Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Contract with the Earth 8

I have two items for my write-up today on A Contract with the Earth, by Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple:

1. I've written more than one post in which I've tried to understand and define Newt Gingrich's stance on global warming. On the one hand, he supports reducing CO2 emissions from automobiles. In my latest reading of this book, as a matter of fact, he says that we must "Lead the effort to reduce or eliminate greenhouse gases and airborne contaminants" (page 64). On the other hand, he says on page 55 that "It isn't necessary to link the receding ice to human activity to conclude that polar bears are in trouble if the ice disappears." Does that mean he questions the proposition that receding ice is due to something that we're doing that increases temperatures?

In my latest reading, Newt and Maple talk about efforts within the private sector to counter deforestation. This is good, they say, because more trees can absorb carbon dioxide. Are Newt and Maple implying that carbon dioxide is bad because it traps heat in our atmosphere?

2. On pages 70-71, Newt and Maple quote a speech by Lynn Scarlett, the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget during George W. Bush's Administration:

"The old environmentalism set prescriptive rules, requiring, for example, that ranchers conform to a four-inch stubble rule in which grass may not be grazed to shorter than four inches. Such rules impose one-size-fits-all requirements that may have little relationship to ensuring healthy foliage and led with the 'stick,' assuming that human motivation to excellence is best achieved through threat of punishment rather than through incentives, example, and inspiration."

I think this is a valuable point. For one, there are a lot of regulations that people tell me about that strike me as pointless. Will the world seriously come to an end if words on a sign are smaller than the designated size, or if grass is shorter than four inches? I'm not saying that a "stick" is not necessary, or that we should simply trust "carrots" to work their magic (as if the incentives thus far have resulted in a proliferation of green technology). What I am saying is that there is a place for thinking outside of the box: for sifting between the regulations that are necessary and the ones that are unnecessary, as well as for seeking other ways to help the environment that go beyond "one-size-fits-all requirements".

Second, I think back to an interaction I watched on C-Span between Diane Feinstein and a controversial Bush II appointee. Feinstein was questioning this guy's environmental credentials, and this guy was responding that what he did actually helped the environment. Maybe he was spinning, I don't know. But he came across to me as reasonable and nuanced in his presentation. Overall, I appreciate that George W. Bush's Administration was open to innovative ways to help the environment. I do think, however, that it should have been more concerned about global warming than it was. I believe that the increase in tornadoes and hurricanes is due, at least in part, to the rise of temperatures due to increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

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