Franken Blasts Climate Change Deniers From Senate Floor


I rise today to join my colleagues to expose those who continue to deny the science of climate change and try to deceive the American people. This is important because climate change is an existential threat to our planet and to future generations. By denying climate science and lobbying against efforts to address climate change, these deniers are subjecting the planet and everybody on it to great risk. Climate change will have significant adverse impacts on all of our states, including my state of Minnesota. Just look at our agriculture sector, which is responsible for one out of every five jobs in my state. Warmer temperatures and more intense droughts are going to negatively impact this important rural economic engine.

In fact, a recent study estimates that with no adaptation efforts against climate change, Midwest crop production could decrease by more than 60 percent by the end of the century. Climate change will also impact our waters. And that is important to my state—the Land of 10,000 Lakes—which includes Lake Superior. Lake Superior alone contains about 10 percent of the world’s fresh surface water and it is warming by 2 degrees per decade. Because of this warming, we are seeing more evaporation and lower water levels in the lake. Plus rising temperatures allow for more favorable conditions for invasive species and hazardous algal blooms. Warmer temperatures could also have severe consequences for fish like walleye and trout that are so important to Minnesota fisheries and ecosystems.

And let’s not forget the threat of climate change to our forests. Like in our lakes, warmer temperatures elevate the threat of invasive species—such as the emerald ash borer and gypsy moth that are rapidly changing the composition of our forests, destroying trees and costing economies money and jobs. So you can see, Madam President, climate change poses a very serious threat to Minnesota—and to our country. I believe it is the defining issue of our generation—an issue that demands immediate action. But unfortunately, Madam President, there are some groups that have been trying to prevent action. These groups have spent many millions of dollars muddying the water, distorting the science, deceiving the American people, and ultimately delaying the response we desperately need. Over the last two days, my colleagues have come to the floor to expose this Web of Denial—the extensive network of groups and individuals who are spreading lies about climate change. And I am here today to expose one of the worst actors of all—the Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation is a right-wing, ideological organization known for advocating for discriminatory social and economic policy.

Things like attacking voting rights, privatizing social security, and favoring tax breaks for the rich to the detriment of the middle class. They are also a mouthpiece of climate denial. If you go to The Heritage Foundation website, you will find that it says climate change is “used too often as a vehicle to advance special interests and politically driven agendas.” Which is rich coming from an ideological organization devoted to promoting a partisan agenda. The Heritage Foundation is notorious for trying to undermine the science on climate change. Their favorite claim is that “the only consensus over the threat of climate change that seems to exist these days is that there is no consensus.” Even as recently as April, a report that the Heritage Foundation issued referred to climate science as, and I quote, “a field that is a mere few decades old,” and that, quote, “no overwhelming consensus exists among climatologists.” And while these statements might grab headlines, they are utterly false. Climate change science actually dates back to the 1800s—before Henry Ford sold his first car, before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, and even before the first oil well was drilled in the United States.

In 1824, a French scientist Joseph Fourier proposed that the atmosphere keeps the Earth warm—what we know today as the “greenhouse effect.” In 1859, an Irish scientist John Tyndall attributed this warming to several gases, including carbon dioxide. In 1896, a Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius published the first calculation of global warming from human emissions of carbon dioxide. And in the more than 100 years since, scientists all around the world have studied, debated, and researched different aspects of the issue. So when staff from the Heritage Foundation—none of whom actually have advanced scientific degrees—write a report that claims climate science is a new field that has little scientific consensus, they are ignoring the nearly 200 years of research. A scientific body of research that has led to 97 percent of climate scientists agreeing that humans are causing global warming. But every now and then, even the Heritage Foundation admits that climate change is in fact real. But when they admit that, they pretend that climate change isn’t a big deal—that it’s not worth our time to combat it.

In 2010, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation—with a degree in law, not climate science mind you—declared that, and I quote, “none of the scary stuff about global warming is true, and what is true about global warming, what the science actually tells us about man’s role in changing the climate, is far from terrifying.” Now all of this science denial and false propaganda might not be such a big deal if climate change wasn’t such a serious problem. But when you look at the scope of the problem you quickly realize how Heritage is acting in an incredibly and deliberately irresponsible way. Last year, I travelled to the climate change conference in Paris and met with a delegation of leaders from Bangladesh—a country that has contributed little to industrial air pollution but is one of the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. It is estimated that unless we act, rising sea levels will inundate 17 percent of Bangladesh, displacing about 18 million people in this low-lying nation by the end of this century.

Even now, rising sea levels are impacting Bangladesh through salt water intrusion—reducing agricultural yields and ruining drinking water supplies. Madam President we are talking about a very poor country that doesn’t have the resources to deal with climate change. Bangladeshis will be uprooted and turned into climate refugees without a home. And I bet these 18 million people would disagree with the Heritage Foundation that the impacts of climate change are “far from terrifying.” Madam President if you think that the Syrian refugee crisis is difficult to deal with, just think of the magnitude of what we will see, if we do not address climate change. So for a lawyer at Heritage to make this claim, is not only irresponsible, but frankly, dangerous to the welfare of people around the world. Madam President, these are just a few examples of the falsehoods that the Heritage Foundation spreads about climate change. And if I had the time, I could go on for hours—maybe even days—talking about more of those lies.

In fact from 1998 to 2013, the Heritage Foundation published more than sixteen hundred documents contributing to climate skepticism—and have published many more since. So Madam President, as you can see, the Heritage Foundation is deliberate and unwavering in its fraud and deceit. Now you might ask, why would the Heritage Foundation work to deceive the American public in such a way? What do they get out of it? I’ll tell you—it’s because they are being paid to do so by self-interested fossil fuel companies—like ExxonMobil—and people with major investments in fossil fuel companies, like the Koch brothers. Heritage’s work to espouse lies and prevent action on climate change directly benefits the bottom lines of the companies and brothers funding them. We know this because over the past two decades ExxonMobil donated nearly a million dollars to the Heritage Foundation. And the Koch Brothers—the owners of the fossil fuel conglomerate Koch Industries—contributed nearly six million dollars.

These companies and brothers are worried that if people knew what their products are doing to the planet, they would stop buying their products. Or public policy would drive the markets away from their products. So in order to protect their bottom line, they set out to misinform the public. And Heritage, and many other similar organizations, are helping them to spread their falsehoods. This money paid to Heritage goes to supposed experts whose jobs are to release thousands of bogus reports about climate change. These experts are not climate scientists—they are lawyers and economists serving as puppets for the fossil fuel industry. These same so-called experts publish op-eds and do interviews in media outlets around the country—helping to spread misinformation or disinformation. They also brief Congress and serve as trusted authorities for staff in many Republican offices.

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that some of my Republican colleagues deny climate change when they rely on such experts. But Madam President, despite the best efforts of the Koch brothers, the Heritage Foundation, and other deniers, people around the country are not fooled. In Minnesota we are seeing the changes to our crops, lakes, and forests. And instead of sticking their heads in the sand, Minnesotans are taking action. In 2007, under a Republican Governor, my home state established a renewable energy standard—to produce 25 percent of our power from renewable sources by 2025. That same year, Minnesota passed an energy efficiency standard—to require utilities to become a little more efficient every year. And to top things off, Minnesota established an aggressive goal to reduce greenhouse gases 80 percent by 2050. These are the kinds of policies we need to combat climate change—and these are also the kinds of policies that the Heritage Foundation is fighting tooth and nail to prevent. And it’s not just the Minnesota legislature that’s taking action—Minnesota businesses also recognize the importance of fighting climate change. Last year I joined Dave MacLennan, the CEO of Cargill, in penning an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune to highlight the threat of climate change to agriculture—especially considering global population will reach 9 billion by mid-century.

As the CEO of a company focused on agriculture, Dave is concerned about what climate change is going to do to our food supply. And he is not alone. We have businesses all over our state that are installing wind turbines and solar panels, and manufacturing cutting edge energy efficiency technologies. So you see, Madam President, Minnesotans aren’t fooled by the Heritage Foundation. On the contrary, for them, climate change represents a “Sputnik moment”—an opportunity to rise to the challenge and defeat that threat. In response to Sputnik, we ended up not just winning the Space Race and sending a man to the moon, we did all sorts of great things for the American economy and society. We did it before, and we can do it again. By rising to the challenge of climate change, we will not just clean our air, but also drive innovation and create jobs—and not only in the clean energy sector. Madam President, I now have two grandchildren, and I am expecting my third later this year. God willing, they will live through this century and into the next.

And in 50 years, I don’t want my grandson Joe to turn to me and say: “Grandpa you were in the Senate and you knew about the severity of climate change. Why didn’t you do anything to stop it? And also—why are you still alive? You’re 115 years old.” I want Joe to know that when we had the opportunity to put the planet on a safer path, that we seized the moment. So let’s not allow the Heritage Foundation and the Web of Denial to slow us down. And let’s not allow the selfish motivations of shadowy donors with ties to the fossil fuel industry prevent us from making the planet a safer and more habitable place for future generations. Madam President, it’s time to stand up to ignorance and deceit. It’s time to do what’s right. Thank you, MadamPresident. I yield the floor..