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Gore Urges Congress to Take Action on Climate Change

March 21, 2007 at 6:12 PM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: Fresh from an Oscar win last month for his cautionary documentary about global warming, former Vice President Al Gore was back on the familiar territory of Capitol Hill today.

Gore, who served as both a congressman and senator from Tennessee, began the day before the Energy Committee, where he held the first hearings on global warming 20 years ago.

He warned that global warming required aggressive federal action.

AL GORE, Former Vice President of the United States: What we’re facing now is a crisis that is, by far, the most serious we’ve ever faced. And the way we’re going to solve it is by asking you on both sides of the aisle to do what some people have, as you know, begun to fear we don’t have the capacity to do anymore.

I know they’re wrong. I promise you a day will come when our children and grandchildren will look back, and they’ll ask one of two questions. Either they will ask, “What in God’s name were they doing? Didn’t they see the evidence?”

Or they may look back and they’ll say, “How did they find the uncommon moral courage to rise above politics and redeem the promise of American democracy and do what some said was impossible?”

KWAME HOLMAN: Gore said carbon emissions must be lowered now in order to succeed against climate change.

AL GORE: Number one, I think we should immediately freeze CO-2 emissions in the United States of America and then begin a program of sharp reductions to reach at least 90 percent reductions by 2050.

KWAME HOLMAN: Among Gore’s other recommendations: a moratorium on the construction of new coal-burning power plants; tougher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks; taxes on carbon emissions, along with a so-called cap-and-trade program that would set an overall limit on emissions, but permit industries to trade pollution allowances.

Testifying before a House committee

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats showered Gore with praise for raising awareness of global warming.

REP. BART GORDON (D), Tennessee: ... Albert Gore has had a long passion and dedication to make the world understand that global warming was real and that it had consequences.

REP. RICK BOUCHER (D), Virginia: Thank you, also, for the groundbreaking work that you have done in drawing global attention to the human contribution to climate change.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), California: And I want to commend you for the enormous leadership role you're playing on educating the American people, and today educating the Congress.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Gore's assertions on the gravity of the problem faced skepticism from Joe Barton of Texas, the Energy Committee's top Republican.

REP. JOE BARTON (R), Texas: I have an article from the Science magazine which I will put into the record at the appropriate time that explains historically a rise in CO-2 concentrations did not precede a rise in temperatures, but actually lagged temperature by 200 to 1,000 years. Yes, lagged.

We know that CO-2 levels have historically and repeatedly far exceeded the levels of concentrations that we now are experiencing.

AL GORE: The fact that more CO-2 traps more heat in the lower part of the Earth's atmosphere is really beyond dispute. I mean, that's not me saying that; that's what the scientists have known for 180 years.

The 10 hottest have been since 1990. The hottest was 2005. The hottest in the United States of America was 2006. The hottest winter ever measured globally was December of last year and January and February of this year, last month. This is going on right now.

The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says, "You need to intervene here," you don't say, "Well, I read a science fiction novel that tells me it's not a problem." If the crib's on fire, you don't speculate that the baby is flame-retardant. You take action. The planet has a fever.

Objections from Sen. Inhofe

KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, Gore took his message across the Capitol to another committee where he once served, the Senate's environment panel. He quickly ran into a barrage of sharp criticism from top Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who once called global warming the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on Americans.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), Oklahoma: My perspective has been that some of the statements that you have made have inaccuracies and have been misleading. And a lot of the peer-reviewed scientists who have written in major magazines, Geophysical Research Letters, Science, are radically at odds with your claims.

Now, this is a good one here. This scares everybody. You've said that the East Antarctica might melt, and this could raise sea levels by 20 feet, so we're all going to die. However, according to many scientists, the Antarctica is gaining ice mass, not losing it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Inhofe's multiple questions, including about Gore's personal energy use in his Tennessee mansion, finally drew a sharp reaction from Committee Chair Barbara Boxer of California.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE: Sen. Gore...

AL GORE: If I could just...

SEN. JAMES INHOFE: Well, you can't.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), California: If you could allow -- you've asked the senator an important question. He's answering it. Give him a minute or so to answer it.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE: All right. If we could stop the clock during this time, that'd be fine.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: No, I'm not going to stop the clock. He has a minute to answer. How can you ask a question and not give a man a minute to answer?

SEN. JAMES INHOFE: At the end, you can have as much time as you want to answer all the questions.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: No, that isn't the rule. You're not making the rules. You used to when you did this. You don't do this anymore. Elections have consequences.

KWAME HOLMAN: The vice president suggested he and Inhofe meet separately to discuss global warming.