In our opinion: Natural disasters should be off-limits for political debate

Published: Tuesday, June 4 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The people of Oklahoma, now suffering from a second deadly tornado within the matter of a few days, need the unified efforts of all Americans to help them rebuild and recover. That should be the focus of any tornado discussions in Congress.

Paul B. Southerland, AP

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Within hours of the devastating tornado that leveled Moore, Okla., and claimed the lives of 24 people, including seven young children, Sheldon Whitehouse, a United States senator from Rhode Island, took to the Senate floor to make a speech that all but blamed the tornado on the unwillingness of Republicans to support legislation fighting climate change.

He was soon followed by California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who echoed that basic message.

We wish natural disasters were off-limits for political debate. Certainly, Hurricane Katrina led to considerable criticism of the George W. Bush administration, but at least that was tied to the measurable effects of what some saw as an inadequate federal response. It is unusual, however, to hear politicians take blame for the cause of a natural phenomenon. In a nation and a time in which people are calling for more civil dialogue and rational debate, this is a step backward. The Senate, traditionally the more deliberative of the two legislative chambers, ought to be striving for a higher standard.

The allegations, it must be noted, are simply not true. Any proposed legislation to combat climate change, whether it be a "Cap and Trade" plan to limit emissions or a straight carbon tax, would have no discernible impact on global temperatures unless nations like China and India adopt similar measures.

That is not just the GOP party line. Both the scientific community and the Obama administration have openly acknowledged this. Consequently, opposition to any such legislation cannot be said to have any bearing on the climate at large, let alone one specific weather event.

In addition, the idea that there is any piece of legislation that can alter or prevent a tornado is folly. Tornadoes have been around a lot longer than Congress, and they will still be around long after this generation is gone. Many have noted that this was an unusually slow tornado season before this massive twister hit. The claim that any party could have prevented such a natural disaster is not supported by any evidence.

Politicians naturally seek for advantage in any way they feel is effective. But the implication here is that people of a certain political philosophy are indifferent toward the loss of human life and the damage to property, which is unfair.

The people of Oklahoma, now suffering from a second deadly tornado within the matter of a few days, need the unified efforts of all Americans to help them rebuild and recover. That should be the focus of any tornado discussions in Congress.

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