The U.S. Senate has finally acknowledged that climate change is real. On January 21, as part of the debate on the Keystone XL pipeline, the Senate passed an amendment by a vote of 98 to 1 stating, “It is the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax.”
Two other amendments failed, however. While 59 Senators agreed that human activity contributes to climate change, only 50 agreed it “significantly” contributes. Both fell short of the 60 votes needed to pass.
The difference between these three amendments may seem trivial, but if lawmakers believe human activity does not contribute to climate change, then they feel no responsibility to take action.
More than 97 percent of peer-reviewed scientific papers have come to the conclusion that not only is climate change real, human activity is the cause. As Neal Degrasse Tyson, host of the recent Cosmos television series, said, “There's scientific consensus that we're destabilizing our climate. Yet, our civilization seems to be in the grip of denial, a kind of paralysis. There is a disconnect between what we know, and what we do. Being able to adapt our behavior to challenges is as good a definition of intelligence as any I know.”
If scientists have come to a clear consensus, why is it so difficult for members of Congress? Campaign donations to lawmakers undoubtedly play a role. Oil and coal industries profit from our reliance on fossil fuels and channel some of those profits into lobbying Congress to maintain the status quo.
Some lawmakers cite concerns that measures to address climate change will have a negative economic impact on the average consumer. Of course, this fails to take into account the already negative effects of fossil fuel pollution and climate change, such as asthma and other health impacts, increased flooding and natural disasters, and oil spills resulting in damage, lost jobs, sickness, and death.
If the concern is truly for the average household, then the debate should be about how the U.S. can transition to more renewable sources of energy in a way that does not make it more difficult for individuals and families to meet their basic needs. It should be about how we craft sensible regulations to protect air, water, and human health, without being overly burdensome, and about ways the federal government can encourage renewable alternatives through tax breaks or other incentives. It should also be about the fact that many of our 7 billion neighbors on this planet are already struggling to adapt to a changing climate.
The vote on the Senate floor last month was a first step. Still, too many members of Congress are content to deny the impact of human activity on our climate and do nothing.
We all have a responsibility to care for God’s wondrous creation. Tell your members of Congress that not only do you believe climate change is real, you believe we are responsible for causing it—and, as such, we have a responsibility to fix it.
Tammy Alexander is Senior Legislative Associate for Domestic Affairs in the MCC Washington Office. Printed with permission from Third Way Cafe. Originally printed on February 5, 2015.