SAN FRANCISCO – Former Vice President Al Gore (search) urged an assembly of international mayors to fight global warming (search) Saturday, warning of catastrophic consequences for the planet if governments fail to act. Gore, who helped draft the landmark Kyoto treaty on global warming that the United States never ratified, said that climate change was already melting glaciers, raising temperatures and altering weather patterns worldwide.
Without significant action, he said, the planet would see a dramatic increase in violent storms, infectious disease, deadly heat waves and rising sea levels that will force the evacuation of low-lying cities such as Calcutta, Shanghai and New York City within decades.
"We are witnessing a collision between our civilization and the earth, a transformation of the relationship between our species and the planet," Gore warned. "Is it only terrorists that we're worried about? Is that the only threat to the future that is worth organizing to respond to?"
Gore made an hourlong presentation as part of the United Nations World Environment Day Conference in San Francisco, the first U.S. city to host the annual event.
At this year's conference, themed "Green Cities," dozens of mayors from around the world have been sharing ideas and strategies to address urban environmental issues, including emissions of "greenhouse gases" that trap heat in the earth's atmosphere.
Gore, who lost the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush, played a major role in crafting the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (search), which requires countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
The treaty, which was signed by more than 140 countries, went into effect without United States support. The Bush administration opposes the treaty because officials believe it would raise energy prices and cost 5 million U.S. jobs.
Gore said nearly all scientists agree that climate change is happening and argued that tackling the problem would not hurt the economy, noting that corporations such as General Electric have begun to recognize the gravity of the threat. He said the challenge could be met with existing technologies, but so far many governments have not had the political will to act.
"Our civilization is at risk," Gore said. "We can't just continue the same old way."