People have asked me what the point is of going into the dialogue of the Congressional hearings on global warming which we have been covering.

The debate that is taking place in the Congress is truly an historical debate: it is a rare debate indeed when it can truly be said that the future of the entire planet turns on the outcome of that debate. Since World War II, only debates over issues involving nuclear weapons and nuclear war have risen to this level.

And the debate over climate change is one that hinges on an understanding of the application of the methods of science to a very complex set of data, from the melting of the Greenland icecap to the intensity of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. For more than a decade, powerful special interests have spent millions of dollars to obscure the facts about global warming with corporate-funded “think tanks” that issued reports filled with half-truths.

The mass media played an unfortunate role in this process, presenting “both sides” of the issue in the name of some fictional “balance,” when the scientific consensus was increasingly solid on the side that human activity was causing global warming.

But as Senator Boxer observed on Wednesday, “elections have consequences,” and one of those consequences is that members of both parties are being forced to discuss their ideas about global warming in the public area of Congressional hearings.

In selecting direct quotations, my goal is to provide illustrations of the underlying nature of the debate, especially of the Republicans’ continued refusal to accept even the existence of global warming as a phenomenon, much less the role of human activity in generating the greenhouse gases that are forcing that warming.

I want readers to have a gut-level appreciation of the nature of this resistance, so that they might have a better sense of the uninformed, fact-resistant mindset which our Representatives and Senators will have to overcome if the Congress is going to pass meaningful legislation.


Morning in the House

Al Gore’s appearance before committees in the House and the Senate on Wednesday was a strictly schizophrenic affair: some moments were an unmitigated love fest, as members welcomed back one of their own, Gore having served on both the House and the Senate committees holding the hearings. But alternating with these heapings of praise were the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune frantically flung by the Republican minority in a desperate effort to tear down Gore personally and discredit his policy message.

…Next stop: the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, where the most outspoken opponent of global warming, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) was waiting. Inhofe was the author of the immortal claim that claims about the threat of global warming was “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

…Gore tried to reply, but after saying “I don’t want to be rude,” Inhofe persisted in talking over Gore, preventing Gore from responding. Finally Senator Boxer took matters in hand, in a set piece that many will remember for a long time.

Turning to Inhofe, Boxer said, as if to an unruly 3-year old throwing a temper tantrum in a sandbox, “I want to talk to you a minute.” The room got very quiet. Boxer asked Inhofe if he would agree to let the vice president answer his questions. Inhofe began to talk back to her in disagreement, when Boxer held up the gavel, not to pound it, but to display it. Staring Inhofe down, Boxer said:

”You’re not making the rules. You used to when you did this [looking at the gavel] but you don’t do this any more. Elections have consequences.

Whereupon the audience broke out in cheers and laughter.

…Senator Isaacson (R-GA) asked whether nuclear power shouldn’t be a bigger part of the solution to global warming, and asked Gore what he thought. Gore said he had once been a strong supporter of nuclear power, but had become more skeptical, primarily because of cost: “These things [nuclear plants] are expensive, take a long time to build, and at present come in only one size, extra large.” Gore also mentioned the unsolved problem of nuclear waste disposal, and the linkage of nuclear power programs to nuclear weapons proliferation.

Gore went on to urge support for a tax on carbon dioxide, to be offset with reduction of payroll taxes. He opposed the building of any more pulverized coal plants because the amount of nitrogen in the exhaust gases meant such plants could never be retrofitted for carbon capture.

…Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) was the first to mention public transit as part of the policy mix. He urged Gore to include a slide on public transit in his PowerPoint global warming show. Gore said that light rail was in the movie, and “the redesign of communities also.” This brief exchange was the only mention during the afternoon of the possibility of reducing the impact of global warming through policies that would allow people to be less dependent on cars.

For the complete article, see the original at Global Public Media.