WASHINGTON — New scientific studies — including one released this week — add urgency to the need to reduce carbon emissions, but the United States can do it in a way that strengthens American economic prosperity and national security, former Vice President Al Gore told a Senate committee Wednesday.
Gore called on Congress to pass President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package because it contains billions of dollars for energy efficiency, renewable energy, an improved national electricity grid and cleaner transportation, which add up to large reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping the public understand global warming, brought the Senate Foreign Relations Committee up to speed using his trademark slides and short videos. He also urged the U.S. to take three steps: Pass the stimulus plan with its big boost for clean electricity, then pass a law to put a price on carbon emissions and limit them, and then lead all countries to agree to binding reductions under a new treaty — all by the end of this year.
"The scientists are practically screaming from the rooftops. This is a planetary emergency. It's outside the scale we're used to dealing with," Gore told the senators.
Bold action is needed because the climate that makes human civilization possible is at risk, and decisions about whether to burn more fossil fuel now will have an impact on Earth's climate far into the future, he said.
One of the examples of new evidence Gore mentioned was a report by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Susan Solomon that concluded that changes in temperature, rainfall and sea level are largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after carbon dioxide emissions stop completely.
Heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, have caused the Earth's temperature to increase in recent decades, and scientists say that the average global surface temperature could rise by up to another 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century if carbon emissions continue unchecked. Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries, and about 20 percent of it remains for thousands of years.
Solomon's study with Swiss and French partners looked at the consequences of letting carbon dioxide build up in the atmosphere above the current level during this century and then completely halting emissions. It found evidence that there'd be decreases in rainfall comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl in North America and many other parts of the world that would last for hundreds of years, and that a gradual rise in the sea level over 1,000 years would be locked in.
Solomon said in a statement this week that the study "convinced us that current choices regarding carbon dioxide emissions will have legacies that will irreversibly change the planet."
"It's a sobering warning that the quicker we reduce emissions the better," Gore said when he told senators about Solomon's report and other recent findings, but he added that there was no reason to fear doom or to make what he called a false choice between "our planet and our way of life."
"In fact, the solutions to the climate crisis are the very same solutions that will address our economic and national security crises as well," he said, arguing that renewable energy — sun, wind and geothermal — will create jobs and reduce dependence on oil-powered regimes.