Senator Whitehouse’s Must-See Climate Speech: “We Ignore the Laws of Nature of God’s Earth at Our Very Grave Peril”

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"Senator Whitehouse’s Must-See Climate Speech: “We Ignore the Laws of Nature of God’s Earth at Our Very Grave Peril”"

We are earning the scorn and condemnation of history…. It is magical thinking to imagine that somehow we will be spared the plain and foreseeable consequences of our failure of duty.”

http://www.moonbattery.com/Sheldon-Whitehouse.jpg

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) delivered a 23-minute stemwinder last week on the failure of the U.S. Senate to act on global warming pollution.  Here’s the remarkably blunt opening:

Mr. President, I am here to speak about what is currently an unpopular topic in this town. It has become no longer politically correct in certain circles in Washington to speak about climate change or carbon pollution or how carbon pollution is causing our climate to change.

This is a peculiar condition of Washington. If you go out into, say, our military and intelligence communities, they understand and are planning for the effects of carbon pollution on climate change. They see it as a national security risk. If you go out into our nonpolluting business and financial communities, they see this as a real and important problem. And, of course, it goes without saying our scientific community is all over this concern. But as I said, Washington is a peculiar place, and here it is getting very little traction.

Here in Washington we feel the dark hand of the polluters tapping so many shoulders. And where there is power and money behind that dark hand, therefore, a lot of attention is paid to that little tap on the shoulder. What we overlook is that nature — God’s Earth — is also tapping us all on the shoulder, with messages we ignore at our peril. We ignore the messages of nature of God’s Earthand we ignore the laws of nature of God’s Earth at our very grave peril.

I have little doubt future generations will curse our names if we keep listening to the “siren song of well-paying polluters.”  Whitehouse makes this point better than any national politician I’ve heard — by reviewing the science and the politics in a speech few of his fellow politicos have the guts or wisdom or conscience to deliver.

This is a speech Obama should have given — heck, he still can — but his spin-meisters (notably David Axelrod) and his own fecklessness prevent him.  And so his presidency is headed toward the (coal) ash-heap of history.

Here is the must-see video of the whole speech and the full transcript ( via TP Green):

 

Here’s the rest of the transcript:

… There is a wave of very justifiable economic frustration that has swept through our Capitol. The problem is that some of the special interests — the polluters — have insinuated themselves into that wave, sort of like parasites that creep into the body of a host animal, and from there they are working terrible mischief. They are propagating two big lies. One is that environmental regulations are a burden to the economy and we need to lift those burdens to spur our economic recovery. The second is the jury is still out on climate changes caused by carbon pollution, so we don’t need to worry about it or even take precautions. Both are, frankly, outright false.

Environmental regulation is well established to be good for the economy. It may add costs to you if you are a polluter, but polluters usually exaggerate about that.

For instance, before the 1990 acid rain rules went into effect, Peabody Coal estimated that compliance would cost $3.9 billion. The Edison Electric Institute chimed in and estimated that compliance would cost $4 to $5 billion. Well, in fact, the Energy Information Administration calculated the program actually cost $836 million, about one-sixth of the Edison Electric Institute estimate.

When polluters were required to phase out the chemicals they were emitting that were literally burning a hole through our Earth’s atmosphere, they warned that it would create “severe economic and social disruption” due to “shutdowns of refrigeration equipment in supermarkets, office buildings, hotels, and hospitals.” Well, in fact, the phaseout happened 4 years to 6 years faster than predicted; it cost 30 percent less than predicted; and the American refrigeration industry innovated and created new export markets for its environmentally friendly products.

Anyway, the real point is we are not just in this Chamber to represent the polluters. We are supposed to be here to represent all Americans, and Americans benefit from environmental regulation big time.

Over the lifetime of the Clean Air Act, for instance, for every $1 it costs to add pollution controls, Americans have received about $30 in health and other benefits. By the way, installing those pollution controls created jobs because they went to manufacturers to build the controls and to Americans to install them. But setting that aside, a 30-to-1 benefit ratio to keep our air clean sounds like a mighty wise investment to me. That 30-to-1 ratio doesn’t even count the intangible benefits — intangible but very real benefits — of clear air and clean water, the benefits of the heart and the soul, the benefits to a grandfather of taking his granddaughter to the fishing hole and still finding fish there or of the city kid being able to go to a beach and have it clean enough to swim there or the benefit to a mom who is spared the burden of worry, of sitting next to her asthmatic baby on the emergency room albuterol inhaler waiting for his infant lungs to clear.

Well, unfortunately, polluters rule in certain circles in Washington, and they emit propaganda as well as pollution, and they have been emitting too much of both lately.

Their other big lie the jury is still out on is whether human-made carbon pollution causes dangerous climate change and oceanic change. Virtually all of our most prestigious scientific and academic institutions have stated that climate change is happening and that human activities are the driving cause of this change. Many of us in Congress received a letter from those institutions in October 2009. Let me quote from that letter.

Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.

Let me repeat that last quote.

Contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.

This letter was signed by the heads of the following organizations: the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Society of Agronomy, the American Society of Plant Biologists, the American Statistical Association, the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, the Botanical Society of America, the Crop Science Society of America, the Ecological Society of America, the Natural Science Collections Alliance, the Organization of Biological Field Stations, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the Society of Systematic Biologists, the Soil Science Society of America, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

These are highly esteemed scientific organizations. They are the real deal. They don’t think the jury is still out. They recognize that, in fact, the verdict is in, and it is time to act.

More than 97 percent of the climate scientists most actively publishing accept that the verdict is actually in on carbon pollution causing climate and oceanic changes — 97 percent. Think of that.

Imagine if your child were sick and the doctor said she needed treatment, and out of prudence you went and got a second opinion. Then you went around and you actually got 99 second opinions. When you were done, you found that 97 out of 100 expert doctors agreed your child was sick and needed treatment. Imagine further that of the three who disagreed, some took money from the insurance company that would have to pay for your child’s treatment. Imagine further that none of those three could say they were sure your child was OK, just that they weren’t sure what her illness was or that she needed treatment, that there was some doubt.

On those facts, name one decent father or mother who wouldn’t start treatment for their child. No decent parent would turn away from the considered judgment of 97 percent of 100 doctors just because they weren’t all absolutely certain.

How solid is the science behind this? Rock solid. The fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere absorbs heat from the Sun was discovered at the time of the Civil War. This is not new stuff. In 1863 the Irish scientist John Tyndall determined that carbon dioxide and water vapor trapped more heat in the atmosphere as their concentrations increased. A 1955 textbook, “Our Astonishing Atmosphere,” notes that nearly a century ago the scientist, John Tyndall, suggested that a fall in the atmospheric carbon dioxide could allow the Earth to cool, whereas a rise in carbon dioxide would make it warmer.

In the early 1900s, a century ago, it became clear that changes in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might account for significant increases and decreases in the Earth’s average annual temperatures and that carbon dioxide released from manmade sources, anthropogenic sources — primarily by the burning of coal — would contribute to those atmospheric changes. This is not new stuff. These are well-established scientific principles.

Let me look for a moment at the book I talked about, “Our Astonishing Atmosphere,” published in 1955 — the year I was born, more than half a century ago — for the “Science for Every Man Series.” Let me read:

Although the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remains at a concentration of 0.03 percent all over the world, the amount in the air has not always been the same. There have been periods in the world’s history when the air became charged with more carbon dioxide than it now carries. There have also been periods when the concentration has fallen unusually low. The effects of these changes have been profound. They are believed to have influenced the climate of the earth by controlling the amount of energy that is lost by the earth into space. Nearly a century ago, the British scientist John Tyndall suggested that a fall in the atmospheric carbon dioxide could allow the earth to cool whereas a rise in the carbon dioxide would make it warmer. With the help of its carbon dioxide, the atmosphere acts like a greenhouse that traps the heat of the sun. Radiations reaching the atmosphere as sunshine can penetrate to the surface of the earth. Here, they are absorbed, providing the world with warmth. But the earth itself radiating energy outwards in the form of long-wave heat rays. If these could penetrate the air as the sunshine does, they could carry off much of the heat provided by the sun. Carbon dioxide in the air helps to stop the escape of heat radiations. It acts like a blanket to keep the world warm. And the more carbon dioxide the air contains, the more efficiently does it smother the escape of the earth’s heat. Fluctuation in the carbon dioxide of the air has helped to bring about major climate changes experienced by the world in the past.

This is 1955. This is “Our Astonishing Atmosphere,” out of the “Science for Every Man Series.” This is not something that was just invented.

Let’s look at the facts that we actually observe in our changing planet. Over the last 800,000 years — 8,000 centuries — until very recently the atmosphere has stayed within a bandwidth of between 170 parts per million and 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide. That is not theory, that is measurement. Scientists measure historic carbon dioxide concentrations by, for example, locating trapped bubbles in the ice of ancient glaciers. So we know, over time — and over long periods of time — what the range has been.

What else do we know? We know since the industrial revolution, we — humankind — have been burning carbon-rich fuels in measurable and ever-increasing amounts. We know we release up to 7 to 8 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year. A gigaton, by the way, is 1 billion metric tons. So if you are going to release 7 to 8 billion metric tons a year into the atmosphere, predictably that increases carbon concentration in our atmosphere. “Put more in and find more there” is not a complex scientific theory. It is not a difficult proposition. And 7 to 8 billion metric tons a year into the atmosphere is a very big thing in the historical sweep.

So we now measure carbon concentrations climbing in the Earth’s atmosphere. Again, this is a measurement, not a theory. The present concentration exceeds 390 parts per million.

So 800,000 years and a bandwidth of 170 to 300 parts per million, and now we are over 390.

This increase has a trajectory. Plotting trajectories is nothing new either. It is something scientists, businesspeople, and our military service people do every day. The trajectory for our carbon pollution predicts that 688 parts per million will be in the atmosphere in the year 2095 and 1,097 parts per million in the year 2195. These are carbon concentrations not outside of the bounds of 800,000 years but outside of the bounds of millions of years. As Tyndall determined at the time of the Civil War, increasing carbon concentrations will absorb more of the Sun’s heat and raise global temperatures.

Let me end by reviewing the scale of the peril that we are facing if we fail to act. Over the last 800,000 years, as I said, it has been 170 to 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Since the start of the industrial revolution, that concentration is now up to 390 parts per million. If we continue on the trajectory that we find ourselves, our grandchildren will see carbon concentrations in the atmosphere top 700 parts per million by the end of the century, twice the bandwidth top that we have lived in for 8,000 centuries.

To put that in perspective, mankind has engaged in agriculture for about 10,000 years. It is not clear we had yet mastered fire 800,000 years ago. The entire development of human civilization has taken place in that 800,000 years, and within that 170 to 300 parts per million bandwidth. If we go back, we are back into geologic time.

In April of this year, a group of scientific experts came together at the University of Oxford to discuss the current state of our oceans. The workshop report stated:

Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the oceans and are now causing increasing hypoxia.

Acidification is obvious — the ocean is becoming more acid; hypoxia means low oxygen levels.

Studies of the Earth’s past indicate that these are the three symptoms . . . associated with each of the previous five mass extinctions on Earth.

We experienced two mass ocean extinctions 55 and 251 million years ago. The rates of carbon entering the atmosphere in the lead-up to these extinctions are estimated to have been 2.2 and 1 to 2 gigatons of carbon per year respectively, over several thousand years. As the group of Oxford scientists noted:

Both these estimates are dwarfed in comparison to today’s emissions.

As I said earlier, those are 7 to 8 gigatons per year. The workshop participants concluded with this quote:

Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean.

The laws of physics and the laws of chemistry and the laws of science, these are laws of nature. These are laws of God’s Earth. We can repeal some laws around here but we can’t repeal those. Senators are used to our opinions mattering a lot around here, but these laws are not affected by our opinions. These laws do not care who peddles influence, how many lobbyists you have or how big your corporate bankroll is. Those considerations, so important in this town, do not matter at all to the laws of nature.

As regards these laws of nature, because we can neither repeal nor influence them, we bear a duty, a duty of stewardship to see and respond to the facts that are before our faces according to nature’s laws. We bear a duty to shun the siren song of well-paying polluters. We bear a duty to make the right decisions for our children and grandchildren and for our God-given Earth.

Right now I must come before the Chamber and remind this body that we are failing in that duty. The men and women in this Chamber are indeed catastrophically failing in that duty. We are earning the scorn and condemnation of history — not this week, perhaps, and not next week. The spin doctors can see to that. But ultimately and assuredly, the harsh judgment that it is history’s power to inflict on wrong will fall upon us. The Supreme Being who gave us this Earth and its abundance created a world not just of abundance but of consequence and that Supreme Being gave us reason to allow us to plan for and foresee the various consequences that those laws of nature impose.

There is no wizard’s hat and wand with which to wish this away. These laws of nature are known; the Earth’s message to us is clear; our failure is blameworthy; its consequences are profound; and the costs will be very high.

Hear!  Hear!

It is the science that make clear precisely why future generations will heap scorn and condemnation on us if we fail to act quickly and decisively:  “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces.”

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55 Responses to Senator Whitehouse’s Must-See Climate Speech: “We Ignore the Laws of Nature of God’s Earth at Our Very Grave Peril”

  1. prokaryotes says:

    People who speak out about the growing climate threat are the real patriots.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    This is in fact a historic speech. The Truth about what’s going on with the world we inhabit, and the triggered climate change from each of our own actions! We need to change, which even help spur economy and grant a healthier lifestyle, for us and our children and their children.

  3. catman306 says:

    Thanks!
    Please find and help elect more representatives like Senator Whitehouse.

  4. Paul Magnus says:

    Climate Portals shared a link.

    IEA Sees Dire Future For Climate, Energy Without New Technology
    http://www.foxbusiness.com
    PARIS -(Dow Jones)- The world is headed for a dire future where high energy prices drag on economic growth and global average temperatures rise by more than 3.5 Celsius unless significant innovations to lower the cost of clean energy and carbon capture technology, said the International Energy Agenc…

    • Paul Magnus says:

      “Twenty percent of the world’s population does not have access to reliable energy,” said Martin Ferguson, Australia’s Minister of Resources and Energy who was chairing the IEA meeting. These developing countries, “are going to continue to grow their economy and hence their demand for energy.”
      This means that, “coal will continue to be the world’s fastest growing energy source for some time,” with its consumption rising by two-thirds under the current trajectory, he said.
      “It’s not for us to deny them, but to invent clean technology at the lowest possible cost,” and share it with them, he said. Investment in carbon capture and storage and renewable energy is important, he said.
      Current clean energy technologies are insufficient to meet carbon reduction targets, so in the nearer term improving energy efficiency is the most important action to take, the IEA said in a statement concluding the meeting.

  5. Sasparilla says:

    Wow, what a speech. I wish this guy was my Senator.

    As the Senator and Joe have pointed out, history will be justifiably harsh to the United States if we continue to be the main roadblock to preventing the destruction of civilization by 2100.

  6. Adrian says:

    Finally! I hope more senators and even some representatives take this kind of principled stand that sees beyond narrow short-term profits.

    I hope the Democrats can come together to support what he’s saying and push for real action.

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    As I’ve said before, I do not think we’re doing ourselves, the cause, the climate, future generations, or President Obama any favor by not insisting, WITH LEVERAGE, that he start speaking up about climate change and that he say ‘NO’ to Keystone XL.

    The “please Mr. President (but we’ll vote for you either way)” strategy is simply insufficient and counterproductive. If history assigns blame to “our times”, as it will if we don’t act, it will also assign blame, or at least a label of ‘deep foolishness’, to that strategy as well. But I’ve expressed this view before. I only wish it could gain more open discussion and consideration. Well anyhow …

    Be Well,

    Jeff

    • kermit says:

      I agree. I am, with some trepidation, determined to vote Green this coming presidential election. I know that I risk helping a President Perry take office, but if I don’t I am enabling a Democratic Party to ignore a problem that threatens civilization, and at the least will give future generations an impoverished and hellish life.

      If President Obama embraces this message and acts on it, he’ll get my vote, but I don’t expect it :(

      • wvng says:

        How about working to get Obama a real Dem majority that he can work with to pass legislation? Voting Green would literally be the stupidest thing you could do if you care about climate change. Do you honestly think, for one second, that Obama wouldn’t push for major climate legislation if it had any chance of passing, if he had fewer bad Dems and more good Dems to work with?

      • dick smith says:

        I respectfully, but strongly, disagree. Nader did this to Gore in Florida and we got Bush. Don’t do it to yourself.

      • Jeff Huggins says:

        I agree with you, kermit. And to the others, I’m giving Obama a chance: to say ‘NO’ to Keystone XL. He has no — zero — good excuse for not doing so. If he says ‘NO’, he’ll still probably get my vote. If he approves Keystone XL, he won’t, period. This addresses that hopeful (but quite possibly incorrect) argument, that so many people give, that he’d do something IF he could only get it passed. The Keystone XL decision is his, and his alone. So if he approves Keystone XL, he won’t get my vote. One thing that this means is this: if you want him to get elected, and if you think he’ll need my vote (or others like me) to do so, you’d better get him to say ‘NO’ to Keystone XL. That’s what it’ll take.

        • Edith Wiethorn says:

          Jeff, I think that you & many others are going to have to make it clear to President Obama that his NO on the Keystone XL Pipeline must precede the/his election. As the political miasma stands, the NY Times’ exemplary watchdog report on 101711 notes that TransCanada is clearing the pipeline route: “…By its own count, the company currently has 34 eminent domain actions against landowners in Texas and an additional 22 in South Dakota,” & “…in addition to the 56 Texas and South Dakota cases, TransCanada acknowledges it has sent “Dear Owner” letters to dozens of families in Nebraska.”

          Senator Whitehouse has recorded an exemplary message, addressing President Obama directly & Congress directly about realities. To be effective going forward, CAP & Climate Progress need to internalize the fact that nowhere did Senator Whitehouse tell President Obama he had a “bad messaging problem.”

      • Stephen Watson says:

        Kermit, stick to your beliefs. For years here in the UK we’ve been told over and over that voting Green will just let in party X. What people are saying is that you must vote for party X or party Y – that is presented as democracy. Here in Brighton, UK we have made two political firsts in the last year: we have the first Green led council ever and we have returned the first Green representative to a national legislature under a first past the post system anywhere in the world, namely Caroline Lucas.

        We’ve sat and watched Democrats and Republicans slug it out for years and where are we? Worse than in the UK where electoral freedom is represented by Labour or Conservative (and a bit of Lib Dem) for as long as I can remember for all my life.

        Here in Brighton & Hove, people believed that there was a party that they could actually vote for to pursue a very different agenda – that wants to heal the planet instead of destroy it, they voted for us and we are now running the show.

        Most people in the UK spend their entire voting life voting for X to keep out Y. So, do something radical and vote for someone whose policies you actually support instead!

      • Lewis Cleverdon says:

        Kermit – you clearly see the downside of voting Green in a presidential election – Nader’s run did more harm to public perception of the value of a green vote than will be forgotten for a generation. We are still trapped in the resulting Bush-Cheyney climate policy.

        Yet voting for Obama – who has evidently de facto adopted the Bush policy of zero action on climate – is plainly unproductive. Jeff’s proposal of using the Keystone decision as leverage – though laudable – is clearly on a different scale to what is needed. How would dumping Keystone to get re-elected (if the latter is still possible) shift Obama’s adamant inaction on climate one jot in the next term of office ?

        The only prospect of getting a president with an actual commitment to effective climate action is to elect one. Neither voting Green nor voting Obama will do that. Which leaves you and the rest of the climate-focussed electorate with the choice of finding and electing an alternative Democrat candidate.

        Personally I strongly support green policies – but the strategy of trying for the highest office without first establishing a generation of elected officials at all other levels – is actually an indulgence in gesture politics – it splits the vote – as Nader demonstrated.

        So what do you have to lose by seeking the right candidate for a primary challenge ?

        Regards,

        Lewis

      • Tim says:

        As I have said before, living in the super-solid red state of Texas (in more ways than one) gives me the luxury of voting for the Green party candidate without doing anything to hurt Obama’s chances of being reelected. People living in extreme GOP states can all safely assume that if their states are in play in the electoral college, Obama will win in a landslide – and if they’re not in play, the margin of Obama’s loss in their state won’t matter.

      • Nichol says:

        .. figure out how your politics work: your president needs to be elected by a national majority. Won’t work for a green candidate. What is more: the president doesn’t have infinite power. The house has the purse, the senate has the filibuster, and apparently now you need 60% of the senate to pass a law.

        What went wrong at the last election, with the house going GOP, of the climate-denying variety? Dejected dems staying home? If you want a president to lead, you’ll have to bolster him with some support in congress. Try to get a green representative if you think that has a chance..?

        (You’ll have to get your electoral system changed if you like to get spread-out minorities some representation in congress, though. I’ve got that, in the Netherlands. Quite happy with our coalition governments. We can vote for our greens, and get a few of them in parliament. We even have a party for animals rights. It works for us. I’m afraid it won’t work for you to simply vote for who you’d like to get in there.)

  8. Paul Magnus says:

    THis is one of the best speeches on the topic period.

    All leaders and elders and scientist should effectively be stating repeatedly talks like this. Imparting this message.

    Oh, yes, especially Obama.

  9. Michael Tucker says:

    WOW! That is something you don’t see or hear every day, a national lawmaker speaking out openly, without caveat, without using code words, about the dangers of continuing with business as usual. ACTUALLY THIS IS A DOUBLE WOW!! Senator Whitehouse is currently running for re-election and he is giving a powerful speech condemning Senate inaction and speaking about the dangers. Of course if he had to campaign nationally, if he had to win in states like N Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa, he might be a bit more circumspect. But we will eventually see how the Axelrod advice will work out for President Obama.

    Anyway I wish you the best of luck in 2012 Senator Whitehouse and please keep up the speeches!

  10. wvng says:

    Tell me, please, how the administration is going to get a climate bill past the legislative logjam? Obama even has “moderate” dems running away from a decidedly centrist, paid-for jobs plan. The votes never existed for a substantive climate change bill once Lindsey Graham got his tutu in a fire. It simply was not going to happen.

    Joe, rather than engaging in the kind of magical thinking I associate with republicans, how about working to elect better Dems so the President has something to work with – rather than doing the republican’s work by depressing the vote for Dem candidates? I am willing to bet that if you asked Senator Whitehouse what he would prefer you do, that he would say that acting in a way that depresses the Democratic vote is literally the worst thing to do.

    • kermit says:

      If speaking plainly and truthfully about a danger that threatens humanity’s very existence loses us Democratic votes, then there is no hope. One thing Obama can do is speak out about this issue, plainly and truthfully. This might encourage Democratic legislators to do the right thing.

      A majority of American citizens actually understands that GW is a danger, even if too few understand its nature and speed and extent. But they never will have a grasp of it until they are informed in simple terms, over and over.

      We can still do this, but not by spending decades trying to sneak up on an Issue That Must Not Be Named.

  11. joyce says:

    This made my day. Whitehouse knows his stuff and is a terrific presenter. I’ve posted everywhere.

  12. This man is brave and heroic. The special interests will target him for his loyalty to the American people and to our precious Earth.

    • Michael Tucker says:

      I feel very confident that Senator Whitehouse knows who the enemy is. Actually RI is a fairly liberal state and Senator Whitehouse has a lot of experience in politics. In 2007 he was ranked as the second most liberal senator in a National Journal survey. Senator Whitehouse is a member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, sits on the water and wildlife subcommittee, is Co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, and is married to marine biologist Dr Sandra Thornton Whitehouse.

  13. Some European says:

    Bravo!!
    It’s maddening that this is happening in 2011. Notice his rhythm and tone. He is try-ing to pe-ne-trate in-to the heads of some of the most stupid and reckless “leaders” ever to have ruled over this planet. Which is frustratingly hard. “Hey, you guys, this is not some theory, it’s actually measurable, and stuff…”

    Nevermind the few debatable imprecise statements (bubbles in glaciers, 600+ ppm CO2 by 2095). He got the big picture very right and constructed that speech nicely. Bravo!

    This historic document can be filed with other great speeches, most notably (IMO) the short but haunting intervention by Bob Inglis at last year’s house hearing. “It’s on the record – Make sure you say that very publicly, because I want our grandchildren to read what you said and what I said…”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRVlIT__w6A

  14. Greg Wellman says:

    Warren/Whitehouse 2016

    We ought to be able to put a Whitehouse in the White House, right?

  15. Joan Savage says:

    I sent the text and video link to my own two senators.

    The echoing sound in the video suggests that few senators were present in the Senate Chamber to hear Sen. Whitehouse’s remarks live.

  16. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Whitehouse = modern hero.

  17. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks for inspiring us, Senator Whitehouse. Please work the cloakrooms to wake up your quite pathetic colleagues.

  18. Paul Magnus says:

    We should all drop him a line showing our support for his action and encouraging him on…

  19. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Excellent speech by senator Whitehouse. Over here, if it were in British idiom, we’d print it out maybe A3 size as a poster for bus stops, stations, cafes, and anywhere that people have to wait around with nothing much to do . . . And that’s not primarily about convincing people, its about educating lemmings et al of the issue’s unique importance that warrants a resolute commitment to its advancement.

    Joe – try as I have, I just can’t see how you still make the ‘feckless incompetence’ rationale for Obama’s studied exclusion of any climate action add up to seeming plausible.
    Both the polls and the voting analysis make clear that climate is potentially a huge vote winner for him – what other issue offers over 50% of GOP voters’ acknowledgement, along with around 45% of tea party voters ?

    I’d certainly accept that Emmanuel & Axelrod could have incompetently believed the issue was a vote loser, but the former has been replaced, And there is now also a proto-campaign team scrutinizing every angle available. Can they too all be incompetent ?
    Then there’s Holdren, Chu and the Joint Chiefs who all spoke quite loudly early on. If they’d seen such a persistent bullshit misreading of the polls, surely, on such a critical issue, they’d have commissioned their own analyses and got them read by the president ?

    Then there’s Obama himself, with the intellectual capacity to become a professor of law, who most certainly didn’t get elected as president by ignoring opportunities that the polling offered him . . . .

    A second explanation that offers still less plausibility in my view is the facile charge of his outright corruption for the fossil industry. Given that the fossil industry knows full well the climate noose that the US is sticking its head into, this doesn’t actually explain Obama’s inaction either. In particular, it doesn’t explain the full-on wall-to-wall carpet-bombing exclusion of any significant action on climate whatsoever – up to and including the gagging of the EPA and the whitewashing of the Keystone EIA. A corrupt politician would have insisted on throwing bones to his base to aid his re-election prospect, while just not actually getting any significant climate action achieved. Instead, we’ve not only been almost bone-free for a long while, we’ve even watched the Obama Whitehouse sabotage the senate bill in five distinct and well documented actions – including falsifying it for the WH Fox News correspondent . . . .

    By contrast the third explanation of his inaction, that he adopted Bush’s policy of a brinkmanship of inaction with China, meshes closely with his conduct. It also offers a covert rationale which, within its frame of reference, could be very persuasive of a swathe of the establishment. Consider, if a standoff over “Who can ignore global warming the longest” is pursued with a view to causing the climatic destabilization of the communist Chinese govt, with the aim of deflecting its inexorable rise toward global dominance, can’t that easily be sold as hugely preferable to the normal response of empire to a potent rival – of subduing them by warfare ? In this sense Obama would be playing poker with the climate for the highest of stakes, just as four decades of presidents did with nuclear weapons, but he’d be doing so for a cogent reason – avoiding a future right wing govt ending up in open war with China and its allies to try to maintain US global dominance.

    Of many events supporting this analysis I’d pick just one as especially telling. – Within a few weeks of Obama’s taking office, with Dem control of house and senate, with the campaign climate promises still ringing, with McCain having been fully signed up to some degree of climate action, and with the GOP & Tea Party having scarcely a fraction of their later focus against the issue, Obama quietly made it known that he was not only adopting Bush’s reneging on Kyoto – he was also adopting Bush’s unilateral 2005 baseline for emissions control, thereby also reneging on the US signature of the UNFCCC.

    At the time, the climate issue was still seen as a clear and significant vote-winner in the election, and there was scant media pressure on him to adopt those Bush-era positions.
    So if he was not persuaded that early on to adopt the central covert Bush strategy of an aggressive brinkmanship of inaction with China, what exactly was he trying to do by adopting those signals to China ?

    I think we’d agree that as far as even mentioning climate, it’s all been downhill from that time on. What I don’t get is your faith in the sparse logic of the feckless/incompetence explanation of his conduct, and your reasons for rejecting the other two possible motivations – so I really wish you’d spare the time to clarify your reasoning. It matters to a lot of readers, including me.

    Regards,

    Lewis

    • Roger says:

      Lewis,
      As someone who also wonders why Obama won’t act, I’ve heard many theories.

      So, here’s a question: If your theory is correct, is it necessary to keep it secret in order for the strategy to work?

      Also, what’s your view on the theory that he must keep quiet to avoid threats to his family? Any others you like?
      Roger

      • Lewis Cleverdon says:

        Roger – thanks for your response.

        Re your second question, I’d expect that threats to Obama’s family are fairly routine, and that the failure to provide leadership doesn’t diminish them, since appeasement is demonstrably counter-productive – so I’d dismiss this rationale.

        The policy of deflecting China’s bid for global dominance by the climatic destabilization of its government – via an obdurate ‘brinkmanship of inaction’ – does need secrecy to be maintained I think, since its forensic exposure by say Krugman, Sachs, Fielding or some other notable writer would cause untenable outrage across large sections of US opinion. That outrage would be double edged, in that the moral issue of trying to uphold US dominance by imposing genocidal damage at random around the world is more than nationally shameful, while the damage to US climate interests (in wellbeing, prosperity & property) is also potentially immense and, given the feedbacks, potentially uncontrollable.

        The policy does of course leave open China’s option to submit to US terms of a climate treaty so one-sided that would decimate its prospects for further growth – as proposed in the take-it-or-leave-it deal at Copenhagen. —- cont below

        • Roger says:

          Lewis,
          Thank you for your reply. Very interesting.

          I don’t know. Your theory certainly has merit, but my experience and my gut feeling lead me to fear that you’re either giving too much credit for cleverness, or that such a policy, if actual, is too clever by half!

          It’s very hard for me to envision the US ‘winning’ outcome as being likely to be that favorable. And the risks are huge!

          For some other theories, see cont., below.

      • Lewis Cleverdon says:

        cont.

        Yet the effect would be the same – the communist government could not survive the resulting economic retrenchment, and China’s advantage of a command economy with autonomous corporations would be lost.

        My old friend Aubrey has put some excellent links on the ways beyond the US defensiveness in responses to yesterday’s post on the views of the ethicist, Gardiner, which I hope may be of interest.

        I’ve not come across any other explanation of Obama’s conduct over the last four years (or Bush’s in the previous 8 years) that actually meshes with the sequence of events – the sheer obduracy and the extent of negative action are pretty surreal. There may of course be plausible nuances – such as Obama’s indifference to retaining his base support reflecting how the Bilderberg group promised him a second term if he adopted and ardently pursued the nationalist Bush climate policy – as a means of pre-empting ‘inevitable’ superpower conflict with China. But I’ve seen no cogent evidence of that.

        If you come across any other explanation of Obama’s conduct that does mesh with the sequence of events – I’d very much like to hear about it.

        Regards,

        Lewis

        • Roger says:

          cont.
          Very briefly, here are two other theories:

          1. What we have here is a failure to communicate. Holdren and Obama both think that Obama “gets it” but he actually does not–especially in terms of the urgency. So, we keep postponing action, hoping that technology will come to the US rescue.

          2. The WH figures that in order to take serious climate steps without losing votes, they would need to explain how serious AGW is. Then a new fear arises–that doing this could make matters worse, in a number of ways.

          So, in either case, the game of musical chairs goes on, with ‘big carbon’ happily paying the musicians to keep playing.

          Further comments welcome…

          Warm regards,
          Roger

    • Lewis Cleverdon says:

      Roger – thanks for your response.

      Re your second question, I’d expect that threats to Obama’s family are fairly routine, and that the failure to provide leadership doesn’t diminish them, since appeasement is demonstrably counter-productive – so I’d dismiss this rationale.

      The policy of deflecting China’s bid for global dominance by the climatic destabilization of its government – via an obdurate ‘brinkmanship of inaction’ – does need secrecy to be maintained I think, since its forensic exposure by say Krugman, Sachs, Fielding or some other notable writer would cause untenable outrage across large sections of US opinion. That outrage would be double edged, in that the moral issue of trying to uphold US dominance by imposing genocidal damage at random around the world is more than nationally shameful, while the damage to US climate interests (in wellbeing, prosperity & property) is also potentially immense and, given the feedbacks, potentially uncontrollable.

      The policy does of course leave open China’s option to submit to US terms of a climate treaty so one-sided that would decimate its prospects for further growth – as proposed in the take-it-or-leave-it deal at Copenhagen. Yet the effect would be the same – the communist government could not survive the resulting economic retrenchment, and China’s advantage of a command economy with autonomous corporations would be lost.

      My old friend Aubrey has put some excellent links on the ways beyond the US defensiveness in responses to yesterday’s post on the views of the ethicist, Gardiner, which I hope may be of interest.

      I’ve not come across any other explanation of Obama’s conduct over the last four years (or Bush’s in the previous 8 years) that actually meshes with the sequence of events – the sheer obduracy and the extent of negative action are pretty surreal. There may of course be plausible nuances – such as Obama’s indifference to retaining his base support reflecting how the Bilderberg group promised him a second term if he adopted and ardently pursued the nationalist Bush climate policy – as a means of pre-empting ‘inevitable’ superpower conflict with China. But I’ve seen no cogent evidence of that.

      If you come across any other explanation of Obama’s conduct that does mesh with the sequence of events – I’d very much like to hear about it.

      Regards,

      Lewis

  20. Peter Baldo says:

    I got the impression he was speaking to a nearly-empty chamber.

    • Nichol says:

      nice speech .. I wonder how many senators where actually there, and listened to it. Without sticking their fingers into their ears.

  21. prokaryotes says:

    Maybe people should email their favorite mainstream media and ask them why they so far did not covered the story.

  22. John Mason says:

    One word. Brilliant.

    Cheers – John

  23. dorn76 says:

    Whitehouse is 100% correct. The US Senate is the largest obstacle on this planet to doing something consequential on climate.

  24. dorn76 says:

    Elect more folks like him, and joe will be writing about the successes, rather than the failure of President Obama in the 2nd term.

  25. John Ramming says:

    I’ll be visiting a nearby Obama relection office with a voided 1,000$ check. If he votes no on KXL, then they will get a good check for 1K$, if not, a 1K$ check will go to Sen. Whitehouse. It’s getting that important.

    John

  26. Mark Shapiro says:

    Senator Whitehouse was also one of six brave senators to vote to approve the closing of Guantanamo.

    He is terrific. A hero. Maybe Elizabeth Warren can join him next year . . .

  27. Brian R Smith says:

    Senator Whitehouse gave a previous incarnation of this speech on the floor December 22, 2010 that was perhaps more detailed on the technical side, & even more eloquent & impassioned on the moral side of the argument. It ends with a clear condemnation of the “deliberate deception” and a call to action to the public. “Call us. Write to us. Make us do this.”

    I highly recommend it as contender for best speech on climate

    “We’ve Chosen To Ignore The Warning Signals From Our Planet!”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0KYXddeYGs&feature=related

    • Roger says:

      Brian,
      Thanks for pointing out the earlier Sen. Whitehouse speech. You’re right, it’s also a stemwinder. (Readers, please share it!)

      Gosh, only 263 You Tube views when I looked just now. It’s nice to see that his more recent remarks are getting more exposure.

      Indeed, as someone else suggested, these talks should be required viewing in the US. Maybe, for example, before folks are allowed to buy their next tank of gas, or next basket of food, or next electronic device.
      Cheers,
      Roger

  28. Bill Branham says:

    The Southeast has a disproportionate share of air pollution problems. Ten of the top 25 cities most polluted with smog (ozone) are located in the Southeast. The health and livelihoods of more than 36 million Americans are severely threatened. Pollution from dirty coal-fired power plants significantly contributes to poor air quality. The lives of nearly 10,000 people are cut-short every year due to particulate matter pollution. This pollution causes ecological harm by inhibiting plant growth, changing acidity in soil and damaging plants.

  29. sailrick says:

    kermit

    I understand how you feel about Obama not focusing on climate change. However, I would suggest seeing what transpires between now and next fall. I’m referring to the political climate and public perceptions on the envionment and the extremist deniers among Republicans. (most of them)

    The surprising response to Occupy Wall Street gives me hope that the left is waking up and is now receptive to the importance of getting the deniers out of office. Many progressive do not know the extent of the denier PR machine. Nor do many of them “understand its nature, speed and extent” as kermit said @10
    They need to know.

    It could mean a big voter turn out among working people, minorities, and those who can still think rationally about climate change. It must be made apparent to every voter that the GOP is a science free zone.

    I think the place for voting Green party is on the state and local level, building an effective third party in state and federal legislatures, rather than shooting for president every four years.

    Candidates to run in primaries against blue dog democrats would help.

    Kudos to Senator Whitehouse – great speech

  30. This speech is pure genius. I am blogging about it to spread the word to my US readers.

    I just hope this will get climate change back to the frontpage of newspapers in the United States.

    Your country needs it, we all need it. Thank you Senator Whitehouse !