Senator Whitehouse’s annual climate event details the paucity of our response

There are some who believe that grappling with the issue of climate change requires the complete overhaul of the way our economy works. “There is still time to avoid catastrophic warming,” writes Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything, “but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which is surely the best argument there has ever been for changing those rules.”

On the other side of the argument are those who believe that climate change is a problem that requires only a few minor tweaks to our current system: get rid of dark money in politics, stop incentivizing fossil fuel energy companies, etc… and the status quo can be retained without burning the Earth.

United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s ninth annual Rhode Island Energy, Environment and Oceans Leaders Day, held at the Rhode Island Convention Center, rests squarely within the latter camp, prominently featuring, as it does, entities such as the Walton Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Walmart, National Grid, the energy company demanding a 19 percent rate increase for Rhode Islanders and Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who wants to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil extraction.

With friends like these…

Whitehouse presented a list of climate change wins recently scored in the Senate, ending with “…last of all we have a nuclear R&D bill that provides the ability to do something about our nuclear waste stockpile by starting to design nuclear facilities that can take nuclear waste and turn it into fuel. There is no Plan B.” (See: Video 2 below)

Barry Gold from the Walton Family Foundation Environment Program talked about conservation and fishing (See: Video 7 below). The Walton Family Foundation has made at least $390,000 in donations to the climate denying Heritage Foundation, an ultra conservative think tank.

But perhaps the most status quo move of all was presenting Senator Lisa Murkowski (Republican, Alaska) as some sort of climate champion (See: Video 10 below). In her address, Murkowski acknowledged that climate change is real, even as she reiterated her support for fossil fuel extraction before a room full of environmentalists who were not necessarily unsympathetic to her views. Murkowski has a 17 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters. She led the effort to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Despite my serious caveats about the seriousness of this event, I would draw your attention to presentations of Kate Orff (See: Video 6 below) and Michael Mann (See: Video 8 below). Their presentations at least seemed grounded in science.

Here’s the video:

The program was emceed by Jennifer McCann, Director of United States Coastal Programs at the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center and Director of Extension Programs for Rhode Island Sea Grant.

United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island):

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo:

United States Senator Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island):

Rhode Island State Treasurer Seth Magaziner:

There were four keynote addresses:

The first keynote was from Kate Orff, founder of SCAPE, a New York-based landscape architecture and urban design studio, and MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient:

The second keynote was from Barry Gold, director of the Walton Family Foundation Environment Program:

The third keynote was from Dr Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center:

Dennis Nixon, Professor of Marine Affairs and Director of the Rhode Island Sea Grant Program received a “Service Recognition Award” from Senator Whitehouse.

The fourth and finally keynote was from United States Senator Lisa Murkowski (Republican, Alaska)

The event then switched to breakout sessions, none of which I attended or recorded. Here are the titles:

  • It’s Not Just the Environment: How Climate Change Affects Public Health
  • Powering Forward: A Renewable Future
  • The Economic Risks of Climate Change

After the breakout session there were closing words from:

United States Representative James Langevin (Democrat, Rhode Island),

United States Representative David Cicilline (Democrat, Rhode Island),

and United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island).

Sheldon Whitehouse
Seth Magaziner
Kate Orff
Michael Mann

Lisa Murkowski
James Langevin
David Cicilline


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About Steve Ahlquist 627 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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