Senate votes that climate change is real but doesn't agree on cause.

Senate Votes 98-1 That Climate Change Is Real but Splits on That Pesky Cause

Senate Votes 98-1 That Climate Change Is Real but Splits on That Pesky Cause

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 21 2015 6:33 PM

Senate Votes 98-1 That Climate Change Is Real but Splits on That Pesky Cause

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Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is committed to not believing in climate change.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Confused by the “science” on climate change? Well, apparently so is the U.S. Senate.

In a series of nonbinding (but potentially embarrassing) votes on Wednesday, the Senate has decided overwhelmingly that global warming exists. Minutes later, in a second vote, senators failed to agree on a root cause.

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According to the Hill, the Senate first voted 98-1 in favor of a nonbinding amendment that said “climate change is real and not a hoax.” Republicans read the text of that amendment in such a way as to absolve themselves of taking a stand on the human component of global warming. (Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, of Mississippi, was the lone holdout.) The second vote on an amendment by Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz, of Hawaii, wasn’t so clear-cut. That amendment read, in part: “It is the sense of Congress that 1) climate change is real, and 2) human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” Though the vote on the second amendment was 50-49 in favor, it needed 60 votes to pass.

The first amendment was intended to take a swipe at Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, and the new chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. He’s also a leading Senate climate denier who’s so sure climate change is a massive conspiracy by the world’s scientists, he wrote a book about it. In a surprise, he actually voted for Wednesday’s amendment, “but he made clear he doesn't believe humans are the primary driver of climate change” said the Hill. Instead, he used the Bible to support his vote:

“Climate is changing, and climate has always changed, and always will, there's archeological evidence of that, there's biblical evidence of that, there's historic evidence of that, it will always change,” Inhofe said on the Senate floor. “The hoax is that there are some people that are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful that they can change climate. Man can't change climate.”

The debate over S.1 is the first about energy on the Senate floor in eight years, according to the New York Times. Obama is expected to veto the bill, but that didn’t stop the Republican-controlled Congress from taking a stand. “Part of the Democrats’ strategy is to put Republicans on the record about an issue that’s controversial inside the GOP but is much less so with the public and Democratic Party,” says the Wall Street Journal.

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Mashable’s Andrew Freedman notes that this isn’t the first time the Senate has attempted to legislate the existence of climate change. In 2005, the Senate approved a nonbinding amendment similar to the second amendment. That the Senate wasn’t able to do the same on Wednesday is telling of how increasingly political the question of human-caused climate change has become in the last decade.

Yet, since 2005, evidence has continued to mount that climate change is driven by human activity. As Obama noted during Tuesday’s State of the Union, 14 of the last 15 years have been the hottest on record globally. More greenhouse gases were emitted into the atmosphere in 2014 than in any other year in human history. In his speech, Obama said “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations.”

Because the votes are nonbinding, there are no real implications beyond the political. But with the 2016 presidential campaign just around the corner, Democrats figure this is a perfect time to put potential Republican contenders on the record. Among them, Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio stands out. Rubio, who isn’t quite sure how old the Earth is, was recently installed as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, where he directly oversees the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, America’s leading scientific agency on climate. Oh, he’s also polling among the top three Republican contenders for president in 2016.

Inhofe, Rubio, and Ted Cruz, of Texas—another Republican presidential contender—all voted against the second amendment on the cause of climate change. According to National Journal, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were the only Republicans to vote against party lines on the amendment endorsing humans as the primary cause of climate change.

The vote comes after Obama mocked Republicans during his State of the Union speech for using the "I’m not a scientist" defense to justify continued knuckle-dragging on climate change. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it,” he said.

The Senate is expected to take up the issue again on Thursday, including votes on at least one more amendment regarding the cause of climate change:

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate’s Future Tense. Follow him on Twitter.