Wildfires in the U.S. West, heat in the East and drought across most of the nation show the climate is changing, Democrats said today as they sought to revive an issue the Obama administration and Republicans had dropped.
“The whole world is debating global warming,” Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who often votes with Democrats, said at a hearing on climate change. “We can’t run away from the issue. We need to put it front and center.”
Cutting carbon emissions from human activity such as burning coal to generate electricity or driving gas-guzzling sports-utility vehicles was among contested issues in Congress. President Barack Obama unsuccessfully pushed a cap on carbon-dioxide emissions, thought to be a leading cause of climate change, early in his administration.
A “cap-and-trade” bill to cut carbon-dioxide emissions passed the House in 2009, when Democrats were in control. It died in the Senate amid opposition from Republicans, and Democrats in industrial states, who said energy costs would increase as fossil fuels were replaced by more expensive solar and wind power. Obama has stopped pushing climate legislation, citing a lack of political support.
“The global-warming movement has completely collapsed,” said Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who once called climate change a “hoax.” Cap-and-trade legislation is “dead and gone,” he said.
Democrats sought to highlight the issue at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today, the first hearing on climate change in two years.
Later, Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and a main author of climate-change legislation, in a floor speech urged colleagues to address climate change, which he says has become an “unusable word” in American politics.
“The procrastination continues” as the scientific evidence mounts that humans are causing the planet to warm, Kerry said.
The committee hearing was reminiscent of 2009 when supporters of climate legislation sought to build a public record of support as skeptical colleagues blocked action citing the costs to the economy.
Democrats listed weather events to support the case for climate change, including a record streak of days with temperatures that exceeded 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) in the nation’s capital, recent wildfires in Colorado, and the devastating 2011 drought in Texas and a disaster tied to dry weather this year that extends to half the U.S.
Christopher Field, a biology and environmental earth-science professor at Stanford University, said a clear link exists between climate change and the increase in extreme weather events.
Evidence that human activity is causing the planet to warm is unequivocal, said James McCarthy, a professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University.
Carbon-dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution have led to increasing the Earth’s temperature, which threatens to cause extreme weather, drought and coastal flooding, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
Republicans said the science isn’t settled, and Democratic plans to cut carbon emissions would hurt the economy.
“A forest fire is no proof of global warming,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican. “Give me a break.”
John Christy, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said of recent weather disasters, “This is what Mother Nature looks like.”