Newt Gingrich has guzzled Al Gore’s Kool-Aid. Now he wants us and the Republican 2008 presidential candidates to drink it, too.
The former House Speaker’s latest book, "A Contract with the Earth" co-authored with Palm Beach Zoo CEO Terry Maple, is an appalling paean to environmental naivete and taxpayer-subsidized profiteering.
While the book’s theme — i.e., let’s all just happily pitch in and do what it takes to save the environment — may sound reasonable, at least on a superficial basis, Mr. Gingrich’s notions are often wrong or simply bizarre, and his prescriptions amount to little more than a full embrace of rent-seeking "green" business and left-leaning eco-activist groups, both of which often masquerade as "protectors" of the environment.
The book opens with the melodramatic line, "We are personally diminished by the loss of each and every species or habitat that cannot resist extinction."
But nowhere does Mr. Gingrich indicate that we’ve been diminished by the ongoing malarial genocide in Africa caused by the senseless 1972 ban on the pesticide DDT — which was promoted by the Environmental Defense, a command-and-control activist group laughably lauded by Mr. Gingrich as an "advocate of market-based solutions to environmental problems."
Another over-the-top sentiment is Mr. Gingrich’s endorsement of Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson’s doomsday observance, "The living world is dying." But if Mr. Gingrich wants to be taken seriously on the environment — he claims to have been an environmental studies professor — such meaningless drivel is best avoided.
Mr. Gingrich asks, "Who among us lacks a fundamental respect for the earth?" But he simultaneously slams so-called "anti-environmental politicians" as "out of step with the American people" and the "patriotic worldview" — whatever that is. I don’t know of any politician who is "anti-environment," though there are a great many who demand that environmental policy be based on sound science and cost-benefit analysis, and who distrust politicized eco-activists.
Mr. Gingrich wants us to work for a common cause but he has little use for the opinions of others, regardless of their expertise and his lack thereof. In response to the view of Shell Oil’s CEO that America will always need foreign oil even as it develops alternative energy sources, Gingrich dismissively writes, "It is difficult, if not impossible, to have an intelligent conversation about energy if we cannot agree that independence from foreign oil, ... [and] from fossil fuel, is achievable." The book is better titled, "My Way or the Highway."
"The distribution of carcinogens in the environment is a serious problem… a healthier environment is needed to defeat many forms of cancer," writes Mr. Gingrich. Without any citations, however, it’s difficult to imagine what he’s talking about. Substances in the environment as detectable, let alone, significant causes of cancer is a Jimmy Carter-era notion that decades of scientific investigation has yet to validate.
Mr. Gingrich discusses something called "nature deficit disorder" (NDO), which self-described "futurist" Richard Louv has hypothesized as children’s underexposure to nature and a contributing factor to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although not "yet" recognized by scientists, Mr. Gingrich calls NDO a "compelling" idea.
The ethanol industry is praised as are many other subsidy-hungry industries aiming to profit from real and imagined environmental and energy concerns. Mr. Gingrich doesn’t mention, however, that ever-increasing government subsidies to the ethanol industry are distorting agricultural markets, increasing consumer prices and putting more stress on the environment, all while failing to produce discernible environmental benefits or energy independence.
While Mr. Gingrich praises the use of tax credits and subsidies to convert landfill gases, manure and wind power into energy, there’s nary a word about the only practical and truly green power source available — nuclear energy.
The book’s examples of entrepreneurship as a means to advancing environmental goals fall apart upon closer consideration.
Shell Oil, for example, is praised for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by pumping the gas into greenhouses in Rotterdam rather than into the atmosphere. But this amounts to only a slight delay in the atmospheric release of a miniscule amount of CO2. Where does Mr. Gingrich think the CO2 goes after the short-lived plants are consumed or decompose?
The 2004 hijacking of 680,000 acres of Chilean forest from a U.S. timber company and scuttling of the largest-ever sustainable forestry project through the combined efforts of The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society and investment bank Goldman Sachs is offered as an example of "protecting hallowed sites." As readers of this column know, however, the "Great Chilean Land Steal" is actually an example of how the poor people of Chile, the environment, and a U.S. business all received the short-end of the stick while the environmentalists made off with a multi-billion dollar asset.
That is not the only example of where Mr. Gingrich’s apparently beloved Nature Conservancy has operated more in its own narrow interests than on behalf the of public on whose behalf it has been bestowed tax-exempt status.
Not surprisingly, the book exalts Sierra Club founder John Muir. Interestingly, Mr. Gingrich blithely mentions Muir’s martial law-like view favoring use of the military to enforce environmental law. Disturbingly, he moves on without ever disapproving the policy.
Without explanation, Mr. Gingrich slams the Congress and President Bush for "having failed to exert sufficient and effective leadership on the environment." Not only does Mr. Gingrich "anticipate a return to assertive American leadership," presumably after the 2008 elections, but he calls for an end to adversarial politics.
But from checks-and-balances to the two-party system, our form of government is built on adversarial processes. Only in totalitarian systems — much to the disadvantage of their populations and environments — are adversarial politics absent.
Mr. Gingrich says you can tell which presidential candidate to support by evaluating his advisors’ positions on the environment. Terrific. So if you see Mr. Gingrich advising a candidate, consider yourself forewarned.