Yes, that Newt Gingrich. I admit this is hard for me, as a lifelong Democrat. But bear with me.
In our better moments, we all like to talk about finding common ground and fostering bipartisanship and all that stuff. So I am trying to walk the walk here. If we can put aside his social agenda for a moment, one has to recognize that Newt Gingrich has been one of the more compelling voices on the right in terms of the role of science in American policy, consistently arguing that generous investment in science and education is among the key factors in making this country strong, economically robust, and flexible in the tumultuous new millennium.
Probably many of us who remember him from his Speaker-of-the-House days have forgotten, or were never aware, that Gingrich is a bona fide environmentalist. So much so that conservative think tanks have found it necessary to keep an eye on him — fearing that his support for the Endangered Species Act and National Instutute of the Environment have brought us dangerously close to the end of western civilization as we know it. All the code words are there: “junk science”, “property rights”, “unreasonable regulation”. As one conservative think-tanker commented, disapprovingly, on Newt’s establishment of a House task force on the environment:
“Then Gingrich gave Republicans with views similar to those of liberal environmental organizations equal representation on the task force with Republicans holding conservative/limited-government views”
Horrors — equal representation! What is America coming to?
According to Wikipedia, Gingrich started his career as a Professor of History at the University of West Georgia (where he was denied tenure, which may have something to do with his lifelong antipathy toward the “intellectual elite“). Interestingly, the book jacket lists him as having been an “environmental studies professor.” At any rate, it is clear that the environment has been a key, substantive issue for Gingrich over the long haul.
So I have now finished reading his book, A Contract with the Earth, co-authored with Terry Maple, Professor of Pyschology, Behavior, and Conservation at Georgia Tech and former Director of Zoo Atlanta. The book is pretty easy going, really an extended essay. And it is excellent. Much of this stuff has been said before, but rarely from a voice that carries (or carried at one time) so much weight with the large conservative American constituency that “environmentalism” or “creation care” or whatever you want to call it so desperately needs. The proposed Contract with the Earth consists (presumably not coincidentally) of Ten
1. Take the Lead (message to the “sole superpower” remaining on earth, whose leadership has, to put it politely, dropped the ball on environmental issues)
2. Reward a new generation of environmental entrepeneurs (employing the core conservative approach of market-based approaches to innovation)
3. Retire or rejuvenate old technologies (Coal comes to mind)
4. Transform the role of government (Again, near and dear to conservatives, and a long-term Newt issue. But these guys also recognize that some problems cannot be solved by the market alone and that some government regulation is necessary, hence Newt’s long-time support for te Endangered Species Act)
5. Become an aspirational and inspirational Nation (here’s where the Patriotism comes in)
6. Position America to meet the challenge (“We must be prepared to anticipate and quickly respond to present and future threats. The high priority of the environment must be affirmed.”)
7. Encourage scientific and technical literacy (I’ll drink to that, as I have said before)
8. Invoke the spirit of collaboration and cooperation (Who can argue with that? I only wish Newt had discovered this lofty goal before leading his scorched-earth attack on the Clinton White House back in his glory days. But let’s not go there . . .)
9. Support the environment through philanthropy and investment (“A coordinated, strategic philanthropy will support the increasing priority of environmental events and issues.”)
10. Enlist the Nation (“executives in government, business, science and the arts must rally to mobilize all citizens to pursue proactive, environmental policies and practices at home and in the workplace . . . Every one of us, meek and mighty, is needed to reach our goal of a cleaner, healthier Earth”)
There is a lot of good stuff here, along with, inevitably, some fluffy rhetoric and some substantive issues I would question. The wonkish details of how such a revolution might transpire have been expressed better elsewhere (e.g., here and here), but of course, that is not the goal of this book. What is important is its compelling case that working toward a harmonious and sustainable symbiosis with the rest of life is not only the central and most important practical challenge of this century, but that it is a moral and patriotic imperative. The message is expressed with the concise, emotionally stirring, and intellectually compelling prose we’ve come to expect from this master political operator, and each chapter ends with the “talking points” one expects in a political manifesto. It is incredibly refreshing to hear these obviously heartfelt and well-reasoned arguments from a hard-core conservative. Like author Tom Friedman, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, and Republican Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, Gingrich and Maple are showing that natural security must be a fundamental part of patriotism. And it must unite people from across the political and ideological spectra.
So I say: Kudos to Newt Ginrich and Terry Maple, two premier Natural Patriots. And Let’s hope their ideas take root and grow.