Climate change could ‘end human civilisation’ Gore tells US Senate

Al Gore

Publish date: January 28, 2009

Written by: Charles Digges

Calling climate change “the one challenge that could completely end human civilisation,” former US Vice President Al Gore urged the US Senate Foreign Relations committee to tap environmental action as the overlooked fuel of economic development on Wednesday.

Gore urged lawmakers to speedily pass US President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package, highlighting its environmental investments, and urgently cap US emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

"The solutions to the climate crisis are the very same solutions that will address our economic and national security crises, as well," Gore said in testimony before the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.

While he was speaking, the House voted 244 to 188 to carry the new administration’s $819 billion stimulus package, which includes a $50 billion clean energy package, and which will move on to the Senate for final approval that is expected to come in mid February.

Gore, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to raise awareness of global warming, praised Obama’s stimulus plan for including environment-friendly items such as investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy grid improvements and a shift to "clean cars."

"Al Gore is Right," said Jonathan Temple, Director of Bellona USA. "We need to take action now to meet the challenge of climate change. We cannot wait."

Attacking climate change will boost economy
Gore said he rejected as a "false choice" the debate between tackling climate change and averting a recession that has taken hold in the United States and many other economies

"These crucial investments will create millions of new jobs and hasten our economic recovery – while strengthening our national security and beginning to solve the climate crisis," said Gore.

"How can we afford not to do this?" Gore said to the committee.

At issue, he said, was an "urgent and unprecedented threat to the existence of our civilization" as a warming planet threatens to unleash stronger storms, more droughts, and rising sea levels.

Obama moving the climate goal posts
President Barack Obama signaled an immediate shift in US climate policy at the start of his administration, promising to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 80 per cent by 2050.

He also signed executive orders allowing US states like California to enact tougher vehicle emissions rules – the first step towards reversing a Bush administration block on such state action, and ordered US auto makers to put cars getting at least 35 miles to the gallon on the road by 2011.

On the same day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named Todd Stern as special envoy for climate change to lead negotiations on a new global treaty, signaling that combating global climate change is a new US foreign policy priority.

Run-up to Copenhagen
Governments have resolved to agree by the end of this year on an enhanced climate deal that would place further restrictions on countries’ greenhouse-gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first attempt at setting international targets, expires in 2012. It was never adopted by the United States.

Gore said it was critical that a new deal be reached by the end of this year. US leadership would be key to getting other countries on board a new treaty, which must include commitments from industrial and developing economies and will be thrashed out at a climate summit in Copenhagen in December.

"A fair, effective and balanced treaty will put in place the global architecture that will place the world, at long last and in the nick of time, on a path toward solving the climate crisis," Gore told the committee.

Climate change no joke to America anymore
A share of weather puns on Gore’s speech squeaked through in the coverage of many US media, while Washington Wednesday rode out a rough snowstorm. The right-leaning Drudge Report news site headlined its article on Gore’s appearance as, “The Snow Must Go On: Gore Braves Winter Storm to Testify on Global Warming.”

Two years ago, Gore testified on climate change, also during a snowstorm. Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe wondered to US media at the time, “Where’s global warming when you need it?” Gore was also savaged at the time by former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, who called climate change “garbage.”

But the quick punch lines were missing on Wednesday, and Gores remarks played to a packed house.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Massachusetts democrat, said public policy must change and respond to warnings from scientists who fear that a buildup of greenhouse gas emissions may prove permanent.

"Frankly, the science is screaming at us," he said in remarks reported by the Associated Press.

"Right now, the most critical trends and facts all point in the wrong direction."

To avoid reaching any point of no return, said ranking Foreign Relations Committee member, Republican Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, the United States should rise to a leadership role in promoting other forms of energy such as solar and geothermal power, AP reported.

With the lights dimmed, Gore made a dramatic keynote presentation of 57 slides – cuts from his Oscar Winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” – highlighting shrinking polar ice caps, melting glaciers, grim droughts, devastating deforestation, and apocalyptic future costs of inaction, Agency France Press reported.  

Gore said the latest data showed the planet was "in grave danger."