Jan. 28, 2009 -- With the Washington, D.C. encased in ice from a winter storm, climate change crusader Al Gore argued for President Obama's economic stimulus plan, saying it will help fight global warming.
Despite the deep freeze outside Capitol Hill, the former vice president urged lawmakers to move quickly to make investments in renewable energy and clean cars to address the "dangerous and growing threat of the climate crisis."
The former vice president appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to promote Obama's economic 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 down payment and are long overdue," Gore argued.
It would be a step, he said, in "beginning to solve the climate crisis."
It was unclear whether the endorsement by Gore, who has reached an exalted standing among environmentalists, would affect congressional support for the measure.
The stimulus plan is expected to be passed in the House today, and be debated in the Senate next week. Obama hopes that differences in the bill are worked out in time for him to sign it into law by mid-February.
Gore showed up on Capitol Hill with an updated version of his 2006 documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," including time-lapsed photos of melting glaciers, images of forest fires, diagrams of disappearing polar ice caps and videos of methane bubbling out of Canadian lakes.
He also urged Congress to consider a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions, whereby the government caps the amount of carbon that can be emitted by businesses. Those that produce less carbon earn credits that can be sold to businesses that produce more carbon.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican who holds the Tennessee Senate seat once held by Gore, suggested that a carbon tax, refunded to companies that produce less carbon, would be a better avenue. Gore said a cap and trade policy is more likely to be enacted on a large scale internationally.
And for the United States, an over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is also a risk to national security and the economy, he said.
"As long as we continue to send hundreds of billions of dollars for foreign oil -- year after year -- to the most dangerous and unstable regions of the world, our national security will continue to be at risk," Gore said.
"As long as we continue to allow our economy to remain shackled to the OPEC roller coaster of rising and falling oil prices, our jobs and our way of life will remain at risk," Gore said.
International Commitment to Combating Climate Change
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairs the Foreign Relations Committee and said the United States should play a leading role in helping draft a new global treaty on climate change at a conference in Copenhagen later this year. President Bush withdrew the United States from the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which a sought a cap-and-trade system. But President Obama seems more likely to support such an international system.
Gore said beyond what this country does within its own borders, an international approach is imperative to address climate change. "Otherwise it's like a bucket with a hole... The United States is the only nation that can lead the world. And this is the worst challenge the world has ever faced," Gore said.
More and more countries understand the need for action, and there should be a worldwide commitment to reduce emissions and other global warming pollutants, Gore said.
"We have arrived at a moment of decision. Our home -- Earth -- is in danger," Gore said. "What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, of course, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings."
"The Science is screaming at us," said Kerry, who, like Gore is a former Democratic Presidential candidate. Kerry also has his own tome on the threat of global warming.
"To the naysayers and the deniers out there, let me make it clear the little snow in Washington does nothing to diminish the reality of the crisis that we face," Kerry said.
The two former Presidential candidates ignored usual committee rules on time and for more than an hour with their opening statements and a riffing series of question and answer on what should be done.
The treaties and the cap-and-trade policy will have to follow, Gore said.
Nuclear Power, Greening the Economy
Unlike in testimony before Senate Environment Committee in 2007, Gore encountered no doubters as to the existence of climate change.
But there was some skepticism about how to address U.S. reliance on carbon-based fuel.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said the United States should encourage more nuclear development.
"If you accept every dire circumstance of climate change and you take a clean and reliable source of energy off the table you make it much more difficult to get where you're going to," Isakson said.
Gore countered that private investors tend to be wary of nuclear development, which requires enormous investment up front. He said nuclear plants in Europe are financed mostly with public money.
Investing in energy efficiency, renewables, a unified national energy grid and clean cars will create millions of jobs, hasten the economic recovery and begin to solve the climate crisis, Gore said.
Gore also pointed to the increase in weather-related disasters -- fires, hurricanes and drought -- occurring due to climate changes that "will increase even more dramatically the longer we delay action on this."
Kerry said he would provide Gore's testimony to every member of the Senate.
"If ever there was an underscoring of the urgency, I think you've given it to us," Kerry said.