Kerry, Gingrich joust over global warming

Despite half of Congress being out of session, the other half just returning, and the eyes of the country fixed on the presidential candidates, a substantial turnout greeted a former White House hopeful and a potential future one arguing environmental policy on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning.

A standing-room-only crowd filled the Senate Caucus Room to witness a two-hour debate between Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryKentucky basketball coach praises Obama after golf round: 'He is a really serious golfer' The enemy of my enemy is my friend — an alliance that may save the Middle East Democratic governors fizzle in presidential race MORE (D-Mass.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Neither is at the political peak of his career, but both remain influential on the issues and are seeking to stake out positions in a newly framed debate over global warming.

Instead of debating whether global warming is a problem, as members of their parties often have done, they sought to build platforms to deal with the issue based on the core ideologies of their parties.

Gingrich argued that providing the market with incentives to deal with the problem will correct it much more quickly and effectively than government can. Kerry advocated regulation and said the market cannot be trusted to deal with such an urgent problem.

“That’s like saying, ‘Barry Bonds, go investigate steroids,’” Kerry said, drawing laughs. “Or like saying, ‘Enron, deal with pensions in America.’ It’s not going to happen.”

Gingrich said that while conservatives often have dismissed environmental issues as tools for the other side to increase the size of government, it is time they start looking at solutions from a “green conservative” perspective.

“The morning you provide an incentive, there’ll be 50,000 entrepreneurs looking at how to make money,” Gingrich said. “The morning you try to do it by regulation, there’ll be 50,000 entrepreneurs at your door ready to fight you.”

Toward the end of the debate, which was hosted by New York University’s John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress, the moderator remarked that presidential debates should be conducted in such a way. Standing in front of him was Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee who was tempted to try again, and Gingrich, a potential 2008 candidate who will loom over the race until he decides in the fall whether or not to run.

Both are promoting books about the environment, and Gingrich at one point even plugged Kerry’s book and said he agrees with “about 60 percent” of it.

The positioning on global warming represents a shift for Gingrich, who has in the past expressed skepticism about climate change and whose website still suggests it might not be a problem.

“Global warming may happen. On the other hand it is possible Europe will experience another ice age,” Gingrich’s website, newt.org, says. “This point is politically incorrect, but the history and science of climate change is far more complex and uncertain than the politically driven mass hysteria of scientists who sign on to ads about a topic for which they have no scientific proof.”

In Tuesday’s debate, Kerry asked Gingrich what he would say to members of his party, namely Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Democrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Bottom Line MORE (R-Okla.), who continue to doubt that global warming is a problem.

“My message, I think, is that the evidence is sufficient, and we should move towards the most effective possible steps to reduce carbon-loading in the atmosphere,” Gingrich said.