February 2, 2015

Time to Wake Up: Conflicting Voices from Oklahoma

As delivered on the Senate floor

Thank you, Mr. President. I am here now for the eighty-eighth time to urge this body to wake up to the looming threat of climate change. 

In the last few weeks, my Republican colleagues have talked about climate change here on the floor more than at any other time since I began giving these weekly speeches.  We’d heard next to nothing from Republicans about climate change since the 2010 Citizens United decision.  That decision let loose the fossil fuel industry to cast an even darker shadow of intimidation across this town.  So this minor outbreak of dialogue, although minor, has been significant. 

All but one of my Republican colleagues are now on the record saying they agree that climate change is real, and fifteen voted that it’s caused at least in part by humans.  That’s some progress.

Yet some still persist in their denial.  Our scientists now tell us that warming of the climate system is “unequivocal.”  Yet we equivocate.  Scientists are a careful bunch.  When they something is “unequivocal,” we ought to take note. 

The senior Senator from Oklahoma, our chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, however, maintains that human-caused climate change is a hoax.  He thinks it is arrogant to say that humans could cause the climate to change.

What’s really arrogant is, Mr. President, thinking we can ignore the laws of nature—the laws of physics, the laws of chemistry, the laws of biology.  Whose laws do we think those are?  Those laws were given to us by our Creator.  They came with this world.  They are immutable.  These laws of nature dictate that carbon dioxide is the byproduct of our burning of fossil fuels.  These laws of nature, fresh from the hands of our Creator, explain why that carbon traps heat in our atmosphere, something we have known since Abraham Lincoln has been riding around in his top hat.   Here in the Senate, we have no power to amend or repeal those laws.  

And we shouldn’t, here in this Senate, cherry-pick from the scientific record. That’s not fair play.  Here on the floor, the EPW Chairman paraphrased a 2013 paper from the journal Nature, saying, this is his quote, “there is considerable uncertainty as to whether [increases in extreme climate variability] is occurring.” 

The author of the paper, Dr. Chris Huntingford of the UK’s National Environmental Research Council, took exception to his paper being thus mischaracterized:

Our Nature paper strictly analyzes only year-to-year variability (fluctuations) in temperature. . . . We do not at any point offer evidence against a general on-going background and upwards warming trend.  Detection and attribution statistical studies show that the observed average increasing temperatures are almost certainly a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels.

In that same floor speech, my colleague from Oklahoma suggested we could relax about climate change because the Munich Reinsurance Company said weather-related disaster losses have declined as a proportion of GDP worldwide.  He neglected to mention testimony before the EPW Committee last July by Munich Re’s Head of Risk Accumulation in the United States, Carl Hedde.  To wit, and I’ll quote him:

Due to our history of insuring natural catastrophe, Munich Re was one of the first companies in the industry to recognize the impact that weather-related events and a changing climate could have on its business model and customers, As a nation, we need to take steps to reduce the societal impact of weather events as we see greater variability and volatility in our climate.

The senior Senator from Oklahoma even resurrected the ghost of “Climategate,” a faux scandal whipped up a few years ago by the polluters and their allies to suggest climate scientists were colluding to exaggerate global warming data.  Turned out, it was the cooked-up, phony scandal that was exaggerated, and not the data.  So-called ClimateGate should actually accurately be called ClimateGateGate.  Yet years later, this zombie falsehood still staggers the floor of the Senate attempting to cast doubt on human-caused climate change. 

The polluters have made it their business to misconstrue the findings of scientific works, and to cling to discredited accusations.

We would do well to listen to the overwhelming majority of practicing, publishing climate scientists who agree that our carbon pollution is altering the climate; scientists who conduct experiments, who examine data, who arrive at conclusions, who submit their work through peer review, and who make data accessible for due diligence by other researchers.  It’s the best science out there.

But I’m afraid that science doesn’t have the ear of the senior Senator from Oklahoma.  He showed us who he listens to.  He brought a chart here to floor showing several dozen “recognized scientists,” as he called them, who don’t buy the climate consensus.  That chart was produced an outfit, called The Heartland Institute.  You may remember them for associating climate scientists with the Unabomber–a classy group.

Well their scientists, so called,   included bloggers, columnists, staff of conservative think tanks, a member of the European parliament, and many scientists who have been funded by the fossil fuel industry.

Mr. President, I’ll side with the scientists affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science over a bunch of carefully selected bloggers.  I’ll trust NASA and NOAA over scientists who shill for the fossil fuel industry.

The Heartland Institute is not alone, it is part of a sophisticated network of climate denial propped up by the carbon polluting fossil fuel industry.  It’s a front group fueled by the special interests and their dubious “experts.” 

Interestingly, if we go to Oklahoma State University, we will find one of the experts on this. Dr. Riley Dunlap at Oklahoma State could tell his senator all about it.  Professor Dunlap is one of the pre-eminent researchers into the deliberate and coordinated effort by corporate interests to spread denial propaganda and distort public opinion on climate change—what he calls the “organized climate-denial machine.”  Dunlap and a colleague found that nearly 90 percent of climate-denial books coming out of publishing houses between 1982 and 2010, guess what,  had ties toconservative fossil-fuel-funded think tanks such as the Heartland Institute. The whole thing is a rigged game and a phony, and there is a very good professor at Oklahoma State University who keeps track of it.

Mr./Madam President, I also have here a fact sheet from the Oklahoma Climatological Survey—its statement on climate change and its implications for Oklahoma.  Here’s what it says, in plain language:

  1. The earth’s climate has warmed during the last 100 years.
  2. The earth’s climate will continue to warm for the foreseeable future.
  3. And, much of the global average temperature increases over the last fifty years can be attributed to human activities, particularly increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That is actually a noncontroversial statement among regular scientists.

Mr. President, these are not the words of radicals with some political agenda.  This is a fact sheet from a state scientific agency.  It happens to be Oklahoma’s. And here’s what the agency expects this means for Oklahoma:

  • Earlier maturation of winter wheat and orchard crops leaving them more vulnerable to late freeze events.
  • Drought frequency and severity increases, especially during the summer.
  • Drier and warmer conditions increasing the risk of wildfires.
  • Rain-free periods will lengthen, with individual rainfall events becoming more intense.
  • And, more runoff and flash flooding

I ask unanimous consent to submit this for the Record.

The National Climate Assessment estimates that by the end of the century the temperatures in the Southern Great Plains will increase up to nine degrees.  Mark Shafer, a researcher at the Oklahoma Climatological Survey who contributed to the National Climate Assessment. He told the Oklahoman newspaper that in a few decades, Oklahoma could see an entire month of 100-degree-plus temperatures every summer.  By century’s end, daily high temperatures could top 100 degrees for the entire summer.  As the climate warms, droughts will probably get worse—both more severe and more frequent.

Nine Oklahoma professors, from Oral Roberts University, Southern Nazarene University, and the University of Tulsa, were among 200 evangelical scientists and academics to sign a 2013 letter to Congress imploring us to address climate change.

 “All of God’s creation,” says the letter, “is groaning under the weight of our uncontrolled use of fossil fuels.”  

“The threat to future generations and global prosperity,” it continues, “means we can no longer afford the complacency and endless debate.  We as a society risk being counted among ‘those who destroy the earth.’”

Those who know the bible here, will know that reference to “those who destroy the earth” comes from Revelations, Mr. President.  I’ll quote from Revelations, “And thy wrath is come, and the time . . . that thou . . . shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.” 

The letter warns that the way we live harms our neighbors, threatening to create more empty wells, devastated cropland, lost villages, environmental refugees, and disease.

I ask unanimous consent to enter the letter from the 200 evangelical Christian scientists into the Record.

Finally, Mr. President, at the University of Oklahoma, Berrien Moore, III, is Dean of the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences at the University of Oklahoma. He is also the Director of the National Weather Center.  Dean Moore of the University of Oklahoma was a lead author on an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which the Senator from Oklahoma is so fond of disparaging.  Dr. Moore’s work helped the IPCC earn the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.  He has won research accolades from NOAA and NASA.

In 2009, Dr. Moore testified before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Here is what he had to say about climate change: “On the increasing strength of Earth science, we now can state that global warming is “unequivocal,” [There’s that word again!] but this simply sets the challenge.  We need now to develop the capability to monitor and thereby manage greenhouse gas emissions through this century and beyond. . . . The challenge is growing and will not go away.”

Mr. President, the effects of climate change are all too real today in Oklahoma, in Rhode Island, and across the nation.  The outlook for us if we fail to act is increasingly dark. 

But look again at Oklahoma:  The Sooner State is the fourth-largest producer of wind power in the country.  Wind turbines there make progress toward energy independence, and give Oklahoma farmers as a steady income as a hedge against droughts and extreme weather.  So you farm and you get paid for having the wind turbine located on your farm.  It is a win-win.

Gary McManus, the Oklahoma State Climatologist, has given a number of presentations on climate change and its likely effects on his home state.  He often prefaces his talk with this admonition:  “This is the science.  It’s up for you to decide what you do with it.  You can either ignore it, or you can use it.” 

Mr. President, in my view, there will be a high price in harm and in infamy to this democracy if we continue to ignore it. So I say let’s use it, but first we will have to wake up.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.