Jaeden Frankhauser stifled yawns. He was supposed to be at summer camp, but his asthma leaves him unable to tolerate Connecticut’s heat wave, so he is shadowing his mother this week.
On a stifling Friday afternoon in Hartford, where the temperature was 96 and the heat index a dangerous 104, Jaeden and the weather that’s chased him inside both played roles at a rally-cum-press event on climate change.
In an air-conditioned hearing room, Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy joined Jaeden’s mother, Teresa Frankhauser, and other activists trying to rally public opinion around action on climate change.
“It’s too hot to have an event on global warming,” said a straight-faced John Harrity, the president of the Connecticut Council of Machinists.
The Machinists are one of the labor, community and environmental groups in a new coalition, “I will act.”
The event was trigged less by a heat wave baking much of the U.S. than by President Obama — five years into his presidency — proposing a series of executive actions to address greenhouse gases that scientists say are changing the climate.
“We should be celebrating here in any event the confirmation of Gina McCarthy,” Blumenthal said.
A deal breaking a hold on Obama confirmations led to the Senate’s long-awaited confirmation Thursday of McCarthy, the former commissioner of environmental protection in Connecticut, as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“There’s been a very bipartisan change of heart and dedication in the U.S. Senate, very heartening to me and I hope will mark a new chapter in the history of the Senate, where we can move ahead on issues like this one,” Blumenthal said.
An overly exuberant Blumenthal suggested that the bipartisanship may extend to climate change.
“Saving the planet should not be about party. It should not be political,” he said. “It’s a moral imperative.”
But many analysts saw Obama’s speech last month about the need to address climate change as evidence of the president’s giving up on a divided Congress ever reaching consensus on the issue.
“The president can only do so much. We’re here today to thank President Obama for what he did, but to tell the U.S. House and U.S. Senate that inaction is not an option,” Murphy said.
The junior senator said Congress must “cast aside the science deniers and do something about climate change today.”
Murphy noted the disturbing environmental threshold cross earlier this year: carbon exceeding 400 parts per million in the atmosphere for the first time in human existence.
“And the rate of acceleration is through the roof,” Murphy said. “There is no explanation other than manmade activities.”
There is a general scientific consensus about the role of carbon emissions in global warming, but some of the speakers ventured onto trickier ground — linking Connecticut’s recent run of severe storms to the burning of fossil fuels.
Scott Bates, the president of a think tank, the Center for National Policy, and the chairman of the police commission in Stonington, said the severe weather cannot be ignored.
In Stonington, he said, Storm Irene damaged the breakwater that protects Stonington’s fishing fleet, and Hurricane Sandy finished it off.
Tyson Belanger, a former Marine with the Truman National Security Project, said extreme weather events disrupt agriculture and worldwide food production and distribution, destabilizing nations and raising U.S. security concerns.
Frankhauser, a respiratory therapist, cast the issue as hyper-local: If the heat wave is not the product of climate change, then it is an illustration of what a hotter planet can mean.
On Friday, the heat meant her clients’ health is threatened. And her little boy can’t go to camp.