Talking To A Wall

In light of the recent Senate vote on climate change, I had an imaginary dialogue with Lisa Murkowski, Republican from Alaska, who is the Chair of the Senate Energy Committee — a very important position indeed. The dialogue, such as it was, went something like this:

Me: So, Senator, it appears your colleagues in the Senate have finally arrived at the position scientists have held for many years about the radical changes in our climate that are already impacting on our weather and food production in disturbing ways. Is that so?

L: Yes they have and I was one of the 98% who agreed that climate change is a scientific fact.

Me: I also noted that 59 Senators agreed that humans are somewhat responsible for that fact but that only 50 agreed that humans have had a “significant” impact on global warming. You were one of those who voted “no” on this latter question, were you not?

L: Yes I was.

Me: Why was that?

L: Because I think the jury is still out on weather humans have had a significant impact on climate change. After all, there have always been ebbs and flows, oceans rising and falling, radical changes in weather patterns and temperatures, and even though humans may have contributed somewhat, it is a stretch to say that we have made that much difference.

Me: Really? Even though human populations are exploding all over the earth and industrial gasses are expanding at a very rapid pace in order to feed and clothe those folks? You don’t think that the carbon monoxide that our homes, cars, planes, and factories spew into the atmosphere has a significant effect on the rising temperatures around the globe?

L: No, I do not. Moreover, I resent the implication that because I don’t recycle and I want to keep my house warm and drive a car that can get me down the road quickly I am part of the cause of a global problem, that I should alter my lifestyle in order to please some crazies who seem determined to exaggerate the problem. Besides, any serious attempt to curb global warming, I am told, would require stringent controls on industry which would be bad for business and, as we all know, business is the engine that runs this great country of ours.

Me: Indeed it does. But there are companies harnessing alternative energies and building mass transit systems that could create work for anyone who might be displaced by currently existing industries that might be forced to cut back in order to reduce our carbon footprint — especially if they received a fraction of the $8 billion in subsidies that, as an example, the oil industry receives at present.  But let’s go back to the original question. Let’s suppose, for a moment, that those “crazies” are correct and that you and I, along with the industries that support our present standard of living, are all making an impact that could be reduced if we altered our lifestyles. Shouldn’t we attempt to do something that will reverse the trend?

L: Not in the least. Until you can show me that humans, all humans, are making a huge difference I prefer to continue to live the way I am right now.

Me: OK. So if the “crazies” are exaggerating the problem then you are home safe. But if they are correct in their estimations, by the time you and the others who think like you realize this it may be too late. It seems to me you are taking a huge risk. On the other hand, if you were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt it would doubtless alter our lifestyles somewhat, but it would also pay dividends in the long term by preserving a healthy planet for future generations. We would still maintain one of the world’s highest standards of living. Shouldn’t we err on the side of caution?

L: I don’t see why I should have to make any sacrifices at all on the basis of assumptions and speculation.

Me: Because these “assumptions and speculation” are supported by 98% of the scientific community that has studied the problem in depth. It is not simply an assumption or idle speculation, but a fact based on solid evidence and it behooves us all to take steps — again, if it’s not too late. As a nation we seem to be hellbent on conducting a risky experiment that places a premium on profits and creature comforts in the hope that the serious problems we are facing will simply go away by themselves. It’s virtually certain that humans are playing a significant role in climate change and we are making a terrible mistake to simply ignore that possibility — especially since the price of attacking the problem is so small in the grand scheme of things.

L: Who are you anyway? And why are you in my face?

Me: I am sorry. But just one quick question. I noted that two of your biggest contributors this past election were utilities and oil and gas companies — to the tune of well over $1 million, and that four of your five largest individual contributors were electric utilities and oil companies as well. Doesn’t that skew your thought process somewhat on this issue and, at the very least, shouldn’t you step down as chair of the Energy Committee because of a conflict of interest?

L: I don’t have time for this. I have a committee meeting.

A Senator Who Makes Sense!

Today’s blog consists entirely of excerpts from a remarkable speech by Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse delivered recently on the floor of the U.S. Senate. One might even call the speech “courageous.” I have left out many of the specifics the Senator draws on to make his point. If you want to read the entire speech go here. In the meantime, enjoy.

Mr. President, last week I spoke about our nation’s military and intelligence leaders acknowledging, along with our nation’s scientific leaders, the clear evidence that carbon pollution is changing our climate.

Unfortunately, there is confusion among many Americans regarding this scientific consensus, confusion caused by deliberate and coordinated attempts to mislead the American people.

For more than two decades the climate denial movement has been well organized and funded by the fossil fuel industry and conservative ideologues and foundations. The mission of these paid-for deniers is to “manufacture uncertainty,” to manufacture doubt, so the polluters can keep polluting.

This isn’t new. We’ve seen self-serving strategies like this one before: they questioned the merits of requiring seat belts; they questioned CFCs causing the deterioration of the ozone layer; they questioned the toxic effects of lead exposure; and they questioned whether tobacco was bad for you—same strategy to manufacture doubt; often the same cast of characters.

While the Congress of the United State has been distracted and deceived by these ploys, climate change marches on. Precious time is wasting. In the balance hang lives and jobs. This nonsense has gone on long enough.

The public is being misled. Special interest dollars pull the strings of sophisticated campaigns to give the public the impression that there is a real scientific debate regarding whether or not climate change is happening. There isn’t. The scientific debate is about how bad the changes will be.

To manufacture the doubt, skeptics with little training in climate science are promoted as “experts.” Front groups such as the Global Climate Coalition, Information Council for the Environment, Heartland Institute, Annapolis Center, and Cooler Heads Coalition are created or enlisted to propagate the message of doubt. They question the motives and engage in harassment of the real, credentialed climate scientists.

For the record, there has been scientific debate regarding climate change. Ideas have been tested, theories have been ventured, and the evidence keeps coming back to the same conclusion: increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from human-related sources is strengthening the greenhouse effect, adding to recent warming, and acidifying the oceans. Actually, the evidence coming in tends to confirm the worst and most dangerous projections.

Claims that solar activity is causing recent global warming, and about whether the atmosphere is really warming, have been settled.

When the scientific research doesn’t work out for the skeptics, they turn to straw man arguments. One straw man is that extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and droughts, aren’t proof of climate change. Let’s be clear. No credible source is arguing that extreme events are proof that our climate is changing. But they are associated with what has been staring us in the face for years: the average global temperature is increasing; average sea level is rising; and average ocean acidity is increasing. When averages change extremes usually change with them; the warming climate “loads the dice” for extreme weather. . . .

The Minority Leader has also spoken about what appears to be the health care bill, and worried about it “creating a more precarious future for our children.”

He’s said about the stimulus effort to get our economy back on its feet: “This needs to stop for the future of our country and for our children and for our grandchildren.”

When it’s the deficit, he’s urged us “to make sure that we have the same kind of country for our children and our grandchildren that our parents left for us.” He’s even talked about, and I quote, “the Europeanization of America,” and as a result of that Europeanization of America “our children and grandchildren could no longer expect to have the same opportunities that we’ve had.”

On virtually every traditional anti-Obama Republican Tea Party bugbear – Medicare, Obamacare, the stimulus, the deficit – even this Europeanization of America – out come the children and grandchildren. Let’s assume they are sincere; let’s assume they have a sincere concern for what is left for our children and grandchildren.

So, when it comes to big corporate polluters of today leaving our children and grandchildren a damaged and more dangerous world, where then is the concern for those children and grandchildren? To have children and grandchildren pay for the care of their grandparents through Medicare and Social Security is a sin and an outrage. To force on them the untold costs and consequences of the harms done by today’s corporate polluters? For that, the future generations’ interests receive nothing from the Republicans but stony silence, or phony and calculated denial.

But the cost will be on them; and the shame will be on us.