Senator Sheldon Whitehouse holds Google hangout on climate change

Retreating Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska

Retreating Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska

Last Thursday, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) held a Google hangout video conference sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters. Also on hand for the video chat were Gene Karpinski, President of LCV, and LCV’s Senior Vice President for Government Affairs, Tiernan Sittenfeld. Senator Whitehouse is perhaps the leading Senator on climate change issues, and has given a “Time to Wake Up” environmental speech on the Senate floor every week for the past 100 weeks that the Senate has been in session, i.e., over the past three years. Whitehouse also took questions from the Google hangout audience, and worked with LCV to use the Twitter hashtags #TimeToWakeUp and #100Reasons to further the interaction with the audience. Here are some highlights from the video conference:

  •  Senator Whitehouse said that climate change deniers “tend to traffic in really big lies,” one of which is that dealing with climate change would cost jobs. In fact, according to Sen. Whitehouse, “we will do much better as an economy if we own the renewable energy future that the world is heading towards.”
  • According to Sen. Whitehouse, “The solar industry has already eclipsed coal mining in terms of employment.”
  • Whitehouse said that, similar to what the tobacco industry did decades ago, the fossil fuel industry is trying to create a “false parallel science” to deny climate change in order to further their business at the expense of our health. Whitehouse called this parallel reality a “vast denial apparatus.”
  • Senator Whitehouse said that oil companies have received approximately $80 billion in direct subsidies over the past 10 years, but that, according to an International Monetary Fund study, the worldwide annual subsidies to the coal, oil and gas industries, including the harm that these industries do not pay for, amount to around $5 trillion, including $700 billion per year from the U.S. alone.
  • According to Whitehouse, once Republicans are convinced that climate change is real, man-made and serious, they will gravitate toward conservative solutions centered around a carbon fee.
  • The upcoming battle over the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants, according to Sen. Whitehouse, will be “a great opportunity” to “point out the disconnect between where the fossil fuel-funded Republican Party is and where young Republicans are, where Independent voters are, where America is on this.”
  • Karpinski pointed out that EPA’s final Clean Power Plan, to be released this summer, will be “the single biggest step this country has ever taken to cut carbon pollution.” Karpinski added that there will be a big fight over implementing this plan in each state, and that the plan was one of the main reasons why President Barack Obama was able to get China to agree to cut their emissions as well, leading up to the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change which will take place in Paris next December.
  • Sen. Whitehouse encouraged citizens to publicly support action on climate change, including writing letters to their local newspapers, using social media and communicating with their elected officials.
  • Karpinski added that Pope Francis is expected to make a public statement (known as an “encyclical”) on climate change soon, which should also add momentum to the fight against climate change.
  • When asked what to say to people who claim that nature, not human activity, is the major contributor to climate change, Senator Whitehouse said that “we have known since Abraham Lincoln was riding around Washington, D.C. in his top hat as President of the United States that carbon dioxide warms the planet as its concentration goes up in the atmosphere” and that “we know that we have put gigatons of carbon dioxide up in the atmosphere, so we know that has to be having an effect.” Whitehouse also said that it only takes a thermometer to prove that the ocean is warming, a tide gauge like the one at the Naval Station Newport (Rhode Island) to show about 10 inches of tide increase in the last half century, and a simple high school fish tank pH experiment to prove that the oceans have become more acidic.
  • Karpinski pointed out that both President Obama and the U.S. Department of Defense have publicly stated that climate change poses serious threats to our national security.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse demonstrated in this Google hangout why he is so valuable on the climate change issue. Whitehouse is a triple threat of (i) a leader who recognizes the science which demonstrates a serious climate change impact, (ii) a passionate legislative advocate for action on climate change, and, of special interest to Messaging Matters, (iii) someone who uses messaging and framing very effectively to go on offense on climate change and other crucial environmental issues.

Photo by Durelle Scott, National Science Foundation, via U.S. Department of Agriculture, used under Creative Commons license.


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