Former Vice President Al Gore warned senators today of dire consequences from global warming, using his famous slide show to urge Congress to force reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and to call for completion of an international climate treaty by year's end.
Gore's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee touched all corners of what he calls the "climate crisis."
With the lights dimmed in the hearing room, the Nobel Peace Prize winner described the geopolitical consequences of "climate refugees" -- people forced out of their homes by storms, weather changes or rising seas. He warned of melting polar ice, widening threats of forest fires and competition for scarce water. And he offered data showing that if emissions continue to increase at their current levels, it would lead to an 11 degree Fahrenheit rise in global average temperatures.
"This would bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten the fabric of life everywhere on Earth," Gore said. "And this is within the century, if we don't change."
Pressed to explain how U.S. policymakers can be asked to vote on climate change measures during the economic crisis, Gore stressed the financial consequences of inaction.
"It may be a classic turn of phrase, but I think the better question is, 'How can we afford not to do this?'" Gore said.
Dozens of photographers captured the scene as Gore returned to Capitol Hill for his third hearing on climate change since Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007. This time, Gore's testimony carried new weight as U.N. climate negotiators face a December deadline to complete talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, on a new international treaty, and Congress is urged to act by the new Obama administration.
Gore called on lawmakers to quickly pass President Barack Obama's economic stimulus measure and then to move faster this year to enact cap-and-trade legislation that would curb midcentury emissions by 80 percent. Both, Gore said, would help give momentum to the international climate talks as world leaders look to Obama for immediate leadership.
"If Congress acts right away to pass President Obama's recovery package and then takes decisive action this year to institute a cap-and-trade system for CO2 emissions -- as many of our states and many other countries have already done -- the United States will regain its credibility and enter the Copenhagen treaty talks with a renewed authority to lead the world in shaping a fair and effective treaty," Gore said. "And this treaty must be negotiated this year. Not next year. This year."
Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, the Foreign Relations Committee's ranking member, pressed Gore on an all-important question: Why should 67 senators support ratification of a new climate treaty when it voted unanimously more than a decade ago against what became the Kyoto Protocol?
Gore explained that developing countries, including Brazil, China and Indonesia, have made considerable steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in ways that they never considered when Kyoto was being negotiated in 1997. "I think that makes it a very different situation," Gore said, explaining that the scientific consensus has also solidified around the world well beyond a decade ago.
"The scientists are practically screaming from the rooftops," Gore said. "This is a planetary emergency."
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) promised continued oversight on the international climate negotiations leading up to the Copenhagen conference. In his opening remarks, Kerry stressed the difficult role that the Obama administration faces as it joins the post-Kyoto talks.
"As the new administration sets a new tone with the global community, this issue will be an early test of our capacity to exert thoughtful, forceful diplomatic and moral leadership on any future challenge that the world faces," Kerry said.
Click here to read Gore's prepared statement.