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Category: Capitol Hill

Climate Change: Let’s Speak the Opposition’s Language

Climate change is one of the most divisive issues in Congress today. Nearly any vote related to climate change, energy policy, or conservation is split along party lines, which is well documented by Global Solutions' 2014 Congressional Report Card. Mitch McConnell’s floor statement on May 6th is representative of this partisanship. He belittles the entire issue by stating the President will “talk about the weather at the White House” and "lecture everybody...about low-flow toilets.”

This is the kind of talk that needs to stop. Senator McConnell is not an un-educated man. He cannot seriously equate climate change to everyday weather. He does this purposefully as a political move that panders to the extreme right: the Tea Party.

McConnell also boils down the proposed policy changes to a single punitive tax on energy. However, it’s not that simple, and he knows it. In recent years many Representatives and Senators have proposed laws that would help combat climate change without new taxes. Ending big oil tax breaks, funding renewable energy, and yes, taxing carbon pollution would all have significant impacts on reducing the speed of increasing global temperatures, but these are not the only options.

A Taxing Solution to the Greatest Challenge of Our Time

Could a Tax on Carbon Pollution Maintain the Health of our Country?

Ben Franklin said it best—nothing is certain, “except death and taxes.”

Like most Americans, we submit our 1040s to maintain the health of our nation. However, we’d personally rather decrease our income tax and instead pay a fee that reduces carbon pollution and could preserve the planet.

The carbon-intensive oil, gas, and coal industries are stoking climate change. According to a new UN report, the threats to our civilization are enormous. Crop failures, the top concern in the UN’s report, will cause widespread starvation in all parts of the world. Countries will face a cascade of destabilizing events: severe water shortages, heat waves, floods, droughts, wildfires, intense storms, rising sea levels and other catastrophes on an unprecedented scale. Civil wars and conflicts between nations will increase as people compete for scarce natural resources.

The good news is that while it is too late to avoid climate change — it’s already happening — humanity can still temper its force. One of the simplest ways to slow the pace of climate change is by levying a fee on greenhouse gas emissions.

Putting a price on burning oil, gas, and coal that reflects the damage inflicted on the environment will make renewable energy alternatives (like solar, geothermal, and wind) and energy-reducing investments more competitive.

Our friend Alan Rushforth lives near Philadelphia and started a small solar-powered water-heating business a few years ago. Even with state and federal subsidies, it took Rushforth Solar’s customers five to seven years to break even compared with the cost of installing natural gas heaters, so it was a tough sell.

A Closer Look: 2006 House Republican Average Score

2006 Congressional Report Card

Recently, I wrote on the consistent partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats on foreign policy over the last decade. Observant readers would have noted that in 2006, the House Republican’s average grade in the report card was far better than the average they received in any other year

The dramatic rise in House Republicans’ average score in 2006 is a clear outlier: it’s a 26-point jump from the previous report card. The partisan divide in 2006 was 45 points, which is better than the 62 point gap in 2014, but still not so great. What caused this surprising bump in the House Republicans’ average grade?

It clearly wasn’t a change in their fundamental views – the House Republican average dropped right back into the trend the next grading cycle. Extra credit was also a definite non-factor – the Party scores are averaged together without extra credit to maintain an even playing field. My first guess was that international initiatives led by the Bush administration had gained party support. I soon learned, however, that the explanation was not that easy.Congressional Report Card Average Grades

The Importance of Extra Credit

Jim McGovern (top), Ed Royce (bottom left), Ben Cardin (bottom right)

Members of Congress are responsible for casting votes on issues of national importance, including foreign policy priorities. Many Representatives and Senators have a perfect voting record from our members’ perspective, earning an A on the Global Solutions Congressional Report Card. Yet some in Congress do more than cast a vote; they actively champion policies that prevent war, build peace, cooperate with international norms, and defend human rights. That’s why Global Solutions Action Network rewards extra credit to those in Congress that go beyond the ballot on our core issues.

Representatives and Senators demonstrate their commitment to the values we share by sponsoring relevant legislation, speaking out on the floor of the House or Senate, writing op-eds and Dear Colleagues letters, and chairing relevant caucuses that promote our concerns. Any of these efforts can raise a member of Congress’ grade by one mark, from a B+ to A- for example. Legislators that show exceptional leadership on global issues, by promoting our core issues through multiple avenues, can even have their grade raised a full letter, from a B- to A-.

A Decade of Foreign Policy Partisanship

Day in and day out, I hear too many partisan attacks on the news. I thought it may be getting worse than ever before. Partisanship ends at the water’s edge? Laughable. Recent news on Syria, Iran, and Ukraine had me once again shaking my head at Congress – we can’t even put together a unified face for America’s most pressing international concerns.

Despite the splitting headache I get from listening to Republicans and Democrats argue with each other on a daily basis, the decade’s worth of data collected by Global Solutions Action Network reveals that the partisan divide on global issues is a phenomenon of consistency but isn’t necessarily getting worse. Over the course of 10 years, there’s been an average partisan divide of 62 points in the House and 70 points in the Senate.

Average Congressional Scores 2004-2014

The graph pictured above shows the average scores of Democrats and Republicans per year, separated by chamber of Congress. Clearly, the partisanship has been a part of U.S. foreign policy for at least a decade. Over and over again, many Democrats will vote to fund international organizations, human right law, peacekeeping missions, and more. Meanwhile, most Republicans vote for resolutions that call for action for human rights protection and other basic health prerogatives, but will not put their money where their mouth is; they typically vote to not fund the initiatives those resolutions envision to protect human rights and basic health. 

2014 Congressional Report Card Released

The 2014 Congressional Report Card on U.S. Foreign Policy

For Global Solutions Action Network members, how Congress deals with international concerns is of critical importance. Where do you want your elected leaders to stand on climate security and energy policy? Nuclear weapons proliferation and funding peacekeeping efforts?

The 2014 Congressional Report Card is where Members of Congress are graded on these and other global issues as votes in the immediate past session.

Creating a report card that covers climate security, treaty ratification and human rights is a long and detailed process but was well worth the effort for how it empowers citizens. After scouring the Library of Congress for roll call votes on issues of global importance and surveying our members on which reflected their concerns most, we narrowed our list to 10 votes for each chamber of Congress on which to grade lawmakers.

So what grade did your Senator and Representative receive this term?

Some members of Congress did outright awfully, while others were shining examples of the international leadership which the U.S. Congress should represent. The pictured charts display how many Senators and Representatives got which letter grades.

Chart of 2014 House GradesChart of 2014 Senate Grades


U.S. Senate Must Confirm Backlog of Ambassador Nominees

Chief diplomat and US Secretary of State John Kerry at the UN/Getty Images

Last week The Washington Post reported that an unusually large number of ambassador appointments are being held up by the U.S. Senate, threatening both American interests abroad and a variety of humanitarian interests around the world. This backlog is unacceptable, and the Senate needs to act immediately to ensure the United States embassies are fully staffed.

First, a quick recap: as of last week, 33 nominations to ambassadorships around the world have not been voted on by the U.S. Senate, along with several other key foreign service posts. These include ambassadors to Canada, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Argentina, Cameroon, Switzerland, Bosnia, and New Zealand, among many others. They range from the U.S.’s most important allies to key players in crises in the Middle East and Africa to strategic partners in Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific. Half the ambassadorial nominations have been waiting for over six months, apparently held up by the use of the “nuclear option” to end the use of the filibuster on most presidential appointments. It seems a new, less formal filibuster has developed.

Sochi’s Last Winter Olympics

Sochi Olympics with no snow

Are we witnessing the last Winter Olympics held in Sochi? The Russian games are already relying primarily on manmade snow. SMI Snowmakers, a Michigan-based company, has spent the last 4 years designing and installing a system that has blown the equivalent of 920 football fields of snow onto Sochi’s slopes.

Will other winter games sites including Squaw Valley, Vancouver and Grenoble also fall victim to climate change induced weather patterns that are literally melting down the list of available host venues? The answer, according to a recent study, is a resounding yes.  In all but the lowest greenhouse gas emissions estimates, the goal of limiting global temperature increase to 2° C will not be met. And as a result warmer winters will mean less snow.

However, unless global climate solutions are rapidly agreed to and implemented, the damage done to winter sports will only be (pardon the pun) the tip of the iceberg.  We’ll skip the doomsday scenarios for now, but in the words of President Obama at his State of the Union address, “the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.” 

Latest Climate Denial Diversions Reveal Ulterior Motives

Climate denialism is big business

We welcome the following contribution to The Global Citizen by Aric Caplan, President of Caplan Communications. His fuller analysis on the intersection of climate denialism and Congressional campaign contributions can be found here

Voters are coming to grips with our many elected officials beholden to the fossil fuel industry that finances their reelections. The Center for American Progress recently reported that 160 members of the 113th Congress have taken over $55.5 million from the industry that drives carbon pollution, which also causes climate change.

The latest climate-denying diversions peddled by lobbyists and the anti-science crowd in Congress would leave news junkies and even casual political observers skeptical or uninterested altogether in finding cleaner energy alternatives. I would argue that this response is the result of learned behavior. After all, 97% of scientists worldwide subscribe to the fact that “climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” Nevertheless, most scientists are impartial considering science is independent of ideology. The only disagreement in their ranks is among scientists with financial obligations to the fossil fuel industry. 

Two years ago, one of the most outspoken, polarizing and climate-denying extremists, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, published “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”

Farm Bill 2014: A Win for Food Aid

Farm Bill 2014: A Win for Food Aid

Last Tuesday, Congress finally passed the 2014 Farm Bill that was three years in the making. And after a long wait, the bill is a win for food aid and security around the world. The nearly $1 trillion bill allots $2.5 billion for the Food for Peace Act that sends food aid overseas in the form of not only food but also community development programs. The bill also increases funding to nonprofits and international organizations that are providing aid abroad to $10 million and adds new provisions to improve the nutrition and quality of food the US gives as aid.

The biggest win for food security advocates, however, comes from the program that provides $80 million annually for global emergency food aid programs. This program allows managers to buy food supplies closer to the recipient rather than exclusively from the US, allowing food to be delivered faster and in a more cost-efficiently. The program builds on a 2008 pilot effort carried out in part by the UN’s World Food Program that showed that we could provide aid at half the cost and delivery time in both emergency and non-emergency settings.

For this outcome is particularly important because of the campaign we put out last year, Buy Local, Feed Global, championing this issue. Our members lobbied for this change, sending messages to over 168 Members of Congress, asking that they support lifting food aid restrictions that have limited our capacity to feed millions and support sustainable local food markets.