Science Policy & Funding News

Gingrich Suggests Ways to Guide Trump on Science and Environment

Former House Speaker urges thoughtful, aggressive, articulate arguments to influence an administration that he says generally lacks its own plan.

By

Newt Gingrich, a political ally of President Donald Trump, offered two alternatives on Wednesday for dealing with the new administration on science, environment, and sustainability issues.

“You can hunker down and decide you want to be oppositionist and that you are going to hate everything and life will be terrible,” or you can dig in and work with the administration, said Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives.

“If you go in aggressive enough and articulate enough and have thought it through enough, you are going to shape large parts of this administration,” he said.

Science and Environment Conference

Gingrich spoke at the National Council for Science and the Environment’s (NCSE) annual conference in Arlington, Va. NCSE is a nonpartisan organization with a mission of connecting scientists to policy makers so that policy and decision-making reflect sound science.

The administration has yet to come up with plans for a lot of areas of government, Gingrich noted. “They know the general direction they want to go in. They don’t know how to do it. They have attitudes: They distrust bureaucracy in general, they distrust red tape, they hate regulations. But they don’t have a plan for any specific thing.”

“Nobody understands what Trumpism is, including Trump. It’s an intuition, it’s a general direction, it’s an attitude. It’s not a plan,” he said.

Administration Actions and Threats Affect Science

Since coming into office, the Trump administration has stirred controversy and angst within the scientific community with many of its actions and stated intentions, including restricting federal science agency communications with the public, instituting a temporary federal hiring freeze, threatening to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and scrutinizing studies and data by scientists at that agency.

Gingrich asked the audience, composed largely of environmental scientists, how many had some level of anxiety about the new administration. Most raised their hands.

Gingrich coauthored a manifesto in 1994, the Contract with America, that called for tax cuts, a line-item veto, and other measures. Republicans used it to gain control of Congress that year. Gingrich has a history of involvement with some science and environmental issues. He taught at West Georgia College (now the University of West Georgia, in Carrollton) where he helped to establish an interdisciplinary environmental studies program. In Congress, he played a key role in increasing the budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Later, he participated in a 2008 television commercial with then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the need to do something about climate change.

Three Drivers, Three Zones

Gingrich in his presentation argued that the new administration has a focus on science, engineering, and technology. He pointed to Trump’s inaugural address, which calls for “unlock[ing] the mysteries of space” and “harness[ing] the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.”

“Part of your challenge here is for you to feed back to them and say, ‘Look, if you want to achieve these goals, this is the kind of investment that you have to make,’” he told the audience.

Gingrich said that modern civilization has its roots in scientific knowledge, engineering, and technology and that “without these three great drivers, we would just collapse overnight.”

However, he called for people to consider three “zones” for supporting those drivers: the for-profit sector, philanthropy, and government, noting that each zone has different strengths and weaknesses.

A Different Direction in Dealing with Climate Change

Gingrich said that “one of the real tragedies that totally distorted the debate over climate change was that it got tied into the solution in a way that if you accepted the first you had to accept the second. And I think that was profoundly wrong.”

He said that Trump will be “much more favorable to West Virginia coal than anybody in the Sierra Club can stand.”

“You can’t turn to an entire region and say, ‘Your way of life has to die because I have a theoretical model that in 40 years, things are going to be really terrible,’” Gingrich added.

However, he said, there can be measures that move toward sustainability that are compatible with the administration’s goals. He pointed to Tesla as an example and the increasing popularity of electric vehicles.

After his speech, Gingrich told Eos that Trump should balance America’s economic interests related to climate change. Gingrich added, though, “I’m very skeptical of the stuff that Obama agreed to” in dealing with climate change.

Responses to Gingrich

Former NSF director Rita Colwell, an NCSE board member who introduced Gingrich at the event, told Eos that she agrees with his advice that “we will have to be knowledgeable about how we get our arguments together and make the case for more science, engineering, and technology.”

Regarding climate change, “we don’t know what the president will do, but we have to make our case,” added Colwell, now a professor at the University of Maryland in College Park and Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Shifting Political Landscape

Gingrich was not the usual fare for an NCSE conference, and he acknowledged that at the beginning of his talk, saying, “I realize that, particularly with all of the changes of the last few days, that having a right-wing Republican show up [at this conference] is probably not what all of you have signed up for.”

When asked why Gingrich was invited to speak, NCSE provided Eos with a written statement referring to the “shifting political landscape” and the importance of “hearing all perspectives.” The statement noted that “Speaker Gingrich has been a strong supporter of funding for science, has published about environmental protection, and has important insights on the new Administration.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2017), Gingrich: How to sway Trump on science and environmental policy, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO066871. Published on 27 January 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • DilloTank

    Environmentalists thinking things through? That will be the day.

  • Ima Denier

    “Engineers build things…….Lawyers sue engineers who build things”……Engineers best efforts are not only constained by the laws of Physics these days but also by the whims of scientifically challenged bean counters, i.e., the economist administrators with their MBAs etc. The natural consequence is environmentally compromised engineered projects…..

    USA has too many Law Schools and not enough engineering schools etc.

    Above statements are contained in the book entitled “Power Hungry”….
    But keep in mind that the radicalized environmentalists who assume the leadership on doomed alternative renewal energy solutions hate that book…..

  • Gingrich is a smart guy. Smart enough intellectually to understand the scientific consensus on climate change. And smart enough politically to realize that admitting to that was a political death sentence as a Republican.

    I found his advice to this gathering of scientists a little offbase because it’s based on the assumption that the science community is politicized. I don’t see the science community hunkering down and being oppositional. I see them fighting for their independence from political interference and following their findings.

    Gingrich is quoted as saying that “one of the real tragedies that totally distorted the debate over climate change was that it got tied into the solution in a way that if you accepted the first you had to accept the second.” If that’s true, we should ask why it happened. I don’t believe you’ll find the answer in the climate science community.

    I see it in the fossil fuel industry, which determined very early on that climate science posed an existential threat to its economic interests and spent millions on PR and lobbying to frame the climate debate as wacky scientists = job killers. Follow the money! There is considerable documentation on who spent what and when, and whose messages have carried the day in the marketplace of ideas.

    Is it a coincidence that the CEO of ExxonMobil is now Secretary of State? Investor confidence in fossil fuel industries has been battered by the abrupt flattening of global coal and petroleum demand. Health concerns (anti-pollution demonstrations are the biggest source of unrest in China) and cleaner technologies (more efficient engines and appliances, solar/wind generation, etc) are driving that, and the fossil industries are fighting back. The fossil industries’ battle for survival is framing the climate debate today far more than anything scientists are doing.

    • DilloTank

      Consensus has nothing to do with science. Only people that are incapable of analyzing issues on their own are fooled by the lie that their is a consensus on ‘Climate Change’.

      Peter has no understanding of the issue, obviously.

  • D. Smith

    Give your presentations on a 6th grade level or as a reality TV show. When I read this, that’s what I thought.

    • captdallas2

      8th or 9th grade, the average reading level of US adults is 7th to 8th grade level. That is close to the OECD average. Then again you could shoot for elitism if you like.

    • DilloTank

      People that believe man-made co2 is effecting the climate in a significant way are the real morons, or liars.

  • Ellen

    I am glad NCSE had Gingrich speak. We need people who are somewhat ‘close’ to the new administration to convey to us how to best approach the situation. If what we have been doing is not working, new alternatives should also be explored.
    I also believe it is important to stay as non-political as possible when conveying the facts. That is our best chance of getting people from every background to listen with open minds. If you identify yourself with one party or the other, or start your statements with an insult, the people who need to be persuaded may tune you out.

  • M​a​r​k S​h​o​r​e

    “You can’t turn to an entire region and say, ‘Your way of life has to die because I have a theoretical model that in 40 years, things are going to be really terrible,’” Gingrich added.

    Is Gingrich somehow being presented as an example of a reasonable Republican? The GOP’s financially-motivated rejection of ‘inconvenient’ science, now entering its third decade, has utterly corrupted it. As it currently exists the party is unsalvageable.

    • DilloTank

      ‘Environmentalists’ say that sort of thing all the time. Based on nothing. Democrats are completely unable to examine an issue on their own. Governor Moonbeam says “We are all facing extinction.” (from climate change) Talk about unreasonable. One can only conclude that people that vote for Democrats are complete morons, or fascists.