09/30/2013 10:48 am ET Updated Nov 30, 2013

The Planet's Budget Crisis

As Congress focused on the federal budget and avoiding a possible government shutdown on Friday, the world's leading climate scientists warned of another budget crisis. In its fifth comprehensive report on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that we have almost maxed out our carbon budget by burning fossil fuels and dumping carbon pollution into the ocean and atmosphere.

What is a carbon budget? There is a limit to the amount of fossil fuel we can burn before enough carbon pollution pushes our climate past a dangerous tipping point.

Like any budget, the carbon budget is finite. At our current pace, we have about 15 years left before we'd have to stop burning fossil fuels altogether to avoid dangerous consequences. The IPCC report is an urgent warning to the world that time is running out to save the planet from perilous climate change. Now it is time for Congress to listen and re-engage on this critical issue.

The scientists have spoken clearly. Decades of their observations and research confirm the basic chemistry and physics of dumping carbon pollution into our atmosphere and ocean. Our actions are changing the planet and harming people.

We're seeing the impacts of climate change all over our planet. The last three decades have been the hottest since the Industrial Revolution, and likely the warmest in the last 1,400 years. Arctic sea ice and glaciers are melting, and there will be even greater sea level rise this century than what we've seen over the last 40 years. Extreme rainstorms and wildfires are increasing in the United States. The oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, driving fisheries north and threatening environmentally and economically critical species, such as oysters and lobster.

Climate change deniers in Congress have run out of excuses to support action. If senators truly followed the science in this report, we'd have more than 95 votes for action to match the more than 95 percent certainty that we are altering our planet for the worse.

I remain optimistic that the opportunities to create jobs through energy efficiency and clean energy will ultimately outweigh the anti-science attitudes of some of my colleagues. That's why I will soon be introducing legislation to create a national renewable electricity standard and a national energy efficiency standard.

In the meantime, the measures undertaken by the Obama administration to cut carbon pollution from new cars, trucks, and power plants will demonstrate that America can still lead on climate change. And I will be fighting to turn back any attacks that Republicans bring to the Senate floor to try to stop the President's Climate Action Plan.

We cannot afford a government shutdown and we cannot afford a climatic meltdown. We must not consign our children to a world of fire, flood, and drought by ignoring our carbon budget. The Senate passed a continuing resolution on the budget on Friday -- let's do the same for the planet.