Will Slumbering Senate Wake Up on Climate Change?

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Earlier last week, 30 U.S. Senators stayed up all night discussing climate change for 15 hours. The event, called Up4Climate, was the first of its kind, hosted by the Senate Climate Action Task Force, which is headed by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). The 30 senators involved were not only committed, but they were also surprisingly knowledgeable about the subject, invoking scientific reports and citing a wide array of consequences and contributing factors including ocean acidification, pine beetles, and the Great Barrier Reef.

While no specific legislation was taken up during the session, President Obama made it clear that he supported the effort. According to White House spokesman Jay Carney, “We commend those who are participating because it’s a very important subject that the president, as you know, is concerned about and has a climate action plan dedicated to addressing.”

Yet we are still waiting for the President to make his decision regarding the tar-hauling Keystone pipeline. One senator, Virginia democrat Tim Kaine, addressed the issue at the all-night session, saying, “It would be very good thing if the president right now rejected the use of tar sands oil in the Keystone pipeline,” Kaine began. “Why would we embrace tar sands oil and backslide to a dirtier tomorrow?”

Republicans are still firmly opposed to climate change policies, ignoring the 97% consensus of scientists who now agree that global warming is predominantly caused by human activity. They prefer to focus, like Mitch McConnell did, on things like placing blame on Democrats for coal miners losing their jobs in West Virginia, despite the fact that coal mining jobs have actually increased there, due to a robust export market.

The only Republican to speak during the event was notorious climate denier James Imhofe (R-OK) who basically used the opportunity to repeat his head-firmly-in-the-sand-position.

“With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.”

You have to wonder when the last time Imhofe actually checked with anyone beside his own face in the mirror to update his sources on the issue. But then, he's not entirely alone. In the hermetically sealed environment that is required to maintain the position that nothing has really changed since Eisenhower was president, we find that (according to the Guardian):

  • 90 percent of the Republican leadership in both House and Senate deny climate change
  • 17 out of 22 Republican members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, or 77 percent, are climate deniers
  • 22 out of 30 Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, or 73 percent deny the reality of climate change
  • 100 percent of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Republicans have said climate change is not happening or that humans do not cause it

So, it's clear that, as John Cook, of the University of Queensland, and lead author of the above-cited scientific report, we clearly have a consensus gap which is holding back meaningful action, particularly in the political sphere. Maine Independent Angus King got it right, I think, when he said, “I rise tonight in puzzlement as to how this issue became a partisan issue. It’s a scientific issue.”

The session was a rallying point that was successful in calling attention to the issue, but bringing no action on any legislation,including the bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill. The bill, which would strengthen building codes for efficiency, increase Federal R&D for high efficiency technologies and require the Federal government to utilize such technology wherever possible, was reintroduced by the bipartisan pair a couple of weeks before the all-night session. The bill, which had previously stalled, is deserving of support, but received little from the sharply divided body. Said New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, “We know energy efficiency is the cheapest fastest way to deal with our energy needs, so I’m really hopeful that with some additional sponsors on the bill that we’re able this time to get it through the Senate and have a good reception in the House.”

The bill was tweaked with compromises aimed at support from Republicans, but has yet to make it to the floor.

Right now, the legislation that might have the best chance of getting past obstreperous Republicans is a revenue-neutral carbon tax. A number of conservatives have recently come out in support of such a measure including retired South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis. Inglis calls it an “income tax-cutting, EPA-shrinking, China-in carbon tax.” What he apparently likes about such a bill is that it would reduce the role of the EPA in regulating industry and coerce foreign countries like China through an import tax structure, to follow suit. Inglis calls it “the formation of an environmental right” that is “biblically accountable.”

He is calling upon conservatives to lead this, and to get away from “science denial.”

Given the acrimonious climate in Washington, it's been clear for a while that what has been most needed is a climate champion coming from the right. Now, with Inglis' Energy and Enterprise Initiative, this could possibly be the best way forward.

It's good to see the Senate staying awake on this issue, but a talk-only meeting accomplishes little more than a slumber party. It's time to put aside political differences and take meaningful action. A revenue neutral carbon tax is a good idea, even if the Wall Street Journal supports it. Maybe Senate Democrats will show more political courage than their Republican counterparts have done by actually taking one of their opponents' ideas seriously. Because Republicans will never endorse any solution to the issue unless they can trace some portion of its origin in their own camp.

Image credit: wikimedia.org