The more I see of Newt Gingrich’s "conservative environmentalism," the less impressive it seems. The guy’s offering run of the mill, crony capitalist conservatism with a shabby green paint job.

The two top-tier public policy approaches to fighting climate change are:

  1. supporting green industries, practices, technologies, and infrastructure via subsidies, tax breaks, or mandates, and
  2. restricting and reducing GHGs via regulation.

The first is the carrot and the second is the stick. Most greens want to use some combination of the two, though they might quibble about the relative priority.

Gingrich’s big innovation is to insist that we should use the first but not the second — all carrots, no sticks. He wants us to fight with one hand tied behind our backs, not because of any plausible argument that regulation wouldn’t work in this particular case, but because he is ideologically opposed to regulations that restrict corporate profit-making.

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You might say, "David, you’re just bashing Newt because he’s a conservative and you’re not."

No. Not so. Not at all.

You’ll note, for one thing, that neither policy approach is "conservative" insofar as conservative still means small-government/libertarian. In that sense, a conservative approach would be something like what Carl Pope (of Sierra Club) and Jerry Taylor (of Cato) wrote about here: removing all subsidies and internalizing all costs. I’m actually quite fond of that sort of solution.

But no, what Gingrich recommends is, in Sean’s phrasing, pro-business, not pro-market. He wants to ladle out public money to favored corporations while shielding them from any regulations. This is, I’d add, the same approach to climate change advocated by Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson — and to a greater extent than generally appreciated, Huckabee and McCain as well. This is what passes for conservative in today’s party of economic royalists, but it is not conservative in the original sense.

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It leaves Gingrich with very little to offer beyond media-friendly rhetoric. Look at the answer he offers Sierra Magazine (in a roundtable well worth reading) on what the next president and Congress should do first:

Americans are concerned about global climate change, but they want legislation that does not expand the size and severity of federal control of business enterprise. American businesses want to be part of the solution, and they have good ideas that are being implemented. Our business community is already ahead of the American government, so government must become a facilitator of innovation. The federal government could enact creative legislation that keeps businesses on task as we work to develop clean and sustainable alternatives to petroleum. Americans will elect candidates who support real changes in energy policy and market-based innovations that will lead the world to import clean American technology.

Rhetorical fluff aside, it seems that "facilitator of innovation" is the key concept here, and in Gingrich’s mind, that translates to "dispensers of subsidies and tax breaks."

And just in case you missed the point, when asked about a carbon tax, Gingrich says:

Tax incentives will work better and faster than tax penalties. To dramatically change carbon emissions, the incentives need to be significant, essentially the most robust incentives we can afford. Such incentives are likely to work most effectively with advancing automotive technology.

In other words: hand-outs. Big hand-outs.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: taking a two-pronged green strategy and cutting off one of the prongs does not demonstrate some clever, innovative new way for Republicans to address climate change. It’s how the Republican party operates on every single problem these days. If anything, it just demonstrates how incapable the crony capitalist party is at dealing with public policy issues of any real scope.