Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on Defending Science and Moving Forward on Climate Action

By: Stephanie M. McPherson

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) spoke on Nov. 20 about the money behind climate denial and how misinformation can be combated. The remarks were delivered as part of the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative’s People & the Planet lecture series.

“[Their purpose] is to create faux science that looks enough like real science to create the illusion of controversy to deprecate real science thus to delay or defeat regulation,” he said of the 100 various organizations that he argues were created as front groups for the fossil fuel industry.

Sen. Whitehouse works to expose political activities funded with contributions from these organizations. He says climate politics hit its main downward spiral with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court decision that led to the practice of industries pouring money into political funding groups. In many cases, these groups don’t have to reveal their donors.

Citizens United opened up enormous amounts of unlimited money into politics, and it did not take the political influencers very long to figure out how to hide their identity to make that money dark money,” he said.

To fight this, he encouraged people to step up in support of the understanding and acceptance of climate change. He called on various institutions, including universities, to create mechanisms and entities to help scientists defend their research and refute climate denial. He also suggested individuals could make a difference by demanding that powerful corporations make climate change policy a priority, in particular with their elected representatives in Washington.

“If corporate America stood up in Congress on this issue they could blow out the fossil fuel industry folks,” he said. “Sure they look terrifying…because nobody else is on the field. But if anybody else would show up on the field with any kind of clout…off we go!”