Politics Tuesday: Congress Said It, So It Must Be True: Global Warming Exists

Posted by Jack Sterne, jack@oceanchampions.org

This week, I'm going to start with another tidbit from last week's theme of how far we've come in a year, and then pivot to global warming as an "ocean issue," and posit the question of whether it is the ocean issue that eclipses all others.

Here's the clip from Reuters:

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, aiming to put an end to the debate over whether global warming is actually occurring, passed legislation recognizing the "reality" of climate change and providing money to work on the problem....

By inserting a declaration in the bill that climate change is a "reality," the Democratic-controlled House was trying to move U.S. policy-makers beyond a debate, long stimulated by the Bush administration, over whether there was scientific proof that global warming really is occurring.

A leading promoter of that debate has been Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, who has referred to global warming as a "hoax." He chaired the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee until Republicans lost control of Congress this year.

Now, it would be easy to be snarky (like my headline suggests): As if we need Congress to tell us what science has already figured out.

But on the other hand, this clip fits in pretty closely with my post from last week. A year ago, the House would have never even brought this legislation to the floor, much less passed it. Hell, it probably wouldn't have made it out of any subcommittee.

And while we strongly believe that oceans are a bipartisan issue, there is no question that we're better off with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.), who Ocean Champions supported in 2004, as Chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, rather than premier whack-job and science hater Sen. James Inhofe (R-Ok.). So I'm sticking with my statement that elections make a difference.

But this also brings up a bigger question that ocean conservationists need to wrestle with politically: Is global warming the biggest ocean issue of our time, and should we drop everything else and focus all of our political efforts on stopping global warming?

You can make the argument that the oceans are feeling the greatest consequence of global warming, and that acidification, coral bleaching, sea level rise, loss of sea ice at the poles, species migrations, etc. could be more destructive to marine species than overfishing and habitat destruction.

Of course, I'm also aware of the argument that if you don't stop overfishing, there may be nothing left to save from the consequences of global warming. But Congress dealt with fisheries with the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act last year, and so that's off the table for awhile.

The fights on fisheries reform are now at the implementation level, rather than the Congressional level, so it doesn't make sense to me to focus a lot more political energy there.

How can we not make global warming the most politically important "ocean issue" of this session of Congress?

But I'm just a political hack and lawyer, and I'd be really interested to hear what the scientists among you have to say on this question. Fire away.


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As someone who has come to loathe global warming's ability to eclipse all issues, I think there is a lot of truth in what you say. I see the greatest opportunity to help fisheries by way of focusing on the aspect of contaminated seafood, which is hot off the presses.

The country of origin labeling (COOL) legislation was implemented for seafood but not other meat products. What many news sources fail to mention, is that there are endless exceptions for seafood labeling requirement (restaurants, for instance, where the majority of seafood consumed is sold).

I think Congress should demand that better information available to consumers as well as provide better traceability of our food and demand that ALL SEAFOOD is labeled with 1) proper species 2) country of origin (not processing) and 3) production method (farmed or wild).

And because consumers are now worried that their seafood comes from China and contains all sorts of contaminants, I can see garnering a lot of public support for tightening labeling and testing legislation.

I just recall speaking to a scientist in the Florida Keys a couple of years ago who talked about the distress of local reef managers who fear they are going to work their hearts out to stop coastal development, excessive tourism, over-fishing and all the other local sources of reef destruction, only to have this large scale force (global warming) come in and kill the reefs they've worked so hard to save. I think he would agree with you, there's a need for clearer prioritization.

I think the same argument from the Florida Keys scientist holds for labeling too! Putting all the effort/money into better consumer awareness and labeling/testing legislation could be wasted if the larger issues of climate change and overfishing aren't tackled today. Of course I think it's important to diversify the scope of our attention to include all ocean issues, large and small. That our scientific models involve so much uncertainty about the future means, I believe, that we really have to consider several possible outcomes and prepare for any number of them today. AND just for the record, it IS totally ridiculous that the US needs legislation to admit that climate change is real!