Gore Urges Immediate U.S. Freeze on Warming Emissions

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, March 21, 2007 (ENS) U.S. lawmakers should stop bickering about the science of global warming and take aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, former Vice President Al Gore told members of Senate and House committees today.

There is a clear scientific consensus that human activities are changing the climate, said Gore, who characterized global warming as a "planetary emergency."

Speaking Wednesday afternoon before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Gore said global warming presents a "challenge to our moral imagination."

Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore testified in both the House and the Senate today. (Photo courtesy Al Gore)
"The natural tendency, for me, for all of us, is to think something this big and challenging is not real," Gore said. "We don't want it to be real. It is hard to think about and contemplating the changes to deal with it automatically creates a feeling of discomfort. We just wish it would go away. It is not going away and we've got to deal with it."

Among a slew of recommendations, Gore called on the United States to immediately freeze its greenhouse gas emissions and aim to cut them 90 percent by 2050.

"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 expressed support for a cap and trade plan to cut emissions as well as for a tax on carbon.

Speaking of the carbon tax, Gore said, "I fully understand that this is considered politically impossible, but part of our challenge is to expand the limits of what is possible."

He suggested a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants built without carbon capture technology, as well increased fuel economy standards and a ban on incandescent light bulbs.

Homeowners should be given greater flexibility to produce their own clean energy and sell it into the electricity grid, Gore said, and the government should enact a new "carbon neutral" federal mortgage company to support green homes.

Leadership by the United States is vital to getting others to tackle the issue, said Gore, who called for the nation's leaders to "start a sprint to negotiate and ratify" a post-Kyoto treaty that starts in 2010.

The former vice president, whose documentary on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth" recently won an Academy Award, said U.S. lawmakers should follow the lead of politicians in the United Kingdom.

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Former Vice President Al Gore discusses shrinkage of Arctic ice extent in his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." (Photo courtesy An Inconvenient Truth)
"Both of their major parties are unified in their determination to solve this climate crisis," Gore said. "They are not arguing about the science. They are arguing about how to design solutions that will go farther, faster."

"We've got too much partisanship," Gore told the Senate panel. "Everyone of us, myself at the front of the line, has contributed too much to it."

Lawmakers have to "find a way to reach across the aisle on this and recreate what used to be a bipartisan consensus on protection of the environment," Gore said.

There is "big change in public opinion" on the issue, Gore added, with more and more Americans keen for action.

"This shouldn't be seen as a partisan issue or even a political issue," Gore said. "It is a moral issue the people out there in our country are so hopeful that this Senate will act and that this Congress will act."

Gore's message was received favorably by Democrats and some Republicans at both hearings, but whether there is political will for the solutions he recommended is far from clear.

Senator John Warner, a Virginia Republican, considered a key potential swing vote on the Senate panel, expressed skepticism that the technology exists to make the emission cuts Gore advocates.

"You have thrown down a very tough challenge today to the Congress," said Warner.

Warner

Senator John Warner of Virginia (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
Warner voiced concern about the economic impacts of forging ahead without an equal commitment from China, which will soon overtake the United States as the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases.

"How do we persuade them [to act]?" Warner asked.

When the United States leads, Gore replied, "we greatly improve the odds that they will be a part of it."

Lawmakers need to recognize that international treaties have long put different conditions on developed and developing countries, Gore added, and that is unlikely to change.

"Every treaty has recognized that distinction," Gore said. "We may not want that, but as a practical matter that is the world we have to deal with."

Several Republican senators queried Gore on the role of nuclear power, noting that it is an energy source that does not produce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as on the future of coal.

Gore did not reject nuclear outright, but said he does not see it as a big part of the solution.

Problems of waste storage, safety and proliferation can probably be addressed, Gore said, but cost is a higher hurdle.

"The main problem is economics," Gore said. "The problem is these things are expensive, they take a long time to build and at the moment they come in only one size extra large."

With regards to coal, Gore echoed his earlier call for a moratorium on coal-fired power plants without advanced carbon capture technology, adding that the future of coal "depends on quickly determining a price in the marketplace for carbon."

Inhofe

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma is the Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. (Photo courtesy EPW)
A handful of Republicans continued to press Gore on the science of global warming, none more than renowned climate skeptic Republican Senator James Inhofe from the oil producing state of Oklahoma.

"A lot of the statements you have made contain inaccuracies and are misleading," said Inhofe.

Many scientists do not believe that manmade emissions are responsible for warming, Inhofe said, adding "the science isn't there."

Gore pointed to agreement on the science by the National Academies of 16 nations, as well as the four reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC.

The most recent IPCC report, issued February 2, "The Physical Science Basis: a Summary for Policymakers," was adopted in a line-by line review by the governments of 113 countries, including the United States.

The report by hundreds of scientists from around the world demonstrates that global warming is accelerating, that human activity is "very likely" responsible for this warming, and that it is likely irreversible for centuries, even if greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized.

"There is a very strong scientific consensus," Gore said.