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Time to Wake Up: GOP Opposition to Climate Science

As Prepared for Delivery on the Senate Floor

Mr./Madam President, every week we’re here I try to remind this body of the damage that carbon pollution is doing to our atmosphere and oceans, try to awaken us to our duty.  I’ve done it thirty-three times now.  I’ve tried to kick out the underpinnings of any argument the deniers could stand on. 

I’ve kicked out the scientific denial argument, which properly belongs in the category of falsehood.  I’ve kicked out the economic denial argument, pointing out that in a proper market the costs of carbon must be in the price of carbon.  I tried to kick out the religious denial argument, showing that the belief that God will just tidy up after us however stupidly we behave runs counter to history and Biblical text. 

Today, let’s take a crack at the political argument.  How wise is it for the Republican Party to wed itself to the deniers and proclaim that climate change is a hoax?

Make no mistake.  That is the default Republican position.  The default Republican position is that climate change is a hoax.  It’s been said right on this floor, and in committees, and I haven’t seen a single Republican Senator stand up afterwards in this chamber to say, “Wait a minute, that’s actually not the case.”

The chamber looks empty, but on C-SPAN lots of people are watching.  Lots of Republicans are watching.  Yet not one Republican has ever gotten back to me, even quietly on the side, to say, “You know what?  This is really getting serious.  Let’s see if we can work on this.” 

An iron curtain of denial has fallen around the Republican Party.  So let me respectfully ask my Republican colleagues:  what are you thinking?  How do you imagine this ends? 

More than 95 percent of climate scientists are convinced that human carbon pollution is causing massive and unprecedented change to our atmosphere and oceans. You want to go with the five percent, and you think that’s a winning strategy?

Moreover, it turns out a lot of those five-percenters are on the payroll of the polluters.  You know that.  It’s public knowledge.  Some of those “payroll scientists” are the same people who denied acid rain, or the dangers of tobacco.

You still like those odds?  Those are the folks to whom you want to hitch your Republican wagons?  You’ve got to know that they aren’t telling the truth.  So where does this go?  What’s your end game?

Our planet has had a run of at least 800,000 years with levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between 170 and 300 ppm.  That’s measurement; not theory.   Eight hundred thousand years.  Homo sapiens have only been around for about 200,000 years, so that 800,000 years—8,000 centuries—takes you back a ways.  Eight hundred thousand years between 170 and 300 ppm, and in just the last 50 years we’ve blown out of that range, and have now hit 400 ppm and climbing. 

And you want to be on the side of “nothing’s going on”?  Really?

Have you noticed the floods and wildfires and droughts and superstorms and tornadoes and blizzards and temperature records?  Have you noticed those warming, rising seas?  Have you noticed species invading new territory, and miles of dead pine forests in the Rockies, and Arctic sea ice disappearing?

Do you understand that carbon in the atmosphere gets absorbed by the sea, and that that is a law of science and is not debatable?  Do you understand that because they are absorbing the carbon the oceans are getting more acidic?  Thirty percent more acidic already and climbing?  Do you understand that's a measurement, not a theory?

It’s one thing to be the party that stands against science.  Are you really also going to be the party that stands against measurement? 

And do you know the measurement is showing that the ocean are not just becoming more acidic, they’re becoming more acidic at the fastest rate recorded in a geologic record of 50 million years?

Have you not heard about the coral reefs, those incubators of the ocean, bleaching out and dying off?  With almost twenty percent gone already worldwide?

If you’re a denier, look around.  Do you think the news is getting better for you? 

Let me ask my Republican friends, what’s your best bet on whether this climate and oceans problem gets better or worse in the next 20 or 40 years?  Seriously.  Your party’s reputation is on the line here—all the chips; tell me how you’re going to bet.  Do you want to bet the reputation of the Republican Party that suddenly this is all going to magically start getting better?  ‘Cause that’s what you’re doing.

And let me ask you this: what are the young people of today going to think when they are thirty-seven, or fifty-seven, and it really is worse, maybe a lot worse?  What are they going to think about the Republican Party then?  That you took the five percent bet with their futures?  That you went with the polluters over the scientists? 

Young people are already out there asking their universities to divest from coal, like they divested from the evils of apartheid and the dangers of tobacco.  Good luck with that youth vote when you lock in with the coal merchants. 

And the youth vote grows up and sticks around.

How’s it going to look for the Republican Party when the historical record shows—because facts have a funny way of coming out—that the campaign to fool the public on climate change was just as phony and dishonest as the campaign to fool the public on acid rain and the campaign to fool the public on tobacco?  When the historical record discloses that the five percent wasn’t even real and was actually a scam, paid for by the polluters? 

And you, with young Americans’ futures in the balance, took sides with the scam.  If that is the state of play for young voters as they come of age, why would those young people ever trust the Republican Party, on anything else, ever again?

Speaking of taking sides, have you noticed who’s left on your side?  The Koch brothers—billionaire polluters;  the big oil companies -- the biggest polluters in the world;  the coal barons—with their legacy of pollution, strip mining, “mountaintop removal,” and safety violations that kill their miners.  There’s a fine cast to be surrounded by.

But wait, you say, there’s more.  There’s the Heartland Institute, and the Institute for Energy Research, and the American Enterprise Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Council; and the Heritage Foundation.  There are many organizations. 

Right.  Like the heads of Hydra, they may look like many, but in reality it’s all the same beast.  It’s all the same scheme.  It’s all the same money behind the scheme.  You can name those front organizations, and many more, but none of it is real.  They’re all just part of the same cheesy vaudeville show put on by the big polluters. 

Do you really want to lash yourself to that operation, and go down with that ship?  The great Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, branding itself as the one that gave it all to protect a gang of scheming polluters?  That’s where you’re headed.

Look who’s on the other side, on record, against you, seeing through that nonsense.  How about the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our military leaders?  How about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?  How about NASA?  NASA’s driving a vehicle as big as an SUV around on the surface of Mars right now.  They sent it there, to Mars; they landed it safely, and now they’re driving it around.  On Mars.  Do you think those scientists just might know what they’re talking about? 

How about every legitimate American scientific professional society -- about thirty of them?  How about major American corporations like Walmart, Ford, Apple, or Coca-Cola?  How about global insurance and reinsurance businesses, like Lloyd’s of London and Munich Re, whose business depends on accurate risk models? 

Whose side do you like in that? 

In this corner, the Joint Chiefs, the bishops, Walmart, Ford, Apple, Coke, NASA, thirty top scientific organizations, the top insurers and reinsurers, and by the way several thousand legitimate others. 

In that corner, the polluting industry and a screen of sketchy organizations they fund. 

Let’s be serious.  Do you really want to bet the reputation of the Republican Party that the polluters are the ones we should count on here?   ‘Cause that’s what you’re doing.

And for what?  To protect market share for the polluters.  That’s your upside.  Market share for polluters. 

I’m willing to do a carbon pollution fee that sets the market in balance, and returns every single dollar to the American people.  No new agencies.  No new taxes.  No bigger government.  Every dollar back.  Just a balanced market, with the costs included in the price, which will make better energy choices, increase jobs, and prevent pollution.  Yes, that does mean less market share for the polluters as new technologies emerge.  That’s actually the point.  But every single dollar back in Americans’ pockets.

And by the way, the American people -- three-quarters of them believe that climate change is real and that we need to do something about it. 

So you may have a question for me:  why do you care?  Why do you, Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, care if we Republicans run off the climate cliff like a bunch of proverbial lemmings, and disgrace ourselves? 

I’ll tell you why.  We’re stuck in this together.  When cyclones tear up Oklahoma, and hurricanes swamp Alabama, and wildfires scorch Texas, you come to us, for billions of dollars to recover. 

And the damage your polluters and deniers are doing doesn’t just hit Oklahoma and Alabama and Texas; it hits Rhode Island with floods and storms, and Oregon with acidified seas, and Montana with dying forests.  So like it or not, we’re in this together. 

You drag America with you to your fate. 

I want this future: a Republican Party that has returned to its senses, and is a strong and worthy adversary; in a strong America, that has done right by its people and the world.  That’s what I want.

I don't want this future:  a Republican Party disgraced, that let its extremists run it off the cliff; in an America suffering from grave economic and environmental and diplomatic damage, because we didn’t wake up and do our duty to our people, and lead the world. 

I do not want that future.  But that’s where you’re headed. 

So I’ll keep reaching out and calling out, ever hopeful that you will wake up, before it is too late, both for you, and for the rest of us.

I yield the floor.