On Wednesday, Senate Republicans successfully avoided going on the record about whether industrial emissions have anything to do with global warming. It was not the GOP’s best moment. Here’s what happened …
Sen. Brian Schatz offered an amendment to the Keystone XL Pipeline bill (which, in case you’re curious, would remove the President’s authority over the project) that stated, in part:
It is the sense of Congress that climate change is real; and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.
That amendment gained only five Republican votes – Kelly Ayotte (NH), Lamar Alexander (TN), Susan Collins (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Mark Kirk (IL) – and was thus 10 votes shy of the 60 needed to pass.
Sen. John Hoeven offered an amendment to Schatz’s amendment striking the word “significantly” from the passage in question. 15 Senate Republicans could go along with that – the five who voted for the Schatz amendment plus Rand Paul (KY), John McCain (AZ), Jeff Flake (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Pat Toomey (PA), Mike Rounds (SD), Rob Portman (OH), Dean Heller (NV), Orrin Hatch (UT), and Bob Corker (TN). Alas, Sen. Hoeven’s amendment fell one vote shy of the 60 needed to pass when Sen. Hoeven himself voted against it.
The day was saved when Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and James Inhofe (!) cosponsored an amendment stating that global warming is “real and not a hoax.” That amendment managed to draw a yes vote from everyone in the Senate save for Roger Wicker (MS). But that isn’t as big a concession as one might think. Regarding climate change, Sen. Inhofe said, “There is archeological evidence of that. There’s Biblical evidence of that. There’s historical evidence of that. The hoax is, there are some people who are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.”
When Republican politicians are confronted with questions about what the science is behind climate change, they invariably respond, “Look, I’m not a scientist” … and then start to dodge. So what do scientists say? A recent review of the scientific literature from 1991-2011 found that, among those papers that took a position on the matter, 97.1 percent agreed with the proposition that global warming is happening and that human activity is the main cause (essentially, the position taken by the Schatz amendment). While that review is not uncontroversial, it holds up to scrutiny.
It’s also worth noting that the heavyweights of the scientific skeptic community would have no problem affirming the position taken by the Schatz amendment. MIT physicist Richard Lindzen, atmospheric scientist John Christy, Cato climatologist Pat Michaels, and atmospheric scientist Judith Curry all concede that global warming is happening and industrial emissions significantly contribute to that warming (although Prof. Curry would like a bit more precision in the terms used in that amendment). Even a large majority of the scientists who took the podium at the Heartland Institute’s most recent International Conference on Climate Change – the largest annual gathering of scientific skeptics that I am aware of – accepted the premise of the Schatz amendment.
The takeaway here is that the GOP – perhaps unknowingly – disregarded not only the IPCC narrative regarding climate change, but the “skeptics” narrative as well.