The Climate Change Deniers in Congress

How many are representing your state?

by Sarah Emerson; illustrated by Kitron Neuschatz
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Apr 28 2017, 3:04pm

What would you think if your government didn't believe in gravity? If your senator alleged that, because they couldn't see it, perhaps it didn't exist. To many, this might seem absurd—the science is enough to know that it's real.

Like gravity, climate change isn't always obvious, but its forces on Earth are increasingly clear. Yet, more than half of America's 115th Congress are climate change deniers, according to a Motherboard survey of their personal testimonies and voting records.

The majority of climate scientists—at least 97 percent—agree that climate change is happening, and is a consequence of human activity. Government and independent climate scientists alike have published abundant evidence showing our impact on Earth's climate. Meanwhile, task forces like the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have underscored the necessity of significantly reducing our global emissions.

The United States is facing one of its most anti-science Congresses in history.

Almost 30 years ago, a NASA scientist named James Hansen pleaded with Congress, under the Reagan Administration, to accept the evidence and do something about it. "It is already happening now," Hansen said before a Congressional committee in 1988.

Fast-forward three decades, and the United States is facing one of its most anti-science Congresses in history. Many members of the Senate and House of Representatives have gone on-record to denounce climate change as a hoax. Others have proven through their votes that regulating greenhouse gas emissions is not a priority. And still, some state representatives claim to believe in human-made climate change, but consistently support policies that would erode initiatives to combat it.

In the Senate, 53 out of 100 members are climate change deniers.

In the House of Representatives, 232 out of 435 members are climate change deniers.

For the purpose of this survey, we defined climate change deniers as those who deny the existence of anthropogenic, or human-made, climate change. Senators and representatives who called themselves "skeptics" were also included, because enough empirical evidence exists for them to make an informed decision on whether people are influencing the climate. To the argument that voting against climate change bills is not the same as denying it exists: the many species, ecosystems, and people already seeing its effects can no longer wait for Congress to debate the merits of addressing climate change right now.

Both groups include Republicans and Democrats, though GOP members largely outnumber their counterparts.

Curiously, states that are most vulnerable to climate change are not immune to a leadership of denial. In Florida, for example, where sea levels are carving away parts of its coastline, 14 out of 27 Representatives are climate change deniers. Even in California, where climate change is linked to, or at least exacerbates, periods of extreme drought, 15 out of 53 Representatives are climate change deniers.

Deniers tend to use the same (scientifically debunk-able) reasoning for their beliefs. Explanations for recent climatic shifts include solar activity, corruption among scientists, Al Gore, and the discerning will of God.

But the excuse most frequently touted was that Earth's climate has always been changing. It's partly true; the geological record tells us our planet has gone through several glacial and interglacial periods, most recently between 120,000 and 11,500 years ago. Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, believe that fluctuations in solar radiation due to Earth's varied orbit are one cause for these changes. To be clear, the mechanisms behind these cycles are established science. And instead of entering a gradual cooling period, which we should be right now, we're actually getting warmer, due to human activity.

Deniers tend to use the same (scientifically debunk-able) reasoning for their beliefs.

In regard to life on Earth, ancient widespread die-offs, such as the Permian-Triassic extinction that killed 70 percent of terrestrial species, have been linked to peaks in greenhouse gases and extreme warming. Scientists aren't saying that climate change definitely caused these extinction events, but they could act as much-needed harbingers for current times.

What's different now—and what renders the original argument untrue—is that we know climate change is happening now because of human activity, and it's happening faster than ever. Climate scientists have compiled a thorough record of Earth's climate cycles over 800,000 years. As a result, they're able to compare historic warming rates with current ones. And, according to NASA's Earth Observatory, our modern climate is heating up ten times faster than the shifts that brought ice ages to an end.

So how do we know that climate change is happening because of humans, and not volcanoes or solar activity? A report released by the IPCC stated, with 90 percent certainty, that most "of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations." Atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million over the last 150 years, and its effects on global temperature are well-studied.

From a scientist's perspective, the indifference to evidence and consensus has been frustrating, to say the least. A report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Pew Research Center last year found massive divides between public and scientific opinion. Approximately 37 percent of those surveyed did not think that climate scientists agreed on global warming.

Many researchers and educators have vowed to organize and protest the Trump Administration as a result of climate inaction. Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, once said: "As a scientist, you don't just jump to conclusions. You do the tests. You say, 'OK, could it be a natural cycle this time? Could it be the sun? Could it be volcanoes? Could it be orbital cycles and ice ages?'"

"We run those tests and we see if it could be any of those things that caused the climate to change naturally in the past. And in this case, we've run those tests and the answer to all those questions is, 'no.' In fact, if our temperature were controlled by natural causes right now, we'd be getting cooler, not warmer," she added.

As we enter four years of climate ambiguity at best, and reckless environmental abuse at worst, Motherboard encourages you to know your Congressional representatives, and where they stand on the most important global issue of our generation. We've included contact information for the office of each Senator and Representative on this list so you may contact them.

Climate Change Deniers By State

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

Read more of Motherboard's climate change coverage: