When Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell took the gavel as Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, he swore that the first bill to reach the floor would be aimed at forcing the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Climate activists have waged a pitched battle to block the pipeline, which would carry an abrasive sludge, mostly highly-polluting bitumen (and perhaps a soupçon of leftover sand) from fields in Canada to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico. Bill McKibben (a member of NCSE’s Advisory Council) has led that fight, insisting of these “tar sands”, “If we’re going to do anything about global warming, it’s the poster child for the kind of stuff that’s going to have to stay in the ground.” The bill’s advocates insist that these fuels will be burned no matter what, and that approving the pipeline is economically necessary (though the size of any long-term economic benefits are unclear).
The Keystone bill is moving to the Senate floor, where it is sure to pass given the composition of the Senate, and then face a certain veto. Climate hawks are using the bill to get the Senate on the record about the science of climate change. Rhode Island’s Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (who has spent hours on the Senate floor railing against climate denial) proposed an amendment to the bill which simply declares, “climate change is real and not a hoax.”
Even Oklahoma’s Sen. Inhofe, who has called climate change “the greatest hoax”, voted for the amendment. Inhofe explained the vote afterward, saying the climate changes all the time, citing scientific and “Biblical evidence.”. But Inhofe and other Republican Senators voted against an amendment proposed by Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, which would have added that “climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” Nearly half of the Senate, 49 members (all Republicans), voted against that amendment, with 5 Republicans voting in its favor (yielding 50 votes, not enough to clear the Senate’s requirement of a 60-vote supermajority).
So the nation’s top legislative chamber, the cooling saucer of our democracy, managed to reject the most trivial form of climate change denial (accepting the unequivocal evidence of global warming), but fell into the trap of the more common, and equally false, denial of human responsibility.
Today, the Senate took up an amendment by Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders (an Independent who caucuses with Democrats). That amendment asked the Senate to agree that climate change is real, that it is caused by humans, that it has “already caused devastating problems in the United States and around the world,” that “a brief window of opportunity exists before the United States and the entire planet suffer irreparable harm,” and that “it is imperative that the United States transform its energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy as rapidly as possible.” It failed on a vote of 56-42.