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NYT’s Andy Revkin and E. O. Wilson get suckered by Newt Gingrich’s phony techno-optimism

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"NYT’s Andy Revkin and E. O. Wilson get suckered by Newt Gingrich’s phony techno-optimism"

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Newt Gingrich is an anti-environmentalist who spreads disinformation and has done more than any politician in the last two decades to thwart a sensible climate policy that includes a major clean technology component, as I have explained. Absent serious regulations, no technology-only strategy can possibly avoid catastrophic global warming (as we should have learned in the 1990s).

newt1.jpgSome well-meaning people, like the New York Times‘ first-rate climate reporter Andy Revkin and the great conservation biologist, E. O. Wilson, have gotten taken in by Newt’s new clothes rhetoric. Why? They don’t know the history of climate technology policy that I and others have written about — and they don’t understand the explicit Luntz/Bush strategy of trying to get political credit on the climate while blocking the crucial regulatory (and technological!) solutions by talking about “technology, technology, blah, blah, blah,” as I put it. I am in 100% agreement with Gristmill’s David Roberts analysis on this.

Gingrich is most certainly NOT part of a “move to the pragmatic center on climate and energy,” as Revkin writes — especially not an imaginary center that Revkin claims includes Bj¸rn Lomborg (!) and Shellenberger & Nordhaus (for a debunking of these folks, click here and follow the various links). Gingrich and Lomborg may not be classic global warming deniers — since they realize denial is now politically and scientifically untenable — which is why I label them delayers. (I will come back to S&N’s ongoing disinformation campaign in a future post.)

Gingrich and his coauthor are not “realists and visionaries” — the phrase Wilson uses in a foreword to their book, A Contract with on the Earth (you can read the foreword — and, if you’re clever and have a huge amount of time, the whole book — for free if you click here [reg. may be req'd]). I have emailed Wilson, who I don’t know, my earlier Gingrich post. I’ll focus on Revkin, since I do know him and he has a blog where he is fighting back against Roberts (and others) who criticize him.

As an aside, I consider this subject of technology vs. regulations to be one of the seminal climate change issues of our time, maybe the seminal issue of climate politics — so I will continue to devote a considerable amount of ink to it. To engage in this discussion, though, you MUST read Frank Luntz’s 2002 “Straight Talk” conservative strategy memo on the environment and global warming — trying to understand the current climate debate without reading that memo is like trying to understand Christianity without reading the Bible. You should also read Luntz’s early 2005 strategy document “An Energy Policy for the 21st Century” since it echoes the key technology-only strategy.

Luntz figured out years ago what the Newt Gingrich of the 1990s didn’t understand at all — it could be politically dangerous to be seen as opposing all action on global warming. And so we have Luntz’s central strategic breakthrough:

Technology and innovation are the key in arguments on both sides. Global warming alarmists use American superiority in technology and innovation quite effectively in responding to accusations that international agreements such as the Kyoto accord could cost the United States billions. Rather than condemning corporate America the way most environmentalists have done in the past, they attack us for lacking faith in our collective ability to meet any economic challenges presented by environmental changes we make. This should be our argument. We need to emphasize how voluntary innovation and experimentation are preferable to bureaucratic or international intervention and regulation.

[Sorry to keep repeating this quote, but Revkin/Gingrich/Wilson make clear it bears repeating.]

This is what I call the technology trap, where clean energy technology is used to delay action, rather than to foster action, on climate change. Luntz reiterated this point in the 2005 document: “Innovation and 21st-century technology should be at the core of your energy policy.” Luntz repeated the word “technology” thirty times in that document, much as Bush repeated the word more than 40 times in his ensuing April 2005 speech describing his proposed energy policy. This September, Bush repeated the word 19 times in his big, 21-minute climate speech!

REVKIN’S MISTAKE

Revkin writes that the battle of climate change “has been waged mostly as a yelling match between the political and environmental left and the right”:

The left says global warming is a real-time crisis requiring swift curbs on smokestack and tailpipe gases that trap heat, and that big oil, big coal and antiregulatory conservatives are trashing the planet.

The right says global warming is somewhere between a hoax and a minor irritant, and argues that liberals’ thirst for top-down regulations will drive American wealth to developing countries and turn off the fossil-fueled engine powering the economy.

And so he touts the so-called new “pragmatic center” of Gingrich, Lomborg, and S&N.

I’ve never been certain what Revkin means by “real-time crisis” — I think it is meant to suggest progressives are overstating the urgency of the problem, but what other phrase better describe the stunning loss of ice in the Arctic, the accelerated growth of emissions and concentrations in the past decade, and the apparent saturation of the ocean sink? The time for delay — for pinning our hope on non-existent technology that may never be developed or may never be practical no matter how much we spend (like hydrogen fuel cell cars) — is long gone.

Bottom line: The progressives, for all our yelling, have been proven right on the science, and the conservatives, for all their yelling, have been proven wrong. I guess yelling by progressives doesn’t mean we are wrong, just that we are getting very, very concerned. (Yes, I know the MSM feels it can’t admit one side is “right” — a self-imposed weakness that conservatives have clever exploited by politicizing this issue so thoroughly.)

Sadly, waiting two decades to find out that progressives (and scientists) were right all along has restricted the nation’s and the world’s options for avoiding catastrophe. I am quite confident the progressives are also right on the solution — that is the area I have studied, worked on with companies, and written about the most. Waiting another two decades to find out if conservative rhetoric delivers miracle solutions is a fool’s errand, as I have written (See “Debunking Shellenberger & Nordhaus — Part II, Breaking the technology breakthrough myth.“). I say conservative “rhetoric” since no conservative in a position of real political power has ever actually supported a serious amount of clean technology funding — they just like to talk about how technology is the answer, and the media gives them a big wet kiss.

THE FATAL APPENDICITIS

Here is my metaphor for the history of the climate debate: You check into a hospital with a fever, nausea, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain, and every scientist doctor diagnoses you as having appendicitis. The hospital administrator says you aren’t really sick, surgery will be costly and painful and unnecessary, and the best strategy is to just keep doing tests, some of which may take years.

As the infection and inflammation spread throughout your abdomen and your symptoms worsen, the administrator concedes you might possibly be sick, but says the problem is natural and will go away by itself. He rejects the surgery all the doctors insist is urgently needed — and, by the way, he has secretly been lobbying all the other hospitals to make sure that you can’t get surgery anywhere else.

Finally, with your fever way up and your appendix ready to burst, the hospital administrator holds a press conference to say, yes, you probably do have an appendicitis and that the hospital, while still ruling out surgery as too costly and painful, is seriously thinking about doing some research into developing a pill that will cure you, hopefully in time to avoid serious and irreversible consequences. The New York Times writes an article praising the administrator for moving to the pragmatic center. A few weeks later, you’re dead.

I’ll stick with the people who have been right all along. Something about being right makes them seem more credible to me.

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7 Responses to NYT’s Andy Revkin and E. O. Wilson get suckered by Newt Gingrich’s phony techno-optimism

  1. Paul K says:

    Joe,
    It is time to become a uniter, not a divider. Attacking Newt Gingrich or anyone who dares say anything complimentary about him is counterproductive to your cause. Consensus requires an allowance for differences. You have much in common with him. You both spend a lot of time thinking about the future. You both believe in efficiency and the widest use of the best technology. Whether you believe it or not, Newt Gingrich has long represented the environmentalist right wing. They have the radical view that environmental and climate issues are best resolved with minimum government spending and involvement. As a progressive, you surely have problems with this approach. To reach your goal, forget all your disagreements of the past. Then you may find there are actually many areas where you could work together.

  2. Joe says:

    Sorry, Paul K, to quote a famous writer, “been there, done that, wore out the t-shirt.”

    Gingrich is most certainly part of the problem. He used to be a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Now he has on sheep’s clothing. Still a wolf, though.

    I have a problem with embracing a strategy that can’t work, a strategy that Gingrich himself blocked 12 years ago when it might have made a difference.

  3. Andy Revkin says:

    I encourage your readers to look at the reasoned dialogue Dave Roberts and I had both on http://www.Grist.org and http://Dotearth.nytimes.com to get a bit more depth on these important issues.

  4. Lou Grinzo says:

    Minor correction: Andy’s web site is here.

  5. Ethan Arpi says:

    A colleague of mine, Dario Hidalgo, recently wrote a post about how the focus on technology has been a major distraction in the climate debate. You can check it out here.

  6. A Siegel says:

    Joe –

    A wonderful discussion.

    I wonder whether Revkin is really paying attention to the criticism that he is receiving. For example, you might be interested in No wonder people are confused.

  7. Eric Sutherland says:

    Cornucopianism

    This tactic is being used by bread crumb droppers like Gingrich as well as the pseustainability crowd.

    Gingrich’s genius lies in crafting a series of talking points that leads the unthinking into the galley were they can be urged to propel the ship of state into peril. All to benefit his paymasters.

    Unfortunately, he is only co-opting the success that the high priests of carbon neutrality have enjoyed by parading ineffectual solutions shrouded in the complex veils of tecnhology across the altar. The unknowing masses gasp in awe and delight at the promise of solutions delivered by the masters of science and policy.

    All that false prophets need is the spectre of an omnipotent, smothering burden and a flashy, contrived sales pitch that demonstrates their reslove and character in the face of adversity. Last time around it was the unstoppable advancement of government intrusion and Newt’s most inspiring attribute was his willingness to gut even the most effective program in the name of conservatism.

    This time, the horde on our heels is real. Real solutions are available, but it is not surprising that Gingrich cherry picks only those that don’t threaten pain for anybody except Hugo Chavez. It is also not surprising that he is able to entrain a few self-serving neoenvironmentalists in his entourage at the same time.

    Your words Newt- Real change requires real change.

    Fort Collins, CO