This afternoon, the U.S. Senate passed legislation to approve the Keystone XL, a proposed 1,179-mile oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Every Republican Senator and a handful of Democrats voted in favor of building the pipeline with a final vote of 62 to 36 to pass S. 1.
“Now that we have burned through three weeks of the Senate’s time, Senate Republicans have succeeded in passing their first piece of legislation: a gift for Big Oil that the President has already said he will veto," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). "I’m glad the President will veto this bill because the Keystone XL pipeline would be a disaster for our health and environment—enabling expanded development of one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet and exacerbating climate change. I hope we can now put this debate behind us and move on to more serious legislative efforts to address the major issues facing our country.”
The Senate just passed the #KeystoneXL bill, a gift for Big Oil. I'm glad @BarackObama already said he'll veto http://t.co/JctYFjJMkf #NoKXL
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) January 29, 2015
Now the measure goes back to the House, which passed a similar bill earlier this month. House leaders will need to decide whether to pass the Senate bill as is, or make changes that would then need to be voted on by each chamber. President Obama has indicated that he will veto any Keystone XL bill that hits his desk.
“Putting the agenda of polluters ahead of the American public is bad policy and it’s bad politics," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Remember when Senate Republicans thought moving forward with Keystone XL first would help them score political points? Now, they’ve managed to waste weeks of the American people’s time floundering around on a bill that the White House has indicated will be vetoed and they've gone on the record against broadly popular policies like protecting our drinking water, supporting wind jobs, and forcing the Koch Brothers to disclose their political spending."
Today's vote follows many votes on amendments to the Senate bill largely centered around how disastrous the tar sands oil industry is to the climate. An amendment introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Sen. Whitehouse was voted on last week, which asked Senate members if "climate change is real and is not a hoax." The amendment passed by a 98-1 vote, with only Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker voting “no.” Another amendment sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), asked if "climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change." The amendment was blocked in a 50-49 vote, short of the 60 that was needed for approval.
Forty-nine Senators—all Republicans—voted against the statement that humans significantly contribute to climate change, cementing their legacies as climate deniers. The Senators that agreed that humans significantly contribute to climate change and still voted for the Keystone XL bill, include Democrat Michael Bennet (CO), Republicans Kelly Ayotte (NH), Mark Kirk (IL), John McCain (AZ) and Rand Paul (KY).
“Now that we have clarified which Senators believe in climate change caused by human activities, clearly a vote is needed on other key issues like whether the Earth is indeed flat or whether gravity truly exists," said Kyle Ash, Greenpeace legislative representative. "The entire U.S. Congress is now a punch line. While it is certainly sad that so many climate-denying Senators reject modern scientific knowledge, we’re happy that voters will have an easy-to-read list of those willing to destroy our future in the name of dirty fossil fuel money."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced an amendment last week asking if climate change is real; if climate change is caused by human activities; if climate change has already caused devastating problems in the U.S. and around the world; if only a brief window of opportunity exists before the U.S. and the entire planet suffer irreparable harm; and if it is imperative that the U.S. transform its energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Sander's amendment lost the votes of every Republican, plus three Democrats and failed to pass.
President Obama has got to get out his veto pen. #KeystoneXL http://t.co/wCLfYmxeiH
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 29, 2015
“Senators who love Keystone just voted to approve eminent domain for private gain and to risk our water, all for one foreign corporation," said Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska. "The good news for landowners in the Heartland is President Obama cares about our land and water and will veto this reckless bill. Farmers and ranchers need stability in their government so they can plan crops and development of their land. A full rejection of Keystone cannot come soon enough for landowners.”
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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