December 8, 2015

Time to Wake Up: Paris Climate Talks

Mr. President, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin, led a delegation of 10 Senators to Paris this past weekend. We went to support the “high-ambition coalition” on the international climate agreement. It was truly impressive to see so many nations represented at the meeting, active and trying to help. All of us in the CODEL came away from Paris with a good feeling about the prospects for a strong climate agreement.

I had the chance to speak at Oceans Day, where people were keenly aware that the effects of carbon pollution on our oceans are undeniable. You can measure the warming oceans with thermometers. You measure sea level rise with basically a yardstick. You can measure acidification of the seas with simple pH tests. You can replicate what excess CO2 does to seawater in a basic high school science lab. That is why the big, phony climate denial apparatus the fossil fuel industry is running never talks about oceans. It is undeniable there.

I also had a chance in Paris to cheer on our bright, young negotiating team staff, who worked late hours in their windowless common workspace but were very enthusiastic and made me very proud.

The delegation also met with Todd Stern, who was leading the U.S. negotiating team, and we visited the NOAA scientists who were at the U.S. Pavilion. The U.S. presence there was great.

One thing was sad, and that is that our Senate delegation of 10 Senators was all Democrats. The last political bastian of the fossil fuel industry worldwide is now the American Republican Party. No Republican was able to come with us. The fossil fuel industry would never let them.

I will say the fossil fuel industry is behaving reprehensibly. The power it exerts over Congress is polluting American democracy. The spin and propaganda it emits through a vast array of front groups are polluting our public discourse. Of course, its carbon emissions are polluting our atmosphere and oceans.

These fossil fuel companies are sinning, and on a monumental scale. Remember what Pope Francis said in his encyclical: “Today ….. sin is manifest in ….. attacks on nature. ….. [A] sin against ourselves and a sin against God.”

Their behavior is truly reprehensible. They have a lot to atone for.

But this is not exactly the American Republican party’s finest hour, either. It is the world’s only major political party so in tow to the fossil fuel industry that it cannot face up to the realities of carbon pollution and climate change. Some “City on a Hill” that leaves us.

Notwithstanding all the Republican intransigence, we were able to tell the world that we would have the President’s back, and we will. We will protect the Clean Power Plan, we will protect the Clean Air Act, and we will protect any agreement that comes out of Paris.

One nice thing in Paris was the presence of American companies, such as PG&E of California, VF Corporation of North Carolina–one of our biggest apparel manufacturers–Citigroup of New York, Kellogg of Michigan, Ben and Jerry’s of Vermont, and Facebook of basically everywhere. They were there to cheer on a good deal, and so was the American Sustainable Business Council. And they have been doing this for a long while.

Some of America’s leading food companies took out this ad in the Washington Post and Financial Times on October 1 urging a strong agreement in Paris. The companies that have signed it include Mars–if you like M&Ms, you know about Mars–General Mills, Nestle USA, Unilever Corporation, Kellogg Company, Stonyfield Farm, and Dannon USA. On November 24, it was updated with new signatories, including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Hershey.

Quoting from the ad:

Dear US and Global Leaders:

Now is the time to meaningfully address the reality of climate change. We are asking you to embrace the opportunity presented to you in Paris. ….. We are ready to meet the climate challenges that face our businesses. Please join us in meeting the climate challenges that face the world.

This is an ad taken out in Politico by another group of well-known apparel companies, including Levi’s–if you know blue jeans, you know Levi’s; Gap; Eileen Fischer, VF Corporation, which makes Timberland, North Face, and a number of other well-known brands, urging a strong agreement in Paris. This ad ran during talks on Thursday, December 3:

To US and Global Leaders:

As the world gathers in Paris this week for the 2015 United Nations Conference of the Parties, we come together, as some of the largest, best known global apparel companies, to acknowledge that climate change is harming the world in which we operate. ….. We recognize that human-produced greenhouse gas emissions are a key contributor to climate change. ….. We support a strong global deal that will accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy.

Those industries are not alone. Here is an ad from a coalition of about 70 major American corporations again urging a strong agreement in Paris. They include Coca-Cola, Adidas, Intel, Colgate Palmolive, the Hartford Insurance Company, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, National Grid, DuPont, the Outdoor Industry Association, and others. They say:

Failure to tackle climate change could put America’s economic prosperity at risk. But the right action now would create jobs and boost competitiveness. We encourage our government to ….. seek a strong and fair global climate deal in Paris.

Seventy major American corporations, every single one whose name you know, are saying: We seek a fair climate deal in Paris.

Finally, this is a financial sector statement on climate change from the financial giants: Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo, again calling for a robust global agreement out of Paris. They state:

We call for leadership and cooperation among governments for commitments leading to a strong global climate agreement.

They want frameworks “that recognize the costs of carbon.”

They say:

We are aligned on the importance of policies to address the climate challenge.

It is time people started listening.

And let’s not forget the more than 150 American companies that have signed on to the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge, joining that call for a strong outcome on the Paris climate negotiations. Those companies on the White House American Business Act on Climate Pledge have operations in all 50 States, employ nearly 11 million people, represent more than $4.2 trillion in annual revenue, and have a combined market capitalization of over $7 trillion. Yet, if you believe some of my friends on the other side, they are all just part of a big old hoax trying to fool everybody. Really?

Unfortunately, while the world is listening to these strong corporate voices for a strong Paris agreement, these companies’ own home State Republican Senators are right here in Congress trying to undercut their home State companies’ work. But the world listens to the companies, not the deniers.

One of their best voices is Unilever, whose CEO Paul Polman met with our delegation to express the growing support in the corporate community for climate action and to describe Unilever’s work to catalyze that support.

We met with Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, and heard about a meeting scheduled for May here in Washington, DC, for corporate CEOs to come to Congress and let us know they want climate action.

The grip of the fossil fuel companies on Congress will slip, as other corporate leaders come forward to urge strong climate action. Pretty soon, there is going to be a very small island of denial and obstruction left in a rising sea of reality. Pretty soon, there will be nobody left on the shrinking Denial Island but the fossil fuel industry, the Koch brothers and their front groups, and the Republican Members of Congress–oh yes, of course, can’t forget the Republican Presidential candidates who are so desperate to toady up to the fossil fuel industry that they won’t acknowledge this issue. Mark my words: As the rest of corporate America stands up, the fossil fuel industry’s fortress of denial and deceit will tumble down.

Paris sends a strong message of hope that echoes Pope Francis’s strong encyclical on climate change. Governments, corporations, and civil society groups are a gathering force behind that message.

Vice President Gore, who has labored long in these vineyards, met with us in Paris and had a strong message of hope. Against the gloomy falsehoods the fossil fuel industry propagates, hope burns bright for this gathering force.

The Vice President observed to us that “things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.” From a man who has been through–uniquely–this all taking a long, his confidence in fast happenings was heartening.

So not only is it time to wake up, but the world is waking up. Corporate America is waking up outside of the narrow, selfish confines of the fossil fuel industry. Wise Republicans are starting to stir–and the sooner the better.