Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a longtime advocate for action to address climate change, blasted climate deniers in general and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in particular in a speech on the Senate floor yesterday afternoon.
Whitehouse offered a withering criticism of the "deliberate and coordinated" efforts of the fossil fuel industry and conservative ideologues and foundations to fuel the climate change denier movement.
"This isn't new. We've seen self-serving strategies like this one before: They questioned the merits of requiring seat belts; they questioned CFCs causing the deterioration of the ozone layer; they questioned the toxic effects of lead exposure for children; and they questioned whether tobacco was bad for you," Whitehouse said.
He specifically called out the Global Climate Coalition, Information Council for the Environment, Heartland Institute, Annapolis Center and Cooler Heads Coalition for engaging in "sophisticated campaigns" to give the public the impression that there is a real scientific debate about whether man-made climate change is happening.
"Well, there isn't. There just isn't. The real debate is about how bad the changes will be," he said.
The senator then engaged in a natural history lesson to prove his point.
"The fact is, we have changed the composition of our atmosphere, pushing the concentration of carbon dioxide beyond the range that is has been in 8,000 centuries," he said. "We're messing with planetary concentrations of atmospheric carbons that go back four times longer than our species has inhabited this planet."
He pointed to NASA data of global surface temperature reconstructions that show Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of that warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.
"NASA scientists put a man on the moon and a rover on Mars. They're not the quacks. Our nation's best and brightest minds accept the evidence of climate change and are urging us to act. Yet still for some in this body, the deniers carry the day," he said.
He then called out McConnell for perpetually fretting about the future of America's children and grandchildren -- except when it comes to climate change.
"On virtually every traditional anti-Obama Republican tea party bugbear -- Medicare, Obamacare, the stimulus, the deficit, even this 'Europeanization of America' -- out come the children and grandchildren," Whitehouse said.
"So when it comes to big corporate polluters of today leaving our children and grandchildren a damaged and more dangerous planet, where then is the concern for those children and grandchildren? ... The cost will fall on our children and our grandchildren of our negligence and folly in not addressing our carbon pollution. The cost will be on them, and the shame will be on us."
A McConnell spokesman declined to respond yesterday afternoon to the remarks "from the junior senator" from Rhode Island.
Seth Larson, a spokesman for Whitehouse, said the senator has "gotten into the habit of giving a speech on climate change pretty much every week. Every week he tries to cover a slightly different angle ... and wants to do everything he can to beat the drum and highlight the importance of the issue to keep the pressure on."
Click here to read Whitehouse's prepared remarks.