By David A. Fahrenthold
The Seattle Times/Washington Post
Contributions by The Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President and now environmental activist Al Gore descended on Capitol Hill Wednesday, telling two congressional panels that global climate change represents the most dangerous crisis in American history and that the measures needed to fix the problem are far more drastic than anything currently on the table.
Gore, whose documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” won two Academy Awards, testified before both House and Senate committees in an appearance that drew international media attention and lines of would-be spectators in the hallways.
In both hearings, he had testy exchanges with lawmakers who cast doubts on his scientific evidence or the feasibility of his solutions, such as an immediate freeze on new emissions from cars and power plants.
“This is not a normal time. We are facing a planetary emergency,” Gore said in the afternoon Senate hearing. “I’m fully aware that that phrase sounds shrill to many people’s ears. But it is accurate.”
Gore, who served a combined 16 years in the House and Senate before becoming vice president in 1992, had not made such a public appearance on Capitol Hill since he lost the 2000 presidential election.
In both hearings, Gore took criticism from Republican lawmakers. The toughest sparring was with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who contends that climate change is a hoax.
Inhofe criticized Gore for using too much energy in his Tennessee home, and he also listed a number of scientists who he said had broken with Gore about the reality — or the danger — of warming temperatures.
“Are they all wrong, and you’re right?” he asked.
Inhofe also dismissed Gore’s list of proposed solutions, which include taxation of polluters, by saying he believed they would offer little environmental benefit.
“It’s something that we just can’t do to America,” Inhofe said. “And we’re not going to do it.”
Outside of those exchanges, many legislators greeted Gore warmly, hailing him as the country’s loudest voice on climate change, the instigator of a growing movement.
“You have acted for us,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the Senate committee chair. “You have acted more than anyone else.”
In his talk, Gore described briefly the scientific consensus on the causes of climate change. Scientists say emissions of “greenhouse gases,” primarily carbon dioxide emitted by cars and power plants, are accumulating in the atmosphere at an unsustainable rate and trapping more of the sun’s heat.
A U.N. report in February concluded it was “very likely” that man-made gases were behind most of the increase in global temperatures over the past 50 years.
Gore told the panels Wednesday that rising global temperatures could cause polar ice to melt and sea levels to rise, and increase the likelihood of droughts, wildfires and intense hurricanes.
Among his proposed solutions: a pollution tax, an immediate freeze on carbon-dioxide emissions with sharp reductions in future years, stricter vehicle miles-per-gallon rules, a moratorium on construction of highly polluting coal-fired power plants, a strong global climate-change treaty and the creation of a federally operated Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association that would serve as an incentive for building energy-efficient homes.
Gore acknowledged that almost all these measures go well beyond anything lawmakers have contemplated so far.
“This is a challenge to our moral imagination,” he said.