Global warming has become, if you will pardon the expression, a hot topic in Washington in recent weeks. Last month, former Vice President Al Gore warned the U.S. Congress about the effects of climate change. On Tuesday, two other prominent U.S. politicians, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, debated the issue and what to do about it. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
It was billed as a global warming debate between Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
Kerry has recently written a book on the environment and says the United States must take a leading role in setting standards to limit carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere that scientists say cause global warming.
"So I believe that if you show the leadership in the United States and set this standard, we will have the clean hands and the leverage that we need to be able to go to India and China and bring the world together," he said. "They are waiting for our leadership and that is what is critical."
Former Congressman Gingrich agrees that global warming is an issue that demands urgent attention, a view not all conservatives share.
"The evidence is sufficient that we should move towards the most effective possible steps to reduce carbon loading of the atmosphere," he said.
"And do it urgently, now," said Kerry.
"And do it urgently, yes," added Gingrich
But Gingrich disagrees with Kerry on how to tackle the problem of global warming.
Kerry insists that government take a leading role in setting new environmental standards, including limits on carbon dioxide emissions for private industry.
Gingrich prefers a voluntary approach including economic incentives, like tax credits, that would encourage change on the part of businesses and consumers.
"The morning you provide the incentives, there will be 50,000 entrepreneurs figuring out how to get the money," he said. "The morning you try to do it by regulation, there will be 50,000 entrepreneurs hiring a lawyer to fight you. It is a fundamentally different model."
Senator Kerry takes issue with what he called a strict market approach to solving the problem. Kerry says that, historically, environmental action has come about through government involvement. He cites the environmental movement that developed in the U.S. in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
"That is when we passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act and that is when Richard Nixon signed the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] into existence because people rose up and said we want something different, not because the marketplace was doing it voluntarily," he said.
Kerry and Gingrich agree on the importance of encouraging industrial giants like China and India to take part in climate change efforts.
But again, Gingrich warns that it would be better to focus on economic incentives to induce change rather than on government or international mandates.
"I believe if we can accelerate enough innovation, we dramatically increase the likelihood of China and India moving towards green prosperity," he said. If you truly believe that [the next] 10 years is decisive, no strategy that does not bring in China and India works."
The unusual Kerry-Gingrich debate on climate change was held in Washington D.C. and sponsored by New York University, The Brookings Institution and the Rand Corporation, both public policy research organizations.