Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Contract with the Earth 18

For my write-up today of A Contract with the Earth, by Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple, I'll highlight a passage from page 167:

"Sustained environmental protection and new, safe, and clean environmental technologies will require commitments that cross hardened political boundaries. We face funding shortfalls in energy research, which has plunged to nearly half the levels established a decade earlier. Because venture capitalists tend to fund ideas that are nearly ready for the marketplace, the type of arduous research that produces real breakthroughs can only be funded by astute governments. America used to be that kind of government, but our commitments have wavered in recent years so government incentives for energy research will be issues in future political campaigns."

The impression that I've gotten from much of the book is that the private sector is eager to do the pro-environment thing because it is right and also profitable. Newt and Maple appear to prefer letting the private sector do its magic rather than relying on top down, one-size-fits-all government regulations. In the above passage, however, they acknowledge that doing the right thing is not necessarily profitable in an immediate sense, and so the government should play a key role in getting energy research off the ground.

Newt and Maple argue for strong leadership. Could Newt be that strong leader, though? I respect that he has thought a lot about environmental issues, for he has been an environmental studies professor. At the same time, his support for "drill, baby, drill" and his attacks on his opponents during his Presidential candidacy make me wonder if he can be a unifying leader on the issue of the environment. Moreover, it has been argued that Newt is good at coming up with ideas, but not so much at seeing those ideas through. Granted, Newt got the Contract with America on the table when he was Speaker, but my hunch is that he's come up with far more ideas than he's made into policy.

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