Newt’s Environmentalism? Gimme a Break

Now that Newt is the GOP flavor of the week, let’s have a look at what he has said and done about energy and climate. Many this week have derided John King’s utterly amateur opening of Thursday’s  debate, and credited Newt’s aggressive, indignant response with assisting his surge in polls.

I am not posting the exchange with John King because I cannot bear to watch it again. Watch it here if you have the stomach. And here is a solid enough fact check of the debate.

Why couldn’t King have been even a tiny bit subtler, or more sophisticated in pointing out the relevance of the question? I know, CNN hosted the debate, and subtle is not their strong suit.  And, yes, it was the day one of his former wives told an ABC interview that Newt wanted “an open marriage,’ so he could continue his affair — that she needed to “share him with other women.” I for one wouldn’t care much about that if Newt was not still preaching “family values.”

If I were King: “Mr. Gingrich, on the campaign trail you have spoken out against gay marriage and in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act by appealing to the principle that ‘Marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.’  Could you explain what you mean by ‘sacred’?”

(“Washington Post” image above from Don Slutes via Marion Dillon Morris. If only.)

Lots of things are popping up on the internet this weekend about Newt’s environmental views. The best one I have read is from Joe Romm, which he posted before the polls closed and I have re-posted below, in its entirety.  It makes abundantly clear that Newt is about as anti-environmental as any serious candidate for president since, well, ever. It is a good antidote to those of us still shaking our heads over this clip:

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Now, onto what he really believes and what he has done over the years.

Breaking: Clean Energy Defunder Wins South Carolina Primary

Re-post from ClimateProgress

By Joe Romm on Jan 21, 2012 at 4:31 pm

No single politician since Ronald Reagan has done more to set back America’s leadership in clean technology than Newt Gingrich.

National Zoo plaque [click to enlarge, credit: J. Maskit]

Emperor Newt is pro-poison, that’s for sure (see “Gingrich proposes abolishing EPA” and Report Details How Fox News Fueled Newt Inc. and Pushed His “Drill Here, Drill Now” Agenda).

So it’s no surprise, he is also anti-antidote.  In the 1990s, the Gingrich Congress tried to shut down the Department of Energy, slash all clean energy research, stop the joint government-industry effort to develop a superefficient hybrid car, and zero out all programs aimed specifically at reducing greenhouse emissions and accelerating technology deployment (for some history, see my 1996 Atlantic Monthly article and this 1997 article).

He didn’t succeed — but he did stop the significant expansion of clean energy funding Clinton-Gore had begun.  And he did force the DOE to sharply scale back its programs aimed at clean energy deployment and GHG reduction.

A decade later he tried to pass himself as a friend to the environment.  In 2007, he wrote A Contract with on the Earth.  As I wrote at the time, if you look up the word ‘Orwellian’ on Wikipedia — “An attitude and a policy of control by propaganda, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past” — there should be a picture of Newt’s new book.

He suckered a lot of folks.  There’s this classic interview in Salon, “Give Newt a chance” — it is definitely all the Newt that is fit to print.

To cut to the chase, readers will not be surprised that a conservative pretending to care about the environment adopted the anti-regulation, pro-technology approach suggested by GOP strategist, Frank Luntz, and popularized by his protege, George Bush (see Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah”).

Since Gingrich continues to push this misdirection, I’ll excerpt some of my earlier posts on Newt.

Newt famously co-authored and then worked to enact the anti-environmental Contract with America. But Newt tried to rewrite history with Salon:

I don’t think that the environment was a central focus of the Contract With America. I don’t think that it was bad for the environment. I don’t know of a single thing in the Contract that was bad for the environment.

I think Salon had to pause in the interview at that point to allow Newt to douse the flames that began engulfing his trousers. In fact, the CWA was a clever, stealthy attack on the environment as detailed by NRDC in a lengthy analysis (summarized here) by the Sierra Club, and by the National Wildlife Federation, which wrote at the time: “Taken as a whole, the House plan constitutes the broadest and deepest attack ever mounted against laws that protect public health, the environment, natural resources and wildlife.”

The only thing more gut-busting than Gingrich claiming that the CWA and related legislation wasn’t bad for the environment is his embrace of technology as the answer to climate/energy problems.

Last year, Newt proposed replacing the EPA with an “Environmental Solutions Agency.” It’s no surprise that Newt is unaware we already have an Environmental Solutions Agency that develops innovative new technology — it’s called the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which I helped run in the mid-1990s.  Gingrich tried to kill it when he became speaker in 1995.  He probably thinks he succeeded.

It should leave everyone ROTFLMAO that when Salon asked Newt a few years ago, “What do you think that the U.S. should do about global warming right now?” he answered:

I think we should have a billion-dollar tax-free prize for a hydrogen engine that can be produced at a commercially available price. I think that we should have a substantial prize for developing the first engine that can be mass produced that gets 100 miles or more to the gallon of fuel. I think that we should have a substantial research program under way for dramatically better ethanol products than corn or cane sugar.

We should have a 100 percent tax write-off for investment in the technology needed to make composite-material cars using the material comparable to that which works in the 787 Dreamliner that Boeing is building. Because composite material is stronger than steel and much, much lighter than steel, and you could produce a safer car at lighter weight, which would get dramatically more mileage.

Unless you can create economically desirable, environmentally positive technologies, you are never going to get China and India to adopt.

Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah. Same as Luntz, Bush, CrichtonLomborg, and the rest of the global warming delayers. This phony environmentalism is what I call the technology trap in Hell and High Water.

This answer also ended any claim that Gingrich is a tech-savvy person. After all, you can build an affordable hydrogen engine today: It’s called an internal combustion engine (which can easily be modified to burn hydrogen), but it is low-efficiency, and thus worthless (since hydrogen production is also an inefficient process). What the Department of Energy has been trying to do for over a decade with Detroit — a program the Gingrich Congress (and the automakers!) ironically tried to gut — is build an affordable high-efficiency hydrogen fuel cell. And the hydrogen advocates claim fuel cells would be commercial today — if we could only get unit sales of fuel cell cars to a few hundred thousand a year (up from zero today).

Moreover, a viable hydrogen engine without a solution to the hydrogen storage problem or tens of thousands of hydrogen fueling stations around the country (costing tens of billions of dollars) is completely useless. So this prize idea is dumb. A pure waste of government dollars of a kind Newt used to mock.

To beat this near-dead hydrogen horse, let me note that Gingrich goes on to say:

If you had a hydrogen car and the French level of nuclear power production for electricity, you’d have a very high quality of life, great mobility, lots of electricity, and virtually no carbon-loading. You can create very advanced technological solutions that dramatically improve life in a way that’s better.  The quality of air in California is better than it was 30 years ago. The quality of water in the country is better than it was 30 years ago.

Seriously!  First, even forgetting the problems with building hundreds of new nuclear plants to more than quadruple U.S. nuclear capacity — at a cost of many trillions of dollars (see here), basing your transportation system on cars using hydrogen made from zero-carbon electricity is possibly the dumbest transportation policy idea ever conceived as I explain in my Energy Policy article, “The car and fuel of the future” .

Why is California’s air — and the country’s water — better than it was 30 years ago? Gingrich disingenuously implied the answer is “very advanced technological solutions that dramatically improve life” but, in fact, the answer is very tough government regulations — indeed, California is allowed tougher air regulations than the rest of the country, as Newt must know since he is so damn smart.

Yes the environmental gains Gingrich praised and used to defend a “technology only” strategy were made possible by the kind of regulations Gingrich tried to gut in the 1990s and that he continues to oppose today — including a cap and trade system for carbon emissions:

We have been caught in a trap where environmental solutions are defined on the left as higher taxes, bigger government, more regulation and more litigation, and so conservatives just shrug their shoulders; since they oppose all four of those solutions, they refuse to get engaged in environmental issues.

One of the major reasons that Terry Maple and I wrote A Contract With the Earth was to reopen the debate, and to say that there are solutions which involve incentives, science and technology and markets. Entrepreneurs are potentially much more powerful and successful than regulatory and litigation solutions. We ought to be having a dialogue about which solution works better rather than being engaged in a purely partisan debate to see who can yell “anti-environmentalist” more.

As someone who fought for years against the Gingrich Congress’s assault on incentives and technology and market-based solutions, I can only laugh at Gingrich’s attempt to rewrite and whitewash history.

If you seriously think we could end up with 80% of our power from nuclear energy (like France) and hydrogen cars also running on nukes any time soon — without any major new regulations — and if you think that outcome would be a good strategy for dealing with global warming (and assuming you buy anything this used-car salesman is selling), then Newt is your guy.

Otherwise, try to enjoy the unintentional humor from Gingrich’s public statements. It’s the only positive thing Newt has to contribute to the debate.

Emperor Newt spies a tasty treat [Credit: J. Maskit].  ”The scientific name of the emperor newt (Tylototriton shanjing) is derived from two Mandarin words, “shan” meaning mountain and “jing” meaning spirit or demon.”

NOTE:  In the unlikely event Newt loses the South Carolina primary, we can be quite confident it will still be won by someone who would defund clean energy — see “Okay, Romney, Now You’re Just Lying About Solar” and “Romney Energy Plan Doesn’t Give a Mitt About Foreign Oil, Clean Cars, Jobs.”  But Nate Silver’s projection this afternoon suggests Newt has little to worry about except how big his victory is going to be.

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About Scott Brophy
Scott Brophy is a philosophy professor whose work is focused on the intersection of philosophy and public policy, especially on environmental issues, law, and education. He has also taught philosophy of science, logic, and the history of philosophy. He has served as a consultant for educational programs and schools throughout the U.S. and abroad, and as an adviser to several philanthropic foundations.

4 Responses to Newt’s Environmentalism? Gimme a Break

  1. Pingback: Newt's Environmentalism? Gimme a Break « SayWhat? | Environmentalism Blog

  2. Pingback: environmentalism.org.uk » Blog Archive » Newt's Environmentalism? Gimme a Break « SayWhat?

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