The GOP-controlled U.S. Senate admitted on Wednesday night that climate change is not—as some Republicans have claimed in the past—"a hoax," but stopped short of attributing its causes to human activity, as scientists have done for close to 30 years.
In fact, the Senate's most ardent climate denier, James Inhofe (R-Okla.), explicitly stated during the course of debate: "Man can't change climate."
As the Wall Street Journal explains:
The amendments have no chance of becoming law because the underlying bill faces a veto threat from President Barack Obama. But the votes were part of a strategy by Democrats to put Republicans on the record about an issue that is the subject of disagreement among Republicans.
One amendment, drafted by Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, read simply: "To express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax."
"After 49 Senators voted against a mountain of climate change science today, we wouldn't be shocked if the Senate decides to vote against gravity, amend the periodic table, or express its sense that two plus two might actually equal five."
Jason Kowalski, 350.org
It passed 98-1, with Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, as the sole "no" vote.
The language of the measure was, according to Slate, "intended to take a swipe" at Inhofe, who is the new chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and a longtime climate change denier. His 2012 book is titled, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.
But because the Whitehouse amendment did not explicitly say climate change was caused by humans, Inhofe had an excuse to vote for it.
"Climate is changing, and climate has always changed, and always will, there's archeological evidence of that, there's biblical evidence of that, there's historic evidence of that, it will always change," Inhofe said on the Senate floor. "The hoax is that there are some people that are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful that they can change climate. Man can't change climate."
Another amendment, introduced by North Dakota Republican and Keystone XL bill sponsor John Hoeven, attributed climate change to human activity, but said the pipeline would have no significant impacts. Fifteen Republicans voted in favor, but the measure still failed by one vote, 59-40.
The most strongly worded amendment came from Hawai'i Democrat Brian Schatz, stating that climate change is real and that human activity—such as burning coal and oil—significantly contributes to it.
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In remarks Tuesday on the Senate floor, Schatz said, "the purpose of this amendment is simply to acknowledge and restate a set of facts. It is not intended to place a value judgment on those facts or to suggest a specific course of action in response to those facts. It’s just a set of facts, derived from decades of careful study of our land, our air, and our water."
In the same speech, Schatz declared: "Climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change. It also states that a warmer planet causes large-scale changes, including higher sea levels, changes in precipitation, and altered weather patterns such as increases in more extreme weather events."
Five Republicans—Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Susan Collins of Maine—joined all Democrats in voting 50-49 for Schatz’s measure, which needed 60 votes to pass.
Green groups expressed outrage at the blatant disregard for science.
"After 49 Senators voted against a mountain of climate change science today, we wouldn't be shocked if the Senate decides to vote against gravity, amend the periodic table, or express its sense that two plus two might actually equal five," said 350 Action Policy Director Jason Kowalski.
"While it's certainly clear from today's vote that these Senators are not scientists, it's also clear that they have no interest in science as a basis for public policy—choosing instead to be guided by the fossil fuel industry's campaign contributions" Kowlaski added. "That's why no one is surprised that climate deniers have made it their mission to shill for Keystone XL. Acknowledging the basic facts of climate science would make it much harder to justify tar sands extraction and ignore the promise of clean energy."
Politico described the machinations behind the series of votes:
In a complicated maneuver that was the first politically perilous test for Senate Republicans, the new majority party split up the votes that Democrats had hoped would force the GOP into an awkward roll call on whether they believed in the science behind climate change — just hours after President Barack Obama slammed Republicans in his State of the Union address for dodging the issue.
But Republicans made an eleventh-hour change in strategy on two Democratic attempts to divide them — with Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, their most vocal denier of humans’ effect on the climate, joining a leading liberal in a symbolic vote on whether global warming is "real and not a hoax."
A related amendment put forth by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), could reportedly see a vote as early as Thursday. Sanders' measure states that human-caused climate change is causing "devastating problems in the United States and around the world."
But some said the symbolic measures only go so far.
"In the Senate today, some Republicans finally went on record saying that man-made climate change is real," said Franz Matzner, associate director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But what’s their plan to do something about it? Republican leaders still are trying to block any and all solutions, and putting our children’s health at risk."