WASHINGTON – In the fiery environment of Capitol Hill, Al Gore pushed for bipartisanship Wednesday to solve what he called a "planetary emergency," while Republicans and Democrats argued over whether the former vice president was receiving special treatment.
In bickering that began with Republican lawmakers complaining about the late hour they received Gore's testimony and extended around the planet to the debate among climatologists and down to the degree to which the polar ice caps are melting in Antarctica, Gore's appearance made for lively debate.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a leading critic of global warming claims, said Gore has made it an occupation to scare people with the message that "we're all going to die."
Referring to the claim that Antarctica might melt and raise sea levels to wipe out shorelines around the continents, Inhofe said, "This is a good one here, this scares everybody."
Some scientists say the overall ice mass is increasing, Inhofe argued.
Scientists agree that the planet is warming, but disputes remain over the degree to which manmade pollution is causing temperatures to rise and the practicality and cost of regulations aimed to reduce carbon-based pollution. Some Republicans presented a letter from Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus, who argued that radical environmentalism is as great a threat to human freedom as was the communism under which he lived when the Soviets ruled his former country of Czechoslovakia.
Gore, calmly responding to the hard-charging Republicans, urged lawmakers to freeze carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. and begin sharp reductions of climate altering greenhouse gases.
Gore said he wants to cut carbon dioxide and other warming gases 90 percent by 2050 and require a ban on new coal-burning power plants that don't meet state-of-the-art carbon standards.
Gore delivered messages from more than 500,000 people saying "Congress must take real action now to stop global warming."
"What we’re facing now is a crisis that is by far the most serious we’ve ever faced. The way we’re going to solve it is by asking you on both sides of the aisle to do what some people have as you know begun to fear that we don’t have the capacity to do anymore," Gore said.
As he spoke, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a new system to track carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, to help in projecting future climate change and evaluating efforts to reduce releases of carbon.
Tracking carbon dioxide release and absorption will improve understanding of its impact, said said Richard Spinrad, head of research at the NOAA, noting that one-third of the economy is weather and climate sensitive ranging from agriculture to transportation to insurance and real estate.Inhofe claimed Gore's positions are full of inaccuracies and misleading statements.
After questioning the Oscar winning writer of the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," Inhofe didn't wait for his answers, saying Gore had 30 minutes to speak, and he had 15 minutes of questions.
Inhofe also got into repeated spats with committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer. After complaining that he wanted his 15 minutes, Boxer, D-Calif., held up her gavel and responded: "Elections have consequences. ... You don't still have this. I make the rules."
After an equally combative morning hearing on the House side of Congress, Gore said he wasn't deterred by the skeptics.
"I did enjoy listening to the other side, and I thought a lot of them on both sides made some great points today," Gore told FOX News Radio. "I think that bipartisanship is one of the real goals that we need to shoot for in getting a solution to this, to this climate crisis."
Gore arrived late for that morning hearing after deciding not to sit through Republican opening statements expressing skepticism at the science he uses to warn against global warming.
But when Gore did appear 30 minutes after the start of the hearing, he pushed for government action on his signature issue.
"The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, 'Well, I read a science fiction novel that tells me it’s not a problem,'" Gore told House lawmakers. "If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate that the baby is flame retardant. You take action."
Knowing Gore's plan to be tardy, Republican members waived their five minutes each for opening statements and saved their comments for the question-and-answer session with Gore.
Prior to the opening statements, however, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the ranking Republican at the joint hearing held by two subcommittees of the House Committees on Science and Technology and Energy and Commerce, questioned Democratic colleagues over their failure to enforce a rule that requires witnesses to submit their written testimony 48 hours in advance of their appearance.
Republicans received Gore’s testimony at 7 a.m. EDT on Wednesday.
“How are we supposed to prepare questions for our esteemed witness when we are basically given the testimony two hours before he shows up?” Barton asked.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said he waived the requirement.
Boxer, speaking before Gore's testimony, called it a “silly thing” to debate the timing of his submission of testimony.
“He only submitted about five minutes of testimony because he doesn’t need to read a statement, as others do on this subject, he knows it so well,” Boxer told FOX News.
Boxer said global warming is real and science proves it. She referenced a report released in February by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. group, that found a greater than 90 percent probability that humans are responsible for the increase in global warming. The report’s finding hikes its 2001 estimate, which put the probability at 66 percent.
Doubters argue that even if humans have added to global warming, that contribution is only a fraction compared to natural factors beyond human control.
Gore previewed his testimony to Congress by calling for support for the virtues of long-term investing in a socially responsible manner and urging pension-fund executives and trustees to look beyond the impulse to reap immediate gain.
In an unusual move for witnesses, upon arrival at the hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building, Gore went up to dais and shook hands with Democratic committee leaders, some of whom he served with while a congressman in the 1970s and 1980s.
All the attention given to Gore as as result of his latest successes has raised the chatter about whether he will run for president again. Asked about his ambitions, Gore told FOX News, "I have no plans to run for president again, I don't intend to, and I don't expect to."
FOX News' Major Garrett and Griff Jenkins and The Associated Press contributed to this report.