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The Gore Effect

Andrew Freedman @ 10:25 AM

Recent events have shown that Al Gore's efforts to re-frame climate change as a moral issue haven't succeeded yet on Capitol Hill. In fact, simply because he's Al Gore, his climate change crusade that has brilliantly fused science with pop culture is having the unintended consequence of sharpening political tensions in some corners of the Capitol.

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Forecast Confidence: Medium-HighToday: Mostly cloudy with a 50% chance of showers or thundershowers late in the afternoon. High 55-60.
Tonight: Showers possible this evening, then mostly cloudy. Lows in the low 50s.
Tomorrow: Partly cloudy and very mild. Highs in the mid to upper 70s.

A detailed week ahead forecast will appear tomorrow.

Gore's appearances before the House and Senate two weeks ago shined a spotlight on the persistent partisan fracture on warming. In both chambers he received a dismissive welcome from some Republicans while Democrats treated him like the messiah.

In the House, for example, Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) rejected Gore's portrayal of climate change science as well as his policy proposals. Barton and others used Gore as a straw man to attack the scientific consensus on climate change as set forth by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Gore testified that the earth is warming due to human activities and called for an immediate freeze on carbon emissions, among other bold measures aimed at slowing and eventually stopping warming.

"Mr. Vice President, you're not just a little off," Barton said. "You're totally wrong."

In the Senate, Gore was met with fawning praise by Democrats and some Republicans, but shameful abuse by chief climate change contrarian Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. (What is it with ranking members these days?)

Inhofe was practically foaming at the mouth as he struggled unsuccessfully to discredit Gore in the 15 minutes that he had been allotted to question him.

While the examples of Barton and Inhofe may be extreme, there are indications that their skepticism of the science remains more widespread, particularly among their Republican colleagues and leadership.

A recent National Journal poll found that only 13 percent of Republican lawmakers who responded believed that it's been proven "beyond a resonable doubt" that the earth is warming due to human activities.

That was down from a year ago, when 23 percent believed it's been proven.

Meanwhile, Democrats have solidified their views on the other side, increasing from 95 percent who believed it had been proven in 2006 up to 98 percent this year.

Jonathan Chait wrote in the Los Angeles Times last month that these findings "suggest the discouraging conclusion that skepticism on global warming is hardening into party dogma."

Gore is inadvertently helping this process because of his political baggage, and perhaps most importantly, his potential status as a candidate for president. He sets off a reflexive partisan response much like a magnet attracts shards of iron in grade school chemistry set experiments.

Last week Inhofe and other Republicans scuttled a planned "Live Earth" climate change fund raising and awareness concert on the Capitol grounds scheduled for July. Gore is part of the group sponsoring the concerts, which are set to take place worldwide.

"Sen. Inhofe objects to having any events on the Capitol grounds that are either highly partisan or politically controversial -- and the proposed Gore concert is both," Inhofe spokesman Marc Morano told Congressional Quarterly. Note the use of the term "Gore concert" in place of "climate change concert."

Also, in a less well-known move, House Republican leaders recently blocked bids by moderate members to join the new Select Committee on Global Warming because they believe (along with thousands of scientists) that humans are causing climate change.

"Many Republicans only wanted people on that committee that opposed the idea that human activity was causing the climate to change," Rep. Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland told Greenwire. "I think that's an irresponsible position to take."

In the end it may not matter that some on Capitol Hill still loathe him, because those lawmakers' constituents, partly thanks to Gore, will demand action anyway.

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