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FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE greets children and supporters after his speech Monday for Proposition 87 in Berkeley at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park.
BERKELEY — Global warming is the pre-eminent crisis of our age and Californians can start addressing it as easily as casting a vote for Proposition 87, Al Gore said Monday.

The former Vice President and 2000 Democratic presidential candidate urged a cheering crowd of about 2,000 people Monday at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park to get out the vote for the oil-drilling-tax measure on November's ballot.

"This climate crisis is like nothing else we have ever faced," he said, "a planetary emergency" born of the last century's unprecedented boom in population and technology. "It is also filled with the greatest opportunity that any crisis has ever brought to us."

Much as World War II gave its generation the "moral authority, a capacity for vision" that gave rise to the United Nations and the Marshall Plan to rebuild a stable Europe, "now it's our turn to rise and meet the crisis of our time," he said.

Environmental devastation, war, famine and disease "are not political problems, they're moral imperatives and they're up to us to confront," Gore said. "It starts right here in the state of California when you pass Proposition 87."

High-tech research and development into alternative energy sources would undermine oil cartels which manipulate their prices not only to maximize profits but also "to manage our political will," Gore said. The Nov. 7 vote will be "an election in which California can startle the world" by refusing to be "played for suckers again by the oilcartel."

Proposition 87 would tax oil companies for oil they take from California, raising about $4 billion for use in developing alternative energy sources with a goal of reducing the state's dependence on gas and diesel by 25 percent within 10 years.

It's backed by environmental, health and other groups who say it'll reduce foreign-oil dependence while nurturing cleaner energy and mitigating global warming. California is the only oil-producing state without such a drilling tax, they note, but the measure's foes — funded mostly by San Ramon-based Chevron and other oil companies — say the state already puts property, sales and other taxes on oil.

No on 87 campaign spokesman Nick DeLuca attended Gore's speech and later Monday said it underscored the "split between the big picture and the actual initiative." Oil companies, business groups and other opponents of the measure agree on reducing foreign-oil dependence and stopping global warming, he said, but the devil is in this measure's details: a $4 billion tax which would decrease domestic production and so increase foreign-oil imports, and a new bureaucracy exempt from competitive bidding and some conflict-of-interest rules.

"When you look at what's in there, it's clear to see what harm it would do and it's totally unclear there would be a benefit," DeLuca said. "There's no guarantee that at the end of all this ... we'd see anything for the $4 billion."

Gore gave a shout-out Monday to real-estate heir and movie producer Steven Bing, barely visible behind the stage as a lanky, white-haired figure clad in sweater and jeans. The media-shy, major Democratic donor who's tight with Gore and former President Clinton has put up $40 million for Proposition 87; Clinton and Gore both have made television ads and public speeches supporting the measure.

Arriving in a plug-in hybrid car emblazoned with pro-Proposition 87 logos, Gore was greeted by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and stood chatting with him as cameras clicked and whirred. When a reporter shouted a question about whether he'll run for president in 2008, Gore replied he was present Monday only to "change people's minds on the climate horizon" and encourage support for the ballot measure.

Bates, addressing the crowd before Gore, noted Berkeley has taken its own steps against global warming by becoming one of more than 300 U.S. cities to endorse the Kyoto protocols; using hybrid cars and trucks that burn biofuel; retrofitting old city properties and building new ones in accordance with green standards; and hosting scores of green companies. He also touted Berkeley's Measure G, which would set a city goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 while advising the mayor to work with the community on a 10-year target and a reduction plan to reach both goals. 

Before introducing Gore, actress Maria Bello ("World Trade Center," "A History of Violence") told the crowd she was there "as a mother raising her kid in California" and outraged that more than nine out of 10 Californians breathe air that's below state and federal purity standards.

Gore likened the global-warming crisis to having a sick child: No responsible parent would delay treatment once a diagnosis is rendered, he said.

"Our planet has a fever," he said, but just like early warnings of Hurricane Katrina's severity or an impending terrorist attack in 2001, the Bush Administration has failed to act. "We have seen the consequences of what happened when the warning was not heeded."

Gore said California "has to take the lead to help solve this crisis" both to protect the environment and to reduce foreign-oil dependence. "Pretty soon the whole nation follows California, and then pretty soon the whole world follows the United States of America — that's the way it's supposed to be."

Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com.