The passage of the Keystone XL pipeline bill, the first priority of the new U.S. Senate controlled by Republicans, hit a roadblock on January 27 when the Senate managed to muster just 53 votes in its favour, seven shy of the 60-vote threshold to limit debate. The nearly 1,900-km-long proposed pipeline, which will transport 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta’s (Canada) vast oil sands to Nebraska, is a highly controversial project. Unlike conventional crude, mining and turning tar sands into oil is highly carbon-intensive and hence has far worse consequences for global warming. It is for this reason that President Barack Obama had threatened to veto the bill. But the bill produced some interesting results before it reached the stage when the Senate voted on it. For the first time, the Republicans’ slowly but surely shifting position on climate change became evident. When the first measure — climate change is real and not a hoax — offered as an amendment to the legislation that will pave the way for the Keystone XL pipeline project was put to vote on January 21, except for one Republican the entire Senate agreed that climate change is for real. Interestingly, Republican Jim Inhofe, the veteran climate change denier in the Senate, was one of those who voted for the amendment. For him, the hoax was that “some people think… they can change climate”.
Though a majority of the Senators also agreed that humans are singularly responsible for climate change, two crucial amendments that pointed a finger at humans failed to cross the 60-vote threshold. While an amendment affirming that humans contributed to climate change was just one short of 60, the third amendment, that “human activity ‘significantly’ contributes to climate change”, got only 50 votes; just five Republicans voted for it. Apparently, the emphasis on human contribution turned out to be the sticking point. The Senate has till date refused to widely agree that man-made climate change is real. Despite a body of evidence unequivocally proving that human activity has been the causal factor for climate change, the deniers are in no mood to change their stand. So long as policymakers fail to acknowledge the havoc created by human activity, there is little possibility that anything substantial will be done to address it. The consequences will be terrible and irreversible if ideology continues to stand up to science. With reckless emission of greenhouse gases continuing, the Earth is already on “track to warm by 3.6° Celsius”, as the International Energy Agency estimated last year. This is way beyond the goal of limiting the increase in global average surface temperature to 2°C above the pre-industrial level.