Tester calls for climate debate in Senate; supports upcoming Climate Strike

Hundreds of students marched in Missoula earlier this year to call for action on climate change. Thousands are expected to participate in events Friday around the national Climate Strike. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

Sen. Jon Tester on Tuesday placed his support behind the Climate Strike planned this week, saying the national show of democracy could encourage Senate leadership to begin moving on the issue.

The strike, set for Friday, has garnered widespread support, including Missoula, where thousands are expected to participate in hopes of pressing Montana’s elected leaders and the state’s congressional delegation into action.

“Climate change is real,” Tester told the Missoula Current. “We need to do some things today that will help stem the tide of climate change. You’ve got to have your head stuck severely in the sand not to understand the impacts, and the impacts are real, whether it’s rising oceans or severe droughts – the list goes on and on.”

The strike has garnered a national response, with leading brands closing their stores in a show of support. Schools, including those in Missoula and New York City, are letting students walk out to join the event.

On Sunday, Rob Watson, superintendent of Missoula County Public Schools, issued a letter to parents expressing the district’s support.

“The school district can, and does, engage in the academic pursuit of knowledge about climate change as well as practical, implementable solutions to the problems connected with climate change,” Watson wrote. “We know that climate change is real and we are committed to doing our part to create solutions to stop its devastating impact on our planet.”

Tester called the movement “good for the democracy” and said it could have a cumulative effect by pushing reluctant lawmakers into action. So far, Republican leadership in the Senate has resisted a deeper discussion.

“We need to sit down and have a debate and figure out some common sense policies that will deal with climate change,” Tester said. “Right now, with what’s going on with this administration, it’s just the opposite. They’re taking away (average fuel economy) for cars. They’re letting polluters pollute more than they did before.”

In Missoula, the issue has wedged itself as a key topic facing candidates running for City Council. In recent years, and culminating this spring, both the city and county have taken steps to address the issue on the local level.

Some efforts are small, like changing energy-sucking bulbs at the wastewater treatment plant to more efficient LEDs. Other efforts are large, including a push to achieve 100 percent clean electricity across the urban area by 2030.

“This Earth is a pretty small place in the overall scheme of things, and the last time I checked, there wasn’t any place close I could move to,” Tester said.

“We need to figure this out and do it soon, and it all starts with a debate on the Senate floor. Hopefully, these rallies will encourage Sen. (Mitch) McConnell to bring some discussion points to the floor so we can talk about it.”