“Time To Wake Up” Climate Speech Highlights of U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

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Video Screengrab – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

Madam President, I started my weekly series of speeches about the dangers of climate change in the Spring of 2012. While my sign here is showing signs of wear and tear, I’m as determined as ever to get us to act on climate, before it’s too late.

It is long past time to wake up to the industry-controlled campaign of calculated misinformation on the dangers of carbon pollution. Opponents of climate action relish operating in the dark.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” We in Congress have the chance to do this worthy work.

Thankfully, I am not a lone voice on this matter. Many colleagues have been speaking out, particularly our Ranking Member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Boxer, and one of the Democratic Party’s presidential contenders, Senator Sanders.

The climate science that deniers try to undermine dates back to the 1800s, predating Henry Ford’s first production Model T [1908], Thomas Edison’s first light bulb demonstration [1879], and the first commercial oil well in the United States [1859].

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at that time was 295 parts per million. Today, it’s 400 ppm and rising, indeed rising at a pace not seen for 66 million years. Scientific research continues to demonstrate evidence of planetary warming and the changes that come with it.

We can look at the oceans to see the devastating effects of climate change. Of course, the great, corrupt denial machine the fossil fuel industry supports rarely talks about oceans.

Our unfettered burning of fossil fuels has made our oceans warmer. The oceans have absorbed the vast majority of the heat trapped in our atmosphere by our carbon pollution: the heat equivalent to several Hiroshima atomic bombs being set off in the sea every second for the last 20 years.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral ecosystem on Earth. Severe bleaching has hit between 60 and 100 percent of corals on the Great Barrier Reef, according to Dr. Terry Hughes of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia.

Because carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid when it dissolves in water, the seas are acidifying at the fastest rate in 50 million years. On America’s Northwest coast, oyster hatcheries have already experienced significant losses when their new hatches were unable to grow their shells in the acidified seawater.

In Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay’s mean winter water temperature is up nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Our Rhode Island lobster fishery is crashing, and our winter flounder fishery is practically gone.

This is the cost of climate change in the oceans. Madam President, we’re approaching a point of no return. The UN Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report, released earlier this month, warned that unless reductions in carbon pollution from the energy sector are taken swiftly, it will be nearly impossible to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius and avoid widespread catastrophe.

While we cannot say with 100 percent confidence what will happen in the future, we do know the emission of greenhouse gases is not healthy for the environment.

So what happened? Why did this steady heartbeat of Republican climate action suddenly flat-line? Something happened, right around 2010.

Unlimited corporate spending in politics can indeed corrupt, and not just through floods of anonymous attack advertisements. It can corrupt, secretly and more dangerously, through the mere threat of that spending, through private threats and promises.

Since 2010, the fossil fuel industry’s strategy has been to crush Republican opposition, to prohibit Republicans from working with Democrats on climate change, so that the industry can disguise its special-interest pleading as a partisan issue in America’s culture wars.

The industry has a lot at stake. The International Monetary Fund has reported the American subsidy for the United States’ fossil fuel industry at nearly $700 billion a year. How much trouble would an industry go to protect a $700-billion-per-year subsidy?

President-elect Trump campaigned on a pledge of draining the swamp of big special interests controlling Washington. Yet leading the transition at the Environmental Protection Agency for the Trump administration is Myron Ebell, the poster child of industry-backed climate denial.

Ebell criticizes scientists for working outside their degreed fields, but it turns out, he isn’t a scientist himself. After college, he studied political theory at the London School of Economics and history at Cambridge.

Consider listening to your children, who joined you just seven years ago in saying climate science was “irrefutable,” and portends “catastrophic and irreversible” consequences.

As a Senator, John F. Kennedy once said, “Let us not despair but act. Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past—let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

Solutions to climate change need be neither Republican nor Democratic. They do need to be based in sound science and healthy and open debate. And we will be a stronger and more respected country if they are American solutions. For a country that claims to stand as an example—as a city on a hill—and benefits from the power of that example, this horrible example of out-of-control special interest influence will have lasting consequences. We have a role to play in this world, we Americans, and it’s time we got about it.

I yield the floor.


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