Though likely impossible to find anyone in the climate justice or environmental community to say that any sitting U.S. senator—Republican or Democrat—has been an adequate leader on the issue of global warming, 28 Democrats (and two Independents) were garnering soft applause for their overnight effort on Monday into Tuesday as they pulled an all night session focused exclusively on climate change.
The most striking element separating those who participated and those who stayed home: the volume of campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. The numbers support those who have long said the real villain in the fight against climate change is the fossil fuel industry, which uses its deep pockets to control the debate in Washington, bankroll industry-friendly politicians, and fund climate denialism in the American population.
“It’s an absolute tragedy that climate denial is still an acceptable political position to some in Washington," said Jason Kowalski, policy director for 350.org, "but I think it’s a sign of the times that over a quarter of the U.S. Senate is prepared to side with the people over the polluters tonight.”
The message is a simple one, said Hawaii's freshman Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat who organized the event: "We're not going to rest until Congress acts on the most pressing issue of our time."
More publicity stunt than legislative maneuver, participating senators gave speeches about the impact on global warming for future generations and the economic costs of doing nothing. They warned colleagues on the other side of the aisle that history would judge them harshly for their continued denialism despite overwhelming scientific consensus on planet warming.
Many prominent Democrats, especially those with upcoming reelection campaigns or those from states with strong ties to the fossil fuel industry were notably absent from the night's proceedings. As the Guardian pointed out, those no-shows included: "Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who both represent oil-rich states. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, who is facing re-election this year is also sitting this one out."
Revealingly, the Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal looked at campaign records for the 30 senators who joined the effort versus the 70 who sat out and reports:
According to data collected from the Center for Responsive Politics, each of the 30 participating senators raised an average of $56,269 from oil and gas industry executives, employees and political action committees since 2006. The 70 senators not taking part raised an average of $289,544 over the same period.
One reason for the stark difference in campaign cash from the oil and gas industry is that it primarily funds Republican politicians. Since 1996, the industry has spent more than 75 percent of its campaign donations to Republicans.
None of the 45 Republican senators are taking part in Monday's climate action. Since 2006, each of these GOP senators has raised an average of $386,077 from oil and gas interests -- far more than the average of Democratic senators. The all-night session includes two independent senators who caucus with Democrats.
There is also a substantial gap between senators taking part in the climate action and the Democratic senators who are not.
Since 2006, the 25 nonparticipating Democratic senators raised an average of $115,784, twice as much as the average of the 30 participating senators. Many of the nonparticipating Democratic senators hail from states where oil and gas is produced.
The following senators, however, did participate: Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray, (D-Wash.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).