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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Tom Friedman on the Age of Acceleration

Air Date: Week of December 16, 2016

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The turn of the 21st century ignited dramatic shifts in globalization, global warming and technology, according to author Tom Friedman. (Photo: Carl Jones, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman’s latest book, is called “Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving In The Age Of Accelerations.” It explores how diversity provides resilience to help cope with a world of rapid globalization, technology development and climate change. Tom Friedman discusses his insights with Living On Earth Host Steve Curwood.

Transcript

CURWOOD: We are hurtling through the early 21st century at a furious pace, buffeted by global market forces, vast leaps in technology, and unprecedented climatic shifts. That’s the view of author and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who offers a blueprint of how to cope with this trifecta of sudden and rapid changes. Last week we featured the first part of our conversation about his newest book, "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide in The Age of Accelerations,” and his view that diversity offers the resilience needed to cope with these disruptive forces. Today, we pick up the discussion about how the world can come together and whether globalization helps or hurts efforts to deal with the urgent challenge of climate disruption.

FRIEDMAN: Like everything with globalization, Steve, it is everything, and its opposite. So, on the one hand globalization means more airplanes, more tankers, more CO2 emissions, more economic growth, and we've seen that in just China, but also -- we see it also here in our own economy and all the western economies. On the other hand, it gives you the potential for a global climate deal like we saw in Paris where every country takes on certain CO2 emission obligations, and at the same time, it gives us a world where China can drive down the cost of solar panels like it did with the cost of tennis shoes and we can now be putting solar panels on every home in America if we so choose, and for the first time have truly distributed clean power. So, it's all going to be about the balance of how we manage these upsides and downsides of globalization.

CURWOOD: It's about our choices then?

FRIEDMAN: Exactly, and that is about our values.

CURWOOD: So help me with this trend that we've noticed, this streak of aggressive nationalism that has emerged here in America and Europe in recent years. You know, you would think that globalization should've had the opposite effect.


Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late is his seventh published book. (Photo: courtesy of Caroline Zavakos)

FRIEDMAN: Well, again, because it's everything and its opposite, it can be very unsettling and very empowering at the same time. It can be very homogenizing, "I'm losing my culture" and incredibly particularizing, "Wow, I can sit here in America and listen to Zimbabwe radio," if I'm from Zimbabwe. So it's always both and it is how you manage it, and it may be in the age of accelerations for some people, maybe even many people in our country, it got too fast. So, when I think of where we are today in America, I think for some people now...You know, they started going to the grocery store and there was a cashier there speaking to them in different language or wearing a headdress that didn't look like a baseball cap. And so, if you think of the two things that anchor us in the world, our sense of community and our workplace, our job, our identity that comes from that, both have been deeply destabilized by the age of accelerations, and I think we've seen the push back in Brexit and in our own election.

CURWOOD: Let's talk about the election. In Mr. Trump's most recent interview with the Times, you were the one who raised the issue of climate change, and to the surprise of some, Donald Trump says he has an open mind on the issue. Tom, what was your take away from his response to that question?

FRIEDMAN: I don't mean this as an insult to anyone, Steve, but I'm always aware that there's a fine line between an open mind and no mind, and so I'm focused on one thing right now. I spent the last 15 months writing my column to prevent Donald Trump from becoming President of the United States. I opposed his candidacy for myriad different reasons. I suspect I may end up spending the next four years doing the same about his presidency, but it seems to me right now we're in that plastic moment where he is forming his new administration, where he is no longer required to say the craziest things in order to be elected, and it did strike me that during the campaign, although we often quoted a tweet he had once put out that climate change was a hoax, in fact, he had said very little about it in part because of failure of the press to even ask about climate change during the debates. But never mind, I feel like we're in this plastic moment, and what I've been trying to do is explore through my journalism and interview how open his mind is on this truly, and hopefully keep it open long enough for his kids, not his sons, but his daughter and son-in-law, who I suspect on this issue are a lot closer to you and me than Steve Bannon, to begin to have some effect on him and so he doesn't appoint the worst people. And so it was very important for me to get him on the record as saying that he had an open mind.

One of the things you notice when you're with Trump interviewing him because you realize, look, he ran for election over a year and a half, very few people thought he would win, so he attracted some real goofballs and extremists, and they were the bubble around him for a year and a half, and now that he is president, the bubble is opening, he's bringing in a wider group of people, and I'm really encouraging Republicans and Democrats, whoever, to get in there. He is a man who learns not from reading, but from who he talks to. There are many decisions Donald Trump can and will make as president. The vast majority of them will actually be reversible. Even a Supreme Court justice appointment will be reversible. It may take 30 years, but it'll be reversible. We are at a moment on the climate with the decisions he makes could well be irreversible, and that's why I'm focusing on that right now.


Friedman points to climate change as one of three major forces experiencing exponential change at the beginning of the 21st century. (Photo: Matt Lemmon, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

CURWOOD: Tom, to what extent do you think Mr. Trump on the climate might present the same opportunity that Mr. Nixon had with rapprochement with China? In other words, Nixon came from a party and political think that had no trouble with Communist China and yet he opened the door there. I'm just wondering if somebody were to come up to Mr. Trump on the golf course and say, "Why are you trashing climate change when it is the response to it, the technological response to it is making all kinds of money, and if we don't jump onto that, China and Germany will be leading the world in that, and be making all that money?”

FRIEDMAN: Well, that's exactly the argument I made to him in my column. I pointed out to him that he has many oceanfront golf courses that will soon be ocean floor golf courses, particularly the one at Doral in Miami which is already dealing with flooding related to sea level rise. And the first thing he said when we sat down was, "I read your column." So, I took some succor from that. I try to appeal to him in language that he will understand, and that's language of self-interest, but I also want him to understand that if he makes the wrong decision he could be remembered as the president who really threw away our last best chance to keep climate change at a manageable level.

CURWOOD: The subtitle of your book "Thank You For Being Late" is “An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations”, so what makes you such an optimist and where does this optimism about the exponentially growing and changing world come from?

FRIEDMAN: I get to travel around this country a lot, and if you want to be an optimist about America, Steve, stand on your head because our country looks so much better from the bottom up than the top down. There are amazing communities in this country. There are failing communities, struggling communities. Many of them voted a certain way in this election but there are also amazing communities where people are collaborating, really pushing politics aside, Democrats and Republicans working together to build parks, to build better schools, to create jobs. I'm talking about my hometown in Minneapolis, 2.9 percent unemployment, I'm talking about the Raleigh-Durhams, the Austins, the Seattles, the Portlands. There are amazing communities in this country, and they are actually driving the country forward. And I think understanding these communities, what makes them so dynamic, and sharing their innovations is one of the most important things I as a journalist can do right now. And they do leave me optimistic. My friend and teacher, Amory Lovins, a great physicist who when anyone likes to say are you an optimist or pessimist, he likes to says, “I'm neither, because they are just too different forms of fatalism.” One says, everything's going to be great, the other always says, everything's going to be awful. Amory always says, “I believe in applied hope. That is, I'm hopeful. I have reasons to be hopeful, but I understand you've got to apply yourself, your group, your party, your community, to driving that hope.” And what I find in these communities is that there are a lot of people applying hope. There are a lot of people who want to get caught trying, making this a better and more inclusive country, and that is the source of my optimism.

CURWOOD: Tom, your book has a theme song, you say.


Tom Friedman is a New York Times columnist and bestselling author. (Photo: Ralph Alswang)

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, it's actually by one of my favorite singers, Brandi Carlile. The song is called "The Eye", “e-y-e,” and the main refrain is "I wrapped your love around me like a chain, but I never was afraid that it would die. You can dance in a hurricane, but only if you're standing in the eye." And that, Steve, in one little verse, what this book is about. We are being asked to dance in a hurricane. These three massive accelerations in the market, Mother Nature, Moore's law. We have a president who is selling us a wall against those forces.

My book is promoting an eye, an eye that moves with the storm, draws energy from it, but creates a platform of dynamic stability within it. For me, the eye is the healthy community, a place where everyone can feel connected, protected, and respected, and I think politics in the next four years in America and many places around the world is going to be between the wall people and the eye people, and I've written this book as a manifesto for the eye people.

CURWOOD: Tom Friedman is a best-selling author and regular New York Times columnist. His latest book is being called, "Thank You for Being Late". Tom, and thank you for being on the program.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you for being on time, Steve. I really appreciate it.

 

Links

Part 1 of our interview with Tom Friedman on the Age of Acceleration

Our interview with Tom Friedman for his earlier work, Hot, Flat and Crowded

Read Tom’s latest columns for the New York Times here

Tom Friedman’s newest book, Thank You For Being Late

 

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