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Fact-checking U.S. Sen. Whitehouse's claims on climate change

Tim Murphy
By Tim Murphy March 11, 2014

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, one of more than two dozen senators who took part in this week's marathon on the Senate floor to warn about the dangers of climate change, was on familiar territory.

Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, has now made 60 Senate speeches on climate change, returning to the floor each week the Senate is in session.

He comes armed with facts and figures, and staff-produced charts and posters, to back up his warnings of drastic environmental and social consequences if serious actions aren’t taken to address global warming.

Whitehouse and the other senators took turns turns from late Monday through Tuesday morning to call attention to an issue he says has largely been ignored.

"We hope the White House is watching," Whitehouse told The Providence Journal last week. "We hope that the environmental community is taking heart. We hope the Republicans in the House are watching. We hope they will ask themselves, ‘How smart a strategy is it for us to lash ourselves to the polluters when so many Americans are seeing evidence of climate change?’"

Whitehouse, who is  little more than a year into his second Senate term, says he has long been concerned about climate change -- in part because he’s married to a marine scientist, Sandra Whitehouse,a senior adviser to the environmental group Ocean Conservancy

PolitiFact Rhode Island has fact-checked many of Whitehouse’s claims about climate change; overall, he has fared well with the Truth-O-Meter.

In November 2012, PolitiFact Rhode Island examined Whitehouse’s claim that there are "more people working in clean and green energy than in oil and gas in this country." We ruled the claim True, after checking studies by the Brookings Institution and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that backed his claim.

In April, we ruled Half True on Whitehouse’s claim that Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay has gotten 4 degrees warmer since the 1960s. He had cited a study looking at temperatures through 2006. We found a more recent study that showed the increase wasn’t that severe.

In June, we checked a claim from one of his Senate speeches that the world’s oceans "have become 30 percent more acidic," ruling Mostly True. We noted that studies showed that he was on target for the upper layers of the ocean, where most sea life thrives. But the deeper ocean had not seen an increase of that magnitude.

We ruled Mostly True on his claim from a November speech that "53 percent of young Republican voters … under age 35 said that they would describe a climate [change] denier as ‘ignorant,’ ‘out of touch,’ or ‘crazy.’" We found that he had accurately cited a number for a League of Conservation Voters poll, but failed to note that the term "deniers" can include not just those who don’t believe that the climate is changing, but those who do acknowledge climate change but contend it’s not caused by humans.

In December, Whitehouse cited another poll in a similar claim.

"Another national survey, this one by the Pew Research Center, found that most -- 61 percent of non-tea party Republicans -- actually agree, actually agree there is 'solid evidence the earth is warming,' with a plurality saying it is 'mostly because of humans,'" he said.

We also ruled that claim Mostly True; again, he cited the poll accurately but left out context on differing opinions on how much to blame human activity.

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Fact-checking U.S. Sen. Whitehouse's claims on climate change