us in meeting the challenge.
We're working with the auto industry through our Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles -- to try to triple the fuel efficiency of cars with no loss in comfort, safety or cost. Were working with the building industry through our Partnership for Advancing Technologies in Housing, to make homes cheaper, more energy-efficient, and more environmentally-friendly.
But we know that Americas efforts alone will never be good enough. Because winds circle the earth within a few weeks, greenhouse gases dont respect national borders. Any real solution to global warming must be an international solution -- including developing nations as well as industrialized ones.
This December, when the nations of the world meet in Kyoto, Japan on this issue, the United States will work to achieve realistic, binding limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases.
We will emphasize approaches that are flexible and market-based, to give industry the opportunity to develop the most cost-effective solutions.
We will continue our efforts in research and development. We will work with industry, with environmental groups, with all who share a stake in this problem here at home. And we will ask all nations, developed and developing, to join with us to meet this challenge.
We dont have all the answers today. But we know we must reverse the trend of global warming. We must safeguard our precious natural resources, and put a premium on public health and safety.
Thirty years from now, I want my grandchildren to live in a world that is safer from disease, freer from droughts and floods, able to grow the food they need for their children and families.
But just as importantly, I want them to understand that God created only one earth -- and that its parks and forests and wilderness preserves can never be replicated. Our responsibility to this land is one of the most profound and sacred responsibilities we have. It is really a responsibility to each other -- and to future generations.
Ultimately, thats why we came here today, to the very Crown of this Continent. Weve got to start facing up to that responsibility -- not just for the sake of these glaciers that are melting before our very eyes, but for the sake of our children. Here in the shadow of these glorious mountains, let us resolve to make that start -- let us protect this land for its rightful inheritors -- and let us fulfill our obligation to the millions of families who have yet to enjoy it.