‘Planet has a fever,’ Gore warns
WASHINGTON ” Al Gore, who has reversed his political fortunes to become a potential contender in the 2008 presidential race, made an emotional return to Congress Wednesday in an appeal for an even more dramatic rescue ” saving the planet.
Gore ” who is one of voters’ top choices for the Democratic presidential nomination even though he says he’s not running ” implored lawmakers to adopt a list of policy prescriptions to stop global warming.
Fresh off a triumphant Academy Awards appearance in which his climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” won two Oscars, Gore drew overflow crowds as he testified before House and Senate panels about a “true planetary emergency” if Congress fails to act. He said addressing the problem is a moral issue and should not be a partisan or political.
But Gore faced a more skeptical reception than the warm embrace he received from Hollywood as Republicans questioned the science behind his testimony.
“You’re not just off a little, you’re totally wrong,” said Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the leading Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as he challenged Gore’s conclusion that carbon dioxide emissions cause rising global temperatures. Barton and Gore’s exchange grew testy at one point ” Barton demanding that Gore get to the point and Gore responding that he would like time to answer without being interrupted.
“Global warming science is uneven and evolving,” Barton said.
Gore insisted that the link is beyond dispute and is the source of broad agreement in the scientific community.
“The planet has a fever,” Gore said. “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 told 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.”
Gore’s congressional testimony marked the first time he had been to Capitol Hill since January 2001, when he was the defeated Democratic presidential nominee still presiding over the Senate in his role as vice president. It comes 20 years after Gore, then a congressman from Tennessee, held the first hearings in Congress on global warming.
Gore appeared before a joint hearing by two House committees, with his wife, Tipper, sitting behind him and a stack of boxes beside him containing hundreds of thousands messages asking Congress to act on global warming.
Later in the day, he was to testify before a Senate committee that included Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Gore has said he has no plans to seek the presidency again, but he ranks third in some polls and could threaten Clinton’s front-runner status if he decided to enter the race.
Gore said he hopes whoever is elected president in 2008 “can use his or her political chips” to lead the world toward a new global climate treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol that requires 35 industrial nations to cut greenhouse gases. The Bush administration argues Kyoto would hurt the U.S. economy and objects that high-polluting developing nations like China and India are not required to reduce emissions.
“I fully understand that Kyoto, as a brand if you will, has been demonized,” Gore said.
Gore was warmly welcomed back by some of his critics, such as Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, who remembered serving with Gore’s father and bantered with Gore about an evening boat ride they took together. “You’re dear to us, but I just don’t agree with you on this,” Hall said.
Gore advised lawmakers to cut carbon dioxide and other warming gases 90 percent by 2050 to avoid a crisis. Doing that, he said, will require a ban on any new coal-burning power plants ” a major source of industrial carbon dioxide ” that lack state-of-the-art controls to capture the gases.
He said he foresees a revolution in small-scale electricity producers for replacing coal, likening the development to what the Internet has done for the exchange of information.
“There is a sense of hope in this country that this United States Congress will rise to the occasion and present meaningful solutions to this crisis,” Gore said. “Our world faces a true planetary emergency. I know the phrase sounds shrill, and I know it’s a challenge to the moral imagination.”