Green is the new 'Red, White and Blue'
A Contract with the Earth Newt Gingrich and Terry L. Maple The Johns Hopkins University Press, USA, 2007, $20.00
I HAVE TO admit that I approached this book expecting to find ample material for the kind of mockery of all things American that so tickles the European palate and bemuses our cousins across the pond.
Newt Gingrich is best known as the outspoken Speaker of the US House of Representatives who, in the mid-
nineties, became the scourge of the American Left and a key player in what is now known as neoconservatism. He was the principal architect in the Republican textbook Contract with America; but few knew then that he was also a closet ‘green’.
Gingrich’s co-author, Terry L. Maple, is a zoologist, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, and President of Palm Beach Zoo. From the evidence presented in this book, he certainly knows his aardvarks from his arachnids.
This is not a learned, academic book. It is a fluent polemic aimed at the general reader. To be more accurate, it is aimed at the general American reader.
The basic premise is that it is ‘un-American’ to continue to mess with the planet. There is an overt appeal to patriotism; a rallying cry to the Stars and Stripes in an attempt to preserve, secure and enhance the natural world. It is not party political at all: indeed, there are frequent exhortations to politicians of all persuasions to lay party interests aside in pursuit of the greater good. “As Americans, we must rally around an environmental game plan we can all support,” say the authors, in a sentence that will give you a pretty good idea of their style.
This evidence of a desire for common accord in US politics is greatly to be welcomed. A Contract with the Earth echoes in tone the delicious remark by Democrat Senator John Edwards concerning the need for green energy: “It is time to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than war.” A similar note was struck by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman when he coined the phrase “Green is the new red, white and blue.”
The fact that this message has failed to permeate the White House under its present incumbent is a recurrent theme. Those of us who despair of the most powerful nation on the planet ever shouldering its due responsibilities and taking a global lead on climate change will find encouragement here. It is good to know that a senior US Republican like Gingrich shares the sense of frustration which so many of us have felt in recent years: “The American Government continues to posture and vent, unwilling or unable to commit or act decisively.”
This book will not make comfortable reading for George W. Bush: “Let us affirm that America is willing to assume its role as the environmental leader of the world,” say the authors; and elsewhere, on the absence of global action: “Our country needs to get back to the table. If a better international approach [than Kyoto] is negotiated all nations, including developing economic power houses such as China and India, must be included. Leadership, therefore, is the highest priority in our Contract with the Earth.”
There are, in fact, nine further clauses to the contract proposed here. They include stoking “the fire of environmental science and green enterprise”, cutting dependence on fossil fuels (although a warning light about unsustainable biofuels is rightly flashed up), and – in another dig at Gingrich’s recalcitrant colleagues – reforming the mindset politicians, so that politics can engage citizens in “active, pragmatic change”. It’s all rather refreshing.
Intelligent consideration is given to the issue of placing a monetary value on the eco-services provided by Nature, to the dilemmas posed by eco-tourism, and to the need to reduce and deal creatively with waste. But the underlying theme is that respect for the natural world is a moral issue, and that the solution is the property of neither the Left nor the Right in politics, but in the hands of all of us.
Although the authors readily acknowledge the scale and immediacy of the multiple threats facing global biodiversity and do not dispute the science of climate change, their tone is positive, not grave; encouraging, not despairing. It is the American way, and I confess that, to my surprise, I found it impressive and a cause for hope.