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Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's Invisible Speech

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Uneven media coverage of climate change is undoubtedly contributing to the United States' dubious distinction of being the only nation with a sizable segment of its population in global warming denial.

Take the recent example of the press featuring numerous accounts of Republican presidential aspirants being warned that if they want to remain in contention, they must denounce global warming as a hoax. Failure to do so will doom them in the GOP primaries top heavy with skeptical Tea Party voters. Rarely do these news stories include mention or evidence that the overwhelming majority of the scientific community rejects the "hoax" thesis. Consequently, the reality of global warming often is obscured in the public eye.

To make matters worse, unless you happened to be watching C-Span or wading through the voluminous pages of the Congressional Record, you would probably be unaware of U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's speech that put global warming's formidable threat and our relatively feeble response in proper perspective.

The Rhode Island Democrat recently rose on the Senate floor to highlight a report released by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences and entitled "America's Climate Choices." He lamented that we were slow in following the recommendations of the Academy's prominent scientific panel and hence, were squandering golden opportunities to effectively combat global warming. Among the failings he mentioned were not taking full advantage of existing energy efficiency strategies and renewable energy technologies.

"Why," Whitehouse asked, "has Congress ignored this report warning that global warming is occurring, is likely caused by human activity, and possesses significant risks to our future?"

He then proceeded to answer his own question. "I believe many of my colleagues are ignoring this report because they are hoping the carbon pollution problem will go away."

But the problem cannot be swept under the rug, the Rhode Island senator warned. "The Senate cannot repeal the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, and we would be fools to ignore them."

Whitehouse pointed out that it was "old news" for industry to deny the science that exposed the danger of its products, and he cited tobacco as well as carbon emissions as cases in point where such self-serving stalling tactics were used.

"There is no dispute that over the past 50 years," the senator reminded us, "that our average air temperature has increased by more than two degrees, and that carbon concentrations in the atmosphere are outside the bounds not of the last 8,000 centuries but of millions of years of this planet's history."

Whitehouse took special note of the National Academy scientists' warning that unanticipated adverse consequences from global warming might very well occur if business were to proceed as usual.

Yet all is not lost, the senator maintained. He made reference to the scientific panel's conclusion that though we had fallen behind some of our allies in the development of clean renewable energy technologies we had actually pioneered, there was still time and opportunity to regain our primacy.

With the weather running wild around the globe and mankind's future quality of life at stake, we cannot allow wish fulfillment to eclipse painful reality in the public arena. Senator Whitehouse's call for action and similar messages to that effect must be heard.

Edward Flattau's fourth book, 'Green Morality,' is now available.

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