The average global temperature during each of the last three decades has consistently risen. Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million in 2013 — the highest they have been since humans began walking the earth. Sea levels are rising at the fastest pace in recorded history and the rate is expected to continue to rise. And do you know what our government is doing about it? Having a slumber party.

Patrick Maillet

Last week, more than two dozen U.S. Senate Democrats spoke throughout the night about the dangers of climate change and the need for action. These Senators each took turns bashing the GOP and spewing facts that were meant to “wake up” Americans. Unfortunately, Democratic leaders have said that a bill on climate change won’t be brought before the floor in 2014. So what was the point of this talkathon about climate change? The same two motivations for everything else in Washington: money and theatrics.

For one of the first times in my life, I actually agree with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) with regards to this climate change all-nighter. McConnell referred to the event as “30 hours of excuses” perpetuated to appease “some billionaire in San Francisco.” The man that McConnell is referencing is Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager and environmentalist who has pledged $100 million in the 2014 election cycle to make climate change a top-tier election issue.

The vast majority of the Democrats who stayed up last week will likely get donations from Steyer without having to actually do anything. Most Senate Democrats who face tough reelection bids at home stayed out of the event, such as Sens. Mary Landrieu (D–La.), Mark Pryor (D–Ark.) and Mark Begich (D–Alaska) — all Democrats from traditionally red states who are afraid to come out in support of the environment.

Democrats are quick to blame the GOP for why the government has remained virtually stagnant with regards to climate change over the last couple years. Though I’m usually all for pointing fingers at Republicans for America’s trials and tribulations, Democrats cannot possibly argue that they have done everything they can to pass any form of legislation that would seriously fight climate change. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–Nev.) and Democratic leadership in the Senate have stated that there is no use in passing a climate change bill because it will undoubtedly be shot down by the Republican House of Representatives. This logic hasn’t stopped the House from voting on repealing the Affordable Care Act 42 times. Speaker of the House John Boehner knows that the Democratic-controlled Senate will never repeal President Barack Obama’s landmark legislation, yet he still allows these repeal bills to come to the floor because it allows Republican candidates to go back to their district and tout that they have done everything in their power to repeal the ACA.

Why doesn’t the Senate take the example from its Congressional counterparts and at least show concerned Americans that someone in our government cares about climate change? Like most things in life, talking the talk is much easier than walking the walk.

Senate Democrats are afraid of actually taking any action against climate change because they fear upsetting the very businesses that finance their campaigns. Coal, oil and natural gas companies — the biggest producers of carbon emissions — give millions of dollars every election cycle and hire more lobbyists than almost any other industry. There are even some Senate Democrats who are vehemently opposed to any climate change legislation such as Joe Manchin (D–W. Va.) who literally shot a copy of the Clean Air Act nailed to a tree with a rifle during one of his campaign ads. Considering that West Virginia is a major coal-producing state, it’s no wonder that most coal companies and workers came out and supported Manchin soon after that ad aired.

Instead of actually taking any action, Senate Democrats are able to play both sides by appeasing to the environmentalist left of the party by making this public spectacle while also not actually doing anything and keeping their donors happy.

Climate change is very real. According to NASA, more than 97 percent of scientists agree that human activity is very likely causing Earth’s temperature to rise. Our government needs to stop pandering to its powerful donors and start worrying about the planet that will be left for generations to come. My message to Senate Democrats: put aside the theatrics and actually do something about our warming planet.

Patrick Maillet can be reached at maillet@umich.edu.

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