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He's given 150 climate change speeches on the Senate floor. Is anyone listening?

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He's given 150 climate change speeches on the Senate floor. Is anyone listening?

WATCH  | "I can’t let our country become an idiot country": Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) reflects on his 150 floor speeches on climate change and talks about what's next under a Donald Trump administration.

150 speeches


The Senate floor is usually near-empty when Whitehouse talks about climate change.

But that's never been a deterrent. Last week, the senator from Rhode Island delivered his 150th floor speech urging his colleagues to do something about human-caused warming. He's been giving some form of this speech every week the Senate has been in session since April 2012.


'Time to wake up'


He deems these his "time to wake up" speeches, each one anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes in length.

In some, he calls out -- and harshly condemns -- his Republican colleagues for failing to take decisive action to deal with climate change. In others, he picks apart peer-reviewed science  to explain how climate change is projected to impact different parts of American life.


'The web of climate denial'


And in others, Whitehouse talks about what he calls "the web of denial: an industry-controlled apparatus deliberately polluting public discourse with climate science denial and blocking action in Congress." In other words, the fossil fuel industry is preventing climate action. 

"There is not a real monolith of Republican opposition [to climate action]," Whitehouse told Circa. "What there is is a monolith of special interest influence that has dropped in on the Republican party to shut them all down."


Here are some of the various charts Whitehouse has used in his speeches over the years to illustrate the scientific reality of climate change. 

A non-receptive GOP


It's true that Whitehouse's Senate colleagues have not been receptive to the concerns of the climate science community.

According to the liberal Center for American Progress, 70 percent of Republicans in the Senate deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and humans are the main cause.

Whitehouse has always faced that challenge in his four years of giving climate speeches. But now, he has a new challenge: President-elect Donald Trump.

WATCH  | In his 150th speech, Whitehouse specifically called out President-elect Donald Trump for appointing climate science doubter Myron Ebell to oversee his Environmental Protection Agency transition.  Ebell not only rejects mainstream climate science but has said warming could be good  for America.


New climate era under Trump


Trump has repeatedly said he doesn't agree with the vast majority of climate scientists who say human-caused warming is real and will become a catastrophic problem. 

Will he change what he's doing in light of the new administration? "I may have to," he said. "Because I can’t let our country become an idiot country and refuse to pay attention to the very clear science of this."

Empty Senate floor


It's because of how badly Whitehouse believes climate change will impact American life -- and how it's already impacting people in his home state -- that he's not bothered by the physical emptiness of the Senate floor. "I want Rhode Island lobstermen to know that they have an advocate in Washington who will explain to the world why it’s very hard to buy Rhode Island lobster in an Rhode Island restaurant anymore," Whitehouse said. "It’s all coming down from Maine, because our lobster fisheries have collapsed."

Most Senate speeches are to empty seats

Of course, the emptiness of the Senate floor during these speeches is not exactly Whitehouse's fault.

As the Washington Post noted last year, most Senate floor speeches are delivered to a vacant room. These speeches just don't attract the attention they used to -- particularly in an era where lawmakers can speak directly to their constituents through social media and cable news interviews. 

But White House believes his speeches -- plus the efforts of other environmentalists across the country -- have made an impact.  "When I started back in 2012, you couldn’t get the Obama White House to talk about climate change. You couldn’t get anyone to talk about climate change."

Now climate change has become a priority of the Obama administration, which has implemented sweeping regulations on carbon emissions and entered into an international climate treaty with more than 200 countries.

Trump -- who has long said climate change is a hoax -- has threatened to undo these actions. But Whitehouse says he holds out hope that Trump will change his mind, citing a 2009 letter Trump signed  asking Congress to enact aggressive measures to fight climate change. 


You can watch some of Whitehouse's "Time to Wake Up" climate speeches here.

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