Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Best Climate Change Burns

May 19, 2015 by


sheldonwhitehouse50thFor climate activists — or really anyone who thinks climate change is a problem — there’s a lot to love about Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. The two-term Democratic Senator from Rhode Island is a climate change champion in Congress, introducing legislation aimed at slowing the planet’s warming, calling out colleagues who deny the problem exists, and, for nearly the past three years, giving weekly, impassioned speeches on the Senate floor on the need to act on climate change.

On Monday, Whitehouse will give his 100th floor speech on climate change. As Agence France-Presse reports, Whitehouse usually gives these speeches to an empty or near-empty room, accompanied by a green sign warning his colleagues that it’s “Time To Wake Up.”

Few of Whitehouse’s colleagues have taken his pleas for action to heart. More than 56 percent of Republicans in the 114th Congress deny or question that climate change exists and is caused by humans, and some members of Congress, such as Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), openly mock the idea that climate change is posing a problem.

So far, this hasn’t deterred Whitehouse, however.

“If I look back 20 years from now and I can’t say I did everything possible, I’ll never be able to live with myself,” he told Morning Consult about his weekly speeches.

Whitehouse said he had something specific planned for his 100th speech, which he’s set to give around 6:15 p.m. Monday, but said he was “not going to ruin the surprise.” Until then, here are six of the greatest moments from Whitehouse’s past floor speeches on climate change:

‘They’re Not Gynecologists, Either’

In early 2014, a pattern emerged among some politicians who were asked whether or not they accepted that climate change was happening: instead of answering definitively one way or another, they skirted the question, saying simply “I’m not a scientist.”

Whitehouse lambasted this response in November, noting that the lawmakers who have used the excuse — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) — were “not gynecologists, either, but many have no hesitation about trying to regulate that area.”

“Say you’re not a scientist. Isn’t the responsible thing to sound out scientific opinion?” Whitehouse asked on the Senate floor. “Scientific opinion about climate change is now firmly settled. Climate change is caused by the massive carbon pollution we have unleashed.”

‘You Can Believe NASA….Or You Can Believe The Senator With The Snowball’

In Feburary, Sen. Whitehouse hit back against Sen. Inhofe’s speech in which the Republican senator brought a snowball to Senate floor in an attempt to show that, despite NASA and NOAA finding that 2014 was the warmest year on record, it was “unseasonably cold” in D.C.

In his brief speech — which wasn’t technically part of his 99 “It’s Time To Wake Up” speeches on climate but which still addressed climate change — Whitehouse referenced the multitude of groups that acknowledge climate change, including an corporate interests, “every major American scientific society,” the U.S. Navy, and Pope Francis.

He also explained that the polar vortex was responsible for bringing cold air down to D.C. that week — an event that doesn’t disprove the earth’s greater warming trend that is “beyond legitimate dispute” among scientists.

‘That’s Not Really The American Way’

Whitehouse refuted a Senate colleague’s statement in 2013 that “God won’t allow us to ruin our planet.” Rather than a religious statement, Whitehouse said this was “magical thinking,” and quoted scripture to back up his argument.

“If God is not a God of consequences, why does Luke 6:38 tell us, ‘For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you,’ and Proverbs 22:8 tell us, ‘Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity?’”

Why, Whitehouse asked, would God allow so much suffering in the world — disease, disasters, pain — but shelter us from the consequences of destroying our planet?

“Instead of correcting our own behavior, we’re going to bet on a miracle? That’s the plan? Excuse me, but that’s not really the American way,” he said.

‘The Oceans Are Warning Us And We Still Do Not Listen’

Whitehouse doesn’t just focus on political fights in his speeches, however. As a Senator from Rhode Island, Whitehouse has been particularly keen on spreading the word about climate change and ocean acidification’s impact on the world’s oceans. In one of his latest speeches on ocean acidification and warming, Whitehouse spoke of the oceans’ mass absorption of carbon dioxide and the impact that has on marine life, and on the fishermen that depend on it.

“I’ve had fishermen back home tell me they’re catching fish their fathers and grandfathers never saw come up in their nets,” Whitehouse said.

Warmer temperatures “make oxygen less soluble in water,” Whitehouse said. “Do we tell the fish to hold their breath while we wait to wake up?”

“From coast to coast, and pole to pole, the oceans are warning us, and we still do not listen,” he continued.

‘[Mitch McConnell’s] Own State Recognizes Climate Change As A Problem’

In March, Senate Majority Leader McConnell issued a statement warning other states not to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule on carbon pollution from power plants.

But Whitehouse, in an April speech, singled out McConnell’s state of Kentucky for its statements on climate change. Whitehouse said that the state of Kentucky — along with several cities, Kentucky-based scientists, and Kentucky publications — have warned about the impacts climate change will likely have on the state, including increased migration from coastal states.

“Before our distinguished majority leader, the senior senator from Kentucky, asks all other states to throw in the towel on conforming to the U.S. government’s plan for dealing with carbon pollution, I would ask that he acknowledge that his own state recognizes climate change as a problem,” he said.

‘The Clearer The Science Becomes, The Harder The Polluters Fight’

In his 98th “Time To Wake Up” speech on climate chage, Whitehouse compared the tactics of the oil industry in sowing doubt on climate change to those of the tobacco industry, which in the 1950s and 1960s sought to spread doubt that smoking caused cancer. Action on climate change is a “business risk” for the fossil fuel industry, and that risk is similar to the risk felt by the tobacco industry if the public believed cigarettes caused cancer, Whitehouse said.

“The fossil fuel industry is engaged in a massive effort to deny climate science and deceive the American public,” he said. “They’ve been at it for years, and the clearer the science becomes, the harder the polluters fight.”

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