This is a Moms Clean Air Force exclusive interview with Senator Al Franken of Minnesota:
Moms Clean Air Force: At our annual Play-In for Climate Action in Washington, D.C., mothers and children from around the country came together to demonstrate their concern for the health of our nation’s children. Given that the current administration is comprised of climate deniers and fossil fuel advocates, what do you believe the immediate future holds for the health of kids?
Senator Al Franken: I have three grandchildren. I don’t want to have to tell them that when we had the chance to tackle climate change for future generations, we ignored it. I was honored to be in Paris to support the climate talks, and I believe President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the climate agreement we reached there is a catastrophic mistake that puts the short-sighted interests of his friends in the fossil fuel industry ahead of the safety and security of our kids and the future of our planet. Climate change isn’t just a problem with future consequences that we can kick down the road — it’s already threatening the livelihoods of people across the globe, and it’s a problem that requires sustained international action. That’s why I believe now is not the time to turn our backs on the rest of the world and bury our heads in the sand. We must recognize the basic fact that climate change is a real, man-made, existential threat to the planet that demands broad international action.
You were very proactive in pushing back against Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry, aggressively questioning them both during confirmation hearings and regarding recently, the “red team, blue team” proposal to evaluate U.S. climate science suggested by Pruitt. Why do you think this administration refuses to accept the science?
There is clear consensus among scientists that climate change is real and already causing social and economic damage in the United States and across the planet. In states like Minnesota, climate change is already affecting crops, lakes, wildlife, and forests, and throughout the country, effects of climate change have been seen through devastating forest fires and more frequent and extreme weather events. I believe it is the defining issue of our generation — an issue that demands immediate action. But unfortunately, there are some groups that have been trying to prevent action through a “web of denial.” These groups have spent many millions of dollars muddying the water, distorting the science, deceiving the American people, and ultimately delaying the response we desperately need.
The Department of Environmental Justice, which had been part of the EPA, has been abolished. What safeguards to you see for poor, minority, and front-line communities suffering disproportionately from the impacts of toxic pollution?
It’s incredibly concerning that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is closing the Office of Environmental Justice. It shows a complete disregard for threats facing the well-being of low-income people and communities of color. Congress tasked the EPA to protect public health through the passage of legislation like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Now more than ever, it is critical that my colleagues and I — along with environmental groups and community members across our nation — press the EPA to maintain safeguards for public health.
America’s military experts have repeatedly called for action to address climate change because of the instability it will wreak globally. Do you plan to push this angle to your Senate colleagues as an on-the-ground reality that has already been evidenced?
You’re absolutely correct. In 2014, the Department of Defense (DOD) stated that climate change is a “significant challenge for the United States and the world at large,” calling it a “threat multiplier” as part of a DOD review. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has stated: ‘‘I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation.” This is certainly something that I discuss with my colleagues, and the National Defense Authorization Act that the Senate just passed requires a study about the effects of climate change to our military installations over the next 20 years. I see this as a positive step and will certainly continue to try to work with my colleagues across the aisle to act on climate change.
With President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Accords, the high percentage of Americans who see climate change as a serious threat, are feeling very frightened. You recently joined with David Letterman to present a web series called “Boiling the Frog,” which spotlights the crisis. It uses instruction through humor. Can you tell us the genesis of this project, and what you hoped to accomplish?
Dave has a young son, and he’s been working to bring attention to tackling climate change because he also knows the stakes are too high for us to turn our backs on the rest of the world and bury our heads in the sand. While President Trump has decided to disregard science in order to repeatedly put special interests ahead of the environment, we’ve teamed up with the guys at Years of Living Dangerously to fight back. We hope to bring some much-needed attention to this critical issue, and ultimately, to help encourage people in Minnesota, Dave’s home state of Indiana, and all Americans to make their voices heard and join the fight to combat climate change.
U.S. Senator Al Franken grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. First elected to the Senate in 2008, and re-elected in 2014, he currently sits on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee; the Judiciary Committee; the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and the Committee on Indian Affairs. Sen. Franken graduated from Harvard, where he met his wife Franni. They’ve been married for 40 years, and have two grown children and two grandchildren. Before running for the Senate, Al spent 37 years as a comedy writer, author, and radio talk show host and has taken part in seven USO tours, visiting our troops overseas in Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Uzbekistan-as well as visiting Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait four times.