Gore On Hill To Discuss Climate Change

Former Vice President Al Gore visits the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to emphasize the importance of U.S. leadership on the issue of climate change.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. It was icy and cold in Washington today as former Vice President Al Gore urged Congress to act fast to counter an overheating planet. The Nobel Peace Laureate shared a number of his inconvenient truths with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also urged that lawmakers now have an opportunity to act. NPR's David Welna has today's story.

DAVID WELNA: In welcoming Al Gore to sit in the hot seat before the foreign relations panel, Chairman John Kerry recalled how he and then Senator Gore teamed up 21-years-ago at the first climate change hearing ever held by the Senate. It was a sweltering June day, Kerry recalled, and Senate staffers opened up the windows in the hearing room to underscore the threat of global warming.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): We're obviously not going to repeat that gesture today. But I speak for everyone on this committee when I tell you how much we appreciate your being here today, Mr. Vice President, and particularly on a day in what passes down here as tough winter weather.

WELNA: And Kerry had a message for what he called the nay sayers and the deniers out there - a little snow in Washington does nothing to diminish the reality of the crisis. Gore followed that with a Cassandra-like warning.

Former Vice President AL GORE: We have arrived at a moment of decision. Our home, earth, is in danger.

WELNA: Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, Gore said, have shot up from 280 parts per million at the start of the industrial revolution to 386 parts per million today - and rising, which is why the earth's average temperature keeps going up.

Former Vice President GORE: If we continued at today's levels, some scientists have said it can be an increase of up to 11 degrees fahrenheit. This would bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten the fabric of life everywhere on the earth. And this is within the century, if we don't change.

WELNA: Idaho freshman Republican Jim Risch noted that scientists have projected what would happen if societies do cut back on their greenhouse gas emissions.

Senator JAMES RISCH (Republican, Idaho): Has anybody predicted what will happen if we don't, if we just stay on the course that we're on? Has anybody predicted how long we're going to be around?

Former Vice President GORE: I think the scenario that those scientists warn us about is not for any, you know, extinction of the human species, but rather of the risk of the collapse of the basis for civilization as we know it.

WELNA: Gore said there's one thing lawmakers can do immediately to improve the planet's prospects.

Former Vice President GORE: I urge this Congress to quickly pass the entirety of President Obama's recovery package. The plan's unprecedented and critical investments in four key areas, energy efficiency, renewables, a unified national energy smart-grid and the move to clean cars, represent an important downpayment and are long overdue.

WELNA: The next step, Gore said, would be for Congress to pass a cap and trade bill that would mandate reduced greenhouse gas emissions. This, he said, would be crucial for giving the U.S. the credibility it needs to lead efforts in Copenhagen late this year to come up with a new global climate change treaty. Committee Chairman Kerry agreed that this is the year for Congress to act.

Senator KERRY: This is going to be a tough sell(ph), but we're going to try to do it. We're going to do everything in our power to keep the pressure on and keep the focus on.

WELNA: As Kerry noted, there's now a president in the White House who will sign climate change bills into law. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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