Gingrich Admits Liberals Right and Republicans Wrong on Global Warming

Newt Gingrich debated John Kerry on global warming, realizing that the flat-earth views of the right wing could not hold up in a real debate. When confronted with the views of the right, Gingrich admitted that Senator Inhofe and others who have been obstructing solutions on global warming are wrong, and that this is an urgent problem (with video clip at Think Progress):

KERRY: I’m excited to hear you talk about the urgency — I really am. And given that — albeit you still sort of have a different approach — what would you say to Sen. Inhofe and to others in the Senate who are resisting even the science? What’s your message to them here today?

GINGRICH: My message I think is that the evidence is sufficient that we should move towards the most effective possible steps to reduce carbon-loading of the atmosphere.

KERRY: And to it urgently — and now…

GINGRICH: And do it urgently. Yes.

Not surprisingly they had different views on how to solve the problem, but getting Republicans to admit there is a problem is the real battle. As John Kerry noted later in the debate, if he and Gingrich spent some time together they’d be able to work out a solution.

There is further discussion at BlueClimate and at JohnKerry.com. Excerpts from Kerry’s opening statement are below the fold. The debate will be rebroadcast tonight on CSPAN at 9:54 p.m. EDT.

From John Kerry’s opening remarks:

I truly appreciate Newt Gingrich’s willingness to debate climate change with me today.

It’s refreshing to hear a conservative politician take climate change seriously as a national challenge. It’s helpful that he knows a lot about science, especially biology, and doesn’t simply rely on slurs against the good faith of those who disagree with him. And as always, Mr. Gingrich shows an inspiring confidence in the power of American ingenuity in making the problem of climate change an opportunity for U.S. businesses, scientists and engineers.

But ultimately, when you boil off the realism and optimism of his language, he’s marching in lock step with the climate change deniers, the pessimists and the polluters in arguing that real national action to address climate change is either unnecessary or impossible. If he were in charge of the Bush administration’s energy and environmental work, you’d hear a different kind of rhetoric all right, but it’s not clear to me any of the policies would change.

[…]

Let me first address Mr. Gingrich’s suggestion that the science of climate change is so unsettled that we need more studies before acting. Now, I’m all for an accelerated effort to invest in scientific research to measure climate change and its causes, and to carefully assess our progress and the world’s towards a solution. But we’re now clearly past the point where we need to document the reality of climate change, its potentially catastrophic effects on human life, the ways in which we are contributing to it, and the steps needed to reverse the trends before it is too late.

The gold standard for research on this subject is provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a collaboration of more than 2,000 scientists from 130 countries. Looking for “research” outside the consensus findings of the IPCC is like looking for a lake in the Sahara Desert; it’s a waste of time. The IPCC is releasing its fourth major report later this month, but it’s already released its major findings and recommendations, and they are conclusive.

[…]

Now it’s true the IPCC, using its most conservative assessments, concedes there’s a 10% possibility that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are not the major cause of global warming, but I’d ask you this: if you bought a plane ticket today knowing you had a 10% probability of reaching your destination safely, would you get on that plane? You’d have to be much more of an optimist than even Newt Gingrich to accept that gamble, and when it comes to climate change, we are gambling with everything on earth we care about, including our prosperity, our security, our health, our values and even our freedom.

So sure, let’s accelerate the scientific study of climate change and its causes and solutions, but not at the expense of immediate action to prevent its worst consequences.

And that brings me to the next problem I have with Mr. Gingrich’s presentation, the belief that we can somehow address climate change through deregulation, voluntary action, and what I guess you might call rhetorical enchantment.

There’s no question that dumb government policies, illustrated by the Bush administration’s frantic efforts to increase oil and gas development, can make environmental problems worse. But if voluntary action were sufficient to address environmental challenges, we would have never needed to enact the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act, and I don’t think Mr. Gingrich would argue for that proposition.

The fundamental reality is that climate change, like other environmental problems, reflects a market failure, for the simple reason that the costs associated with fossil fuel consumption are not reflected in the price of the energy products and technologies that create these costs. That’s why government action is necessary. And that’s not just my opinion. It’s the opinion of growing numbers of corporate executives … They understand that only a strong public commitment to mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, which the Bush administration continues to fight, tooth and nail, can make markets work efficiently to create the new, clean energy technologies Newt Gingrich speaks about so inspiringly, and to make energy conservation pay for all of us.

And that brings me to the final point I want to make about Mr. Gingrich’s presentation: his suggestion that we cannot afford to take quick national action on climate change.

According to [the IPCC] report, if we act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the total costs of avoiding catastrophic climate change can be limited to about 1% of global gross domestic product each year. That sounds like a lot, but the Stern Review also concludes that if we don’t act, the costs won’t simply go away — they will rise to at least 5% of global GDP within 20 years, and could go as high as 20% of GDP later. It’s hard to even imagine the impact that would have on our quality of life, totally aside from the effects of climate change itself.

Moreover, the sooner we undertake these costs, the greater our opportunity to minimize them, and to unleash the potentially vast benefits of placing America in a leadership position in the international clean energy markets that will soon represent the fastest growing economic sector of the 21st century.

I remember when Newt Gingrich worked with many of us on a bipartisan basis to address the acid rain crisis, back in the late 1980s, helping to enact a “cap-and-trade” system for sulfur dioxide much like the one so many of us now propose for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Because we acted then, we achieved our goals far faster than we expected, and at roughly one-fourth of the estimated costs. You can’t fully assess the savings achievable by harnessing the innovative genius of the American system until you try.

And here’s the thing we absolutely must remember in discussing the costs and benefits of immediate action on climate change: the benefits will go far beyond an abatement of climate change, or even the vast profits our businesses can secure in clean energy markets. Because our dependence of fossil fuels is so damaging in so many ways, the benefits of reducing that dependence will include the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans who won’t die from preventable cancers or respiratory ailments; they will include a vast enhancement of our ability to keep our rivers and lakes clean, our air breathable, our habitats intact, our wild spaces pristine, and our land uncontaminated and hospitable to life.

We won’t achieve those benefits unless we act now, in Washington. We won’t get to that exciting future of hydrogen cars and alternative energy sources and conservation technologies that Newt Gingrich talks about by commissioning new studies or sitting on our hands while we wait for the invisible hand of the marketplace to take care of it all. And you can’t fight carbon caps and better auto efficiency standards or international climate change diplomacy and mocking or demonizing visionaries like Al Gore and still claim to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. And you can’t defend the status quo, as represented by the Bush Administration’s endless stalling and excuse-making on climate change, and at the same time ask for the right to shape the future.

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    Marian says:

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