On Monday night a group of U.S. Senators took to the chamber floor to give short speeches about climate change. The event, dubbed #up4climate, lasted all night. Who was in attendance? 30 Democratic senators and 2 Independent senators showed up to participate. Of the 45 Republican senators, a total of zero joined this movement. However, climate change denier extraordinaire, and Rrepublican from Oklahoma, Jim Inhofe, did speak. Democrats who did not attend were those from swing states or even mostly red states, as well as those facing difficult reelection campaigns this year. The clear divide between those participating and those not participating clearly indicates that there are strong partisan stances on this issue. It’s a hot topic and it’s controversial. Taking a stand may lead to some negative political ramifications, especially in a country where somewhere around 43% of people (depending on the poll you look at) don’t believe that humans are the primary cause of climate change, and a significant portion of lawmakers are climate deniers altogether. (See how the rest of the world views climate change here).
Given all of that, what was the point of this movement? In a bipartisan system with relatively even numbers on each side and two strongly opposing viewpoints, is it logical to expect climate legislation to get passed anytime soon? The answer is not yet, as Sheldon Whitehouse (D. Rhode Island) pointed out:
“It would be premature” he said. “We have got a little bit more work to do to open up the political space on this. I think if we want immediately to a vote we wouldn’t be successful…If we make this an issue in 2014, if we make this a debate that Republican presidential candidates have to address, I think we can do that.”
Mr. Whitehouse is outspoken on climate issues, having focused on them in 60 speeches to congress over the past 2 years. He was on the inspirations for Monday’s all night session. Before the even began, he said this to reporters:
“There’s a group of senators who have not given up on getting something done on climate change and aren’t willing to just sit quietly through the current status quo,”
Some other noteworthy quotes from the night and days preceding:
“It’s aimed toward the day when something more concrete can be legislated,” –Senator Ed Markey (D. Massachusetts).
“We’re not going to rest until there is action on the most pressing issue of our time, which is climate change,” –Senator Brian Schatz (D. Hawaii).
“But despite overwhelming scientific evidence and overwhelming public opinion, climate change deniers still exist. They exist in this country and in this Congress….It’s time to stop acting like those who ignore this crisis – the oil baron Koch brothers and their allies in Congress – have a valid point of view.” –Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
“Yes there is money big money behind the polluters and yes those polluters are raging against us.” — Barbara Boxer (D. California).
These last two statements are aimed at corporations who have gotten themselves extremely involved in the political landscape. The oil and gas industry as well as other major organizations and polluters give heavily to campaigning politicians who then back them or support legislation that may be beneficial to them, while standing against legislation that could regulate them. The example given above is that of the Koch brothers. You have probably heard of them, but if you haven’t here is a link for you. In summary, they give a lot of money to make sure their billion dollar business ventures are not regulated. Are they solely responsible for climate skepticism? Certainly not, but they are a major player and they influence a lot of politicians (mostly on the Republican side of the isle).
At this point, it would be unjust of me to pretend like Democrats are doing all of this solely out of their concerns for the world. I certainly hope that they are, but another reason why they are speaking out is because they are going to start getting money as well. Billionaire Tom Steyer has pledged to give up to $100 million in support of candidates who support stronger climate legislation in the upcoming mid term election. All members of both parties are primarily concerned with reelection. It makes sense, they need to get reelected to maintain a job, to push their issues, and to make sure the voices of their constituents are heard. But, when people or corporations with ulterior motives can donate unchecked and absurd amounts of money, they will clearly have some sway. This is not to say that all politicians are too corrupt to get anything done, or that Tom Steyer has bad intentions (because I don’t believe he does, just the opposite in fact), but it is to say that there is a whole lot more too this issue than science these days.
This is a great lead up to my favorite quote of the night:
“I rise tonight in puzzlement as to how this issue became a partisan issue. It’s a scientific issue.” –Angus King (I. Maine).
I too rise in puzzlement of this. There is a 97% consensus across the global scientific community that climate change is real and is caused by human activity (I wrote more about this here). Why are we still arguing about arguing about this? Can we at least move on to arguing about potential legislation. New science is showing that even the perceived limit of letting the global temperature rise 2 degrees C is going to cause catastrophic, global scale issues. The issues are real, it is time to move beyond talk. I recognize that a popular consensus must be reached before it is really possible to do that, so I will end with this:
The event occurred to raise awareness for climate change issues and to hopefully garner support for what could be future legislation. The key is to bring the issue back to the forefront. Let’s hope that happens soon. It will take Bi-partisan legislation to make that happen, as Senator Schatz says in his speech.
I will continue to hope for Bi-partisan work on mitigating the impacts of climate change and hopefully slowing it. There is a future to think about here. It is not just about the natural world. Changing climate will effect us in a multitude of social and economic ways. I’ve written about this in several previous posts, here, here, and here).
For more thoughts/opinions/information check out the hashtag #up4climate on Twitter (still very active) as well as this Youtube page, which contains many of the speeches given during the all night talkathon.