Despite the Pope’s Pleas, Congress Resists Action on Climate Change

At this most urgent moment, we cannot afford to undermine any efforts to combat climate change.

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 24. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Sep 30, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Congressman Ted Lieu represents California's 33rd Congressional District.
Greg Dotson is the Vice President for Energy Policy at American Progress.

The global mission to confront climate change has never been more urgent. Last year was the hottest year on record for planet Earth, and an unprecedented concentration of carbon dioxide is now in our atmosphere, surpassing 400 parts per million for the first time in at least 800,000 years.

The urgency to act on climate has been recognized by a diverse group of global leaders, from Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, George Schultz, to President Barack Obama, to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Pope Francis. But despite this growing global consensus on the need to arrest climate change, the Republican leaders who control Congress remain unwilling to act.

One crucial way Congress demonstrates its priorities is through the appropriations process, in which lawmakers decide what is worth limited taxpayer dollars. Just like in our personal budgets, what we spend money on reflects our values.

Congress has yet to send a single appropriations bill to the president’s desk, but the appropriations bills proposed by congressional leaders demonstrate that they don’t value the burden climate change will place on future generations. These appropriations bills would slash funding for domestic and international action on climate change. They would even block the popular Clean Power Plan from ever being implemented.

At this most urgent moment, we cannot afford to undermine any efforts to combat climate change.

In his historic address last week in Washington, Pope Francis called on Congress to protect our environment. As the pope attested, the impacts of climate change—a hotter climate, increasingly acidic oceans, and more extreme weather—threaten to cripple the global food supply, thereby thrusting more families into poverty and starvation. It would be a dereliction of our moral responsibility not to act in the face of such looming suffering, particularly when we have the technological means to improve the environment, arrest the terrible impacts of climate change, and power a green global economy that spreads security and prosperity, not crisis and poverty.

The U.S. alone faces incredible financial risk owing to climate change. For example, in just the case of extreme weather events, the Center for American Progress reported that extreme weather events in 2014 caused $227 billion in economic losses across 44 states and 1,286 fatalities.

Lives are at stake, but Congress is paralyzed by climate change denial and political gridlock. This paralysis is as dangerous as the carbon pollution responsible for the unprecedented destruction of our planet’s precious ecosystems. Congress needs a tipping point of its own, where willingness to take prudent action overtakes the inertia of inaction and self-defeat.

There was a positive step toward making real change on how Congress approaches this global crisis recently when New York Republican Chris Gibson introduced a resolution acknowledging the human role in climate change. Gibson was joined by 10 of his Republican colleagues in the House. The resolution does not offer a sufficient response to climate change in itself, but it is significant. For the first time in years, some Republicans in Congress are acknowledging that this is a policy problem, not a partisan issue.

If the crisis is considered a policy problem, we can listen to experts who are eager to share their research, explore solutions, and determine what policy steps must be taken. We hope that Gibson’s leadership represents a watershed moment for congressional Republicans to accept climate science, to accept the urgent responsibility to act on climate, and to energize the American economy in the process. Whether as elected officials, issue experts, advocates, or concerned citizens, we all have the chance to lead and change the course of our planet’s future.

We are at a critical moment when nations around the world are taking action individually and multilaterally. We all need to do what we can to foster progress and reject the defeatism of those who would resign our children’s future to the hardships of unchecked climate change.

If we act on climate now, we have the chance to safeguard Earth’s future for ourselves, our families, our friends, and all our fellow mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, and brothers and sisters around the world. We can no longer afford to stand still.