Former Vice President Al Gore -- a politician turned crusader against global warming -- returned to Capitol Hill today, asking lawmakers to consider their place in history when rising to the challenge of fighting what he calls a "climate crisis."
A Democrat who has made it his life's mission to sound the alarm on global warming, Gore also faced off against the Republican U.S. Senator who has called the issue "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., challenged Gore to pledge to lower his household energy consumption to the national average without using carbon offsets or so called "green energy" credits that Inhofe described as "gimmicks used by the wealthy so they don't have to change their lifestyle."
Gore ignored the offer.
"We live a carbon-neutral life, senator, and both of my businesses are carbon-neutral," Gore said. "We buy green energy, we do not contribute to the problem that I am joining with others to solve."
After trying to continue his answer, Gore was repeatedly cut off by Inhofe, the former committee chairman. It prompted the current chair, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to scold the senator from Oklahoma about the committee rules.
"You're not making the rules," said Boxer, holding up her gavel to cheers from the audience. "You don't do this anymore. Elections have consequences."
At a House hearing earlier in the day, Gore said that action now on global warming is imperative for future generations.
"I promise you a day will come when our children and grandchildren will look back and they will ask one of two questions. Either they will ask, 'What in God's name were they doing? Didn't they see the evidence?'" Or, he said, "They may look back and say 'How did they find the uncommon moral courage to rise above politics and redeem the promise of American democracy?'"
Gore suggested several proposals, including a 90 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 -- an aggressive reduction that critics argue would cripple the U.S. economy.
"Your proposals today would stop economic growth and I fear, jobs," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo..
Gore also told the committees that Congress should raise fuel economy standards, ban regular incandescent light bulbs, and enact a moratorium on any new coal fired power plants that don't include technology to capture greenhouse gas pollution and store it underground.
The vice president's work on global warming was the subject of last year's documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth" which won an Academy Award. Much of the science in the film was based on the work of thousands of peer-reviewed scientists who conclude that humans are warming the planet through the release of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
That apparently wasn't good enough for some committee members. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said he admired Gore's passion for fighting global warming, but attempted to discredit Gore's portrayal of the link between carbon dioxide pollution and a rise in global temperature.
"On this point, Mr. Vice President, you're not just off a little, you're totally wrong," Barton said.
Gore listened intently to Barton, tapping a cowboy boot on the floor and avidly taking notes. Raising his voice, he strongly defended his film and the science.
"Twenty of the 21 hottest years ever measured in the human record have been in the last 25 years," Gore said. "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, 'I read a science fiction novel that says it's not a problem.' If the crib's on fire you don't speculate that the baby is flame-retardant."
Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., agreed with Gore on the science, but wondered about the impact that Gore's solutions would have on the U.S. economy.
"I agree with you that the debate over climate change is over," Hastert said. "But when you tend to regulate, when you tax, you depress the ability of the free market to work. So how do we do it? We need to work on solutions and find the legislative language and legislative fixes to make this work."
Republicans in the Senate also expressed a willingness to work together.
"You've thrown down a very tough challenge today in this Congress. I'm prepared to take some risks and fight with you," said Senator John Warner, R-Va.,. "I'd be the first to say that I've got a lot to learn."
The former vice president brought with him several boxes which held 516,000 letters from people concerned about global warming. Gore said he planned to deliver the messages to members of Congress.
"I'm not here by myself," Gore said of the letters. "There are lots of Americans who feel as strongly as I do."
Gore testified in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Science and Technology Committee. In the Senate he was questioned by members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, including his former vice presidential running mate from the 2000 campaign, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Ind-Conn..
Representing Tennessee as a member of the House and later the Senate, Gore held the first global warming hearings in Congress over 20 years ago.