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Public Statements

Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, every week that we are here, I try to remind the body of the damage carbon pollution is doing to our atmosphere and oceans, try to awaken us to our duty. I have done it more than 30 times now. I have tried to kick out the underpinnings of any argument that the deniers could stand on.

I have kicked out the scientific so-called denial argument, which actually properly belongs in the category of falsehood, not argument. I have kicked out the economic denial argument, pointing out that in a proper market, the costs of carbon must be in the price of carbon. I even tried to kick out the religious denial argument, showing that the belief that God will just tidy up after us, however stupidly we behave, runs counter to history and counter to Biblical text.

So today let's take a crack at the political argument. How wise is it for the Republican Party to wed itself to the deniers and proclaim that climate change is a hoax?

Make no mistake, that is the Republican position. The consensus Republican position and the default Republican position is that climate change is a hoax. It has been said right on this floor and in committees and, as far as I know, not one Republican Senator has stood afterwards in this Chamber to say: Wait a minute. Not so fast. That is actually not the case. Any Republican Senator who disagrees, please, come to the floor and articulate a Republican position other than that climate change is a hoax.

This Chamber looks relatively empty, but on C-SPAN lots of people are watching, and lots of Republicans are watching. Yet not one Republican, over all 30 speeches, has ever gotten back to me, even quietly on the side, to say: You know what. This is really getting serious. Let's see if we can work on this together.

An iron curtain of denial has fallen around the Republican Party. So let me respectfully ask my Republican colleagues: What are you thinking? How do you imagine this ends?

More than 95 percent of climate scientists are convinced that human carbon pollution is causing massive and unprecedented changes to our atmosphere and oceans. You want to go with the 5 percent, and you think that is going to be a winning strategy?

Moreover, it turns out that a lot of those 5 percenters are on the payroll of the polluters. You know that. It is public knowledge. Some of those payroll scientists are the same people who denied acid rain, who denied the dangers of tobacco.

You still like those odds? Those are the folks to whom you really want to hitch your Republican wagons? You have to know they are not telling the truth. So where does this go? What is the endgame?

Our planet has had a run of at least 800,000 years, with levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between 170 and 300 parts per million. That is measurement not theory--800,000 years. Homo sapiens have only been around for about 200,000 years, so that 800,000 years--8,000 centuries--takes us back a ways. Madam President, 800,000 years, between 170 and 300 parts per million, and in just the last 50 years, we have blown out of that range and have now hit 400 parts per million and climbing. You really want to be on the side of ``nothing is going on here''? Really?

Have you noticed the floods and wildfires and droughts and superstorms and tornadoes and blizzards and temperature records? Have you noticed those warming, rising seas? Have you noticed species invading new territories and miles of dead pine forests in the Rockies and Arctic sea ice disappearing?

Do you understand that carbon in the atmosphere gets absorbed by the sea and that is a law of science and is not debatable? Do you understand that because they are absorbing the carbon, the oceans are getting more acidic--30 percent more acidic already and climbing?

Do you understand that is a measurement, not a theory? It is one thing to be the party that stands against science. Are you really also going to be the party that stands against measurement? Do you know the measurement is showing the oceans are not just becoming more acidic, they are becoming more acidic at the fastest rate recorded in a geologic record of 50 million years?

Have you not heard about the coral reefs, those incubators of our oceans, bleaching out and dying off, with almost 20 percent gone already worldwide? If you are a denier, look around. Do you think the news is getting better for you?

Let me ask my Republican friends, what is your best bet on whether this climate and oceans problem gets better or worse in the next 20 or 40 years? Seriously. Your party's reputation is on the line here. All the chips. Tell me how you are going to bet. Do you want to bet the reputation of the Republican Party that suddenly this is all going to magically start getting better? Because that is what you are doing right now.

Let me ask you this: What are the young people of today going to think when they are 37 or 57 and it is worse, maybe a lot worse? What are they going to think about the Republican Party then, that you took the 5-percent bet with their futures; that you went with the polluters over the scientists? Young people are already out there asking their universities to divest from coal, as they divested from the evils of apartheid and the dangers of tobacco. Good luck with the youth vote when you lock in with the coal merchants. By the way, the youth vote grows. It grows up and it sticks around.

How is it going to look for the Republican Party when the historical records show, because facts have a funny way of coming out, that the campaign to fool the public on climate change was as phony and dishonest as the campaign to fool the public on acid rain and the campaign to fool the public on tobacco, when the historical record discloses that 5 percent wasn't even real, and was actually a scam paid for by the polluters? You, your great party, with young American's futures in the balance, took sides with the scam.

If that is the state of play for young voters as they come of age, why would those young people ever trust the Republican Party on anything else ever again?

Speaking of taking sides, have you noticed who is left on your side? The Koch brothers, billionaire polluters; the big oil companies, the biggest polluters in the world; the coal barons with their legacy of pollution, strip mining, mountaintop removal, and safety violations that kill their miners. That is a fine cast to be surrounded by.

But wait, you say, there is more. There is the Heartland Institute, and the Institute for Energy Research, and the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Heritage Foundation. There are many organizations. Right. Like the heads of Hydra, they may look like many, but, as you know, in reality, it is all the same beast. It is all the same scheme. It is all the same money behind the scheme. You can name those front organizations and many more, but none of it is real. They are all part of the same cheesy vaudeville show put on by the big polluters.

Do you, I ask my Republican friends, want to lash yourself to that operation, to go down with that ship? The great Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, branding itself as the one that gave it all to protect a gang of scheming polluters? That is where you are headed.

Look who is on the other side on record against you seeing through that nonsense. How about the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our military leaders? How about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops? How about NASA? NASA is driving a vehicle as big as an SUV around on the surface of Mars right now. They sent it there. To Mars. They landed it there safely. Now they are driving it around on Mars. Do you think those scientists might know what they are talking about? How about every legitimate American scientific professional society, about 30 strong? How about major American corporations such as Walmart, Ford, Apple, Coca-Cola? How about global insurance and reinsurance businesses such as Lloyds of London and Munich Re, whose businesses depend on accurate risk models?

Indeed, today, Frank Nutter, the president of the Reinsurance Association of America, is reported as saying:

Insurance is heavily dependent on scientific thought. It is not as amenable to politicized scientific thought.

So I ask my Republican friends, whose side do you like in this? In this corner, the Joint Chiefs, the bishops, Walmart, Ford, Apple, Coke, NASA, 30 top scientific organizations, the top insurers and reinsurers, and, by the way, several thousand legitimate others. In that corner, the polluting industry and a screen of sketchy organizations they fund. Let's be serious. Do you want to bet the reputation of the Republican Party that the polluters are the ones we should count on here? Because that is what you are doing. For what? To protect market share for the polluters. That is your upside. The reputation of the party hangs in the balance and your upside is market share for polluters.

Look, I am willing to do a carbon pollution fee that sets the market in balance and returns every single dollar to the American people. No new agencies; no new taxes; no bigger government; every dollar back; a balanced market with the costs included in the price the way they are supposed to be, which will make better energy choices, increase jobs, and prevent pollution.

Yes, that does mean less market share for the polluters as new technologies emerge--that is actually the point--but every single dollar back in Americans' pockets. By the way, three-quarters of the American people believe climate change is real and that we need to do something about it.

You may have a question for me: Why do you care? Why do you, Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, care if we Republicans run off the climate cliff like a bunch of proverbial lemmings and disgrace ourselves?

I will tell you why. We are stuck in this together. We are stuck in this together.

When cyclones tear up Oklahoma, hurricanes swamp Alabama, and wildfires scorch Texas, you come to us, the rest of the country, for billions of dollars to recover. The damage your polluters and deniers are doing doesn't just hit Oklahoma, Alabama, and Texas; it hits Rhode Island with floods and storms, it hits Oregon with acidified seas, and it hits Montana with dying forests. Like it or not, we are in this together. You drag America with you to your fate.

I want this future: I want a Republican Party that has returned to its senses, is strong, and is a worthy adversary in a strong America that has done right by its people and the world. That is what I want. I don't want this future. I don't want a Republican Party disgraced, that lets its extremists run it off the cliff. I don't want America suffering from grave, economic, environmental, and diplomatic damage because we failed, because we didn't wake up and do our duty for our people, and because we didn't lead the world.

I do not want that future, but that is where we are headed. I will keep reaching out and calling out, ever hopeful you will wake up before it is too late, both for you and for the rest of us.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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