RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Al Gore made a trip back to Capitol Hill yesterday. In two hearings, the former vice president called on Congress to take urgent action to fight global warming.
As NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports, Al Gore took on a lot of different roles as he tried to make his case.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN: Through several hours of testimony, Al Gore was sometimes a nerdy science teacher, sometimes a preacher, and sometimes a furious grandfather. He told lawmakers if they don't act soon, they should expect their grandchildren to ask angry questions.
Mr. AL GORE: (Former Vice President) What in the God's name were they doing? Didn't they see the evidence? Didn't they realize that four times in 15 years the entire scientific community of this world issued unanimous reports calling upon them to act?
SHOGREN: Gore also played an historian. He reminded some long-serving members of Congress of the resolve it took to fight Nazism and communism. And he told them that climate change requires the same kind of commitment.
Mr. GORE: What we're facing now is a crisis that is by far the most serious we've ever faced.
SHOGREN: He asked Congress to set an immediate freeze on emissions of carbon dioxide. That's the main pollutant responsible for trapping heat in the atmosphere. Next, he said they should come up with a plan to slash those emissions 90 percent by 2050. He also called on Congress to ban incandescent light bulbs and require better gas mileage for cars. Some members of Congress hinted that Gore was assuming the role of Scrooge. Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri displayed a large photo of a child.
Senator KIT BOND (Republican, Missouri): This girl is cold because her family cannot afford to pay their heating bills.
SHOGREN: And Bond said Gore's proposal will make heat too expensive for many more Americans.
Sen. BOND: Will this little girl have to wear two coats inside? How many millions would suffer her fate of freezing through the winter?
Mr. GORE: We should make sure that there are no families in this country that go without heat if they need it. And I think that the government ought to assist them, absolutely.
SHOGREN: Gore admitted that slashing emissions of greenhouse gases could cause price hikes. But when pressed on costs, Gore played the optimist.
Mr. GORE: It's going to save you money and it's going to help make the economy stronger.
SHOGREN: He says once Congress regulates greenhouse gas emission, market forces will kick in and American ingenuity will come up with all sorts of cheap ways to slash emissions. To those who didn't buy the economic argument, he switched to preacher mode and offered a spiritual pitch.
Mr. GORE: I believe the purpose of life is to glorify God, and we can't do that if we're heaping contempt on the creation.
SHOGREN: This was hardly the first time Gore tried to motivate Congress to respond to global warming. He first held a hearing on the topic more than 25 years ago, not long after he started in the House of Representatives. At that time, he served with another young idealist, Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Markey told Gore he was ahead of his time on climate change and other issues.
Representative EDWARD MARKEY (Democrat, Massachusetts): What you were saying about information technologies, what you were saying about environmental issues back then, now retrospectively really do make you look like a prophet. And I think that it would be wise for the Congress to listen to your warnings because I think that history has now born you out.
SHOGREN: If Gore is a prophet, he has a big following these days. Dozens of cameras captured his testimony, and Gore says he brought along letters from half a million people who want Congress to act. After five hours of testimony, Gore put his serious roles aside and played the comedian. He interrupted Senator Boxer of California as she was singing his praises.
Mr. GORE: Now, you don't give out any kind of statue or anything?
Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): I'm going to give you some.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SHOGREN: Boxer couldn't quite match the Oscar Gore received for his movie "An Inconvenient Truth," but she did promise to put the Senate Environment Committee to work on many of the initiatives Gore is pushing.
Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.
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