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Sunday, January 25, 2015

The “Great Deliberative Body” splits on human-caused climate change.

The day after President Obama dropped some snark on climate deniers in the State of the Union Address, I made a terrible mistake.

I watched the Senate debate something that virtually the entire world has accepted as un-debatable.
The Senate voted on whether or not climate change is human-caused. According to the Senate, it is, by a plurality of one. Forty-nine senators formally went on the record as climate deniers.

Yikes. Wow. Holy Cow. Or as they say in social media, OMFG.

Sen Whitehouse's good intentions undercut
by Republican anti-science nihilists
All day Wednesday and into Thursday, the Great Deliberative Body pored over pros and cons of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Jobs!! Thousands of them!! (or dozens of them according to the State Department’s count of permanent jobs).

Keystone’s impact on climate change also was prominent in the debate. In what at the moment seemed a masterful parliamentary move, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tagged a simple amendment onto bill S-1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act. Whitehouse, the Senate’s most outspoken advocate for climate action, proposed a one-sentence, non-binding statement: “It is the sense of the
Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax.”

Astoundingly, it passed 98 votes to 1. Among the positive votes was Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), author of the book “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) was the lone dissenter.

One by one, Republicans took to the Senate floor and asserted that the climate is changing, it’s always changing, and humans have nothing to do with it. The out-parliamented Whitehouse suddenly looked like the Distinguished Senator from Wile E. Coyote.

Enter Democrat Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) with another amendment: Climate change is real and significantly caused by human activity. For all but five Republican Senators, that was going too far.

Five Republicans crossed over to reality and voted for Schatz’s amendment. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) sided with 45 Democrats, whose leader, Harry Reid, sat this one out due to a recent injury. 

The 50-49 plurality for the amendment is actually a defeat, though, since Senate rules require 60 votes on a “non-germane” amendment.

In the Great Deliberative Body, it’s not good enough for 49 senators to ignore the virtual scientific consensus and growing body of on-the-ground evidence, you need to double down – especially with dozens of American citizens like me following your every word on C-SPAN 2.

John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) blamed the media. Despite voting for the Schatz amendment, Lindsey Graham accused Democrats of using “gimmicks” and “tricks” to call attention to climate change. He tossed in the “I am not a scientist” meme for good measure. New Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) stumped to bring offshore oil drilling to his home state.

Then came Inhofe. He took to the floor at about 6pm Wednesday, and again Thursday morning, performing virtually the entire climate denial songbook. Deploying the Senate’s less than state-of-the-art AV system of posterboards on an easel, Inhofe displayed a Heartland Institute climate science poster (You may recall that Heartland is the group that bought an ill-advised freeway billboard likening climate change advocates to the Unabomber). 

Then came another poster showing the 1974 Time Magazine piece on global cooling.

Can you name another science issue where a back-page magazine piece from more than forty years ago becomes a cornerstone argument?

Inhofe also came perilously close to denying that he’d ever called climate change a hoax. Denying science can be really harmful, but if you deny the title of your own book, you may have some unresolved issues. And in fairness, after watching the Senate twist its own drawers over this for a day and a half, I may have some of my own.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Peter Dykstra at or Brian Bienkowski at