This past week, eyes and ears across the nation were focused on Vice President Al Gore's appearance before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee [EPW]. Testifying before the committee, chaired by California Senator Barbara Boxer, Gore presented a chilling diagnosis of what ails Planet Earth, and offered a spate of specific proposals for dealing with global climate change. The person sitting before the committee was equal parts inspired activist, policy wonk, sage professor and Oscar-toting media darling. Committee members listened to the man the media has recently dubbed "The Goracle" with an intensity and attentiveness not normally displayed on Capitol Hill. It should also be noted that, somewhat atypically, every committee member [10 Democrats, 9 Republicans] attended the hearing. Isn't it amazing what a few dozen cameras will do for media-addicted politicians?
The hearing had a somewhat unconventional format: both committee Chair Boxer and Ranking Member James Inhofe [R-OK] made opening statements. Next, Gore [whom Inhofe persistently and pointedly referred to as "senator"] spoke for thirty minutes. Following the Vice President's presentation, Inhofe was granted fifteen minutes for asking questions.
To Ranking Member Inhofe's way of thinking, Gore is nothing more than a deranged Cassandra -- a prophetic want-to-be whose visions are the product of an unhinged mind. Inhofe, who once called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public," showed an almost total lack of civility; he repeatedly accused Gore of being an alarmist and a gross hypocrite. Each of Inhofe's questions contained not-so-veiled insults. When Gore, staying on point, attempted to answer the senator's acerbic questions, Inhofe complained "You're eating into my time allotment." At one point, committee Chair Boxer, like an angry mother losing patience with a recalcitrant child, barked "Would you let the Vice President answer your questions?" When Inhofe began to protest the propriety of Boxer's assertiveness, madam chair waved her gavel in his face, and said "You're not making the rules." Score: Boxer 10, Inhofe 0.
In all deference to Senator Inhofe, he is a senator from an oil state, and, as such, is the creature of energy industry largess. But this in no way mitigates the fact that he came off as both a clown and a boor. Moreover, from the questions and comments of his brethren on EPW, and in the conservative press, he seems to be becoming ever increasingly marginalized and irrelevant. That's one small step for sanity . . .
It is highly unlikely that any of our constant readers need a refresher on the fact of global climate change and all that it entails. With the exception of unreconstructed Luddites like Senator Inhofe, there is a growing consensus gentium that global warming is a scientifically provable verity. Now, of course, the question becomes: "What in the world do we do to save the planet?" In his testimony, Vice President Gore made many specific recommendations:
- One of the Vice President's most intriguing proposals was to eliminate employment/payroll taxes and replace the lost revenue with a new carbon/pollution tax. Admittedly, this is a radical proposal, but well worth considering.
- Place an immediate moratorium on any new coal plant that is not outfitted with carbon capture and storage [sequestration] technology -- known as CCS. Since the technology in question is still in the development stage, what Gore was really saying is "Stop building coal plants right now."
- One proposal is to create an "electronet," meaning a distributed power system where small scale [to the level of homes] generators could get their power on the grid. This idea has been around for a while; the thought is that centralized power in the form of massive coal and nuclear plants is less efficient than distributed energy that can be used directly by the producer with excess power being sent back to the grid.
- The creation of a new federal mortgage lender that specifically deals in carbon-neutral energy upgrades to homes. From every indication, this new "Connie Mae" would be a lending instrument to borrow money for efficiency upgrades against the saving in energy costs produced by those upgrades. It would seem that the loan would become a market-tradable financial instrument like home loans.
- Mandate that corporations be required to disclose their carbon emissions to shareholders.
Senator Inhofe wasn't buying any of it. In fact, he tried to trap the Vice President into a pledge not to use more energy than the average household. This was Inhofe's way of reminding people of the widely-reported claim that the Gore's home in Tennessee uses more than twice the energy in one month than the average American family uses in one year. Mr. Gore calmly responded by saying that he purchases wind power. Score: Gore 10, Inhofe 0.
As time goes by, one can only hope that science, industry and politics will learn how to work together to solve this potentially lethal crisis. So long as people like Al Gore are willing to be tireless advocates; to be people who teach, preach and challenge, I am more than willing to bet that we will rise to the occasion and learn how best to protect the planet that has nurtured life ever since the days of the first single-cell creatures.