Wednesday, January 31, 2007

One-quarter of the Senate yesterday called global warming a serious threat to the world’s future and urged quick action, despite disagreement on how to stem its effects.

During a rare open forum that lasted hours, senators from both major parties including four seeking the presidency shared ideas about curbing carbon emissions, which many scientists blame for global warming. The senators also promised substantial legislation this year.

“Global warming is an international problem requiring international effort,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a candidate in the 2008 presidential race.

His proposal to curb carbon emissions is co-sponsored by several Republicans and Democrats. He said he welcomes amendments.

“We have no pride in authorship; this is too important,” he said. “The object is to get something done and soon.”

“This is a problem whose time has come,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, who also has eyes on the White House.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said she sees consensus in Congress, at the state level and even among oil executives. “The time for action is now,” she said.

Mrs. Boxer, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, took statements from about 25 senators during the forum. “We’re not going to take a lot of time debating this anymore. We’re moving beyond the argument, we are moving toward solutions.”

She allowed each person 10 minutes to “take their temperature” on the climate change issue.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond and a few other Republicans fear that sweeping legislation to restrict carbon emissions will result in economic hardship.

“I’m not from the state of macroeconomics. I’m from the state of Missouri, and I need to know how these proposals will hurt Missourians,” Mr. Bond said. “Do not fight climate change on the backs of the poor, on the backs of certain sectors of this country.”

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, questioned the motivation for rushing legislation. “My sense is the rush at this moment, all due apologies to Senator Clinton, is something about an ‘08 election,” he said.

He said drastic federal legislation could crush business in the United States, even while India and China are revving their economies without taking action against climate change.

“I reject that. We are the most innovative nation in the history of the world,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I don’t underestimate the task we face, but I am optimistic.”

Senators evoked the images of the nation’s children and grandchildren.

“This is our generation’s test to protect their futures,” said Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat. “The world is going to be watching us over the next several years to see what action we take on this issue.”

Mr. Obama compared climate change legislation to an insurance policy. “We don’t have to stand helplessly by and accept this future. In fact, we can’t afford to,” he said.

He and another Democrat who testified, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, also have 2008 White House aspirations.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said that even his conservative district recognizes “it is now time for Congress to take reasonable steps.”

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the committee, attended the hearing briefly to give his remarks.

“There is no environmental issue that has become more politicized,” he said. “I look forward to vigorously pointing out the lack of scientific consensus, the real economic impact and the effects of unilateral disarmament of our economy if we enact mandatory carbon reductions in the U.S. while the rest of the world is failing to meet its goals.”

“I’ll mark you down as skeptical,” Mrs. Boxer told Mr. Inhofe, who has called global warming a “hoax.”

“I hope that when I’m done you’ll put my temperature down as hot,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and the lead co-sponsor of the McCain bill. “I’m hot to get something done. It’s hard not to conclude that the politics of global warming has changed and a new consensus for action is emerging and it is a bipartisan consensus.”

Several senators praised former Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat who has publicized the issue through speeches and a documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The senators also noted that President Bush, in his State of the Union address last week, acknowledged the “serious challenge of global climate change.”

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, displayed photos projecting heavy flooding of the Delmarva Peninsula as a result of global warming.

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