At times, I feel like I should cancel my Netflix subscription and just watch the debates on the floor of the U.S. Senate, instead. My need for comedy would be satisfied, as well as horror and the supernatural. I'd be learning something, too.
This week, I'd have learned that climate change, contrary to the conclusion of thousands of studies conducted by thousands of scientists, is not in fact caused by human behaviour. How do we know this? To quote the hymn, because the Bible tells us so.
Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, author of the ambiguously titled 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, rose to denounce the idea that any hand but God's had messed the bed in which we now lie: "Climate is changing, and climate has always changed. There's archeological evidence of that. There's biblical evidence of that. There's historic evidence of that. The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can't change climate."
The Republican Senator didn't say what, precisely, was causing climate change. Cow farts? The beating of a million angels' wings? The dying sighs of all those taxpayers whose rights are being trampled by the pinko President? Before you dismiss Mr. Inhofe's beliefs as the ravings of a fringe crank, consider that he is the chair of the Senate's environment and public works subcommittee. Or, as you might like to think of it, Torquemada in charge of the human-rights tribunal.
As the Senate continues to debate the Keystone XL pipeline bill, Democrats introduced two symbolic motions intended to embarrass their Republican counterparts. The first simply argued that "climate change is real, and not a hoax." It passed, by a vote of 98 to 1. But the other measure, which far more crucially linked human activity to climate change and thus might have inspired action, failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pass.
(A third Republican-sponsored amendment also failed.)
This is less like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic than looking over the railing and debating whether the giant white thing is an iceberg or a marshmallow. The consensus has been reached, gentlemen, everywhere but in Washington. Even the plutocrats at Davos are sweating through their Zegna suits: The World Economic Forum spent a day debating climate change and its disruptive effects, and listed climate-related chaos among the greatest threats facing the planet.
Over at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock has just been moved ahead to three minutes to midnight, largely because of a threat that remains unaddressed at the highest levels.
I hear what you're saying: Canada has oil on its hands, too. We've been shamefully derelict in addressing our contribution to the planet's emissions. But the shenanigans at the Senate this week showed just how far in denial powerful American interests are – less eagle, more ostrich.
It's not just Mr. Inhofe, who for years has refuted any cause but the divine in changing temperatures, and now promises as chair of the environment committee to introduce challenges to those scientists and their pesky consensus: "We'll be there to be the truth squad," he told the Senate on Wednesday.
He'll have help from other high-profile Republican climate deniers who have been placed in positions of power (like foxes in charge of the hen house, as Slate's Phil Plait put it.) Senator Ted Cruz now heads the committee that oversees NASA, and has promised that the space agency will be directed away from "political distractions" such as gathering data on climate, and toward its other mandate of finding out what's on Mars. Presumably so that once this planet is used up, there will be another to wipe our feet on.
Senator Marco Rubio, who said last year "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it," is chair of the committee overseeing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA and NASA just made the joint announcement that 2014 was the hottest year on record, and that 14 of the 15 warmest years have occurred since 2000.
What role will the Senate's climate deniers play in shaping these two agencies? Last year, as the Washington Post's Josh Hicks reported, "the Republican-controlled House passed a bill that would have required NOAA to dedicate more money on weather-forecasting than climate-change studies."
Senators Cruz and Rubio both voted against the measure linking climate change to human activity. No one seemed surprised. There was little outcry over the chair of the Senate environment committee using the Bible to refute the findings of scientists, many of whom work for his own government. The shenanigans in the Senate hardly raised a stir in a week when our southern neighbours were obsessed with the size of football players' balls.
The President is paying attention, obviously. "I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts," Barack Obama said during his State of the Union address. But how much can he accomplish in the time left? It's a fight now between the lame duck and the ostriches.