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Gore Challenges Congress on Climate

In his talk before the Senate panel and before a joint hearing of Energy's energy and air quality subcommittee and Science and Technology's energy and environment subcommittee, Gore described briefly the scientific consensus on climate change's causes. Scientists say emissions of "greenhouse gases," primarily carbon dioxide emitted by cars and power plants burning fossil fuels, are accumulating in the atmosphere at an unsustainable rate and trapping more of the sun's heat.

A United Nations report in February concluded it was "very likely" that man-made gases were behind most of the increase in global temperatures over the past 50 years, which has worked out to about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.

Gore told the panels yesterday that these temperature increases could cause polar ice to melt, sea levels to rise, and increase the likelihood of droughts, wildfires and intense hurricanes. Seeking a metaphor to describe the scale of the problem, he listed several pivotal events in American and world history -- World War II, the Marshall Plan, the Cold War -- and the battle of Thermopylae, in 480 B.C.

In that battle, depicted in the current movie "300," a small force of Spartans held back the Persian Empire and saved the beginnings of Western culture in Greece. Gore said that if climate change could be solved, today's lawmakers could "say to the future generations . . . 'This was our Thermopylae. We defended civilization's gate.' "

Gore's solutions were as sweeping as his metaphors. His recommendations began with the immediate national freeze on new emissions of carbon dioxide -- which could affect everything from cars to lawn mowers to coal-fired power plants -- and included an overhaul of the tax code. Payroll taxes should go down, Gore said, and taxes on polluters, especially those who emit carbon dioxide, should go up.

Beyond that, Gore recommended a ban on incandescent light bulbs, which activists say are far less energy-efficient than new compact fluorescent bulbs; raising the fuel-efficiency standards for cars; and a "carbon-neutral mortgage association." The last would allow homeowners to more easily finance renovations to improve energy efficiency, he said.

Gore acknowledged that almost all of these measures go well beyond anything lawmakers have contemplated so far.

"This is a challenge to our moral imagination," he said.

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