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Al Gore Testifies Before Congress on Global Warming

Through several hours of testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday, former Vice President 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.

"What in God's name were they doing," those grandchildren will demand, he said. "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?"

Gore also played the role of historian. He reminded some long-serving members of Congress of the resolve it took to fight Nazism and Communism. He told them that climate change requires the same kind of commitment.

"What we're facing now is a crisis that is by far the most serious we've ever faced," he said.

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. 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. Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) pointed to a large photo of a child.

"This little girl is cold because her family could not afford to pay their heating bills," Bond said.

He said Gore's proposals will make heat too expensive for many Americans.

"Would this little girl have to wear two coats inside?" he asked. "How many millions would suffer her fate of freezing through the winter?"

Gore admitted that slashing emissions of greenhouse gases could cause price hikes. But when pressed on costs, Gore played the optimist.

"It's going to save you money, and it's going to make the economy stronger," he said.

He says that once Congress regulates greenhouse gas emissions, 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.

"I believe the purpose of life is to glorify God, and we can't do that if we're heaping contempt on the creation," he said.

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, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA). Markey told Gore he was ahead of his time on climate change and other issues.

"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," Markey said. "And I think that it would be wise for the Congress to listen to your warnings, because I think that history now has borne you out."

If Gore is a prophet, he has a big following these days. Dozens of cameras captured his testimony. And Gore said he had letters from half a million people who want Congress to act.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) promised to put the Senate Environment committee to work on many of the initiatives Gore advocates.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Shogren is an NPR News Science Desk correspondent focused on covering environment and energy issues and news.