After a marathon week of panels and testimonies on the discussion draft of the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act, former Vice President Al Gore spoke this morning in hopes of summarizing all that was debated concerning the climate bill. Speaking before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Gore said the proposed legislation has "the moral significance equivalent to that of the civil rights legislation of the 1960's and the Marshall Plan of the late 1940's."
It seems people have lost all shyness about defining their representative issues as "the civil rights" of our generation. Gore's wording -- "moral significance equivalent to" -- seemed, though, a more genuine and accurate phrasing, compared to defining the issue as such. But, what Gore proceeded to describe, in explaining why the challenge of fighting global warming is no longer something for partisan trifling about, illustrated something much bigger than a staging for civil rights. Among the examples of evidence of climate change catastrophe, Gore cited:
"New research, which draws upon recently declassified data collected by U.S. nuclear submarines traveling under the Arctic ice cap for the last 50 years ... has told us that the entire Arctic ice cap may totally disappear in summer in as little as five years."
"A recent study in the journal Science has now confirmed that the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet is warming. Scientists have told us that if it were to collapse and slide into the sea, we would experience global sea level rise of another 20 feet worldwide."
"The American West and the Southeast have been experiencing prolonged severe drought and historic water shortages. A study ... from the Scripps Institute estimated that 60 percent of the changes in the West's water cycle are due to increased atmospheric man-made greenhouse gases."
"A number of new studies continue to show that climate change is increasing the intensity of hurricanes. Although we cannot attribute any particular storm to global warming, we can certainly look at the trend. Dr. Greg Holland from the National Center for Atmospheric Research says that we have experienced a 300 to 400 percent increase in category five storms in the past 10 years."
Such catastrophes, if left unchecked, will result in challenges much larger than presented in a civil rights context. And since the climate bill won't be moving with any speed on economic principles -- if rebuttal from Republicans on the committee are any indication -- then moral appeal may have to figure stronger in the bill's advocacy.
The toughest battle will be finding a moral soft spot in GOP legislators who still think global warming is from God tinkering with the thermostat, as Gore found out when he was stoned during the question period by the committee's Republicans.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, from Gore's home state of Tennessee, made her comments personal: She lifted up an article from New York Times Magazine about Gore's partnership with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm that helps direct investments into green technology. Gore laughed it off, and stated he was "proud of it." Blackburn's insinuation that Gore was only promoting this bill so that he could personally profit from it seemed outright cross, given her and other Republicans' welcoming of plenty of testimony throughout the week from executives of oil and coal companies, who made it explicit that they were willing to sacrifice the country's environmental health so that they could preserve profits for themselves and their shareholders.
After shaking the Blackburn dirt off his shoulder, Gore summarized his position by appealing straight to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman telling him, "I know in the committee process there will be lots of debates about this, but I urge you during that process to stay on this side of the line that preserves the effectiveness of this legislation."
In other words, keep its moral integrity intact.
-- Brentin Mock