It’s not an alternative, it’s a subset
Newt Gingrich has a new book out called A Contract with the Earth, which purports to outline a "green conservatism." For a summary, you can check out this brief op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
I approached it with an open mind — eagerly, even. There’s nothing I would like more than for a vibrant green conservatism to join the debate over the best way to accomplish green goals. That would be an enormous step forward from the current situation.
Unfortunately, the op-ed is a rather vaporous string of cliches. Here’s the nut:
We emphatically reject as ineffective the liberal environmentalists’ focus on bureaucratic command-and-control regulations to preserve our natural world. Instead, Green Conservatism believes that we can realize more positive environmental outcomes faster by shifting tax code incentives and shifting market behavior than is possible from litigation and regulation.
The obvious point to make here is that virtually every green I know supports "shifting tax code incentives and shifting market behavior." It may have once been true (’70s? ’80s?) that greens were disproportionately and stereotypically liberal in that they relied too much on punitive regulation and demonized markets. But that moment has long since passed. For many years now, the most innovative market-based environmental strategies have come from greens. Greens are now entering the corporate world in huge numbers. Greens run companies and investment funds; they sit on corporate boards; they coordinate business/nonprofit coalitions; they focus on eliminating perverse gov’t subsidies. Etc.
The difference is not that greens oppose tax shifting and market mechanisms — the difference is that greens also support legislative, regulatory, and legal strategies. Their primary concern is solving the problems, not with the mechanisms for doing so. After all, why fight with one hand tied behind your back?
On this point it’s worth referencing Jon Chait’s fantastic piece in TNR last year, which made a simple point: for conservatives, the size and power of the government is an ideological matter; shrinking the gov’t is a goal in and of itself. But progressivism is not the mirror image. For progressives, growing gov’t is not a goal in and of itself. The goal is to solve the problems of the day.
The galaxy of green has exploded in the last decade. It’s huge, diverse, and innovative, with thoughtful people attacking problems from every angle, from gov’t regulation to corporate reform to grassroots organizing to individual initiative.
What Gingrich offers is not an "alternative" to today’s environmentalism, it’s a desiccated, ideologically constricted subset of it, pitched to appeal to the shrinking core of far-right ideologues in this country.
Why should the rest of us care?
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