Friday, July 27, 2012

Newt Gingrich's To Save America 9: Energy and the Environment

I have four items for my write-up today on Newt Gingrich's To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine.  Their focus is on the environment and/or energy.

1.  On page 240, Newt challenges the narrative that capitalism coincides with damage to the environment:

"This narrative fails to recognize that capitalist democracies are among the most environmentally conscious nations in the world.  As a rule, the more socialist a nation becomes, the more the environment suffers----just look at the environmental degradation that characterized nearly every Cold War-era Communist nation.  [W]ealth and freedom generally lead to better environmental practices; forests are declining in poor nations but expanding in wealthy ones."

Newt makes a good point when he says that a number of Communist countries have damaged the environment.  Here is an interesting article by the libertarian journal, The Freeman, on this issue, and this article also notes that governments pollute, so big government is not always the good guy.  But, in my opinion, that does not mean that "socialism" necessarily entails damage to the environment, for Western Europe and some of the Scandinavian countries do fairly well, environmentally-speaking (see here).  But, while many of them have regulations, some of them actually do the sorts of things that Newt supports: incentivizing clean energy.  Regarding Newt's statement that poor nations have declining forests, I think that what Newt fails to consider is that corporations go into poor countries and plunder their resources, and so capitalism cannot escape at least some blame for environmental degradation. 

2.  On page 243, Newt states what he thinks our policy should be towards climate change:

"Green conservatives should be skeptical, prudent, and smart.  We must demand complete objectivity from our scientists and our policymakers...If carbon overload should lead to major problems, our continuing investment in science and technology will give us the best chance of averting or adapting to the consequences."

Newt does not agree with left-wing hysteria about global warming, but he does not seem to dismiss the possibility that humans are causing it, to some degree.  He does not want to wreck the economy over it, but what if it turns out to be true?  In that case, he believes that technology would help us to avert its consequences or adapt to it.  Could we arrive at a position where it's too late, though----where global warming is causing so much damage, and it's really difficult to adapt to it or reverse it?

3.  Newt does not believe that renewable energy is the end-all, be-all, for he says that the wind is not always blowing and the sun is not always shining (page 253).  (Yet, I have heard the argument that solar vehicles are powered by batteries when the sun is not shining.)  But Newt does support it.  He states on page 256 that "the southwest has so much sunlight that if companies constructed a series of solar plants covering 100 square miles, those plants could generate as much electricity as all the fossil fuel-fired plants in America."

But Newt notes (with disapproval) incidents in which environmentalists are challenging renewable energy projects because of threats to endangered species (see here and here).  In the case of the solar energy project in the Mojave Desert, however, the Sierra Club was not against the project, but rather wanted it to be located somewhere else so as to protect an endangered turtle.

4.  Newt supports ethanol.  Critics of ethanol, however, contend that it drives up food prices because fewer crops are being used for food.  Newt says on page 258, however, that "without the growth of biofuel yields, the American grain farmer will drown in a glut of production, and farm incomes will collapse."  So Newt believes that ethanol can actually help farmers avoid deflation.

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