While Administration Disses Gore, Congress Is Channeling Him
Congress, it appears, is channeling Al Gore. At least that’s the report from the September 23ard San Francisco Chronicle. After years of debating whether global warming was real or a hoax, the House and Senate staged six hearings in one week on how the government should respond to climate change.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration, which has downplayed the threat of global warming during its six years in office, released a 244-page strategic report aying out plans to address the rapid warming of the planet.
The mounting scientific evidence that human activity is causing global temperatures to rise coupled with a growing public alarm -- fueled by former Vice President Gore's climate change documentary, "Inconvenient Truth," this summer -- has forced lawmakers to take up the issue.
"Even on Capitol Hill, we have reached the tipping point," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, an environmental group.
"George Bush's 'just say no' policy on global warming is political history," Clapp told the Chronicle. "Every senator and member of the House knows that at midnight on the day George Bush leaves office, a new administration, whether it's Republican or Democratic, will be returning to the international negotiating table on global warming."
There are still many climate-change skeptics on Capitol Hill. Among them are Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the powerful chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, D-Huntington Beach (Orange County), who has repeatedly stated that "global warming is baloney."
But many lawmakers, including conservative Republicans who have opposed efforts to address climate change, are softening their positions. Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss voted against a bill last year by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to cap emissions on greenhouse gases, but his attitude shifted after joining McCain on a recent trip to Greenland to see the vanishing polar ice.
"You can truly see that there is some melting going on," Chambliss told the Associated Press after the trip. "When you see it, all of a sudden you say, 'Hey, that issue that we've been talking about off and on over the years, there really is something to it.' "
But the emerging bipartisan consensus among policy makers could be threatened by the squabbling between the two parties over the issue.
At a hearing Thursday before the House Government Reform Committee on climate change research, the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman of Los Angeles, blasted the Bush administration for stalling on the issue for six years.
"The administration has begun to change its rhetoric on global warming. Unfortunately, it's only the rhetoric that is changing," Waxman said. "They are sticking with their policy of denying the urgency of the problem and delaying any real action."
But Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., who often bucks his party on environmental issues, noted that efforts to boost fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks have been blocked by lawmakers of both parties after heavy lobbying from the U.S. auto industry and the autoworkers' union.
"We can make it a partisan issue, and that's great for an election, but it's not the truth," Shays said. "The truth is we need to work together, Republicans and Democrats, to solve what is a huge problem."
The biggest divide is between Republicans such as Shays and McCain who want immediate efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and White House officials and top GOP congressional leaders who back a much slower approach.
The administration's strategic plan for climate change, announced Wednesday, calls for voluntary actions by industry to cut emissions and government investments in research on promising technologies, such as carbon sequestration. The report does not call for strict limits on greenhouse gases but repeats Bush's call for reducing "greenhouse gas intensity."
Dr. David Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley, who testified at Thursday's hearing, noted that reducing greenhouse gas intensity would actually allow America to increase its emissions because intensity measures the growth in emissions against the growth of the U.S. economy.
"Reducing intensity is a sham. It's a bookkeeping trick because our overall energy use is still going up," he said. "We have to turn it around, as California did. We have to have targets like an 80 percent reduction. We will never get there with an intensity reduction."
But Kammen said he was glad to see the growing consensus among Republicans and Democrats in Congress that global warming is a real problem that must be addressed.
"This is incredibly heartening," he said. "The approaches may differ and finger-pointing is part of the political process. But I don't believe we would have had this hearing two years ago."
Article originally written for the September 2006 issue of Kicking Asphalt.