By Andrea Lang, Energy Fellow
Newspapers widely reported that 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded, making the five years between 2011 and 2015 the warmest period on record. Of the thousands of scientists that have looked at whether climate change is occurring as a result of human activity, only a small handful (0.7%) have concluded that it is not. By contrast, over 97% of scientists taking a position on anthropogenic climate change in scientific literature conclude that humans are causing global warming. There is, as much as some try to argue otherwise, widespread consensus that climate change is occurring and that human activity is the cause.
Last week, a different group of individuals was asked the same questions about the existence of climate change and its anthropogenic cause: the United States Senate, which voted on these questions as amendments to a bill on the Keystone XL pipeline. The upside is that the Senate voted 98 to 1 that “climate change is real and not a hoax.” But it rejected the statement that “human activity significantly contributes to climate change” 50-49 (it required 60 to pass). By way of explanation, Senator Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma claimed that “[t]he hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.”
Given the scientific consensus surrounding the issue, that vote puts 49 senate republicans (including presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz) in the same category as rapper B.o.B., who last week declared to Twitter that the Earth is flat. Except we can laugh about B.o.B., because he’s just a single celebrity, and because he doesn’t hold the fate of the planet in his hands the way the U.S. Congress does. The fact that 49 United States senators are willing to completely ignore scientific consensus on an issue as potentially life-threatening as climate change is terrifying.
As terrifying as it is, though, it’s also come to be expected of congressional republicans. The fact that B.o.B. seemed to get more media coverage denying the curvature of the Earth than did the Senate for denying the existence of anthropogenic climate change speaks volumes about our expectations of elected officials. But republicans weren’t always so stubbornly anti-environment. It was republican Richard Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and Endangered Species Act into law. I can’t imagine many congressional republicans would even vote for these laws today.
I for one would love to see elected officials at least willing to acknowledge the reality of anthropogenic climate change, even if they ultimately vote against laws that would mitigate it. At least then we’d know our elected officials are better than B.o.B.