Whitehouse delivers final climate speech
WASHINGTON — After nine years of shining a spotlight on climate change, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse delivered his final “Time to Wake Up” speech on Wednesday, timing his last trip to the podium with the signing of a package of executive orders on the climate by President Joseph R. Biden.
In his 279th speech, the Rhode Island Democrat said it was time to bring the near-weekly speeches to an end now that a president is in power who supports climate action and both chambers of Congress are controlled by Democrats.
"The conditions are at last — at last — in place for a real solution. A new dawn is breaking, and when it’s dawn there’s no need for my little candle against the darkness,” Whitehouse said. “So instead of urging that it’s time to wake up, I close this long run by saying now it’s time to get to work.”
Whitehouse delivered the first speech on April 18, 2012, three years after the House had passed a climate bill that the Senate refused to take up for consideration and after subsequent efforts to take action went nowhere.
“The reason I came to speak on the floor right now is to talk about an issue that many in Washington would prefer to ignore,” he said that day.
He has returned to the floor most weeks that the Senate has been in session since then, accompanied by an increasingly battered green posterboard showing an image of the Earth next to the words “TIME TO WAKE UP.”
The speeches have covered such diverse topics as sea level rise, warming oceans, wildfires and melting glaciers, and have often given special attention to impacts being felt in the Ocean State.
In 2014, he led 30 senators in an all-night session to warn of the dangers of climate change. Over 15 hours, they offered stories about the threat of rising seas and other climate-related impacts and highlighted the efforts of fossil fuel interests to block meaningful action.
His speech on Wednesday followed Biden’s signing of orders pausing all new oil and gas drilling leases in federal waters and public lands, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and making climate change a core part of foreign policy and national security.
Whitehouse was wide-ranging in his criticism in his final turn at the lectern, taking aim at Democrats and Republicans, Presidents Obama and Trump, oil and gas companies and the wider corporate world. But he expressed new hope in the prospects of bipartisan legislation on the climate.
“I’m going to trust we bring more spirit and determination to the climate crisis this time, and President Biden has promised that we will,” he said.
As he finished, he dropped his green posterboard to the floor.
Sen. James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma — famous for once bringing a snowball onto the Senate floor to argue that global warming was exaggerated — congratulated Whitehouse “on the commitment to your cause.”
Sen. Edward Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who has helped lead the push for a Green New Deal, likened Whitehouse’s long string of speeches to streaks by baseball players Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken Jr. and called Whitehouse a “climate change hall-of-famer.”
A 2013 story in The Journal asked whether Whitehouse would be able to sway the rest of Congress on taking climate action.
Now, after beseeching his colleagues hundreds of times to wake up, Whitehouse believes that he’s closer to that goal than he’s ever been.
By: Alex Kuffner
Source: Providence Journal
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