Sunday, April 22, 2012

Newt on the Environment in Real Change

Today is Earth Day! Over the course of this month, I have been blogging through A Contract with the Earth, by Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple. For today, I will blog about two chapters on the environment in Newt Gingrich's Real Change. They are Chapter Sixteen, "Green Conservatism Is the Real Answer to Environmental Challenges", and Chapter Seventeen, "Energy Strategies for National Security, the Environment, and the Economy".

Regarding Chapter Sixteen, there were some differences between that chapter and A Contract with the Earth. Not contradictions, but differences. Whereas A Contract with the Earth was for America weeding itself off of fossil fuel, Chapter Sixteen of Real Change included building more oil refineries under the rubric of Green Conservatism. Chapters Sixteen-Seventeen also promote nuclear power as a way to reduce carbon emissions, something that did not strike me as a prominent theme in A Contract with the Earth.

Chapter Sixteen of Real Change was also more partisan. It criticized the Superfund and an approach to the environment that emphasizes "lawsuits, paperwork, litigation, and bureaucracy" rather than encouraging the development of new technology that will help the environment (page 191). Chapter Sixteen also disapproves of Al Gore's contention that all humankind and posterity, not just individuals, have rights, for Newt interprets this as "some collectivist and non-democratic elite's interpretation of what is needed" (page 194). In A Contract with the Earth, by contrast, Newt is not partisan but focuses on the good that people are doing to help the environment.

I learned about the polar bear Knut in Chapter Sixteen of Real Change. See here for wikipedia's article. According to Newt, Knut's mother did not feed him, and so human caretakers at the zoo did so, and that outraged animal rights activist Frank Albrecht, who thought that the zoo should kill the bear because it would have died in its natural habitat. I found it sad that an animal rights activist would support killing an animal, for the idea behind animal rights should be the preservation of animal life. As I read some about Albrecht's position, however, I saw that he was concerned that keeping Knut alive would not be in Knut's interest, for Albrecht did not deem it appropriate for humans to feed Knut by hand, in light of animal protection laws, plus he thought that Knut was dying a slow death because he was separated from his mother. Albrecht probably saw killing Knut as a form of mercy-killing. When Knut demonstrated that he could live on his own, however, Albrecht reversed his position that the zoo should kill the bear.

A feature of Chapter Sixteen that I appreciated was Newt's discussion of how the Trust for Public Land will give Atlanta twenty-two miles of parks and trails. Newt did not mention how nature can spiritually edify us, but that's what I thought about when reading that passage: that walking on trails and observing nature will remind us of how small we are and allow us to see nature's beauty, things that Newt discusses in A Contract with the Earth.

Chapter Seventeen of Real Change surprised me because I was expecting a lot of "Drill, Baby, Drill", but that's not what I encountered. Rather, Newt focused on green technology and hydrogen. He even argued that nuclear power could support our conversion to hydrogen power, saying that "Nuclear power has an additional bonus in that nuclear power plants can produce hydrogen for a hydrogen-powered automobile system at night when the electricity grid does not need the power" (page 200-201).

My overall reaction to Newt's discussion on the environment is that green technology should be encouraged and promoted, by government and within the private sector. I would not, however, dispense with government regulations, for those keep businesses accountable. I'm for the regulations being sensible, however, and the focus should be on results: Are the air and water cleaner, and have CO2 emissions been reduced?

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