MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Former Vice President Al Gore returned to Congress today to testify about global warming. His climate change crusade has given Gore new fame since he left political office. And it seems that his work may be making a difference, if you judge by the number of formerly skeptical lawmakers now coming over to Gore's side.
NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.
ANDREA SEABROOK: Few figures, other than the actual rock stars, get the rock star treatment on Capitol Hill. But that's what Al Gore got today. Maybe, it's the whispers of a possible presidential run that attracted the swarm of snapping photographers. Maybe Gore has convinced so many voting Americans of the threat of global warming. Members of Congress came in droves to the hearing, so many, some had to sit on the audience. Or, maybe, it's his new hipster status with young people, evidenced by the line of high school pages standing at the side of the committee room, waiting to listen to the person they call, the Gorical(ph). Here was his message.
Vice President AL GORE: 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.
SEABROOK: In other words, the science is settled, Gore said. Carbon dioxide emissions from cars, power plants, buildings and other sources are heating up the Earth's atmosphere. If left unchecked, this global warming could lead to a drastic change in the weather, sea levels and to other aspects of the environment. And Gore pointed out that these conclusions are not his, but those of a vast majority of scientists who study the issue.
That didn't stop the top Republican on the committee, Joe Barton of Texas, from quoting different studies.
Representative JOE BARTON (Republican, Texas): It appears that the temperature appears to drive CO2, not vice versa. On this point, Mr. Vice President, you're not just off a little. You're totally wrong.
SEABROOK: Barton used to be the chairman of this, the Energy and Commerce Committee, and he has close ties to the oil and natural gas industries. But, it seems he's lost the loyalty of other Republicans on the committee, like Maryland's Roscoe Bartlett.
Representative ROSCOE BARTLETT (Republican, Maryland): Mr. Vice President, my wife notes that she thinks there ought to be some relationship between conservative and conservation.
Vice President GORE: Yeah.
Rep. BARTLETT: And indeed, I think it's probably possible to be a conservative without appearing to be an idiot.
(Soundbite of Vice President Gore's laughter)
SEABROOK: Bartlett agreed with Gore that American consumption of oil has got to be curtailed. Another Republican, Bob Inglis of South Carolina, praised Gore's proposal to make companies pay for the pollution they emit.
Representative BOB INGLIS (Republican, South Carolina): Because as a conservative, I believe in markets. And the only way a market can work is if it rightly judges the price of a product.
SEABROOK: To be sure, the fact that the science of global warming is now accepted, doesn't mean the way to fix the problem is. Illinois Republican and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert tried to brush off Gore's politically challenging ideas, as easy to talk about, almost impossible to enact.
Representative DENNIS HASTERT (Republican, Illinois): The fact is you've laid out some things - places that we need to go. And as thinker, as a personality and now, a movie star, you can come back with those general themes, those broad things and say do this.
Vice President GORE: Rin Tin Tin was the movie star. I just have a slide show.
SEABROOK: But, by far, most people on the committee, Democrat and Republican, listened very carefully to Al Gore and seemed to take to heart his final message, that in a few years, this whole debate will look very different.
Vice President GORE: You know, the range of things we're talking about now are just going to seem so small compared to what people are going to be demanding then. I'm telling you, the awareness on this is just on a straight, upwards trajectory. And it's not partisan. It is not partisan. It's not a political issue. It is a moral issue. And our children are going to be demanding this.
SEABROOK: So today's hearing was evidence that another environment maybe changing, one that's much harder to effect in some ways: the one in the U.S. Congress.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.
SIEGEL: Some scientists have raised questions about some of Al Gore's conclusions on climate change. And you can read about that at npr.org.