Hey Newt: Get Off of the Couch!

This article appeared on Forbes​.com on December 9, 2011.
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Now that Newt Gingrich has vaulted into the lead in the Republican presidential stakes, he’s going to be seeing a lot more of this:

Calling it the “dumbest thing” he has done in recent years isn’t enough. This is not going away.

But, Newt can turn his pas‐​de‐​deux on the loveseat with Nancy into an opportunity to promote a consistent and electable political message.

Because he will be asked about this at every turn, Newt will have the air time and the opportunity to tell the truth on climate change — based upon real science — and to interface it with a limited‐​government philosophy. The two are easy to do.

Start with the obvious. Instead of waffling on the subject, he could just point out that earth’s surface temperature is about 1°C warmer than it was a century ago. There were two periods of warming, the first from about 1910 through 1945, and the second from the mid‐​1970s to the late‐​1990s. They were both roughly the same magnitude. Because the first one was long before we put the majority of fossil carbon into the atmosphere, Newt can say — with scientific authority — that the magnitude of ‘natural’ climate change is likely to be at least as large as what humans have done.

Then Newt should proceed to the future. It’s not the heat, it’s the sensitivity. How much it will warm in the future is a function of how sensitive the atmosphere is to doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide. There are a number of independent arguments now coming together showing that this value may have been overestimated. The reference for the most recent is a November issue of Science.

Next, a little refreshing honesty: in 2009, the House of Representatives passed a cap‐​and‐​trade bill (which the Senate did not) commanding that the average american — 38 years from now — be allowed the carbon dioxide emissions of the average citizen in 1867. Prior to its passage, Newt was undeniably for such a system. Newt could call that that the “second dumbest thing” he has done and be finished with it.

After setting the record straight, how about interjecting his own political philosophy? When asked what to do about global warming, he should give the honest answer: if the atmosphere indeed is not as sensitive to carbon dioxide changes as previously thought, the correct response is nothing.

That’s because “nothing” really means something. Newt should channel his historian. When markets are free, capital supports innovation more efficiently than when they aren’t. Think about the remarkable changes in energy and technology in the last 100 years. Isn’t it rather obvious that the same will occur in the next century, if only we don’t hinder capital development? Newt might even use the catchy saw (first sloganed by Northern Illinois Gas in 1972) the future belongs to the efficient, and that there are impressive market forces that advantage those who produce things efficiently or produce efficient things.

When the doomsayers say Newt is believing in a Deus ex machine to dramatically cut carbon dioxide emissions, he might point out that those were the same folks who, only a very few years ago, told us we were running out of natural gas. Innovation and capital revolutionized drilling and fracturing shale, and we now know we have literally hundreds of years of it under our feet. There are a lot more voters and delegates around the country who will benefit from the shale revolution than there are in ethanol‐​addicted Iowa.

Thus comes Newt’s opportunity to back down his support of corn‐​based ethanol. It’s a loser. When it powers a car, its total life cycle results in more carbon dioxide emissions than simply sticking with gasoline.

Yes, if he ran away from ethanol before the Iowa primary, Romney might win. But Newt would be called courageous and the voters in the rest of the nation will notice.

Finally, Newt could say that he’s sick of the government subsidizing any form of energy or transportation. Sell GM and don’t look back. Stop subsidizing the Volt, solar energy, wind power, gas, coal, all things energy, and let people keep their money and invest. Stop tilting the federal purse at windmills.

Newt can do these things and win. Otherwise, he’s could spend fall of 2012 on that darned couch.