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US Senate Holds All-Night Climate Session … Does Anyone Listen?

2014 March 13
by Shared by Steve Rust

On March 10, Democrats in the US Senate held an all-night session on the issue of global climate change.¬† Media coverage was sparse at best. The primary take away seems to be a series of jokes on late night television, a back and forth between Sarah Palin and Democrats using Dr. Seuss rhymes to reach voters, and a general lack of enthusiasm. I’m teaching an upper-division class this term on Ecocinema at the University of Oregon and most of my students had no idea that the Senate was even holding the session. A tweet by someone named Ryan Piper that was included on an Independent Journal Review list of “11 of the Best Tweet About the Democrats Climate Change Slumber Party” summed up the feelings of many people around the country: “How about fixing the economy before you play God and try to fix the weather?”

According to data tracked by NASA and other sources, 97% of climate scientists “agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” That percentage is higher, by the way, than the percentage of doctors (95%) who were willing to agree with Surgeon General C. Everett Coop’s report in the 1980s that cigarette smoking causes cancer. The US military has taken climate change into account for its long term strategic planning since the early 2000s and current US Secretary of State John Kerry has recently taken on the issue as a “the greatest challenge of our generation.”

According to data collected by the Huffington Post, 90% of the Republican leadership in the House and Senate deny climate¬† change. 17 out of 22 (77%) of Republicans on the House committee on Science, Space and Technology and 22 out of 30 Republicans (73%) on the House Energy and Commerce committee deny climate change science. Many in fact refer to climate science a “snake oil”. Here is a link to a recent edition of the Huffington Post web show “Political Junkies” discussing the Senate’s publicity stunt to hold the all night session. Just last week, Gallup polled 513 Americans on a list of 15-issues facing the country and only one quarter claimed they worried about climate change “a great deal” while more than half said they worry about change only “a little” or “not at all” as noted in a recent article on Grist.com.

As a scholar and teacher who work with students from across the political spectrum, climate change is a particularly difficult issue to teach. I pride myself on being non-partisan in the classroom but when trusting the work of the scientific community and sharing that work in the classroom is seen by some student as partisan and ideological, not only can it impact the willingness of those student to engage in the work of the class but can also impact how those students evaluate my courses. Yet the more politicized climate change becomes and the more difficult it comes to overcome the “yawn factor”, the more important it becomes to teach.

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