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Default Prevention Act of 2013--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I join my colleague from Pennsylvania in expressing relief and optimism that, finally, it looks as though we are rid of the wasteful and useless government shutdown we have been put through for the past 2 weeks; that it looks as though we are rid of the dangerous threat of American default that we have faced for the last few days; and let's hope that together we are also rid of the malicious spirit that led us down this evil path in the first place.

A colleague the other day on the Senate floor used the analogy of a fire in an airplane's cockpit distracting the pilots from flying the aircraft where it needed to go as they had to put out the fire.

That is kind of what we have been through these past 2 weeks. I hope we will have no more of our own countrymen lighting fires in the cockpit just to try to get their way. We need as a nation to get our heads up, fly the plane, and ready ourselves for the weather ahead.

The last 2 weeks have been wasted in this useless artificial crisis and has distracted us from real crises, real problems, undeniable problems--things which the Speaker of the House can't make go away by finally allowing a vote but which will require us to work together to solve them. None is more significant to our children than what our carbon pollution is doing to the Earth's atmosphere and oceans. It is not enough just to put out the fire in the cockpit. We have to wake up to the real problems ahead and around us.

I know the Presiding Officer from Ohio is a keen enthusiast and student of history. I recently saw part of ``The Dust Bowl,'' Ken Burns' documentary series. The Dust Bowl calamity was an economic disaster and a human disaster, but it was also described in the show as having been an economic disaster and a human disaster because it was first and foremost an environmental disaster--indeed, one of the two or three most devastating environmental disasters in the United States.

The Dust Bowl happened, creating such disaster for so many good, hard-working families, because, simply put, we messed with Mother Nature. To plant wheat, we tore up the deep-rooted buffalo grass which had protected the prairies for generations. We ignored the cycles of drought which were the Great Plains' history. The result was tragedy and destruction.

There are obvious parallels from the Dust Bowl experience to where we are now on carbon pollution. Most obviously, lesson No. 1, you mess with Mother Nature at your peril. And are we ever messing with Mother Nature. We just broke through 400 parts per million of CO 2 in the atmosphere after at least 800,000 years--which is longer than homo sapiens have been a species--in the range between 170 and 300. Our whole species has come to the success we have seen on this planet in a safe window of 170 to 300 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, and we have now broken out of it. And it is not just 400, it is 400 and climbing.

Let's move from our atmosphere to our oceans. Our oceans are acidifying at the fastest rate ever recorded. We have to go millions of years back into the geologic record to find anything comparable. When we go there, what else do we find when we look back to those points in the ancient geologic record? It isn't pretty. In fact, it is downright ominous.

The second lesson is that the cause of such a calamity can be a perfectly normal activity, just at the wrong scale. Look at the Dust Bowl. There is nothing wrong with plowing. Plowing the Earth is probably the single most valuable action humankind has ever learned to do. Plowing is essential to farming. Yet it was that ordinary activity--plowing--which brought on the Dust Bowl and the vast human tragedy that ensued because it was at the wrong scale.

Similarly, there is nothing inherently wrong with burning fossil fuels. We do it when we drive to the market, and we call it up when we flip on the light switch. Yet burning fossil fuels at too great a scale is leading us to the brink of a new disaster.

What changes and makes it no longer perfectly normal and OK is when we know the consequences of the scale of our activity. Once we know the consequences we are causing, that activity is no longer so benign and responsibility cannot be so easily shrugged off. If only the farmers at their plows had listened to the warnings of the cattlemen and Native Americans and not put every corner of every farm to the plow.

There is a third parallel, which is that there is a lot of lying done when there is money to be made. In the Dust Bowl, land dealers and speculators told farm families that plowing the prairies would make more rain fall. Rain follows the plow, they were told. They had nothing to worry about. And the land speculators sold, and they sold a pack of lies. The race to plow created more speculators and more hucksters and more lies.

Today we have the deniers--a sophisticated, well-honed apparatus of institutions and strategies designed to spread lies, designed to sow doubt, designed to delay action. Today it is done on a scale that makes the Dust Bowl hucksters look like piddling amateurs. It is funded by giant corporations such as ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. It uses the slickest Madison Avenue strategies. It maintains a stable of pet scientists willing to be trotted out and to recite from the polluters' playbook. It operates through a network of false front organizations designed to look more independent and credible than their funders are and designed to hide the money flow.

When history looks back and this story is fully told, I believe this apparatus of lies will take its place beside great American scandals such as Teapot Dome and Watergate. But for now it churns merrily on its way, cranking out the propaganda.

Regrettably, this apparatus has captured large segments of the Republican Party and silenced others. The polluters have maneuvered the question of carbon pollution right into the middle of the Republican Party's culture wars. The fossil fuel industry must be really chortling at having pulled off that fete. But it does not bode well for the Republican Party. Lies are ultimately revealed. The choice to make bedfellows of the polluters will soon enough be very damaging to the Republican Party. For the polluters, they have played the Republican Party for suckers, and they will grin all the way to the bank. They won't care.

The last parallel is the lesson that when you are messing big-time with Mother Nature, things can go precipitously wrong. Mother Nature can turn on you very suddenly. Wheat farming on the plains was a bonanza, with bumper crops year after year. Families who had never owned land, who had never before had a place to call their own, saw golden futures as far as the eye could see as the wheat ripened. And within just a few years the devastation was complete and families' dreams were shattered. The Dust Bowl came on fast.

There is a phrase--``a fool's paradise.'' It is called a fool's paradise because it looks like paradise for a while if you don't look ahead and take the precautions to protect paradise and fend off calamity. Not looking ahead is what gets you to the ``fool'' part.

Young people are looking ahead. Voters under 35, by a ratio of 66 to 27--more than 2 to 1--say that climate change is a problem we need to address. And when asked about climate deniers, 74 percent of Independent young voters said they would describe climate deniers as ignorant, out of touch, or crazy. For self-identified Republican young voters under 35, 53 percent identify climate deniers as ignorant, out of touch, or crazy.

I ask unanimous consent to conclude in 1 minute.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. So I ask my Republican friends, how is climate denial a winning strategy when 53 percent of your own young voters think it is ignorant, out of touch, or crazy? How is that looking ahead? We in Congress get elected to look ahead. We don't get elected to put our heads in the sand. We certainly don't get elected to parrot the lies of the special interests.

Well, we are not looking ahead. We are sound asleep here in Congress. We are having a snooze while nature's alarms are ringing all around us. It is time for Congress to wake up. We have a duty. We need to wake up to our duty.

I yield the floor.


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