Tim Kaine's "Web of Denial" Speech: "Science and Religion Share a Duty to the Truth"
A few weeks before Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) became the Democratic nominee for vice president on the Hillary Clinton ticket, he joined other senators to discuss the fossil-fuel industry’s “web of denial” preventing action to end their climate pollution. Below is a transcript of his July 12, 2016 speech.
Thank you, Madam President. I join rise to join my colleague to talk about the critical issue of climate change and especially the facts around climate change but also the fact that there are many who would deny the facts. This is a really important issue to the commonwealth of Virginia. Climate change is not a distraction. It’s not a next year or next decade issue. Climate change in Virginia is a today issue.
Earlier today, I was in Norfolk, Virginia, which is in the Hampton Roads area near the Atlantic Ocean. Norfolk and the surrounding communities is the largest concentration of naval power in the world. It’s the center of naval operations. The headquarters of the U.S. Atlantic fleet. And it is already having to spend millions of dollars to elevate the piers where aircraft carriers come and go due to sea level rise. The Hampton Roads area is listed as the second most vulnerable community on the east coast of the United States to rising sea levels after New Orleans.
This is a challenging issue in a lot of ways.
I have friends who live in these communities who bought homes recently but now their homes aren’t marketable. For most Americans, certainly for me, my home is the most valuable asset I own. And if you have that and then you suddenly can’t sell it because climate is changing sea level is rising, flooding is more recurrent, no one will buy your home, it’s a very, very serious issue.
In addition to the effect on individuals and businesses because of sea level rise, the effect on the naval station is significant. Current estimates are that rising sea levels in Norfolk will take the main road entrance into the center of American naval power and have that under water by 2040, three hours a day just because of normal tidal action. In times of storms it would be worse.
So imagine in America that counts on its navy, that counts on that naval presence around the globe having its largest naval base inaccessible because of sea level rise.
We have an interesting community. One of the most unique areas is Tangier Island. It’s been continually inhabited since the 1600’s as a community for men and women. The folks who have traditionally made their living by going out and catching crabs and oysters and fish, and this is a small island with a few acres. It’s one of the only places you can go in the United States where you can hear English spoken as Shakespeare would have spoken it with a language that is an Elizabethan language. The community is isolated in that way. You hear this beautiful English spoken there and the community has many wonderful virtues but the Chesapeake Bay is coming up around this community and eroding it. I received a letter from a middle school student within the last month, a handwritten letter that might have been the most heartfelt piece of communication I’ve received in four-plus years in the senate saying would are you doing about sea level rise, what can you do to help us deal with these issues so that Tangier as an island does not completely disappear.
For these reasons and many others in Virginia we take this very, very seriously and we have to deal with it. I’ll tell you something else about Virginians. Virginians believe in science. The Virginia political figure we most admire was the preeminent scientist of the day, Thomas Jefferson. Virginians overwhelmingly believe in science. 70% of Virginians accept the scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change and that it is urgent that we do something about it. 70% of Virginians believe in that proposition.
But I’m here today because my friend from Rhode Island asked me to come and talk about the fact that there is an organized effort, not just a battle about the policy about climate science but to knowingly try to misrepresent the status of climate science and suggest that climate change is not occurring. They’re denying it exists. They’re denying that it’s a concern. They’re working against any reasonable solutions.
Now, of course, we’ve got to be open to points of view and reasonable differences of opinion and have a debate, but when the science is settled on some things and people are in an organized way who know better are trying to fight against it, we should be suspicious. So a group of senators are speaking today and tomorrow to discuss these organizations that constitute what my friend from Rhode Island has termed a web of denial, an organized effort to deny science.
And so let me just talk a little bit because a number of these deniers are companies that at least have P.O. boxes or nonprofit organizations that at least have P.O. boxes in Virginia. The same Virginia where Tangier Island is disappearing, the same Virginia where the navy is having to spend to shore up their infrastructure also has some shadowy organizations that are trying to deny the real science involved.
There’s an organization called the Science and Public Policy Institute. And it purports to summarize available academic literature. Here’s a quote. “They further note that availability in sea level is observed but to date there’s no detectable secular increase in sea level rise. They also report that no increase in the rate of sea level rise has been detected for the entire 20th century.” closed quote.
This is a group, they throw in a few sciencey words like “decadal variability.”
This is at odds with the conclusions of virtually every scientist who studied this issue, including scientists at Virginia universities, Old Dominion University, Institute of Marine Sciences, William & Mary. Those scientists says sea level rise — on the Virginia coast it’s anywhere from one and a half additional feet to 7 feet by the year 2100. Now, they will acknowledge some question about is it going to a foot and a half. Is it going to be 7 feet, but they don’t challenge the basic science surrounding sea level rise.
So which is it? One and a half to 7 feet or you don’t need to worry about it? Don’t worry, be happy.
Without getting a Ph.D. in atmospheric science and building your own quantitative models, how do you know who is right?
Here’s a clue. Look at who funds these organizations.
In the case of ODU, William & Mary, the Virginia institute of Marine Sciences which is one of the most preeminent marine sciences institutions in the nation along with Scripps in San Diego and Woods Hole, Massachusetts, it’s not hard. They are state universities. They’re funded by the general assembly of Virginia which is two Republican houses. And they are reaching a scientific conclusion that says climate change is serious.
But with the Science and Policy Institute, it’s a bit nebulous and it’s kind of hard to figure out. But there’s online sources that enable you to track how organizations are funded through foundations with ties frankly to the energy industry. According to one of these sources, it’s called DeSmogBlog, one of this institute’s, the Science and Public Policy Institute’s major funders is the Donors Capital Fund which has distributed $170 million to various conservative causes and describes itself as being, quote, “dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility and free enterprise,” close quote.
A New York Times article as far back as 2003 documents a connection between this foundation and an organization that also has a point of view, ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil is a funder or in the past has been a funder of this organization. Now, why don’t—why doesn’t an ExxonMobil or conservative organization just publish the material on their own websites under their own bylines? Well, my guess is that they have scientists who actually know the science and there’s been recent information about ExxonMobil. They understand the climate science. They couldn’t publish this under their own byline and meet their own standards of truthfulness but they are providing funding to an organization that’s denying climate change.
In other words, the organization is a delivery vehicle for information that is meant to be seen as impartial scientific information but is in fact not impartial at all. So when you see one group saying that there’s been no sea level rise and another saying there’s been a lot and we could be in for more and if you’re wondering who to believe, take a look at who’s funding the research.
Here’s another organization, the Virginia Institute for Public Policy. Quote — here’s a quote from them. “Regulations prescribing a reduction or complete cessation of Virginia’s CO2 emissions will have absolutely no effect on global climate. “
If there’s Virginia regulations that even eliminate Virginia CO2 “it will have no effect on global climate.” That’s an interesting quote because it’s not technically a lie because it’s literally true. Virginia’s share of world CO2 emissions is infinitesimally small. It wouldn’t affect the entire globe in a measurable way but that’s like saying one vote? Your vote is not going to make a difference or one cigarette won’t hurt you so go ahead and have one.
This argument is a kind of a classic hide the ball argument that makes a statement that’s technically true but it essentially is promoting a false point of view that oh, well, we shouldn’t do anything about it. So again it’s the use of a literal truth that’s basically designed to pitch a message that’s grossly misleading.
So let’s ask about this group, the Virginia Institute for Public Policy. Who funds a group that would say something like that? Again the Donors Capital Fund that funded the first organization I discussed as well as the Chase Foundation of Virginia and the Roe foundation which support a list of conservative causes. If you call an organization the Virginia Institute for Public Policy it sounds kind of neutral and probably trying to do a good thing.
But if you go back and look at who’s funding it and you find the funding sources are heavily linked to the energy industry, groups like ExxonMobil you understand they’re not quite as impartial as they suggest.
Another group called the CO2 coalition, quote, “Concerns about carbon dioxide being a pollutant are not valid. Climate change is proceeding very slowly and the likely increase of the temperature for the 21st century is 1 degree celsius or less,” closed quote.
Well, yes, is that technically true? The temperature of the earth is increased by 1 degree since industrialization and 197 countries just signed an agreement in Paris last year to try to limit any further increase to no more than 1 degree additional. This group make it is sound like who cares about 1 degree. 100 degree is 1.4 degrees more than normal, enough to make you sick. The number of .08 sounds tiny in the abstract but if that’s your blood alcohol content, that gives you a DUI in Virginia. The number sounds small. Gosh, why would that make a difference? That gets you a DUI because you’re impaired. So, yes, the group using the one temperature, one degree in temperature makes it sound like it’s not that big a deal but it is that big a deal.
Now, here’s the last one I want to say, Madam President, before I close. This is kind of a doozy because it’s from an open letter to Pope Francis on the topic of the pope’s environmental encyclical. The group is called the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. Not like going big if you’re going to pick a name for yourself.
Their quote starts with a quote from the 19th Psalm. “The heavens declare the glory of god and the firmament claims his handiwork.” Then the group goes on to declare in their own words, “By using fossil fuels to generate energy to lift billions of god’s children, precious children out of poverty, we liberate from the tomb of earth the carbon dioxide on which plants and therefore all the rest of life depend. In light of these considerations, we believe it is both unwise and unjust to adopt policies requiring reduced use of fossil fuels for energy.”
So somebody is really using scripture to argue that making our energy production cleaner, safer, cheaper violates the Christian tenet of caring for the poor? I’m a Christian and many of us in this body have a deep faith background in one faith or another but I’ll use a non-Christian phrase to describe that argument. It takes a lot of chutzpah to claim your religious faith and compassion, especially when the organization refuses to reveal how it is funded.
In closing, Madam President, we certainly don’t want to imply that all groups that, you know, have an agenda or have a point of view are motivated by funding sources. But the web of denial that the senator from Rhode Island is asking us to come out and talk about tonight is one that includes a number of organizations that are climate deniers. They are denying science, that they actually in my view know to be true. There comes a point when the truth becomes so hard to deny that those who deny it or simply not credible.
And you have to ask the question then why are you denying it? I assert that most of these organizations understand the science and they accept the science. And they realize it to be true. Why do they deny the science? The answer is greed. That’s the basic answer.
Many of the organizations that we’re discussing are funded primarily by fossil fuel interests, and if they can delay even by a year or two years or five years or even six months, the enactment of policies that would move us toward fewer fossil fuels, it will hurt their bottom line. And so rather than come up here and argue about what the right transition should be, they’re handing funds over to organizations that are trying to confuse the American public about science itself. So let me close and read from Pope Francis’ — the Cornwall Institute on Stewardship. I’ll read a quote. “Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention.”
Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently. Future generations. We look at things differently. We realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to you, we can no longer view relate any in a utilitarian way geared entirely to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional but a basic question of justice since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.
Science and faith have a number of things in common, but one of the most important things they have in common is their first duty has to be to the truth. I hope all actors in the political process, whatever their views, will remember that and have that same commitment. Thank you, Madam President. With that, I yield the floor.