WASHINGTON Climate crusader Al Gore said the first step toward restoring U.S. "economic and moral leadership" is to pass President Barack Obama's stimulus package -- and the second step is putting a price on carbon.
"For years our efforts to address the growing climate crisis have been undermined by the idea that we must choose between our planet and our way of life," the former U.S. vice president told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at its first hearing in the new Congress on Wednesday.
"In fact, the solutions to the climate crisis are the very same solutions that will address our economic and national security crises as well," Gore said.
He praised Obama's stimulus plan for its investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, cars that emit less pollution and the construction of a national power grid to harness alternative energies.
This is the kind of bold action required "to repower our economy, restore American economic and moral leadership in the world and regain control of our destiny," he said.
Gore, who won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change and starred in the Academy Award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," said the next move after enacting the stimulus package should be to institute a cap-and-trade system for carbon in 2009.
This would allow the United States to go to international climate change talks in December in Copenhagen "with renewed authority to lead the world in shaping a fair and effective treaty," Gore said.
ACTION ON CAP-AND-TRADE?
The Copenhagen talks are meant to reach agreement on a follow-on pact to the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012. The Bush administration rejected the Kyoto pact as damaging to the U.S. economy and unfairly favoring fast-growing economies like China and India.
By contrast, Obama has stressed his commitment to a U.S. cap-and-trade system and the need for international engagement on this matter.
Without participation by the United States, one of the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, global agreement to include developing countries will be difficult to reach.
Many environmental activists in Washington believe reaching agreement on a U.S. carbon trading plan will be hard to do this year, but Gore said it is possible and necessary.
Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker, who has faulted Europe's cap-and-trade program for what he called a lack of transparency and substance in its early phases, concurred that a U.S. plan could be hammered out this year.
"We're now firing with real bullets," Corker said. "I think the stars have lined up and my sense is that this year something may really occur."
Gore's presence as the sole witness at the committee's first substantive hearing was intended to send a message that Congress is "deadly serious" about moving forward on policies to limit climate-warming emissions, according to Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the committee.
Gore offered a video slideshow with updated graphics on melting Arctic sea ice, disappearing glaciers and the projected consequences of a rise in world temperatures. An earlier slideshow was the basis for "An Inconvenient Truth."
Kerry said he had spoken to Obama after December climate meetings in Poland.
"(Obama) understands the implications of it, he's committed to making something happen," Kerry said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "He's going to exert his leadership and spend some capital on it."
(Editing by Chris Wilson)