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Senator’s Remarkable Climate Sermon


An oration about climate change …  loaded with Bible quotes … invoking the name of the Almighty in almost every other sentence. Must have been delivered by a right-wing climate change denier, right? Wrong.

In a 17-minute speech yesterday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) had apparently had enough of hearing another senator assure the U.S. Congress that God will save us from ruining the planet.

I was recently at a Senate meeting where I heard a member of our Senate community say, “God won’t allow us to ruin our planet.”  Maybe that’s why we do nothing: we’re comfortable that God somehow won’t allow us to ruin our planet.  That seems such an extraordinary thing that I thought I would reflect on it today.

Whitehouse makes a practice of warning the Senate once a week about the dangers of climate change. But yesterday he sounded more like a preacher than a politician, and he came close to accusing those who invoke the name of God to justify their denial of climate change of taking the Lord’s name in vain:

It is less an expression of religious thinking than it is of magical thinking.  The statement that God won’t allow us to ruin our planet sweeps aside ethics, responsibilities, consequences, duties, even awareness.  It comforts us with the anodyne assumption that, no matter what we do, some undefined presence will, through some undefined measure, make things right, clean up our mess. 

That is seeking magical deliverance from our troubles, not divine guidance through our troubles.

What follows is a grand sweep through Galatians, Luke, Job, Proverbs, Genesis, Jeremiah, the Psalms, Hosea, Samuel, Thessalonians and Revelations, peppered with remarks by Abraham Lincoln – enough to leave any Bible-toting Tea Party congressperson who worships at the feet of the Almighty Exxon Mobil gasping for air and prayer.

If God is just a tidy-up-after-us God, why does the Book of Job 4:8 warn that “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same”?  If God is not a god of consequences, why does Luke 6:38 tell us, “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you,” and Proverbs 22:8 tell us, “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity”?

… Look at Revelations 11:18:  “And thy wrath is come, and the time . . . that thou . . . shouldest destroy them which destroy the Earth.”

The idea, Sen. Whitehouse argues, that God is just going to come along, sweep away the mess we humans have made of the planet, and make everything OK again is just the sheerest arrogance.

We are here to do God’s work; He is not to do ours.  How arrogant, how very far from humility, is the self-satisfied, smug assurance that God the Maid will come and tidy up after us; that on this Earth God’s work need not be our own.

Whitehouse didn’t name the senators and members of the House to whom he was referring, but there are plenty of them. Last month Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan), who calls climate science “a lot of condescending elitism“, complained about the extremes of drought and flood in the Midwest, moaning that “I don’t know what we’ve done to Mother Nature, but she sure hasn’t been very kind to us.”

It’s enough to leave any Bible-toting Tea Party congressperson who worships at the feet of the Almighty Exxon Mobil gasping for air and prayer.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, has assured his colleagues in the House that climate change should not concern us since God has already promised not to destroy the Earth.

And Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga), a member of the House Science Committee and a physician, calls evolution “a lie from the pit of hell” and asserts that “Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human-induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community.”

Incidentally, Brandon Keim, of Wired magazine, profiles a few other members of the House Science Committee thusly:

The committee’s chair, Ralph Hall (R-Texas), lumps ‘global freezing’ together with global warming, which he doesn’t believe humans can significantly impact because ‘I don’t think we can control what God controls.’

Dana Rohrbacher (R-Huntington Beach) thinks cutting down trees reduces levels of greenhouse gases they absorb.

Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) still trots out the debunked notion that a scientific consensus existed in the 1970s on ‘global cooling,’ which he portrays as a scare concocted by scientists ‘in order to generate funds for their pet projects.’

So it comes as something of a relief, even if you’re not a Bible believer, to see a member of the Senate, Sheldon Whitehouse, take to the floor and debunk the debunkers with the words of the very book they like to dish out with such smug, irresponsible abandon.

Nothing supports climate denial.  Nothing but money.  But in Congress, in this temple, money rules; so here I stand, in one of the last places on the planet still a haven to climate denial.  In our arrogance, we think we can somehow ignore or trump Earth’s natural laws with our own political lawmaking influence.  But we are fools to think that.  The laws of chemistry and physics neither know, nor care, what we say or do here.  We need to wake up.  We need to walk not in the counsel of the wicked, nor sit in the seat of scoffers, but with due humility face our duty and get to work.

I yield the floor.

Here’s the entire speech. (Minor details in the official text of the speech may differ from how it was delivered on the floor of the Senate.)