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Excerpt: 'A Contract with Earth'

Cover of 'Contract with America'

Framing the Contract

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whether we like it or not, humanity has assumed responsibility for the welfare of the earth and all the noble creatures that share it. The scale of human civilization, the volume of our economic activity, and the power of science and technology have made us shapers of much of the earth. The power to shape leads inevitably to a responsibility to wield this power wisely and carefully. America, as the world's sole superpower, is obligated to provide environmental leadership at a time when so many world leaders are wringing their hands at the sheer enormity of the task.

Americans know that shaping a healthy environment is the one challenge that eclipses all others. Without a green and productive Earth, clean air to breathe, and healthy streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans, life as we know it cannot survive. But where is America's environmental playbook? And who has vetted the principles that will form the foundation of our strategy and the metrics by which success or failure can be measured? Who has the proper balance of courage and expertise to lead? A Contract with the Earth offers a new approach to the challenges of the twenty-first century, encouraging our citizens to accept the responsibility of global environmental leadership and to overcome our nation's troubled history of vacillation and withdrawal when the opportunity to lead beckons. We offer this preamble to A Contract with the Earth as a platform to frame our commitment to renew the living earth.


1. Demand Objectivity. To achieve a fully functional and ultimately sustainable world, we must forge a cooperative working partnership among scientists, entrepreneurs, and our nation's citizens. To accomplish this, an empirical standard of objectivity should be reaffirmed. Polarized political factions have spent decades fighting over the meaning of scientific findings often distorted by the media. Despite many challenging environmental problems, there is reason for optimism, but today's science will not save us; we must strengthen our investments in science and technology to enlarge our environmental tool kit and prepare for any outcome. Good public policy requires accurate, objective science and a trustworthy and transparent process of dissemination. We must return to a civil society where candid discussion, debate, and disagreement result in rational compromise and consensus.

2. Educate and Inspire. We must face up to the challenge of recruiting, training, and equipping a nation of budding entrepreneurial environmentalists. The complexity of the earth's dynamic systems challenges our best and brightest scholars, so we should commit our nation's resources to recruit a generation of well-trained scientists and engineers to address environmental issues. As Soviet success in space challenged America in 1958, the urgent priority and moral cause of the environment should help to upgrade and reform our nation's underachieving public schools. A new generation of computer-savvy, creative kids may yet be empowered and unleashed to repair, restore, and renew our resilient planet. We should hone the tools of environmental stewardship to inspire, mentor, and serve the next generation and beyond.

3. Encourage Green Enterprise. To protect and sustain Earth's vitality, we must endeavor to calculate, monitor, and control humanity's footprint, finding workable solutions to reverse the historical trend of waste, pollution, depletion, and degradation. A generation of doomsday scenarios has failed to activate needed reforms. Entrepreneurial spirit is a more hopeful and effective pathway to reform, as our citizens are more responsive when they are encouraged and rewarded to discover, implement, and export new technologies and better industry and government practices. Free enterprise is not the enemy of the environment; it is the engine that will drive promising alternatives to failed practices. We can think of no better place than America to establish, nurture, and expand green enterprise and innovative environmental technology.

4. Give, Help, and Share. It is time to export vigorously American know-how and technology through business, foreign aid, and strategic philanthropy. Investments in new technologies will contribute to vast improvements in the world's health and welfare. Wealth creates demand for cleaner, greener communities, which is especially important in former and current totalitarian states where the environment has never been a priority. Policies that promote and sustain a growing economy best enable the United States to make a national commitment to a healthier, cleaner environment and generate one of the leading industries of the twenty-first century. Economic growth and green development are highly correlated throughout the world. We have a compelling responsibility to share our ideas with other nations as America is better prepared to invent solutions for the world's environmental problems than any nation on Earth.

5. Think Long Term. A serious commitment to renew the earth requires that we think long term about the environment. Engendering serious change will require strategic thinking and decision making on a grand and unprecedented scale. The 2008 presidential campaign should challenge our nation's leaders to articulate a new and comprehensive vision for environmental problem solving. By applying the environmental mantra "think globally, act locally," we can engineer solutions to environmental problems tailored to fit local circumstances and avoid heavyhanded, federal programs that threaten the autonomy of towns, cities, and states. To secure the future of the earth, we must train ourselves to think long term and look for creative solutions "outside the box."


These five principles guide our Contract with the Earth. Set forth in the next chapter, the contract consists of commitments that help to define an evolving strategy for protecting and enhancing the natural world long into the future.

Adhering to these principles and commitments, we anticipate a nation more comfortable with the obligations of world leadership. The nation's confidence is uplifted by our advanced technology, a tested work ethic, optimism, and an unmatched entrepreneurial "can-do" spirit.

We understand that our commitment to renewing the natural world requires value judgments based on some standard of quality. We cannot discuss these issues without judgments of this kind, but we also know that standards of quality ultimately rest on objective and accurate quantitative measurements that are independent of values. We agree that science gathers data in a rational, systematic, testable, and reproducible manner, as biologist Robert Lackey has recently asserted, and we affirm his contention that scientists should be sensitive to the boundaries between science and value judgments. Lackey's warning to policy makers is worth repeating:

Call our hand when you observe us overstepping our role as scientists and slipping into stealth policy advocacy. Scientific information is too important to the resolution of vital, divisive, and controversial ecological issues to allow some scientists to marginalize science through its misuse.

For our part, we readily acknowledge that values have played an important role in formulating this Contract with the Earth. We take our stand without hesitation. Quantitative measurements of biodiversity, ozone, lead, mercury, forest cover, fish populations, and polar ice all stand as objective indications of environmental quality. Where to draw the line on quality is the challenge that policy makers face daily. We depend on accurate scientific data to guide us, but it is "we the people" who will ultimately decide how best to achieve a sufficient and sustainable quality of life.

We recognize that a contract is both a binding agreement and a serious long-term commitment. To this end, we envision a nation of mainstream environmentalists whose commitment to safeguard the earth is unassailable. It is time for a bold initiative on behalf of the natural world, dedicated to a common cause and a bridge to green prosperity; it is time to establish and embrace a Contract with the Earth.

(c) 2007 The Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved. No portion of this may be reproduced or distributed without permission of the Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Newt Gingrich