Friedman on "The Power of Green"

Green flag

I read Thomas Friedman’s long NY Times Sunday Magazine piece “The Power of Green” (April 15, 2007) with interest. While I found parts of the article intriguing, overall it seemed to be in denial despite some initial cautions.

His starting premise: “I am not proposing that we radically alter our lifestyles. We are who we are – including a car culture. But if we want to continue to be who we are, enjoy the benefits and be able to pass them on to our children, we do need to fuel our future in a cleaner, greener way.”

Despite his premise, Friedman then writes: “But here’s the really inconvenient truth: We have not even begun to be serious about the costs, the effort and the scale of change that will be required to shift our country, and eventually the world, to a largely emissions-free energy infrastructure over the next 50 years.” And later: “Most people have no clue – no clue – how huge an industrial project is required to blunt climate change.”

He then goes on to detail some of the possible projects that would be needed to have an actual impact, which include putting cars on ethanol, doubling our nuclear power capacity, cutting electricity use by 25 percent in homes & offices & stores. As he says, these are not trivial projects, and I’m not convinced that all of them would do much good anyway (corn-based ethanol already appears more problematic than helpful).

But as he concludes: “Equally important, presidential candidates need to help Americans understand that green is not about cutting back. It’s about create a new cornucopia of abundance for the next generation by inventing a whole new industry.”

So which is it? No cut backs, no changes to our lifestyle? Or massive economic changes? Friedman seems to think that enlightened leaders could lead us through this issue by sticking to the good news story. I’m doubtful – about how even an enlightened leader could effectively operate in the current climate – and about how effective even these big projects would really be. But there’s no question that it’s a debate worth having.

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