Forging a New, Bipartisan Environmental Movement

By Gingrich, Newt; Maple, Terry L. | Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Forging a New, Bipartisan Environmental Movement

Gingrich, Newt, Maple, Terry L., Issues in Science and Technology

Although our passion for the living Earth dates to our joyful youth spent outdoors, in Pennsylvania and California respectively, our intellectual commitment to the environment as a political and social issue can be traced to the first Earth Day, an event we witnessed as graduate students. We were enthusiastic participants in many Earth Days during the 1970s and 1980s. As college professors, we mentored undergraduates on the subjects we knew best in environmental studies, public policy, biodiversity, and behavior, and we introduced them to field conservation in ecosystems under siege, including the Okefenokee Swamp and wilderness areas in East Africa. We have seen firsthand the effects of systematic deforestation and the catastrophic loss of habitat and biodiversity. A recent assessment by the World Conservation Union identified more than 16,000 species currently under threat of extinction. Our book, A Contract with the Earth (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), aims to rally Americans to address these and other environmental problems, set priorities, and develop solutions to renew the Earth for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Renewal requires a long-term commitment by every citizen and a massive mobilization of the nation's resources, talent, and technology. We must activate a sustainable, renewable culture that mobilizes people, organizations, industries, and governments to protect the natural world on a daily basis. Such commitments must begin with civil dialogue about issues that have been contentious and divisive.

It is time to forge a new, bipartisan environmental movement and create pathways for every American, indeed every nation, to cooperate and collaborate on achievable solutions to restore, revitalize, and renew the Earth. To accomplish this, we have proposed a new conversation among the diverse constituencies that must be recruited to action. No single political party owns the environmental issue; we need everyone's help in achieving the goal of a sustainable natural world. A vital, fully functional Earth composed of abundant communities of diverse wildlife; healthy streams, lakes, and oceans; and clean air requires a strong commitment to better environmental practices in homes, communities, and workplaces.

We are gratified by the leadership of multinational corporations that have been recruited to the task by creative, tenacious nongovernmental organizations such as Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy. These organizations teach us that it is in everyone's best interest to generate principles and policies that contribute to a better and more livable environment. Public/private partnerships have led the way in achieving these aspiring standards, because governments alone cannot solve the complex array of environmental challenges that we must conquer.

We also believe that people work best when they confront problems close at hand, so acting locally, through the structure of metropolitan, regional, and state governments, avoids the entanglements of larger, slower bureaucracies. The states of California and Florida and the city of Portland, Oregon, among others, demonstrate what can be done with strong leadership exercised close to the source of environmental problems and the people affected by them. We admire the dynamic environmental leadership of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who have championed alternative energy development in their states--action that must be widely emulated throughout the nation.

Strong positive leadership needed

The most important priority of our contract with the Earth is decisive environmental leadership. Currently, the federal government is stalemated and reticent to lead. Consequently, we have no national unity or direction at a time when there is an urgent need for action. Rather than succumb to the disabling ramifications of doomsday prophecy, we believe that our nation responds best when we are led by individuals who vigorously pursue workable solutions with optimism and confidence. …

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