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Books: 'A Contract With the Earth'

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Newt Gingrich
Former Speaker of the House
Tuesday, November 6, 2007; 12:00 PM

Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was online Tuesday, Nov. 6 at noon ET to take your questions on " A Contract With the Earth," his new book about finding a common commitment to environmental stewardship and bipartisan solutions for global warming and other critical problems.

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Ever the Speaker (Post, July 1)

The transcript follows.

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Newt Gingrich: I'm delighted to have a chance to do this and I think this is a very timely opportunity to talk about ideas and solutions.

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Atlanta: Mr. Speaker, thanks for taking time to answer our questions. My question is, where do agree and where do you disagree with Al Gore on the issue of global warming?

Newt Gingrich: I think we agree that it's a serious challenge. We disagree on the immediacy of the threat -- in the movie he shows new York drowning. We disagree on the certainty -- I think there's pretty good evidence in a general direction, but I don't think I have the same certainty he does. The same thing happened in the 1980s, when he was fairly certain about nuclear winter, which sort of disappeared as an issue. The truth is, science changes.

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Washington: What is the biggest environmental threat that the U.S. faces?

Newt Gingrich: I think the biggest environmental threat to the U.S. is an energy strategy that is bad for the environment, economy and national security. It relies on petroleum as the primary source of transportation. That increases carbon loading of the atmosphere, sends dollars overseas and places the U.S. economy at risk to Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Russia. In terms of quality of life I'm as concerned about biodiversity as about global warming, and the strategies for both of those help both problems, because reforestation and other tactics benefit carbon sequestration and reverse the spread of deserts -- there are many more square miles today than their were 40 years ago. The right kind of strategy for reclaiming marginal land is both good for carbon, good for biodiversity and improves the quality of life. If you look at Israel and South Korea and you look at how much they have improved their environment in the past 50 years, it's startling the difference that reforestation has made compared with their neighbors.

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Freising, Germany: I once read that you felt that the Kyoto Accord was anti-American. Could you explain a bit more about what you felt was anti-American about it, and what should have been changed or modified to incorporate American interests?

Newt Gingrich: There's no question it was anti-American. It was written deliberately biased against the United States. Sequestration in forests does not count under Kyoto. The deadline that was picked as the baseline was fabulous -- if you're France. If we had implemented it, it would have been a burden on our economy, and they refused to apply it to Indian and China, the two most rapidly developing countries in the world. The net effect is there would be more carbon in the atmosphere than before because of India and China. That's partly why I wrote this book -- you have to follow a technological innovation strategy to develop feasible substitutes for current strategies. If you asked India or China to give up development to help the environment, they couldn't do it -- they couldn't take the economic pain. But if you asked them to adopt technological developments that help both their economy and their environment, they can do that. This is the way to develop a better environment by 2050 than the one we have right now.

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Wheaton, Md.: Thanks for bringing common sense to an issue usually dominated by extremists. As a student of history, I've noticed how real historians like yourself know how to deal with serious problems reasonably. By the way, Hannity and Colmes is always most entertaining when you are on.

Newt Gingrich: Thank you for that compliment. I went into history originally as a vocational degree, because I wanted to know what had worked and failed in the past and apply that to solving problems in the present. The human race has solved many problems in the past 400 years. More people live longer with greater health and economic prosperity. As late as 1900, the average lifespan was 46. Now in Japan, the average lifespan in Japan for women is 88. There's no reason to believe that if we focus on entrepreneurship we can't solve every environmental problem. The tragedy has been that the right has been ignoring the problem and the left has focused on litigation and regulation. We can get to an hydrogen system if we try. I'd like to do a study focusing on people who have received heating aid in the past 25 years, and what benefits we would have received if we had instead helped the poor to convert to smart modern technology. Instead we were subsidizing their obsolete dumb technology.

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Westcliffe, Colo.: So you believe that only an effective carbon tax will significantly alter behavior, which is the only real mechanism to stop or at least mitigate the changes to global weather patterns occurring?

You don't believe in carbon, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, et al cap-and-trading? This is only a way to make rich hedge-funders wealthier while only pushing pollution to other parts of the country/planet. It doesn't for removing the environmental threats to civilization.

And that is the issue, yes, Mr. Gingrich? Human extinction on a mass scale?

Newt Gingrich: I don't believe I said anything about a carbon tax. What I talked about was incentives. I had a dialogue at the New York Public Library with an economist recently who conceded that if there's a price difference, if it becomes cheaper to do the non-carbon thing, it does the same thing as raising the price of carbon. I believe, as someone who has studied the great presidents, that people respond much better to incentives than to punishment. So I would rather incentivize conservation and renewable fuels than punishing carbon. We didn't get airlines built by punishing railroads. So I would like to see maybe a billion-dollar price for the first mass-produceable hydrogen engine. I'd like a tax credit for auto companies to switch to composite manufacturing, which is lighter and stronger. I'd like to see incentives for moving to cellulosic ethanol. Most of human research up until the past few years, has been focused on food-bearing plants. These aren't as good at converting solar energy into usable fuel as grasses. If that happens at $90-a-barrel oil, you wouldn't need an incentive or a punishment, it would be better. I don't blame the oil companies for not wanting to create a competitor -- we need to incentivize the creation of alternatives, weather it's biofuels, whether soy diesel, ethanol or cellulosic ethanol.

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Newt for President: I know this isn't environment related, but I'm so glad that you have spoken out that the next Republican candidate needs to speak out against the current president. The country is a mess and no one will admit it.

A new administration is what we need and I don't want it run by a Clinton.

Given that you aren't running, what further advice would you give to the next Republican Candidate and do you have a favorite?

Newt Gingrich: No favorite. Actually I'm doing a three-hour briefing this afternoon in which we're outlining the polling results from six surveys American Solutions took -- we'll put all the data and my briefing on the site tomorrow and the POTUS channel (130) on XM is carrying it live from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Some of the issues are so obvious it's painful. 95 percent of the country believes we must extend the legacy of the environment the creator gave us. 85 percent of the country believes we need about 4-5 times as much science. 79 percent of the country believes we need prizes for major breakthroughs. We're drafting a red-white-and-blue platform that is supported by majorities of democrats, independents and Republicans. I'm going to go to Iowa and try to get the precinct officers of both parties to support that platform.

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Washington: Thanks for doing this chat. How is your new endeavor, American Solutions, going so far? How do you raise money for this?

Newt Gingrich: You raise money by asking everyone you run into -- you can contribute at our Web site. We recently had our first workshops, between 80,000 and 100,000 participated. We have 48 video workshops on a variety of topics that you can see on the site. We had former Dem. governor. Roomer, we had the democratic mayor of Atlanta who welcomed the entire group. We had Go. Perdue participating, we had Kaymarc, we had Dennis Smith, a leader in metrics and evidence-based government, and we had Steve Goldsmith, a great mayor of Indianapolis. It was a very wide-ranging program. Our next project is to release this $428,000 worth of polling data, which we're giving to both Democrats and Republicans, and then on Dec. 4 we'll be unveiling this agenda and encouraging people to support it for the parties platforms. We're at the beginning of the beginning, as Churchill said. Most people, polling found, think you have to focus on all elected officials, not just the president, to effectively change the government. We're working with IBM to develop tools so school board members and city councilmen can work together to find solutions in an efficient way.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Hydrogen needs to be produced without producing carbon emissions in the process. It seems like nuclear power generation is the only technology we have that can do that on a large scale. What are your thoughts about that?

Newt Gingrich: Let me say first of all I was born in Harrisburg and I'm glad to hear from someone back there. I think it's an interesting fact that if we produced the same percentage of our electricity from nuclear power as the French, we'd take almost a third of U.S. carbon production out of the atmosphere and we'd be 15 percent below Kyoto. It's also a steady-state energy source, so at night when energy demand drops, the excess could be directed toward producing hydrogen. It's a much less problematic development than the coal plants that are being planned. I would incentivize dismantling the oldest coal plants and building new nuclear plants. We may be able to get to a clean coal technology, but not in the near future. In the near future nuclear is a much better investment.

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Santa Barbara, Calif.: Tropical deforestation is responsible for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the leading cause of biodiversity loss. Because most the logging is illegal, it also damages our domestic forest industries' competitiveness. It also wasn't covered by the Kyoto Protocol. What can America do to help stop the loss of around 30 million acres per year of rainforest?

Newt Gingrich: I would rethink our foreign aid programs to have a substantial green component and try to make it profitable for villagers to sustain national forests. It's not enough to have treaties, you have to make it free out in the countryside. This is also a problem with game meat, where people are eating endangered species like gorillas for the protein. You also need decentralized, simple energy solutions, like small solar generators for heat and electricity. I'm very willing to subsidize the acquisition of green technologies in very poor countries so long as it actually gets through to the people and doesn't just enrich the corrupt political class.

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Fairfax, Va.: What would you urge GOP candidates for president to propose regarding protecting the environment? Or will they simply fall back on the false dichotomy that Americans can either protect the environment or help grow the economy?

Newt Gingrich: I agree entirely that that's a false dichotomy. I think the leadership challenge of the next decade is finding a pro-economy, pro-environment, pro-security strategy. I also would emphasize domestic capabilities. There's a number of things prohibiting us from maximizing our resources here in the U.S. And I would also fund significant research into clean coal while being honest that we're not near there yet.

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Arlington, Va.: How was working on this book similar and different to the novels you've authored with William Forstchen?

Newt Gingrich: It's dramatically different. Bill Forstchen and Steve Hanser and I get together, outline a novel and just start writing. I usually do the political scenes. And then we swap and edit. It's a round-robin of joint drafting. In this case you have Maple, who literally saved Zoo Atlanta, and now he's busy saving the West Palm Beach zoo. We'd been having a conversation for some 23 years and had a pretty good sense of what we wanted to say, but there's a different kind of seriousness when you're writing a policy book that's offering bold solutions. That's a different kind of writing than fiction. I love the environment and the natural world, and I get great satisfaction out of "Contract With the Earth," but it's a very different experience.

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Burlingame, Calif.: Mr. Speaker, what role do you see urban planning having in promoting a sensible environmentalism? Should we (and the GOP) renew our focus on cities? As a planner, I ask because some planning conventions advocate for denser development, in hopes of reducing sprawl into areas with untenable water and traffic infrastructure.

Newt Gingrich: I think we should have more urban planning, more planning in general. Atlanta has a new project building trails around the cities on abandoned railroads, and that may create the largest infrastructure of that type of any city in the country. Our hope in part is that will get a lot of people out of cars and onto bikes and walking. I have been an advocate recently that children who live within a mile or two of school should go back to walking rather than waiting for the bus, to prevent childhood diabetes and obesity. I think having a high quality of life with good aesthetics and opportunities for the outdoors and maximizing your experience with nature and biodiversity are very important.

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Washington: You have so many balls in the air with books, a new 527 organization, TV appearances, etc. How are you planning to spend most of your time between now & election day?

Newt Gingrich: My fantasy life is to spend most of my time on Maui, but I haven't quite gotten that scheduled. I think I'll continue to advocate ideas, whether it's books, DVDs, television, American Solutions. I'm looking for solutions, positive breakthroughs, trying to arouse people with ideas rather than with partisan maneuvering and political tactics. I think that's the common vein in everything I do.

Thank you.

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