IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Senator demonstrates why Congress isn't addressing the climate crisis

Mike Lee's climate speech wasn't just foolish; it served as a reminder about why climate policymaking is nearly impossible in this Congress.
U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) speaks at the Freedom Summit at The Executive Court Banquet Facility April 12, 2014 in Manchester, NH. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty)
U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) speaks at the Freedom Summit at The Executive Court Banquet Facility April 12, 2014 in Manchester, NH. 

Two months after rejecting the idea of wasting the chamber's time on "show votes," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) scheduled a show vote yesterday on the Green New Deal platform. The idea, of course, was to play a little political game in which Republicans would challenge Democrats to vote on an ambitious and politically provocative proposal.

If Dems voted "yes," Republicans would use this for the basis of attack ads. If they voted "no," Dems would invite criticisms from the left. The Senate's Democratic minority decided not to play the pointless game and instead voted "present."

Yesterday's theatrics were not, however, meaningless. The floor "debate" -- I use the word loosely -- brought into focus that Republican officials have no idea how to address the climate crisis, and don't really have a coherent way of even talking about the subject.

To help drive the point home, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) delivered floor remarks yesterday alongside images of Luke Skywalker, Aquaman, and Ronald Reagan firing a gun while riding a dinosaur. The Utah Republican also offered a variety of odd condemnations of the Green New Deal blueprint, insisting it would ban both airplanes and cows. (Neither claim is true.)

Jon Chait added, "While this portion of the speech is extremely stupid and dishonest, it's worth noting that it is not the stupidest part of this speech. The stupidest part, in fact, comes at the end. Lee pivots from mocking the Green New Deal to insisting he does take climate change seriously, and he has a plan, a serious one, unlike the frivolous Green New Deal. His plan is for people to have more babies."

No, really. From Lee's speech:

"Climate change is an engineering problem – not social engineering, but the real kind. It's a challenge of creativity, ingenuity, and technological invention. And problems of human imagination are not solved by more laws, but by more humans!"More people mean bigger markets for innovation. More babies mean more forward-looking adults -- the sort we need to tackle long-term, large scale problems."

I've seen the video; he did not appear to be kidding.

At the risk of over-simplifying a very bad argument, Lee appears to have a probability solution in mind to the climate crisis:

1. We need some people to solve the problem.

2. If there are lots of people, it increases the odds that some of them might find a solution.

There's no shortage of problems with an idea like this one, but let's quickly note a couple. First, population increases make it more difficult to address the climate crisis, not less.

Second, we don't really need more people to figure out a fix because we already know how to address the crisis. We don't need vastly more people; we just need people in positions of authority to implement effective policies.

Stepping back, Lee didn't just appear misguided by delivering a silly speech on the Senate floor; he also helped remind the political world that debating solutions to a burgeoning catastrophe is practically impossible in the current Congress.

Chait's piece went on to note:

The relevant background that casts Lee’s speech in sharp relief is that he has built a reputation as one of the great thinkers in his party. Lee has been called “the most interesting republican in Washington,” “a one-stop shop for provocative reform ideas,” who a few years ago earned praise for “delivering some of the best speeches of any leading right-of-center politician in the entire Obama era.” And he has even been talked up as a potential Supreme Court justice, which is not the kind of job where you stash your idiots.What makes this praise so damning is that it’s all probably true. This is a party whose members have declared that the existence of snow in February refutes climate science, and that rising sea levels are caused by a buildup of dirt on the ocean floor. Lee’s speech at least doesn’t challenge the fact that climate change is a real phenomenon. He probably is one of the smartest Republican legislators in Washington! Which is like being the most physically intimidating baby in the stroller park.

History will not be kind.