Great numbers of people in America aren’t scientists, and thus, plead ignorance when it comes to understanding climate change. That feigned or real ignorance is bad enough when it comes to their vote at the ballot box. But, making progress at slowing climate change must come through the 535 people that make up the US Senate and the US House of Representatives and who vote to make our laws.
Think about that for a minute—the most powerful nation on Earth can take the lead to fight climate change, or can obfuscate and obstruct any serious efforts to fight climate change. So far, we have obstructed, dithered and delayed, meaning that no serious efforts are in motion around the planet. And until the US gets on board in a real and meaningful way, other nations will resist, and the planet’s human activities will continue adding carbon and methane to the atmosphere every day, promising to cause ever-increasing havoc for hundreds of years. What are we thinking?
Because we are a republican democracy, the 535 elected voting members of Congress speak for us, with each Representative speaking for about 700,000 citizens, and each Senator speaking for as few as 600,000 or as many as 38 million citizens in their states. Any one of these people can have an outsized effect on what this country decides to do, which has an outsized effect on what the other nations of the planet decide to do. So, understanding the makeup of our Congress in regard to climate change is extremely important.
Take a look at the 114th Congress, about to become official in January. And remember that almost all Republicans deny climate change (there are a small handful—maybe a single digit number—of Republicans who are not deniers) and their votes to fight any efforts at mitigation are assured on the side of fossil fuels. There are 54 Republican senators now, and there are 246 Republican Representatives, now, a total of 300 out of 535 in total, and almost all are willfully fighting any efforts to stop climate change. Importantly, there is also a goodly number of Democrats who have problems voting to fight climate change because they are in states with large employment in the fossil fuel industry, states like West Virginia, Louisiana, Wyoming and such. I’m reminded that “all politics are local.”
And with Republicans soon to be enjoying majorities in both houses of the next Congress, they get to be committee chairs and such, giving them must control over what even gets discussed. Here’s a sampling of Republican deniers in important positions, with much of this information coming from a November 2014 article by Tom McCarthy in The Guardian.
Jim Inhofe, Senator from Oklahoma, is perhaps the most vociferous climate denier. That would be something that the voters of Oklahoma will have to live with some day when the history of deniers is written and he will be the poster child of being on the wrong side. But, horror of horrors, Inhofe will lead the powerful Senate Committee on Environmental Policy. He’s already on record saying that he will rein in the EPA and all the job-killing regulations. Naturally, he’s heavily funded by the oil industry, and in a safe seat. But when his party is the minority party, his influence and damage is lessened. Now he gets to lead this committee. That’s why a vote in your state for the Senatorial election matters a lot when majorities are determined.
Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will become the Senate Majority Leader in January. He leads the Republican charge against any effort to curb greenhouse gases, and uses a loaded term, “war on coal” to describe the Obama Administration’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. From his website, “Last month, your agency proposed this rule for existing power plants. These regulations come on top of a host of other regulations that comprise the War on Coal, such as your proposed carbon pollution standards on new power plants, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards, and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, to name a few.” There is no doubt that regulating carbon will have very tough sledding for at least the next two years, until elections occur again in 2016.
As the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska will likely become the Chairwoman of that committee when the 114th Congress is sworn in. She is in the unenviable position of representing the state with the most negative effects from climate change already in motion, but also a state with a high employment base in the fossil fuel industry. So, at one time, she has admitted that climate change is real and caused by human activities, but since then has taken the position that the EPA’s attempts to curb carbon pollution should be stopped, and she has said she will support a climate bill only if drilling for oil is allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a poison pill for most environmentalists in America.
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, Senate Republican Whip, is on record saying, “I am not one that denies that human beings have an impact on the environment, but I am sure not willing to put the federal government in charge of trying to micromanage the environment for the United States of America, nor for us to drive up the price of energy for people on fixed income, like seniors and people of modest means, by putting restrictions in place that other nations are not.”
Speaker of the House, John Boehner of Ohio is on record saying, “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change, but I am astute enough to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs. That can’t be the prescription for dealing with changes in our climate.”
Fred Upton, Republican Representative from Michigan will continue to head the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In 2011, he authored the bill called the Energy Tax Prevention Act, which sought to keep the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases or to consider the emission of greenhouse gases in any discussion of climate change. He denies that any changes to climate are caused by human activities. His earlier bill failed in the split Congress. We can assume that he will try again to derail any serious attempt to address climate change.
Rob Bishop, Republican Representative from Utah will probably become the Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. He is solidly behind the fossil fuel industry, solidly against any attempt to rein in climate change, and calls climate change science “contaminated science.” He is on record against the EPA’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gases.
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida, and a possible 2016 presidential candidate, makes no bones about his disbelief in climate change, saying, “I don’t agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate,” he said in a May interview on ABC News: “Our climate is always changing. And what they have chosen to do is take a handful of decades of research and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that’s directly and almost solely attributable to man-made activity. I do not agree with that.
I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. That’s what I do not – and I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it. Except it will destroy our economy.”
So Senator Rubio thinks that a “handful of decades of research” can’t possibly indicate a trend. Does he deny that a few decades of research on birthrates cannot be used to predict births? Does he deny that a few decades of research on household incomes cannot be used to predict spending? Does he deny that a few decades of research on our current account balance can be used to predict trade with foreign countries? Does he deny that a few decades of research on housing starts can be used to help predict housing starts in the future? I’ll stop now.
I could go on and talk about Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz and many others, but it would just make a gloomy situation gloomier.
But for any meaningful efforts to curb the worst outcomes of climate change, our democracy has to get on board. And the side that is funded and lobbied by the fossil fuel industry and the utilities will keep on fighting those of us who not only know the right answer on this issue, but are willing to say it out loud. They should be ashamed at taking money from industries that are wrecking our planet. History will not be kind to this era in the United States. But, by the time history is written, much irreversible damage will have been done. There must be a way to have those who are willfully blocking efforts to fight climate change pay for the damage.