When Al Gore delivered testimony on global warming to both houses of Congress last month, he was perhaps over-emboldened by his recent Academy Award for his film An Inconvenient Truth. The former vice president called for radical legislation more akin to the fantasy proposals typical of some Hollywood ideologues than the real-world compromises of serious policy makers.
With tears in his eyes, Gore called global warming "a planetary emergency-a crisis that threatens the survival of our civilization and the habitability of the Earth." He then used that extreme prognosis to justify his recommendations for a tax on CO2 emissions, a ban on new coal plants without carbon-reducing technology, and a mandated freeze on current U.S. emissions levels followed by cuts of up to 90 percent by 2050.
Such policies are far more ambitious than even the controversial Kyoto Protocol, which President George W. Bush has rejected for its crippling economic costs and meager environmental gains. Some political analysts believe Gore's reckless suggestions move him far enough outside the mainstream to eliminate any chance of a 2008 presidential run.
Nevertheless, many Democratic lawmakers received Gore's testimony with lavish praise. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) labeled Gore a prophet. And Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who presided over the Senate hearing, called him "a role model for all of us."
Others were not so impressed. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), an outspoken global warming skeptic, questioned Gore's role-model status and challenged the political superstar to justify using 12 times the energy of an average Nashville resident to power his 10,000-square-foot mansion. Gore said he offsets such use by "purchasing verifiable reductions in CO2 elsewhere."
Lost in the theater of Gore's heavily attended hearings, the counter-testimony of author and economist Bjorn Lomborg demonstrated that other global issues, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and malnutrition, present far graver threats to humanity than climate change. The Danish intellectual also showed that Gore's analysis of impacts focuses only on the most extreme and unlikely scenarios.
"We have to ask ourselves: What do we want to do first?" Lomborg testified. "Do we want to focus on cutting CO2, at fairly high costs and doing fairly little good a hundred years from now? Or would we rather want to fix some of the many obvious problems in the world, where we could do a lot more good and do it now?"