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Sheldon Calls Out Climate Deniers in Senate Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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 seatbelts; 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.

One gimmick they have reverted to is the observation that there has been no warming trend in the last ten years. In 2010 a Republican Senator said "I don't think that anyone disagrees with the fact that we actually are in a cold period that started about nine years ago." Let's look at the facts. [Show chart with fitted trend] The green line is the global surface temperature data. The red line shows the trend. The trend line is the product of basic and undeniable mathematics, by the way. [Show chart with stepped line] But here's how the deniers manipulate the same data: the last step is the cold period my Republican colleague mentioned.

This is only a recent portion of the temperature record. When skeptics look deeper into the past, they find even more straw men: the earth's climate always changes; it's been warmer in the past. Yes, the earth has seen different climates in the past, not ones we'd want to live in necessarily! The reason we know about these climates is because of the excellent work done by scientists, the same scientists who tell us recent climate change can only be explained by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

And then there is this classic: more carbon in the atmosphere is good because it provides more food for plants. Ah, the Plant Food Theory.

The fact is that we have changed the composition of our atmosphere, pushing the concentration of carbon dioxide beyond where it has been for 8000 centuries. To give you a timescale of 8000 centuries: the practice of agriculture has been around for 100 centuries; modern humans began to migrate out of Africa about 600 centuries ago; Homo sapiens have been around about 2000 centuries. 8000 centuries. For all that time, we never reached carbon dioxide concentrations like what we've caused now, through human activity.

Deniers tend to ignore facts they can't explain away. For example, the increasing acidification of the oceans is simple to measure and undeniably, chemically linked to carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. So we hear nothing about ocean acidification from the deniers.

Ocean acidification is possibly the most disastrous consequence of carbon pollution. The rate of change in acidity of our oceans is already thought to be faster than any time in the past 50 million years. A paper published this March in Science concluded that the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions could drive chemical changes in the ocean unparalleled in the last 300 million years. When you consider the implications for food security, biodiversity, and ocean-based industries, we cannot ignore these changes in our oceans. Just last Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed listing 66 species of coral as endangered or threatened -- and cited climate change as driving three key threats: disease, warmer seas and more acidic seas.

Here's what I think is worth reminding the deniers, in the words of NASA:

On global temperature rise: "All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years. Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase."

On ocean temperature and sea level rise: "The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 2,300 feet… showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. Global sea level rose about 6.7 inches in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century."

On ocean acidification: "Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent. This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere... The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year."

NASA scientists put a man on moon and a rover on Mars. They're not the quacks. Our nation's best and brightest minds accept the evidence of climate change, and are urging us to act. Yet still for some in this body, the deniers carry the day.

Why? Well, in a weekend editorial titled Flight from Facts, my home-state Providence Journal said: "[The] GOP is winning the race to avoid evidence -- some of this escapism based on a desire to hold on to what had been comforting, if error-based, traditional beliefs, and some of it to avoid policies that might be economically and otherwise inconvenient." And the price of our folly will be very, very high for future generations.

When it is a question of putting the cost on our children and grandchildren of taking care of their grandparents, how the Republican crocodile tears of intergenerational equity flow! In one of their attacks on Medicare and Social Security, which the Republicans like to call "entitlements," we heard this: "We have got a serious spending problem here… And we need to have an impact on entitlements...If we're going to have entitlements for our children and grandchildren when they reach retirement age, we have got to change the trajectory."

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.

I yield the floor.


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