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Posted December 18, 2007
Environmentalism: The Devil Is in the Details
In ¿A Contract with the Earth,¿ Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple correctly plead for a bipartisan approach to environmentalism. Gingrich and Maple also rightly emphasize the importance of objectivity, education, green entrepreneurship, partnership of government at all levels with organizations and businesses, the need for a long-term vision, and U.S. world leadership in tackling environmental ills. Unfortunately, ¿A Contract with the Earth¿ is ultimately of uneven quality. To their credit, Gingrich and Maple convincingly show what green entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships can achieve in reducing the human footprint on nature in some particular cases. Chapters 5 and 6 will be of particular interest to readers looking for some success stories such as Costa Rica, Walt Disney, Shell Oil, and Geoplasma. Gingrich and Maple also review with clarity in chapter 7 what some philanthropists such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Richard Branson¿s Virgin Fuels are working on to address some environmental ills. Furthermore, Gingrich and Maple remind readers that open societies are more receptive to environmental and social reform. Finally, Gingrich and Maple call in chapter 9 for political leaders of substance who exhibit some of the characteristics that Jim Collins has identified in his best-seller ¿Good to Great.¿ Unfortunately, Gingrich and Maple seem at times to over-simplify the challenges at hand. Here follow a few examples for illustration purposes only: 1. Gingrich and Maple note that in some respects, the population problem (in the third world) is solving itself, with birth rates falling as nations develop healthy economies with stable, predictable futures. Both authors also point out that the U.S. can handle overpopulation most effectively by targeting foreign aides for emerging democracies with a stable rule of law and growing economies. Unfortunately, Gingrich and Maple fail to mention that U.S. support for family planning abroad began to decline in 1996. The U.S. is not alone in this area. As Jonathon Porritt, Chair, U.K. Sustainable Development Commission, rightly states in BBC-sponsored Planet Earth, good family planning is all about empowering women and girls with literacy and better healthcare to bring birth rates down. Furthermore, both authors omit to mention that the current U.S. administration has banned funding to groups that provides or promotes abortion. Unlike the other regions of the world, Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, is experiencing fast and ultimately unsustainable population growth as John May of the World Bank and Jean-Pierre Guengant of IRD (French Research Institute for Development) recently observed. 2. Gingrich and Maple lament that the American Government, both Congress and the President, is not doing enough in addressing environmental challenges. However, many Americans are wary of pushing the American Government too far, too fast, because of the high costs involved in solving environmental problems. The new, imperfect compromise over CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards illustrates this point very well. 3. Gingrich and Maple also plead for a plan to significantly and rapidly reduce U.S. dependence on (foreign) oil by considering a serious switch from fossils fuels to renewable alternatives. Since 1974, all U.S. presidents have called for energy independence, but all have failed in this endeavor. Despite the rhetoric, U.S. reliance on foreign oil increased from 36.1% in 1974 to 65.5% in 2006 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Americans use more oil per person than any other country in the world, with the possible exception of some oil-exporting states. 2/3 of all oil consumed in the U.S. is used for powering U.S. cars and trucks according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The new changes to CAFE standards will probably not significantly alter this picture, especially when one considers the existing vWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.