Newt Gingrich is an ideas man. He's all about solutions. He runs a website called American Solutions, founded "to help develop and implement a new generation of solutions to our country's most pressing challenges." Unfortunately, the first solution on his website is "Drill Here. Drill Now. Pay Less." A plan which was debunked by Scientific American back in 2008. Newt also had the creative idea to change the EPA to the Environmental Solutions Agency. But by environmental solutions, he means solving problems the fossil fuel industry has with environmental regulation.
Of course Newt's campaign site has a Solutions page as well, which states:
Today's high gas and energy prices are entirely a function of bad government policies. Newt has an American Energy Plan that would maximize energy production from all sources -- oil, natural gas, wind, biofuels, nuclear, clean coal, and more -- and would encourage clean energy innovation without discouraging overall energy production.
But wait Newt, what happened to solar?
Scientific American calculates that the amount of solar energy hitting the planet every year is over 6000 Terawatts, while global energy use is less than 15 Terawatts. Not all solar energy can be captured, but ten percent of it -- nearly 600 Terawatts -- is in suitable locations, "readily available for generating renewable power." In other words 35 times more power than we need is just falling on the ground waiting for us to pick it up.
How do you miss a solution like that? It's hard to say you're serious about energy solutions and not even mention solar energy. And it's difficult to be serious about free-market solutions and ignore a $60 billion global solar market.
Instead, he argues for deregulating fossil fuels, saying we should tap the inventiveness of the free market to solve our energy challenges. But his proposed solutions -- "clean" coal, nuclear, and drilling in Alaska -- all require significant government assistance and subsidy. He asks supporters to petition Congress to "Stop the Energy Tax" but makes no mention of killing the billion dollar subsidies to Big Oil that would actually help level the playing field for free market competition in clean energy.
The truth is that neither "clean" coal nor safe nuclear power are available today. Both will require years of research, and billions of dollars in government investment. So the real choice is between spending that time and money extracting ever dirtier fossil fuels, or spending that time and money developing diverse, long-term, truly secure forms of energy.
But solar isn't the only solution Newt is missing when it comes to energy and the environment.
Here's a few others:
Cities: From PlaNYC in New York, to the comprehensive Green Vision of San Jose, California, cities across the country are increasing efficiency, retrofitting buildings and street lights, requiring greener buildings and cleaner energy, and putting in bike lanes and greenspace.
Businesses: Companies from around the world are competing to fill the demand, creating longer-lasting batteries, more efficient turbines, cheaper photovoltaics and LED lighting, better building materials, and smarter appliances.
Investors: Every year top representatives from the investment community gather at the Waldorf Astoria in New York for the Renewable Energy Finance Forum. This is only one of a host of sellout conferences with representatives from major companies and investment funds who are pouring billions of dollars a year into clean energy.
Builders: The US Green Building Council's LEED guidelines are fast becoming the standard to beat, directly tackling the nearly 40% of our emissions that come from buildings. And the next generation of buildings will be Zero Net Energy or even energy producers.
Designers: Cradle-to-Cradle author William McDonough recently teamed up with Governor Schwarzenegger to launch a green chemistry initiative called the Green Products Innovation Institute to pioneer development of safer products. The Designers Accord has been adopted by major industrial and graphic design associations to green up thousands of products we use in our daily lives.
Youth: From 350.org to PowerShift to the iMatter March and more, youth groups across the country are directly pushing politicians to address energy and climate change, and getting increasingly savvy in their activist techniques.
Scientists: From modeling where floods will go, to growing better food, to finding cleaner fuels, scientific and academic communities are racing to understand and address our environmental challenges.
Every year Americans are developing safer, cleaner, more effective solutions, not just for our energy needs, but for a range of problems. Because we know that finding real solutions for our energy, environmental and national security issues will also improve many community, economic, crime and health issues as well. Yet none of these are featured on Newt's solutions pages.
Defending his campaign on Thursday, Newt told reporters in Iowa that he's running "a genuine grassroots campaign of very bold ideas," and that it's natural for a "candidate of ideas" to hit a few bumps along the way. Sticking to political talking points is fine, he said, "but how do you get to real solutions?"
For a man so committed to finding solutions, Newt seems to be missing some pretty obvious options. And maybe that's part of his political trouble. Because everybody knows he's smarter than that. After all, he's the ideas guy.
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